Fifty years ago I was in the second year of my doctoral program in philosophy of education at Indiana University. This was something of an achievement for me, considering that I had left one good job in 1961, backed out of a mathematics masters from Ohio State in 1963, languished at my parents’ home for a year, graduated from OSU in 1966 with a masters in philosophy of education, and then had spent another year, 66-67, studying philosophy at OSU. This wasn’t exactly going nowhere fast, but it was very close to going somewhere very slow.
I had lost my way, and now, by following a path suggested by Dr. Elizabeth Maccia—becoming a professor of philosophy of education—I was beginning to find a place for myself again at age 30. At the time Indiana University had an outstanding graduate faculty in the field of foundations of education. Besides Elizabeth and George Maccia, there were Philip G. (Phil) Smith, A. Stafford (Staff) Clayton, Stanley Ballinger and Everett Kirchner, and I took classes with all of them. I was also rubbing shoulders with some of the best graduate students who were entering the field. Verbal facility as a student—not always underlain with a deeper and broader understanding—has always been a gift of mine, and while it tends to endear me to teachers and professors, at the same time it occasionally pissed off some of my fellow students.
The first year at IU, 1967, I had taught an introductory course in philosophy of education to undergraduates in a teacher preparation program. Good God, the class met four days a week at 7:30 a.m., and I had been a late riser, sometimes avoiding morning classes. I bought myself five short-sleeved white shirts and a couple of pairs of black pants. This became my standard academic garb for the summer. Through this I discovered that I was in fact going to be a good teacher. Not a great teacher, not a charismatic teacher, just a garden-variety teacher with a special ability to explain things. My best teaching virtue has always been patience, though I have little patience with teachers who make sport of their slower students.
During the summer of 1968, then, I had begun to reestablish myself on a path to a career, one that let me do things I like to do: learn and teach. And with this reconnection, I began to also reconnect with what had been happening to the culture in the ’60s. I was raised conservative and apolitical in a conservative small town, and I had yet to reexamine these values I had inherited during my formation. From my standpoint today as a progressive liberal, I was way behind.
Rambling around the halls of the School of Education, I had made friends with a grad student in research methods, I’ll call him “Don,” and his girlfriend, “Sally.” Don was a self-confident, yet modest polymath. He was an excellent musician, and that same mind housed an outstanding ability to do analytical cogitations of most any form: logic, math, statistics. Sally had been a Roman Catholic sister, but left the order. She was a gentle and loving soul.
One day, Don announced to Sally and me that he wanted to introduce us to the marvels of marijuana. He had acquired some good, safe stash, he said. We talked about it and tentatively agreed to give it a go. We took a picnic to a nearby school playground (school was out of session). I don’t remember the details, but Don was the relative connoisseur and patient and caring guide while we took our first toke. As I recall, we were sitting on a couple of the swings hanging from the A-frame supported pole on the playground as we began to get high.
The transformation was incredible for me, religious even, since I have also had a religious conversion experience, and this compares with that. We did the usual things, stare in wonder at our new, fresh perception, giggle a lot for the silliest reasons, and get the munchies. For me the crowning experience enveloped me while on the swing. I began swinging back and forth, at first, gently, and then with ever increasing oscillating trajectory. Peace surrounded my heart, and I broadly smiled with overflowing contentment. It seemed as though I was floating, even though I was swinging to and fro. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that I jumped out of the swing at the furthest trajectory, and that floating feeling followed me to the ground. I did not injure myself.
We never did this together again, Sally, Don and I, and I don’t recall why. We certainly remained friends. But I remained transformed. The peaceful feelings followed me for days. This fine dose of pot, skillfully guided, had wedged its foot into the door of the rigid conservative façade that I wore so well, and I viewed the campus hippies with a new respect as I went about my day-to-day business. But I never had the courage to actually try to acquire more marijuana; indeed, couldn’t imagine myself doing it.
It had taken one gift from a friend to lift me to the heights of chemically-induced altered consciousness, and it took only one more gift from my brother, Tom, to bring me way down below earth to some part of the depths of drug-created dread. Tom and I were quite close in our younger days. I was six years older than he, but I returned to the family home in my middle twenties while he was still living there. Both musically inclined, we played piano and saxophone duets for years. Also, our constant wise-cracking welded together our friendship, though it drove our older family relatives nuts. Tom had shared an apartment with me for a couple of years back at Ohio State. He was completing an undergraduate degree in German and French, while I was finally working successfully on a masters degree. So we were not just brothers, we were buddies.
Later that same summer of 1968, I got a chance to house-sit for a professor at IU. He and his wife were going to be gone for most of the summer. Mrs. Bess Robertson’s single-story white frame cottage on E. 3rd St. about a mile from the main campus had a single, large front room with a bay window, which I had rented. I was comfortable there, but having a whole house to ramble around in was a welcome diversion. Around the 4th of July, Tom, his girl friend, Diana, and our mother, Lorene, rode out for a weekend visit with me at my temporary digs.
Tom brought some of his own Columbian stash with him, and lobbied with me for us to get high after mother went to bed. I was torn by this offer. On the one hand, here was another chance to explore these magical new dimensions of consciousness. On the other hand, there was mom. “Tom,” I said, “You know how mom is. She never misses anything that goes on. She’ll smell it, and she’ll freak out.” He couldn’t convince me, but instead offered to leave an ounce with me when he, Diana and mom left to go back to Ohio.
