I Love The Way You Talk To Me

I had coffee this morning with some friends before I went to work and one of those good people used a word or two in Spanish and French.  I speak a little Spanish and have been to France and the half of Belgium that is French speaking, and so I asked him if he spoke those languages.  “No”, he replied, “I only know a word or two, but  I do enjoy languages and find them easy to pick up.”  I told my friend that I also enjoy languages, but I can’t say that I find them all that easy to “pick up”.  As it turns out however I was not entirely truthful with my friend.  It is not just that I enjoy languages; it’s more like I am fascinated by languages.  In fact, I think languages form one of the most interesting parts of what it means to be a human being.

Many people have heard of the Hebrew story of the beginning of multiple languages.  Long ago people on earth were getting together to do something their own way instead of the right way, very much like we do things today, and so God confused their speech to put a little stick into their spokes and slow them down for a while.  The plan worked for a bit, but we soon found a way around that stumbling block and we’ve been merrily screwing things up ever since.  I don’t think of those languages as being entirely a curse however.

The Linguistic Society of America claims that there are over seven thousand languages in the world, and I suppose that if anybody should know such a thing it would be a Linguistic Society of Just About Anywhere.  This means to me that there are at least seven thousand groups of people ranging in size from the Mandarin Chinese with their teeming multitudes to the various dialects of the Sami, who together are fewer in number than my small church in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  These various people who speak Mandarin and Sami and all languages in between each have a view of the world, or perhaps it’s more like filters which shade their views of the world, that are uniquely common to each of those groups.  That is to say that the Ibo of West Africa will see themselves, their relationship with each other and peoples around them, and the physical world in which they live with their creation story and purpose for existence that is as different from their Hausa neighbors as it is from the Yanomami of the northern Amazon.

I also believe that language is a two-way lens.  The Yanomami see themselves and their place in the universe through their own particular perceptions and they express and reinforce those perceptions to each other through their language.  Yanomami culture and survival are bound up together and expressed through their language, and they thereby define who they are and what they will peculiarly do to maximize the quality and survivability of their people group through the medium of their language, which will grow and change to meet the challenges of change which assail them as they become more in contact with a greater but sometimes subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) hostile world.

The other side of this language lens is available, although with considerable difficulty, to the outsider who wishes to gain insights into the heart and soul of what it means to be Yanomami.  All that the outsider must do to gain this privileged glimpse into the soul of the Yanomami is learn their language.  There, that was easy!  Simply use a computer program for a ridiculously hight price and within six weeks you will be talking like a Yanomami and, if you purchase the companion program for a minimal extra cost, you will also be trained to walk like an Egyptian.  In fact, I am offering this program at this very minute.  Simply call 1-800 BULLS___T and operators are ready to tell you where to send your hard earned and utterly wasted dollars, euros, pesos, rupees, rubles, and yen.  Sorry, but at this time I am not accepting the Drachma.

In fact, truly learning a language will take a great deal more work and personal investment than the average “Speak [Whatever] quickly” offer will actually provide.  There is so much more to learning a language than simply taking an English phrase (my first language, so Ill use it for an example), such as “I think it would be cool if that stinking Obama (or Bush, or Whomever) administration would melt down, get it over with, and put us out of our misery”, and removing the english words and replacing them with roughly equivalent words from some other language.  Let’s consider the case of the Tsogo language of some African Pygmies.  A literal translation of the phrase mentioned above might go something like this:  “It would be ________(Pygmies live in the equatorial forests of Africa.  They have no concept of cold, or cool) if the government of this leader who smells really bad (maybe he has an ulcer that isn’t healing and the flesh is rotting?) would dissolve into a liquified state like fat that is cooked, which in some way would kill us.”

No, it simply will not do to learn a list of words.  To learn a language one must also learn nuance; must learn to feel a word, to smell a phrase, to taste a metaphor and be moved by a simile, and thereby predict how your hearer will be moved by all of that as well.  When you get to that point you can say that you have learned a language, and I would be so bold as to say that there are not more than a relative handful on our planet who can truly say that they speak a language that they did not grow up immersed in.

