David Katzman's Reviews > e, the incredibly strange history of ecstasy

e, the incredibly strange history of ecstasy by Tim Pilcher
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's review
Jan 07, 2011

really liked it
Read from January 07 to 11, 2011

"Don’t do drugs, kids, m’kay? Drugs are bad, m’kay? Don’t do drugs."

So the first time I ever did ecstasy was also the best time. Subsequent explorations were close but never quite as good. The environment was about as exciting as you could get my first time, but the primary issue is also that it became harder and harder to get pure MDMA in the States. The chemists were frequently cutting costs by cutting it with speed, Sudafed, aspirin, meth, or other miscellaneous additions.

The first time I did ecstasy was in Amsterdam. I had just received a good job offer after spending the whole summer freelancing. Set my job start date just over two weeks away, so I was at loose ends. No relationship and no need to work because I had plenty of money saved up. So I said, screw it, I’m going to Amsterdam. I had already been to Amsterdam twice before, and it was and still is my favorite city in the world. So I bought a ticket to leave the next day and to stay for two weeks.

I had nowhere to stay, but I knew a couple women who lived in Amsterdam. I had a friend at the time who was an architect from Germany. She lived across the street from me, and I had attended a party at her place about a month prior where I met two friends of hers who were visiting from Amsterdam—Marion and Marianne. I’m not joking. We hung out at the party, and got along swimmingly. They also borrowed my futon to use as their bed.

I call up Marianne that day and say, “Oh, hey, it’s David. You borrowed my futon … right … so, I’m going to be coming to Amsterdam … tomorrow. Do you mind if I crash at your place?” Fortunately, she said I could!

After arriving in Amsterdam, I manage to make my way to her apartment, which was near the Vondelpark area—a beautiful sprawling park toward the southeast end of Amsterdam. It was three flights up an incredibly narrow winding staircase (everything is up a narrow winding staircase in Amsterdam) to her huge old apartment, probably built in the 1700s. (Unlike Americans, the Dutch don’t tear buildings down when they get “old” and replace them with cheap, crappy condos.) She introduced me to her roommate Phrenc (a guy) who lived on the floor above. They set me up with a mattress on a landing just outside Phrenc’s door. For the next week or so, she took me out several times, and I met many of her friends and went to great places unknown to tourists.

It was about a week into it, when Phrenc and I were chatting and somehow the subject of ecstasy came up. I had never done it. Well, we need to fix that, he said.

So he explained this deal to me, which at first I didn’t quite believe could be true: he knew of a small bar toward the center of town, near the Keizersgracht Square where a drug dealer showed up at midnight every night. He said that the bar was a bit obscure, and it was primarily frequented by Dutch people. The bar was aware of the dealer, and, in fact, they received a percentage of everything the dealer sells. And furthermore, the police were aware of the guy there, but they looked the other way because tourists weren’t buying the shit and getting rowdy and causing problems. The Dutch who did were well behaved.

So we’re going to go to this bar, and Phrenc is going to buy me a tab of e, and a vial of coke for himself so he can stay up—because he had worked until 4am the night before, as a waiter. I didn’t completely believe this would work out, but, hey, I’ll give it a shot.

The bar is a rather dim but nice looking place with old-world character frequented mostly by twenty-somethings. We get there at 11pm and order a beer. He explained, this is your only beer for the night. After that, you drink water. Check. When the guy shows up, Phrenc is going to buy the stuff, come back, and then pass me the tab. I’m to go into the bathroom and bite half. Come back to the bar and sit for a while, see how I feel. If I’m feeling good a half hour later, then pop the rest.

Sure enough, this large black dude in a trench coat shows up at midnight on the dot. (I say black because obviously he wasn’t African American … he was Dutch!) Everyone was going up to the guy, shaking his hand, and being friendly. Phrenc sidles up, gives him a big hug and a handshake with a whisper in his ear and then returns. They made an exchange. Phrenc passes it over, and I do as I was told.

We’re sitting at the bar for a little while just having a normal







Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

My leg was pumping, my head was bobbing to the music, and my whole body suddenly felt light and coated in golden honey simultaneously. Oh. My. God. He looked me in the eyes, which must’ve been wildly dilated by then. “You good?” “Oh, I’m am so good.” “Great. Let’s hit it.”

