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Greg dies after stint at San Diego Detox

Tied off and stuck a needle in his arm

Image by John Maher

Greg H. is a 27-year-old veteran. He has been an alcoholic since 1967. Three weeks ago the doctor warned Greg that he would be dead within two years if he didn't stop drinking. Asking around, Greg was eventually referred to the Men's Detoxification Center at 1111 Island in downtown San Diego. The Men's Detox Center is publicly run institution funded through the County Health Care Agency. Greg spent the next three days at detox.

"When I first came in, there was an old guy who asked me what I was in for." The majority of inmates at Detox are brought in by police agencies, in lieu of being taken to jail. "I told the guy I was doing over a quart a day and was shaking so much I couldn't get the bottle up to my mouth without busting my lip. Likewise I shook too much to pour. He said, 'That's no problem,' and showed me the towel trick." The towel trick is composed of three elements — shaking hands, a bottle of liquor, and a bathroom towel. To stop the hands from shaking, the bottle must be raised to the mouth, and the alcohol then ingested. The towel is used as a levering device to keep the whiskey from spilling and to prevent the bottle from doing a tap dance across the addict's face. The towel is placed behind the neck and held firmly at both ends. Three fingers of one hand grip the bottle while the index finger and thumb continue to hold the towel. Then the liquor is slowly levered to the mouth by pulling at the other end of the towel. The towel trick is a rough but efficient method of beating the shakes. The inmates of the Detox Center know quite a lot about the shakes.

Greg voluntarily entered detox on Saturday at 7:20 p.m. He had worked all day and was taking advantage of his Memorial Day holiday to dry out. The first procedure was a brief, generalized medical exam. Blood pressure, pulse, and respiration were checked and recorded. The orderly leaned over and smelled his breath for booze. They had told him it was all right to drink before coming in. He would have plenty of time to be sick later. His valuables were taken and put in a safe place, his clothes were sealed in a trash can liner and also stored. In return Greg was issued one robe and one pair of pajamas, large. Socks were available upon request. At this point, Greg asked for medication and received two five-milligram Valiums. He was then led to Bed 100. There are 100 beds in the Detox Center, all located in one large dormitory-like room.

At 8:45 p.m. Greg walked into the TV room — black and white TV set, chairs, couches, and a collection of antiquated reading matter: the 1940 Book of Knowledge, Doc Savage in hardback, and the old standbys, Reader's Digest Condensations. he sat and watched a group of winos trying to roll their Bugler cigarettes in the midst of alcoholic withdrawal. Tobacco kept shaking out of their papers and onto the floor. For the next hour or so Greg checked around and got the feel of the place. He walked into the bathroom, six shitters, three showers, two rows of sinks, three large mirrors, a used, well-traveled place. About 9:30 an inmate, clad in robe and pajamas, fled through the front door, heading towards Market Street and Beasley's liquor store. None of the doors at detox are locked.

After 10:00 p.m. Greg began feeling nausea. His bout with the shakes had begun. When he laid down his head began to spin. By 10:30 p.m. he was slouched down on the bathroom floor. A group of fellow sufferers were in attendance. Throughout the night the bathroom is a crowded place. In the dormitory room men scream about the huge ants crawling over their skin. Other kung fu purple monsters of the night. Many men are unable to sleep. Frequently screams, "Shut up, motherfuckers," are heard, but during the three days he stayed Greg saw no physical violence of any sort. "There was no one capable of any physical hostility."

The night was long. The men sat around on the bathroom floor reminiscing about joints where they had done time. Tips were passed around — "Don't drink the sterno in green cans 'cause it will make you sick, but the red is still OK." Greg's intermittent vomiting was followed by encouragement from his fellows. "Hang in there, kid, you gonna make it 'cause you got no other choice." Greg speaks highly of the drunks and winos who helped him make it through the night.

Around midnight Greg went to the aide station, asked for and received two more Valiums. He watched police officers drag in a drunk too wasted to move. Another derelict screamed at the police, "Take me to jail, goddammit, I ain't no alcoholic; I'm a wino." Greg walked back into the bathroom.

