Henry '77 (1986)
By now, it is all too apparent, how deeply my experience with psychedelic substances have affected me. "Affected", you say? On the whole, these experiences have been quite positive. The same cannot be said for some who have returned through Huxley’s door shaken, bewildered and, for the truly unfortunate, damaged in spirit and mind: acid casualties.
When I first met Henry 77, I took him to be among that lamentable group. At the time, in another life, I was a television producer. Henry came to me with a keen interest, nay, obsession, in getting me to do a documentary on his rather unusual theories regarding Life, Universe and Everything.
Allow me to draw the picture for you. Henry is about Five-foot three. His hair is white and long and unkempt, as is his beard which reaches to the rope that substitutes for a belt in keeping his trousers around his comfortable girth. His attire is second hand, at best. He carries a plastic shopping bag which contains what I soon will learn are his only possessions. We used to call people like Henry hobos.
Now, you’re no doubt curious about Henry's last name. He assured me that it was, in fact, his legal name. He’d it changed from Shapiro to 77 in 1966, after certain information was "provided" him during the course of his one and only experience with LSD. Prior to becoming a 77, Henry had been a successful account executive with one of the world's largest advertising firms. He was married, fat and happy.
Well, in the autumn of 1966, that was going to change. Who can say if Henry wasn't a nervous breakdown just waiting to happen. Maybe the acid simply provided the final shove propelling him over The Edge. In any case, some few hours after ingesting what was apparently a sufficient dose, Henry first apprehended the underlying order of the Cosmos. It, I do mean IT, was the number seventy-seven. The morning after his trip, Henry left his job and his wife and proceeded to live his life anew.
For most of the past twenty years, he’d been on the road, living out of dumpsters for clothes and food, panhandling money and telling anybody who would stand still to listen that they’d better wake up to the implications of his fabulous discovery; that behind Everything is contained the mystical numeral, seventy-seven.
I have as open a mind as you are likely to encounter. Indeed, I've personally added a few extra holes in my cranium for just that purpose: to let in new and often strange information that might be potentially useful. On the other hand, Henry's story sounded less like the bellwether of a major new philosophy, than the demented screed of a substantially psychotic individual deeply in need of professional help.
I admitted to Henry that I found his story interesting, but his ideas confused. "Henry, look, if you go seeking patterns in the world, you’re gonna find 'em. That's what humans do. It doesn't mean that God put them there."
Henry was unmoved and proceeded to pull from his bag a large photo-album full of weird news clippings and pictures that he felt substantiated his perceptions. Among these pictures was a photo of a nautilus shell.
"There," he cried, "count ‘em! There’re seventy-seven chambers. And, look at this, there... ".
"I'm sure there are, Henry, but that doesn't mean that all shells have seventy-seven chambers or that..." He ignored me and continued pulling more "evidence" from his bag: slips of paper, headlines, photocopies of dictionary definitions and etymologies of old words. Henry was starting to become annoying. "Okay, stop, Henry! I haven't got time for this now."
"So, ya don't believe me. All right, I'll prove it to ya. Meet me at the public library tomorrow, two in the afternoon."
“Henry, I'm very busy. Please..."
He had dumped the stuff back in his bag and was already heading for the door. Over his shoulder, he yelled out this defiant challenge: "Be there or forever wonder what ya've missed!"
At the very least, Henry had, in our short acquaintance, gotten my number right. I could not refuse such a dare, more so for the Mephistopholian quality of its delivery. The next day, I arrived at the appointed hour. Saying not a word, Henry, escourted me to the stacks on the second floor, the poetry section.
I must explain at this juncture, that this particular library was and is one of only two in the country that do not now use the Dewey Decimal system. In fact, it employed an arcane filing system of numerals and letters developed in the early 19th century. The stack where Henry took me was labeled, naturally enough, YQ 77i.
Henry instructed me to count down the aisle and pick off the seventy-seventh book on the shelve at eye level. "It'll have some special significance for ya.", he says.
“Sure.” I don't fall for it. "How do I know that you haven't planted something here? Why don't I just pick something out myself, any random book that I'll open to page seventy-seven?"
He smiled. "That'll be just fine." He was totally confident that I was about to be shown the reality of "Seventy-seven", regardless of my choice.
I walked down the aisle two or three paces and, when the impulse hit me, I reached out and grabbed an old book without looking first to the title. With a flick of my wrist, its oft-cracked spine flopped open to... of course, page seventy-seven. There on the top of the page was the title of a poem. It was called... of course, A Song for Solomon.
For some few seconds, I just stood there slack-jawed, dumb-struck and silent. Over my shoulder, I heard Henry giggling. He couldn't know what was on that page, but he could tell from my reaction that it was precisely what he had bargained for. I scanned the poem, my eyes grasping at lines of text that seemed to vibrate and snake off the page, so visceral was my surprise. I said: "Holy shit, I don't know how you did this, but..."
I turned to face Henry, and he was gone. The little gnome had just split. And, I never saw or heard from him again. There would be no TV show, no further explications nor screeds on the "Rule of Seventy-seven", no further evidence, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Just a big gaping emptiness waiting to be filled with slight comprehension or, at least, a fucking clue.
I do know, or at least feel, that what ever happened to Henry on that fateful trip in 1966, had plugged him into, into... well, I don't actually know anything. I conjecture that maybe it's like a web: the web of coincidence. I’ll never believe, probably never, that there is a "Rule of Seventy-seven". I can, however, imagine that certain people, somehow, perhaps through the concentration of their minds, the strength of their belief, that these certain people seem to make things happen around them.
For what it’s worth, I can see this as a self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling process: the individual sees where he is looking and sees what he is looking for, so he keeps looking there and so on and on. I can also suppose that there may well be some kind of affinity between those in our culture who exhibit such “weird” abilities and the Shamans of so many other peoples. Perhaps, in the same way that the Shaman conjures and dispatches evil spirits and thus heals the sick, Henry is bringing seventy-sevens into the world around him.
In the final analysis, I just have to be grateful that this odd person dropped in on my life and added yet one more thing to cause me puzzlement and deep confusion. So, thank you, Henry. If you're out there, get in touch. Maybe we can someday do that TV show!