LSD

Reunions, Room Mates, Kids and Pets

New Best Friends 

Speaking of best friends, when I left high school our group of buddies promised to stay in touch forever. That promise lasted about six weeks.Everyone who went to college quickly went their own separate ways, while anyone who stayed behind got jobs, married, had families or went to Vietnam.

Even at the one class reunion I attended, which I believe was number five, there was little to discuss except to say hello. then bring everyone up to date on whatever new life cocoon one happened to be wrapped up in at the time. For the most part what I was doing was just as boring to them as their ennui with my life.

Reminiscing or a few guffaws over the few anecdotes we had shared in high school got old in a matter of minutes, followed by too much drinking, then predictably by the single people or the unhappily married ones, trying to hit on each other for dates or sex.

  • I never told you this, but I always had a big crush on you. I was just afraid to tell you so.
  • I’ll also bet you would probably tell me later not to worry; because you would either pull out in time or you wouldn’t come in my mouth.

When I left college, the same thing happened, except for the fact that I never even bothered to go back to any reunions at all.

Maybe it was just a case of my being typically antisocial. But by the same token, either I just never felt enough of that great brotherly bond for anyone. Or perhaps after going forward with my life, just found it too hard to discover how many people’s lives had become arrested or stuck at some point in time, such as high school or college, and then have to suffer in silence while they behaved as if anything happening afterward was of no great value or significance.

At least war veterans have an excuse for their psyches being frozen at a single point in time. The psychology of war trauma can become very deep seated. Near death experiences or seeing death played out continuously in front of you on a daily basis gives the veteran a special dispensation for his reactive fixations on his unsolicited personal nostalgia dump.

But repeatedly yucking it up about the time you tied tin cans to the gym teacher’s car or wrote lipstick graffiti on the bathroom mirrors is pathetic.

Then there is the odd breed of character that moves to a retirement community and still tries to act in the geriatric community theater. Arsenic and Old Lace personified.

When I went to medical school I left any friends I had made at Duke behind, with the exception of Arthur, and even then, saw very little of him afterwards. When I did, he would sometimes bore me to tears about the good old days that I could only remember as being emotionally confusing. Eventually, however even he seemed to tire of nostalgia as life moved forward, careers and children came along, leaving the good old days fading to black or sometimes only to shades of gray.

I spent the first year of Medical School in the dormitory across from the school, which had the value of forcing immediate acquaintances and at least this time, as opposed to college, I did not have to share a room with anyone.

Two of the students I met in the dorm, Eli and Bob, and myself decided to move into an apartment after our first year in school. Another student, Michael, who was a sophomore also decided to go with us.

We found a large, marginally maintained second story apartment in Brookline near the trolley line. The rent was cheap and there was easy access to public transportation.

Each of us was eccentric in his individual way.

Bob, the proverbial good natured slob, was the son of a successful surgeon in Massachusetts. He had also competed in college at the Division 1 level as a side horse gymnast. Having been invited to train with the U.S. Olympic team, he was having trouble deciding weather to remain in school or take some time off, which caused him to spend more time at the gym than at the desk.

He never spent any time cleaning up his room that was a messy mixture of medical textbooks, dirty smelly sweat clothes and despite the athletics, also ashtrays full of cigarette butts.

It is hard to believe he went on to become a highly skilled transplant surgeon, but then again it is hard to believe that any of us went on to achieve successful careers.

He came form a family of seven children, the youngest of which had Downs Syndrome, being a child born in an era when the disorder could not be tested for in utero by amniocentesis or other blood sampling. This disorder is caused by the inheritance of 3 chromosomes at number 21, other wise known as Trisomy 21. It is not fatal to the fetus and is probably related to a chromosomal aberration occurring in “old eggs.”

Chromosomal aberration does not happen to sperm, because sperm cells, being continuously renewed by the millions, tend to want to be continuously ejaculated. Most men accommodate this urge whenever they can or whenever the urge simply overwhelms them.

On the other hand, a woman carries all the eggs she is born with. Because they are expelled only one at a time, after age forty, then having had to sit around for decades waiting their turn, they tend to be more susceptible to becoming blighted.

You would become blighted too if you had to wait forty years before it was your turn to have a chance to mate.

