Everybody’s Doing It

frog-cactus-plant

It’s not possible to avoid drugs altogether. Unless you’re a member of one of a few very specific religious sects. And I’m not sure they don’t have favored potions concocted of age-old recipes handed down within the pages of a well-worn holy book. For the rest of us, drugs are everywhere. Even in primitive cultures people who can’t get hold of pills or powder or syringes chew leaves and pound bark into ingestible essences. To get high, people will lick frogs and insert parts of certain cacti up their butts. This is absolutely true. Not to mention smoking all manner of foliage.

Lots of people question the value of the so-called illicit drugs. Others consider them a normal and natural part of life. Many cultures rely on drugs for religious purposes to transport them into an altered state of consciousness wherein they can receive great and meaningful spiritual messages which scientists conclude are nothing more than electromagnetic impulses in the brain registering on the eyeballs of the user. But these people insist there is great import to these messages and they call the drugs sacred. And therefore beneficial.

Not all drugs react the same way for all people. We have individual chemistry that plays an important role in a drug’s effectiveness. And I use that word it in a global sense, effective being whatever you expect to get out of your drug of choice.

I assume everyone living in the United States today has taken some kind of a drug at one time or another. If you take the long view on drugs, this could include caffeine or any other ingested stimulant, including chocolate.

So don’t try to claim: “Not me, buddy.”

In the nineteen twenties you could buy cocaine without a prescription at any drug store in America. Coca cola. Now what do you think the COCA part means? That is absolutely correct. In every bottle of Coke there was a wee bit of cocaine. In the ads of the day, they even claimed Coke gave you “that little lift.” Little? You bet it was a little lift. “That little high,” they should have said. That is, if truth in advertising existed then. Which it didn’t. We weren’t a consumer conscious nation then. We were still an agrarian culture and the government was not in our faces the way it is today. If you think this means I am a Republican, you’re nuts. I’m not saying that I am a Democrat either. That is equally nuts.

I know this will sound downright subversive but if you look at all the products we buy, the ones that make up the basis of our culture are all addictive. Here’s my short list:

Sugar (and anything that has sugar in it, which is just about everything that did not come directly from an animal or plant)

Tobacco (whether chewed, smoked, snorted or wadded up and shoved between the cheek and gum)

Caffeine (in so many products it’s hard to tally up – even in medicines)

Saturated Fat (and all the health related costs associated therewith)

TV (needs no explanation)

Cars (again I take the long view and include all the internal combustion motor-related vehicles and their dependents like oil, gas, smog, insurance, etc.)

The Stock Market (you may include money in general, which we spend with impunity on a bunch of junk less than a quarter of which we actually need or will ever use.)

Beer (and of course vodka)

Chemicals (this is everything above and everything else not included above)

The Monkey On Your Back

monkey-mask

The big drug problem in the forties and fifties was morphine. They called it having a monkey on your back. You got “hooked” and there was no escape from that monkey. When I was a kid you still saw black and white movies made in the nineteen thirties and forties about otherwise good guys who lived in the city and had this big problem that was ruining their lives. They all had monkeys on their backs. I used to watch those old movies and I never once saw the monkey they were yammering so much about.

Years later it dawned on me.

“Oh. It’s a metaphorical monkey.”

I still don’t know where they came up with calling it a monkey.

In the sixties and seventies you never would have heard any flower child talk about a monkey. You were stoned or high. You were groovy or cool. You were down. Or possibly up, on speed. But the monkey had disappeared.

The medical establishment still pushes morphine as one of the top three heavy-hitting pain killers of choice. They gave me morphine when I was in the hospital after delivering the twins.

Morphine is supposed to make you completely mellow. I hear from unsubstantiated reports that it doesn’t really take away the pain, but it makes you so laid back that you don’t care. Not me.

But even before the morphine arrived I had to deal with the drug they had injected down my spine to numb me below the waist.

“Now this will remove all sensation in your lower body,” the anesthesiologist, Dr. Painfree, told me. “You will be completely unaware of any physical sensation that’s happening during the surgery. You may just feel a slight tugging or pushing but that’s a normal part of the process. You are actually feeling the shifting inside your abdominal cavity as they’re removing the babies. Are there any questions?”

From my slab-like position on the prep bed, I envision a doctor, hands up to the elbows inside my stomach, feeling around for a baby’s arms to airlift it out then diving back in to get the other one. Will he know which cord is attached to which baby or will he tangle them all up like a ball of twine and be in there untying the knotted strands for hours? And what about all that placental junk? Do they haul it out by hand and dump it into a bucket or what? Animals eat it. Are they going to require something like this of me? I’ve heard of peasant women doing this for nourishment. Well, if they ask, I’m definitely going to order from the hospital cafeteria. No matter how much people complain about hospital food it has to be better than that.

And what about all the extra blood. Where does that go? I mean do they use a sump pump? Does the uterus just hang there limp and empty or do they give me little get your uterus back in shape exercises. Sac-Aerobics.

“How long does the numbness last?” I was too embarrassed to ask anything else. And besides, those doctors always seem so busy. It’s not like they get paid to educate the consumer.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “It will last as long as they need it to last. This tube is releasing a steady amount of drug to take care of you. Now after the operation, when they take you into recovery and remove the tube in your spine and take you off the IV, you may feel some slight tremors.”

“Tremors? You mean like an earthquake?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. But some women have a reaction to the medication or just to the trauma of having the catheter inserted down along the spinal column. Sometimes it affects the spinal nerves and in that case you may feel some slight shakiness. Mainly along the back and down the legs. But don’t worry. That only happens to about ten percent of epidural patients.”

“Oh.” Where I would come out in the shake lottery was up for grabs at that point.

