Marijuana

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

 

 

 

Legalized Drugs: An editorial essay

Legalized Drugs 

When I became a Cardiology Fellow in 1976 I stopped smoking tobacco. Like most bad habits, I never should have started smoking in the first place.

The first time I ever smoked was in the woods with my kleptomaniac high school friend Timmy who  swiped a pack from a stationery store along with some chewing gum that was designed to hide the smell from our parents. Lucky for us our parents smoked too, so we got away with it. However, the effects on my lungs and my body were horrible, making me feel sick for days. One might then ask: “So why did you ever try it again?”

But like any intoxicating habit when I went to Duke I picked up the habit for real by hard-core smoking unfiltered cigarettes for about three years. Thinking it to be a rationalized lesser of two evils, I then started using a pipe. Interestingly enough, aromatic pipe tobacco was more highly addictive than regular cigarette tobacco. Because of its more flavorful taste, the chemical enhancers made it extremely difficult to quit. I told people I didn’t really want to smoke tobacco, only doing it to keep my lungs in shape for marijuana. Ha, ha.

Then when I finally went to medical school and later became a Cardiology Fellow in 1976, I stopped smoking for good.

The epiphany for smoking cessation should have occurred in Medical School six years earlier. In a Surgery rotation I stood on my feet for an eight-hour operation while half of a smoker’s jaw was removed for tongue cancer only to then discover that tumor cells still lurked in the surgical margin. However, I needed the reinforcement later by going into a Catheterization Lab day after day for two years only to see one rotten coronary artery after the next.

I also stopped smoking pot at or about the same time because it stopped being enjoyable and because I did not care for its harsh effects on my respiratory system. One joint could make me cough for weeks or occasionally precipitate an episode of acute bronchitis that required treatment with antibiotics. Marijuana also made me eat more than usual and caused episodic paranoia while under its influence. On one occasion when I got ‘the munchies’ and drove to a Deli for a snack, I couldn’t even get out of the car because I thought everyone would be able to tell I was stoned and might call the police. Basically it just stopped being fun.

Over a long period of time I then became a lightweight social drinker shifting from beer when I was in my twenties to Vodka as an adult. In fact, I do not think I even drank at all until I was about twenty-six years old. Once again, I probably should have stopped right there when I overdosed on beer and puked all over my parent’s front yard late one Sunday afternoon. That display garnered no sympathy form my father as he made me hose off the mess because it would make a brown patch on his otherwise perfect lawn.

However, being one of those fortunate individuals who can stop after one drink, as opposed to nursing a miserable hangover that would make me basically useless for doing anything constructive, I would rather be able to function at work or better yet, on the first golf tee at 9 a.m. the next day.

There are other reasons.

Having a career in medicine prohibits substance abuse in general; and drinking while being responsible for patient care is not only derelict negligence, but is also a sure way to lose a medical license. Although I came to loath the responsibilities attendant with night call, principally because I had to do so much of it when I went through training and then later on in private practice, I suppose the advantage was that the forced sobriety may have saved my liver from a cirrhotic fate similar to that of Mickey Mantles’.

There is periodically a great national debate about the merits of legalizing certain drugs such as marijuana and heroin. Included in the arguments are that people will use the drugs anyway, so why not be able to control and tax them? The argument also goes that supplying people with standardized doses and clean needles will prevent lethal overdosing, or transmission of disease like HIV and hepatitis. In the case of marijuana, I am sure that a pot smokers dream come true would be to have regular access to a pack of R.J Reynolds quality ensured “Rolled Gold.”

I do not have an opinion on the subject other than to point out the hypocrisies of the debate’s opponents.

Everyone knows about the great failure of prohibition against alcohol. People wanted it anyway and nothing good came out of it, including the fact that bootlegging and clandestine distillation gave organized crime the monetary base it needed to gain what resulted in incredible social and political power. In fact, their power base was actually enhanced to megalithic levels when prohibition was repealed, forcing gangsters toward the importation or the sale of illegal drugs.

The hypocrisy comes with the fact that the United States Government actually sanctions alcohol and tobacco, two of the most dangerously lethal drugs that have ever been produced by mankind, and that these two drugs are the most widely used across the country.