Bob once confided to me that when the baby arrived, the Obstetrician, knowing the burdens that lay ahead in raising this child, had offered his father the option of “taking care of the problem.”

But Bob’s father had declined the offer without malice. He knew the other physician was only trying to help, because after all, there were already six normal children in a household that was always in overcrowded chaos. And now mom was expecting to bring home a mentally retarded person who would never be emotionally older than eight years old.

Bob’s father and the family accepted this genetic mishap fatalistically, loved her, took care of her and went on with their lives.

In perhaps rationalizing the Obstetrician’s concern that a Down’s baby may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, Bob’s family home reminded me of one belonging to an Irish Catholic’s I went to high school with.

Both households always looked as though bombs had just hit them.

My high school friend’s home was a center of chaotic clutter, excessive noise and the expected unrelenting traffic that goes along with seven children stomping through a small four-bedroom house.

The incongruity was that although my friend was in high school, there was also a baby in a crib; making my friend potentially old enough to be the baby’s father.

The mother of the brood was sweet spirited and kindly but also overweight, out of shape and old before her time. She had given up a long time ago trying to fix her prematurely grey hair or to clean the house while her personal aura always projected a sadly exasperated, perpetually fatigued and defeated individual. It was as though with each of her seven births, every new baby had taken away a small piece of her beauty, her looks, her optimism and worst of all, her hope.

The father, who having already obeyed the Catholic prohibitions against birth control or family planning, progressively drank more and more, had probably turned to alcohol both as a reliable method of keeping his penis inert as well as a reliable way to avoid facing the reality of having to deal with his procreation.

Then as might be expected, the increasing use of liquor also led to the increasing incidents of domestic violence.

Less money to go around combined with the progressive loss of parental control at home resulted in the children having to fend increasingly for themselves, with the attendant wayward or dysfunctional behaviors that go along with that. Some of them could not help but run afoul of the law or using drugs and alcohol themselves.

I never knew how things ultimately turned out for Bob’s family, as we parted ways after Medical School, but there is a bottom line common sense approach to family size. Do not bite off more than you can chew.

Despite his athletic prowess, Bob chain-smoked cigarettes as we delighted in goading him into walking around the apartment on his hands while he smoked upside down.

We also tried to get him to hold a cigarette in his ass while he did hand-stands. Especially because he could fart at will; we wanted to see if he could expel them like little Roman Candles. In our way of thinking that feat would have given him a perfect score of 10, with a Gold medal on the floor exercises.

Eli was addicted to Oldies Music, had a huge collection of 45-rpm records that no one could touch, kept in a dresser drawer in pristine condition, He couldn’t help the fact that he came from Philadelphia, which explained his inability to branch out into any music produced after 1962. Speaking of old tunes, this is a city that could not even undertake patching the crack in its iconic bell. Dong, ding.

Michael was a brilliant student who being fortunate enough to have had a photographic memory made learning medicine easy for him. He did everything in half the time it took the rest of us. It was also fortunate for the rest of us that being one year ahead in school he could successfully forewarn or forearm us in what was yet to come and in what expectations would be required in our educational future.

He was blessed with the gift of common sense and had an innate ability to clearly see the forest for the trees, as well as being able to see the all the individual trees at the same time. This gave him the ability of cutting to the bottom line faster than anyone I had ever met. He and I clicked immediately on the level of a commonly perverse sense of humor.

Although he eventually went on to become a successful Emergency Room physician; our long-term friendship turned out not to be quite as successful, through no fault of his, and is one of the several truly regretful things I have had to deal with in my life. But that is another story.

I was the resident hippie as well as being an “expert” on new wave music, had broad musical tastes in general that ranged the gamut from Classical to Country Western; and like Arthur, set out on a mission to musically enlighten my friends. Oldies Eli was refractory to having a musical epiphany. Being pushed too far his ire increased to wrath. Having to reluctantly respect the fact that he was stuck in his own antiquated grooves; I backed off.

He eventually impregnated a Finnish girl on an overseas vacation, and although never marrying her, faithfully supported his daughter financially while also visiting her whenever he could. Not getting married was entirely the girl’s idea, not his.