By 3:00 a.m. Greg had made it to his bunk. He was unable to sleep. It was his turn for hallucinations. Bad hallucinations. "You ever take belladonna, man, arms are always coming out of the furniture reaching for you."

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At 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning, Greg was back in the bathroom, puking again. The lights were turned on at 6:00 a.m. During the night Greg had made a friend, Bob, "a big dude, he'd done time at Attica and Folsom both, he knew the ins and outs at Detox." Bob helped Greg line up for breakfast. The menu at Detox wasn't bad, wholesome meals, lots of fruit, juices, and cereal for breakfast. Greg says, "It's not the same quality as a restaurant, but it's better than any jail." At this point, however, Greg wasn't hungry. He was unable to carry his own food. Bob eventually had to bring the food to Greg and convince him, against opposition, to eat:

  • 1/4 pint oatmeal
  • 1/2 glass milk
  • 1/2 piece toast

which he was able to hold down for approximately one hour. Sunday was going to be a very rough day. "After I puked breakfast I remember watching an inmate getting ready to leave. He already had his civilian clothes on. Before splitting, he shared a bottle of Vitalis with a friend. I was so sick it didn't even faze me." The extreme nausea had begun.

Alcoholic withdrawal at this stage is likened to an epileptic fit. Greg hit the nurse's aide and had six green and black Libriums laid on. "The old winos would walk over to the counter and lay their forearms across, balancing on the underarm muscles, trying to make their hands shake real good so they could score some downs." But Greg was not running a con. "Man, it was the real thing, the no good shakes." he headed for his bunk, Libs on, missed lunch, and doesn't remember much about the day. His wife came to visit. He wasn't able to relate. By dinner time he was able to take a little soup. I asked him about the quality. He looked at me laughing as if he knew and I didn't, and said, "Who cares?" Sunday night Greg slept soundly. He doesn't remember any dreams. The Libs were still taking care of him.

Monday morning Greg was up by 5:00 a.m. "People were always up, there was always a group vomiting and shaking in the head. Along the inmates, 30% at any given point were trembling to a noticeable degree. Eight to ten people were usually too sick to get out of bed." But Greg was beginning to feel like a human being again. He changed his sweaty linens. The day before he'd been too sick. Later he checked out one of the three or four double-edged razors from the office. The orderly watched unobtrusively as he used it. "It was too dull to hurt myself with."

Much of the day was spent reminiscing about old alcoholic bouts, watching TV, reading in bed. The staff issued vitamins at 10:00 a.m. Greg would receive no further medication. At 11:30 a.m. Greg at lunch; it was his first complete meal in several days. he had turkey a la king, homemade rolls, orange Jell-O, cottage cheese, an orange, and iced tea, seconds on some items. Everything stayed down. Approximately one hour after lunch another inmate, clad in robe and pajamas, fled through the back door of the center, headed for Market Street and the liquor store.

Monday was Memorial Day and in the afternoon I called Greg to wish him a happy holiday. The old inmate who answered the phone seemed happy to get him. Greg had begun drinking heavily as a young Marine in Vietnam. Eight years later, on Memorial Day in the San Diego Detox Center, seems a good time, a good place to end it. We rapped for a bit, then Greg excused himself, "It's my turn to talk to the counselor," and I put down the phone hoping he'd make it.

An article in the San Diego Union on June 4, 1975 titled "Alcohol Center Reforms Ordered" cites a study showing only 32% of the men at the center actually get any counseling and only 24% ever show up at the follow-up agency to which they are referred. Improved counseling and referral services were planned (according to the article written) after Greg's release from detox. I questioned Greg about the counseling. "It was mostly just a thorough interrogation, when did I take my first drink? What drugs had I done? Etcetera. I was out front to a degree. When the counselor got done he wanted to send me to a halfway house. But I told him I wanted to go to AA. He said OK, wrote AA on my card, and waved me out."