I swallowed the other half, and he walked us out about one block away to an unmarked door. He explained that this was a small nightclub where only Dutch people went, primarily college kids. You had to speak Dutch, or the door guy wouldn’t let you in. It was to keep the tourists away from hitting on the young Dutch people, but because he was Dutch, he would get us both in.

For the rest of the night, everything and everyone was beautiful. The club was small and packed body-to-body. After we walked down a short flight of steps, we turn to the right, and we're right in the center of the bar, a narrow, unadorned rectangle. At one end, the bathrooms, in the middle, the bar was about 15 feet long with about enough space for four people deep, and then at the back, the dance floor which was also small. I’d say you could pack about 40 people on the dance floor and maybe 100 people in the whole place if they were all nearly touching. Which they were.

We went straight for the dance floor. Phrenc actually didn’t dance, he sat on a bench just watching the crowd. By now, I was feeling so loose and free and happy that I was, as the drug said, ecstatic. Floating on a blissful pillow of love. I dove into the crowd and started dancing my ass off. The DJ booth was small and open, sitting right on the dance floor. I remember a beautiful young Asian woman was spinning tunes. To this point in my life, I had only been into punk rock, indie rock, and some experimental music. But suddenly, I understood club music. The repetitive beats set up a rhythm in your body, like a heartbeat, so you can lose your identity and just become one with the energy. The DJ was spinning an amazing mix of trance and world music. Unbelievably perfect. And beautiful like everyone. I think at one point I yelled to her, I love what you’re playing, and she laughed and yelled right back in English, Thank you! Glad you like it! I made friends with the bartender who was a 6-foot-tall blonde goddess. She ended up writing her name on a napkin for me and saying that I could come back to the club any time and show it to the door guy. Even though I don’t speak Dutch, she said, he would let me in. (Btw, it worked. I tried it two nights later.) I kept dancing and getting water, dancing and getting water. Never sat down for a minute. I spun myself into heaven. Everyone was bouncing and moving and happy and there wasn’t a hint of bad vibe anywhere.

At about 4:30, Phrenc said he had to go home and sleep but I didn’t want to stop so I ended up closing the club at 5:00am. Other than getting a few bottles of water, I had never stopped dancing. I left just as the sun was rising, still buzzed and light as a feather. I floated across the city of Amsterdam, finding my way to her apartment by instinct without a map. Phrenc had given me an extra set of keys, and I let myself in. I climbed up the stairs and lay down on my mattress. Looking up above me, I saw colorful bubbles floating toward the ceiling, a mild hallucination. I drifted off to sleep, my mind as light as the bubbles, and then woke up exactly eight hours later, hopped out of bed, and felt completely refreshed and ready to go out again. Ecstasy!
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs I loved reading your review. I also love Amsterdam. But, one question, what did you think of the book? :-)

message 2: by David (last edited Jan 12, 2011 06:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Katzman hahaha! Funny. i thought about the fact that i wasn't saying anything about the book but wanted to tell my story more than talk about the book.

The book is good. It's mildly on the fluffy side--i wouldn't call it hard hitting, but it did discuss some of the negative stories about ecstasy use. One of the most interesting things it brought up that i had never heard was that e was discovered by accident by a scientist working for Merck Pharmaceuticals in 1912! Also, it was quite interesting to learn that a fairly significant group of clinical psychotherapists were using ecstasy in therapy (and seeing great results) in the late 1970s to early 80s until the US govt made it illegal. The book also includes a fairly basic but accurate story about the evolution of club, techno, trance, house music and raves along with the use of ecstasy in those venues from New York to the UK, Ibiza and even France. He talks a lot of the DJs and musical acts that were connected to ecstasy use as well as the scientists and culture critics who believe in its positive value. Douglas Rakoff being a primary example. Like any drug, e can obviously be abused.

A hardcore journalist could've written a more detailed, thorough book, but it wouldn't have been as fun to read.

message 3: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs I think your (original) review sounds a lot better than the book.

David Katzman Yeah, it's a light read, but i enjoyed it. Kind of gave me a mild flashback vibe.

message 5: by Alan (new)

Alan me and the missus are thinking of going to Amsterdam at Easter - if we can bear leaving our 18 year old daughter on her own (we fear a house trashing) - but I doubt we'll be doing e.

