I had begun to worry about falling behind in my intellectual achievements, so I hitchhiked up to Yale that fall during the beginning of the school year to see what was happening. They were opening a school of business and politics which I was interested in, but finding it very small and inadequate I decided not to pursue admissions. Besides the cost of graduate education was skyrocketing and I did not think I could depend on any help from home. The assistant chaplain at Yale under William Coffin was my old presbyterian minister from Taft. He had me sit in on a couple of seminars, however I was not as politically interested as he was in groups like Amnesty International and Save the Whales.
I had told him that I had become interested in mysticism while I was a vegetarian and non smoker on Nantucket, and that on a island it was a viable spiritual experience, however, he said I should consult a psychologist which I thought was awfully narrow minded. I talked to the psychologist who gave me a tranquilizer, and I proceeded too return to Greenwich.
The next morning I was still under the affects of the tranquilizer, and my mother noticed there was something odd in my behavior. Later that day she called the police and they took me to talk with a local psychiatrist. I tried to explain that another psychiatrist had given me a tranquilizer, and that I was not using recreational drugs. The local psychiatrist decided to have me sent to the local state hospital for observation for two weeks. For some stupid reason, he seemed to think I was a suicidal risk. In fact I had not even been the least bit depressed. I decided that they were just trying to scare me into taking a job.
I was kept for a two week observation period at the hospital during which time I was given a number of tranquilizers which blurred my vision and kept me from being able to read. I spent most of my time playing checkers with an old colored man who was a long term patient for having committed murder. There was another young kid there from Nantucket who had been messed up on drugs the same previous summer that I was there.
After the two weeks observation period, I was told that I could be released if I would sign some papers waving my rights. I refused to sign the papers since I believed I had been illegally committed and proceeded to write a thirty page brief to my state lawyer explaining my view point.
Because I would not sign the papers, the hospital would not release me and a waiting game began. They had control over me. It was all rather bizarre and byzantine. If I had private funds, I would be able to be released immediately by my own doctor or lawyer. The state bureaucrats and mental health professionals were so inept that I was convinced that it was a conspiracy to throw me in a snake pit. One doctor was so out of it from abuse of drugs that his eyes were bulging bug eyed out of his sockets. Neither of my doctors were American citizens, and I began to doubt their professional credentials. Finally I got a preppy social worker from Yale, and he agreed with my observations, but said to play along with the doctors and to sign the papers relieving the institution of legal responsibility. So after two months of state confinement, I was released to a halfway house that was run as a commune next to the Yale University campus. At the time my mother did not want me living at home, and I was happy to be close to the university facility to have access to the library.
However, a number of the people at the halfway house had serious mental problems, and I did not enjoy living communally. At Christmas time I returned home on the condition that I would take a job. I was able to obtain a job working for a construction company in Greenville, South Carolina through my father's help. I would work as an expeditor and the company would pay for my moving expenses.
After the first of the year, I made the trip down to South Carolina. I bought an old Chevrolet for $200 and rented a new apartment for about a third of my salary. Work settled into a routine of days on the phone and typewriter working on expediting for the large construction company. The job was easy, although my fellow employees were somewhat dull, being mostly jocks and retired military officers. Still I was enjoying the change from Greenwich, and after work I would go out to Furman University and use the library.
On weekends I would travel down to Atlanta and visit my sister and go to a number of local discotheques. There was not much happening in South Carolina on weekends since it was a dry state.
For the construction company, I was working on building a tranquilizer factory in Puerto Rick, and I would spend much time on the phone talking to strangers trying to obtain shipments of goods and materials to the job site.
After about three months of this routine, my boss began to talk about having me shipped to Saudi Arabia, which did not interest me in the least. On one weekend in Atlanta, I drove down to Plains, Georgia to meet the Carter people who were organizing Jimmy Carter's run for the presidency. They were ambitious but somewhat naive. I did not think Carter had much of a chance after seeing Plains, Georgia.