But cheer up.  All is not lost.  Fortunately there are few people who expect you to become that fluent in their language.  I remember one trip that I made to the Mexican city of La Paz on the eastern side of the peninsula of Baja California.  In that city, which draws a large number of American tourists for the sport fishing that is available in the Sea of Cortez, there was a restaurant called ” Senior Frog’s”.  Beside the front door was a sign which read “We do not speak English.  We will not laugh at your Spanish”.  Beside the obvious contradiction that the sign was written in English, I have no doubt that the owners and staff of that restaurant spoke pretty good English if they wanted to.  But the point was that the tourist was in the Mexicans’ country and they should not expect the Mexicans to speak another language.  Go ahead.  Learn to count to ten, and learn to say ‘taco and ‘enchilada’ and ‘cerveza’ and ‘donde esta el bano and a few other phrases and you’ll do just fine.  In fact, they’ll probably speak English to you if you’ll at least try to speak Spanish.

That was my experience when my wife and I visited France.  My wife speaks a serviceable amount of French but I speak very little, and so much of the time she did the talking and the French people were very polite and helpful, and obviously pleased that we were at least trying.  Actually, I played a little trick on the French people.  When my wife was not around and I needed to communicate with somebody I would begin with ‘Je ne parle pas francais.  Parlez-vous espagnol?”, or “I do not speak French.  Do you speak Spanish?”  Most French people do know some English but very few speak Spanish.  Then I would come back with “Parlez-vous anglais?”, or “Do you speak English?”  In this manner I established that I am bilingual but not in French, thereby deflating the stereotype of the monolingual American expecting the whole world to learn English for my convenience.

This trick worked very well, and as a bonus one day when we were in the beautiful city of Beaune I used it in a wine shop.  The owner, it turned out, DID speak Spanish.  She was excited because she rarely got to use that language and I was excited because I could carry on a normal conversation with a French person.  I also hoped that she would be so pleased with our conversation that she would give me a nice discount on some burgundy wine but, alas, that turned out to be a vain hope.  As it was, this was one of the highlights of our trip.

As an interesting side note, a few years later I once again found myself using Spanish in a northern European city.  This time it was Amsterdam, and that city is lousy with beggars.  I would usually brush them off in Spanish, saying “Siento mucho, pero no hablo Ingles”.  It usually worked but one time the person with his hand held out slipped effortlessly into perfect Spanish and continued with his appeal to separate me from my hard earned dollars.  I found this immensely funny actually, having my bluff called so smoothly, and so In plain English I said “If you can beg in multiple languages brother, you can get a job.”  The beggar suggested that I do something with myself that is physically not possible and I walked away enjoying a good laugh at the whole thing.

I know a word or phrase or two in seven different languages, and I can say that I relish every opportunity that I have to use any one of them.  And that’s well and good; I only have to complete my learning of those languages and add to them over six thousand, nine hundred and ninety three others to get to where I want to be.  No sweat!  Actually, that would take an eternity to accomplish.  Fortunately, I believe that eternity is exactly what is before me.  After I leave behind this earthly veil of tears I rather suspect that my afterlife will be populated by men and women of all languages still speaking those languages.

People who think of afterlives and things like that frequently believe that there will be some sort of heavenly language, a great Esperanto in the sky, that will linguistically unite us once again into one big happy family, but I certainly hope not. I want to know the Yanomami in their own language.  I want to know a Native American from Gipuy by learning to speak Tewa.  I want to — well, you get the picture.  Such a thing would take an eternity to accomplish, but then we would have an eternity to accomplish it.  I would consider that to be beyond-time well spent.

Controlling Hypertension Naturally

“Mr. Durden, you’ve had a heart attack”.  Those were not the words that I wanted to hear, but as my wife was driving me to the emergency room of the hospital nearest to our home those were the words that I suspected I might soon be hearing.  I had been experiencing symptoms of cardiovascular disease for three years but every test that I took in order to diagnose my chest pain came up negative.  Even the EKG which the technician performed on me as I lay on a gurney in Room 41 was read by the machine as “normal”.  The ER physician was not so sure, and the blood work confirmed that my heart muscle was indeed unhappy.  The story of my heart attack, surgery, hospitalization and recovery I have already written.  There is a side story however that I believe needs to be told in the hope that it will help somebody somewhere, and that is the tale of my high blood pressure.