I was a cocky little bastard, because aside from having good looks, I also happened to have a beautiful girlfriend, whereas at the same time none of my roommates were dating. Michael used to call me “pretty boy” always advising that I should use this asset to find a rich woman and marry for her money

He would say:

  • Become an arriviste; a gigolo. You can retire young. Drink and dine at the Country Club. Take up golf and tennis. Have a few affairs and one or two illegitimate kids.

Sometimes, especially now that my looks have faded, while at the same time it took me a lifetime to get out of debt, I think he may have been right. But not me, no, I would only pathetically and stupidly “marry for love.”

In short order I managed to wreck that part of my life because, justifiably my girl friend left me. She had enough of me being cavalier, behaving in an exceedingly macho manner in front of my male friends, and also got tired of my combined fear of wanting to show I that really cared with an uncontrollably sharp abusive tongue or a quick temper.

At the time, I shrugged it off because I honestly thought that pretty women were a dime a dozen only to then find out the hard way how difficult it would be to find someone else who similarly combined her good looks, her sense of humor and her wonderfully pleasant personality. That quest, in taking half a lifetime, was not based on maudlin sentimentality, but rather on the reality of how difficult it really is to find a soul mate.

Chalk it up to naive youth.

I did eventually luck out and found someone, but it took close to forty years.

Chalk that one up to good fortune, the fact that it is never too late, and the fact of having had a realistic standard for comparison.

Too many people I have known have settled or excessively compromised in their spousal or interpersonal relationships, usually for a litany of rationalized excuses. Settling is never a necessity and sometimes being alone is better than being in relationship hell. In all aspects of life, it is always better to “shop around” than to settle on the first great bargain you happen to stumble across.

It is only regrettable that Internet dating sites cannot create personal profiles based on similar criteria to that found in The Consumer’s Digest; or at least for the candidate in question to attach below their bio a short reality background check critique by any of their ex or exes. That would certainly soften the usual schlock about everyone seeming to love “sunsets, quiet times, fireplaces, romantic evenings at home, fine dining and walks on the beach.”

In any event whereas Michael’s recreational drug of choice was marijuana, and although Bob preferred beer, Bob was still partially corruptible to the point of occasionally smoking a joint or two.

Eli, being a Jewish preppie, was straight laced, drug free and spent his free time playing tennis or working out. Although he was refractory to corruption, and we tended to make fun of him for that, little did we realize that instead, we should have probably used him as a role model.

He eventually made an avocation of hiring himself out as a D.J. for oldies parties when they became “all the rage” in the 1990s. So, there you go; just stick to it long enough and any avocation might be fulfilled.

At that time, I would smoke some pot or took LSD or mescaline once or twice a year, but for the most part did not partake in excesses. None of us did because none of us would have been able to keep up with the rigorous demands of Medical School while at the same time being a dope-head or a drunk.

Hallucinogens also backfired twice.

One occasion occurred when I was off duty on a surgical rotation in Springfield and was cornered by a staff Internist in the vending machine bistro. He kept trying to animatedly talk to me about medicine while I was watching the birds on the wall paper border animatedly begin to fly around the room. My only thought was that he must have known I was high and would report me to the Chief of Staff.

The other bad trip occurred when I walked into a bar near Harvard where a fortiesh middle aged woman tried to pick me up. Her front teeth were so large; I began to see a small horse instead of a woman, the vision of which made me flee the scene without getting a drink or getting  laid by a Cougar.

As a hippie hangover, I also painted my room dark maroon, moved in some Big Funk decorations, along with a great sound system complete with the Marantz speakers that had made my cousin Jimmy green with envy when he found out I owned them.

I never heard the end of that one.

  • Marantz, Marantz. You got Marantz. I can’t believe you got Marantz
  • Shut up, shut up. Go buy your own. I know they made more than two.

The place, in retrospect, vaguely resembled a Chinese bordello such that although the room color would have made the happiest idiot on earth depressed to this day I cannot remotely remember the rationale behind the color choice. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, it worked well for me at the time.

Right now, psychedelic purple is working out well for my wife’s 15 year-old (now 23) daughter, because in making me sea-sick just to look at it, this also tends to keep me from going into her room, disturbing her, or furtively sneaking a peek into her private life and property.

For the most part, studying took precedence over any other priority with things proceeding harmoniously until the day that Bob decided that we needed a dog. It simply appeared one day after he came back from a vacation and was a decision made by fiat.

