Harry Walker Byrd with his 1965 Dodge convertible
"We figure we can get some exposure by picketing the national headquarters of Alcoholics Anonymous. It should cause a stir. Not that we’d want to interrupt the progress any of those people are making in solving their problems. We d just like to send a loud message to people that they don't have to end up Anonymous if they start out Courageous. Alcoholics Courageous — its the only way to go if you 're going to drink. ”
Harry Walker Byrd — fifty-one years old. inventor, poet, sculptor, homesteader. former professor, vagabond, visionary — explained some of the details of his latest project as we sat on the patio of his Bonita home watching the sun set over the narrow, busy valley. We sipped tall and-tonic cocktails this soft evening three weeks ago as Harry warmed to the discussion of what for him was a very serious subject. His voice was gravelly and loud, and he spoke in a measured, inexorable flow, pronouncing his words slowly and distinctly, each syllabic receiving its proper attention.
“Our complete title is The International Order of Alcoholics Courageous.' I am the official President and Founder and San Diego is the home of our charter chapter. I had proposed the idea a few years ago. but the actual constitution was drawn up only this year. We have about seventy-live charter members and eventually I'd like to see the common membership reach into the thousands and include people from all over the world. Our first newsletter will be published this summer and that s when I plan to launch the membership drive. The key to success will be a large membership actively contributing information."
He paused and drank slowly and lovingly from his glass. He was a large man whose hands showed the evidence of hard, heavy work, but he handled his glass as tenderly as if it were a newborn kitten. He licked droplets of fugitive rum from hiding in his mustache, stroked his dark, freewheeling beard pensively, then continued. ”Our officially stated objectives are to explore the science of alcohol, the art of drinking, and hangover research. We want to understand alcohol and alcoholic drinks in relation to their effects on the body and brain, both positive and negative. There is, of course, already a tremendous amount of scientific work completed on this subject and we want to compile the best of it, broaden it if possible, and make it available in easily understandable terminology to our membership. The study of the art of drinking will be the really colorful and entertaining work. We want to compile a scholarly history of drinking, origins and development and so forth, since before the beginning up through today. And we want to include as many rituals and customs from around the world as possible, both old and new ones, primitive and modem. Here, the international nature of the membership will be important. Through the newsletter, we will encourage members to research their own regions and neighborhoods for interesting drinking customs and rituals, and report back. There surely have been thousands of them practiced throughout history that would be fun to do today, and people make up new ones every day. ”
Harry was excited. He jumped from his chair and paced the patio, waving his glass at the hills and at me. Here was a man with a vision. He looked like a preacher trying to save mankind.
“And think of the drinks! The hundreds of different beers, wines, liquors, the crazy homemade stuff, wild recipes, all manner of berries and herbs and grains, and then all the possible combinations? What percentage of all the possible great-tasting drink mixtures are well known? What percentage could you order at an average bar?”
He directed the question at me with a demanding thrust of his glass. Of course, I had no idea and neither did he. though it was clear he was determined to find out.
“A fraction!” he bellowed. “A mere fraction!”
His voice carried richly through the cool dusk.
“But we are going to solve that problem. Once we are well enough established, we will begin collecting a building fund for the construction of the Alcoholics Courageous Research Center and Saloon. It will be as the name implies — a bar and a research facility. In it we'll have our library. which I expect will be quite large, and a bar with a stock of every alcoholic beverage available in the world. And they won't be showpieces: they'll be there for the drinking. We’ll encourage our customers to experiment with new drinks. The bartenders will be instructed to manufacture drinks according to the customers' specifications, and we will record in a scientific manner everything that goes into them. Then we’ll record the customers’ evaluations for the record. Surely we'll need a small computer to handle everything. but it should be worth it.
“And the Saloon will be smokeless. No smoking allowed anywhere in it. or in any other facility we ever run. One of the worst things about going into a public place for a drink is that a large number of people who drink also smoke cigarettes or cigars. It is tremendously annoying to people who like to drink but don't smoke to have nowhere to go outside their homes for a drink w here they will not be overwhelmed by stifling, smoky atmospheres. I think it is the result of a lack of courage on the part of the bar and restaurant owners that there are no smokeless bar-restaurants. They're afraid, of course, that they’ll have no customers if they prohibit smoking, and I assume that they arrive at their evaluations by observing the fog of smoke that seems to accompany crowds in their places. The truth is that if there are a hundred people in a bar and twenty-five of them are smoking, their pollution easily makes it appear as if everyone in the place is smoking. I believe that if an investor had the nerve to build a nice bar-restaurant of the quality of the popular places in Mission Valley, and outlaw smoking on the premises, he would find nonsmoking people crawling out of the woodwork to populate his joint. People who regularly go to bars and curse the smoke but stay for entertainment, companionship, drinks, whatever — those people would be primary customers. Then there'd be the folks who normally stay at home rather than put up with the mess; they would start to come out more often. And I think you’d be surprised how many people who want to quit smoking would come to a smokeless place. Ask anybody who drinks and ever tried to quit smoking — he'll tell you that the worst place to try to stay off the butts is at a bar. And what about the poor jerk who tends bar who doesn’t smoke, or the waiters and waitresses? I guarantee that there aren’t many heavy-industry factories where the workers are exposed so consistently to so much dangerous pollution. What would happen if the government sent an OSHA agent into some of these places on a Friday or Saturday night with pollution-measuring devices? I’ll tell you what would happen: He’d either close the place down or rule that anybody working there would have to wear a respirator.