I went off to surgery and my babies were airlifted out of my abdominal cavity and the staff did something with the blood and did not get the umbilical cords tangled or anything. I was not even offered one helping of afterbirth. I’m just hoping they didn’t freeze dry it to keep me going in my twilight years.

The after-effect of hospital administered morphine

hospital-gurneys

In the recovery room they removed the catheter and unhooked me from the IV in my spine leaving only the one with saline solution and who knows what else dripping into the back of my hand. It took about ten minutes for the anesthesia to wear off and the shakes to begin. By then Dr. Painfree had skipped town.

I must have been in something like the ninety-ninth percentile of drug reaction-prone patients because those shakes made a West Virginia Appalachian meeting of Holy Roller Snake Handlers look like a bunch of zombies at a wake. I mean I was jumping all over that recovery bed. I shook from the neck down to the heels and back up again. Great uncontrollable wracking shimmying shakes that thumped the bed and pushed the pillows off, disarranged the sheets and actually moved my bed right up against Gladys Gruthpert’s. Gladys had been operated on for gallstones. She was seventy-eight and not too thrilled to have me visit in such a boisterous way right after surgery when her hair and face were such a fright.

I jiggled and shook until our beds were locked together at one corner and then my legs, which I still could not control, flapped over onto her bed while the rest of me stayed in mine. The shaking began to part our beds at the pillow end and pull me sideways until my body made a bridge between the two beds and poor Gladys looked like she had seen the devil himself. I’m sure she thought she was delusional because she began crossing herself every few seconds and praying to Jesus to deliver her from the evil doers.

“Hey, what’s going on over there?” A nurse showed up. “You shouldn’t be over there with Gladys.”

“Do you actually think I chose this configuration?” I asked her.

She called for backup and two orderlies and another nurse showed up. The recovery room SWAT team. They moved my shuddering body back to my bed and strapped me down, which did not stop the shaking but did confine me to my own area. By now my teeth were chattering.

“I’ve never seen one this bad, have you?” The first nurse asked of the other one who put a finger to her mouth, obviously trying to spare the hospital a malpractice suit. They should have checked their collision insurance. I think the beds got dented in the crash.

An hour and a half later when the shakes finally gave out, I was wheeled to what would be my private room for the next week. There was my proud family lined up to congratulate me and glory in the momentous miracle of twin birth.

A little bit of drug-induced aggression

drug-aggression

Before they let me out of recovery a nurse gave me one parting shot. I mean a real shot not some snide remark. Morphine.

By the time I got to my room I was already feeling its effects. Which were:

Dizziness.

A feeling of being suspended somewhere just below the ceiling.

Anger.

Frustration.

Impatience.

These were not classic morphine responses.

Two nurses started to slide me from the gurney.

“Not so fast.” I heard my own voice come from somewhere over by the window way up high and pretty loud. “Don’t rumple those sheets. Christ can’t you people do anything right?”

The nurses looked at each other and hauled me in one swoop onto the new bed.

My father appeared in the room. He was smiling. I had never seen him look so happy. My mother stood behind him kind of hovering. She was smiling too. Strong With A Spear stepped through the doorway. He came over to my side and leaned down to kiss me.

“The babies are so beautiful. And so are you. I’ve never been so happy in my life. I’m so proud of you.”

I was floating over by the closet door up near the light fixture. I don’t know who HE was talking to.

My father came over to kiss me and all of a sudden an enraged voice erupted out of my body.

“I need a damned bedpan. Get me a damned bedpan quick.” I threw the sheet off and I think my father must have seen some blood stains on my hospital gown.

The big Ex-Marine turned kind of white and suddenly looked like a mouse being chased by a huge cat. He skittered out of the room, grabbing my mother’s hand as he passed by her and I didn’t see them for the next three months. I think they went straight from the hospital to the airport and headed south to Florida leaving poor Strong With A Spear to deal with the new babies and his drug-demented wife.

***

Somehow word got out on the ward that something odd was going on in the private room at the end of the hall, because a doctor showed up. The chief resident. Very good looking. Very kind. Quite young.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“What the hell do you mean what’s up? They gave me some shit that’s making me crazy that’s what’s up.”

“You mean the morphine?”

“How the hell do I know? You think I normally act like this?” I see Strong With A Spear nodding vigorously. “Oh shut up,” I yell at him.

“We won’t give you any more morphine,” says Dr. Goodlooking. “But what about the pain?”

“You think feeling like this isn’t painful? You think this is fun?”

“Okay, let’s just see how you feel when the morphine wears off. I’ll put Percocet on demand in your chart. How’s that?”

“What in hell is Percocet?”

“That’s a pain killer. It’s fine as long as you don’t walk around while you’re on it.”

“You think I plan on a lot of walking around? They just carved open my stomach and I don’t think they sewed it up very well.”

“Actually you have staples.”

“What?”

“Staples. We don’t sew anymore. We staple.”

“What a bunch of lazy bums.”

“Anyway, Percocet causes dizziness when you stand up.”

“Oh yeah. Dizziness. Like I’m not dizzy now. By the way, when are we gonna get down from the ceiling?”

A short history of drugs and beds in the Twentieth Century

eisenhower-and-salk

After Dwight Eisenhower was elected the thirty-fourth president of the United States, he warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. He thought the Pentagon was a scary place that might engulf the rest of the country, maybe the world. Eisenhower was a great military leader and Americans viewed him as the person most responsible for winning The War in Europe. He was also an avid golfer. And he had a bad temper but not too many Americans knew that at the time. He also had a big bed that he had the army deliver to his new quarters whenever he and his wife moved. In the Army you move around a lot. I guess he really liked that bed. After he got inaugurated he had it delivered to The White House.

***

Between the end of The Great War number ONE and the time Ike was Winning The Great War number TWO, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. By accident.

