Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chapter 41: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

February 1969

(Sioux City)

Finally! I heard from Jeff; he says he’s been writing me all along. I happened to be home alone when the mail came, and, voila! a large envelope covered with psychedelic drawings, a peace sign, flowers, and a slogan: “My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny, in Subtle Forms.” Inside, he let me know that he had written me a very important letter on the 20th. Says he’s turning into a nervous wreck waiting for my answer.

What answer?

I never received any letter from him dated January 20.

I couldn’t even finish his letter, I was s-o-o-o mad.

I confronted Mo and Dee Dee, and we got into this huge fight. They’ve been stealing my letters, and censoring my phone calls. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard from Pam and Eleanor, either. They denied taking any letters and intercepting my phone calls, but I know better. Those old coots are a two-person Gestapo! I hate them! How could they do this to me? Mo thinks I’m the biggest whore in town.

“Why would you want to shack up with all those guys?” she asks. “You’ll have all the time in the world for that necessary evil once you’re married.” Those two Nazi guards are watching over me; they want to mold me into a dental hygienist and darling little housewife.

I called my dear, sweet mother to see if I could come back to L.A.--she told me to go to hell. Bitch. It’s all well and good for her to drink until she’s stupid and screw around like a jackal. What a hypocrite. Why can’t these people stop hassling me? I want to do my thing, without everyone imposing their morals on me. But it looks like L.A. is out of the question; my mother thinks I’m a nut, and Auntie hates my guts. I went to my room and threw things around, just to make my point.

Mo and Dee are making me see this psychiatrist. I hate her, too; she’s on their side, and I have no intentions of telling her anything personal. She’ll just blab back to them. They’re wasting their money. Now they want me to go to college. What a joke. It’s waste of time and money; I don’t need Auntie’s college fund--she should find a kid who wants it. I hated high school, and I doubt if I’d like college much better.

I’m still clean off acid. The flashbacks keep coming back, but now I get a warning: a splitting headache. I hope the flashbacks and headaches eventually go away. I read somewhere that acid doesn’t leave your body for at least two years. I still do whites and grass, but not very often. Bennies are hard to get here, though Isabelle turned me onto some fantastic Acapulco Gold a few days ago. But I’m getting tired of drugs. Weed makes me sleepy and stupid and hungry.

I babysat Aunt Colleen’s kids the other night; I need all the money I can get so I can blow this town. After Colleen and Lyle got home, Mo called, worried about how I would get home; it’s only a block away. It’s a good thing she never saw me wandering the streets of L.A.


Last night, I went to the Loft with Susie and her boyfriend, but Dan stood me up, story of my life. No big deal. I didn’t like him much anyway--he was a bit of a creep. Besides, I don’t like juicing with strange guys; they buy you a few Colt 45's, and they think they can ball you. Know what? We had a good time without him. Why can’t guys just be friends with girls sometimes? I like having male friends, but I don’t like the sexual games.

Like with Tom, who I met at Foster’s Freeze, just after Stoney split for New York; he invited me over to see his pad. I told him my sob story, about being all alone. Tom offered me a place to stay, but that’s not what I wanted--I already had a place to crash. I wanted someone who’d listen, a friend. But, then it was too late to hitch back to Ivar Street, so Tom said I could stay over--permanently, if I wanted. That meant only one thing, and I wasn’t interested.

“I have the clap,” I said. That seems to cool a lot of guys off.

“I’ll risk it,” he said. “I’m really horny.”

God, what a character. When I made it clear I wasn’t going to ball him, he cooled off. He was actually pretty nice about it, and I stayed the night. Tom’s a cute guy, but we had known each other for only two days and had nothing in common. He liked classical music, like Madame Butterfly, and I like The Doors.

Even Stoney and I didn’t make love until after we’d been living together for about a week.


A couple of nights ago, after reading an article about the Amish, I had a dream that Jeff lived in an Amish community--makes me think about Pennsylvania and what it might be like. What does happen in East Berlin, Pennsylvania, anyway? Makes me think of the Berlin Wall, and how life behind it is regulated--much like my life now.

