by Tim O'Connell
The crowd I ran around with in high school was weird. A mix of wanna-be hippies, kung-fu jocks, former gang-bangers, and musicians all came to hang out at what we simply called, The Center. It was one of those federal and state-funded store-fronts in the 70s with a bad mural on the wall that “the clients” had painted themselves. Yeah, we were clients. “Adult” supervision was provided by a mix of 70’s pop culture shrinks, a graphic arts/photography teacher, a video teacher, and a director who…as best we could tell would simply have been called the treasurer in any other organization. We mostly hung out, listened to music, did our homework, or played board games. Three rules: No sex. No violence. No drugs or alcohol. Any of those would get you banned. The idea back then was that if you educated teens on drugs, they wouldn’t WANT to do them. Yeah, well it was Carter…shrug.
Some of us did photography and silk screening, some were working on the city wide video competition. Me, I worked the mixer at the Saturday Night Coffee House and volunteered back in the hotline room.
I had a sweet lil 8-channel Yamaha mixer/amplifier going into a couple of 4X12 1969 PA Marshall Columns (don’t ask). I rarely had a chance to mix a full four piece, but when I did, I had a freaking blast. One of the local guitar heroes wouldn’t let anyone but me or Dutch take care of his vocals. He had a good enough voice, he just needed a hint of reverb to get rid of the annoying Bob Dylan-esque nasality that he didn’t get rid of until he broke down and went to a vocal coach…a nun of all people. Most nights it was do the sound check about half an hour before we opened, set levels. Let the place fill up and then use just the master volume to adjust. Most folks would look at the equalizer and want me to play with it for them. If they were decent I’d do a little with different songs. There was a three girl trio that I’d stay at the board for their entire show. I’d been there the first time they jammed together and knew what worked with them and what didn’t.
Looking back, working on the hotline was just plain insane. Fourteen to eighteen year old kids, taking calls on one of the last drug crisis outreach lines in the entire city. Don’t get me wrong, if you sucked, you were out, but looking back on some of the things we were doing…I get stone chills. Suicides, overdoses, people just calling in to have us look something they bought up in the PDR. My favorites were the folks on bad trips. I just had a way of getting into their heads and turning them around before they went into complete melt down. If I had someone already in full out BAD TRIP mode, I’d have the other folks make me a fresh pot of coffee and call my folks to let them know I was going to be late. I might turn ‘em around quick but some people simply should have never ever ever ever ever done acid in the first place. Some people say LSD enhances all of your psychosis…for normally up or manic folks, that’s kind of fun, for down or depressed folks, that’s a VERY BAD THING.
In the summer of ’78 some very pure and very clean LSD hit Chicago on a blotter with a red dragon stamped on it. The state lab guys that kept track of that stuff said they’d never seen anything off the street that clean…ever. There was a new lab somewhere and the people doing the cooking were very good. People who normally didn’t do acid were trying it. Recreational trippers were doing MORE because it wasn’t making them sick and since there was no speed in it, they could trip harder without getting that lockjaw, muscle clenchy/twitchy thing. Of course…some assholes who didn’t make their shit that good started simply copying the stamp and our lives on the weekends became all about talking down the bad trippers. It was so bad we added four extra lines and I got kicked out of the coffee house on Saturday nights for almost all of August.
For the record, talking to trippers is really easy. You need to be very calm, and very trustworthy. Don’t just SOUND calm, they pick up on nerves worse than your Mom when you’re trying to tell her that you’re staying at Jimmy’s rather than Jenny’s. Once they’re listening to you and believing you? The rest is gravy. Hell, half the time you just have to get them to change the music they’re listening to. “Dude, I’m freaking out.” “What’s that in the background?” “Blue Oyster Cult.” “Whoa, little heavy don’t ya think? Have any Grateful Dead?” “Ummmm, yeah…Mars Hotel?” “How ‘bout Blues for Allah?” “Really, you think it’s better?” “Not better, just better for your head right now…trust me, I’m a professional.” “Snickkkkerrrr.” Once you can get a tripper to giggle, you’re on the right track. And the real cool thing is if they’re seeing shit that ain’t there coming to get them, you just tell them to blow on them and they’ll never touch them. Hey…it works. And no, The Dark Side of the Moon wasn’t the best “bring them back alive” album. Pink Floyd was hit or miss. Some folks don’t react well to it at all.
High School. Not your normal way of getting through it, but it seemed to keep me occupied and alive. I wasn’t wearing colors and I mostly was safe from all of that. The gangs let us be because they knew they could come to us if they needed to get a message from one to another without calling a formal truce. The Cops let us be because they knew if we found out about any nasty shit hurting people, we’d tip them off on the assholes, and because they could always stop in to get a cup of coffee or drop off one of their own fucked up folks if they needed to. We gave EVERYONE confidentiality…even the jocks who claimed to hate us with every fiber of their being. Long story and this one’s already pushing 1000 words.
Our parents? Wow. I don’t think they have any idea to this day the kind of stuff we were up to. Don’t think they wanted to.