See, in 1928 Sir Fleming was doing a series of experiments in his lab. I don’t know what he was looking for and I don’t think he wanted it generally known either because he never found it. But somehow a green mold, that had probably formed on an old piece of bread from a lunch that he had left sitting around the lab a few days before, got into one of his experiment dishes. When staph bacteria failed to grow in that dish, Fleming was naturally intrigued (being of a scientific mind after all). Et voila! He made the connection between the mold, peniciillium, and the inhibition of bacteria. The next steps are a bit cloudy but eventually everyone hailed this as a great discovery. It cured all manner of bacterial infections including pneumonia, which was often a lethal killer without the new drug. So, essentially, Sir Fleming was a slob who made good.

After Ike was elected, Jonas Salk discovered the Salk vaccine, which prevented children from contracting polio. This was an amazing piece of purposeful medical sleuthing and Jonas Salk went on to marry one of Pablo Picasso’s ex-mistresses, who had borne him two children even though he never married her, which was highly unusual in the nineteen fifties. Even in France. When she and Picasso split up she wrote a tell-all book. This made Picasso really angry. I don’t know why. Basically it reported that he was short but a real stud.

Ike should have been warning about the dangers of the military-industrial DRUG complex instead of that Pentagon thing, but I don’t think he ever considered that we would go from World War II, Korea, The Cold War and Vietnam directly into THE WAR ON DRUGS, which would last longer than all the other twentieth century wars combined. As of this writing, in century number twenty-one, the government’s War On Drugs is still ongoing with no appreciable end in sight. Personally I think we should declare it a draw and go back to our respective corners and light up joints all around.

My LSD encounter

psychedelic-red-dress

It took a whole year of semi communal living to make a sizable dent in the four pounds of pot the socks and plastic bag netted once we emptied them out and weighed the contents in a truly scientific manner. I know it was scientific because we met a chemist who had rented a house down the street from where all of us artists were living and he did the weighing with his precision instruments. I know he had precision instruments because in addition to his work with a large chemical company located in White Plains, New York, about a half hour from his house, he moonlighted as a producer and distributor of LSD which he manufactured in his kitchen with said scientific instruments.

I don’t know if he actually tripped on acid more than a couple of times himself. He was a very reserved math/science type guy with few social skills. The manufacture of LSD catapulted him into a social sphere that he found rather heady and exciting. I think that was the main draw for him.

Girls who were working as musicians and artists, lithe young dancers, singers and other assorted exotic types of women flocked to his brick rambler situated on half a secluded acre in Port Chester, New York, just off the last exit of the Merritt Parkway right at the Connecticut and New York State line. He had stripped his house down to carpet and a few large floor pillows, installed some stage lights that changed colors as a wheel with color gels rotated in front of them, and hung some paisley shawls from the ceiling so that when you were lying down on the carpet and looked up you saw great swirling patterns.

On acid it was a pretty fine effect. Devoid of acid it just looked stupid. The guy had few actual decorating skills. And he never sold the acid that came out of his manufacturing site. He just used it as a party favor. For his friends. And their friends. And friends of their friends.

***

Pretty soon the-little-lab-that-could got its reputation spread in such a wide circle that some pretty famous names in the psychedelic world starting coming around. Hippies showed up from New York City and from the Haight in San Francisco. Soon our little suburban group was hosting light artists and going to clubs in the city and hanging out with the rock and jazz crowds.

One night, after a tour of clubs and a series of parties downtown, we ended up in an apartment off lower Fifth Avenue. Now maybe my consciousness had been altered. I won’t deny that I smoked a good bit of grass that night. But nothing more. And I distinctly remember this apartment. And the young woman who lived in it.

She had very dark hair and very white skin. She was slim and tall. She wore a long wine red dress with thin straps over the shoulders. Drippy earrings hung from her ear lobes. Tall lamps stood around the perimeter of the living room beside a couch here, a table there, an armchair, a chaise lounge, all scattered about the room as if they had been moved out of the way. The lamps were all oversized, about seven feet tall. At the far end of the enormous living room that, judging by the height of the windows, I gauged to have at least twelve-foot ceilings, was a huge table completely covered by generous platters of expensive foods of all types. It was as if royalty had been expected at the party, and the hostess had gone to fabulous expense to ensure no one would be slighted or left out of the social equation. In one corner was an equally well-stocked bar table with a tub of ice and mixers behind it. All the bottles had been opened including Moet champagnes, vintage scotches, bourbons and cognacs. There were bottles of wine and tins of opened Beluga caviar. Everything was overflowing with a kind of bacchanalian abandon.

We had been told by the friend who had invited us to buzz the mailbox that said “Commander Tice.” Naturally I assumed he lived there. When a return buzz clicked open the door lock for us we went to the ground floor apartment not knowing what we would find.

“Come in.” Our friend met us at the ten-foot-tall door. It was made of solid wood and it dwarfed him although he stood well over six feet. The apartment was painted a dark red. The ceiling was inlaid in a geometric checkerboard carved wood pattern of thick black and white squares.

“Glad you made it. The party’s over but there’s plenty of food left.”

Something about the place made Don, one of the men in our group, nervous and he began to laugh. For the rest of the night he just kept on laughing. He couldn’t seem to stop.

“I’d like you to meet Alexandra.” Our friend introduced us to the woman in red.

My friend laughed as he took her hand.

“Yes,” she said to him smiling, “it’s all pretty funny isn’t it?”

***

She had a slight accent but I couldn’t tell from where. Maybe the south. She led him over to the food table. He heaped a plate and looked around for somewhere to sit, then spotted the couch. It must have been fifteen feet long. High wooden arms at either end made it look something like a very long shallow sleigh. It was covered in dark red velvet and had gigantic pillows tossed carelessly against its back. The shade on the standing lamp at one end of it was one of those beaded things, but its beads hung down about four feet. It was as if everything in the apartment had taken a bite of the eat-me cake and had just grown super large.

