Guest post by Dag Walker
Ayahuasca with Peter Gorman
Iquitos, ayahuasca, Peter Gorman: the three names almost synonymous among those who read deeply in the realm of the Vegetable Mystik. Over the course of nearly 60 years of intense and broad reading and travel, I had never heard of any of them till I stumbled upon all of them by chance roughly in a day. Now, all three are essential parts of my life experience. Recently in Iquitos I took ayahuasca with Peter Gorman. My life is fundamentally altered by my experiences of Iquitos; somewhat changed by ayahuasca; and changed in personal ways only I can see clearly by my encounters with Gorman. Different, yes, and much different. Such is the life of travel, that one is different because of the life itself. But how different life is due to such heavy pressures on the man in the wandering life!
I could have been an office manager in a small town back home, married forever to my childhood sweetheart, our children now grown, me a grandfather, member of the bowling team, neighbour, church-going good old boy. I would have killed for such a life, then and now. Instead, I sit in the Amazon jungle in a rotting old mansion on a side street with a notorious American drug figure and I swallow poison, ayahuasca, and I hallucinate, and I am so strange that my lifelong friends don’t begin to understand me at all. No job, no wife, no kids, no home, not even a nation to call my own. I have ayahuasca experiences.
My experiences of Iquitos have been uniformly happy. My experiences of ayahuasca have been mostly bland. My experiences of Peter Gorman were mostly violently negative. Perhaps it’s the magic of this city, perhaps it’s just that two tired old men can’t find the energy to hold a grudge, but over time Gorman and I have become better acquainted and have developed some kind of man to man relationship that allows us to be friendly, if not close friends. It’s not ayahuasca that has allowed us to reach this state of mutual respect, but it is writing that draws two cranky old men to talk and listen. Ayahuasca is part of that dialogue. Writing about ayahuasca is significant to both of us.
For the purposes of this book, my ayahuasca session at Peter Gorman’s home in Iquitos is effectively my final installment of this long look at drinking jungle drugs in the Amazon. It’s fitting that such should centre on Gorman.
I can’t recall my first encounter with Gorman, though those who do tell me I blew up at the man and stormed off in a huff within minutes of our chance encounter. The second meeting I do recall, Gorman misremembering it as reacting to me slagging the president, in fact he being offended by some remarks he overheard me say regarding jihadis, people and a force I know only too well, one that those who do not know it see as a benevolent ideology and as a political manifestation of race. Gorman, being an uninformed liberal leftist, automatically sided with his fellow liberal leftists, and further, he bellowed that he wanted to shoot me. I live with threats of murder daily because of my involvement with jihadis and violent left fascism; and thus, because I am tense always, I challenged Gorman to shoot me indeed. Of course he wouldn’t shoot me. I was making a theatrical point as well. And so it was that we ignored each other for weeks, each waiting for the other to make a conciliatory move so we could talk and find out about each other. Then entered Elmore Leonard, novelist. Gorman had one of his books, and he offered it to me. Two writers, two thinkers, two stubborn old men, we had our break in tensions. Unfortunately, it was too late for us to undo my public writing about Gorman. When I looked at what I had written about him I saw that I had outdone myself in viciousness. I stared at my words describing the man and I saw the most vile and hateful writing I have ever done. I was delighted.
Over the course of Gorman’s visit to the city I watched his leg fester and whither from flesh-eating disease he got during his jungle adventure. It was a terrible thing to see, especially since I experienced something similar with my own leg years ago, and not so long ago I watched my friend Bar suffer something similar but worse. Gorman had my sympathy. When he left for hospital back home I kept in contact with him, hoping his leg could be saved. It was, and I was pleased for him. Meanwhile, I continued writing my books about the city, one book being about ayahuasca, this book. My ayahuasca experiences, as we know, were less than stellar, and thanks to the intervention of a mutual friend, Gorman wrote with his take on it. Due to that, I eventually got an invitation to drink ayahuasca with Gorman at his home upon his return to Iquitos.
Gorman and I have different friends in Iquitos, though the city is so small we all know each other well. My friends are beer-drinking red necks who would not drink ayahuasca under torture. My friends are working class men for whom drug-taking is as alien as homosexuality and women’s suffrage. To Gorman’s friends, mine are racist idiots living in an evil past. Between these two groups there is not a lot of liking, not a lot of understanding, not a lot of trust. I cross between because I am a traveller.
I am a long way from my home, and I will never return.
I do long for home, and I see it clearly in my mind’s eye when I look at Gorman. He looks very much like my father. Home comes to me in a rush when I look at Gorman, and this is a great unfairness to the man, especially so because it causes me to become violently angry at an innocent man. Not just looking like my father, though, Gorman looks like The Patriarch personified. When Gorman bellowed drunken threats at me I saw my home and my father and my life. I saw a sadistic, manipulative, violent thug threatening me, my father, and I know I am my father’s son because I am often just like him. I never did take an axe to my father, though I took a hatchet to Gorman in print. The man still hurts because of what I did to him. I didn’t kill my father; instead I took out my rage against that man on Gorman. My psychic fucking pains….
I am well-known in Iquitos as a writer on ayahuasca. Gorman is world-famous as a writer, particularly about ayahuasca. What I write about ayahuasca in Iquitos is not well-understood. I am a skeptic, a concept too many automatically conflate with debunker, cynic, hater. Gorman too made that mistake initially. However, to his credit, he wrote to me that if I were fair and honest in my presentation about ayahuasca, a subject he obviously holds close and dear, he would, he claimed, write the Forward to my book on the subject. Gorman had and has no reason to do me any favours, especially because of what I had done to him in print. Yet, he made his offer to help me. Further, he offered to take me to his home and give me ayahuasca to show me what he can of it in practice. My beer-drinking friends warmed me to a man that Gorman would do nothing good for me. He would not take me to his home, would not give me ayahuasca, would never write a single word in my favour. To a man my friends said that Gorman hates me and was merely setting me up, and that I was a fool to be so gullible, that I should not believe a word he said about this. They meant it all, and my friends were deeply concerned that I was determined to believe Gorman would tend to me. They warned me. “You should hear him going on about you on the malecon when he’s drinking and talking to his group. He hates you!”
