Open And Say “Aarrghh!!”


Fillmore East showing 2/11,13-14/70

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.]


A minyan of jammers

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.


Following The Script


“All the world’s a stage,

 And all the men and women merely players” — attribution disputed, apparently

Third grade was kind of strange; my class, though decently-behaved, went through 7 or 8 teachers over the course of the school year.  Batting second in this lineup was Miss Williamson, a wispy, rather artsy type.  She’d make us all stand around pretending we were wheat waving in the wind.  (She was also out sick a lot, thereby paving the way for teacher #3). So when she decided we should put on a class play for the school, what subject did Miss Williamson choose for us hapless third graders?

The life of Mozart.

zots in tights, 1959

We (i.e. our moms) had to come up with period costumes, learn to dance a minuet, and all that 18th-Century-European-court stuff.  As the only boy in the class who could play any of the pieces on the piano, I was given the role of Wolfgang Amadeus his brilliant self. A girl I was good friends with, who’d also had piano lessons, played Mozart’s sister.

Meanwhile, another girl happened to be in that class who I became friends with some years later.  In fact, she became my first wife.

In the years we lived together, I can only recall one instance of us ever discussing that we had both been in that peculiar play so long before.  We were both in our early twenties at the time. I said I obviously could remember that I’d played the title character, but who had she been?  Marie Antoinette, she informed me.

I hadn’t even remembered Marie Antoinette being a character in the thing. Then again, who we’d each been in the play seemed to be about the only elements either of us were able to recall.  Oh well.  End of discussion.

Anyway, we got married, separated, then divorced.  I moved into my parents’ house until I could find a new place of my own.

One day, my mother came home from the supermarket with Volume 1 of one of these 20-volume sets of classical music they used to periodically sell in supermarkets.  The first volume always sold for just 99 cents, to hook ya, & contained 2 or 3 LPs. My mom thought maybe it would be something soothing for my dad to listen to after a hard day (though I have no knowledge of them ever actually listening to it at all). That night, while depressedly moping around their kitchen, I was checking out the booklet that came with Vol. 1, which of course contained track listings plus little explanations of the pieces & very short biographies of the composers represented.

And there was Mozart. The bio, although only a few paragraphs long, contained a very famous “cute” story that has traditionally been in every Life Of Mozart (and may not even be totally apocryphal).

It seems when Mozart was around 7, being shown around by his father as a boy genius, they went to the Austrian court of Empress Maria Theresa, who was suitably charmed, of course, and who had a child of her own, a daughter, just about Wolfgang’s age.  The famous anecdote entails the two kids playing tag in the palace and Mozart slipping & falling on the slick marble floor.  Little Marie Antoinette (ah, the daughter!) helps him up, and young Wolfgang says to her, “You’re nice.  When I grow up, I’m going to marry you.”

I wouldn’t exactly say my blood ran cold, but you could certainly call me surprised. As I read that old story, it all came back: an eight-year-old boy’s embarrassment at having to say “I’m going to marry you” to a girl from the class, in front of the whole class during rehearsals, and then, even worse, in front of the entire school — even parents.  That boy was me, and when I grew up, I did indeed marry her.

At least now I knew why.

Free will, my ass.