The dog was a black and tan mixed breed mutt, about a year old, and at least if not adopted by our consensus, he was unanimously assigned his adopted name, Golgi, after an intracellular apparatus we learned about in Microbiology.

Although by the same token of the dog not having been greeted by unanimous applause, no one had enough lack of compassion for Bob and his pet to throw the dog out.In retrospect, we should have sent both Bob and his new mutt to the pound together.

The problem pivoted on the fact that because we all had to be in class during the day, the dog lacked company as well as lacking regular walks or exercise. This predictably resulted in the dog trashing the apartment out of sheer boredom, then followed his destructive romps of urinating and defecating all over it out of the sheer inability to hold it in.

He ate or chewed everything in sight, nearly rivaling my Uncle Oak’s dog Lucky in his ability to produce more matter in his excrement than went into his mouth. So, who ever said that you couldn’t make something out of nothing? Golgi could make sow’s shit out of silk food and defied the laws of physics when it came to conservation of matter.

Michael particularly hated the dog and probably would have sold him to an experimental lab if he would not have to lie about the disappearance.

The quick fix was to leave the dog on the small balcony porch, which might have been all right except for the fact that he would either nearly cook or freeze to death depending on weather conditions, and for the fact that no one cleaned up the dog shit regularly enough so that it would not pile up into massive heaps.

That problem was solved by shoveling it off the deck into the courtyard behind the apartment. We tacked a sign to the deck rails that only we could see: “Watch out below.”

Amazingly enough even though the backyard began to resemble bat-cave guano piles, none of the tenants complained about it until mid summer when the giant cones began to ferociously bake, attracted flies; and emitted aromatic vapors that made them look like quasi dormant mini-volcanoes.

Perhaps it was the very fact of Bob coming from a large family that then caused him to illogically come up with the idea that the solution to the dog problem lay in the fact of the dog simply being lonely. In his perverse way of reasoning, he assumed that Golgi would be much happier and would behave much better if he had a friend.

So once again without consulting his roommates, he arrived back from a school vacation with Golgi’s newly adopted brother, another mutt from the pound, who was promptly named Wilson Woodeye Farquard, a name derived in part because he had a lazy eye and in part because he looked like a nerd.

Wilson was a shaggy ball of brown fluff covering a barrel shaped body supported on spindly little legs. He also had a long nose, strabismic eyes, and a small flat head that housed a brain the size of a pea. He was dumb as a post, could not be trained in rudimentary dog skills, but redeemed himself with his sweet personality. He also had the great attribute of never barking, so he may have also been a deaf mute. It really was hard to tell.

If human, he would have been the equivalent of the proverbial good-natured slob; or perhaps was the ghost of our lobotomized cadaver.

However, between the two of them, and as one might predictably expect, the dogs wreaked double havoc on the interior destruction of the apartment as well as tripling the size of the back yard guano piles. The only thing Wilson proved to be adept at was in quickly picking up, almost by osmosis, all of Golgi’s bad habits.

The saga of this ridiculous perversion of logic in having “doggy friends” somehow reminded me of the completely illogical thinking that drives couples in bad or even marginally successful relationships to believe their interpersonal problems can be solved by having more children: other wise known as the theory of putting out fires by pouring gasoline onto them.

It may have been the same logic that drove my Catholic friend’s parents to breed uncontrollably and discounts entirely the tiresome theory that when it comes to having children the more is the merrier.

That does not even happen in nursery rhymes.

You know what you are doing is plain dead wrong, but you have the next kid anyway because you just simply cannot help yourself; and then you either masochistically stay in the relationship “because of the children,” or you quickly run for the exit door labeled “Divorce.”

Or, worse yet, and even if in a good relationship, it becomes rationalized with the prayer-plea:

  • Don’t worry. God will provide.

You bet.

This same logic applies to marrying the girl you knocked up in high school.

  • Don’t worry, mom, love will find a way.

Sure.

In the end, Michael and I decided enough was enough, that school was too hard to have other distractions such as pets when we could barely take care of ourselves, and decided to divorce our other two roommates and to look for other accommodations.

The terms of the separation were simple. Bob could keep his four legged kids, Eli could keep his 45s oldies, while the landlord would have to deal with the dog shit, the pee stained floors and the oddly colored dark red room.

red-room

( In the Red Room; studying genetics )

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

So she gave them some broth, without any bread.