The counseling process Greg describes is cursory, at best. In defense of the system it must be pointed out that a percentage of the detox population is composed of alcoholics with brain damage. When I asked Greg about the age range at detox he estimated 8-10% were 25-30 years old, 15-20% were 30-40 years old, and the rest were so screwed up that you couldn't tell. The majority are skid row types, although one wealthy "horse owner" from North County was brought in during Greg's stay. "His wife drove him up to the front door in a Cadillac."

As well, there is an element harshly antagonistic to genuine counseling. They are there to get over. The center has an open door policy, and some skid row bums, well-known to the staff, stagger in whenever they run out of cash, get a good feed, crash, and then check out the next morning at 10:30. For that matter the hard core can manage to score booze inside. Greg had witnessed a young kid stash his muscatel bottle. Monday morning after he felt better, one of Greg's more seasoned fellows informed him how to procure a bottle of wine. "Have friend meet in lobby during 6-7:00 p.m. visiting hour when minimum staff on duty." The other visiting hour is from 3-4 p.m. "Have friend excuse to bathroom and stash bottle in shitcan, just before friend leaves also excuse oneself to bathroom, and slip bottle into robe." Greg declined the advice somewhat to the inmate's chagrin. He had planned on shares.

According to the Union article, the "revolving door" aspect of Detox, indicated by high recidivism, and abuse of center facilities by lower Market Street con artists, will supposedly prompt major reforms. I say "supposedly" because I called Tom Kennedy, head counselor at Detox, and also a sober alcoholic, to ask about the Union article ballyhooing stricter admission controls. He said, "That's just newspaper talk; nothing has come down yet. We know what's happening, we know what has to be done."

Greg also has been disturbed by the obvious revolving door alcoholics, abusing the center's facilities. He felt some winos were using the center as they would the Salvation Army mission right around the corner. "They leave at 10:30 a.m., go get drunk, and check back in that night."

After talking to Kennedy, a man Greg has spoken highly of, I realized that the "reforms" were merely official recognition of problems long apparent to staff and inmates alike. I asked Kennedy what could be done. "In the first place we need more referral facilities out there, there's no place for the very debilitated, for people with brains too gone to make decisions. we need legal help to place them, and decisions have to be made for people who refuse to make decisions, who keep ripping us off." Then I asked Kennedy the question about what statistics they had indicative of success and expected some official bullshit in return. He was impatient in answering, "How do you define success, some people are still alive, some stop drinking. I consider success just being (here)."

The primary purpose of Detox Center is to accommodate persons detained by the police for drunkenness. They are kept in a safe environment with medical care available and released the next morning at 8:30 a.m. Greg estimated that 60% of the men inside while he was there were police pickups. Greg had entered under the three-day self-commit program, evidently the program most open to abuse. But for the low-income alcoholic seeking to end his dependence under semi-controlled medical conditions, and in an atmosphere guaranteed to provide culture shock and peer reinforcement, there is no better alternative offered in San Diego County. Also available is a 30-day program about which Kennedy would only say, "It's a pilot program; it's new." Greg had told me about a group of 15 going on furlough from the 30-day program. They went to Balboa Park. Only four returned.

When Greg checked out at 10:30 Tuesday morning, voluntarily sober for the first time since 1967, he had praise for the down-and-outers he had met at Detox. "There was a spirit of cooperation, we took care of each other." He also talked about Kennedy, "He's a busy man, the only really good counseling I got was in a bullshit session with Tom Kennedy. He told me about the Alano Club." Alano is an organization of ex-alcoholics, helping each other. Greg feels they do this very well. He beat feet out of detox and took his tight nerves to the North Shores Alano Club in Pacific Beach; there are three Alano Clubs in San Diego County. Their counseling was excellent, from men who had been there themselves. They got him into a beginners AA group where he is hanging in, "thanks to the foxy ladies at the meetings." He has joined the Alano Club and visits the club restaurant or game room often. He doesn't like to be alone in the mornings.

The Union article said some ominous things about budget cutting as the main benefit of the so-called "reforms." If I read bureaucratese correctly they could mean elimination or restriction of the three-day self-commit program. I hope not. One Greg is worth all the "revolving door alcoholics" in town.

