Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life As A Rave Outlaw - Chapter 1
This is a selection from my book, Paper Squares and Purple Stars: My Life As A Rave Outlaw. I am going to post the first few chapters in the coming weeks. You can grab a copy of the book at www.raveoutlaw.com
Throughout the years, my mind would sometimes drift toward the idea of writing a sort of memoir. After all, I did spend a fair amount of time deep in a mysterious underworld, where I was in a rare position to peek behind the curtains and see how it all worked. I never got around to this project though. There were always more pressing matters at hand, more important projects demanding my time and energy, things that needed my immediate attention.
Then one day everything stopped. I was diagnosed with cancer, and I found myself no longer worrying about the next big project, but instead, fighting to stay alive. When things were at their worst, I was truly unsure whether or not I was going to make it. Suddenly, that memoir was no longer a passing thought in the back of my mind, it was an absolute necessity. If I wasn't going to make it, at the very least, I wanted my story to be immortalized. Each week, as I suffered through my treatments, I would take my laptop to every appointment, and keep it by me at home, so I was able to work on the book every moment that I had enough strength. Luckily, I made it through the experience healthier than I ever was before. By the time I began to recover, I found that I was almost finished telling my story. What I ended up with was the book that you are about to read, Paper Squares & Purple Stars: My Life as a Rave Outlaw, tales from my most interesting years...so far.
This book is based on a true story, but some of the names and other details have been changed. I also used composite characters and condensed timelines for the ease of storytelling. There are some elements of fiction in this book, and any likeness or similarities to real-life individuals or businesses are purely coincidental. I want to be clear that I am comfortable writing about these topics because I no longer break any of the laws that are broken in this book, and I haven’t for many years. Remember also that this is a story of growth and learning, and you may disagree with many of the decisions that my character makes in this story. There are many things about myself, my friends, and my career that I am not proud of, but these more controversial aspects of my story carry valuable lessons with them. Besides, what you are about to read wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if I didn't include those details.
Chapter 1 - Pirates of the Susquehanna (8/31/07 - Harrisburg, PA)
Well, this is where it all started. We were heading up Interstate 83, on our way to an underground island rave in the middle of the Susquehanna River. The party was only an hour or so from our apartment in Baltimore, and I was driving, as usual, but this time was different. We were traveling with more pills than I had ever seen in my life. To be fair, this was only fifty or so, but my mind was racing, thinking of all the possible ways we could end up in jail.
"Don't worry about gettin pulled over, man, if worse comes to worst we can just swallow the evidence," Jerry's sarcastic voice cut through my paranoid daymares.
Jerry was my best friend of close to ten years, and one of the few friends I had left from high school, so he was always able to read me in situations like this.
“Maybe I can handle a ten pack over a weekend, but I don’t think I can take them to the face like that,” I replied through nervous laughter.
“And I don’t think you could either,” I added.
“Nothing is going to happen, you guys act like such amateurs,” Clyde remarked from the back seat.
Clyde was our roommate, and our relationship with him was strange. Clyde was what we call an “old head” in the scene, someone who had about a decade on us in years and had been around the block a few times. He was always acting like a stern older brother to me and Jerry, and we were always getting into arguments. He knew the drug game better than any of us though, and it was through his connections that we were able to get these pills for eight bucks a piece, giving us a profit margin that was never possible before.
“Acting all jittery and nervous like this is what gets people busted in the first place, just chill out, we’re almost there anyway,” Clyde added.
Clyde pulled a bag of weed and a pack of rolling papers out of his pocket and handed them to Amy, Jerry’s girlfriend.
“Why don’t you roll something up, so these sissies calm down,” Clyde told her.
Amy giggled and began breaking up the buds on an old festival flyer. She was the kind of person who always seemed to be in a good mood. Sometimes this got her into trouble though, because she always expected the best in people, even those who shouldn’t be trusted.
Within 5 minutes, Amy had a fat joint ready to go, and I hate to say it, but Clyde was right, the last stretch of the ride was much easier after that.
When we finally made it into Harrisburg, the roads were packed. Apparently, the rave took place at the same time as several other events, including a boating and fishing expo. We assumed that the party was intentionally planned on a busy weekend so it could fly under the radar while the town was flooded with tourists.
“Don’t worry. It was like this last year too. Keep goin straight, after these lights we will get to a neighborhood where you can park on the street,” Amy instructed.
