“I don’t believe you should take anything too seriously.”
— Jerry Garcia, during our first conversation, July 9, 1970
“You need to get into something serious.”
— Jerry Garcia, during our last conversation, December 11, 1972
On Wednesday, February 11, 1970, I entered New York City’s Fillmore East for a late-night rock concert. By the time it was over and I was back on Second Avenue, it was well after 5 the next morning. People were looking pretty spacey as they exited into the cold pre-dawn, taking a few tentative steps one way and then switching directions, or wandering randomly out into the street, or just standing and gazing around. It was kind of like a countertop of wind-up penguins in slow motion, vaguely bumping into each other on the way to no place in particular.
The show just ended had climaxed with a long jam, mostly around the Bobby Bland tune “Turn On Your Lovelight”, densely populated by the Grateful Dead and most of the main players from the original versions of the Allman Brothers Band and Fleetwood Mac — up to a dozen musicians boogying away improvisationally at any one time. (The concert did eventually become the stuff of legend in its limited way.)
[Historical Interest side note: Due to the coincidental semi-renown of this concert, it behooves me to name those exceptional musicians actually onstage during said massive jam, at least six of whom are no longer with us. Here goes: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Pigpen, Bill Kruetzmann, Mickey Hart, Duane Allman, Greg Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Peter Green, Danny Kirwin, Mick Fleetwood, & Arthur Lee.]
During this display, despite the enthusiasm of some audience members, I sat in my seat with an increasing sinking feeling. I assumed it was some combination of psychedelic side-effect and bad mood, but by about 6:30 a.m., when I’d returned uptown to the freezing Columbia University campus, I was also experiencing the most searing sore throat of my life.
After crossing Amsterdam Avenue to get to St. Luke’s Hospital, which was what Columbia students used for an infirmary, my sneaking suspicion was confirmed by a doctor. Actually, all he said was, “You know what you’ve got, don’t you?” Having remembered the near-epidemic of mononucleosis that’d gone around New York State, mainly at colleges, I knew to croak, “Mono?” And so it was that I was moved up to my own hospital room, mono a mono.
The room was on the cruddy side of dilapidated. If the author Ludwig Bemelmans had wound up in a hospital room like this, he probably would have written of little Madeline imagining the cracks in the ceiling looking like the asshole of a dragon rather than a bunny. I was in tremendous pain. I had a fever of 105. I was tired from being up since the previous morning. And I was suddenly faced with the shock of being confined to bed for over a month, not to mention unable to swallow.
Despite the exhaustion and whatever pain meds I’d been given, I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there pathetically, semi-delirious, through the rest of the morning, then the afternoon, the evening and on into the night. There was no TV, in case you’re wondering. Those hallucinations were mine. Finally, somewhere past 2 a.m., I drifted off. Almost immediately (as far as I could tell), I was awakened by a rather large (I’m being polite rather than saying big and fat) black nurse.
“C’mon, honey,” she said brusquely. I looked around. It was clearly the middle of the night. My room was dark. The hallway also appeared dim and deserted. It was quiet.
Almost too quiet.
“Huh?” I managed.
“You gettin’ an enema,” I was informed.
“You gotta get cleaned out.”
I’m not sure I even knew just what an enema was, but I soon found out. The massive woman led the weak, skinny white boy into the little private en suite bathroom and proceeded to clean me out. And I don’t mean financially. My wordless yet vocal discontent with the process bothered her not a bit.
I wouldn’t have thought it would still be possible to ruin my night, but this act of cleansing, whether medical, ritual or sexual, had certainly managed. I was stunned. And supremely bummed.
Hours later, when My Future Ex-Wife came back to visit me (as my girlfriend, she’d been with me at the concert and afterward helped me get to the hospital before heading off to classes herself), I used whatever voice I could muster to tell her what happened. She went out to the desk to enquire about my wee-hours procedure and was told they had no record of any such thing. They further revealed that not only was there no reason to enemize a mono patient, but nothing whatever was scheduled for anyone during the night…and they had no nurse working there at night who even remotely fit the description.
Oops. Or shall we say yikes.
If the newspaper still offered $5 for sending them a “My Most Embarrassing Moment” story, this would be my submission.