Jeff’s writing a 1,000 page book about a 28-year old guy on a super ego trip who’s still a virgin. Cool. I haven’t written anything since high school, just three awful novels, two about the Beatles and other rock and roll singers. The third novel is so-so, about a beautiful, smart 17-year-old girl who gets involved in an international spy incident with a German man, based on my old pen pal Hans.

Jeff mentioned Miami and the Siege of Chicago, by Norman Mailer. I was kind of out of it during the election, with L.A., Stoney, and all that acid, but it sounds like a good book, one worth reading. I like the way Jeff describes Mailer’s style: “He chops up pages out of the dictionary into bite-size chunks and pours them onto to a table and comes up with a work of genius.” I’ve never heard a book described like that; this Mailer must be one heavy dude.

I haven’t read anything important lately; my head’s too screwed up. Just a short story in Aunt Colleen’s True Story, a tear jerker about a woman who runs an ad in her local newspaper: “Wanted--Live-in Lover.”

Mo interrupts my reading, something about a pile of dirty dishes to be done.

“Fuck you!” I scream downstairs, and throw some more stuff around. Nag, nag, nag.

After I settle down, I finish reading Jeff’s letter. He can’t get me off his mind and wants me to come out to Pennsylvania.

How heavy is that?

He signed off: “Your loving Big Brother and fretting Also-Ran.”

Stoney was never so poetic.

I don’t need to hitchhike to the East Coast. I have more than enough money to take Greyhound. But Mo and Dee Dee say if I go, don’t bother coming back, ever. As far as they’re concerned, they’ll write me off, forget they ever had a granddaughter named Jennifer. That’s really unfair, making me choose between freedom and them. Maybe they would eventually come around, but I seriously doubt it--they are so rigid.

Maybe Jeff’s right: we should create our own country and the hell with the U.S. and its Establishment values. Secede from the union and get rid of all the narks, parents, employers, and any uncool people.

I once met a guy who had the perfect plan for taking over the country and populating it with freaks; he would take a quart of pure liquid LSD, and go from city to city, dumping a tablespoon in each reservoir. Eventually, everyone in every major city would be tripping and grooving; it would be easy, then, to conquer the country, place freaks in positions of power, and exile all the uptight people to one place, like North Dakota. Maybe it would be easier take over a small state; Jeff suggests Iowa might be a good place to hijack.

No way! I want to split so fast, leaving the black Iowa dirt from my shoes behind.


I might consider living with Jeff out of wedlock. Shacking up, as Mo calls it. Why not? If Jeff and I love each other, it only seems natural that we would want to spend our lives together. We wouldn’t be committed legally, but emotionally we would take our decision very seriously.

As Dylan says, the times are a-changin’.

Evidently, Sioux City hasn’t heard the news yet.


I’m bummed. Mom wrote and bawled me out. What gives her the right? She’s nothing but a juice-freak, married four or five times, abandoning two out of her four kids. I’ll never forgive her for what she did to Robin and me. Why the fuck should I listen to anything she has to say?

Mo and I got into a big hairy fight again--as usual. She thinks she can stop me from leaving, but Dee Dee gave me permission, although not his approval--that’s another matter. Mo can be such a bitch. When Tricia--she got married last summer--called to get my address, Mo wouldn’t give it to her.

When Tricia asked why, Mo said, “Because I just don’t want you writing her.”

That kind of shit is for the birds. Tricia isn’t even a hippie, just an ordinary girl who wanted to write to an old high school pal. If she had her way, Mo would chase away all my friends, and lock me up in a tower, and watch me wither of loneliness. I am lonely, which is why letters from Jeff are so important.


I heard from Pam. Jimmie, Eleanor’s old man and major drug dealer, was busted and is still in jail. A lot of the other dealers have split, which is why, I think, Stoney left L.A. It frightens me--although I never dealt--well, maybe a little, but no more.