Moments later I saw a sign for our destination, McCormick's Island, and I began looking for open parking spaces. When we parked, I told everyone to grab their bags and camping gear quickly, so we didn’t catch the eye of neighborhood busybodies.
“You need to stop treating every deal like it’s mission fucking impossible John,” Clyde barked at me as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
“Let’s just get to the meeting spot dude. I am just trying to be safe,” I muttered, not wanting to start another argument.
I was always the nervous one in the group, but I think that was just because I understood the gravity of our situation, I knew what we were up against. Mainstream society declared war on people like us long ago, and the stakes are high, we could easily end up in a cage, or worse if we weren't careful. We walked a few blocks through a residential area until we reached the dock that was described on the website. When we arrived, we saw one small boat going back and forth across the water, collecting a few bucks from each raver that got onboard. There was a line of about 20 people ahead of us, but everyone was very friendly and talkative, so the wait didn’t seem so long. When it was finally our turn to cross, I was the first to hop on the boat, eager to get away from the docks where we were bait for cops.
The boat ride was slow, and it took about five minutes to get across the length of the river, which had to have been less than a mile. As we drifted across the river, there was really no indication that a party was happening on the other side. It looked like it was just another day, and it seemed like everyone was trying to be low-key. This wasn’t one of those corporate, mass-produced festivals that we had been going to all summer, this was one of the underground parties that we always heard about from the old heads.
When we reached the shore, we were immediately under shade. The woods were so dense that it was at least ten degrees cooler on the entire island, even out to the small beach where we docked and disembarked.
“You’re definitely sure they didn’t search you last year?” I asked Amy as we hiked along the trail.
“Yeah, it’s not that kind of party, the security are ravers,” she assured me.
We hiked through the woods for a few minutes until we came upon a clearing that was transformed into a cyberpunk neverland. It was an oasis in the woods where time stood still for a happy gang of fugitives who somehow managed to hack reality and unlock the secret to eternal youth. This mystical sanctuary was surrounded by a massive web of orange construction netting that stretched 30 feet into the sky from tree to tree, creating a perimeter. We showed the staff our IDs at the gate, paid our entry fee and walked into the party without getting searched. There was already a decent crowd but the music hadn’t even started yet, and it looked like the staff was still plugging things in.
“Let’s stake out our territory,” Clyde shouted, rushing past me with his tent and camping chair.
I rolled my eyes and looked at Jerry, “What's his hurry? There’s plenty of room,” I said.
“Hey! Over here, I found the perfect spot,” Clyde yelled proudly as he started to unpack his gear in an unremarkable corner of the clearing.
“It all looks the same to me,” I shot back as I threw my bag and tent in the dry, dusty dirt.
“Just chill, both of you, we’re here, let’s enjoy it,” Amy chimed in with the voice of reason.
We spent the next few minutes in silence as we set up the camp. I made sure to set up my tent before I ate any of the rolls, since I recently learned that it was a bad idea to take drugs before putting a tent together. At a festival in West Virginia earlier that summer, we ended up breaking our tents because we waited until early in the morning to set them up, when we were in no shape to be assembling anything.
“I got yellow dolphins, three for fifty,” Clyde called out to a group of fresh arrivals who were looking for a place to camp.
“I'll keep you in mind,” one voice in the group said politely.
“You don’t waste no time openin up shop,” Jerry said laughing.
“There ain't nothin else to do around here until the music starts,” Clyde replied.
“Let’s go on a hike then. We can explore the island before the sun goes down,” Amy said joyfully.
“Good idea,” I said.
“Sure, let’s do it,” Clyde agreed.
We were able to walk back through the gate and go wherever we wanted now that we had our wristbands, so we stepped outside of the party area to see what the rest of the island looked like. I didn’t expect this much nature on an island in the middle of Harrisburg. It seemed almost like a jungle. After walking for a few more minutes, we decided to take a rest and have another smoke. We stopped at a huge tree that had fallen down in the middle of a clearing, then we all took a seat, and Jerry rolled up another blunt.
We sat there and talked for a while, but I can’t remember what we were talking about. Our conversations in those days were relatively shallow, we would talk about parties, drugs and every now and then someone would tolerate one of my rants about the cops. I would always try to tell everyone about how the cops were at war with us, but it was rare that anyone really understood. The government literally declared war on people like us, and they even put it down on paper. They call it a drug war, that is the official name of their drug policy, so the fact that they are at war with people who use drugs is no secret.