Hypertension is what high blood pressure is called in the Medical world, and in 2013 the prevalence in America of hypertension in people 18 years of age or older was 28.6%.  The population in America in that year, according to the Census Bureau and the World Bank, was 316.1 million souls.  That works out to 90,404,600 people in America with hypertension, adjusted for how many of those people are over 18.  Here’s where it gets just a little bit tricky.  There are two measurements which constitute your blood pressure.  The high number, called systolic, reflects the pressure of your blood in your arteries when the heart is in full contraction, ejecting the blood out through a large artery called the aorta at the top of the heart and sending it coursing through increasingly smaller channels until it gets to every microscopic corner of your body.  The low number is called the diastolic, and this number reflects the pressure of the blood in your arteries when the heart is at rest, filling up the chamber in the left side with good, oxygen-rich blood returning from the lungs and preparing to send it out into the system with the next contraction.  These two numbers, displayed as X/Y in which X is systolic and Y is diastolic, is what we call your blood pressure.

Now we get a bit more technical but bear with me; this stuff’s not as complicated as you might think.  According to the American Heart Association normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.  Prehypertension, or a sort of warning stage, is systolic of 120-139 OR diastolic of 80-89.  The first stage of hypertension is systolic of 140-159 or diastolic of 90-99.  Stage two is systolic of 160 or higher or diastolic 100 or higher, and hypertensive crisis is, well, anything higher that all of that other stuff.  Now that you know these things, you know when to look for help, and I strongly suggest that you check your blood pressure periodically and act accordingly.

I was bouncing between prehypertension and stage one for many years.  My mother had to deal with hypertension for over thirty years and I assumed that I had inherited that gene from her, along with my good looks and sweet disposition.  Mom took a bunch of pills to control her hypertension (among other things) but I really did not want to follow in her path.  Winston Churchill, after all, scorned doctors and lived to be ninety with hypertension. He smoked cigars, ate and drank whatever he wanted, and defeated the Nazis with a little help from his friends.  Couldn’t I do that too?  Apparently not, and when I emerged from the hospital ten days later with a bright red zipper running down my chest and some brand new plumbing on the backside of my heart I carried with me a bag of pills that I was directed to take morning, noon and night.

This was not my thing, but then neither was falling onto my face dead before I hit the ground my thing.  The pills were very successful in keeping my blood pressure down; too successful in fact.  My pressure two weeks after my surgery was so low that I was readmitted to the hospital for fear that my new arteries were leaking.  An adjustment of my medication was all that was needed to set things right.  No modification was successful however in correcting the light-headedness which afflicted me as a side effect.  I could walk about well enough, but everything was fuzzy; my balance not what it should be.  I am an alternative medicine guy and this side effect plus other possible effects that were listed on the prescriptions and on the internet drove me to contact my naturopathic doctor in order to see what could be done to replace my pharmaceutical medications with more natural approaches, and a successful plan has been worked out.

It would take a long time to describe each medication and its effect, and how each naturopathic alternative was particularly applied to perform the desired control without side effects, so I am going to cut to the chase, just give you the verbs, get to the bottom line, etc., etc.  But before I do that I will tease your curiosity into reading further by saying that my average blood pressure for the last two weeks is 121/65, and that is without any prescription medication.  What follows is how I have accomplished this.

My treatment plan is simple; diet, exercise, and supplements.  I will begin by describing briefly the supplements.  First, and most important I think, my doctor makes up for me a tincture of a substance called rauwolfia.  This is made from the root of a plant from India, I believe.  It is a bitter, unpleasant tasting liquid of which I administer two droppers orally twice each day.  In addition I take magnesium in a form specified by my doctor, and these are the primary supplements that address my blood pressure.  I take other supplements to address the general health of my body, which in turn will be passed on to the heart;  various vitamins such as C and D, antioxidants, Co Q 10, fish oil, nattokinase (a substitute for aspirin) and red yeast rice, which is the natural source of statins which are prescribed in their pharmaceutical form for the control of cholesterol.  Everything that I take has been recommended especially to me by my doctor, and I do not recommend that anybody wing this on their own.  I don’t think you can find rauwolfia on the shelf anyway.

My diet is paleo with some modifications.  I eat primarily meat and vegetables, and I know that this would make my conventional cardiologist cringe.  Fat, I believe, is not a bad thing.  The trick is to eat good fats.  I will not write much about this but suffice it to say that there are many schools of thought about the role of fats in the diet and dangers of fat and cholesterol.  Books have been written on the topic, and I suggest that you read some.  What I do shy away from however is sugar in whatever form I find it.  Our society and our diet is saturated with sugar, and what’s worse, chemical sugar substitutes.