“People who drink and smoke are more likely candidates for the Anonymous fate than people who just drink. By learning about alcohol, learning to respect it while we enjoy it, by realizing that, like a gun, it can hurt us if we don't handle it properly or don’t pay attention to what we are doing with it. by becoming Courageous with it, we can reduce significantly the problems normally associated with it. Among the many positive possibilities of going Courageous is that we'll have a lot fewer smokestacks puffing themselves silly in places where us holy folks go for a quiet cocktail.
“Here's to smokeless bars!”
He raised his glass to me for a toast, but then realized that both glasses were empty.
“Sorry about that.” he apologized. “Let’s go in the kitchen and I’ll make us another. ”
Harry and I had been introduced by a mutual friend. The friend, knowing that I am always interested in a good story, suggested that he knew where I could find one, that he knew a fellow who had done it all and who. in exchange for a little publicity about his projects and ideas, would be glad to talk to me until my tape recorder's mileage warranty was but a faint memory. He also suggested that the interview might be something more than ordinary. I began to sense accuracy in that prediction.
Harry finished constructing two more attractive rum cocktails and we headed back to the patio to sit under the stars. At his suggestion we turned our chairs to face cast and before long we were treated to a lovely moonrise.
"You know.” he began, “every time I see a clear and pretty moonrise like this one. I’m reminded of how glad I am not to live anymore in that Rotten Apple. New York City. What a pit! I had a very strong attack of revulsion for the place once, on a night like this, and I wrote a little poem about it. I called it ‘Song of Love for New York, Number One hundred Twenty- three.’ ”
He cleared his throat and recited,
- Sittin' on a cold ass.
- Warmin’ my face with a
- quart o’ ale.
- I watch the moon rise
- like an orange turd
- through primeval sludge.
And that's the way I feel about it. Here’s to the Rotten Apple, may it sink into Long Island Sound!”
We toasted and he laughed heartily at himself. I asked him if he was from New York.
“No, I’m from Ohio originally. A bom and bred Buckeye. I did all my work at Ohio State. Got my B. A. in 1951 and I was awarded a Ph.D. in 1955 in literature. I was twenty-six years old. Did my dissertation on Finnegans Wake. I didn’t understand everything about the book, of course, and I still don’t, but I was well ahead of anyone there at the time, thanks in part to the coincidence that I was simultaneously an innocent participant in some of the government’s early tests of hallucinogenic and psychoactive drugs. They paid me a few dollars an hour and gave me several different drugs over a period of months. The drugs included LSD and synthetic psylocibin. Of course, none of the experimenters had ever taken the drug so they had no idea what they were doing, and, at first, neither did I; but in no time it was obvious that these people were digging coal in a diamond mine and didn't know it. The most amazing things would be going on in my brain, spectacular and wondrous things, and the technician would be asking me to count to one hundred by twos, forward and backward — that sort of thing. It was ridiculous. Anyway, I spent a lot of time thinking about Finnegans Wake while I was at the lab under the influence of these drugs, and I developed some tremendous insights. One day, seemingly from nowhere, like a singing telegram from heaven, a small voice whispered into my ear the identity of the narrator in the third chapter. It was a vital key to a very tough puzzle. I received some invaluable assistance from Uncle Sam, though as usual he had no idea what he was doing. Here's to the fools who claim to represent us!”
We toasted the United States government.
“Yes, sir. I might be president of that university today but for a small mistake. I was something of an up-and-coming star at the place. They gave me an assistant professorship and all was going well until the spring of ’56, when I had a bit of a run-in with the campus police. It seems that I was in violation of some obscure regulations on the morning they found me driving on the football practice field, at sunrise, with seven of my students, four of whom were women, in my '51 Packard convertible, all of us quite naked. It had seemed like innocent fun, you know, but my superiors thought otherwise. Quietly they gave me paychecks to cover the remaining weeks of the term, and they asked me to leave town and never return. Here's to the end of my first career!”
We toasted the virtues of a college education.
“And I mean that was the end of it. I didn’t dare apply for another teaching job. Can you imagine my asking Ohio for a recommendation? So, like all smart refugees, I made my way to the city, to New York. There, through some friends, I heard news of an old buddy from State who had some kind of thriving business going out in the country, so I set out to find him and hit him up for a job. His name was Tony. He had been two years ahead of me and was in a premed program. He eventually went on to medical school and I’d been out of touch with him since then. He was an Italian kid, maybe Sicilian, and when nobody else had cars, he always had a new one, something huge and black that his father had bought for him. His father was clearly rich but Tony never talked about what he did for a living. Every once in a while Tony Papa came in from New York to see Tony, and he would load all Tony’s friends into one of two big limousines driven by very quiet, tense, big Italian guys — Tony Papa and Tony in one car and the rest of us in another. We’d drive a long way to the same Italian restaurant every time, where Tony Papa would buy us all a huge meal and let us drink wine and beer, even though we were underage. The waiters brought it to us like we were adults, and the owner, who always ate with us, just smiled as the minors got drunk. And we always had the restaurant to ourselves, no other customers. It took a while for us to get the picture, but we finally realized that Tony Papa was something less than a Boy Scout troop leader, though nobody ever put Tony on the spot about it.
