Friday, September 2, 2016

Suicide by Pushing Pencils up Nose (ca. 1960)

[In the 1950’s Barron Bruchlos sold capsules of ground-up peyote buttons out of his East Village coffee shop, The Dollar Sign. One of his customers was musician Peter Stampfel, who later recalled a rumor that Bruchlos had killed himself by jamming pencils up his nose. Cf. Simon Bronner, Campus Traditions (2012), 58-9; Jan Brunvand, Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid (2004), 158-9.]

Jesse Jarnow, Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2016), 7- 8.

By early 1960, the Dollar Sign is in full swing. At eight dollars for one hundred buttons COD from Laredo, turned into caps and sold for sixty to eighty cents each, proprietor Barron Bruchlos clears a fantastic profit. “Do you want coffee or peyote?” he greets his customers.

It’s not long before the Food and Drug Administration catches up with the Dollar Sign, sending in undercover agents to buy peyote and then raiding the place. Even though Bruchlos points out the Department of Agriculture seals of approval on his boxes, proving their legality, the agents haul away some 145 capsules and 311 pounds of peyote. No charges are filed, nor does the government make the legal basis of the seizure clear, but a story runs on the UPI wire, popping from papers around the country: “ ‘Lay Off Peyote,’ Beatniks Warned.”

Word reaches the anthropologist and peyote specialist Weston La Barre at Duke University. He soon visits Bruchlos’s newest coffee shop, the Dollar Sign having shut down, and interviews the peyote dealing Bruchlos in his nearby basement abode. If La Barre expects to observe the first stirrings of a colonial psychedelic culture in an East Village basement, he is disappointed – but also looking in the wrong apartment.

The objectivist coffee shop owner complains to La Barre of being ripped off by unscrupulous characters who buy his peyote capsules in bulk and resell them through classified ads in college newspapers. Before La Barre can communicate further, though, Bruchlos is found dead in his basement bedroom.

“Natural causes,” the police conclude, but Bruchlos is twenty-eight, and no one quite believes that, including Bruchlos’s father. Peter Stampfel hears it was suicide and a suitable bizarre and grisly one at that, involving (ugh) pencils jammed up the nose.