Well, I’m tired of writing about important issues. And various people have been asking me to continue writing the bit-by-bit autobiography that I started seven years ago with an episode called “It’s Not About Me“. I published most of the previous autobiographical pieces on Watts Up With That, which is where I publish my scientific work. Now, WUWT is an upstanding, family-friendly, well-curated website whose main focus is science. As a result, when I was publishing there, I had to leave out some of the more … well … unorthodox episodes of my most strange life. But these days I have my own blog so I can publish whatever I wish. And this is the story of how I did two years of college in one year, for the simple reason that I only had enough money for to keep me alive and pay tuition for one more year.
Now, my whole life I’ve engaged in a running battle with the authorities regarding the US antediluvian drug laws. My theory is, legalize it all … and the good news about writing this autobiography is that the statute of limitations has long run out on everything that I did in my misspent youth.
… well, everything except for the time some friends and I kidnapped Ronald Reagan. Bad news is, in California, there’s no statute of limitations on kidnapping. Good news is, I don’t think they’re gonna come after me for that, and I’m now free to discuss the less than legal things I did in my earlier days, during that wonderful time when a young man is blessed or cursed with more testosterone than sagacity.
This tale begins one night back around 1975 when I got a call from a friend of mine that I’ll say was named JimBob. He asked me if I could come see him. Now, I owed JimBob a few favors, and I’m a man who pays his bills. So I said sure, and I drove down from where I was going to school to meet him in the San Francisco Bay Area. He told me the story over a few glasses of wine.
Now, my friend JimBob was in the import business. And on this occasion, he had imported about 50 kilograms of Bolivian marching powder. At that time, the wholesale price for high-level pure flake was about $30,000 a kilo. That’s a million five for the fifty kilos … a megabuck and a half, on my planet that’s big money.
(In passing, I see from the web that the current wholesale price for high-level pure flake cocaine is about $30,000, and given inflation, that’s much cheaper than it was then. America is pretty good at real wars. On the other hand, we had a War on Poverty and poverty won. And now, we’re in the middle of the War On Drugs, and the drugs are winning too … but I digress …)
When the load came in he had split it in two. He gave half of it to his lieutenant to store, and he stored the other half himself. His lieutenant, who clearly was under-supplied with cranial horsepower, went to a friend of his that I’ll call Fast Freddy and said, “Gosh, Freddy, do you mind if I store three quarters of a million dollars worth of South American happy dust in your garage?”
And as you might imagine, “Of course,” Fast Freddy replied, “no problemo, bring it in!” …
Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. When the trusted lieutenant went back to Fast Freddy’s place to ask for the 25 kilos of white, his friend was … well, not to put too fine a point on it, he had vanished with no forwarding address.
And more to the point, his garage was completely powder-free.
So that was the story that JimBob told me, and he asked for my help in tracking down the three-quarters of a million dollars worth of blow.
I said sure. I told him I was like a bloodhound on the case. And, I said to him, I meant that literally—all I needed, I said, was a sniff of the evidence and I’d start tracking …
So we had a sniff of the evidence. Or two. Then we got in his car and started making the rounds. At about the third stop, we struck paydirt. A guy said that yes, Fast Freddy had been there and had left him about three kilos. The deal was supposed to be on commission. So he had no problem giving it up, being as he had no money in the deal. He had hidden it in a most ingenious place. He had a hollowed out the top of one of the beams in his living room, and fitted it back with the original wood. Unless you knew where it was you’d never find it. Nor could any dog sniff it out, it was up in the air in the middle of the room.
We took it back to JimBob’s place. He asked me if I would take it to another safe house, he was the boss so he couldn’t afford to have it in his house. I said sure, in for a penny, in for a pound. So I had another sniff of the evidence and I found myself on the highway, carrying ninety kilobucks worth of coke under the back seat, enough cocaine to earn me an instant 20 years in prison. I thought, man, am I stupid or what? … the things that I’ll do to pay off debts. Up until that time I thought it was a lark, but now I was sweating bullets, watching my rear-view mirror, and obeying all traffic laws including some that weren’t even invented yet.
