Table of Contents

Kenya

Detour. I attended the tenth and eleventh grades in Nairobi Kenya. In 1966, when I was 14, my family moved from Asheville to Nairobi via Rome. There were just three of us. My older siblings had moved out to their own lives, much to my relief. My dad worked for the US Forest Service for over thirty years, getting promoted and moved to a new location every four or five years, kinda like being in the military. His last promotion, from Head Forester at the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station in Marianna to number two at the USFS regional headquarters in Asheville had been a big one, career wise, but a sad one. In Asheville he was an administrator, with none of the hands-on research he dearly loved. So when UN headhunters came around recruiting for a senior level range management research position in Kenya, he was only too happy to jump ship. Here's an example of his work there. Living in Kenya was a critical passage for me. Kenya introduced me to recreational drugs, booze and pot. Drug use was the most important of many mistakes I needed to make. In the big picture those mistakes were crucial for my progress with love because making them exposed wrong ways of seeing the world and my place in it that I needed to contend with before I'd be able to surrender to my own internal authority, the most important step anyone can take in making progress with love. But in the short run, recreational drug use put an end to my progress. Spontaneous meditations I had in nature kept me moving before that, making slow but steady progress. In Kenya, my relationship with nature evaporated. Recreational drugs took me on a detour underground for more than fifty years.

Relying on drugs to feel good. In Kenya I learned to rely on booze and especially pot to feel good. I was particularly ripe for the picking because now I wanted a social life so I could meet girls. I had no social life before, happy introvert that I was. I was no good at being social, and drugs were clearly the answer. I would have found my way to drugs wherever I was, but Kenya gave me a giant boost: getting drunk and stoned was so easy there. Falling into a drug-dependent mindset, like getting married and writing as a career, was something I needed to dive into and get through. Kenya was more than happy to help me get an early start with that. All through my boyhood my parents were teetotalers. Mom called booze bug juice; it was never in our house. In moving to Kenya they they left the churchgoing south, where drinking was mostly hidden, and entered a European milieu where people of all ages drank openly. They went with the flow, god bless 'em. That made it easy for me to get boozed up too. Pot took a little more doing but not much. I just had to get to know the right people.

Stink. I desperately didn't want to go. I wanted to stay with my nonexistent friends in Asheville. "But next year I'll be first chair sax! And I won't be a miserable freshman anymore!" So ambitious: to be a miserable sophomore playing first chair in an uncomfortable marching band. To be fair, also pep band. It took less than a day for me to get over all that once we were there, where the very air smells different, and the dirt's a color I'd never seen before. I later learned the background smell of Nairobi was a combination of frangipani blooms and plastic being burned in cooking fires; an arrestingly sweet tropical stink, a stink I grew to love.

Breathing room. Our first home in Nairobi was the upper right flat in a fourplex in Margaret Close. I learned flat meant apartment, close meant dead end, and buildings were in streets, not on them. A lovely clear creek ran along the bottom of the garden. We assumed it was infested with bilharzia. Surface water generally was. Across the landing lived Candy, Tony and Mark, a charming rosy cheeked English family. Tony was a pilot, ex-RAF, friendly and gregarious but tightly wound. I went on several road trips with the three of them. At one point as we were driving across the Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru National Park Mark pipes up to tell his dad he's forgotten to lock his door and was about to do that now and waits for a nod from Tony. A sound like that, unannounced, would be enough to send Tony into shell shock. Tony was also extremely handsome, with his chiseled chin, eagle eye, and luxurious black mustache. In keeping with the stereotype, Candy was lovely, voluptuous, and a bit of a ditz, perhaps for self protection. She taught me to say "Taffy bye!" as a farewell. Eh, works better for girls. Mark was a studious lad a little younger than I. He was mild, more like his mum. Tony didn't leave a lot of breathing room.