I continued my job up until the week of the bicentennial of the fourth of July. I quit the job on the first of July packed my belongings into a U-Haul trailer and started driving north. I stopped for the day in Washington D.C., and toured around then proceeded up to Greenwich. I arrived home the evening before the fourth of July and there was a great feeling of festivity in the air.
The next day I drove my car into Manhattan, parked in the Village, and went down to battery park to watch the tall ships. For some reason I was able to stand in front of the entire crowd in the V.I.P. area and observe the ships. I ran into a few friends from my old disco nights in New York and really enjoyed the festivities and celebrations. On the way out of the city, I picked up my mother and her friends at the Chase building where they had been observing from the top floor and drove them out in my old Chevrolet. They were surprised that I had a car in the city since cars were forbidden in lower Manhattan.
The next week I decided to go up to Nantucket that evening. Things were not going smoothly at home. My mother and father had divorced that previous fall after several years of separation, and my mother was worrying about the maintenance upkeep of the house since my father was not sending her enough money.
On arrival in Nantucket, I stayed in a guest house for a couple of weeks enjoying the beach and visiting old friends. After two weeks I began to run low on funds, so I decided to live out of my car for another two weeks pursuing the routine I had pursued when I had camped there during previous years. However, August came along and the island was busy, so I decided to return to Greenwich.
On arrival at my mother's house I was welcomed and I proceeded to catch up on my reading and enjoy the fall days of Connecticut. However, it was cooling off quickly and I decided I missed the beach. One day my mother told me to go out and get some orange juice, so I packed the car and headed down to Florida. I never bothered to say goodbye since I did not know how long I would be gone. I drove slowly down the Atlantic coast stopping in beach communities along the way down.
I finally settled in Fort Lauderdale figuring I could afford to live there on unemployment insurance. However, my unemployment checks were late coming through, so I was relegated to living out of my old chevrolet. I had access to the Yacht club for showers, and would spend endless days at the beach.
I made several friends with other snowbirds as we yankees were called. I would spend many happy days jogging and swimming at the beach. Several of my friends thought this all amusing. Meanwhile the country was changing. Carter was elected president and as a republican I felt the country was going down the tubes. The holidays came and went without much advent that year. I had told my mother I was down in Florida, and she had said she would be in Palm Beach for the winter.
New Year's Eve of 1977 was quite fun with about ten thousand young people on the beach at Fort Lauderdale. My two main friends down there were a fellow yankee from Connecticut who tried to show me the ropes as best possible, and an old gentleman from South Carolina who thought I was from South Carolina since my car had South Carolina license plates on it. He was quite familiar with southern politics and told me he had known Jimmy Carter since he was a boy and that he was a good Christian man. I was not really familiar with southern Christian politics, so I kept enjoying the beach. Other than the Anita Bryant controversy, Fort Lauderdale was a tranquil southern town.
About February I got a letter from my friend from Syracuse and Nantucket saying he was leaving the University of New Hampshire to go to Russia. I wrote back to him to take a Bible and have a good trip.
In the mean time I was becoming disenchanted with Fort Lauderdale since my car had been impounded for too many parking tickets. I did not use it very much, so I left it in the pound and took a bus down to Key West.
Key West was about ten degrees warmer than Fort Lauderdale, and I immediately fell in love with the tropical coral blue waters. However, downtown Key West was anything but commercial. There were about ninety percent abandoned shops and a few bars and discotheques. However, overnight the place began to take on the airs of a low key adult resort. Everywhere there was building and remodeling of old houses going on. There were a lot of older retired people and a scattering of fishermen, writers, navy personnel, gays and a lot of Cubans.
Still the atmosphere was very laid back, and I found Key West a great place to live without a car. I found an abandoned house that someone said I could sleep in, and I would use the beach club to clean up every day. There was a health food store that gave me a charge account, so I did not have to worry about food. The friend that I had left Chicago with to drive down to Florida with five years before was one of the main businessmen and he had an emporium selling crafts across from the post office. There seemed to be quite a few deja view friends around, but with everyone darkly tanned and coolly dressed I never could really recognize anyone, except a few friends.