There is even a Federal Agency, the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) that regulates these “drugs,” and prevents private entrepreneurs from cashing in on the profits; ergo the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1800s or the all out attempt to stop boot legging home distilleries. If people make their own booze and cigarettes; the government is shit out of luck on the tax revenues.

Illegal drug use pales in comparison, which makes the so-called “War on Drugs” a distracting, hypocritical myth. There is no war, because too many people, including politicians get kickbacks to keep it going. The only effective war is the one currently being waged by the Philippine President who is summarily shooting all the drug dealers.  The first effective war occurred when Mao Zedong closed down the Opium dens that had been maliciously facilitated by the British Empire’s drug trade that made it wealthy at the expense of the Chinese peasant. Mao knew that nation building was predetermined by getting China off dope.

Statistics vary on use of alcohol and tobacco, but taken together they account for being the most serious two drug problems facing the country. It is probable that two thirds of all adult American use alcohol socially. Approximately 54 million Americans take part in binge drinking, while about 16 million are heavy drinkers.

Alcohol use contributes to: accidents of all sorts, lost productivity, workforce absenteeism, crime, death, damaged health, wasted lives, physical and verbal spousal abuse, broken homes, and generalized human misery.

Drunk drivers kill 40 to 50 thousand people per year whereas in the thirteen or so years we have been fighting in Iraq, our country has lost only a few thousand lives.

In the early 1990s a snapshot of alcohol related costs to society were as follows:

  1. Health care expenditures: $18.8 billion.
  2. Premature death: $31.3 billion
  3. Motor vehicle accidents: $24.7 billion of which $11.1 billion relates to premature mortality.
  4. Crime: $59.1 billion.
  5. Social welfare programs: $10.4 billion.
  6. The total cost for all categories was $148 billion.

In 1995 the total was $166.5 billion with drug abuse related costs coming in at $108.9 billion. I don’t know what it is now, but can only guess it has escalated.

This economic cost is borne by the entire U.S. population, including those who do not drink and includes: State and Federal governments, private insurers, victims, and family members of alcoholics.

Twenty-three percent of Americans or about 51 million people smoke tobacco, which translates to an annual smoker per capita use rate of approximately 2069 cigarettes for each smoker. That translates to about 105 billion cigarettes and does not even account for worldwide tobacco exports, which are enormous.

When tobacco is burned its smoke liberates almost 4000 chemical compounds, which include its addictive component, nicotine.  These compounds, including the residual tars are atherogenic, carcinogenic and locally toxic to lung tissues. Passive environmental smoking also puts nonsmokers at risk, while pregnant women who smoke have higher rates of fetal deaths, smaller babies and SIDS.

In 1999, tobacco related illness consumed 6% of the total health care budget or approximately $76 billion.

Tobacco kills more people in the US than alcohol, cocaine, crack heroin, homicide, suicide, motor vehicle accidents, fires and AIDS combined.

At a little over 400,000 deaths per year this is equal to about the number of U.S. lives lost in WW II alone or the U.S. death rate combined for WWI, Korea and Viet Nam.

Smokers miss 2.3 more days of work per year than nonsmokers and smoking reduces life expectancy by about 5 years compared to nonsmokers.

Smoking related illness accounts for 20% of all cardiovascular problems and 30% of all cancer related illnesses.

24 million Americans have the chronic lung disease of COPD or emphysema, while smoking account for 25% of all residential fires.

As an indirect but nevertheless important cost, cigarette butts account for 20% of all carted U.S. trash. Think about how many are not even carted but simply get thrown on the ground.Also think about the fact that they are biologically inert and last for fifty years.

Other drug use statistics include about 14.6 million marijuana users. One third of these are addicts who smoke it 20 or more days a month. Unfortunately, marijuana smoke is equally as lethal as tobacco smoke in its risk to potentially cause COPD, emphysema, or cancer with an as yet undetermined risk of causing atherosclerosis. The problem is that the smoke is not filtered which therefore makes each joint equivalent in toxicity to about three filtered cigarettes. It also causes cognitive dysfunction and lowered IQ scores over time.