Don laughed his way over to the couch and began to eat.

I could not stop staring at everything.

Alexandra wandered over to the kitchen and started cooking something so I followed. She was making an omelet.

“Not enough food for you?” I asked her.

She looked up at me, her face blank. She didn’t say anything. Just shrugged.

I wandered off to find the bathroom. I did. I closed the door and flipped on the light switch. I looked around to see myself surrounded by floor-to-ceiling wallpaper that was nothing but a variety of photographs of our hostess in various naked poses, and I must say in some of them she was not alone. No sirree. And she was more than not alone. She was actively engaged in some pretty explicit activities not alone. And not just with men not alone. And not just two of them not alone. Well, you get the picture, or pictures. I stayed in there for quite some time.

Up until then my sexual education had been pretty circumspect. There was just Lovegod, who was with me that night. And while he was a willing coach and teacher, he was not your most experimental type. And what did I know?

I emerged feeling as if my horizons had definitely been broadened. And I certainly looked at our hostess in a whole new light.

Don was still laughing when I reentered the living room.

The friend who had invited us was smoking a hash pipe.

Red dress was eating her omelet and drinking champagne, judging by the glass.

“Hey, laughing man, wanna lie down and relax? You look kind of tired.”

She led Don into the bedroom which was in the back of the apartment. As she walked by me she invited me to join them. Now I know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong. Red dress had no such thing in mind. She just wanted to hang out and talk.

The bedroom was even more gargantuan in scale than the living room. The bed alone must have been built for a moose.

Across the bed, covering the entire span from side to side and head to foot, was a mink blanket. I spread out across it and I remember thinking I would remember that opulent feeling for the rest of my life.

***

Don was still laughing. He was sitting upright against the headboard that loomed about five feet above him.

Red dress left the room for a brief spell and our host friend joined us.

“Where’s her husband?” I asked him.

“What do you mean? Whose husband?”

“Alexandra’s. Isn’t this their apartment?”

“Be serious.”

“I am.”

Our friend just said: “Hey you guys missed a real show tonight. The president’s daughter showed and a bunch of secret service guys. And a military escort. It was really funny. All these stiff assed military types and all us hippies.”

“What about her husband? This place must cost a fortune.”

“Come on stop it. I thought you were hip to this scene.”

Don started laughing again and Red Dress came back into the room.

“That’s right,” she said. “You just keep on laughing and it’ll all work out just fine.”

A visit from the cops

badge-and-handcuffs

Three weeks later I met up with our friend again at a jazz club. I saw him out back handing out little packets and taking fifty dollar bills in exchange. We sat down at a small table in a smoky corner. He was very high.

“Alexandra got busted.”

“What do you mean?”

“Busted. You know.”

“Yes. But for what?”

“What d’you think?”

“I have no idea. Was she dealing?”

“Oh sure. She was dealing all right. Dealing in military secrets I think.”

“What?” I was really confused by then.

“Commander Tice.”

“Yes.”

“A big guy at the Pentagon. Real hush-hush.”

“At the Pentagon?”

“Shhh. No so loud. I don’t know if I’m being followed. I thought I saw a guy the other day. And then tonight I had the feeling someone was on my tail.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Boy, you really are a cute one, y’know?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it possible you really are as innocent as you play it?”

“Look. I am seriously in the dark here. Who is Alexandra? I thought she was Mrs. Tice. She lives there. His name is on the mailbox. What else am I to think?”

He looked at me for a long time, not saying anything. Whatever drug he had taken was now at its peak.

“She’s a hooker, you idiot. Commander Tice lives in Washington. He keeps her up here in that huge apartment. He owns her. Everything in there is his.”

“No.”

“God, you really are stupid.”

“Well, where is she?”

“Gone.”

“Yes, but gone where?”

“You think they left a note saying where they took her?”

“Who is they?”

He just stared at me then. The drug was on the downhill slide now. He closed his eyes and grooved on the music. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there feeling small and young and dumb, wondering what Alexandra was doing at that moment and if she was okay.

Trying acid for the first time

leary-and-dass

Not long after that I dropped acid for the first time. I guess I felt I had a lot of growing up to do. It’s a mystery why I thought that would do the trick.

Lovegod and I and some of the other artists from the farm met a guy named Jim at a club in New York one night. This was a very in club at the time. They had light shows. Jim was one of the light artists. Everyone at the club was tripping on something or other. In the late sixties there was a lot of press about the drug scene. But mostly the press focused on the hippies of Haight-Ashbury. The flower children. That made them sound sexy and cool and as if they were on the cutting edge of some wonderful new cultural awareness.

In reality they were a bunch of unhappy lost young kids many of whom died of overdoses or just got completely strung out and couldn’t rescue themselves. The ones who survived from that era were the ones with real talent and some kind of grounding. Besides the psychedelic drugs made famous by Timothy Leary and The Beatles, there was plenty of heroin on the streets. Heroin was a real scary drug that I never went anywhere near. But I knew plenty of people who did. And there was a lot of talk in those days about marijuana being a gateway drug. I refuted this whenever I had the chance.

But there I was one day at the farm with Jim the light artist visiting and that’s the day I tried acid.

I did it inside in my living room. Soon I was awash in a sea of swirling bright colors and patterns that covered everything. It was enchanting. I was enchanted, some Egyptian goddess with hieroglyphics covering my body and my black cat, Siren. Jim stayed with me the whole time. The theory among us neophytes was that to have a “good trip,” you needed a guide with “good vibes” who would be there with you through thick and thin. This was not supposed to be a spouse or lover or anyone too close to you. Clinical detachment was all important.