“In addition to being a premed student, Tony was our bookie. That was how I came to meet him in the first place. He’d give out a betting line on anything, but. of course, the main action at State was football. Nobody had much money, so the wagering was fairly tame, just milk money. I mention it to give you the picture of who Tony was — a nice guy, make no mistake, but a long way from sainthood.
“So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I arrived at Tony’s operation near Albany, but I was anyway. The place was a magnificent former estate that he had turned into what I can best describe as a ‘baby farm.’ It was incredible. Tony had, in fact, finished medical school and become an obstetrician, and. apparently with Tony Papa’s backing and influence, he had organized a baby-producing country club. On the outside, the place was billed as an exclusive, private health spa. But inside, it looked like a clinic for unwed aristocrats. He had the finest medical gear and facilities money could buy, and a complement of registered nurses, in a setting straight out of Scott Fitzgerald.
“His deal was to scout the city for young, attractive, white, healthy women who would be willing to become pregnant, live at the farm, then give up the babies for adoption. In return, they would receive a year’s free room and board at this plush estate, first-class medical care, the assurance that the babies would be in good hands after adoption, and a fee of $10,000 each in cash, paid at the end of their terms.
“Tony used three impregnators. studs if you will. They were all big, blond-haired, blue-eyed types, a real Aryan race sort of selection. The women were allowed sex with these men and no one else until they were pregnant, then no sex at all. They weren’t allowed to drink or smoke; they ate a special diet conforming to solid nutritional standards; and they were required to take daily exercise. There were four tennis courts, a large swimming pool, a small gym with expensive exercise equipment, and plenty of territory to walk or run. so the women had no trouble staying fit.
Byrd with a beverage
“Tony's system was to have pedigree babies, guaranteed healthy, strong, beautiful. and white. Then, as now. the black market in babies was a thriving business, but Tony had an angle that put his product in the highest demand and, consequently, at the highest value. His babies were guaranteed to be the top of the line; they were babies with papers, like the best dogs or horses or cattle. And he collected some amazing amounts of money for these babies. Figure it this way: People, even average people, are willing to throw huge bundles of money for houses and cars, and when they’ve got those things in hand, they’ll go out and spend thousands for a boat or on vacations or the like. And simultaneously they’re supporting children. How much, then, is the couple who can’t have children willing to spend to have what, for them, makes all the other material crap pale by comparison. A royal pile, that’s how much, especially when they know to as great an extent as is possible what they are getting. And they know in advance, and therefore can take the baby almost as soon as it is born. Tony had nearly every baby sold well in advance of its birth. And as you might guess, because of Tony Papa’s connections, a good number of the buyers were something more than average citizens. At least a half dozen well-known business and political people have children now in college who were products of Tony’s baby farm. It is wise, however, that we don’t print their names. They would surely sue for libel and win. You see, the baby’s credentials were official New York State adoption documents. Here’s to cooperative bureaucrats!”
We toasted corruption in government.
‘‘To some the business would seem a hideous and damnable enterprise, but it wasn’t that way at all. The customers were well served with a product they could not have otherwise acquired. The babies were placed into good homes, loved, educated, and in several cases destined to inherit power and fortunes. And the women, for the most part, had a deal they couldn’t complain about. They lived with creature comforts few of them would ever know again. They had an excellent library, crafts workshop with a professional teacher in two days a week, first-run movies at least twice a week with old favorites in between, good food, good accommodations, plenty of recreation, endless free time to do with as they chose within the boundaries of the estate, fresh air, good health, no bills, and a fat load of tax-free cash at the end. And you might be surprised how many of them felt little or no remorse at having to give up their babies. For some the experience of childbearing was a satisfying thing in itself and they would not have gone through it if it meant being saddled afterward with the problems and responsibilities of raising the children. I’ve met many women since who felt the same way; they would like to bear a child, but dread the idea of being burdened with it for years after. Others at the farm felt that they were doing a humanitarian service for people who couldn't have children, feeling that if they wanted, they could have as many more children as they liked, so why not have one for someone who couldn’t. Several women did more than one hitch.
“Anyway, with forty to fifty women on hand at all times, Tony was earning a nice piece of change for himself and Tony Papa. When I got there, I immediately volunteered for the job of impregnator, but Tony just laughed like he’d heard that a few times before, and he made me athletic director. The pay wasn’t too good but the setting was lovely and the work was no strain at all. And though it was officially part of the contract, the ban on sexual activity after impregnation was the frequent victim of mutiny by the women. Unofficially, Tony suggested that, if encouraged, I should do what I could in helping the women maintain a healthy spirit and attitude. We both agreed that pent-up frustrations of any kind could be damaging to the unborn.