David Katzman It's lovely no matter how you roll.

message 7: by Alan (new)

Alan oh, I'll be rolling

David Katzman a rolling stone(d)?

message 9: by Alan (new)

Alan Ja

message 10: by Clif (new)

Clif Amsterdam - you see all those pictures of everyone tooling around on bicycles and you know it has to be different. I haven't been there but the impression I get is that the city motto might be "let it be". A huge collection of people all doing as they wish and getting along with each other - what a concept!

As for drugs - it makes me think of our previous exchange where free will came up - theoretically there should be a perfect chemical mix that would put the brain into its absolute highest state and another that would place it in the most horrible state possible. Could anyone survive either experience? Between these two states we have the day to day micro-chemical changes that the brain produces on its own to give us our moods and enthusiasms.

Like you (and all of us) I like the idea of free will, but it sure is hard to imagine any physical basis for it or any basis for consciousness itself outside of the chemical soup! But, why worry, be happy - I always say - because we could have been born sea sponges instead of people!

David Katzman As a matter of fact, a tremendous number of the Dutch people, especially in Amsterdam, do tool around on bicycles. Those pictures are true. It's a perfect way to get around in a city of curvey streets looped by water canals. It's quite compact and streets are narrow, so, although one can drive around, it's not very convenient and nearly unnecessary. Public trams are quite easy there, too.

LSD has had the effect on me in one trip of putting me into an incredibly high state of mind where i felt like i was levitating and saw a floating diamond before me shooting rainbows of color in every direction, and i thought it was the most beautiful thing i had ever seen in my life ... and then 5 hours later i hit the darkest most existential despair of meaningless you can imagine. And was hung over for 24 hours. However, i actually feel like the dark existential despair was quite educational and a powerful experience that i'm glad i went through. i faced it (not like i had a choice, i suppose, but usually the most horrible things are things we don't have a choice in anyway) and got through it.

It is hard to figure out how abstract thoughts can affect base matter (drive our decision making process down one pathway versus another in our brains), but that doesn't mean it can't. One thousand years ago, they couldn't have imagined an LCD TV, either.

Perhaps there is something in the "decision making process" which allows the abstract thoughts to influence the concrete matter rather than purely the other way around. Those abstract thoughts may have some ability to actually choose which neurons fire down which pathways - or grow new pathways. A feedback loop of some kind between the thoughts created and the neurons in our brain that created them. Thinking is such an abstract cloud - pondering all the options of a choice reminds me of a cloud with lighting shooting out of it as the brain makes little decisions on the way toward a final decision. Perhaps that cloud somehow gets to decide which way the lighting finally goes through its abstract process.

Dunno, but i don't think we've figured everything out! And even if we never do, you're exactly right ... it's better to be as happy as we can instead. Cheers!

message 12: by Clif (new)

Clif Yep, there so much to enjoy and so many people to enjoy relationships with, why not indulge?

It's fascinating to me that at the heart of matter, upon which we rest our certainty, our sense of what is real, is total uncertainty. We know that atomic particles decay, but we can never say which one will decay when - only give a probability. And there's that thing that Einstein could not believe - that in observing something at the atomic level, the observation determines the outcome!

I once heard a lecture where the guy said that it's good to remember that the more we think about and wonder why we are happy, the less happy we become. So we gotta go with the flow (of chemicals!) :)

David Katzman Exactly. And that observation affects quantum decisions. Particle vs. wave. I read a book once from a speculative physicist who proposed that the decision making Self is a quantum particle. The other way to look at is this:

Observation affects quantum effects.
The mind making a decision is observing the various thought elements in the brain and weighing the choices.
A decision is the firing of a synapse path.
The leaping of electricity across the synaptic gap involves quantum effects.
The abstract action of observing the thought elements in our mind triggers the quantum effects that lead to choosing A over B.

This is free-will.

Just a thought! I might've had no choice but to write that.

message 14: by David (last edited Jan 17, 2011 06:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Katzman 1) you never forget your first time.
2) i believe it.
3) lol! wait, what was that video about? ;-)

notgettingenough If you go to a Dutch person's place for dinner, is it like tacky to take tulips?

I figure, after a review like this, you must know the answer. I'm sorry I don't have something to ask about drugs.

David Katzman I think a Dutch person would love to receive beautiful flowers regardless of the type. It's not tacky. It might be thought of as cliche but only to non-Dutch who auto-associate tulips with Dutch people. I don't think the Dutch themselves would think of tulips as cliche.

message 17: by Katie (new)


David Katzman :-)

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