What science we based this on is a mystery. I think it had something to do with the I Ching. Or maybe the Third Eye. These were Eastern concepts that floated freely among the psychedelic sub culture.

But I think Jim was just after my body. He had spent a lot of time hanging around before this, encouraging me to find my real self through exploration of this other realm. He said it was very spiritual. Later he introduced us to Timothy Leary and Babba Ram Das at a big old estate farm in Millbrook. Tim was a tall, aristocratically good looking ex-professor from Harvard. Ex because he had really revved up the flower power generation by trying all sorts of psychedelic drugs, starting with the organic ones like peyote and mescaline and moving rather swiftly past pot and into LSD, which could be manufactured easily and inexpensively by anyone with access to a lab and certain chemicals. Timothy could get to the lab, Harvard being a major institution with all sorts of rooms and anterooms, and I guess the chemicals were not much of a challenge either. Ram Das was a spiritual name assumed by a friend of Timothy’s. I think he came from the Bronx, did Ram Das. Tim Leary went on talk shows and argued on panel shows and hit the news a lot over a couple of years there. Finally the attorney general of the state of New York went after him and, after a lengthy trial that made big news and gave Tim Leary a venue to really expose his views, which boiled down to the simple three phrase mantra, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. Years after he got out of jail he was still dropping drugs of all kinds, but by then he was doing it as a testing procedure for drug companies. He was still saying we were moving toward a totally chemical culture where everyone would rely on drugs for survival.

***

tomatoesDuring that first trip I wandered outside to the huge vegetable garden on the farm. It was June. A bright sunny day. Clear and not humid at all. I walked through the rows of staked tomato plants and began picking ripe red ones from the vines. I still remember the heady way they felt, how dense and rich as if I were feeling the very essence of them through my fingers – the souls of those full, ripe tomatoes. And then I began to squish them in my fingers and to taste them and it felt like I was eating the sun, warm and succulent.

The trip lasted a good five hours. I don’t remember the rest of it. It was odd and pleasant and something I am lucky went well for me.

Leaving the farm

brownstone-birth-control

Others were not so lucky when it came to dropping acid. One of our little group began tripping alone and often. Over a few months she disintegrated into madness and ended up in a state psychiatric hospital where she stayed for about three months. When she came out she was pale and nervous and resentful of me. Her mother lived in the Midwest. She was German and had come to the U.S. after the War. When our friend was released from the hospital she began to blame World War II on the Jews.

About that time I left the farm and Lovegod and moved to New York. Our four pounds of pot was nearly gone. I was about to turn twenty-one. I still had not grown up and was still in the dark about sex. But not for long.

My new home was the second floor of a brownstone on East Eighteenth Street in New York City. From the back windows I could see the gardens behind the two rows of houses on Nineteenth and Eighteenth Streets. Birds flitted around all year long and I could see the seasons change with the leaves. I used the larger of the two bedrooms for a studio where I painted and made small constructions. I began to look around for a gallery to show my work. And I became involved with some musicians I had met during one of the parties at the chemist’s house.

One of the musicians and I became very close. After two years together, as I was walking out the door for the last time, I told him we were like poison oak and poison ivy – replace double hyphen with N dash] just too close to make a long term relationship work. By then I had grown up enough to know you need balance and counterbalance to make a marriage. We didn’t have it. We did have love. And THE PILL, which I relied on primarily because everyone said you could.

When I realized I had gotten pregnant on THE PILL, it also dawned on me that just because a bunch of experts say something is true, doesn’t guarantee anything. You pay your money and you take your chances. The flower children phrase “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” began to take on new meaning as I searched for a solution to my problem.

What happens when The Pill fails, ca. 1967

speculum-and-gloves

In 1967 abortion was illegal. If you were poor you risked your life getting one, usually in someone’s back room in Harlem or sometimes in an alley or sometimes with a coat hanger you wielded by yourself. A lot of women bled to death alone. Others showed up in hospital emergency rooms and bled to death there. Women who had the money could see abortion doctors who charged by the thousands for performing the procedure in secret after-hours operations in cloak and dagger fashion like spies with military secrets that they had to hide from foreign agents provocateurs. These doctors were often ordinary physicians in their normal work days. Some did it for the money. Others did it for more altruistic reasons. They believed women should not have to risk their lives to control their bodies. THE PILL was supposed to end all that. Of course it didn’t.

I found my doctor through another doctor (who has been dead now for decades).

“Call this number and ask for Dr. Stoner,” she told me.

“Where is his office?”

“Now listen to me. This is illegal for you and for him. You must be careful. I can tell you he is a real doctor and you’ll be safe with him. But you must be careful. So do exactly as he says. When he gets on the phone, tell him Rachel McGuire gave you his name. He’ll know what that means. He will tell you what to do. Don’t say anything else except thank you after he tells you what to do. Then hang up the phone and don’t call him again.”

“Is that all? It sounds so sneaky.”

“This is the way it has to be,” she said. “Don’t call him from your home. Call from a phone booth somewhere far away from your apartment.”

“Okay. I’ll be careful.”

“Bring a thousand dollars with you in twenty dollar bills. Put it in a plain envelope. no name on it or anything. Wear gloves. Don’t let your fingers touch the money or the envelope.”

“Geez.”

“I know. It sounds silly. But those are the rules.”

I went home and walked way over to the west side and then uptown about twenty blocks. I dialed the number from a phone booth.

“Hello.” A man’s voice.

“I’m calling Dr. Stoner please.”

“This is Dr. Stoner.”

“I need to make an appointment. Rachel McGuire gave me your name.”

“Be at my office at eleven on Wednesday. Three twenty-five East Thirty-Sixth Street. Apartment number two.”

He hung up before I had a chance to say thank you.

