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alia volz


New Nonfiction

A Conversation with My Father

by Alia Volz

      I was hitchhiking cross-country. I think I was eighteen, so it had to be maybe 1971. I traveled from Walnut Creek to Long Island, to see my grandmother, and then I headed up into French Canada. That area was very different then, totally rural. And of course, everyone was speaking French, which was great, since we had lived in France for a time, when I was a boy, and I could still speak enough to communicate.
      Hitchhiking was so easy back then, really safe and fun. Only groovy hippies picked you up and everyone you rode with was cool and most people smoked dope. So I was with some people and we stopped at a swimming hole by the side of the road. There were some high rocks that looked pretty good to me. And I was showing off for this girl and I dove off a rock without checking the depth of the water. Well it was about waist-deep. I slammed right into the riverbed. When I came out of the water, my head was bent to the side, at like a 45-degree angle, and it was stuck there; literally, I couldn’t move it.
      You could tell I’d really messed myself up. The people I was with kind of got scared, and they had to move on, so they took me into the nearest mountain village and left me outside the local doctor’s office. He was just a country doctor and I believe I was a little beyond him. He gave me Tylenol.
      My Aunt Donna was living down in Chicago, so I decided to hitchhike there to get help. I was on the Trans-Canadian Highway when this guy picked me up in a van and he was on his way to an ashram right near the U.S.-Canada border. So of course I went with him, and it was fantastic! We lived together in a rustic home and a barn. The men worked the orchard and the women cooked and cared for the goats. In the afternoon, we all meditated in the same space. Each person was seeking his or her trip in the universe and our paths all intersected on that farm.
      Everyone was expected to pull their weight at this place. I couldn’t go out to work with the men, because of my neck being stuck sideways, so they asked me to stay behind and paint the outhouse. That’s what I did for days. And, you know, I really enjoyed it. I felt like I was working out some heavy karma by painting this shitter white. And they couldn’t believe what a fine job I did on it. I guess they didn’t expect that from me.
      I wanted to hang out and see what I could learn. But I met a cute girl there and we fooled around a little bit. I guess she felt guilty about fooling around at the ashram and told someone about it. The next day, four men surrounded me and suggested rather strongly that I leave the ashram to get medical attention. I remember one of them looking at me with this intense vibe and saying, “I think you’d better go get your head on straight.”
      I did go down to Chicago, and my Aunt informed my mother I’d been hurt, and of course she flipped out. I had to return directly to Walnut Creek. I don’t remember ever seeing a chiropractor about my neck, but it did eventually unbend.
      I don’t know how long after the accident it was when I had my first seizure, but I was in Berkeley. I was sitting on a stool and making art, using a drafting table, when I felt this pressure coming down on me from above. The pressure knocked me off the stool and held me against the ground. It was as if the room had become a vice and I was being squeezed inside of it. I remember my bed was just a mattress on the floor and I saw the mattress like a rectangular black hole, like the deepest black, like a grave, and I somehow crawled over and dove into the hole, down into this total darkness.
      After that, it was different. I always know I am going to have an epileptic seizure because I see a light, off to one side, in my peripheral vision. It’s the most beautiful light, all colors of the spectrum. Like a mandala. I feel an irresistible attraction to it. I just have to look. And when I look, I go into a seizure, and then it’s black until I regain consciousness. If I can resist looking, I know I can avoid the seizure. But the light is just so incredibly beautiful. Like looking at God.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part of a longer work. "Eat it, Baby: Stony Times with the Sticky Fingers Brownie Company" is a book-length project chronicling the rise and fall of a high-volume marijuana brownie business my parents operated during the 1970s, and it's impact on San Francisco culture. I'm working with hundreds of hours of interviews from all walks of life, including politicos, literati, celebrities, punks, GLBT activists, artists of all stripes, healthcare providers, growers, dealers, and even cops. To accompany the stories, I have a vast collection of photographs and original artwork used as product packaging. It's a gas.

Alia Volz is host and producer of Literary Death Match in San Francisco—a raucous reading series that throws naturally timid, introverted authors into a vicious battle for domination. Her fiction and fact appear in ZYZZYVA, Dark Sky Magazine, and elsewhere. Stalk her at

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