Non-medical use of prescription drugs such as narcotics and sedatives include about 6.2 million persons. Interestingly, although narcotics are one of the few addictive substances that someone can use on a daily basis and still function as a useful element in the workforce, they are still highly addictive. Users also develop tolerance, which requires increasingly higher doses to maintain a drug effect, followed by the horrific temporary illness associated with attempted withdrawal.

In 2002, two million Americans used cocaine, 1.2 million used hallucinogens, and 166,000 used heroin.

America’s hypocrisy, and in particular American Governmental hypocrisy, derives from the relative negative importance each category of substance abuse, other than alcohol and tobacco, has on society as a whole. Alcohol and tobacco represent a mountain, while the other categories in comparison represent miniscule anthills.

The fact that two of the worst offenders are either government approved or government sanctioned and that the tobacco industry is actually protected by government subsidies and tariffs makes any propaganda effort supporting a war against drugs laughably ludicrous. The overall adverse impact of drugs other than tobacco and alcohol pales in comparison to the combined poisonous and secondary cost effects of these two products.

If the Federal Government wanted to be even-handed about a drug policy it should ban all drugs. Since it cannot, or will not, as learned by the lessons of alcohol prohibition in 1919, it would be wiser if the government would at least legalize marijuana, require it to be a filtered product and impose similar laws to those related to alcohol when a person drives while impaired.

Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug use cannot be stopped. Because it cannot be stopped, it should then be regulated and highly taxed. Additionally, tax deductions and tax shelters for tobacco and alcohol companies should be eliminated while advertising their products should be outlawed. It is also time to stop suggesting to our children that there is anything glamorous, seductive or even humorous about using alcohol or tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco are slow poisons. They take a long time to kill you; but unfortunately will never be removed from mainstream culture or subculture.

Marijuana, if unfiltered, has the equivalent lung cancer or COPD risk as cigarettes. It also makes people brain dead zombies and can cause breast development in men because of secondary increased estrogen effects. So what’s wrong with having a society of alcoholic, cigarette and marijuana smoking cirrhotic, lung diseased, brain dead, big boobed zombies?

On the other hand, because Cocaine or stimulants like amphetamine and Ecstasy, or intravenous drugs like heroin are so highly toxic and acutely dangerous, these products should all remain criminally banned. Heroin addicts could be allowed easy access to methadone to get them out of needle parks, but controlling prescription drug abuse is a hopeless cause at best. There are too many well-stocked medicine cabinets in the home, as children take their cues from parents who are overly prone to pill-popping instant cures for whatever ails them physically or emotionally.

Because of the significant health care and other societal costs linked to alcohol and tobacco, the tax base generated on these products as well as on any other potentially legalized drugs could be put into a liability fund created to offset those costs. The tax rate could be based on the number of users factored against the cost to society because God knows that under-funded hospitals could certainly use the cash.

This fund could also include an automatic, immediate reimbursement to any person hurt or maimed in a drug or alcohol related incident and an automatic disbursement to any family or spouse who has had a loved one die in a drug or alcohol related incident. Why should the rest of society suffer because someone else wants to drink or to smoke himself to death? Or worse yet, why should society suffer because someone else wants to drive himself into your car after drinking his judgment into oblivion?

And if society is not willing to execute a drunk driver who kills someone else, which in reality is a form of premeditated homicide, then there should be a heavy price to pay for it otherwise. Life in prison would be an alternative except then we as a society would still have to pay for room and board.

It is not infrequently when I take a medical history and ask people if they drink alcohol that they will answer in complete candor: “No. I only drink beer.”

Many other patients, in reference to smoking, will say that they light them up, but for the most part then only let them burn out.

I take it all with a grain of salt. After all, I think most people know that beer is not really alcohol and that President Clinton did not really inhale pot smoke or have sex “with that woman Monica Lewinsky”, either.                     