“Well, son, I might have made a career of that place and then retired there but for bad luck. After I was there a year or so, some unfortunate breakdown in communications occurred among those government officials who watched over the farm with their backs to it and their palms upturned, and the place was raided and shut down. I was in Albany picking up supplies when the news came over the car radio. I had no choice but to point that old Packard south and head for the city again. Poor Tony was arrested, released on bail, and never heard from again. Tony Papa was found a few months later after he had accidentally drowned while trying to swim across the East River carrying twenty feet of dock chain. Here’s to Tony and Tony Papa!”
We drank to the uncertainties in the world of private enterprise. Harry took our empty glasses into the kitchen, leaving me to lounge in the cool of the clear spring night. Perhaps it was the rum or the subtle spell of this most entertaining talker, but the idea of the baby farm sounded quite a bit less obnoxious than I thought it should have. Perhaps it was Harry himself. Though he was clearly no naive innocent — indeed, I had the feeling that one might want to be cautious about scratching this man’s surface too deeply for fear of dark discoveries — so far he seemed a man without malice, a man who had seen life at its best and worst and had chosen to live the best of it in the knowledge that the worst was never too far behind to make a capricious strike. Before I waxed fatally philosophical, Harry came to the rescue with two steaming mugs of coffee charged with a mixture of tequila and Kahlua and piled with hand-whipped cream and chocolate shavings. It was a warming and invigorating drink. I remarked that I thought coffee a true lifesaver and people- mover, and that we might be in just as desperate a condition if the coffee cartel stopped shipment of beans to the U.S. as we would from a similar shortage of petroleum. The suggestion struck a responsive reflex in Harry.
“You know, I’m damn tired of ail this panic about shortages. Irrational panic is all it is, worthless doomsaying. It’s the favorite talk of overweight, spoiled Americans who have to take a Valium every time somebody suggests a reduction in the standard of gluttony they have chosen to accustom themselves to. I think it quite amusing to see how easily these half-assed foreign countries can turn America into a supplicating, blubbering baby. If we were all a little leaner, physically, psychologically, and industrially, we’d be a hell of a lot more efficient and maybe a necessary touch meaner. A little meanness goes a long way in the face of adversity. I made up a little proverb about this called 'A Shortage Story.'
- Once upon a time, a man owned a blacksmith shop. He
- loved his work, and he prospered until the mass
- production of the automobile drove the horses from
- the streets, and there were no more hooves to be shod.
- He began training to be a barber, but an epidemic of
- baldness among men forced him to drop out of barber’s
- He became a soldier, only to despair for a lack of enemies.
- Desperate for stability, he decided to marry and work in
- a factory, but a shortage of women looking for husbands
- drove him beyond his limit of patience, and he took
- to drink.
- A shortage of barstools forced him to stand morning till
- night at the bar. and. gradually, his feet became
- tremendously large from the constant pressure of his
- blood collecting gravityward. His heart and brain
- were badly weakened from lack of blood, and one day
- he died; but. by then, his feet were so large that
- he could not fall over, and his corpse spent the
- remainder of the afternoon and evening leaning lifeless
- on a bottle of light lager.
“Poor guy,” he laughed, “he had it tough even when he was dead. Here’s to keeping lean and mean!”
We toasted nasty joggers. His pale blue eyes were electric in the dim light. He was having fun with his audience; he seemed well practiced at having fun.
“Actually,” he continued, “it’s no secret that adversity breeds creativity. After the demise of the farm, I had some financially tough times in the city. And I did some of my best work then. This was early ’59 and on. I took odd jobs and spent my considerable spare time writing, sculpting, and inventing. I sent lots of editorials and opinions in to the newspapers under fictitious names, but with an impressive description of what kind of an expert I was on the particular subject, complete with a list of my credentials, degrees, and formerly held positions of influence. I had two long magazine articles published, both on military and political matters relevant at the time, both by the same retired, nonexistent Air Force colonel. an expert on foreign affairs. I still do a little of that. Not long ago that know-it-all New York paper printed an editorial by the same fellow. If they’d bothered to research the author’s references even cursorily, they would have realized that the guy had to be at least 102 years old. But I guess if the writer sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, the editor figures he must be legitimate. And I wrote some damn good stuff; under the official-sounding pseudonym, they had to take it. That’s the bitch of the thing. If I’d sent the same article in under my real name, they wouldn’t have even read it; they’d just have said, ‘Who the hell is Harry Byrd and what makes this nobody think he’s got the line on the cold war?’ And into the shitcan it would have gone. I had more trouble cashing the checks than I did evaluating U.S. foreign policy. Here’s to unsuspecting editors!”
We toasted the harried, powerful few whose job is to sell papers and print the truth, in that order.