Now, I knew nothing, really, about preparing and smoking pot. We didn’t have computers and the internet then, but somehow, I talked around to learn more about it. Also, Tom had told me that some people smoke it from a pipe. So at last I hatched a plan. I went down to the local corner drug store and bought a corncob pipe. One evening, I settled down into one of the prof’s several easy chairs, loaded the bowl of the pipe with a goodly wad of cannabis—plus, I later suspected, other mind-altering substances—lit up, and inhaled. I think I got most of that hit on the first puff, but after reassessing, I took another, and inhaled deeply. I extinguished the pipe and settled back, expecting something like nirvana to hit me.
After a few minutes, I did begin to relax and to experience some of that former peaceful feeling. But then, pretty soon I was beginning to feel like I was too woozy to be comfortable. My mouth at first became dry, and then I began to salivate a bit. Suddenly I was overcome with a feeling of terror, looking back, a drug-induced panic attack, I’m pretty sure. But my heart rate went up around the max, whatever that is, maybe 130 or 140 beats a minute. I got up, but wasn’t even able to walk safely, and found myself on the floor, crawling around on my hands and knees.
I was desperately frightened and alone. I crawled to the phone and called my good friends, John and Micky Keiter. John was one year behind me in the Ph.D. program in philosophy of education, and his wife, Micky, was a department secretary. Micky answered the phone. I coughed out a plea for help, something like, “Micky, I smoked some pot, and now I’m really scared and sick.” Micky replied, “Ok, Jim, we’ll be right over,” and hung up.
But now things are even worse. I feel like I’m going to vomit, though I never did, and the saliva is literally pumping out over my lip and dribbling onto the floor. My heart continues to pound, and I feel like I’m going to pass out. I crawl back to the phone and call emergency, making a muddled plea for help. The house I was staying in was in a subdivision with curving streets, kind of maze-like. I opened the front door and sat on the door sill.
After a few minutes I heard the siren start and slowly wend its way closer and closer, finally, into the subdivision. I could see a couple of neighbors’ doors open and the occupants step outside to see what was happening. The two attendants came up to the front door, we engaged in a brief exchange, and I was able to walk out and get into the ambulance that had arrived. The driver’s assistant wanted to get me lie down on the gurney, but I kept forcing my way back up to a sitting position, still confused and terrified.
“Can you tell us what is wrong?” The driver was looking back at me from the driver’s seat.
I slurred out, “I smoked pot.”
The driver picks up an intercom that is lying beside the seat. He says in a thick, southern Indiana dialect, “We’re bringing in this here college student. He’s smoked some of that Mary Jew-Wonna.” At the time, the humor was lost on me. The vehicle was old, apparently needing new shocks, and the ride was jerky, which only added to my discomfort.
When we got to the hospital, they did not admit me. Instead, they took me over to a virtually empty waiting room, and a nurse came over with pencil and paper to take down a few details, like my name. But then she left me just sitting there alone. Some of the more severe symptoms I had experienced had begun to subside: my pulse rate had lowered, and my mind was clearer. I got up and went to the desk, asking the nurse why I was not being admitted and treated.
She replied in a low voice, “Honey, if we admit you, then we will have to report it to the police.”
“Oh,” was all I could manage. I went back to my seat in the waiting room.
A few minutes later, a doctor approached me with a loaded syringe. “This is valium. It will calm you down.” I had taken valium back at OSU during my student teaching. I held out my arm, and the doctor administered the injection. So now I am loaded up with valium and pot, and I am feeling good. Several of my sagas have background TV of which I slowly become aware. This time, the 1933 movie, “King Kong,” starring Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong was moving along towards its powerful climax. King Kong has Fay in his hand and he is climbing the Empire State Building. I settle my mellow bones into the softest chair I can find and become thoroughly engrossed in the action happening on the screen.
Just at that moment, first Micky, and then John Keiter come rushing into the waiting room. Micky is talking rapidly: “Jim, are you alright?! We found the front door open, and the neightbors told us the ambulance had taken you to the hospital.”
I rotate around in the easy chair, and emulating a large ape, strike down at them with my clawed left hand, making a hissing sound in the process.
As has happened to her more than once in our friendship, the look of concern and compassion on Micky’s face morphed quickly into irritation and disgust. “Throw him in the back seat of the car,” John, “He’s ok.”
They rousted me out of my chair, pointed me to the parking lot, and we drove back to the professor’s house where, stoned, I had left the door hanging open a couple of hours before. John stopped the car in front of the house. “Jim Andris,” Micky pronounced, “if you get stoned again, don’t call us.” And they roared off. Sheepishly, I went inside and slept off the valium.
One of my responsibilities that summer was to occasionally mow the backyard grass, and it was overdue that Saturday. Still harboring a tiny bit of grogginess, I ventured out into the hot, Southern Indiana July sun midday and began my mowing. The lady next door came out and looked over the board fence. “We saw what happened last night. You all right?”
I responded only “Yeah. ‘M Ok.” I never explained.
I went inside and thought it over. I had had one good trip and one bad trip. I felt like I knew what all the fuss over marijuana was about. I don’t know that I made a definite decision at that point, but over the years, I have had multiple opportunities to get high. I always politely refuse. Using recreational drugs is a personal choice, in my opinion, and I have made mine. I’m satisfied with the quality of my consciousness. There’s always something fairly engaging going on in my mind.