And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.

(Nursery Rhyme)

Medical School Interviews

1969: Onto Yet Even Higher Education 

I don’t know how or why I was ever accepted at any medical school because instead of listing a litany of extracurricular activities, I was a student without portfolio. The dearth of substance was so poor that Columbia University, a facility that prided itself on accepting “well rounded” students who for example could also sing, dance, act or play the violin, rejected my application outright without offering a personal interview.

The only factors explaining my eventual acceptance anywhere were some behind the scenes influence by my father, the story I came up with in the interviews I did get, and the theory of relativity.

Once again, reaching the interview stage is what really makes or breaks an applicant’s chances of finally getting in. It’s like the quarter finals of a sports title; where at that final goal-line push, I was invited to interview at Syracuse, Tufts, and Tulane.

My father, who graduated from Tufts Dental School, always donated a small sum to the alumni fund, but not enough for them to roll out a red carpet. He also had a close friend from his training days who had gone on to become the Chief of Radiology at Tulane University. In relative terms, I was a student of the Vietnam protest era making this the background that cast the proverbial die:

  • Half of the College graduates had been war protesters.
  • My family had an infinitely small legacy at Tufts University.
  • My father’s friend agreed to personally interview me at Tulane.
  • Syracuse was a total crapshoot.
  • Columbia deserved a modicum of revenge, to be exacted at some future date.

The interviews all took the same track: raised eyebrows about a very poor academic sophomore year, a great recovery after the fact, and queries about a dearth of extracurricular activities. I fluffed up my stint at the radio station, had been on the staff of the literary magazine and one or two other clubs but omitted having briefly joined the radical Students for a Democratic Society. Also, omitting a few episodes of LSD, mescaline or marijuana use; I did not list these as having participated in National drug trials. They didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.

I used the ploy of the Prodigal Son, who had “wasted his substance with riotous living.”

My confession consisted of having been a misled, socialist, profligate hippie who had come to his senses, and having disavowed Communism, had turned his life around, and seen light of a calling to higher education with a sincere dedication to healing the sick and the lame.

Not at all being a lie that I wanted to become a physician; it was truthfully the only avocation I had ever pursued, thus making it easily believable for me to plead the usual epithets of sincerely wanting to use a career in Medicine to better serve humanity.

In relative terms, my cause was likely supported by the Viet Nam war having caused many more academic souls beside my own to become laid waste, thus making me look reasonably good in comparison.

Syracuse rejected me. So what? The second the jet landed and encountering the frigid air whipping off the tarmac from across the barren wasteland tundra otherwise known as Upstate New York, I wanted to turn around, get back in my seat and be a “no show” at the interview.

The place gave me the cosmic jitters, while the cold weather presaged how my application had been viewed or how badly my interview must have gone. I suppose my indifferent lack of enthusiasm and luke-cold attitude must have been quite transparent; because I knew before I left that I had tanked it like a slowly sinking fish turd in a still pond.

Being a bit more enthusiastic for the next rounds of one on one encounters as well as having a better practiced story, I must have interviewed better. This combined with the fact of my father’s inside connection at Tulane as well as his legacy at Tufts, I was accepted at both. With a thinly stacked deck, and a reasonably good story, two out of three major medical schools had decided I deserved a chance to prove myself.

It was a miracle, because now a heretofore hapless mendicant, possibly headed for a deal with the devil in Viet Nam, was now back in the driver’s seat with the luxury of rejecting one of the schools. I was out of the fire and back into the frying pan.

It is a definitive fact that the sum of numerous little things in life add up to make the whole; while there is a very thin line separating success from failure.

It is also true that in making speeches or telling stories, yarns, jokes, or even tall tales that practice does go a long way in making it all perfect.

Woodie Allen was probably correct when he said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. The rest of the 20% validates once again that the age-old axiom holds true:

It is not necessarily what you do or what you did.

What really counts is the story you come up with to explain it all away.

prodigal-son

This brother or yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now he is found.

