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Larger than life. I got to know my brother-in-law Sam in 1968. Two years later he was gone. In those two years he didn't just become my best friend. He kicked my sweet ass into adulthood and left an indelible mark on me that I feel to this day.

You bet your sweet ass I am. Sam had a cool tattoo: a dapper turtle with high hat and cane tattooed on his calf. He was a member in good standing of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles. Sam told me all about the Turtles when I asked about his tattoo, teaching me that correct response to Are you a Turtle? He also taught me a bunch of the initiatory Q&A. Two stand out in my memory:

What common English word begins with f and ends with u-c-k? (firetruck)
What goes in long, hard and dry, and comes out soft, wet and short? (chewing gum)

Sam loved life, and he lived full-on; he had no patience with namby-pamby halfway anything. He saw that I needed help in becoming a man, and he stepped right up to the task. But not in the way you might think. Sam's tastes in music had a huge influence on me. Sam grew up in cool jazz and he loved it. He passed that love on to me. Jazz gods like Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Paul Desmond. Brilliant works of art like Line for Lyons.

His taste in classical music was less inspiring. Holst's Planets and this:

I like the waltzing Strausses better, TBH.

The right education. I first met Sam when I was still a child, in the late 1950s. Back then he was this big scary dude I avoided. I really met Sam when I arrived in Indialantic with my mom from Kenya. My parents thought I wasn't getting a good enough college prep education in East Africa. I thought I was getting a great education. I did my schoolwork in an hour then spent the rest of the day bombing around Nairobi on my motorbike, meeting all kinds of interesting people, eating, drinking and smoking who knows what. My folks didn't think this would prepare me for college. Go figure.

Sweethearts. It was decided that my mom and I would repatriate so I could do 12th grade and graduate from a real school. Then she would go back to her sweetheart in Nairobi. It was decades before I began to grasp how trying those ten months must have been for both of them. They were pretty much symbiotic, those two. I was just an oblivious teen.

Melbourne. Sam and Gail and their kids were living in Indialantic Florida, and it so happened that Melbourne High School, right across the Indian River, had a national reputation for being cool and progressive. It was B. Frank Brown's non-graded high school: all the smart kids got to be in the same class. Frank wanted slow learners together in small classes for intensive, hands-on work. That plan also produces groups at the other end. I was in one helluva senior English class.

Laid off. Mom and I moved into an apartment in Indialantic right up the street from them on the corner of 12th and A1A. The Atlantic was literally across the sleepy two-lane highway from our apartment. The semiconductor industry, where Sam had worked for years, was going through a rough patch, and Sam was unemployed. I started hanging out down the street. Sam was a jewel, a diamond in the rough, and it didn't take me long to discover that. We became good friends.

Trading drugs. I'd quite stupidly brought a decent stash of Class A Kenya dope with me from Nairobi, hidden in my sax case. I dug it out and asked Sam and Gail if the wanted to give it a try. They did, and they were delighted. My import stash soon ran out and I was faced with a problem I never encountered in Kenya: lousy marijuana. As I made friends at Mel High I developed better sources and brought them over to meet Sam and Gail, to hang out in a dope-friendly environment, and to sell us dope. It was a safe place for them to sell and us to buy. In the meantime I adopted some of their bad habits: drinking wine and coffee. Sam won me over to coffee with his recipe, which made coffee into candy: strong instant coffee with plenty of evaporated milk and sugar, the liquid part of stack pudding. Hash quickly became our preferred high when we could get it; we called it thirds. We'd cut a thin slice off our crumbly chunk with a single-edge razor then divide it into three, each just the right size for a maxed out lungful. I can see us now, zoned out around the dining room table after the kids were asleep, the room lit only by the Gro-Lux bulb in the cover of Sam's 55-gallon tropical fish show tank, passing the briar pipe with a tinfoil screen, each face lit up in turn by the light of a yellow Bic lighter. Stoned out on dope and wine, watching the fish.