They had us over to dinner a few days after we moved in, and after dinner Tony served dessert drinks from his well stocked liquor cabinet. With my dad's approval, I got to sip a tiny liqueur glass of Cherry Heering. Brilliant marketing: make it taste like candy. Start them young and train them up right. Soon after that Tony and I established a ritual whereby I would come over on a regular basis to sample his extensive alcoholic candy collection, which included not only liqueurs but real candy: liqueur-filled chocolates. I was loving it. I suppose the rationalization was to teach me to be a responsible drinker. After all, everyone's bound to be some kind of drinker, right? And if not there, I would have gotten it elsewhere; god knows alcohol was easy to come by. The drinking age was tall enough to see over the bar. Parents would send kids to fetch another round; nobody was watching to see if there were actually parents there. Pot was easy too, though I didn't know it at first. I needed my first close friend's help for that.

Ridgeways. My folks (or at least my dad) wanted to live out in the country. He was tired of suburban life. The flat in Margaret Close had been just a place to stay while they looked around. At the end of 1965 we moved out to Ridgeways, which at that time was way out of Nairobi. It was wide open countryside; a single wind-sculpted acacia tree graced our yard. A little ways southwest of us was the edge of a coffee plantation that went on for miles. I did my first running in Ridgeways. Something about the countryside seemed to invite it. I loved running in the coffee. The rows of coffee trees were widely spaced and the lanes between the rows frequently disked to keep down the weeds: a giant maze, the perfect place to run wild, if it weren't for that cobra. There wasn't much light pollution in Ridgeways back then. One night I stepped outside after listening to music in my darkened room for hours, and the stars were so bright they hurt my dope-addled eyes at first. If you zoom in, our house was close to what's now labeled Muthaiga North Springs Court. None of those subdivisions you see on the map existed back then. It was all just open country and coffee plantation.

Cobra. One day I was running in the coffee when suddenly a cobra reared up way too fucking close in front of me, letting out one hellacious hiss. It was a world-stopper. I froze, heart pounding, swamped with adrenaline, then very slowly started backing away. The cobra stayed where it was, thank god, just weaving a bit in the air. Once I felt safely out of striking range, I ran like a scared puppy. That was my only spontaneous meditation in Kenya. The rusty tricycle was about some other kid and the inevitability of death. That cobra was all about my death.

Motorcycle. The move to Ridgeways made my father do something I could never have seen coming: buy me a motorcycle. Getting to school on my own would make his life much easier. My school and his work were at opposite ends of town, and his work schedule did not mesh well with my school hours. I was too young to get a learner's permit and drive a car, so we went shopping for a good used motorbike. I secretly wanted a Bonneville or better yet an Atlas, agitated for a sweet CZ 350 I saw on the lot, and got a Honda 150, an underpowered touring bike that had huge cast-iron fenders. Or so I liked to joke. So when I laid it down in gravel I was only going 40, not 80, and I survived, albeit well-rashed. But my little Honda still got me in trouble, and not just with gravel. On the way out to Ridgeways there was a big dip in Thika Road right by the Tusker Brewery. One day I started passing a slow-moving bus just before heading into that dip. I did great downhill, but the uphill equalized our speeds and I was stuck there in the right lane. Meanwhile a faster bus decided to overtake the one I had been trying to overtake and there I was, limping up the hill between dueling buses. The driver of the faster bus gave me a big grin streamlining by a foot to my right. Nothing got hurt but my pride, but it scared me shitless, boy howdy.

US Community School. The move to Ridgeways coincided with my transfer from the Duke of York to the brand new USCS, which didn't have teachers. We studied via supervised correspondence with the University of Nebraska: independent study using a standard high school text plus a workbook. Exams were supervised at the school and sent home for grading. I had a blast there. I was the first chemistry student, so I got to set up a tiny chem lab, ordering glassware and reagents through the supervisor. I reprised a couple of my favorite experiments from Asheville days. I took wild courses, like Russian language. I made myself right at home in that little school, housed at the time in a ramshackle two-story colonial era great house. It was all so easy. My smarts finally paid off: I could do all my coursework for the day (it was that mapped out) in an hour or two, and then I just took off and spent the rest of the day bombing around Nairobi on my hefty Honda 150. So educational!