Sugar is a primary source for inflammation in the body, particularly of the lining of the arteries which causes the breakdown of those linings, which cholesterol then tries to heal by laying layers on the damaged arterial walls.  At least that’s what some folks believe, and I’m one of them.  Also, sugar really monkeys with the pancreas, and that organ has to work overtime to regulate the tidal waves of sugar that sweep in from the mouth on a depressingly regular basis in America from obvious sources; candy, sodas, pastries and so forth.  But sugar also invades our overtaxed bodies in the form of grains like corn and rice, breads, pastas and white potatoes, and finally in fruits and especially dried fruits, although fruits in very limited quantity have many other redeeming factors.  I have, for the most part, removed these things from my diet.  Oh, and then there’s processed anything.  Any form of chip or wafer, spread or sauce, or canned or packaged ‘food’ with more than five ingredients, any one of which contains more than four syllables or a single ingredient which cannot be pronounced, DONT EAT IT!

So that leaves chicken, fish, pork and beef, leafy greens and other vegetables other than white potatoes and easy on the root vegetables.  I have just begun to reintroduce legumes into my diet and we shall see how it goes.  I love pinto beans but there is an issue with a substance that they contain called lectins.  I believe that this issue may be controlled by much rinsing in the soaking and first boil phase of cooking them, but if this turns out to be a problem they will have to go.  I have found this to be a limiting diet it is true.  Nevertheless it is one that is easily doable and I am maintaining a decent weight for my height and I consider the payoff to be well worth the sacrifice.

The final leg to my program is exercise, and that one will not require much description.  I walk three to four miles three to six times each week.  I am often busy with after-work events and this can cut into my walking, but one hour after work is sufficient for me to put in three miles on a treadmill in the basement of my workplace.  I prefer walking outside but since I live in the Pacific Northwest, that can be a cold and wet prospect.  I prefer walking because it is easier on my old joints and if the treadmill is on an incline, or an outside route with hills is selected, the workout can be just as effective as would be a run.

So there you have it.  This is my story of how I gained the upper hand on years of hypertension which included a heart attack.  I want to reemphasize that this is a very individualized program devised for me by my doctor, and that anybody else might need some other formula for success or may even have to turn to conventional pharmaceuticals to manage their health.  There is no judgement here.  My point is that alternative medicine is a viable option for many of those 90 million people in America with some level of hypertension, and I want to let them know about it.

God Has A Special Providence—

I have already written stories about the sumer and fall of 1976.  That was the year that my first marriage disintegrated, beginning in February and extending to the end of the year.  That year was one of considerable transformation for me in some ways, and a bit of regression in others.  I had only just left the wild party-animal phase of my life in the summer of 1973 and had slowly, painfully, been settling down into a slightly more stable role of construction worker, student and then construction worker again, all the while assuming the role of husband and provider, establishing a home and living as a married, working, home owning middle class sort of guy.  I had not approached anything like becoming some sort of rock of the community by any stretch of the imagination, but neither was I spending very much time sitting with a bunch of stoned college students by a swimming pool using the bottom of a saucepan as a bongo drum while croaking out my best version of any given rock tune.

All of that began to unravel in February of ’76’ when my wife announced that she wanted to separate.  We agreed to do so in June, but in May when I learned that she was already involved in a relationship with someone else I left the next morning and then spent the next six months floundering in a sea of pain and self pity, trying to regain my balance but stumbling more than standing and rarely taking two steps forward without taking one or two or three steps back.

My first step in dealing with my situation was to avoid dealing with it.  I moved with four others into an old residence which was upstairs from what had once been a neighborhood grocery store.  Here the party went on day and night.  Once a friend from work came over to our place with a friend of her own.  After a little while her friend apologized for showing up at our place with neither food nor beer nor marijuana.  “If I would have known that you were having a party I would have brought something” he said with a guilty and embarrassed look.  My friend Evelyn laughed.  “They aren’t having a party,” she explained.  “It’s like this here all the time.”