Moments later, the thump of a subwoofer shot through the trees, interrupting our conversation, then we all looked at one another and began to run through the woods like it was some kind of race. When we got back to the site, the crowd had grown considerably, and there were even some people on the dance floor. We still didn't know anyone though, these people seemed like hardcore ravers, and I could tell that many of them knew each other already.
We had a few friends who were coming later, some of them I remembered from school, but most of them we knew through Amy, she had been going to parties with them for a few years now. We walked back to our camp and rolled up a joint to smoke with a group who had just set up next to us. We learned over the summer that sharing weed was a pretty easy way to make friends. I don’t remember much about them, although I do recall that a few of them wanted pills, so we hooked them up for 15 bucks a piece.
“I think it's time for me to start my evening too,” I said, fiddling with the bag of pills in my hand.
“Anyone got anything to wash these down with?” I asked.
One of our new neighbors laughed and replied, “You guys didn't bring any water?”
“We figured if we brought pills, we would be good on everything else,” Clyde said frankly.
“You were right,” our new friend said as he grabbed a few bottles of water out of his cooler.
“If you charged us twenty you woulda been fucked though,” he added sarcastically.
Everyone laughed, and then I downed my first pill. We weren't sitting there for very long when Amy got a call from our other friends.
“They are by the dock on the other side, but the boats aren’t running anymore. They are going to figure out another way to cross,” Amy said, holding her mouth away from the phone as she relayed the news.
After hanging up the phone she suggested that we go and meet them, so we quickly got our things together and made our way to the shore. As we were walking through the woods, Amy’s phone beeped. She flipped it over and read a text from our friends and began laughing.
“Oh my god, you guys are never going to believe this. They are sailing across the river on an air mattress,” Amy said, laughing hysterically.
“No fuckin way,” I replied.
“I gotta see this,” Clyde said, picking up his pace and disappearing into the woods.
“I’ll catch up, I’m still tired from that last run through the trails. It will take them a while to get across the river anyway,” I said.
“I don’t feel like runnin either homie,” Jerry said.
“Not until the cops come,” he added with a laugh.
“I'm not in a hurry either, we should be there in a minute or two,” Amy said calmly.
I'll never forget the scene when we arrived on the beach. Clyde was standing with his hands on his hips, watching as at least a half dozen separate lights slowly crept across the river, that had to be them.
“Sure as shit, them crazy bastards are sailing across the river on an air mattress, and it looks like some of them are even swimming!” Clyde said, assessing the situation.
“This is the kinda shit I paid for man, these cats are wild,” I said.
I remember being thoroughly impressed at the time. They were badass, nothing was going to keep them from the party. The swimmers were the first to reach the shore, and they informed us that the air mattress was reserved for people who were carrying drugs, which was actually a very good idea. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, the people sailing on the mattress were the ones that we all knew best.
When the air mattress arrived on shore, I noticed one of its occupants was wearing a large hat with several sheets of acid tucked tightly in the brim of the hat, each sheet in a small plastic bag. He was the only one aboard that I didn’t know, but I immediately assumed he was the DJ that Amy told me about, his name was Satoshi. He might have even been playing the show that night, I can't remember, I never paid much attention to the music back then. When the vessel washed ashore, I scanned through the faces and looked for Duke, he was the one I knew best out of the group.
“Hey John, I’ll just be a minute!” Duke yelled as he helped his friends deflate their flimsy makeshift raft. He must have noticed I was looking for him.
After a minute or two, Duke grabbed his bags and looked up at us with a huge smile on his face and said, “I’m ready.”
At that point, Amy had branched off with the girls, and Clyde had already begun talking DJ Satoshi’s ear off, trying to impress him with all of the things we learned throughout the day, forgetting that he was talking to someone who had probably been coming here for years. It seemed like Clyde was already pretty fucked up. He was talking so fast it was nearly impossible to make sense of what he was saying. It was then I noticed that I was feeling pretty weird myself.
It almost felt like I was underwater, my body seemed to be moving in slow motion, and the music in the distance sounded strange and muffled.