POSTSCRIPT

Greg's first weeks after Detox were rough. He was nervous, irritable, smoked huge quantities of marijuana trying to settle down. He went to AA meetings every night, except on his wedding anniversary. Finally, he began to make it. His swollen kidneys receded. He looked amazingly better. He became mellow. AA has a phrase, "Easy Does It." Greg put an Easy Does It bumper sticker on his truck. We sat and talked and he was mentally quicker than he'd been in years. I thought he'd make it all the way.

I was leaving town on a camping trip and stopped by Greg's to visit before I split. His wife told me he had laughed all through the copy of the article I had given him to check out. That, and the obvious fact that my friend once more had his shit together made me feel really good. Greg's only bitch was a sore throat (I realize now that his system had been weakened by alcoholic withdrawal); he complained that smoking dope made his inflamed and raw throat ache. It seemed a minor thing. I said goodbye and went to the mountains.

On July 2, 1975, in the early afternoon, Greg went into his upstairs bathroom and locked the door. The sore throat was persistent, he couldn't shake it, and he planned to spend the rest of the day, his day off, in bed. He wanted to beat his cold so that he could party on July Fourth. His throat was so sore, there was no way he could smoke any dope.

At his job he had access to various animal tranquilizers. Animal tranc doesn't necessarily get a person high. It's one of those drugs that simply kills the pain. Sitting on the john, Greg tied off and stuck a needle in his arm. Shortly afterward he fell off the toilet and laid on the cold tile floor, nude and dying. When his wife returned from shopping and had a neighbor break down the door, his body was still warm. It would never be warm again. The death was an accident, OD, embolism, conflict with medication for his throat infection, perhaps just an altered tolerance due to alcoholic withdrawal. he hadn't shot up in a long time. The last time we'd talked Greg had been trying to say something deep about life before and after Vietnam. I felt what he was saying but I couldn't then and I can't now put it down in words. Greg thought of himself as a tough guy; he would have been embarrassed to see the men and women crying at his funeral. Psychologists call it Post Vietnam Syndrome. For Greg's friends, it's out and out loss.

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Qualifier 105 burns - Big Waves, Big Sharks, and Big Tuna at the Cortez

Annual Dolphin Halibut Tournament kicks off February 1st
Image by John Maher

Greg H. is a 27-year-old veteran. He has been an alcoholic since 1967. Three weeks ago the doctor warned Greg that he would be dead within two years if he didn't stop drinking. Asking around, Greg was eventually referred to the Men's Detoxification Center at 1111 Island in downtown San Diego. The Men's Detox Center is publicly run institution funded through the County Health Care Agency. Greg spent the next three days at detox.

"When I first came in, there was an old guy who asked me what I was in for." The majority of inmates at Detox are brought in by police agencies, in lieu of being taken to jail. "I told the guy I was doing over a quart a day and was shaking so much I couldn't get the bottle up to my mouth without busting my lip. Likewise I shook too much to pour. He said, 'That's no problem,' and showed me the towel trick." The towel trick is composed of three elements — shaking hands, a bottle of liquor, and a bathroom towel. To stop the hands from shaking, the bottle must be raised to the mouth, and the alcohol then ingested. The towel is used as a levering device to keep the whiskey from spilling and to prevent the bottle from doing a tap dance across the addict's face. The towel is placed behind the neck and held firmly at both ends. Three fingers of one hand grip the bottle while the index finger and thumb continue to hold the towel. Then the liquor is slowly levered to the mouth by pulling at the other end of the towel. The towel trick is a rough but efficient method of beating the shakes. The inmates of the Detox Center know quite a lot about the shakes.

Greg voluntarily entered detox on Saturday at 7:20 p.m. He had worked all day and was taking advantage of his Memorial Day holiday to dry out. The first procedure was a brief, generalized medical exam. Blood pressure, pulse, and respiration were checked and recorded. The orderly leaned over and smelled his breath for booze. They had told him it was all right to drink before coming in. He would have plenty of time to be sick later. His valuables were taken and put in a safe place, his clothes were sealed in a trash can liner and also stored. In return Greg was issued one robe and one pair of pajamas, large. Socks were available upon request. At this point, Greg asked for medication and received two five-milligram Valiums. He was then led to Bed 100. There are 100 beds in the Detox Center, all located in one large dormitory-like room.