And so it was.  I couldn’t stay loaded all of the time however, and sometimes even when I was the pain and loneliness became oppressive and on those occasions there was nothing better to bring me up than family.  I called my father and spoke with him every day for a month after the split with my wife, and that helped me to survive those awful first days.  Dad went to his grave not knowing the role that he played in keeping me out of my own, or at least if he did know it wasn’t because of my telling him.  He might have known now that I think of it.  Dad always had a way of knowing more than I thought he did.  I wonder if my kids feel that way about me?  Both of them are a good deal more bright than I was, so I doubt it.  And then there was my brother.

Brad is four years my senior and we have always been close.  We spoke on the phone often even before the end of my marriage and continued to do so afterward.  But these were desperate times, and Brad felt that I was in need of a little more assistance than frequent telephone conversation could provide.  Therefore, upon completion of the spring semester at the University of New Mexico where he was both teaching and taking classes, Brad packed some clothes and pointed his Ford pick up north and west and rode into town to help me keep my head above water.

Whenever Brad and I got together however it was frequently a question as to who was going to keep both of our heads above water.  Brad and I had always enjoyed being together and after I returned from the Army and turned twenty one years of age we had great fun, frequently with our father as well, trying to drink all of the beer in California.  All of the Budweiser, at least.  Brad has a very fast wit and Dad was no slouch either.  The three of us might sit around discussing philosophical or literary issues, sending Mom to the kitchen to escape the hot air, or after dinner (and a large number of cans of Bud) Brad and I might go to the soft, green front lawn, roar at each other like developmentally delayed orangutans, and bang into each other in what we called a ‘belly contest’.  I had never had a belly during my childhood but in the year after I exited the Army, after stuffing myself nonstop with pizza and beer and hot dogs from Der Wienerschnitzel, which we called Der Tumorschnitzel due to the dubious quality of it’s product, I had developed my first significant gut.  We would roar and bang into each other belly to belly, back up, and then roar and crash into each other again, all the while laughing maniacally.  At these times Mom would retreat to the deeper recesses of our tiny Southern California cubical of a house to avoid being seen in her humiliation by any of the neighbors whom she knew were peeking at the idiot Durden boys from behind curtains or between blinds.  So when Brad arrived to cheer me up it didn’t take long before we were back at our old tricks with only the faintest evidence of any maturity having occurred in the interim.

One evening when Brad was doing an outstanding job of cheering me up and the party that was my routine existence was in full throat I received a phone call.  The call was from my friend Walt, with whom I had roomed when I first moved to Sonoma County to attend the University there.  We had remained friends ever since.  On this particular evening Walt was calling because his Land Rover was resting comfortably on the side of Highway 12 just west of Santa Rosa.  Walt loved that vehicle, although I could not for the life of me tell you why.  It looked like it could easily carry an intrepid explorer safely from one end of Africa or the Australian Outback to the other, while in fact it frequently had trouble carrying Walt from one end of Sonoma County to the other.  I have previously written of Walt getting his ride stuck in the mud near a house that he was renting.  That was not an infrequent occurrence, four wheel drive and all.  Still, Walt was committed to his vehicle and so he was calling me from a bar at the end of the nearest off ramp, asking me to come and drag the carcass of his Land Rover that was at that moment achieving ambient temperature on the shoulder of Highway 12.

Walt said that it would take him twenty minutes to walk back to his car, so Brad and I downed the rest of our open beers, took a few more hits off of a joint that was circulating through the crowd at my residence, and left to go and retrieve Walt and his dead Land Rover.  In order to give Walt time to return to his car Brad and I stopped at a corner grocery store to pick up another six pack of beer.  It’s not like we needed any more, but that had little to do with anything.  After exchanging pleasantries with the grocer we climbed back into Brad’s truck and roared off down the road to where we could get on the highway and get to Walt.

Along the way we did what we had been doing all night; drinking beer, discussing anything and everything that came to mind, and viewing the world through filters that were uniquely our own.  We might have told stories that we had told a hundred times before and still laughed at as if it was their first hearing.  We still do that, to the considerable amazement of those around us who are not wired in the same way that are we.  We were engaged in this manner when we came upon Walt and his disabled vehicle.  About a half mile further west we found a place to make a U-turn and came back to link the Land Rover to Brad’s truck with a chain.  That being accomplished to everybody’s satisfaction we all regained our mounts and slowly started rolling down the highway towards town.