On Wednesday I took a cab over to Thirty-Sixth Street. It was a building like mine with a front stoop. Six steps up and I was at the front door. I rang buzzer number two at precisely eleven a.m. A buzz came back and the door clicked open.

***

A man of about fifty opened the door. He looked around the hallway before letting me into the waiting room of what was obviously an apartment converted into an office. He motioned to one of the two small couches. I sat down. He sat at a reception type wood desk and pulled over a pad and pen.

“How far along are you?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I think three months.”

He nodded and wrote something down.

“Did you bring the money?”

“Yes.” I reached into my bag and pulled out the envelope with my gloves still on.

“Lay it on the desk.”

I did. I sat up very straight on the couch.

He stood up, slipping the money into a briefcase by his desk.

“Follow me.”

We walked down a short hallway. At the end he opened a large dark wooden door into a sterile-looking room with a curtained area at the back and a gynecological-type examining table in the middle. There were a few glass cases with instruments, cotton, things like that. Everything was very clean. The room was brightly lit. The floor was scrubbed linoleum. There was a fresh sheet on the examining table. The stirrups were in the up position. There was a small black metal footstool next to the table.

“Go behind the curtain and remove all your clothes. Put on the gown and the slippers and get on the table. The gown ties in front. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When he returned I was lying on my back on the table. He lifted my calves and placed my legs in the stirrups. He pulled over a metal light on wheels and clicked it on. He adjusted it to shine right between my legs. I could feel the warmth of the lamp.

“This procedure is called a D & C,” he began to explain.

“I’m going to spread the cervix open gradually with a tool that expands the neck. The neck of the cervix s a muscle that can open wide enough for a baby to pass through. We’re not doing anything your body is not equipped to do on its own. The spreading of the cervix can cause slight labor-like pains. These will not be any worse than period cramps. How does that sound to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I mean I’ve never had cramps so I don’t know what that feels like.”

“Never?”

“No.”

“Well, it may hurt a bit, but nothing you can’t stand. Then I’m going to go inside the uterus with this tool.”

He reached around to my side to show me a shiny stainless steel tool with a flat elongated spoon at one end. It was much longer than an iced tea spoon. It looked very precise around the edge of the spoon.

“I’ll scrape the inside of the uterus with this tool and that will dislodge anything that is attached. There may be some blood but that’s normal. Afterwards you may feel some cramping as the uterus contracts and clears itself of any remaining tissue. Are you ready?”

“I guess so.”

He inserted the speculum and started prying open my you-know-what. I could hear the mechanism cranking open farther and farther. My muscles clamped against it.

“Relax,” he said.

They always said that. They still do.

***

“Now you’re going to feel some twinges when I start stretching the neck of the cervix. Remember this is just like bad menstrual cramping. Oh, that’s right. You’ve never had cramps. Well, it shouldn’t be too bad. Once we get inside here … ” screek screek as the cervix stretcher does its thing … “you won’t feel a thing, because there are no nerve endings inside the actual uterus.”

Now I know this sounds as if it was the most medieval scene possible, but in actuality I felt no pain whatsoever. And I was too ignorant to be scared. I trusted the guy completely. Hadn’t he been recommended by someone I knew and trusted? Well that was enough for me. The fact that I went there alone with a thousand bucks in twenties in a plain envelope and never took off my gloves for fear of leaving fingerprints didn’t faze me one bit.

“That should do it.” It had lasted about ten minutes, I would gauge. He pulled the clamps off my cervix, unscrewed the speculum, laid his iced tea spoon on the surgical tray and went to wash up.

“You should lie still for ten minutes. I’ll come back and take a look. Just relax.”

I closed my eyes and tried to think about something specific but my mind wouldn’t focus. So I just let it wander.

“Well, how are you feeling?” He was back. How many minutes had actually elapsed since I had buzzed at eleven that morning?

“I’m okay.”

“Good. You did real well. You can put your clothes back on now and I’ll see you in the reception room.”

I expected to feel weak or something when I got down from the table but I felt absolutely normal. Being twenty-two is a wonderful, resilient thing.

“Now I want you to take a cab home and lie down for the rest of the day. Don’t lift anything and don’t go anywhere.  First I want you to sit here for another fifteen minutes so I can be sure there’s no bleeding. I had a woman from New Jersey in here a few years back. She had eight children and here she was pregnant again. She said she just could not afford one more and her husband didn’t know about it yet so she wanted to take care of it before he found out. We did it right then and there. Afterwards she kept bleeding. I did everything I could but she just kept bleeding. Then she told me she was a mild bleeder — hemophiliac. Jesus, I was scared. I told her she should have told me before. I told her she was risking her life. She said she knew that but if she had told me I wouldn’t have done it. I told her she was damned right I wouldn’t have. And now she could die. She said no she wasn’t going to die. That she’d stop bleeding eventually. I kept her for five hours and she finally did stop. But she lost a lot of blood and I was worried she might get home and collapse. I never heard from her again. I guess it worked out. But these women will make you old before your time. Well how’re you feeling?”

“I’m fine. I think I can go home now.”

“Well, okay, if you think you’re over the worst.”

Look who he was asking for a mature evaluation.

***

My musician came over and sat with me but it was obvious our two years together were at an end.

Valium and the colonoscopy

pills-and-pills

When my third daughter was no more than two I began to have strange feelings. I would get hot and I had trouble sleeping. Sometimes I awoke and my nightgown was soaked. It got worse and worse until my doctor finally listened to me and tested me for estrogen levels. Turns out I was completely wiped out – no estrogen left at all – at age thirty-seven. So I went on hormone replacement and within two weeks I was pretty much back to normal. Now this is what drugs are all about.