 

 alcohol-and-tobacco

 “Doctor. I don’t drink alcohol. I only drink beer. And when I light a cigarette, I just let it burn out in an ashtray”

 

                                                

Oh demon alcohol

Sad memories I cannot recall

Who thought I would say,

Damn it all and blow it all,

Oh demon alcohol

Memories I cannot recall

Who thought I would fall

A slave to demon alcohol

(Ray Davies and the Kinks)

 

Statistics on tobacco, drugs and alcohol are derived form data generated by: The CDC, U.S Government Information
Resources, Goodman and Gillman’s Textbook of Pharmacology, The National Institute on Drug Abuse,
Dr. Robert Shubinki’s//wolfweb.unr.eduand ‘In Defense of Smokers’ by Dr. Lauren N. Colby, The WHO Tobacco Atlas

The Notorious Summer of 1967

The Summer of 1967  

I would venture a guess that even today by about the middle to the end of sophomore year most college students probably become “know it alls”. I was no exception.

During the summer of 1966 after freshman year, I began to have political arguments with my father. These debates became progressively more vehement and ugly, once again reflecting the political division of the country. He was a hawkish conservative who believed in the righteous cause of anti- communism while I had become liberally freethinking and socially compassionate. My honest beliefs were that the Military industrial complex was fascist to the core, while America had forgotten its poor, its illiterates and its impoverished classes.

My father would rant about the economic waste of social welfare programs or the inability and lack of desire on the part of poor people to “raise themselves up by their own bootstraps,” because after all his father as well as himself were self-made, so why could not everyone else be so or do so as well. Of course in his later years, however, he certainly did not mind buying into and deriving certain expected benefits from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Societal experiment called Medicare.

He said:

  • That’s different. I earned it.
  • I’m not sure you really earned Carte blanch ad infinitum for any and all of your medical bills, dad.
  • And why not?

For my part, I had been exposed to the continued abject poverty in the South where poor whites lorded over poor blacks and where closer to home, black workers on campus were not even getting minimum wages. I think they were agitating to get up to 90 cents an hour, but without a union and with no advocates, they were not making any headway. My father told me I would change my mind when I began to pay taxes, while I told him he was a heartless fascist. It was a no-win Mexican standoff.

In the summer of 1967, my father finally did get the last word and played his trump card. I had lined up a job the previous year as a busboy at an old hotel, The Irving in Southampton, which at that time catered to the blue bloods who wintered in Florida or Palm Desert, and who summered on Long island’s famous East End. Many of these people moved into the hotel for the entire summer, allowing common folk like myself to get a first hand look at their decadent lifestyles.

The Irving Hotel was an elegant old establishment complete with a black tie Maître D’hôtel. An old professional German named Fritz, he supervised a formal dining room that still set tables with real silverware and Pewter accessories. If I thought that the summer of 1966 was bad because I had struggled through work with mononucleosis, little did I know how much worse the summer of 1967 would turn out to be.

My long unruly hair embarrassed my father. He had already freaked out earlier in the year when we made a rare family appearance at church for Easter Sunday at which time the long hair had caused numerous stares and giggles, all of which culminated in a great row after the fact of getting home. When my Aunt Jean saw this mop on a visit to Texas she was more direct. She followed me around all day, every day, torturing me by repeatedly calling me a “little girl” and offering to take me to town to buy a calico dress. But I could care less and indifferently let the taunts roll off my back because just like the Beetle Haircut in high school, I knew in my heart that I was in the fashion vanguard and adamantly refused to capitulate.

However, when my father got my grades for the last semester, he delivered his ultimatum in a true “come to Jesus” diatribe: I was going to get a haircut, I was going on probation for the next semester, if I did not pull my grades up to an A level he was not going to pay for school, I could get drafted into the Army on my lost educational deferment and I could go to Vietnam. He said that was it and he didn’t even care if I came home in a body bag. Although I tried to play on his guilt by telling him that he would not like to see me come back in a pine box, I really had no choice. He said again that he didn’t care one way or the other; that being hidden away in a body bag would avoid public embarrassment and thus because obviously my life on the line, I finally capitulated and got a haircut. I may have been stubborn, but I was not stupidly suicidal.