Barbara. I had my first crush on a girl in third grade. Silently, from a distance, I adored Sue Fiveash, a flaming redhead who probably didn't even know I existed. I had several other equally unsuccessful crushes after that, but I didn't even hold hands with much less kiss a girl until after we moved to Kenya. My first fling was with Barbara, the daughter of my dad's boss. That was the first and only time the folks tried to set me up with a girl. It was pleasantly successful for all concerned as long as it lasted. Barbara was several years older, pretty, funloving, zaftig, down to earth. We got introduced by all four parents: our two families went to a concert together soon after the Cassadys arrived in Nairobi. Ever hear of Julie Felix? Me neither. But here I was freshly in Nairobi listening to an American folk singer. She had a pretty voice and gave a particularly fine rendition of the Phil Ochs song Changes. It was a featured song; maybe that was her Changes tour. I had been watching Barbara quite closely while trying to appear nonchalant. I was fourteen; I'll let you imagine how successful I was. She ordered a drink from the waiter; I thought I heard her say lemon coke, so that's what I ordered. Of course she'd said rum and coke, duh. What did I know? I got a coke with some lemonade mixed in. It wasn't too bad, sort of a nonalcoholic shandy. My dad liked shandies, a taste he brought back to Riverhaven: beer and Sprite, 50/50. I corrected that mistake at my first and only embassy party. We didn't usually get invited to these; our license tags read CC, not the ever so much sexier CD, corps diplomatique. It's a class difference. I was learning about class. We got invited to this one for being newcomers. It was a garden party, and everyone drank, strolled, drank, ate, drank, worked the room, and drank some more. I didn't know anyone there but my parents. It was pretty much all adults. But I got to know the bar steward, a friendly bored Kenyan in spotless white. This time I pronounced rum and coke correctly. When I came back for more I asked for more rum in the mix. He was only too happy to oblige; I think I made his day. I don't recall how many rounds I got through, but I do recall finding what I thought was a discreet spot behind a bush to puke. My parents must've known; I'm sure I stank. They never said a word, allowing me to suffer my consequences without adding humiliation.

Kilimanjaro. Barbara and I had a movie date most Saturday afternoons. Our parents took turns delivering us to the cinema, and either parents or a taxi would be waiting to take us home. The Nairobi cinema we went to was a grand affair, with plush seats and a huge balcony. We didn't go up there but sat down in the stalls, up in the top row near the projection booth, as close to out of sight as you could be in that room. Barbara confidently led me up there on our first date; this was not her first parentally approved rodeo. I was a bit slow on the uptake, but with her encouragement I figured it out: we weren't there to watch a movie, we were there to make out. And make out we did, enthusiastically, all the way to second base. The usher was a genial older Kenyan gentleman in a very smart crimson uniform with a bit of gold braid. We soon became known to him as regulars. One day, to save him the hike, I just pointed. He beamed at us and winked. Then he nodded gravely and said "Kilimanjaro" in a deep gravely voice. Barbara and I loved our movie dates. It was a wonderfully low-stress way to get safely initiated into the mysteries of teenage sex.

Evelyn. Teenage sex came to a screeching halt when I fell in love with Evelyn, wouldn't you know it another redhead. She was a fellow student at the USCS. She was from Akron; her dad did something for Goodyear. Barbara had been more like a friend with makeout benefits; Evelyn was my first love and I was a goner. Head over heels, hook line & sinker. But Evelyn was super straight laced. We kissed rather chastely when romance first bloomed, but that made her uneasy so we dialed it back to hugging and holding hands. No matter. I was nuts about her, devastated when her family left Kenya. My first heartbreak, and the worst by far until I tried breaking up with Ruth.