Most of my days were spent going to the library in the morning, the beach in the afternoon, and wandering around the old town area. In the evenings virtually the whole town would show up at the pier for sunset along with a different group of tourists who every day had driven down U.S. 1 to the end of the road. Sunsets were always quite festive, and the whole island had a communal artistic flavor about it. No one was in a particular rush. Old dogs would spend half the afternoon lying in the same spot in the street and everyone was very friendly. I knew that Key West had been the home of several famous authors and artists over the years, but one never really knew whom was still around or not. I had drinks with a friend my age named Hemingway in Manhattan at John Lindsey's going away party, and someone had once introduced me to Tennessee Williams on East 53rd street, but I never associated these names with Key West.
Jimmy who was in Russia was the godson of the leader of the ill fated bay of pigs invasion, however coming from Greenwich, I had never associated all of these various friends with Key West, until I arrived down there. The place felt like a ready made second home. In February I received a letter from Jimmy who had returned from Russia and was attending the University of New Hampshire. He said he was coming down to visit in Key West.
I thought it all was amusing, he never visited when I was living in Greenwich, but when I was roughing it he would always show up. By the time he arrived in Key West, it had taken on a carnival atmosphere with the influx of winter tourists. Someone was writing articles in the New York Times saying that Key West was the new fashionable resort to escape to.
Overnight real estate prices began to skyrocket and remodeling was going on everywhere. There was a lot of high energy going on in a so called laid back resort. Although I knew there were Navy personnel down there, I never saw anyone wearing a uniform, and most everyone would spend the day in cut offs and T-shirts. Someone had passed a law that you had to wear a shirt in town which seemed rather bizarre for an ocean resort.
Still I was enjoying the overall experience of Key West, and I never much cared what was going on since I was not reading any newspapers at the time nor was I watching any television. The ultimate reality seemed to be the mass of people on the pier at sunset every day.
One day Jimmy arrived and he immediately started making lots of friends. He was mostly interested in protesting against nuclear energy which did not much concern me since to my immediate knowledge there were no nuclear reactors threatening on the horizon in any place close to me. Besides the president was a nuclear engineer, and I knew my father was considered a respectable scientist, so I did not consider it fashionable to be anti nuclear power.
I had not received any of my unemployment checks during my stay in Florida, however I was still surviving and enjoying myself. After a couple of months in Key West, I began to get island fever, so I took off with Jimmy hitchhiking to Naples and we ended up spending the better part of the day standing on the side of the road hitchhiking without much success. However, the next morning we were in Naples and we were both hungry and broke. While he slept on the beach, I washed dishes at a Howard Johnson's so we would get some more travel money and return to Key West which seemed to be more and more a sanctuary.
On returning to Key West we pursued our simple routines and Jimmy took a job as a busboy. Since my hair was down to my belt, it was hard to find a job in the resort business, and most people assumed I was one of the hippies involved in the local drug trade. Since I did not drink or use marijuana I was extremely healthy and oblivious to people's prejudice about my long hair.
After several months of Key West life, I received several thousand dollars in unemployment checks at one time, and I started to make the trip north with Jimmy after paying off my debts and getting my car out of the pound in Fort Lauderdale.
We stopped off in Disney World for a day of touring the Magic Kingdom and then stopped off in Jacksonville to visit a race car driver friend of mine who had driven me down to Florida after I graduated from college.
Jimmy became impatient with driving, so I put him on a plane in Jacksonville and proceeded to drive up into Georgia. I stopped off in Plains, Georgia and it had become quite the tourist spot since Carter was president. I drove north slowly stopping to visit my sister Peggy in Atlanta and eventually arrived home in Greenwich to find everything was the same as usual.