When I hit fifty the doctor said I had to have my colon looked into. That it was recommended. Well, that would have been fine with me but there’s one catch. They give you a plastic gallon jug and some powder and tell you to put the powder in the jug, fill it with cold water and start drinking an eight ounce glass of this stuff every half hour until it’s empty. Oh, and they warn you it’ll make you have to go to the bathroom somewhere around the sixth or seventh glass. It varies from person to person.

In my case that estimate was a bit on the conservative side. On the fourth glass of this disgusting bilge water my body rebelled. By the fifth glass, if I just looked at that jug, my throat closed up tighter than a bank vault. By the sixth glass there was no way I could swallow any of it, let alone drink the rest of the gallon. So I figured the doctor had chosen this line of work, let him deal with the consequences, and tossed it in the sink where it settled like a blob of protoplasm.

The next morning I was lying on a gurney awaiting the nurse who would wheel me into the room with the sigmoidoscopy screen. The pump room if you will.

“Did you drink the whole bottle?” It was my friendly gastroenterologist leaning over me, the benign expression on his face belying the real intent of his question which was …  “Are you all cleaned out in there?”

“Oh yes, doctor,” I lied neatly. Well, he didn’t know my history of lying to the customs agent so convincingly. He bought this just as totally as that guy had bought my line about dirty laundry stuffed in socks.

“Good. Very good.”

In I went. They hooked me up to an IV. I had already lied about my drug allergies. Ever since my first bout with morphine I had taken to telling them I was allergic to it. Medical-type people hate that word allergic. But if I were to say on that form “Morphine makes me really cranky” do you think they would stop giving it to me? The answer is “no.” And why? That’s simple. Because the medical establishment, although highly advanced compared with one hundred years ago, still does not consider emotional reactions in the realm of the physical. As if the brain is somehow separate from the body, unless you have a tumor up there. Then it is obvious something is wrong.



***



“We’re just going to start the IV going now. You’ll feel a little drowsy. There won’t be any pain.” The doctor nodded to the nurse, who flipped the switch. I felt a cold sensation in my wrist and forearm. In a matter of seconds my body began to feel light and floaty. My head relaxed. My back and shoulders seemed to melt away from my spine. I was completely at peace.

“You can watch on the monitor if you like,” said the nurse. She rolled my head toward a big screen that showed my intestine in weird colors.

“Oh, that’s all right,” I sort of sang to her. “I’m fine, just fine.”

I don’t know how long I was in there with that metal shower hose snake up my guts from the back end but I really didn’t care. After they wheeled me out I was in the recovery room for a while just grooving along. Somehow I got dressed and Strong With A Spear drove me home. I got into bed and floated along for the rest of the day and night and well into the next day. After three days the valium demerol IV mix they dripped into me finally wore off. That was the best three days I’ve had in forty years. Now that’s what I call a useful drug. But I hear demerol makes some people throw up.

My father’s breakdown on Wall Street

When my father had his breakdown he really fell apart. Sat there like a zombie and couldn’t move or say a word.

He used to say confusing things to my brother and me when we were kids.

He’d say, “I may not always be right but I’m never wrong.”

I don’t know if that confused my brother as much as it did me. I sure wanted him to be right about everything. But on my twenty-fifth birthday he just lost it, and that’s when I found out that sometimes he was very wrong. Catastrophically wrong. That was the day he found out he’d lost fifty million dollars. Not all of it his. But a lot of his, and everyone else in the family’s.

When he realized it he just went numb. Then we found out that the doctor he’d been seeing had been mismedicating him and he hadn’t slept for three weeks.

Then we found out that he was bi-polar. In those days they called it manic depressive. Now there are different types of manic depression and I’m no expert on the finer points. But it seemed my dad’s type was the kind that’s triggered by external stress. So of course he chose to run a hedge fund on Wall Street which, as anyone who knows about these types of activities will tell you, is only the highest stakes crap shoot on THE STREET, which is also called by denizens of that world, THE BIG GAME.

So I am here to tell you right now that if you are invested in THE MARKET with anything more than play money, you should know that a great preponderance of people who work down there are drawn to it because they have some sort of mood disorder. Like die-hard gamblers. They go for the rush. The adrenaline flow. And few of them get out in time when they’re winning. It’s an immutable law. And very like a drug.

A romantic breakdown…

wedding ring wishbone

I was on my second true love since my first true love, Lovegod, and things were not going well. I had decided at the end of the first six months of this relationship that I wanted marriage. Now that’s not an easy shift to make if you don’t start the relationship there. All of a sudden we went from…

“… whatever you want to do tonight, honey…”

to…

“… well, when already?” Meaning marriage.

Anxiety was at a fever pitch between us. I was still an artist. He was in the early stages of a surgical residency. At a renowned medical establishment surrounded by world-famous doctors who had people fawning all over them from Reykjavik to Rio. He had left some skiing gear at my apartment two weeks before. On the morning I turned twenty-five I met him at his apartment, his ski boots in one hand, my ultimatum in the other. And I laid it on him.

“Hi, Lovey,” he said opening the door.

“I just stopped by to bring you these.” I raised the hand holding the boots to show him just how deeply entwined our lives had become.

He rubbed his eyes. Obviously he had been asleep.

“I’ve been on call for three nights.” He fell back from the door and settled on the couch looking half dazed.

“Do you want these?”

“Sure. Were we supposed to meet this morning?” He yawned.

“I can’t go on like this any longer.”

“Well then, why don’t you just drop the boots if they’re that heavy? You don’t need to hold them up.”

“I’m not talking about the boots, you bastard.”

Dr. Ski ran a hand through his thick mop of curly hair. He was textbook handsome –  like Michelangelo’s statue of David.

“What’s the matter?”

“I already told you. I can’t go on like this. Not knowing. Just floating.”

“Can we talk about this some other time. Maybe when I’ve had more than three hours sleep in four days?”

“I cannot go on like this any longer.”

“Please can’t we just postpone this for a couple of days?”

