Above is a picture of the Yugoslavian freighter that transported us from Tangier to New York City. Because of falling three weeks behind on their schedule Captain of the ship abandoned safety protocols; we passengers were herded aboard while cargo containers were dangling over our heads. Curt but courteous crew members escorted us to our assigned cabins which were small with a Communistic flair for utilitarianism. Painted in a drab gray the room had a bunk bed a sink and a porthole to peek out of. I met my new cabin mate who was as straight as a finely honed arrow, a man of very few words and mysteriously elusive. His buttoned down attitude gave me the impression he could have been some kind of covert operative perhaps a narc or spy. Whatever, he gave me pause.
I tossed my backpack on the lower bunk to reserve it and then joined Dutch and the twenty five or thirty passengers on the main deck to watch the freighter disembark and steam away into the Atlantic. We kept our vigil until the Rock of Gibraltar and then the lights of Tangier faded from view. Dutch and I lingered behind to smoke a bowl of hash that we smuggled aboard. A clanging bell alerted everyone that dinner was being served. We followed other hungry passengers to the dining room/observation deck. Two young deck hands bounced out of the galley to take our orders. Now, this is where the fun began. They only spoke Yugoslavian; a majority of the passengers spoke English with a scattering of Spanish and German so much was lost in translation. To make matters even more complicated the passengers were divided into four culinary camps; the meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, and a macro-biotic bunch of little old ladies. They were horrified at what was being served and became quite belligerent with the poor waiters and especially the cook who in his defense I don’t think fully understood the concept of a meatless menu. He tried his best to please everyone but was totally intimidated and terrorized by the macro mob. After a few fear filled days the cook finally pieced together a menu that had something for everyone. He received a hardy round of applause which brought a big smile and a slight blush to his face.
A gothic girl from somewhere in Pennsylvania took a fancy to Dutch, swooped in, sank her talons into the hapless lad and sequestered him for the remainder of the crossing. I saw very little of him and when I did he appeared pale and lacking vigor. What unspeakable things was she doing to my friend? He never did elaborate about the inordinate amount of time they spent together and I was afraid to ask. The passengers fragmented and naturally gravitated towards their own kind. Dutch and I enlisted with a lively group of heady hedonist. A young hip couple from New York City managed to book the “Honeymoon Suite” which was much bigger than our cramped quarters. It had the luxury of a queen size bed, a set of drawers, a desk, a table with chairs, an old but comfortable couch and best of all a private a bathroom. This room became the headquarters for our nightly gatherings of conservation, music and indulgences. Everyone who came contributed to the stockpile of drugs that were accumulating on the table. Kief, hash, hash candy, opium and a new delight made with hash, dates, marjoram and other spices were all in abundance and available for the taking. At first only a handful of hard core hedonist participated in the after hour gatherings but word about the “Honeymoon Room” spread and attendance grew. Even a few brave crew- members would sneak out of their quarters to join in on the festivities. I say brave because they were risking severe punishment if they had been caught fraternizing with Western imperialist not to mention drug addled hippies. If caught they could very well have been relocated to a Siberian gulag. In spite of the possible consequences the rogue crewmembers seemed to nervously enjoy themselves. After a few tokes on the hash pipe they would get excited and try to sing along when our host put on a tape of the “Stones or Hendrix”.
One night after smoking a combination a hash and opium I retired early to my bunk and fell into a deep dreamscape. I was awakened by a shift in the ship’s motion. The gentle roll had become much more pronounced. The word at breakfast was that an unexpected winter storm had developed in the middle of the Atlantic and was heading towards the ship. The storm was too big to by-pass and the only course was to plow straight through it. Looking out of the observation windows one could see the swells starting to grow in size. I got an instant inspiration; this was the perfect and maybe the only opportunity to ride out a storm at sea under the influence of psychedelics. Great idea right? I ran down to the party room and rummaged through the pile of drugs. Ah, here was the item that I hadn’t tried yet, the hash-date mixture. After the hash candy episode in Marrakesh I was a little intimidated about the proper amount I should be ingesting. Our host sliced off a sticky slab, handed it to me and said, “This should do the trick”. Without questioning his authority I ate the sweet and spicy glob. I then got another great idea; I’ll go out and view the storm from the bow of the ship, a stroke of geneous! I returned to my room and bundled up; it was going to be cold out on the deck. I cautiously navigated my way to the bow because the ship was beginning to rock and roll. Just as I reached the bow the hash/date concoction came on like the oncoming storm, swiftly and strong. All I could see before me was a very angry sea being whipped up by winds that eventually reached hurricane strength. The bow would be lifted high out of the water as a swell broke under the ship and then drop deep into the trough of the next swell. I was riding on a sea going roller coaster. The wind began to howl sounding like a deafening choir of a billion banshees. The horizon was a deep purplish black punctuated by brilliant fingers of lightening dancing in a fully charged chorus line. And from this beautiful but hellish seascape came a stampede of swells looking like snowcapped liquid mountains desperately trying to escape the hell behind them. Despite being in a state of terrified joy I realized the precarious