Kilimanjaro for real. About midway through our tour of duty in Kenya we had our only visitors from the US: my dad's older sister Marie (Aunt Bee) and her affluent husband Don. They had a fancy home in Coconut Grove. When we drove south from Marianna or Asheville to visit the Miami relatives I particularly enjoyed their yard, which was much bigger than other yards I'd been in and had a wall around it, not just a fence. Their yard was a tropical paradise full of fruit trees and exotic flowers. Every Christmas they sent us a care package of tropical fruit from their yard: mangoes, avocados, lychees, sapodillas and citrus. I was a fan. They brought Bob with them, a young man a year or two older was who was some kind of relative. Bob and I took an instant dislike to each other. In a nutshell, Bob was a semimilitaristic go-getter and I was a hippie dope fiend slacker. The highlight of their visit was a two-week safari in rented Land Rovers. First we explored the sights and game parks in Kenya's part of the Great Rift Valley. We then dipped south into Tanzania for more game parks, with Ngorongoro Crater a destination of particular interest. Finally we headed for Kilimanjaro, approaching from the south. Bob was very keen to climb Kilimanjaro; he was a peak-bagger kinda guy. I rolled my eyes but kept my yap mostly shut. The climb itself, at least most of it, turned out to be a completely lovely hike. Bob, my dad and yours truly were the hikers; the other three stayed in Arusha Lodge. We hiked up easygoing trails through a wonderland of vegetation zones, each more delicious than the last: desert scrub, tropical evergreen rain forest, oddball misty moorlands, tundra. I loved it all until it was time for the ascent. Our last camp was at the base of Kibo. At that point we'd left vegetation behind, unless you count lichens. The rest of the ascent was a daylong slog up a relentless scree slope to the rim of the volcano. They had us bed down in midafternoon so we could get up in the middle of the night to hit the scree. That way we could make it to the rim in time to see the sun rise over Mawenzi, by all accounts a glorious sight in the high desert air. It also allowed enough time for climbers to explore along the rim for a while then get safely down to camp before nightfall. I had no interest in the mountaintop, despite its wonders; I lost interest as the vegetation faded out and it started spitting snow. I'd only had two or three hours' sleep; I couldn't convince my body that midafternoon was nighty-night. But everyone was gearing up; I felt I had no choice but to go. We headed up the scree in pitch black, a strong crosswind blowing snow. I was misery incarnate, then I had a brainstorm. They had carefully warned us of the dangers altitude sickness, describing the symptoms in detail. I faked the symptoms well enough to win a reprieve, and headed back down the trail for a comfy sleeping bag in the hut, a wuss indeed, and a very happy one.

Muse. It was my prowess (ahem) on the E♭ alto saxophone that won me my first close friendship with a girl, as opposed to a girlfriend. Almost all my close friendships have been with girls. I had played my sax at a show us your hidden talents school social. She heard about that and invited me over for coffee. She was the muse for an aspiring blues band called Once Upon a Tryp. We always had to spell it out: tee are WYE pee. She already had guitar, bass, and drums; a horn player would be the feather in her muse's cap. We ended up getting a little dreamy with each other over the course of afternoon get togethers. She was really cute, too, though clearly out of my league. She made me what she said was Swiss coffee, brewed with milk instead of water. I've tried to recreate that but is just makes a mess. I think she used instant coffee. We sipped our coffee through sterling silver mint julep spoons once it had cooled down enough. Her father was a wealthy good old boy from Tennessee who didn't approve of me. Her mother was Icelandic and we got along fine. My muse told me stories from her life. She was born in Reykjavik, grew up in Tangier. We traded poets: I gave her Cummings and she gave me Rilke. She also introduced me The Little Prince and gave me a book called The Unicorn was There that set my huge, long lasting fascination with mythology in gear. It was sweet having a close friend. I had a crush on her for years, but we remained friends despite that until she got married. Once when I was visiting Kenya I took her on our one-and-only date: a romantic (I wish) picnic up in the Ngong Hills. Anyway, she took me over to meet the band. They all got stoned and jammed once or twice a week. Well OK then, sign me up!

Trypping. Those guys introduced me to the blues and taught me how to jam. Bring it on home was my first real blues song:

Closely followed by Long distance call:

Mustn't forget The Stones:

We didn't just get stoned and jam. We had a few real gigs. Our crowning success was a gig at the legendary Muthaiga Club, where Karen and Bror get married in Out of Africa. At the time I had no idea it was legendary. What I saw was a crowded bar full of drunk people dancing enthusiastically to four stoned hippies. I suspect we got the gig because our drummer's parents were members. We jammed at his house. It was the sort of spread you might imagine a Muthaiga Club member would have. I stupidly got way too stoned. I was supposed to play a big solo in our cover of People are strange.