Just before I left the scene, a girl just breaking into dealing asked me to list the different types of acid, and what was good, what wasn’t. I rattled off the names I knew: Purple Haze, Blue Moons, White Lightning, Orange and Strawberry barrels, Blue Cheer, STP (super acid), Rainbow, and Sunshine. How do I know what’s good or bad? Someone would give me a tab, and I’d pop it. How else do you determine quality of street acid? And this girl’s younger than me.

When Dee Dee was in L.A., I pointed out a street woman to him. “Trash Can Tilly,” named so because she spends her days rooting through the garbage cans around town, looking for food and junk. She’s harmless enough, maybe a little nutty, but everyone likes her.

Dee Dee freaked out; he said, “You’re going to end up like that, if you’re not careful.”

I hope not.

A lot of characters hang out at Wallich’s Music City, like “Wild Man Fischer” and Caesar, permanent fixtures on the strip.

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Memoir Madness Excerpts: Table of Contents


Before the Institution

Prologue: Caged

Chapter One: The Crystal Ship

Chapter One: Blue Moons

Chapter Two: Dark Side

Chapter Two: Flying Solo

Chapter Two: Weed and Seeds

Chapter Two: Funny Little Naked Clowns

Chapter Two: Decision Time

Chapter Two: Thirteen Tabs

Chapter Three: Wallich's Music City and Eleanor's Radio

Chapters Four and Six: New Year's Eve, 1968--Fire

Chapter Eight: Rudy

Chapter Ten: Cops

Chapter Eleven: The Luckiest Hand

Chapter Twelve: Downers

Chapter Twenty Three: Sioux City Blues

Chapter Twenty Four: ..."While I Kiss the Sky"

Chapter Twenty six: The Miracle of Google

Chapter Thirty: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Chapter Thirty Eight: What to Do With My Life?

Chapter Forty One: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Chapter Fifty One: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Chapter Fifty Three: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Chapter Fifty Four: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station

Chapter Fifty Six: Driven

Chapter Fifty Eight: Driven 2

Memoir Madness Excerpts: The Institution

The First Five Days

The Other Patients: Perky Penny

The Other Patients: Carrie the Cutter

The Other Patients: Joyce

The Other Patients: D.J., The Mighty Sage

The Other Patients: Anna on the Lam

Proving My Sanity

Memoir Madness Excerpts: After the Institution

Denise's Tips

Leaving Sioux City: Dee Dee

Epilogue: A Short History of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Flashbacks (Fall 1968)

October 1968: Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place

October 12, 1968: A Mother's Warning

October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party

October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round

A media-rich version of these excerpts (with photos, artwork, videos, out takes, essays, etc.,) can be accessed here.


About Memoir Madness...

Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment (Amazon)

About Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment...

Christmas Eve, 1968: history is made as Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message from orbit around the moon.

On earth, at The Crystal Ship, a rock and head shop near Hollywood, California, Jennifer Semple listens to the iconic broadcast and, through the fog of drugs, ponders the future.

In the ensuing days, the 18-year-old girl experiments with LSD and other drugs; juggles a crumbling relationship with a notorious drug dealer; and tries to make sense of life at 2001 Ivar Street, a Hollywood, California, apartment complex where hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Then her grandfather finds the girl and coaxes her into returning to her Iowa hometown, where, unknown to her, she is still considered a minor.

After a series of events and blowups with her grandparents, she is dragged into the Iowa court system and involuntarily committed to the Cherokee Mental Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with Jeff, a new boyfriend, and also interacts with other patients: Wolfie, a psychopath who preys on other patients; Penny, a 17-year-old unwed mother; Carrie, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats; Joyce, a young married mother enthralled with “10 ways of suicide”; Drew, a young man facing a stiff prison sentence for possession of marijuana; and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25-year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released from the institution, Jennifer flees Iowa and settles in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.

As young Jennifer narrates her late 1960’s memoir, how will the older and wiser Jennifer, now voluntarily returning to Cherokee as a visitor, reconcile that painful time in her history with her current ordinary life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher?