Paranoid Delusional Break-Down

Doug was a university student for about one semester before he decided to drop out of the U of I. He applied for a job as a disk jockey at one of the local radio stations and got it. Doug soon moved to an apartment near Uni High. He put an extra mattress on the floor in his two-room apartment and I was always welcome to crash there. He was still sniffing toluene at the time, although Doug had his sights set for bigger and better highs. After extensive research, he and a friend from Uni High decided the easiest psychedelic to self-manufacture was DMT and they set about collecting all the ingredients, supplies and equipment necessary, all of which was being stashed in secret panels above his kitchen cabinets. They were stealing this stuff by going into the steam tunnels and entering labs late at night (see my eBook, “The Steam Tunnels”). They would always dress up in lab coats and act like graduate students while breaking into these labs. Sometimes they would just brazenly load up carts of supplies and wheel them around in full view of anybody. The secret was that white lab coat, which gave them an aura of respectability despite their long hair.

Doug was at work during the afternoon, and I had a set of keys, so first chance I got, I invited Carole and her friend Alice over to check out my new hangout. Larry was also with us on this particular day. Doug had completely covered one wall with record album covers and he always had the best records, including lots of really obscure stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. Around this time, Doug turned me onto the little-known West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and H.P. Lovecraft, a split-off band from the Shadows of Knight. I played my favorite cuts from both albums. The girls, however, seemed more interested in a campy “Hobbit” record that had been churned out to cash-in on that craze. It was really silly and they laughed while playing one particularly silly song over and over. It was about Daffodils.

Carole and Alice were also interested in the toluene, never having tried glue, so I showed them how that worked. Before I knew it, Larry and Alice were deep into their bags and had crawled under the covers in Doug’s bed. Suddenly, Carole put down her bag and french kissed me with great passion. It was the first time I’d ever kissed a girl and my mind sort of exploded. I was super aware of the mistake I’d made the first time around, so I pretty much kept my hands to myself, while Larry started balling Alice right away. I just kept making out with Carole. She probably was wondering why I didn’t make any serious moves, and she actually ordered me to get high at one point and handed me her bag. I pretended to take a few whiffs, but I really had no interest in the glue high. I was a lot more high from that french kiss.  I was extremely conscious of the fact Carole was in a compromised state and was determined not to take advantage of the situation. Mostly, though, I was just a typical virgin, I guess, too shy to make a serious move. Eventually, Carole and Alice had to go somewhere and they both split rather suddenly. A few minutes later, I noticed the bottle of toluene was missing.

That’s when I had the first major paranoid breakdown of my teenage existence. Before long, I’d convinced myself that the whole make-out session had been a ploy to steal drugs. I was a very sad chuckle-head back then because I’d soon sabotage any potential relationship with Carole by concocting the most evil scheme imaginable. When Doug came home I told him about the missing bottle. Doug just opened his secret cabinet and pulled out a giant gallon container of toluene he had stashed there. But after I explained my plan to Doug,  he readily agreed to play his role. So I called Carole and said Doug had gotten back, the bottle of toluene was missing, and Doug was going into withdrawal. I acted really crazed while Doug painfully moaned in the background. Before long, I had Carole in tears. She called Alice and Alice’s story was the bottle had been tossed in the bushes or something. We never got it back. But my torturing of Carole over this stupid bottle was really over-the-top, although in my paranoid delusion, I couldn’t stop myself.

After the phone calls were over, and Doug and I were laughing about what great actors we were, Doug mentioned that the news director at his new job was a really cool guy who wanted to meet me. His name was Don Clark and unfortunately, he would soon radically change all our lives.

King of the Greasers

Frank Sowers.

Across the street from Urbana Junior High was the perfectly-named Hood’s Pharmacy, a one-story mini-mall with picture windows fronting an old-time soda fountain. Swivel stools, lots of chrome details, cherry cokes, and a rock’n’roll jukebox. It was your basic greaser heaven. I went in one afternoon after school, probably to pick up a candy bar, when I saw a greaser dude throw a dart right into another kid’s back, causing a greaser girl to scream, “what’s wrong with you?!” By the way, I don’t mean “greaser” as negative in any way. In England, that style is called “rockers,” and it’s your basic ’50s rock vibe and still exists today all around the world, centered on Elvis as the true Messiah. I stayed away from Hood’s after that. It was a hang-out for real hoods.

Urbana Lincoln Hotel (before the mall).