The only time I head ever seen him that mad was the night I tried to sneak into the house two hours past my curfew because of a sincerely dedicated but failed attempt to seduce a date in the back seat of the family station wagon. I had just crept into the final turn before the hallway leading to the safety of my bedroom when my father bolted out of the shadows, grabbed me in a neck throttle and slammed me up against the wall.

  • You’re late. Do that to me once more and you will never drive again.

How was I supposed to know he had a slipped disc and was trying to unsuccessfully sleep away the foul mood inducing pain in the living room recliner?

Meanwhile more shit hit the fan when my mother and Aunt Polly raided my bedroom one day, ransacked the drawers and were sitting at the kitchen table burning incense sticks when I came home from the beach.

  • We found your pot and we’re burning it up. What we really want to know is how you can get high by smoking this awful smelling stuff. We’re surprised it doesn’t kill you and if you ever bring this stuff into the house again, you’re out of school, you’ll have to get a job, then maybe get drafted, then go into the Army and we don’t care.

Although things settled down after I educated them as to their error by telling them that I only used incense to make my room smell nice, I felt it nonetheless best to be safe by giving away the safely hidden lump of the real hashish I had procured at school which was earmarked to get me through the entire summer.

Then to make matters worse, the girl I had met at the SDS meetings and had started seriously date informed me that she was pregnant.

In those days birth control pills had just come onto the market, were hard to obtain and still carried a certain stigmata as to their safety as well as the real intention behind their proposed use. Women who used ‘The Pill’ naturally then had to be secret sluts. God forbid, Grandma, if they smoked too, what you might think of the combined pharmacopeia of estrogen, progesterone and nicotine. (I have previously alluded to the fact that my Italian Grandmother’s favorite query about my father’s potential dates was to ask if they smoked. If he said” No” she was happy. So when he asked her why she wanted to know she quipped: “Because if she smokes, she fucks.”)

Completing the stupidly circular argument, women who got pregnant out of wedlock were labeled as obviously proven sluts, leaving the only logical conclusion to be that chastity should be the easiest and safest way out of the raging hormone dilemma. However, no matter how the argument is sliced or no matter what religion one subscribes to, there will never be a way to stop pre-marital sex because as previously elucidated; we are all biologically programmed to have it in our teens. For a young woman the, birth control pills and diaphragms would ultimately be easier to hide from a mother, than an oddly shaped ever expanding midline and suddenly larger bra cup size.

My girlfriend and I were both 19. She was a Baltimore debutant who went home from school for the summer, while all I could hear playing in my head were the wrathful expletives about to be delivered by my mother if I told her what was going on. It would undoubtedly be one of her worst nightmares come true: A pot smoking college-drop-out, longhaired hippie teenaged son, who was about to become a father. Not good.

However, being one of the original “Women’s Libbers”, my girlfriend made an automatic unilateral decision that we were both too young to become parents, that our prudish families would be horribly scandalized, and that our academic careers or any potential future careers for that matter would very likely be ruined or severely hampered. She wanted an abortion.

We were in quite a bind with the outlook seeming hopeless at best, if not bleak at worst We would probably have to confess the plight and then take whatever consequences came of it, including teen-age parenthood. There weren’t too many available options because unfortunately at that time in America, abortion was illegal. It was also associated with numerous real or anecdotal stories about women dying from clandestine coat hanger jobs or green soap dilatations and curettages at the hands of self styled home schooled butchers.

I was emotionally prepared to become a hotel busboy for life.

The Irving Hotel in Southampton imported help for the summer, most of it being college age students who were housed in a motel like hovel on the large grounds owned by the hotel corporation. I had already befriended one of these itinerants, Bradley, a bright guy from Springfield, Massachusetts, who was going to high school at home and was in his second summer stint at the Irving to make money for college at the University of Massachusetts.

He was an eternal optimist and a gentle soul with a great sense of humor who glibly brushed off any and all adversity. He was also a fellow pothead, and although quite bright intellectually, managed to hide the fact behind a likable goofy affect that reminded me of Our Gang’s Stymie who once told Alfalfa that:

  • I ain’t gonna show my intelligence to noooo body”

Some of the best times we had during the summer were to smoke pot after work in the concrete bunker provided as housing for the summer help, put on headphones and listen for hours to The Doors, Canned Heat, or Iron Butterfly.