Magical Mystery Tour. My doper friends from Mel High were mostly fellow students in Elaine's class. I became close with one of the guys, the one who later visited me at FPC. He took me on my first acid trip that fall. He knew people who knew people and could get his hands on good quality hallucinogens. The acid I took wasn't Owsley but it was blotter. I spent the afternoon with him and a couple other folks in a crash pad near Sam and Gail's, hanging out while the acid came on. I was beginning to hum along nicely that evening when we all piled into Annette's station wagon and went to the drive-in to watch Yellow Submarine. The movie was old hat for them, but it was my first time seeing it, on my first acid trip. When the Beatles made their triumphant march across the once again colorful Pepperland I jumped out of the car and ran toward the screen, waving my arms and yelling. I lay down on the front downslope of the front parking ramp. There were no cars on the front ramp at this showing. I stretched out under the giant screen with a window speaker up against each ear and watched it to the end. I had arrived in Wonderland. Mercifully, it would be a comparatively brief stay. Booze was easier on me.

December 1968 was memorable. Gail and I established a drunken birthday ritual that would last well into the seventies. I got hot and heavy with Sue, my first girlfriend Stateside. And I had a memorable present under the tree from the friend who got me that blotter acid. The giftwrap job was study in misdirection: a large triangular prism of a box that rattled when you shook it. No one could guess that one. On Christmas morning the wrapping came off and it was three album covers taped together edge to edge with some beads inside. Two of the album covers were empty duds but the third was a winner, the just released album Child is Father to the Man, the first and for me the best Blood, Sweat & Tears ever made. I was crazy about Al Kooper's I love you more than you'll ever know. That song deeply cemented the love of blues I contracted by jamming with my Tryp buddies on those hazy mazy afternoons in our drummer's parents' garden in ritzy suburban Nairobi.

Missed connection. I had another visitor at Sam and Gail's house that Christmas. I'd fallen in love with Sue, and the feeling was clearly mutual. We couldn't be together in the apartment with my mom or at her place so Sam and Gail, sweethearts as they were, made their bedroom available to us. We didn't make love but we wanted to. We were both equally tormented by hormones and angst, and the angst won. Sue was graduating early and she'd be leaving at the beginning of the year on her way to New College. I only saw her once after that Christmas, a hurried visit by the mail boxes at FPC. Her guy was waiting for her in the car. A missed connection.

Stack pudding. Sam was a big guy with a big appetite, and pot, well, you know. Stack pudding was one of Sam's favorites. It became one of mine. He made a big mug of coffee the way he liked it: sweet, with lots of evaporated milk. Then he broke graham crackers into quarters and stacked them until he had a stack the diameter of his mug. Then he dunked them. It was all in the timing. Graham crackers disintegrate like that in hot coffee. Dunk just right and you get a stack of graham coffee pudding melting in your mouth. A second too long in the drink and it's mush at the bottom of your cup. Another fave was fried salami cubes. He'd buy the salami with whole peppercorns and cut it into half-inch cubes. Fry up in oil till crispy, then put before us a big plate of them with a shot glass full of toothpick spears. Somehow I lived to tell the tale, 50+ years later.

Our favorite stoner pastime was watching the fish. Sam had several tanks. The one we watched like a television was a 55‑gallon tall tank with an amazing array of fish: plecostomi, banjo cats, archers, kuhli loaches, silver dollars, rainbow and neon tetras, zebra danios, Lake Malawi cichlids, angels, a bedraggled betta or two, even a red oscar. How could those all live together? Sam had a magic touch with fish, and that was gonna alter the family history forever, because Sam used the family savings to buy a tropical fish farm.

Crash. Fishfarm as we called it was legendary. One of the hippies painted reverential wall art in the dining room: an elaborate stoned parody of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, awarding the Fishfarm the Timothy Leary Good Cribkeeping Award. Yup, it was pretty much the Space Coast crash pad. Well, one of many. For the second Christmas on Fishfarm I designed a t-shirt for us, my first published work of graphic art.

Padrugpadrug. The living room was carpeted. Sam put a room sized Persian style rug with a thick pad down on top of the padded carpet, creating a four-layer padded floor. It was also no doubt a teeming refuge for microscopic Florida wildlife. He christened it Padrugpadrug. Lots of weirdos crashed on Padrugpadrug over the years, including most of us, too drugged to find a real bed. It was comfy, as long as you were sufficiently wasted

Accent. When I first arrived in Florida I had an English accent. I tend to adopt the talk of people I hang out with. In Nairobi I mostly hung out with British expat kids. I was aware it was happening and I worked at it a bit. One of my proudest moments came when I was talking with a bunch of guys there, some of whom I didn't know, and I said something that gave away my nationality. One of the guys I didn't know looked at me in surprise and said, "You're a yank, eh? Cor, you don't tawk like a yank." Oh ta, man.

