In the 60s we used to ask, “Hey, what if we put LSD in the water supply?” In 1934 it was laughing gas into the atmosphere.
Betty Boop Cartoon Banned For Drug Use 1934.
Laughing Gas, or nitrous oxide, has been used as an intoxicant since about ten seconds after it was first synthesized by Joseph Priestly in 1772. That, however, does not mean that by the 1960s laughing gas was regarded as passé. Au contraire since you have to remember that in those days people were trying to dry, roll, and smoke the inside of bananas. In those days, nitrous was just another established “fun” recreational drug. In those days you could buy a tank just by saying you needed it for underwater welding. Yes, underwater welding.
A friend I knew in those days discovered that taking a hit of nitrous “helped” him with his creative writing. In a way he was right. He did create very clever and interesting short stories when he’d had a few whiffs from the tank. Indeed, in the spirit of the 60s drug counter culture in Berkeley and San Francisco, he became convinced that if any drug was worth doing, it was worth overdoing. (A common American attitude that persists to this day.)
He was 24 years old and impatient for fame.
In pursuit of more and more “creative push” from his tank of nitrous, he designed a mask that would fit over his nose and mouth and be held there by some complicated elastics so he could type with both hands while whiffing from the tank.
It worked pretty well and I recall noticing that his writing did indeed get better and more interesting after his whiffing. It enhanced his writing right up to the morning when they found him slumped dead over his typewriter with the mask fixed firmly over his nose and mouth, and the tank still hissing away. Asphyxiated.
He was 24 years old and impatient for fame. Nitrous Oxide sent him up towards those Promethean heights and then laid him out in the cool room.
He left behind two binders with his writings in them. The stories were good and full of promise. I still have the binders somewhere. I think they may have turned to ash in the Paradise Fire.
If not they are moldering in a sub-sub-basement of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone on Pierrepont Street.
He “lived fast, died young, and left a good-looking corpse.” And two forgotten binders of “promising” work.
Too much heavy, heavy fuel…