At that point I threw the boots across the room.

“You can take your boots and all your other stuff back. I’m through.” I slammed the door behind me.

…that coincides with Dad’s mental breakdown

dad-phone-money

Back at my apartment I waited for him to call. He didn’t. My stomach knotted up and I began to feel sick. Hours went by like this. Then the phone rang. Aha! He was crawling. This was good.

“Hello.”

“I need help.” It was my mother.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your father’s sick.”

“What do you mean sick?”

“Can you come over?”

“I’ll be right there.”

So much for my love life.

My father had taken up residence in a cantaloupe color satin chair in the corner of my parents’ bedroom. He sat slightly hunched forward, arms resting on his knees, legs slightly apart, his light blue cotton Brooks Brothers bathrobe tied loosely but open above the knees. He always wore pale blue cotton boxer shorts, the roomy kind that came halfway down his thighs like shorts. But he was always very fastidious about keeping his robe closed when he sat down. As a kid, I only saw him in his boxers when he had on a T-shirt and was walking around his room getting dressed. Even that was rare. His T-shirts were always carefully ironed, as were his boxers.

Today I could see right up under his bathrobe to his testicles. I looked away quickly, but he just sat there.

His face looked blank. He just stared straight at the carpet. When I walked into the room he raised his eyelids slightly, saw me, then stared at the floor again.

My mother stood next to me.

“I’ve called Dr. Schaefer. He’s coming right over. Your father’s been like this since this morning. He got home very late last night.”

“What happened?”

“The market.”

Even I knew there had been a crash. It was 1970. The worst crash since ’29. People were jumping from ledges again.

***

“Has he said anything?”

“Nothing.”

The doorbell rang and she went to get it.

A few minutes later Dr. Schaefer was standing there trying to get my father to talk.

No dice. He just stared at the floor.

“He’s depressed.” Dr. Schaefer, a small man who was a natty dresser, had a truly inspired way of summing up the obvious. He smiled around the room at no one in particular as if we were an audience of two.

I left the room. My mother followed me.

“I’m going to call Dr. Sontag. I’m afraid I don’t trust this one.” She made a motion toward the bedroom with her thumb.

Later that day Dr. Sontag showed up. He nodded to both of us and to Dr. Schaefer who it seemed was in this thing for the long haul, and went into the bedroom. Ten minutes later he emerged.

“He needs some sleep,” he told us. “If you don’t mind, doctor, I’d like to take over his medication and see if we can’t get him some rest.”

“Oh no problem, doctor. I agree with that completely.”

It was certainly nice how doctor-doctor were getting along.

“Well, if you’re taking over here I’ll just let myself out. I think he’s better off under the care of only one doctor, doctor.”

My mother walked him to the door and thanked him for coming over and for all his help.

“I never trusted that man.” She said it as soon as she heard the elevator door in the hallway shut.

“I think he needs to get away from the city.” Dr. Sontag was writing a prescription.

“I can take him up to Connecticut.”

“Yes, that would be good. I’m going around to the corner drug store and getting this filled. I want him to take one right now. And I want you to make sure he takes them exactly as prescribed. He’s going to be doing nothing but sleeping for about two weeks now. Can you handle that?”

My mother nodded. She’s always good in a crisis. The worse the crisis the better she performs. It’s the down times when nothing is wrong when she falls apart. She began bustling around, calling the garage to get their car ready, packing their personal stuff for the trip out of the city, getting some clothes for my father to wear, packing up all the spoilable food in the refrigerator. Hell could be boiling over right under her feet but she would never let a damned head of lettuce spoil in the city while she was away in the country. No, those pesky leftovers would have to be used. It was the fiscally responsible thing to do. Forget that my father had just lost $50 mil. That just made it all the more logical to save every string bean from certain death at the bottom of the refrigerator drawer.

***

I went in and sat down with my father, who was still staring straight ahead at nothing. I took his hand. He did not respond.

“Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. No matter what’s happened you’ve always taken care of us. Now it’s our turn. You just relax. Mom and I will be right here with you.” I kissed his forehead. He never moved. But I caught sight of his eyes. They were laden with tears about to spill over. I knew he wouldn’t want me to see that. But it made me feel good to know he could cry. When you have something to cry about and you don’t, that’s bad. When you do, then you’ll be all right. Eventually.

Tending the garden, actual and psychological

flowers

The drugs worked. My father did sleep for two weeks. At the end of that time he went out to his garden and began weeding and mulching and planting and trimming and coddling his flowers. That summer they made the best show I’d ever seen. He spent four months on his knees out there every day until it got dark. He just needed to know he could nurture something.

He was sick for about a year. But the worst was over in a couple of months. I don’t know what other drugs Dr. Sontag put him on. After awhile he was drug free. It took another two years to divest himself from his fund and all his internecine financial dealings.

He learned a lot about mood disorders in that time. He got out of Wall Street. He still made money. But he found other, safer ways to do it. And he stopped investing for the likes of the Rothschilds and The Bank of England, which is really the Queen, and a lot of other big mucky mucks in America. He always had big dreams.

Sometimes you get lucky and your dreams coincide with a market that’s on the rise. You may hit it just right and get out just right. But more often you crash and burn. Then you’re lucky to get out making a bit more than you had when you went in. My father did okay over the long haul. But the big score eluded him. Maybe it was always a fantasy tied to the mood disorder.

“He had this once before.” My mother had alluded to this before.

“What do you mean?”

“He got sick in the Marine Corps. They called it battle fatigue. But it was really the same thing. He just got sick. Couldn’t take it.”

As if she would have been able to face a steamy jungle full of snipers aiming at her from God knows where every morning.

“I don’t think this is the same thing.”

“Oh yes it is. He’s always making me out to be the sick one. But he’s the one too.”


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