It was a saxified version of Ray Manzarek's keyboard solo. When it came round I just started wailing on my sax instead. Purcy jumped in my face, singing the solo in la-la-la-la and I was able to salvage the second half. Nobody noticed but us. We knew that the gig would keep us out well past all our curfews. We'd all told our parents we'd be sleeping over with someone else in the band. That worked neatly but left us with nowhere to go once the club did close down. We and our instruments were all in Mumbles's tiny Morris station wagon. Mumbles had a little bit of street sense. He drove us out to a parking lot at the airport that was well lit and patrolled. We made it through the night without becoming crime victims. In the wee hours the air felt more mile high than equatorial. I was shivering in my cotton army jacket with the mink collar and my low-rise jeans with a three-inch-wide belt. The jeans were called hipsters. Not because they had a repellently ugly beard but because they rode low, on the hips. Wisdom came to my rescue in the form of a visualization. I visualized my whole body constructed of metal pipes with flames jetting through them. It worked. I got to sleep. It wasn't cold enough to damage me.

The magical devil. Smoking dope with my bandmates was a pleasant ritual that bordered on religious. We would all get high together and loll about in the lavish garden of the house where we met to practice. We had a little clubhouse of our own down in the garden where we smoked and then jammed, but we'd also hang out in the garden when the weather was lovely, which it was a great deal of the time. Nairobi has a fine climate. Smoking dope engendered a very silly genre of music that Purcy, the creative genius of the band called magical jazz. It was all about getting high, and the songs were populated with creatures of Purcy's dope-addled imagination, most notably a magical devil who urged us on to get stoned and stay that way. Magical jazz didn't displace blues or the psychedelic rock we admired, just augmented it. We jammed endlessly. Dope easily eclipsed my budding interest in alcohol. Booze brought you down, made you sleepy, made you clumsy and sick. Smoking Kenya bangi elevated you, made you high and enlightened, not sloppy drunk. I became a nondrinking stoner and stayed that way until dope started messing with my powers of concentration in college. I was keenly interested in trying other psychedelic drugs but, for better or worse, none of them came my way until I moved back stateside in 1968.

The drug-dependent mindset. Because of work I'd done in other lives I never got addicted to anything in this life. I have been a heavy user of tobacco and running, and briefly an extremely heavy user of alcohol in 2016 and cannabis in 2019. When I decided to quit, from deep inside myself, I was able to quit, just like that. Yes, I missed my buzzes sorely, but I never had uncontrollable cravings for any of those drugs. I had no work left to do on addiction in this lifetime. But I had a drug-dependent mindset: the belief or assumption that using any substance or extreme activity, e.g. running, can be a legitimate way to make myself feel good. Feeling good on the deepest level is feedback from my body that I'm doing the right thing, making progress with love. Relying on recreational drugs to feel good is a betrayal of my body, of what and who I really am. A life well lived is deeply satisfying. It's subtly ecstatic. Now that I've quit all that my baseline is pretty damn fabulous. I have no desire to visit Dr. Feelgood. The thought of polluting myself with drugs is horrifying. Living in Kenya gave me a huge boost into life lived in an drug-dependent mindset. In two years there I did work that would have taken eight in the US. In the big picture that strong start helped me get done with drugs much earlier than I would have. I was done with pot and other psychedelics by 1971, except for my march through cannabis in 2019. That was a very good thing for my mental health. I got done with alcohol in 2016, and came to grips with addicted living in late 2019. I started the year 2020 clean and sober at the tender age of 68, ready to live a full chapter of my life that way, not just a few days or weeks or months or years as I had in many, many previous lives. Recreational drugs made a fool out of me for so much of this life. There are so many memories that make me cringe. Now I'm just my own kind of fool, not a drunk or stoned one. Or even a wee bit tipsy one. Drugs are drugs, and I'm profoundly grateful to be done with them.