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Dec 28, 2020

Native Californians Really Rocked Their Art

New data suggest patrons reached new highs

By Ed Goldman

Reefer madness ran riot in California centuries before the 1936 movie of that name—which was intended to be a cautionary tale but became a must-see stoner film in the 1960s and ‘70s, much like Ed Wood’s ”Plan Nine From Outer Space.”

The latter had nothing to do with drugs, but its leading man, Bela Lugosi, was doing a lot of opium and the only way to enjoy the film may be for you to do same. Cautionary note, however: Lugosi died shortly after filming a few scenes for another hilariously crappy film by the same director, which were used in “Plan Nine,” and Wood replaced him with a non-lookalike chiropractor named Tom Mason. To this day, suspicions abound that Lugosi’s death wasn’t drug-related but rather that one evening, he unwisely read the entire script. 

Edgy 2020 Cartoon

The Brew That Is True

Anyway, according to a study reported late last month by the National Academy of Science, centuries ago, tribal dudes and dudettes were tripping on a drug called Datura and digging on their peers’ “rock art” (cave drawings, not black-light posters of Jimi Hendrix). The scientists assume that the art patrons didn’t do the drawings themselves since the drug of choice rendered the user incredibly bewildered, not unlike the outcome from interviewing Rudy Giuliani.

Unlike pot, despite my opening reefer reference, Datura is actually a hallucinogen, producing side effects more like those of LSD or “magic” mushrooms.

In my distant youth, I tried LSD and found it a little disappointing, though I’m not sure its effects have worn off. For example, during the past four years, every time I turned on the TV I saw images of a morbidly obese orange man who locked children in cages. It seemed to be a live-action Grimm fairy tale, though grimmer. I expect to come down from this in three weeks and three days.

As for mushrooms, the most magical I ever had were at Morton’s The Steak House in Chicago. They were sautéed with garlic, red wine and black pepper in hot oil and butter and, possibly, cocaine. To digress, doesn’t Morton’s the Steak House sound like an undiscovered Dr. Seuss book? Or the first iteration of what George Lucas eventually called Jabba the Hutt?

Looking for a Great Gift?

To get back:  Datura is “a member of the Solanacae family,” according to the scientists, distinguished “by large white ‘trumpet’ flowers that uncoil in a five-pointed pinwheeling fashion.” The researchers found ample drawings of the pinwheel, which provided them with what one might call the dead-head giveaway. As a post-mortem marketing tip, if anyone back then had opened a drug paraphernalia store, I’d have definitely suggested going with a pinwheel in its logo.

“Datura could be taken throughout one’s lifetime for a variety of reasons,” the National Academy reports,  “including to gain supernatural power for doctoring, to counteract negative supernatural events, to ward off ghosts, and to see the future or find lost objects, but, most especially, as a mendicant for a variety of ailments.”

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While this sounds very much like some of the properties of LSD, I’m a bit thrown by the sixth word from the end: “mendicant.” I always thought that was the word for a beggar or panhandler or, alas, a hustler I occasionally see at a freeway off-ramp sporting a better haircut and costlier jeans than I am, yet holding a sign asking for help. For what, a manicure? Okay. For those of you about to write me an angry letter decrying my insensitivity because of that last reference, go right ahead. You can’t hurt my feelings. I’m watching “Plan Nine from Outer Space” while enjoying a steaming cup of Datura.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).