When I confided the pregnancy situation, he seemed completely nonplussed and told me he knew a man at home in Springfield who had dedicated himself to a campaign for the legal right to abortion. He had also helped numerous women in trouble, or women who wanted to have their own right to choose. When I contacted Brad’s friend by phone he related how he had helped a number of women to have safe legitimate abortions in Nogales, Mexico and outlined how it could be accomplished over a weekend. There was nothing in it for himself other than to ensure medical safety, so he subsequently arranged the appointment for us with his Mexican connection, Dr. Jose Romo De Vivar who completed the circle of the notorious Massachusetts-Mexico illegal abortion ring.

Financing this endeavor was not easy, but I somehow managed to borrow about $1500 from a friend at Duke, the son of a wealthy Jewish lawyer from Northern New Jersey who happened to have had his own relatively flush personal savings account.

I procured airline tickets and successfully communicated with the doctor’s office. That was the easy part.

The hard part was to come later as for one full year after the fact, I ate nothing but small tins of Star Kist Tuna as I had to live on about two dollars a day in order to be able to pay back my friend. Guilt, of course, having played a significant role in this self-imposed sacrifice, I did not ask my girlfriend for a single dime toward our expenses as I assumed complete financial responsibility for my actions. My girlfriend and I double lied by informing our parents that we were going to visit each other. Then I flew to Baltimore where I picked her up, we then flew to Arizona, rented a car and drove over the border to Nogales, Mexico.

Nogales is a twin city. There is the American Nogales that is neat, clean modernly prosperous town. Then, just across the border there is the Mexican Nogales that is filthy, dirty, antiquated and impoverished. Nothing could better highlight the difference between America and the third world than the juxtaposition of these two towns, while nothing could better predict the future mass exodus of Mexican immigrants and illegal aliens than the visible opportunities that beckoned these poor people, who were only separated from a better life by an imaginary line drawn in the sand. The abject poverty and the juxtaposition of these two towns bearing the same name but existing in two diametrically opposed worlds was a startling eye-opener for me, because an International border was the only thing separating a bustling, clean United States village from a dilapidated, run down slum.

It was easy enough to locate the doctor’s office although it first required navigating our way trough a bevy of urchins; street beggars and shoe shine boys who hung on our heels like lampreys.

Among other things, prostitution happened to be a considerable portion of the local underground economy and was not too seriously suppressed by local authorities making the town seem to be a Mecca for U.S. citizens looking for a cheap trick. The street pimps were quite brazen, as exemplified by one of the more pernicious street solicitors, a young boy in his early teens, who nonchalantly approached us and repeatedly proposed:

  • Hey meestah. You wanna fuck my seestah? You can have her for a quarter. An’ don’ worry. You can go upstairs while I stay down here an’ watch your girlfriend. Everything weel be OK. I weel take especial good care of your girlfriend.

Given the circumstances of our situation and purpose, the solicitation was not appreciated, but was not dissimilar to a proposition we got in New York City the next summer when a street solicitor wanted us both to do a screen test for a pornographic film. It must have been something in the way she moved because I knew for sure I didn’t happen to have any of the same ‘je ne se pas de quoi.’ Or as they say in the street vernacular:

  • It must be jelly, ‘cause jam sure ‘nough don’t shake like that.

Even discounting the time value of money, I can hardly imagine what other unsolicited calamity or health hazard might have come along with that quick ride on a twenty-five cent Mexican whore. All I really needed to complete the vision of hell I already thought I was in would be to get an incurable strain of VD, a stolen wallet, no U.S identification, a kidnapped pregnant girlfriend and no way to get back home. Ultimately, although entirely nerve racking, and despite biting my fingernails to nubs while I waited, the D& C was completely uneventful and mercifully uncomplicated, which then allowed us to scramble back to our respective homes.

