13 March 2017

Those Were The Days: Burglary, Booze and Drugs and Mooney's Garage Home

One of my best friends in high school was Mike Mooney -- people only ever called him Mooney. He’d been kicked out of his parents’ house, though not very far out. He lived in the converted garage in the backyard. It was actually better than his room in the house or any of the rooms any of us had in our homes. He even had a hot plate and a toilet. I don't remember exactly why he got the heave ho but it likely had to do with his preference for drugs over school.

We used to hang out at Mooney’s because it offered us maximum privacy. Mooney's parents had as little to do with him as possible so there was no risk of anyone walking in us. We were all around 16 and had recently become enamored of alcohol and drugs, including psychedelics. We would sometimes drop acid there and then head for Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills.

The most nefarious of our activities was burglary. The rest of us were only accessories before and after the fact. Mooney did the dirty work. He would slip out of the garage and be gone for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and half. He was always successful and came back with liquor. He only once took anything else when there was a wad of cash sitting on a table that he felt was too tempting to resist. Our thieving friend also sometimes left a calling card in the form of a full toilet — provided that mother nature had called.

Being an idiot teenager I was able to rationalize Mooney’s escapades because it was booze he was heisting and often from people who had plenty to spare and maybe even so much that they wouldn’t miss what he took. My other friend, Mark Norman, and I did berate him for taking the cash but quickly forgot about it.

We would gladly imbibe whatever Mooney brought us. We had heard somewhere that mixing different kinds of alcohol was not recommend but we were young and invulnerable so didn’t worry about it. Usually the spirits accompanied the other drugs we took whether grass or acid so we didn't drink too much anyway.

We were great ones for conversations often covering great philosophical concepts. Like most teenagers we had a greatly exaggerated sense of our understanding of and insights into life. By virtue of our drug use we reckoned that we’d risen to another level of consciousness. Most everyone else — grown ups in particular — were hopelessly square and took everything at face value. We, on the other hand, were as enlightened as rock stars, who in our estimation were the true great thinkers of the world. Within the lyrics of rock songs were the keys to understanding life. Rock songs were the portals to higher levels of awareness. We constantly strove to reach higher levels of awareness. Politics invariably entered our conversations as we railed against Nixon, Vietnam and social injustice of all kinds. But mostly we laughed and talked about girls and movies and sports. We were basically happy lads though racked with psychological pain that we were not prepared to admit to much less wrestle with. Both Mooney and I were seeing psychiatrists. In my case the benefits of analysis were minimized by my steadfast determination to put on a good show for the doctor by being as cool as I possibly could and betraying no vulnerabilities.

We did delve into a lot of personal issues during our debauches and this was certainly cathartic although mitigated somewhat by how damn high we got. And get high we did. For my part scholastic achievements, glory on the athletic fields and family relationships didn’t suffer (though one could argue that all three might have been better had I not indulged so much). I received mostly “A”s and was a soccer star and other than my schizophrenic mother got along famously with family both immediate and extended.

One Saturday the soccer team Mark and I starred on won our league championship. The game was over by early afternoon so we headed over to Mooney’s. He had by this time accumulated several bottles of liquor. This was a rare occasion in that we had no drugs. Booze was not going to be the supplement but the main and only course. We decided to find a secluded spot in the hills and partake.

I recall taking large swigs of various types of liquor, primarily whiskey and vodka. My companions were more restrained. It was not long before I was stinking drunk and could neither stand nor see. Yes, I was blind drunk. Mark and Mooney had to lead me stumbling through the streets of Berkeley on a long trek back to my home. My father was away for the weekend and my mother was of sound body but not mind. After being deposited at the front door, mom put me to bed concluding that I had a nasty case of the flu. This notion was not diminished when the next morning I went on an extended vomiting spree.

On Monday I was fit as a fiddle again, I’ve always been able to rebound from illness and during my drinking days from hangovers. I saw Mark that day and he told me of a conversation that him and Mooney had as I lied there on the hill totally out of it. They had decided that if the three of us were stranded on an island I would be the first to die. It seemed an unnecessary remark to make, not to mention cruel, but teenage boys are not known for their tact. I remembered that comments years later. Within two years of it Mooney had died of a drug overdose and a several years after that I spoke with Mark on the phone and his mind was all but gone from hundreds of acid trips. This former pacifist said he wanted to join the army so he’d have the chance to legally kill people. I don’t know whatever became of him but it couldn't have been good.

Eventually, of course, I became more proficient at drinking, in large part because my beverage of choice became beer, which is far easier to handle. I would sometimes partake of scotch, brandy, wine with meals, martinis and other concoctions if the spirit or moment so moved me. I steered away from all drugs with the rather notable exception of cocaine which I indulged in given half a chance, or a quarter of one.

Drinking became a way of life for me, one that was all encompassing and threatening to destroy me. It was a miracle when the lightning struck and the realization came that I was an addict. Now nearly 30 years later I am miles away from perfect with no possibility of getting much closer — progress not perfection being the byword. I’m bi polar and struggle with depression but so long as I don’t yield to despair I manage well enough.

My times with Mark and Mooney and other assorted friends who sometimes joined us remain an important memory for me, indeed one I cherish. Those were — at the risk of being obvious — formative years and for better and for worse shaped the person I’ve been ever since. I appreciate the headiness of those times and the ongoing efforts to make sense of the world. I’m forever sorry that fate was not kinder to my two companions and forever grateful that I’ve lived such a fulfilling and happy life highlighted by a successful marriage and two daughters who I love beyond all measure.

Good ole Mooney, good ole Mark. High times, fun times. Times.

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