But in the event, it all passed without incident, and I dropped it off at the safe house. Greatly relieved, I drove back to JimBob’s house. From there he got a tip that Fast Freddy might be in Reno. So we chartered a small plane. I was starting to like hanging out with a millionaire, I like flying in small planes, and it was my first time to go on a chartered flight. We flew up to Reno, but some long hours of fruitless searching yielded nothing.
When we checked back in by phone with JimBob’s wife, she said a guy named Bear had called her and told her that Fast Freddy had approached him wanting to sell some of the product. JimBob got in touch with Bear and told him to arrange a meet in a public place and hold Freddy there. A couple hours later, we heard from Bear again. He had found Freddy, and was holding him at a bowling alley, of all places, in the San Francisco Bay area.
We quickly took the chartered plane to the nearest airport, and a taxi to the bowling alley. There we found Bear and Freddy sitting at the bar having a drink. Bear deserved the name, he was a very large human. Bear said Freddy had offered to sell him the whole load, so Bear had asked to meet him in a public place. Freddy picked the bowling alley. We asked Bear how he had kept Freddy from leaving. Bear flipped open his coat to show us a nickel-plated 38 revolver. Made sense to me.
We needed someplace private to sit down and talk to Freddy and make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. So we rented a nearby motel room, and Bear escorted Fast Freddy, JimBob and me to the room. Then Bear left, and JimBob and I started talking to Fast Freddy.
Freddy was in a terrible state. At that point, he had been snorting cocaine steadily for a week. Of course, at that point JimBob and I were going on sixty hours of being awake ourselves, something like that. So we were not without compassion for his stretched and tightened nerves, we were operating under the sway of the marching powder ourselves.
But we needed answers. Of course, he was afraid that we were going to do him physical harm. We tried to assure him that that was not the case, that we were merely businessmen looking to recover lost merchandise. JimBob and I are not particularly physically impressive. I’m five foot ten (178 cm) and weigh a buck sixty-five soaking wet (75 kg), not exactly Haystack Calhoun. We tried to tell him we were just guys trying to get back what he’d stolen. We had no intention of hurting him, but we were determined to get back what was ours.
By this time he had started what we used to call “flip-flopping”. I’d seen it in heavy cocaine users before. For a while everything is fine. The world is a warm and happy place, and nothing can possibly go wrong. Then suddenly, as if a switch is flipped, paranoia sets in. The world darkens, and now everyone is out to get the user. All omens point to doom. Nothing could possibly go right. We watched Freddy go through several of these mental cycles.
During one of these cycles, he jumped up, raced to the door, and before either of us could stop him he opened the door and raced out. JimBob and I jumped up and ran after him. He sprinted across the parking lot, and we tackled him at the far side. We carried him back to the motel room under our arms like a rolled up carpet, feet first. I kept expecting to hear someone shout at us to let the poor man alone, but if anyone was watching we got the Kitty Genovese treatment, for which I was grateful.
As he was going through the door, he put one foot on each side of the door and pushed back hard, shouting at the top of his lungs. But it was a cheap motel, I guess they were used to that kind of thing. It took all that we could do to wrap his arms and legs up and bring him inside. And after some complaining about how we were being mean to him, the switch flipped and he was all smiles again. But he still would not tell us where the rest of the 25 kilos was.
During the next part of his reasonable cycle, for a while I thought he was going to give us what we were looking for. But then he went back into the dark side. The fear in him built and built, and when his paranoia became unbearable he took another run for the door.
This time, however, I was ready for him. Without his noticing. I had edged my chair over so that its leg was where the door would have to swing in order to open. And I was sitting in that chair. So when he came to open the door, it opened about 3 inches and stopped dead. He was moving very fast, at hyper-paranoid speed in fact, and so he rammed face-first into the door when it didn’t open.
This enraged him, and he picked up a flashlight that was in the room and threw it with all of his force directly into the face of the motels television set. I cringed, anticipating the explosion and the fight to follow.