The entire episode lasted less than 48 hours during which time fortunately no parent had called any other parent while we both went on to make up lies about how great each other’s respective home visits had gone. Putting it all behind us was a great but nevertheless very sobering relief, as well a very harsh lesson in the value of practicing very careful birth control methods.

Thank goodness contraceptive pills soon became readily available and over a short period of time after coming on the market finally lost the stigma that those women who used them were nothing better than street whores, common sluts or lost souls who were doomed forever to roast in hell.

 

Nogales

(Nogales, Mexico / Nogales, Arizona)

 

 

Laid back in an old saloon, with a peso in my hand

Watching flies and children on the street.

And I catch a glimpse of black-eyed girls who giggle when I smile

There’s a little boy who wants to shine my feet.

And it’s three days ride from Bakersfield

And I don’t’ know why I came.

I guess I came to keep from payin’ dues.

So instead I’ve got a bottle and a girl who’s just fourteen

And a damned good case of the Mexicali blues.

Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose

When the devil wants to take it all away

Cherish all your thoughts. Keep a tight grip on your booze

‘Cause thinking and drinking are all I have today.

(John Barlow and Bob Weir: The Grateful Dead: Mexicali Blues)

 

 

 

 

 

Sophomore Slump 1967

Sophomore Slump 

I would often tell any irritatingly inquisitive non-smoker who asked me why I smoked, that it was to keep my lungs in shape for smoking marijuana.This stupidity is similar to the sadomasochistic behemoth who continuously tries to excel at lifting and throwing a 500 pound ‘unschpunenschtone’ more than three feet on ESPN’s World’s Strongest Man marathons. It equally doesn’t make much sense to either work hard at getting a lung tumor, an inguinal hernia or a slipped disc.

Because I was fascinated by the machismo image that Arthur projected by smoking his pipe, a more likely fantasy was my belief that smoking would make me more appealing to the opposite sex; like the Marlboro Man It was also the case that cigarettes were dirt cheap and could be obtained for free. All that anyone had to do was walk down to the factory in Durham, take the tour, then be allowed to rummage out back in the dumpster sized cloth bin where millions of rejected cigarettes were thrown and fill up your suitcase. These coffin nails had failed certain quality standards as simple as the packing density being a little off. But like date-expired drug samples, they certainly seemed good enough to me; and the price was definitely right.

Also for the first time, I began to drink beer, started going to various parties on weekends or whenever someone decided to arbitrarily turn a weeknight into a weekend by pronouncing that any given Tuesday, for example, would be a school holiday.

At first the parties were relatively formal and located in public venues. The Blue Laws of North Carolina prohibited what we knew in New York to be “bars,” while what passed here as being “bars” were places where one had to bring a bottle of his favorite booze in a brown bag, pull a chair up to the bar and buy “set ups.” This would simply be a mixer that would cost the price of a shot of booze.

The irony in this antiquated Blue Law was that if one were then to be found with an unfinished bottle of alcohol in his car, he could be arrested for having an open bottle in his possession in “public.” Thus, you could drive to a bar with your own unopened bottle, leave it there after the party with a bartender who could drink it himself or take it home, or you could finish it yourself and then drive home. The obvious result of this convoluted bit of logic was that everyone drank the entire bottle of booze at the party, and then drove home in a car with an unopened brain.

In fact, when vomiting my guts out one night after a “set up” party Tequila binge, I have never been able to drink the Mexican National beverage again. My father told me the same thing happened to him in college except that for him it had happened with Gin.

Over time it became more logical to simply get high on some drug than to drink one self nearly to death. It was also quicker and easier. Also, the character of the parties began to shift along with the trend to using more drugs and less booze. Of course these were not Fraternity parties but rather were being hosted by the ever-growing hippie fringe elements that were forming up around campus. The Frat guys remained preppy and continued to have their booze parties while the “fringies” began to get increasingly freaky and into progressively worse habits.

The University was slowly becoming a polarized mini version of what was going on in America in general as students either remained short haired, conservatively straight, or began to gravitate to becoming long haired liberal hippie freaks. It was also becoming more dangerous to express the new freedoms outwardly.