“I got white on white, by the way, if you want it,” Duke told me as we hiked carefully through the dark woods, using our flashlights to guide the way.
White on white was some of the best acid we picked up that summer. There was no design on the sheet, no blotter art or anything, just a fluffy white square of paper that had tiny ripples, which kind of reminded me of a cloud. Sometimes it also took the name “family fluff.” Of course, sometimes people put bogus acid on that blotter, so just because the paper is “white on white” doesn’t automatically mean it's the real deal. The urban legend says that the original family fluff was made and distributed by the GDF, or Grateful Dead Family, a mythical hippie mafia of nomadic deadheads that have supposedly dominated the market for LSD in North America since the 1970s. Out of the many gangs who are involved in the underground rave scene and hippie circuit, this is one of the few that have maintained a halfway decent reputation.
“Sure, you down to trade?” I asked him. “I got these bomb-ass yellow dolphins, they are probably the best rolls I’ve ever taken in my life. I’m chewing my face off right now,” I said.
Duke laughed and answered without hesitation, “Yeah, if you got extra let’s do it. When we get settled I'll trade you two hits for a pill, maybe more later if I like em,” he said.
When we got back to the party, the new members of our group were rushed by close to a dozen people, strangers to us, but friends to them. They were peppered with a list of questions from everyone. How did they get across the river? What did they have for sale? Was Satoshi going to be spinning tonight?
Clyde, Jerry and I got pushed to the outside of the circle as they greeted one another, and we stood on the edge awkwardly waiting for them to finish. Duke glanced over at us and must have noticed we were feeling a bit left out, because once we made eye contact, he called out to me and said, “Bro, you wanna go take care of that thing before we forget?”
“Yeah let’s do it, I don’t know how long these things will be around,” I said, trying to sound cool.
We made our deals and sparked up another joint, then I grabbed my bottle of water from earlier and washed down another pill, along with the two hits I got from Duke. As you might expect, the night was a blur after that, but I still remember it being one of the best nights of my life, at least at the time anyway. I was on the dance floor for a majority of the evening, probably making a fool of myself. I remember wiggling glowsticks in front of my face and jumping from side to side with no definite rhythm or style. When I wasn't dancing, I was cornering random strangers and annoying them with nonsensical conversation until they found a polite way to excuse themselves. At one point, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed and decided to get away from the crowds for just a few minutes so I could regroup and get my mental bearings. When I returned to the campsite, I noticed that Jerry was sitting in the dark by himself, in silence.
“What’s up man, You OK?” I asked him.
“I guess,” he said, not moving. We sat in silence for a few seconds. “I don’t know,” he started again. “I just feel kind of weird right now, this shit is hitting me hard, and everyone seems weird, even Amy has been weird since everyone showed up, and Clyde is always weird,” Jerry confessed.
“Yeah, I get it. We are totally out of our element here, and everyone else seems so comfortable. A lot of people here are really cool though, this is like some kind of crazy underground secret society for misfits and people who like to party,” I told him, obviously at the peak of my roll now.
I didn’t give him any time to respond before saying, “Let's walk back down to the beach and check it out, a change of scenery is probably a good idea.”
I could see him smile in the darkness. “Yeah, that’s what I need,” he said, seeming to feel a bit more comfortable.
I don’t remember what was said on the walk to the beach, but I do know that I was talking faster than an auctioneer, and the conversation was putting Jerry in a noticeably better mood. When we got to the beach, we sparked up a joint and sat quietly for a few minutes, taking in the view of the city skyline across the river. During our session, I noticed other voices and shadows nearby, probably other ravers taking a break from the action just like we were. The scene was so peaceful and serene, we were looking upon the lights of a sleeping city that had no clue we were there, having the time of our lives. Our moment of peace was abruptly interrupted when I noticed a fire truck and ambulance pull up on the docks on the other side of the river, where we waited in line for the boat earlier that day. We froze in fear, trying to see if we could make out what was happening on the other side. This was not an easy task mind you, my vision was blurry, my eyes were fluttering, and I was seeing tracers everywhere. Within two minutes, my worst nightmares became a reality when several cop cars pulled up in a line behind the emergency vehicles. When they got out of their cars, we saw a group of flashlights make their way down the docks, then board a boat, which began to slowly creep across the water. As the pirates sailed in our direction in search of plunder and prisoners, I tried to center myself and decide what to do.