Never Snicker at a Snake on a Stick

“That is an idea: a book that causes a disease.”

 

I bet I never told you that story: about when I was out of work before, back in uh-h-h nineteen eighty-something?

No.

 

And how I took some of my stories to the main dude down at the local newspaper, thinking how he might want to give me a job writing an editorial page column since the local columnist, a man with a name so crude I can’t repeat it, had recently passed on to that posthumous, trans-physical domain?

No. I –

 

So I pranced in there probably shitfaced but well-cleaned-up up as I recall (I did have a family to feed, and I did not have a job), with a wide tie and mismatched pants and shirt and jacket …

Dressed up, then. About to present yourself. How old were you? Thirty?

 

Ish. And the head of the newsroom guy tells me as nice as he can be that most of the people he hires are graduates of, at least, the Columbia School of Journalism, located in New York, New York. But that he does like my fictional story about the uncle’s successful cure –

Of what?

 

Alcoholism. He fought it all his life. Dr Ozmint at the University tried using LSD on just a few series of extremely problematical alcoholics (and a few other addicts). So this story was not a fiction story about my uncle and he just laughs as if I’ve made a joke. He says it couldn’t be true. I said it was.

That’s a very odd story.

 

Indeed it is. True though: when my uncle came back in 1968 he was some kind of weirded out man, let me tell you.

Well he must have been somewhat weirded out before – ?

 

Oh he was, he was! A millennialism dude from way back. Read The Watchtower. Remember The Watchtower? Had hundreds of them in his house, read the Bible almost constantly. He just could not stop drinking. Thus my Dad sent him to the place where Dr Ozmint worked.

Did the treatment help him?

 

Yes, well, I guess. It is true that he never drank again after being discharged the second time.

How did you know he had this kind of treatment?

 

My father was told, and he told us much later on – not at the time.

Did you uncle know what had been given to him?

 

I am not sure about that. I recall him being quite shaky when he came back from the Hospital. We were told he had been given electroshock therapy, but later on my father told me they did some experimental drug therapy on him, as well.

I bet that was an odd conversation.

 

It was. My dad knew I had tried psychedelics, and right after he told me and my brother about Unk’s treatment he asked me if I thought “that stuff” (as he put it) had done me any harm. I said I didn’t know, I didn’t think so, and in any case my experience was rather limited. Talk about your nerve-wracking conversation? He said he felt bad enough about authorizing the hospitalization of his own brother, but there was nothing else he could do at the time. I recall him looking very serious, like: no bullshit involved here.

I take it this story was of no use to you in your attempt to get the newspaper job –

 

No. Not a bit of it. I felt kind of put down by his invocation of the Columbia School of Journalism, his advice for me to go back to school and major in mass communication – “just start taking classes” the dude said – and then come back . . . I went home and smoked a big joint and read what he’d written on one of my other stories: “I can’t publish what I can’t understand” being the remark I recall most. I felt like he should care more about my uncle’s experience as an inmate of our state’s mental health facilities.

But your uncle was just another old dude with alcoholic psychosis – that’s how they treated them.

 

Yeah.

So what happened then.

 

I got a different job eventually. Gave up hope of writing for the local newspaper.

Really.

 

The main thing, for many years my uncle was wandering around the neighborhood behaving pretty weirdly, and there seemed to be no reason for it except alcoholic psychosis – the liquor had rotted his brain! Now, in retrospect, I look at a lot of his actions in those years and see that he was just overwhelmed by what was happening to him, whether it was a broken date late on a Saturday evening or the sudden dream he had of his ex-wife – this vision had incited him to slip back for one single night of beer bliss, and then a short remaining lifetime of no alcohol, no ecstasy, and no electricity anywhere in his life.

Hm. Did I ever tell you about when I suffered from AIWS?

 

What  is that?

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

 

You are shitting me.

No! Look it up.

 

Perhaps I shall. But go on…

I had visual disturbances and migraines also –

 

I did not know this. How old were you?

Early twenties I guess.

 

What brought it on?

Nobody knows.

 

Reading the book?

Not funny.

 

Didn’t really think it would be.

So why did you say it?

 

Trying to be funny.

Joking about my disease. Trying to be funny at my expense.

 

No, no, not at all – I simply wondered if reading the book might bring on the syndrome –

That is an idea: a book that causes a disease.

 

But you know, I look back fondly on my crazy uncle now, realizing that he was experiencing something similar to what I experienced some years later after a Porcupine Coitus concert . . . you haven’t heard of them, okay . . . not unusual . . . and this was as I walked along a city street early in the morning with full understanding of the language of the birds, so hypersensitive I could hear a flag flapping on a building away up there on top of the mountain – I, on my way  to a grand mind-melt with Dutch artists of the late Middle ages (starting with giant art books of Hieronymus Bosch at the local library – hardly a wild experience, no, you wouldn’t think), had an experience my crazy uncle could have understood. His eyes were so glittery! He trembled all the time, and had a difficult time keeping two thoughts connected. It was pretty sad – and he was a very good man, deep down, non-violent, only wanting a woman to love him and put up with him – something he never had.

What happened to him?

 

I just recently read about it in one of my mother’s old journals…my grandmother had already been taken to the nursing home down in that part of the world, and now, his health deteriorating rapidly (one lung left, and cancer metastasizing wildly therein), he was taken there as well. Had a room near his mother. “We’ll never leave here alive,” was something he was quoted saying to his mother, and it was true.

They both died there?

 

Yeah.

Sorry.

 

Yeah.

Well.

 

 

  cropped-onesnake.jpg

 [Work in Progress]

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