The Exorcists (Part 2: Drugs)

[Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the years 1974–’75, when I learned about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Some names have been changed to avoid pain to the living, but not particularly to the writer. Photos below taken July 4, 1974 and Christmas 1974.]


The night of Nov. 19, 2007, I was driving a rental car south of Tampa, struggling to remember the turnoff to Mom and Dad’s place in Englewood. It was a clear night, but I’d forgotten just how dark South Florida gets far from any city lights.

My layover in St. Louis was longer than expected and, given the unfamiliar route from Tampa, I called Dad to let him know I’d landed, but would be arriving later than planned.

It was after 10 p.m. when I finally reached their house. Mom was first to the door, and mumbled that she had worried about my flight.

Then she fell. I helped her up. She was thin, wasted away, and, Dad later told me, she’d stopped taking her medications just weeks before. In her 72nd year, she suffered from hypertension, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart disease and clinical depression.

After Dad and I helped Mom back to bed, we chatted for a bit in the kitchen. He looked like a man exhausted from a long journey.

Near midnight I retired to the guest room, tuning the old AM radio to station WKII where Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” oozed out like some sort of aural Vicodin.

In the journal I wrote, “Mother is dying…I don’t know what the plan is, but no drugs, no health care nurse, no primary doctor. I can’t believe it. She’ll be gone within weeks or months unless something is done.”


Our mental states, I believe, strive for equilibrium but don’t always achieve it without, well, some help. While my parents did not immediately reach for drugs or alcohol, they were always ready to seek medical advice even while they were skeptical of easy pharmacological fixes. Mom had no taste for wine or cocktails. I never saw Dad have more than two beers at any one sitting. Neither had my grandparents ever exhibited the slightest signs of chemical dependency.

But I grew up surrounded by drugs and alcohol. And to my parents’ overwhelming disappointment, I experimented with them.

In our early teenage years, Dad gave me and Brian a talk about how in high school, in the 1950s, he was once offered “goofballs.” He was proud to tell us he refused them, and said he was a better person for it. Of course, I wondered just what someone would feel like under the influence of said goofballs. It sounded like a competitive sport devised by circus clowns. Hey, that could be fun.

On the day the House Judiciary Committee met to deliberate whether President Nixon would be impeached, in August 1974, I was stealing cigarettes from the local drugstore with neighbor kids Evan and Derek. Former church camper Pete Martin and I used to smoke his father’s cigars out on Boy Scout Island, on the lake.

If you can’t appreciate the irony of that, I’m not telling the history straight.

On July 12, I’d snatched four cans of Dad’s Schlitz beer from a box in the back of the laundry room, drank them down one after the other. I reported in the diary that “I felt sick all day.” In truth, Dad wasn’t adverse to letting the boys swig from his Carling Black Label beers while we ate the blue crabs we’d caught in Chesapeake Bay, back when we lived out East. Recall having a reaction much like, “Why in hell would anyone drink this and honestly say he enjoyed it?”

But something definitely clicked in the summer of 1974. I was only 14 years old, but I was finding I liked the oddly erotic power that came with smoking a cigarette, and the initial burn and subsequent buzz of a cold Schmidt “Big Mouth Barrel” beer.

My last year at the junior high began that fall, and Derek and I stole his dad’s beers so we could sip them under the overturned fishing boat by a neighbor’s dock. That winter of 1975, I went snowmobiling with Kent Hosteadler and Scott Drews. We ended up at one kid’s house where we drank peppermint schnapps and, for the first time, I smoked a joint. Later we stumbled outside and “dueled” with icicles—laughing our asses off, dizzy and falling into the snow.

I’d called my parents to let them know I’d be staying overnight, which they seemed to have agreed to since I did spend the night there. But I felt sicker as the night wore on. Later some older kids showed up and started punching me in the stomach while I tried to sleep. Eventually, I threw up.

You might say I’d found the crest of the slippery slope.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 5, 2011.

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