Sunday, November 22, 2009


It was 1973 and all things seemed possible. I bought a Subaru that year, but first I have to tell you how I came to buy it.

It was maybe April, 1973. I was weeks from graduation from nursing school. I decided one evening to visit a friend and I brought along a new album to share and listen to. It was Fragile by Yes. A new horizon was barely visible and Yes music was perfect. This friend was someone I had met through my ex. He worked at the only computer business in Birmingham at the time, so I was impressed with his knowledge and cutting edge-iness. When he answered the door and I showed him the album, he pulled out the same album from his collection- Yes met Yes. It was an Event.

It turns out the this person I will call D was a frickin genious. The real thing. I could relate to him in some ways, but mostly I felt that I was learning at an accelerated rate. Remember the movie with John Travolta where he starts learning languages, learning everything, faster and faster. It was like that. The atmosphere was rarified with energy and real knowledge- not just philosophy and conjecture but actual stuff- mathematics, physics, biological sciences, architecture, music, acoustics, art, history, politics. He was talking about getting a personal computer. People did not have personal computers in 1973.

We ended up setting up house in Crestline Village. His parents owned the house. I finished nursing school and started work at the VA. For some reason he quit working and just stayed home. I made enough money to live on and then some, and it was fun to have someone take an interest in me. I was pretty much on my own in the world, not much in the way of family, so I enjoyed being taken in. I failed to notice that I was the only one working. I worked hard, and then had lots of time off to go on short trips, go to the beach, whatever. D held court all the time at the house in Crestline. We had all sorts of people dropping by to take part in the scene there and it was quite a scene. I was educated, but my folks were like the best of the hillbillies. D's family was well off, and well connected. I guess they tried to accept me- I was never treated unfairly by them at all. Everything was so loose back then, it was hard to know what the "norm" was.

We traded in D's van and I sold my Opal. I bought the Subaru. The subaru had an "airplane engine"- the newest thing. And it was lime green. Too bad we burned up the engine.

One of the most astonishing things I remember about that time was a trip to see the Grateful Dead in Indianapolis. We went with a strange group of unlikely people in a van. We all took some kind of acid and D drove without any problem. It did not seem to affect him at all. We were incapacitated for hours, some people worse than others- I mean really nonfunctional- and he just drove on, talked with me, in the most nonplussed fashion. It was like riding the jet stream. I knew then something was very different about D. It was a great trip, and the show in Indianapolis was fantastic in every way.

Initially then, everything was fun and very stimulating. I met some wonderful people who are still good friends today.

I will never forget our house. On the wall behind the sofa was a huge color graphic painted on the wall by one of D's friends who was an artist. We had orange plasic parson's tables with small orange plastic lights. At the time, it was ultra hip in a kind of futuristic way- not the hippy stuff I was used to. The house was in a small village so I could walk to the grocery store or library. It was a nice change from Southside, although most everyone who came over was living on Southside. We were just sightly removed and safe there, ie I did not feel like the police might bust in at any moment!

I made elaborate macrame plant holders and we bought huge lovely plants for the porch. It was the nicest place I had lived in thus far. We talked about everything, especially politics. I started reading the New York Review of Books.

We started a company to do software. We went to Atlanta and finally acquired something like a prototype of a computer. We could run it by connecting by modem to the main frame at the University. Just as that started to take off our partner the software writer moved to California. That was the end of the company.

Then other things started to shift. Our newspaper friend, J, moved to American Samoa to work for a paper there, and to have a South Sea adventure. D had started becoming more vociferous about various events. Of course we all were more and more concerned with the Vietnam war and the horrible things we saw on tv on a daily basis. It was a paranoid time, a time for paranoids. It was hard to separate things out.

The first strangeness was American Samoa. Coincidentally, Doonesbury was all about American Samoa at the same time- not before-at the same time that our friend arrived there. I cannot describe what was happening in my head then. It was all aswirl. The best analogy is Apocolypse Now! I was losing my footing in reality, and it was not from too many drugs. I rarely did anything at that point except smoke pot. Everything was too real- I did not need anything "recreational" to enhance what was going on.

So, to this day, I have no explanation for the things that happened in 1973 and 1974. I wish I did. From then on, things got crazier. There were more unexplained connections and coincidences. D was getting more manic. It became, and indeed was, just like A Beautiful Mind. None of us knew it, but D was descinding into Schizophrenia. It was tragic.