At 8:45 p.m. Greg walked into the TV room — black and white TV set, chairs, couches, and a collection of antiquated reading matter: the 1940 Book of Knowledge, Doc Savage in hardback, and the old standbys, Reader's Digest Condensations. he sat and watched a group of winos trying to roll their Bugler cigarettes in the midst of alcoholic withdrawal. Tobacco kept shaking out of their papers and onto the floor. For the next hour or so Greg checked around and got the feel of the place. He walked into the bathroom, six shitters, three showers, two rows of sinks, three large mirrors, a used, well-traveled place. About 9:30 an inmate, clad in robe and pajamas, fled through the front door, heading towards Market Street and Beasley's liquor store. None of the doors at detox are locked.

After 10:00 p.m. Greg began feeling nausea. His bout with the shakes had begun. When he laid down his head began to spin. By 10:30 p.m. he was slouched down on the bathroom floor. A group of fellow sufferers were in attendance. Throughout the night the bathroom is a crowded place. In the dormitory room men scream about the huge ants crawling over their skin. Other kung fu purple monsters of the night. Many men are unable to sleep. Frequently screams, "Shut up, motherfuckers," are heard, but during the three days he stayed Greg saw no physical violence of any sort. "There was no one capable of any physical hostility."

The night was long. The men sat around on the bathroom floor reminiscing about joints where they had done time. Tips were passed around — "Don't drink the sterno in green cans 'cause it will make you sick, but the red is still OK." Greg's intermittent vomiting was followed by encouragement from his fellows. "Hang in there, kid, you gonna make it 'cause you got no other choice." Greg speaks highly of the drunks and winos who helped him make it through the night.

Around midnight Greg went to the aide station, asked for and received two more Valiums. He watched police officers drag in a drunk too wasted to move. Another derelict screamed at the police, "Take me to jail, goddammit, I ain't no alcoholic; I'm a wino." Greg walked back into the bathroom.

By 3:00 a.m. Greg had made it to his bunk. He was unable to sleep. It was his turn for hallucinations. Bad hallucinations. "You ever take belladonna, man, arms are always coming out of the furniture reaching for you."

Sponsored
Sponsored

At 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning, Greg was back in the bathroom, puking again. The lights were turned on at 6:00 a.m. During the night Greg had made a friend, Bob, "a big dude, he'd done time at Attica and Folsom both, he knew the ins and outs at Detox." Bob helped Greg line up for breakfast. The menu at Detox wasn't bad, wholesome meals, lots of fruit, juices, and cereal for breakfast. Greg says, "It's not the same quality as a restaurant, but it's better than any jail." At this point, however, Greg wasn't hungry. He was unable to carry his own food. Bob eventually had to bring the food to Greg and convince him, against opposition, to eat:

  • 1/4 pint oatmeal
  • 1/2 glass milk
  • 1/2 piece toast

which he was able to hold down for approximately one hour. Sunday was going to be a very rough day. "After I puked breakfast I remember watching an inmate getting ready to leave. He already had his civilian clothes on. Before splitting, he shared a bottle of Vitalis with a friend. I was so sick it didn't even faze me." The extreme nausea had begun.

Alcoholic withdrawal at this stage is likened to an epileptic fit. Greg hit the nurse's aide and had six green and black Libriums laid on. "The old winos would walk over to the counter and lay their forearms across, balancing on the underarm muscles, trying to make their hands shake real good so they could score some downs." But Greg was not running a con. "Man, it was the real thing, the no good shakes." he headed for his bunk, Libs on, missed lunch, and doesn't remember much about the day. His wife came to visit. He wasn't able to relate. By dinner time he was able to take a little soup. I asked him about the quality. He looked at me laughing as if he knew and I didn't, and said, "Who cares?" Sunday night Greg slept soundly. He doesn't remember any dreams. The Libs were still taking care of him.