“I wrote poems and a little fiction, but what I really had fun with were sculptures and inventions. And that’s where I started to make a little money. The sculpture wasn’t realist figure-modeling or the like, but rather oddball constructions. I made things that were usually humorous in some way. I did a series of aquariums using wood-cabinet television sets with the volume and channel control knobs wired to pumps and lights for the aquarium. They were very popular among people who kept fish and wanted a different look to the aquarium, something as exotic as the fish. I redesigned common household items to make them more complicated and funny looking instead of less. In most cases, they were not likely to be used, though most could have done a job. My classic was a reading light for one, designed to fill the need for a light that could be used by a person reading in bed without disturbing another person sleeping in the bed, that would light your reading matter only and not spill into your bed-partner’s eyes. I started with a black, heavy, padded baseball catcher’s mask. Into the mouth area I inserted a short piece of chrome automobile tail pipe whose front end was sliced at a rakish angle. Into the pipe went the light socket and a small decorator bulb with an obscene-looking drip at its point. I wired the socket to a double-armed open knife switch, which was mounted on the forehead of the mask, and the electrical cord and plug ran from that. The switch looked like a miniature of the evil thing they always pull in the movies to activate the electric chair. To read by it, one had only to put the mask on, plug it in to a conventional wall socket, and engage the switch without sticking the fingers onto the bare contacts, though it was impossible for the wearer to see the switch without looking in a mirror. I always found it rather exciting to have to feel around for the thing. If you could get the switch on without electrocuting yourself, the light would shoot straight out of the pipe in a narrow, controlled beam onto your book or whatever. It would disturb someone in bed next to you only if you turned to look or speak, though it was not easy to talk through the thing. It was really a damn funny contraption, but one critic called it the most antisocial thing he had ever seen. You can’t please everybody. I gave it away finally as a wedding present.
“The inventing was a natural outgrowth of the constructions. An inevitable result of redesigning common gadgets for fun was that I often found ways to make them better, or I’d end up with something new for which there had been no previous need. The latter, of course, is the backbone of the marketing system in this country — make something that the people don't need, then barrage them senseless with advertising until they’re convinced that they do need it. Anyway, I came up with several small items that I patented and sold for a decent return. I still receive royalties from a few of them.
“Though not the kind of thing I would include in a resume, one of my favorite inventions was the Stinkbox. I guess it’s another in the class of humorous but perhaps antisocial contrivances. You’ve heard of or seen the laugh box, the little box that plays a tape of contagious laughter after you pull and release its cord. Well, the Stinkbox was the same sort of thing, but with a little different twist. They were sold with capsules of sulphur dioxide, and you would load one capsule into the firing chamber of the box for each use. Then you would sneak the box into a party or other social affair, set the box in hiding in the room, pull the cord, and walk away quickly without being detected as the saboteur. Instead of laughter, the box played a long, awful sound resembling embarrassing flatulation, and simultaneously. a hammer in the box broke the capsule, sending an abhorrent stench wafting through the room. Sulphur dioxide is that gas that sooner or later somebody always makes by accident in chemistry class. It smells like rotten eggs or worse, and small amounts are sufficient to clear a room of people. The Stinkbox was quite popular for a time with fraternities. I made a few dollars on it also, but it came back to haunt me. During a very cozy dinner I had arranged at my apartment for a lady I sorely wished to impress, a Stinkbox was clandestinely pushed through my front door by a dear friend who had a key. The lady was not impressed. It was then that I realized that the very structure of society as we knew it could have been threatened if the Stinkbox fad were allowed to grow, so I stopped the business before it went into full production. But if I ever get mad enough at the way things are going. I might just revive the thing. Here’s to the power of the Stinkbox!”
We toasted the weapons of urban guerrilla warfare. Our drinks were finished and Harry went for more. Night was well on, and as I worked on my moon tan many questions about Harry drifted through my mind. Was he married? Did he have children? Did he have an income? How did he come to live in Bonita? How much time had he spent in jail? He surely had to have been arrested for something. But I began to wonder if it would be wise to ask these questions. Did I have the stamina to carry on through the answers? Harry impressed me as a fellow who, if prodded even slightly, might feel obligated to spin his entire autobiography in careful detail, no matter how long it might take. Was I that Courageous?! thought not, at least not yet, anyway, and I decided to let the conversation take Harry’s chosen course. So far, he seemed to be addressing only certain headlines, and I felt that would be fine for the first meeting. Afterward I could work out until I was in shape for more. The rich aroma of two more tequila and Kahlua coffees preceded Harry’s return.
“Some clear night, no?” he asked rhetorically. “On nights like this, I sometimes wander up over that hill to the south, there, and watch the lights of Tijuana. They’re quite pretty, spread up and down the facing hillsides the way they are. Poor town. that. What wasted country Baja is in general. Though I’m told the idea is not original. I’ve long thought that the U.S. should make a real attempt to buy the entire Baja peninsula. It's such a logical piece of manifest destiny, and so much more accessible to us than to the Mexicans. The cost would be phenomenal, of course; I can’t imagine how many zeros would be in the price, but the potential return would also be astronomical. And our government need not bear the cost: Let a huge coalition of private investment factions put up the money; then let them promise Mexico a percentage of the new state’s yearly income, forever. Can you imagine what the acquisition would mean? You’d have a piece of land nearly the size of Florida, with a climate better than San Diego’s, the Pacific Ocean on one side and a spectacular gulf on the other, and nearly all of it virgin territory! It would be the equivalent of discovering Florida for the first time in 1980! The only thing the place lacks is water; but with its two other major resources being sunshine and sea, I think you have the problem solved. Just perfect a system for desalinating salt water on a big enough scale using the heat of the sun, and you will have more water than Seattle. And I think that the way to attack the problem is not by trying to build huge facilities to desalinate masses of water and then selling the water back to the consumer. Rather, build desalinators no bigger than compact cars and install one on every building lot. Then install two storage tanks underground per lot — one for fresh water, one for salt water — and link the saltwater tanks to the main feed lines from the sea. When a person buys a house or just a lot, the price includes the cost of the tanks and the desalinator. And after that, the homeowner has all the fresh water he ’ll need for the cost of pumping the salt water from the sea, a cost that could be reduced considerably by using the power of the tides to assist the pumping process. That’s where the storage tank for salt water would help. In addition to its function as an emergency stockpile in case of problems with the feed lines, the tank will take on water in relation to the pumping action of the tides; that is. as much as is possible, it will take on water only when the tides are doing the pumping, in a manner similar to using peak- and off-peak-rated electricity. Of course, industry and larger housing and business complexes will have to scale up their desalinating procedures, but it can be done.