But I guess that the cheap motel had seen guys like him before. It seems that they had put a sheet of transparent Lexan, the stuff that jet airplane windows are made of, in front of the television screen. When his flashlight struck the Lexan, it broke into pieces, with the two batteries coming out, ricocheting off the face of the TV and rolling around the floor. He stood there, mouth agape, totally shocked.
And then he collapsed, and started to weep. It seems that this last failure had been the final straw. He railed at the world, screaming that he was a failure at everything he ever tried—“I can’t believe it”, he said in a voice loaded with a lifetime of loss, “I can’t even be a successful coke thief”. With a face full of inexpressible sadness and failure, he told us where the rest of the 25 kilos was located.
We took him with us and we went to the address. It was all there in a gym bag, except for what he had put up his nose. That was not an insignificant amount, but compared to the remaining 22 kilos of the finest pure cocaine it was a trivial loss. We put the gym bag in the trunk of the car. We wished him well, took him back to where he lived, and drove home. We did him no harm, then or at any time.
Of course, JimBob couldn’t keep the twenty-two kilos of snow at his place any more than he could the three kilos earlier, so once again I was the mule of choice … and if I’d sweated bullets with three kilos, traveling the second time with a half-million dollars worth, enough coke to guarantee a life sentence as a major dealer, was one of the more harrowing times of my life.
Now, I started this tale by saying that it was something that had a large impact on my ability to do two years of college in one year. The impact was that at the end of the entire episode, JimBob gave me a small vial that contained, oh, I don’t know, maybe an ounce or so of cocaine. And that’s a lot of coke. I hoarded that cocaine. I husbanded it. I used it like a surgeon uses a scalpel, not for recreation but to achieve a certain goal. My goal was to finish two years of college in one year. And I achieved that goal, by taking far too many classes, and spending the rest of my time studying to pass other classes by examination in the subject, and fueling it all with dribs and drabs of Bolivian marching powder. That bit of coke lasted me for the entire full year. There was still a little left at the end of the year … and crazy but true, I found the vial among my stuff last year, where it had been for 44 years.
Not only that, but wonder of wonders, it still had that little bit left in it … so of course, I had to get rid of the evidence …
And to return to the story, at that time, through a series of coincidences and misunderstandings that I’ll write about someday, I had already worked as a trainee psychotherapist seeing 25 patients every week. I thought I wanted to spend my life working as a psychotherapist. So my college degree, naturally, was in psychology. One of the things that I did as a part of my college career was to start a free psychotherapy clinic. The clinic was staffed with psychotherapy students, or psychology students to be more exact, who wanted to talk to real-life clients. There was no charge for the service, so we had plenty of clients. And once again I was seeing clients on a regular basis.
The free psychotherapy clinic was a great success. But it showed me something quite clearly. I found that the more I became involved in psychotherapy and in the free clinic and in other similar pursuits, the more clients I had, but the fewer friends I had. I realized that my study of psychotherapy was giving me an odd position in the world.
A friend of mine once described that position, the therapist’s position, as being one step behind the person and one step to the side. In other words, to be a truly effective psychotherapist, you have to be somewhat out of the orbit of the person that you are working with. And as a result, I was ending up with lots of clients and few friends
So by the time I graduated with a degree in psychology, I had realized that I wasn’t going to be a psychotherapist. I realized that I could do what I had always called “psychotherapy” in the context called “friendship”. That is to say, I could listen non-judgmentally. I could withhold approbation or disapprobation. I could simply hear what someone had to say, without passing any thumbs up or thumbs down on it of any kind. And that I could do that in the context called friendship, rather than in a context called psychotherapy.
So finished school, and I left psychotherapy behind me and went back to my wandering ways. I was 26 and against all odds, after more than eight years out of school, I was finally a college graduate. And I’ve never used my degree in psychotherapy for anything since then … go figure.
More stories to come, as time and the tides permit … it’s a beautiful clear evening here on the hillside, with the tiny bit of the ocean visible in the distance winking at me. The cat is wandering the patio in the gloaming, the wind has dropped, the moon is rising, the forest is at peace …
Ah, my friends, what a world of wondrous adventure!