Luke15: 11-32

 

 

Painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

 

 

 

The Psychedelic Sophomore ( 1967)

Room to Move 

When I did not get accepted by a fraternity, I interviewed with one of the “Independent” dormitory houses, Canterbury. There was essentially no difference between this situation and a Fraternity house, except for the fact that there is no Greek translation for the word Canterbury. On occasion, we would host a rowdy drinking party and for the special campus Homecoming weekend of 1967, I invited a girl from my old high school class to come down for this affair.

My roommate at the time, Ernie, was a “good old boy” from West Virginia who happened to be away for that weekend visiting his fiancée. Ernie was abstemious when it came to drugs but did imbibe liberally in Wild Turkey whiskey or Jim Beam. Despite my efforts to point out to him that alcohol was a drug too, I could never get him to smoke a joint. He was as thin as a reed, crew cut, geeky, studious, emotionally passive and wore thick black glasses that were so heavy his cadaverous face could not support them. Thus, they constantly fell down over his nose, but not intentionally like the purposeful idiotic moniker of Whoopi Goldberg.

Ernie’s characteristics caused Arthur to torture him mercilessly about growing his hair long or smoking pot. The verbal bombardment was so intensely constant and tormenting; I thought it might have had something to do with Ernie deciding to get married at the end of sophomore year, just to escape.

Ernie met his bride earlier in the year at a Coed import function. These events were social mixers whereby the University bussed in a few hundred or so single women from another unisex college, being something the higher powers felt obliged to do as compensation for Duke’s 4:1 ratio of men to women. The Administration must have considered this the best method for keeping raging male hormones under a modicum of control and confined to campus.

Ernie said it was love at first sight. More likely it was a conveniently desperate way to distance himself from the cabal that was trying to break him down and corrupt him into subscribing to our own bad habits. It was also probably the first woman who had ever really given him the time of day. In any event, Ernie was away the weekend I imported my date. Dorm restrictions at the time were still relatively puritanical and prohibited female guests from overnight stays. Perhaps if the rules had been more flexible, my former girlfriend M. who had dumped me, may have stayed on a little longer because we could have had sex on a bed instead of under a bush. But if discovered, and then prosecuted, overnight female activity could lead to immediate expulsion.

Not really knowing what I was going to do with my weekend date, as well as being unable to afford a motel room, I secreted her in my dorm room. But I had not planned ahead, so when in the middle of the night she had to urinate, I made her pee in an ice bucket, which I then emptied in the common bathroom down the hall. This was all the more risqué since because she was so stubbornly prudish, if I had been expelled over the incident, it would also have been with the added insult of not even getting laid.

Unfortunately, I had no advance warning that in her age group she was the planet’s last living virgin who was romantically saving herself for marriage. More amazingly, she was not even a Catholic, which as a group I mistakenly thought were the only ones still interested such nonsense. I found out later in life that Irish Catholic girls tend to be randomly promiscuous; whereas the Italian Catholics tend to look in your wallet first; but not for condoms.

She did have acne, which led me to believe that my Aunt Jean’s opinion on the subject was probably not at all accurate, as Jean had once opined that the amount of acne a person had was either directly or inversely proportional to how much sex they were or were not having. In the case of a girl it meant she was a sperm filled slut and in the case of a celibate boy it meant that his was backing up to the point of overflow.

If nothing else the episode inspired a desire to move off campus to the relative freedom of private housing. That way I could freely smoke pot, drink beer, and have women over without worrying about a Dorm monitor checking up on my bad habits; just as Ernie had fled to the relative safety of wedded bliss, and to avoid the pressured risk of becoming just another pot smoking hippie. This is not withstanding the possibility of Ernie having risked the pressure of an altogether different kind of nagging.

As the year progressed, Arthur began making plans to drop out of school, go to San Francisco with his girlfriend from New Jersey, and live the dream inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac that were vividly described in his novel, the Dharma Bums. Arthur had already saturated himself with novels such as The Air Conditioned Nightmare and Naked Lunch, all of which he encouraged me to read because he thought they would help with my overall “enlightenment.”

It wasn’t until years later after becoming a physician that I even remotely began to understand William Burroughs paranoid delusions, while he traveled the world junked out on heroin or every other drug or drug combination he could lay his hands on. When it was originally published Naked Lunch was considered to be so obscene it was “Banned in Boston” and went on to be a milestone case for the right of free speech. Burroughs, a bona fide multi-drug junkie who was heir to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, was living the life of leisure until the day he decided to play William Tell with his wife and shot her in the head with a pistol instead of hitting the apple. In those days even if you were a celebrity, you could not get away with that kind of thing whereas today he probably could have capitalized on the episode by selling “Heroin Spoils Your Aim” tee shirts.