“I think Jimmy Carter and Lopez- Portillo should get together at Hussong’s Cantina to discuss the deal. A few tequila shooters and some cerveza should ease international differences quite well. After the sale, you’d see the biggest land grab since Oklahoma. Can you envision the drooling real estate agents lined up by the thousands at the border, revving their Toyotas, charged up with nearly lethal levels of ‘positive mental attitude,' waiting for the starter to yell, ‘Goal!' What a scene! You know, if everyone who sells real estate in San Diego left town at once, there would only be about twenty-five people still here, not counting children, though I’m afraid the disease affects even them. A few days ago I overheard two kids bragging to each other about how fast their families’ last house had sold. ‘Mine closed escrow in ten days.’ ‘Oh, yeah? Well, mine closed in a week! ’ It was depressing. Here’s to houses that are homes!”
We toasted an endangered species.
“Back to New York. I carried on in that city for several years and finally left after completing the most unusual of my ventures there, the Video Toilet. It started as a joke. I drew up a funny sketch of a naked, fat man sitting with headphones on in front of a bank of TV monitors and a director’s master table. Below him were several video cameras mounted at various levels on a frame that held up the director’s seat. At the bottom there was a pool of water in which there was an underwater camera. Accompanying the drawing was an advertising-type write-up extolling the virtues of the Video Toilet — how you could make home movies of the action, close-ups, instant replays, slow-motion, stop-action, how much fun it would be to have parties at your house and let all your guests use it, and so on. It was all pretty amusing, and I remarked to someone that I was convinced that if there really were such a thing, at least one person somewhere, and probably more than one, would be willing to pay money for it. The reply was that such a set-up would be extremely expensive and that nobody with that kind of money would be weird enough to want one. We argued for a while and finally made a bet: We would place an advertisement for the Video Toilet in one of the more popular sex publications in New York, and if we got even one response from a person who could prove he could afford it, I would win the bet and the other would pay for the ad. Otherwise, I would have to pay. So I drew a good picture, wrote up the copy, and included an approximate price of $35,000. This was 1968. We placed the ad and waited, expecting that the whole matter would end w hen the bet was settled; we never actually considered the possibility of building one.
“Well, friend. I had no trouble winning that bet. Within a month, a half dozen people had responded who would have been able to write checks out of petty cash for the 35K, and they all wanted the damn toilet right away. Even I was surprised. And one of the people was so insistent and so ready to pay the original money and any extra costs that I decided to go ahead with the project. I teamed up with an unemployed apprentice architect and we went to work.
“Our client was a psychiatrist who. we found out, already owned pieces of several sex shops on Forty-second Street, a discreet silent partner. He owned an impressive, three-story townhouse in the upper East Side of Manhattan. I was a little frightened when I saw what a lavish place he had and how much tearing up we were going to have to do to put this toilet in, but the fellow was so calm and easygoing about it all I just said. 'What the hell. If he’s not worried. I guess I shouldn’t be.’ So with a couple of professional carpenters to lead the way, we started at the second floor bathroom and ripped out a shaft through the first floor and into the basement. The plumber set a complicated flushable pool arrangement into the basement floor, and the carpenters closed in the four sides of the shaft and built a nifty step-up toilet seat frame that suspended the seat cleanly out over the center of the shaft. The electrician and the video man mounted lights, microphones, and three small cameras at various levels in the shaft, and one camera in a watertight case in the pool. The director’s table was a scaled- down version of the kind you’d find in any televison studio. It had four monitors and the master screen, and all the sound and video mixing systems the user would ever need. The construction went surprisingly quickly, and the only consistent slowdowns came when I and the crew had to take time out to laugh ourselves silly with jokes about the crazy thing we were building. We never made the jokes when the psychiatrist was around, though; he wouldn't have laughed. I don’t think he thought the thing was at all funny. I had the impression that he thought of it more as a laboratory.