Monday morning Greg was up by 5:00 a.m. "People were always up, there was always a group vomiting and shaking in the head. Along the inmates, 30% at any given point were trembling to a noticeable degree. Eight to ten people were usually too sick to get out of bed." But Greg was beginning to feel like a human being again. He changed his sweaty linens. The day before he'd been too sick. Later he checked out one of the three or four double-edged razors from the office. The orderly watched unobtrusively as he used it. "It was too dull to hurt myself with."

Much of the day was spent reminiscing about old alcoholic bouts, watching TV, reading in bed. The staff issued vitamins at 10:00 a.m. Greg would receive no further medication. At 11:30 a.m. Greg at lunch; it was his first complete meal in several days. he had turkey a la king, homemade rolls, orange Jell-O, cottage cheese, an orange, and iced tea, seconds on some items. Everything stayed down. Approximately one hour after lunch another inmate, clad in robe and pajamas, fled through the back door of the center, headed for Market Street and the liquor store.

Monday was Memorial Day and in the afternoon I called Greg to wish him a happy holiday. The old inmate who answered the phone seemed happy to get him. Greg had begun drinking heavily as a young Marine in Vietnam. Eight years later, on Memorial Day in the San Diego Detox Center, seems a good time, a good place to end it. We rapped for a bit, then Greg excused himself, "It's my turn to talk to the counselor," and I put down the phone hoping he'd make it.

An article in the San Diego Union on June 4, 1975 titled "Alcohol Center Reforms Ordered" cites a study showing only 32% of the men at the center actually get any counseling and only 24% ever show up at the follow-up agency to which they are referred. Improved counseling and referral services were planned (according to the article written) after Greg's release from detox. I questioned Greg about the counseling. "It was mostly just a thorough interrogation, when did I take my first drink? What drugs had I done? Etcetera. I was out front to a degree. When the counselor got done he wanted to send me to a halfway house. But I told him I wanted to go to AA. He said OK, wrote AA on my card, and waved me out."

The counseling process Greg describes is cursory, at best. In defense of the system it must be pointed out that a percentage of the detox population is composed of alcoholics with brain damage. When I asked Greg about the age range at detox he estimated 8-10% were 25-30 years old, 15-20% were 30-40 years old, and the rest were so screwed up that you couldn't tell. The majority are skid row types, although one wealthy "horse owner" from North County was brought in during Greg's stay. "His wife drove him up to the front door in a Cadillac."

As well, there is an element harshly antagonistic to genuine counseling. They are there to get over. The center has an open door policy, and some skid row bums, well-known to the staff, stagger in whenever they run out of cash, get a good feed, crash, and then check out the next morning at 10:30. For that matter the hard core can manage to score booze inside. Greg had witnessed a young kid stash his muscatel bottle. Monday morning after he felt better, one of Greg's more seasoned fellows informed him how to procure a bottle of wine. "Have friend meet in lobby during 6-7:00 p.m. visiting hour when minimum staff on duty." The other visiting hour is from 3-4 p.m. "Have friend excuse to bathroom and stash bottle in shitcan, just before friend leaves also excuse oneself to bathroom, and slip bottle into robe." Greg declined the advice somewhat to the inmate's chagrin. He had planned on shares.

According to the Union article, the "revolving door" aspect of Detox, indicated by high recidivism, and abuse of center facilities by lower Market Street con artists, will supposedly prompt major reforms. I say "supposedly" because I called Tom Kennedy, head counselor at Detox, and also a sober alcoholic, to ask about the Union article ballyhooing stricter admission controls. He said, "That's just newspaper talk; nothing has come down yet. We know what's happening, we know what has to be done."

Greg also has been disturbed by the obvious revolving door alcoholics, abusing the center's facilities. He felt some winos were using the center as they would the Salvation Army mission right around the corner. "They leave at 10:30 a.m., go get drunk, and check back in that night."

After talking to Kennedy, a man Greg has spoken highly of, I realized that the "reforms" were merely official recognition of problems long apparent to staff and inmates alike. I asked Kennedy what could be done. "In the first place we need more referral facilities out there, there's no place for the very debilitated, for people with brains too gone to make decisions. we need legal help to place them, and decisions have to be made for people who refuse to make decisions, who keep ripping us off." Then I asked Kennedy the question about what statistics they had indicative of success and expected some official bullshit in return. He was impatient in answering, "How do you define success, some people are still alive, some stop drinking. I consider success just being (here)."