Arthur, who had already imbibed, had been able to procure some mescaline and LSD from his California connections and then suggested, or more like harangued that one Saturday we should try some of it. He perseverated in his Priest-like mystification of the psychedelic drug experience regaling anecdotal tales of people taking them and either going crazy or losing their minds, while constantly prepping me to remember that no matter what I was thinking during a drug trip it was still only a temporary state of mind.

It would also be part of the ritual that we had to take it early on a Saturday so that any effects would be gone by Monday when classes resumed. He also made it clear that he would be in control of all aspects of the activities during our “trip’ and basically scared the shit out of me to the point I wondered why I was even going to try the stuff.

Mescaline was to be the first drug of choice because of its mystical connection to the American Indians, who had obviously learned the true way to coexist with nature many centuries before; thus in all probability being the original hippies, so to speak, had learned I use it as a peaceful connection to nature.  As such it was touted as a means contributing to my own overall enlightened cerebral liberation.

When the mystical Saturday morning finally arrived, Arthur, the guru, decided we were going to take Mescaline.

The entire angst of the pre-drug experience was soon left behind when we spent the entire day listening to music of Art’s choice while I read Thor Comic books. Nothing happened of any consequence except for the fact of my complete immersion in the comic scene whose characters seemed to vibrantly come to life as they leap off the page. This was all the more interesting since I had never liked Thor to begin with. Spending about eight hours reading the same stupid stories over and over again while repeatedly saying “wow’ at the spectacularly vivid living colors that saturated each page in the book; I enjoyed the fact that each comic strip actually did seem to become animated. No real enlightenment and certainly no acute psychosis occurred, while to this day I do not believe I have ever read Thor comics again.

Having passed the hurdle of the first experience, we tried the drug a few more times during the year, with each experience being nothing more than an acute accentuation of ordinary everyday events or stimuli along with a proclivity to be oblivious to the stresses and strains of the world around us. It made for a nice escape from the rigors of study or the angst of a foreign war, as though both of these things were so onerous we had to get away from them. Unfortunately, the drugs also contributed to a general sense of ennui and lack of ambitious desire to do any homework at all, which was beginning to reflect poorly on my pre-med curriculum.

Things came to a head with Part II of Sophomore Physics.

At that time the pre-med students were put into the same program as the engineering students who were significantly more gifted in math and it was not until years later that the pre-med class was segregated following belated recognition by the University that the course was just too hard for “want-to-be-doctors.”

Left Hand Rule, Right Hand Rule, First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, Gobbledygook, with progressively more complicated formulas or concepts I could not grasp nor had any real desire to actually comprehend. There simply did not seem to be any real practical value to any of it. Having studied little or none of it, I pulled an all-nighter and showed up for the final exam prepared to at least try for enough partial credit to pass it by memorizing as many formulas as I possibly could.

I already knew from Chemistry that if one at least writes down a litany of formulas, the professor thinks you know something to the point that even if you don’t get the answer correct, or even get to a final answer at all, he will let some positive credit points leak out of his pen, which added together at the end will get you over the flunk threshold.

One of my friends in Medical School later told me that to that point his entire academic career had been based on the “Principle of Partial Credit,” a concept rooted in the fact that one does not have to ever know it all or ever get it all right. One only has to know enough of something about everything, as opposed to a modern day news commentator who excels in knowing nothing about everything or everything about nothing. One of the main features of this approach is to at least try to put down some formulation for each question with the most dreaded fault being to leave a question entirely blank. Cardinal sin. Definite F.

Forget about science. The First Law of Partial Credits also served me well throughout the rest of my academic career.

But getting back to Physics, on the day of the test I was nauseated by the sight of all those Engineering students who showed up with two slide rules in their belts akin to mathematical six shooters, which they then whipped out at the starting bell, flew furiously in their sweaty little hands, then at least fifteen minutes before the closing bell they leaped up, turned in their papers, then headed for the exits with all-knowing little gloats and smirking smiles on their effete cherubic faces. I both envied and loathed them and sometimes wished they would have psychotic breaks or blow their brains out with little homemade cannons like the Engineering student had done. Instead of committing those two Cardinal Sins, perhaps I should have just applied myself to study harder instead.