There was an intervention eventually, and more strange events that included Humphrey Osmond. What he was doing in Alabama at Bryce Hospital I will never understand. I survived somehow and had to remove myself. I moved back to Southside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Early 1973

Life was happening fast. I could see the end of school coming. I was single and directionless, unless you count as a direction the direction of whatever fun was going on.

I did graduate in the spring, and took a job in the Intensive Care unit at the Veteran's Hospital in Birmingham. I was making big bucks, had 4 weeks of vacation yearly, and had nice benefits, none of which meant a thing to me. I was suprised to find that I was good at nursing, and did well on the job. I do have some funny stories about working there- and it was intense to say the least! The medical center is part of the Southside so I was right in my element.

We did everything as nurses at the VA- the more experienced nurses ran the place-instructing the docs (they were all Residents from the University of Alabama medical school) who were always just passing through. We had male "orderlies", there were no techs. We did our own respiratory therapy, were our own pharmacists, made up all the IV's, peritoneal dialysis, etc. We had people on drips with no IV pumps at all, ventilators, cardiac monitors- we did it all. We even had a lab on the unit for putting in transvenous pacemakers. Have you ever sat and twiddled a knob to capture a heartbeat or run a dopamine drip rate up and down to keep someone alive? I scare myself when I think of what I was doing at 21 years old.

I loved the nurses there- they were such great role models for me. They were confident, well educated and kind to me. Firm, and kind. That is, the nurses I worked with were kind- not the administrative nurses. They were a whole 'nother animal.

One story involves a young guy that was in a coma. One day he was on a gurney coming back from a test and as I was wheeling him back on the unit he opened his eyes, looked up at me and said "kiss me"! In my astonishment and youthful enthusiasm I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I was of course immediately called in and given a lecture, and written up. Another time I slept late. I was called within minutes of not showing up, again lectured up one side and down the other. Nurses don't just not show up. I learned that lesson really well that day. Another evening our usually horribly busy unit just emptied out. We had three stable patients. In those days they did not send nurses home if "overstaffed". The young doc that was on the unit said "let's play some cards". Next day we all got lectured and written up.

One day we had 4 Code Blues at the same time. Another evening, I was the lone nurse in the MICU with 9 patients, 2 orderlies and had to prepare and administer 4 peritoneal dialyses at the same time. If anyone reads this that knows what I am talking about- is that even humanly possible? In spite of all that, I did learn a lot there, and the things I got to do were exciting. I worked back and forth in the CCU and the MICU so I did get a lot of training that always served me well.

So I was working. And at the same time I guess I needed a little more excitement in my social life so I started seeing someone that I had met through my ex-husband that had piqued my curiosity. That is the beginning of a story of epic proportions. It will take a while to figure out how to tell that story. So much of it is ineffable. to be continued

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Ladies

I yam who i yam, but would not be so yammin' if it were not for the influential women in my life.

I guess I was just going along, listening to the Supremes and the Chiffon's and others. Aretha Franklin hit the scene and blew me away. So funky, so 150% emotion. I think she woke me out of the slumber of the sweet and nicely packaged music. Another great was Carla Thomas. I love her voice. I was kind of afraid of Nina Simone, did not appreciate her until later on- she is one of the great greats.

Joan Baez, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithful gave me a taste of another world- where women were talented, forthright, fragile and kind. They weren't afraid to sing it out for everyone to know.

On the teen scene sprang Janis Ian singing " I learned the truth at 17" and it was so cold, so real. She was our Alanis Morrisette. Carlie Simon was also real- real, but more sophisticated and cool. Carole King was inspiring. Her music was very accessible and made me think I could write songs like she did.

I think the greatest influences came from Grace Slick, Jonie Mitchell (in a class by herself), Linda Ronstadt and Janis Joplin. I could listen to their songs over and over, sing along, and FEEL along with them. They were women- gutsy, outstanding, no holds barred, and I was paying attention. I started listening to Bonnie Raitt much later, only discovering Sweet Forgiveness in 1975. And when I saw Donna Godchaux singing with the Dead, I thought she was a Goddess!

My inspiration to play guitar came from Joan Armitrading. I will never forget listening to her first album. Somehow around 1975 I decided that I wanted to learn the bass.

Remember that at this time there were no role models. These were the originals, and I looked at them and took them in for what they were. There was no cynicism at the time as far as music went. I am grateful for that.

So looking back at 1972 now I feel much better about it all. It was not such a bad time after all. I was impressionable, open minded, directionless, but kind of grounded in a funny way. I attribute my sanity to music and the musicians that played for me.