The primary purpose of Detox Center is to accommodate persons detained by the police for drunkenness. They are kept in a safe environment with medical care available and released the next morning at 8:30 a.m. Greg estimated that 60% of the men inside while he was there were police pickups. Greg had entered under the three-day self-commit program, evidently the program most open to abuse. But for the low-income alcoholic seeking to end his dependence under semi-controlled medical conditions, and in an atmosphere guaranteed to provide culture shock and peer reinforcement, there is no better alternative offered in San Diego County. Also available is a 30-day program about which Kennedy would only say, "It's a pilot program; it's new." Greg had told me about a group of 15 going on furlough from the 30-day program. They went to Balboa Park. Only four returned.

When Greg checked out at 10:30 Tuesday morning, voluntarily sober for the first time since 1967, he had praise for the down-and-outers he had met at Detox. "There was a spirit of cooperation, we took care of each other." He also talked about Kennedy, "He's a busy man, the only really good counseling I got was in a bullshit session with Tom Kennedy. He told me about the Alano Club." Alano is an organization of ex-alcoholics, helping each other. Greg feels they do this very well. He beat feet out of detox and took his tight nerves to the North Shores Alano Club in Pacific Beach; there are three Alano Clubs in San Diego County. Their counseling was excellent, from men who had been there themselves. They got him into a beginners AA group where he is hanging in, "thanks to the foxy ladies at the meetings." He has joined the Alano Club and visits the club restaurant or game room often. He doesn't like to be alone in the mornings.

The Union article said some ominous things about budget cutting as the main benefit of the so-called "reforms." If I read bureaucratese correctly they could mean elimination or restriction of the three-day self-commit program. I hope not. One Greg is worth all the "revolving door alcoholics" in town.

POSTSCRIPT

Greg's first weeks after Detox were rough. He was nervous, irritable, smoked huge quantities of marijuana trying to settle down. He went to AA meetings every night, except on his wedding anniversary. Finally, he began to make it. His swollen kidneys receded. He looked amazingly better. He became mellow. AA has a phrase, "Easy Does It." Greg put an Easy Does It bumper sticker on his truck. We sat and talked and he was mentally quicker than he'd been in years. I thought he'd make it all the way.

I was leaving town on a camping trip and stopped by Greg's to visit before I split. His wife told me he had laughed all through the copy of the article I had given him to check out. That, and the obvious fact that my friend once more had his shit together made me feel really good. Greg's only bitch was a sore throat (I realize now that his system had been weakened by alcoholic withdrawal); he complained that smoking dope made his inflamed and raw throat ache. It seemed a minor thing. I said goodbye and went to the mountains.

On July 2, 1975, in the early afternoon, Greg went into his upstairs bathroom and locked the door. The sore throat was persistent, he couldn't shake it, and he planned to spend the rest of the day, his day off, in bed. He wanted to beat his cold so that he could party on July Fourth. His throat was so sore, there was no way he could smoke any dope.

At his job he had access to various animal tranquilizers. Animal tranc doesn't necessarily get a person high. It's one of those drugs that simply kills the pain. Sitting on the john, Greg tied off and stuck a needle in his arm. Shortly afterward he fell off the toilet and laid on the cold tile floor, nude and dying. When his wife returned from shopping and had a neighbor break down the door, his body was still warm. It would never be warm again. The death was an accident, OD, embolism, conflict with medication for his throat infection, perhaps just an altered tolerance due to alcoholic withdrawal. he hadn't shot up in a long time. The last time we'd talked Greg had been trying to say something deep about life before and after Vietnam. I felt what he was saying but I couldn't then and I can't now put it down in words. Greg thought of himself as a tough guy; he would have been embarrassed to see the men and women crying at his funeral. Psychologists call it Post Vietnam Syndrome. For Greg's friends, it's out and out loss.

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