Then at the “public posting of the test results ceremony” I sweated bullets. Summer was coming nigh and I knew I would not be able to face the non-psychedelic music at home if I had failed. So when I saw a D next to my name, I yelled for joy right in front of a glowering exasperated proctor who had little appreciation for my elation.

  • You mean you’re happy with a D? That’s despicable.
  • You bet. Because the D in “I Passed” is silent. But not the F in Flunked.

All I cared about was that I would not have to repeat a semester in Physics hell although the minimally passing grade, with my gleeful underachieving reaction, was causing the proctor to nearly pass out from sheer disgust.

Unfortunately this D did not help my GPA, which had dropped from a 3.6 to a 2.6. For a high school straight-A student, I knew some serious explanations would have to be invented when these final grades made their way through the postal service and finally to my parent’s mail box at home.

Reverting to false hope by appealing to religion, I said a Rosary for the miracle of the report card ending up in the dead letter bin at Kansas City’s Postal depot.

 

 

hang over

–The wages of sin is bad grades–

 

It’s so easy to slip

It’s so easy to fall

And let your memory drift

And do nothing at all

(George Kibbee)

 

Exceptions to the Rule. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Exceptions to the Rule

 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

 

Every rule has exceptions, ergo there are a few exceptions to the rule that professionalism and drugs or alcohol; just don’t mix.

This exception has occasionally held true at least in the literary world, although in the world of today’s top sports professionals it may also hold true for those athletes who are bulking up with androgenic or anabolic steroids while trying not to perform under the influence of other mind-altering substances. Perhaps, this is because steroids do in fact beneficially alter performance, although contrarily they also have been known to have severe adverse effects on the personality.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Lance Armstrong come to mind with enhanced performance. But then again ask Taylor Hooton’s father what he thinks of steroids after his 17 year old athlete son abused them, became depressed and committed suicide. Or ask the remaining family of steroid abusing Professional Wrestler Chris Benoit who killed his wife, his son and then himself.

Mickey Mantle may have been an exceptional case of an individual who could abuse a substance and still perform. John Daly almost made it too, but eventually fizzled out when alcohol finally overwhelmed his natural talent. Usual odds favor the probability that substance abuse will result in the crash and burn of any career.

In the literary world Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was reputed to be a cocaine addict, yet thrilled the world with his tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge actually admitted that his poem Kubla Kahn was ruined and left unfinished because while in the state of an opium reverie a “visitor from Portlock” knocked on his door and interrupted his entire thought process. He said he lost perhaps a dozen lines.

Then there is the case of Lewis Carroll, whose possible pedophilic addiction to pre-pubescent girls may have been quite a bit more sinister than using either opium, cocaine or both. Just ask Alice.

And who can tell how many modern rock music icons have written beautiful songs while under the influence of marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, LSD or booze; both before, during or after the fact of whatever substance they happen to be abusing at the time.

But for the ordinary, average every day working stiff citizen, I wouldn’t recommend at all playing golf, going bowling, skiing, playing softball or tennis, writing a song or a story or sometimes even attending a christening or a wedding, while under the influence of anything.

That is not unless the people you are up against or mingling with are hyped up on the same chemical substance as the one you are. In this circumstance you might be perceived as being fantastically talented, but only in relative terms.

  • Hey. After I snorted coke last night I had ten great ideas for making a million dollars.
  • Yeah. And after ten beers I shot a 65 on the driving range. You shoulda seen it.

First of all, being a legend in your own mind, you undoubtedly are not all that great at whatever the sport might be. You are also not creative enough to write or sing worth a wit, and you are not clever enough to hold a decent conversation while partially coherent mumbling or slurring; although as you utter them, those words resonate as music to your own ears.

One should always remember that although you might be inclined to think otherwise; the superstars who abuse drugs and alcohol have an amazing talent that gives them a towering leg up to begin with before they decide to waste, squander, or even exploit it in a myriad of other non-commercial enterprises. However, in our ordinary, mundane world, water will always seek its own level.

 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

(Sherlock Holmes)