Along the way, Brad and I began to slip back into the place where we had been only a few minutes before.  New beers were popped open, new (old) stories and jokes were dredged up, and new takes upon the affairs of our lives and the world in general were passed through our fuzzy and thoroughly unique lenses, and soon we were flying down the road without a serious thought in our heads or a care in the world.

In short order we arrived at our turnoff, made a quick left turn and sped through it to avoid being T-boned by a car that was speeding toward us from the opposite direction, and finally came to a halt in front of the building which housed my residence.  Laughing and wobbling a little we exited Brad’s truck and only then remembered that Walt and his Land Rover were still attached.

Walt was as white as a sheet.  He had been riding his brakes and hanging onto the wheel for dear life all the way to our house.  He got out of his car and was visibly shaken.  You could smell the smoking-hot brakes and i thought it looked like they might be glowing a little bit from the heat.  I asked Walt if he would like a ride home but he quickly declined the invitation.  Walt wanted nothing more than to get away from us and Brad’s truck as quickly as decorum permitted.  I offered Walt the keys to my own truck, which he gratefully accepted.  He climbed into the cab and fired the Ford up, waved weakly to us, and rolled off into the dark Santa Rosa night.  Brad and I returned his wave, and then went upstairs to rejoin the party which hadn’t missed a beat since we had left.

There are not enough words to describe how poorly thought out our actions on that night were.  On any of a number of occasions we could have been pulled over by the police or gotten ourselves, Walt, and perhaps others killed.  It is ascribed to the German Prince Otto von Bismarck the quote that “God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”  I’m not entirely sure about the United States part of that quote, but I can testify with complete certainty that on this particular night God was most generous with two drunks and fools.

Space, The Final Frontier, Part II

I have previously set out to write a three part series set in the early days of the 1970’s.  During those days, roughly between fall of 1970 and fall of 1971, I fell into lock step with the craziest of the crazy in California, which means that there were no limits and no holds barred as I wrestled with what I saw in myself and what I saw myself becoming.  I had done most of two semesters in college but only had two grades to show for the effort, a ‘C’ and an ‘F’ from the first.  As the second semester was coming to a close I loaded my motorcycle into the back of my Studebaker pick up truck and with my roommate, who had just broken up with his girlfriend, hit the road to we had no idea where at the time.  Along the way we picked up two sets of hitchhikers, both of whom were heading for Seattle or its suburbs, and so we ended up spending that summer in the Seattle area.  The tale of that summer deserves a story of its own.

When we returned to San Diego at the end of summer I obtained a low-paying job at a golf course and moved into an apartment complex where a friend lived.  Although we did not share an apartment unit we were close to each other, and most of the people in that building shared their food and drugs and other possessions in a manner very consistent with the counter culture in the Golden State at that time.  It was in this apartment and in a house that several of us rented a couple of months later that I spent my time most heavily involved in the drug scene.

As I mentioned in Part I of the story about those years, I struggled with the question of whether or not I should tell this story.  Heaven knows there is nothing uplifting about it, except possibly as an example of God’s grace that I didn’t kill myself several times during this period.  I finally concluded that I would write this tale for two reasons.  First, because this is a part of my life.  If I would write a memoir of the events of my life it would be dishonest to leave out the parts that I am not proud of.  I don’t have to expose all of my dirty laundry to convey the story of a life that hung on the edge and could have gone upwards from there or very much gone downwards, but could by no means stay locked where it was for long.  I hope that somebody in a similar place will read this and see some of themselves in my story, and decide that it’s time to make a change.  If I could do that, I would consider all of my writing to be a success.

The second reason that I decided to write about these times is that even in the midst of this insanity we were still in most ways ordinary human beings living in a particular place and time.  Representations of drug abusers found in the entertainment industry frequently portray them as sordid, nihilistic wasteoids who would sell their souls for their next fix, and some indeed are like that.  Others show users as cute and funny, sort of a Jeff Spicoli character from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.  The reality is that we were very much like everybody else.  Most of us had jobs, while others were in college.  Our parties differed from those of the jocks and the cowboys mostly in our choice of drugs and also in the unlikliehood of a fight breaking out and somebody getting their head busted.  We did use illegal drugs, it is true, but we were, by and large, much less of a pain in society’s neck or a project for law enforcement than were the people who used legal ones.  My hope in this vein is that I might be able to convey to anyone who has a family member, a loved one, or a friend taking up residence in this strata of society that they should not write that person off.  Your friend, brother, wife or parent is in there somewhere.  It’s not easy, but stay with them and let them know that you care about them anyway.  Just as me and most of my friends came back from that edge, so too might they.