“When finished, the toilet was a bizarre sight. We took the psychiatrist up and explained how everything worked, and, for the first time since I’d met him, I saw that the normally impassive little fellow was getting excited. His hands trembled and a flush came onto his face. His speech seemed to come quicker and quicker and his voice began to squeak as the pitch went higher. He said he wanted to try the system out right then, and, as we left him alone in the room. I had the feeling that Mr. Hyde was straining to burst out of this helpless Dr. Jekyll. We waited in the living room for a report on the system, but after an hour, the man hadn’t appeared and we left discreetly. I sent him a bill the next day for $55,000 and within a week a bonded deliveryman brought a check for the full amount to my apartment. A month later the psychiatrist called and. once again possessed of his soothing, self-assured Dr. Jekyll voice, said that he had referred to me two friends of his. one in Miami and one in Los Angeles, who wanted the Video Toilet and who were willing to fly the original construction crew to the new jobs and pay their expenses for the duration of the construction. Both people agreed to have the toilets installed on a time-and-materials cost basis. It was too good an offer to have refused, and I organized the projects and took a healthy commission on each, but I couldn’t bring myself to meet the clients or visit the jobs. I was not anxious to meet any more strange agents than I absolutely had to.”
I remarked that some would consider Harry himself a bit strange for coming up with the idea of the Video Toilet in the first place.
“Well, they’d be wrong,” he replied. “I’m just an average guy trying to get from Alpha to Bravo, from Monday to Tuesday. Here’s to the good people, there are damn few of us left!”
We toasted the world’s average folk, people like Harry Byrd.
“The business with the toilet was the end of it for me in the city. I said to myself, 'Byrd, there must be some better way to direct your energies than designing toys for perverts. ’ And I figured that I’d have a better chance of finding that direction if I were someplace other than New York. So, in the great tradition of the American pioneer in search of a better life, I packed my wagon and went west. In this case, my wagon was a 1965 Dodge convertible, a beauty that I bought brand-new when the old Packard died. I had a wonderful drive in that car to California. Two hundred and twenty thousand miles since its birth, I still have the old jewel. Cosmetically it’s a wreck, but it still functions beautifully as my truck. It's a little like the bald eagle or the grizzly bear, a dying breed, a vanishing symbol of the once great spirit of America. It was another symptom of the continuing deterioration of this country’s free-flying spirit that the auto industry phased out the convertible car and went on with the more conservative sunroof arrangements. It was a sad day when thejast one rolled down the assembly line. I wrote a little lament afterward called ‘Tourmaster Disaster.’
- From Detroit there are no more convertibles.
- The ragtop is as dead as the head of John Kennedy.
- They say it’s dangerous these days to ride the open air, smiling skyward.
- But oh! the brilliant red & chrome cruiser! The shining windwheel!
- Will it fly no more the sky of our grandparents?
- Is there truly a new American of the plains Who bottles his brain up in ajar wherever he goes.
- In his car with a tight lid on wherever he goes.
- Not to let on
- his fear
- of the wind,
- the lonesome high freedom song of his youthful wildest dreams,
- blowing through his car,
- rattling the rafters of his aging mind's
- Yessir, friend and spades.
- From behind these shades. I say unto you That if God a'mighty had wished me more than this here
- I mean, in fact, had He meant me to fly these skies, windblown and blue.
- I’d surely have been airborne without my skullcapped!
“Here’s to the return of the ragtop!”
We toasted the forthcoming American Renaissance.
“So here I am in California. When I arrived in 1970. the first thing I did was buy twenty-five acres of country up north in Bella Vista, a little northeast of Redding. I’ve spent most of my time since working on the place, planting trees, building a house, farming a few vegetables. I bought this place here in Bonita in ’74 for investment, and I try to keep it rented. But the more often I come down here the more I like the San Diego area. If Alcoholics Courageous starts to take off. I’ll be spending a lot more time here.
“And I think AC should do well. In addition to being a good-time organization, we can make significant contributions to the science and art of one of humanity’s ancient and enduring pastimes. For example. I’m only half joking when I talk about the Alcoholics Courageous theory of evolution. It is not inconsistent with Darwinian principles to suggest that the so-called 'missing link’ was not necessarily a relatively abrupt physical mutation of an ape species, but rather the consequence of a gradual behavioral change induced by intellectual enlightenment. I mean that it is not necessary to believe that the shift into evolutionary overdrive came suddenly one day when an ape was born hairless and possessing an intellect vastly superior to those of his peers. Instead, we can surmise that one day an ape of average intelligence got outside of his apeness through an enlightening accident, that his perception of his world was expanded, that he realized, somehow, that there was more to life than scrounging for food and making little apes. One possible scenario for such a change would be that the ape in question, by accident, managed to ingest brain-altering chemicals, mind-expanding drugs. It is possible that he could have eaten a psychoactive mushroom or mold and had significant changes occur in his mind of the kind that today we loosely refer to as mind-expanding. I think, however. that in that case the ape would have been more confused and disoriented in unpleasant ways than anything else. But let’s say. instead, that the ape is a long way from his campground, having been run off and chased by predators; he is weary and extremely thirsty, and there is no water to be found. After a while, he comes upon a hollow stump in which water had collected and into which fruit had fallen, rotted, and fermented. He has seen such water before but the smell of the poison alcohol always told his keen senses that it was not for drinking. But now his senses are dull and tired and his thirst overpowers what’s left of them.