The jocks in particular did not take well to the change in appearances and although Gym class was mandatory for the first two years, every time one of us showed up in the locker room, the athletes or the coaches would jeer and threaten us. Needless to say we all signed up for non-contact sports such as tennis.

This fragmentation was also tracking the political fragmentation in America.

The hey-day of the civil rights movement was underway and in the South certain people were beginning to show up dead. In North Carolina, the KKK began to believe that the only good hippie was a dead hippie and although we were well aware that the Freedom Riders Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney had been killed in Mississippi, we naively believed that we were immune as long as we stuck to the campus.

We were wrong.

In general, none of us truly respected how hatefully dangerous these people really were until it was brought much closer to home. One night the KKK put a burning cross in front of the Duke chapel. It was an awesomely fearful sight to behold and something one had only read about in books, viewed on television news, or saw in a bad movie. On another night in a drive-by, bricks were thrown through the window of a house I was sharing off campus. We were obviously being targeted because we were stupid enough to have painted the front wall with Peace Signs and hung a portrait of Chairman Mao on the front porch. We are lucky that only bricks and not firebombs were the worst we got.

On yet another night while trying to hitch a ride between campuses I was accosted by three white men in a pickup truck, who jumped out, beat me to the ground and then kicked me while I was down. They obviously did not “cotton well” to my long hair and although I was not severely hurt, my pride was too embarrassed to ever have told anyone about it. As I lay on the ground in the proverbial defensive fetal position they kept yelling:

  • Mother fucking long-haired hippie, nigger lover, son of a bitch. Just go back home where you belong, Yankee Jew boy.

I truly believe to this day that it would have been a lot worse if not for the fact of frequent traffic passing by on a well-lit intra-campus campus road, as well as the saving grace that they did not actually pick me up and throw me into the flatbed back of the truck. However from that day forward I had certainly learned how to watch my back and to run hard and fast at the first sign of potential trouble. Avoidance behavior came in very handy later at the Duke riot of 1968 and then again in Harvard Square at the 1970s protest when the police cleared the streets with riot dogs. Lip service protesting was one thing. Having face to face conflicts with police, German Shepherds, tear gas, Mace or Klan members was entirely something else altogether.

This behavioral training also came in especially handy when I became an Intern at a New York City inner city hospital: spot potential trouble… then run the other way. My brother, who had lived in NY City several years before I arrived, told me that the best way to survive on the streets was to: never make eye contact, wear crummy clothes with holes in the pants, always wear running shoes, always put your money in the toe of your sneakers, and tack from one side of the street to the next if you see more than one person loitering around a door stoop.

That was the time when David Dinkins and Ed “So How am I Doing?” Koch we’re running NY City into the financial ground and the streets were like a Wild West shooting gallery. Not so good Eddie, when one has to experience it from the perspective of being one of the gunfighters at the OK Coral.

Yet interestingly enough, even these horrors would not remotely prepare me for the confrontation about to take place at the end of the year when my father got my final GPA which had propped to 2.6. A snarling police dog, an angry KKK member, or a knife wielding street punk would have been preferable.

Years later a patient told me his blood pressure was only high in my office, but not at home, because he had the “White Sheet Syndrome.” I explained to him that I knew very well what he was talking about because I always felt the same way any time the Grand Knights of the venerated Ku Klux Klan happened to ride up my driveway. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him he had confused “sheet” with “coat;” as my sarcastic comment then went entirely over his head.

In truth, for me it was not really a joke, but rather had been a living nightmare and a fortunate near miss.

edgar ray killen

Edgar Ray Killen: KKK member indicted for the murders of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.

Thirty years too late

 

Easy Rider

An old black man was discovered sitting in the back of a freedom riding bus headed for Mississippi in 1966. When someone complimented him for his dedication to the cause, given his relative age and enfeebled appearance he looked up and retorted:

  • Hell. I ain’t goin’ down deah to do no protess freedom marchin. Dat’s too damn dangerous. Ize jus goin’ down deah to sing a little Bass and help out with da fuckin’.

(Public sex is safer than public protest)

 

Edgar Ray Killen: From The African American Registry