But as I began to write part two I realized that I did not have the stomach to spend a great deal more time reliving those days.  There were times that humorous things occurred and I will share one or two before I close this subject, but I will not put any more energy into this project.  I have always looked for the humor in life and have found it in the strangest places; in Vietnam, while recovering from a divorce, and in an amusement park ride with a friend throwing up as we twirled round and round.  I would not allow a retelling of the humorous aspects of this period to whitewash the nihilistic valuelessness of it however.  That person who was me lived for little, loved little, believed in little and expected nothing.  Writing about that time causes me to hear and feel distant echoes of a me that was the diametric opposite of who I am now or strive to become, and I gain small satisfaction in remembering where I was even though I can still chuckle at some of the crazy things that I got myself into.

For instance.  One night I was driving to the apartment of a girlfriend of a friend to deliver ten ‘hits’ of mescaline.  Mescaline is the synthetic form of the active psychotropic agent in the hallucinogenic peyote cactus used by some Native Americans to achieve a state of altered consciousness in some religious ceremonies. I was never what you would call a pusher, but within our extended drug-using community anyone who acquired more of a drug than they could personally use might sell some to another user, and in return might buy some when the tables were turned.

On this particular night, as I drew near to the apartment of my friend’s girlfriend I stopped at a light, and when the light changed I turned left and began to descend a small hill at the bottom of which was the driveway into the parking lot of her apartment.  As I rolled down this hill I happened to look in my rear view mirror, and right in the middle of the roof of the car that was behind me I saw a big round red light.

In 1970 a car with a red light in the middle of the roof could only be a police car, and the fact that the red light was lit up could only mean that I was busted.  Now in those days I was seldom in a car without a bottle of beer between my legs (I do not advocate this; I’m just telling it like it was), and this was the case on the evening in question.  But of much greater concern to me was the ten hits of mescaline that I had in my pocket.  Ten hits meant ‘dealer’, and that carried far greater opprobrium with the local constabulary than did ‘user’.

Time to think quick!  What to do?  Pulling over to the side of the road I quickly dug the pills out of my shirt pocket, popped them into my mouth, and washed all ten of them down with a big swallow of beer.  I was just taking the gulp which washed away the incriminating evidence when the car which was behind me passed on my right.  It was a Chevy I think, or maybe a Ford.  I’m pretty sure that it was a sedan, but it may have been a coupe.  Aw hell, it might have been a station wagon.  One thing that I know for sure is that it did not have a glowing red light on the top of the roof.

In complete befuddlement, a condition about which I could write volumes out of close and frequent experience, I looked again into the rear view mirror.  The only light which I now saw there was the traffic light which hung in the air in the middle of the intersection at which I had just been stopped, and that light had by now turned green.  I was baffled and just sat there for a few moments trying to figure out if I had experienced a hallucinatory flashback from some previous psychedelic trip.  I had never had such a flashback before and in fact knew of nobody who ever had, but the media and some entertainment venues presented such a thing to be a fact and at that moment I was not prepared to discount it.  It wasn’t until that traffic light turned red again that I put two and two together.  I had looked in my mirror at just the moment when the red traffic light emerged from behind the car that had been following me and appeared right in the middle of the car at the roofline.

I was filled with relief!  I expected to get busted for the open beer container, but that was a much lesser charge than carrying drugs for sale.  And then it hit me; I had just swallowed ten hits of mescaline, any one of which would guarantee a fine psychedelic trip for a couple of hours!  I knew that I had time to drive back to the apartment before I ‘came on’ to the drugs, but I had only just enough time, so I hung a very illegal U-turn (why not go for broke?) and beat a retreat to my apartment, where I spent most of the rest of that night dodging asteroids somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Several months later I was living with five of my friends in a three bedroom house.  Four of my roommates were couples and of course got two of the bedrooms.  Dale, the fifth person, had a girlfriend who was frequently at our house and so he got the other bedroom.  I had nothing like a girlfriend, which was my usual estate, and so I slept on a huge pillow on the living room floor.  I really didn’t care.  Such things as where I collapsed were of little importance to me.