I was in the special class for trouble-makers and the most dangerous characters were in there with me, so I knew who not to fuck around with, starting with King of the Greasers, Frank Sowers. I had one encounter with Frank when Stuart Vyse and I were in Lincoln Square shopping center (which had destroyed the entire downtown vibe, replacing it with the first indoor mall in central Illinois). We went to the men’s room at the hotel, and while we were washing our hands Frank and another shorter kid came into the room and wanted to know if either of us would fight the short kid, who was smaller than either of us—and we were shrimps. Stuart and I both said “no, thanks,” and eventually, Frank and his friend turned and left. Under his breath, Stuart stupidly says: “Son of a bitch!” and Frank immediately says “I heard that!” and re-enters the room. Stuart runs into a stall, takes his pants down and puts new meaning to the word, “stall.” We looked for an alternative route out of the building, and swiftly left the area.

Speaking of tough dudes, I was having fun blowing spit-wads with Kenny Shackleford the day I met him. Eventually, I turned my aim on him and got him right on the nose. I was laughing so hard, I had to bury my head in my arms on my desk and try to compose myself. Suddenly, I feel this searing pain, and my chest collapses and I can’t breath. Kenny had punched me in the back, and he had one hard-ass punch! Finally, after I could breath again, I look back at Kenny, my eyes teared up, and I see him staring me down with this incredibly angry, hostile face. Then I knew Kenny was one of those guys….the guys you just didn’t fuck around with. Kenny went out for the basketball team, and Frank choose football. Kenny got killed in a North End shoot-out while still a teenager, and Frank became fixture at Rose Bowl bar and all-around local legend.

Kenny Shackleford.

But It was Frank who decided to defend Smitty’s honor. He followed Doug Blair home from school and cracked him over the head with a baseball bat. And so went the opening shots of the Generation War now being waged in public. Up until now, this war had been fought inside our homes, not in the streets and schools. But the peace in the streets was lost. Doug had the longest hair in Urbana High, and all the longhairs were plenty pissed Doug had a concussion and had to go to the emergency room. And there was really only one guy amongst us that you just didn’t fuck around with, and his name was Bob Carpenter (although we just called him Carp). And as soon as Carp heard what happened to Doug, he started looking for Frank, and when word got out Carp was looking for Frank, a bunch of us started following Carp around on his mission to see what was going to happen when these two titans actually collided.

Larry and the Cross

I was sitting in the locker room putting on my street clothes when the new kid in school pointed at my Blues Magoos t-shirt and let me know how hip he thought it was. Their just-released album “Psychedelic Lollypop” included a psychedelic stencil that I’d ironed on the front of a plain white t-shirt. Psychedelic t-shirts didn’t exist at this time, at least not in central Illinois, and buying that album was the only way to get one. (I still have that t-shirt today, believe it or not, as well as the leather jacket I wore through most of the ’60s, although the stencil has all but disappeared and the shirt is now yellow.) I noticed something significant right away. Around his neck hung the secret sign from my Leal School gang days (see “From Violent Steetgangs to Merry Pranksters”).

We got to talking, and I discovered his name was Larry Green and he’d just arrived from Baltimore, which I could relate to having come a few years earlier from Boston, via England and Germany. Very few kids in the school were hip to psychedelic garage rock. In fact, I thought I was the only one. Larry introduced me to Doug Blair, who soon became famous for having the longest hair in high school. Much more important, Doug had started his own legal radio station from his bedroom and was broadcasting garage rock to a significant portion of the town of Urbana. The signal was easily reached from my house as well as Larry’s.

Larry Green and Doug Blair backstage at the UHS auditorium.

That’s them in the above photo, Larry on the left and Doug on the right. At the time, both Larry and I wanted long hair, but long bangs was as far as we’d gotten. It would take a huge confrontation for me to get control over my hair (see 1966). Larry soon became the first hang-out-everyday sidekick I’d had since first grade, when Bobby Davidson and I became best friends in Arlington, Massachusetts. Larry was a devout Catholic at the time, which I understood, since I was still going to Lutheran Sunday school and Saturday school. One day, however, I got to talking to my older brother and discovered he and his friends at Uni High (the smartest kids in town) had all come to the conclusion religion was a fairy tale. I remember I got so mad at my brother because he hadn’t told me immediately, and allowed me to continue wallowing in the darkness.

Pretty soon, I told my parents I wasn’t interested in going to church anymore, something that was greatly reinforced when the Pastor showed up at our house one night after dinner, attempting to arm-twist my Dad into making bigger contributions to the church. He wanted 10% of my Dad’s salary, and I remember how proud I was when Dad laughed that suggestion off saying, “No, I’m not giving you that much.”

I made a deal with my parents. Since my confirmation was only a month or two away, once I got confirmed, I’d never have to go to church again. And I didn’t. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Urbana High football coach, Smitty, was a member of that Lutheran congregation, and his only son was in my confirmation class, although we seldom spoke. Much, much later in life, Larry came to visit me and handed over the cross he’d worn in the ’60s, an icon both of us had invested magical powers into at one time. Larry felt it belonged with me for some reason.