I think it’s kind of obvious why I never drank.  Two parents who drank too much would be a cause for abstinence and maybe this was true for involvement in the drug culture of my peers in college in the 1960s as well.

My group in William J. O’Shea Junior High School did not drink or do  drugs.  I knew that there were dope smokers in my Stuyvesant High School cohort; it was what some of these really smart kids did, but not me.

I was always the odd man out.  At many parties in college we sat in a circle and passed a joint.  When it got to me, it was expected that I would pass it on without imbibing.  I did this into the summer of 1970.  The day that the joint stopped at me opened a lot of eyes and dropped a bunch of jaws.

That was the summer dad was sick.  I was working part-time, taking a class and visiting him at Mt. Sinai.  It was an awful time for him and an exhausting one for me.

There were good moments, that was the summer I learned to eat lobster.

It was a party with my friends.  Things went as usual until the moment I inhaled.  Shocking. Not long after, I was asleep on the couch, the first good sleep I had had in weeks.  

The positive result of this led to a second attempt.  I had neighbors who smoked and I told them that I finally had indulged.  They offered, I accepted.  I didn’t like it.  That was my last experience with marijuana.  No, I never tried anything else that was not prescribed although I was surrounded by people who used mind altering drugs of all kinds.


My college yearbook says I did a number of significant things during my four and half year tenure at CCNY.  The most significant, and related to this subject, was my co-chairing of the Presidential Drug Commission.  We were a student/faculty commission tasked with developing a policy for the college.  And we did.  

The report was issued in the Fall of 1970, after my experimentation and after the August death of my father.  I remember it taking most of that semester but not much more.

I believe that herculean task won me the Harry Noble Wright Citizenship Award upon graduation.  Sometimes, it was actually fun:  our final meetings were over a weekend at the Roosevelt Hotel where the co-chairs had a suite and the group met intensely to try to finish the report to then President Robert Marshak.

It was later that academic year, 70-71, that I first learned to swallow a pill.  It had always been applesauce as a delivery system until then.  I learned on valium.  Since, I have learned to take a small handful of pills at once; I believe they keep me alive.  There were also years of anti-depressants – emotion altering if not mind altering?

I like to think my years on the liberal, thoughtful West Side contributed to the rational drug policy we brought to CCNY and my ability to share time and space with so many different people doing so many different things.

Illnesses Strike, One

In 1950, my first year of life, mom had TB.  Ten years later she had breast cancer.  Ten years later dad had cancer and died.  I am no stranger to illness.  I watched one of my children fight back from the brink of death. I’ve had cancer twice and bypass surgery and live in part on dozens of pills a day.  I remember much of this in detail.  And I remember my school friend recovering from back surgery.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s many of us fell ill at some time or another.  There was measles, mumps, and scarlet fever.  I had them all.  We received the oral polio vaccine in school.

I had the mumps on one side and gave them to my father on both sides.  I recall no understanding of the potential danger to an adult male.  Just that I looked peculiar and he looked worse.

The scarlet fever was expensive.  I got it in ninth grade.  I missed two weeks of school and lost ten points on my algebra grade.  It was one of my all time favorite school subjects and I still consciously use it today.  Miss D was amazing; she could hit a misbehaver in the back row in the head with an eraser from the blackboard in the front of the room.  I sat in the front row and loved the class and her so much I actually threw it back.


Pictured above is Doctors Hospital where I was born.

My friend who had back surgery, I don’t know for what, was confined at home.  I remember two things about visiting, pushing her around a large west side apartment on a gurney is one.  The other was when we arrived in the living room and found her mother sitting on the couch speaking with a friend.  That friend had been Miss America and this lad understood why at first glance.*  The West Side was an amazing place.

My mom survived radical surgery and continued to smoke until her nursing home confinement.  She lived more than 30 years after her cancer.  Dad was not so lucky.  Diagnosed by the family’s Park Avenue physician with a sore throat and sent home in April 1970, he was re-diagnosed with cancer of the throat in July and died in August.

It was a horrid summer for all of us that year, particularly for him.  There’s more to this story, of course.  I’ll save it for another post.


* I don’t name names here but if you want to know who this was, please feel free to ask in a private message, not a comment.