Gorman left town with his group of starry-eyed Romantic ayahuasca drinkers and went to the jungle. My hard-ass cowboy friends all said, “You see, he dumped you. He will not do you good.”
I didn’t see Gorman when he and his group returned from the jungle. He was around, but I didn’t meet him. My friends all shook their heads and said: “I told you so.”
I took ayahuasca with the secret hope that I, like the hundred-plus others I had spoken to in-depth about their experiences, that ayahuasca would be for me some grand mystical and revelatory experience, changing me in a fundamental and fine fashion, giving me an experience I would treasure. I had grand hopes, indeed, though I said not a word of it to others. Not just hope: I expected. But time and again I drank ayahuasca and nothing happened. My friends said I was stupid to play with drugs that could seriously affect my mind and mental health; the hippies and ayahuasca hangers-on all said I was doing it wrong. There is no right or wrong: there is persistence. I kept drinking. Gorman disappeared. None of my friends ridiculed me, though they were disappointed in my persistence in what they saw as self-harm. What would “Mother Ayahuasca” do other than pour a can of black pepper in my eyes, slash my scalp with a pair of scissors, push me backward down a flight of stairs, burn my hand with a cigarette lighter? Mother? Surely I know better. There is no revelation and Gorman hates me.
I didn’t see Gorman for over a week, though I got reports from friends daily about him hating me in public, Gorman carrying on at cafés loudly denouncing me as a hack and a fool and a bigot. My friends actually like me, and they took some satisfaction that since Gorman hates me so deeply there is no chance of him poisoning me with his ayahuasca, that I could finally give up this quest and return to my real life. Then, by chance at a street corner I bumped into Tom, a quiet man with a large round face and long silvery wavy hair and blue eyes, a guy who looks like the Quaker Oats man, one of Gorman’s ayahuasca jungle guests. “Peter will take us to his house tomorrow evening at 7:30 for ayahuasca,” Tom said. I stared at Tom is disbelief, thinking this was some kind of joke. Then it came to me, that Gorman was luring me to his home in the night in the depths of the city where he would poison me with one of the most frightening drugs known to us in the Amazon jungle. “Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Gorman was going to poison me with toé.
As I sat with my friends on the riverside boardwalk word came and spread that I was taking ayahuasca next day with Peter Gorman. My best friend in the city leaned across the table and whispered to me, “Dag, you don’t have to do this.” By which he meant that he would still respect me if for some reason unknowable to him and me and others I refused Gorman’s challenge. El duelo. It is the rules of the game, that I took the first shot at Gorman, unprovoked and savage and public; and it is Gorman’s turn now. Those are the rules men play life by. None of my friends said, “Gorman should not poison Dag.” They all said, “If Gorman can, he should. But Dag doesn’t have to do this.”
I arrived on time for my appointment with Gorman so we could proceed to this Iquitos home to take ayahuasca, but when I sat down at his table at the cafe on the waterfront he announced that he needed two hours of my time to talk about how the evening would proceed. There is more to this ceremony than simply sitting alone in the dark to drink ayahuasca. I said nothing to give away any hint of my disappointment. Gorman spent the next two hours talking about ayahuasca, what it can be, even for me.
Gorman told me what I assume he tells us all: that ayahuasca is a teacher; that ayahuasca is a spirit that shows people what they should know, whether about themselves or others; that one is not helpless in this learning process: one must at times ask about the lesson to be learned, confronting daemons and demanding passage beyond them to the secrets they might hide, assuming one dares. Gorman said that one is in control of the mind, and that the body is a rest, that if one is confronted by fears, ones mind is capable of overcoming such fears by allowing oneself to grow into insurmountable power and to reach beyond it, that if one is confronted by a vicious four-headed dog, one can become an armour-plated lion. If one will be strong, then secrets can come to the fore. Gorman talked about his children; and I thought about promises, that a promise is easier than a lie, that a promise is not a lie till one stops promising.
I left Gorman and walked down the malecon, seeing my buddies drinking beer and laughing among themselves as they leer at young women and tell tales of times long gone, tough old guys who carry guns and have dark histories. I sat myself in with them and they heard that I would return next evening to drink ayahuasca with Gorman, no reprieve, only short remission as next time looms like mother kicking till her shoe-heel breaks and she stumbles and you smash her on the forehead with a brass ashtray, smash her so fucking hard she can’t see, and when she speaks again she says she’ll always love you, and you know it is a promise.
I will see Gorman next night.
Ayahuasca With Peter Gorman
Guest post by Dag Walker
Dag’s latest book, Iquitos, Peru: Almost Close, is available at Dawn on the Amazon. Ask Bill Grimes for a copy. Or order your copy direct from amazon.com at this link: Iquitos Peru: Almost Close;
Dag’s new book, Confessions of an Ayahuasca Skeptic, with Forward by Peter Gorman and Afterward by Alan Shoemaker, will be available soon through amazon.com.
To get a taste of what might happen, click this link; Ayahuasca With Javier de Silva;
Hi, Bill Grimes here. As always, the views expressed by guest authors are not necessarily the views of Bill Grimes, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, or the Captain’s Blog.