”He plunges his face into the small pool of sticky liquid and he drinks deeply. Relieved of thirst, he squats on the ground, leans on the stump, and slowly the inevitable, warm, flowing glow of careless wellbeing surges like a slow tide through his brain and body. Soon he experiences contentment previously associated with the ritual of eating a bellyful of fruit, then lounging in the sun. But there is something different about this; there is an energy that goes with it, a reckless sort of energy, a feeling of strength, of power, and a strange new perception of the world, which he probably does not understand at first. He drinks more of the juice and discovers that it almost tastes good, and after another drink, it starts to taste better than anything. In no time he's drunk as a sailor, careening happily around the woods. He eventually returns to camp with an amazing discovery tucked into his awakening ape-brain. He resumes his life as an average ape but soon tires of the normal ape pleasures, and one day goes off alone in search of stumps with water and rotted fruit. After long searching, he finds several and drinks himself happy again and again.
“The daily routines of ape life are soon far less important to this ape than is drinking fruitwater. Simultaneously, he discovers that he can place his own fruit into stumps or pools in rock where there is collected water but no fallen fruit. He also discovers that the magic of the fermentation does not happen immediately, that he must wait for the fruit to rot. Where there had previously been no need, he discovers how to carry water from a stream to a stump. He learns that certain fruits produce a more pleasing concoction than others. He learns that mashed fruit ferments faster than whole fruit, that peeled fruit works faster than unpeeled. He begins to use rocks for mashing and sticks and sharp rocks for peeling and husking. Now, where there had been only hunters and gatherers who went to the source whenever they wanted sustenance, there is an animal who creates the source, who uses the rudiments of tools, who learns not only that certain things are. but why or how they are. who develops systems and procedures for reproducing desired effects, and, perhaps most importantly, who pursues consciously and of his own choice an activity requiring work that has nothing to do with the basic issues of survival, that is above and beyond those issues, that is pursued strictly for his own entertainment, enjoyment, and enlightenment.
“It is not hard to imagine that other apes would eventually imitate the first, discover the enjoyment of drinking the fermented fruit juice, and follow the master’s systems for making their own. It is also easy to see how the invention of the first tools for carrying water or mashing fruit would lead to improved tools and new tools, and that some of these would surely find their way into other uses, especially as the apes became accustomed to using them. The inevitable, all-important by-product of this inventiveness would be, no doubt, rudimentary logical thinking — thought as we know it, as opposed to reflex and instinct. Once they had that, they had everything; the bittersweet intricacies of life as we have inherited it are the simple results of new discoveries growing from previous ones over the course of a few million years.
“And I say it all began when one lucky ape got drunk for the first time, and, like most of us apes, he enjoyed it and wanted more. Here’s to the world’s first winemaker, the forefather of civilization!”
We toasted the single-minded inventor of labors of love.
“At least one thing has certainly remained unchanged over those millions of years of change,” Harry continued seriously, “and you and I both know what it is: Every time that first ape woke up in the morning after a long night of bellying up to the local stump, he had a hangover. And no amount of evolution has altered our species in a way that would make us impervious to the malady. In San Diego in 1980 it is as certain as it was way back when: if you drink enough, you will be hung over. Here is where Alcoholics Courageous may serve its most important purpose. We are determined to find a cure for the hangover, a sure-fire, simple and complete remedy for that most unjust ailment. We are also interested in information about precautionary and preventative measures, short of the obvious; but the most important answer will be to the question of w hat do you do after the damage has been done, after you have been carried away by the moment and have disregarded all preventions and precautions, and the indescribable awfulness of the raging hangover is upon you like a ruthless surprise attack from space.
“Contribution of information from the membership will likely go a long way in this. Everyone likes to think that he has some angle on curing his own hangovers, and a pooling of these ideas may lead us to some common ground. But I’m certain that one reason that no universal, popular hangover remedy exists is because no money has ever been offered for scientific research on the subject. The most brilliant research Scientists in the world wake up hung over now and then, and, like everyone else, they -lie in bed in pain, wishing that someone would invent a cure. I'd like to see a huge fundraising drive begun under the auspices of AC to finance formal and extensive scientific research solely on the subject of alcohol hangover cures. Do you realize what it would mean to the people of the world to be rid of hangovers? What a boon to mankind! What a wonderful day that would be! The cure would be Nobel Prize material. I’d hike a backpack full of dead and rotting starfish from here to Cape Horn if it would help find that cure. Here’s to the person who cures the hangover!”
We toasted the next Jonas Salk.
Harry stood up and stretched his long frame as if he were warming up for a run. He drew long, strong breaths of the lovely, crisp night air.
“Pretty night,’’ he announced. “Let’s have a nightcap.” He took the two mugs and headed for the kitchen. At the door he turned back. “Remind me to sing you a new song I just wrote about San Diego. It’s called ‘A Town in Northern Mexico.’ ”
I looked up at the moon, which was nearly halfway across the sky, and wondered how it would look setting. I imagined I had a fair chance of finding out, first-hand. I checked my gadget bag for recording tape; there were four cassettes left. That should be enough, one way or another. I thought, as I listened to the rasping, complaining noise from my recording machine grow slowly, steadily louder. I began making notes on possible hangover cures.