Among our company were people with a wide preference in their drugs.  All of us smoked marijuana and took the various psychedelic drugs that were available, and one of our favorite evening experiences was what we called the ‘moonshot’.  We would take LSD as the booster phase, then mescaline to blast us away from earth’s gravity, and finally psilocybin to put us into orbit.  I remember seeing our entire living room filled with neon blue tyrannosaurus rex skulls with the jaws opening a closing to the rhythm of Savoy Brown’s “Looking In” on one such evening.  In addition, some of us used pills of all descriptions; uppers and downers, and also peyote cactus and a variety of other powders and fluids and whatnot.  In short, we had a small pharmacy of recreational and very illegal drugs in our house at any given time.

On one night, when my roommates were at a concert which I had not the funds to attend, I was sitting at home drinking some beer and smoking a joint or two while listening to music on the reel-to-reel tape player that belonged to one of my roommates.  This was a normal condition for me, and one that I could handle with a high degree of competency.  Nothing out of the ordinary was going on until all of a sudden I saw a light from outside playing on the closed curtain of our front window.  Out of curiosity more than paranoia I peeled back the curtain and peered out, expecting to find one of our friends with a flashlight.  What I saw instead was a police car shining its spotlight in our yard.

This was my first experience with being scared straight.  After a moment of frozen panic I began to tear through the cupboards and drawers of my roomies, flushing all manner of capsules, tablets, powders and pills down the toilet.  I was surprised that the door hadn’t been broken down by the time that I had finished that frantic mission, and decided to eject as many baggies of marijuana and peyote and the tiny marijuana plants that we intended to plant later in the spring over the back fence.  Arms full, I raced across the yard expecting at every second to hear the pounding of leather shoes and the deadly command of “Up against the wall, Mother—“.

The command never came, and after the last plastic bag of peyote flew over the fence I walked shaken but confidently back into the house.  Even if the bust came now there was hardly enough of our stash left tucked away in more elaborate hiding places to buy me more than a minor charge.  I was a little bit surprised however that I had not yet seen a badge or heard an order barked in my direction.  Upon entering the house I traversed the dining and living rooms and looked out at the street from our front window.

There was nothing there.  No officers, no police car, no nothing.  I was, of course, very happy about this, but slowly it dawned on me that I had just flushed or chucked over the fence the stash of all five of my roommates.  How was I going to explain that?  I knew that they would accuse me of paranoid hallucinations.  Paranoid I was OK with, but I never once believed that any of my hallucinations were real.  The T-rex skulls chomping away in my living room were not real and I knew it.

All ended well though.  I was indeed accused of hallucinating but we were a pretty mellow bunch – I was probably the rowdiest of our number – and they all finally allowed that I MIGHT have seen something; maybe the police were looking for a prowler.  We recovered what we could from the field behind our back fence and carried on as best we could after what was, for me, a pretty good scare.

It was not long after this event that I quit using psychedelic drugs or any other type of pills.  I had gone on ‘trips’ before that were not fun and colorful and happy things, and in those cases I would take a barbiturate to knock the edge off of that high.  On one occasion however there were no downers in the house to be had, and I had to ride out three or four hours of an intensely unpleasant and introverted trip that was very unsettling.  I well remember retreating into my room – I had a room of my own by this time – lying on the exposed bladder that was my waterbed, and watching the television until very nearly daybreak.  It was hot that time of the year and the waterbed was several degrees cooler than room temperature, and the late, late, late night television offerings then included the cheap old black and white western films with heros wearing white hats who played the guitar and had six-shooters that never ran out of bullets.  I was able to connect with those movies and associate with when I watched them as a young boy in the security and sanity of my childhood.  I found this comforting and reassuring and in that way rode out the bad trip.  I finally, gratefully, fell asleep at the end of a long and very unpleasant night.

I was never inclined to take that ride again, and to the best of my knowledge all but one of my roommates at that house made a similar break with that dangerous and destructive path.  I had fun in those days, Lord knows!  But I also flirted with accident, overdose, and the violence that was endemic to a subculture which accepted with some pride being outside of the law.  There is nothing today which would call me back to that lifestyle, but I hesitate to condemn those who might be there themselves.  They are just people with faults who, if they survive, might advance to something better.  They have my prayers and support.