Eyecatching. Girls were intrigued by my accent, or so I thought. Something was working in my favor. I'm good looking but not that good looking. I honestly had no clue that being intelligent, well spoken and modestly sensitive was working in my favor. And less than no clue that an unimagined event decades in my future was working in my favor in all the right ways. I started hanging out with a trio of gorgeous smart girls, all blondes. A clique almost everyone else found intimidating felt like home ground to me, a relief to be with. I still needed to learn how to drive. I'd been too young for a learner's permit in Kenya. Annette offered to let me practice driving her car, that Rambler station wagon. We drove to an empty parking lot. I got behind the wheel. The pheromones in that Rambler were so thick you could eat them with a spoon. Her nefarious plot worked: we made out in the car and I fell in love with her. I was as true to my girl as you might expect a high school boy to be: a month later I fell in love with her trio buddy Hutch. Hutch was eyecatching, the gorgeous girl with long blonde hair who would have been homecoming queen if she hadn't detested team sports. I stayed with Hutch for three years, even sticking it out for a while when things got complicated between us in college because of a different trio.

Bullshit. As a kid I bullshitted about myself, like when I got shocked awake by the dahlia farmer next door. I made shit up to make myself seem more interesting than I really was. As I got older, that meant I had to keep track of which lies I'd told whom. Mom warned me, quoting Sir Walter Scott: Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! I didn't listen. But the least bit of bullshit and Sam would start giving me that look. I would immediately fess up. He was the one person who saw me for who I was and still loved me. He became my closest friend. That's how he helped me grow up.

Refuge. One night at the Fishfarm I finished up what Sam had started. I was visiting from college with my girlfriend Hutch. That night I took some kind of hallucinogenic pill. You never knew what you were getting in those days. Hutch didn't take a pill. She had more sense than I did. I started flipping out. I reached out to Hutch for refuge. She was there for me, but I could not reach her. All I could feel was the distance and falseness between us that I had created by my lies. I started confessing to her. We stayed up till dawn, debunking everything I'd ever told her about my life. It didn't break us up; it brought us closer together. She talked me down from my self imposed exile. She was a true friend, a real diamond.

Sam's death. I was there at the Fishfarm the night Sam died. It was late summer 1970, just a few months after the harrowing night when I confessed all my lies to Hutch. I would soon head back to FPC to start my sophomore year. The family was all there that night: Gail, Sam, Tim, my five nieces and nephews, and me. The six of us young 'uns woke up to a family tragedy in progress. Sam, Gail and Tim had already been up for hours. Sam had a stroke that night. The first symptom Gail knew of was numbness. He woke her up, asking her to rub his arm, it had gone to sleep, but her rubbing didn't help. Then he tried getting up to go to the bathroom and fell, crushing an end table and probably breaking some bones. Sam was a big guy. They woke all of us up as the ambulance finally arrived, and Sam and Gail headed off in the ambulance to some hospital in Orlando. By then it was hours after his stroke began. We all huddled together around the dining room table, talking quietly and crying, waiting for new. Finally there was a phone call. It was probably four or five in the morning by then. Tim took the call. It wasn't long. Gail was calling from a pay phone at the hospital. Tim hung up, turned to us, and said Sam is dead. I still treasure his complete lack of euphemism. We all let out a wail I can still hear and feel after fifty years. I've lumped myself in with Sam and Gail's kids in this scene because that's how it was that night. My mother died in 1988 and my father in 1990, late in my Boulder adventure. By then I'd given my family up, which turned out to be crucial for my progress with love. Gail came to our parents' rescue, nursing them through their final years. I have no idea what it's like to lose a parent as a child. That night gave me a taste: I was right there with the five of them. We all lost Sam, and he left a huge hole in all of us. He was my best friend. My brother in a way Tim never came close to. Tim had betrayed me too deeply for me to ever really forgive him. He shouldn't have ganged up on me with his football buddies that night.

Sam wasn't supposed to die. He was just thirty-eight, a giant of a man, full of life as Zorba, more alive than any man I had ever known. Because of that I started out afraid of him, but he won my heart. He saw the world for what it was and people for what they were. When I needed some tough love he was right there for me but he only gave me as much as I needed, then welcomed me back as soon as I cleaned up my act. He was a deep true friend and mentor.