position I was in but couldn’t move; I was frozen to the bow in extreme reverence for the breathtaking beauty of Mother Nature unleashing her power and fury. I held on to the railing with a white knuckled grip determined to maintain my watch at the bow. Because of the now wild motion of the ship plus the sickly sweet hash cocktail I started to feel nauseated. I leaned over the edge of the bow preparing to evacuate the contents of my stomach. But in doing so I took my eyes off an oncoming wave that broke over the bow, lifted me up and slammed me into a nearby onboard cargo container. Even in a psychedelic state of mind survival mode automatically kicked in. I made a hasty retreat and crawled on my hands and knees towards the bridge. Another wave broke over the bow and chased me up the deck. I jumped into the first available door slammed it behind me and while standing dripping wet in a puddle of sea water I exclaimed out loud, “Oh my God! That was just the ultimate in awesomeness”! Leaving a wet trail I found my way to the observation deck. With my mouth and mind agape I watched as rolling mountains of water that were now crashing over the bow; I could feel the ship shuddered in agony under the severe stress. As the waves hit the deck they would burst into a full spectrum of color rich foam that rushed up the deck painting everything with strokes of vibrant fuchsia and pink. A particularly large wave broke over the bow completely submerging half of the ship. The wave slammed against the observation deck creating a display of living art on the windows. The wave hit the windows with exploding paint bombs leaving long translucent trails. As before, time evaporated, I had no idea how long I had been standing in a trance watching the storm’s valiant attempts to sink the ship. A fellow passenger pulled up next to me and asked why I was sopping wet. She listened in a curious disbelief and then suggested I get into dry clothes and take my wet ones to the ship’s laundry room. For a few dollars they would gladly wash and dry my wet and salty laundry. I thanked her for the advice. I shuffled to my cabin, pealed my soggy attire off and walked naked to the shower room. Fortunately I didn’t encounter anyone and didn’t have to explain. Taking a shower proved to be challenge with the ship lurching about like a toy boat in a tub. The hot water felt like tepid lava flowing down my body warming me to the core. I would have stayed in the shower forever except for a hard roll of the ship that threw me to the floor. I momentarily came to my senses, tiptoed naked back to my room, put on dry duds, gathered the wet ones and rushed out to find the laundry room. Just a few steps from my room a second surge of the date/hash elixir hit me like the wave that dethroned me from the bow. The corridor began to telescope into a smaller and narrower passageway that stretched into infinity. It was an exhausting effort just to stay upright as the ship heaved and rolled but now my wet pile of clothes began to come alive like some slimy sea creatures desperately trying to escape. Besides being terribly lost in a maze of endless tunnels I somehow stumbled upon the laundry room. I dumped my squirming laundry on a table. A young man zoomed in on me and before he could say anything I pulled a five dollar bill out of my wallet and pointed to my still squirming pile which now looked like sea creatures engaging in a sexual ritual. The young lad immediately understood, smiled and said, “Tomorrow ready, yes”. “Yes!” I bellowed. Nearing the door I took a quick glance back to assure myself the pile of laundry was behaving. I now had to maneuver through corridors lined with tangled pipes writhing together like snakes. God, will I ever be straight again? I finally located the dining/observation room which had a scattering of passengers looking shell shocked and slightly green. I suppose the rest of the passengers were either too sea sick to eat or huddled in their rooms with life preservers on praying for deliverance. The mere thought of eating made my stomach do a back flip. I returned to my viewing station at the observation windows. It was now dark which put everything in a different perspective. With the ship’s deck lights on the scene became a black and white a film noir movie. As the night wore on the effects of the hash/date concoction started to wear off. I was relieved to reenter into a static state of consciousness. I abandoned my post and wandered down to the party suite for a quick nightcap. Opened the door a cloud of hash and opium smoke billowed out into the hallway. Yes, I was in the right room. I played it safe and just smoked from the opium pipe. With heavy eyes I retired for the evening. The freighter was still being ravaged and struggling to stay afloat. Tucked tightly in my bunk I could hear the ship moaning and groaning as its’ girders were being twisted by the relentless pounding. My last thought before falling into an opium dream was, “I really hope tomorrow comes”. The next morning came! The ship made it through the storm and was now on an even keel. Big sigh of joy!
We were now only two days away from New York and we still had a considerable stockpile of drugs to be consumed before reaching the States. The last night soiree turned into a standing room only event. Passengers that hadn’t previously participated squeezed in. I noticed a few more delinquent crew members also celebrating a last night of freedom. After a toke or two on the hash/opium blend all I wanted to do was fall out in my bunk and sleep. I woke up just before sunrise, bundled up and marched to the bow again. This time weather was clear but very cold and the sea had calmed down to a slight chop. I was surprised that nobody else joined me on the bow which offered an uncompromising view as we approached New York. The translucent brilliance of the city lights made it look like a mythical crystal garden. The best was yet to come. There she was! The sun rising above the Atlantic cast an orange glow on the green goddess of liberty. I was moved to tears at the sight. I tried to imagine myself as an immigrant coming to America and seeing the Statue of Liberty welcoming me to fulfill the dreams of a better life. I, myself, felt like a stranger returning home.