Category Archives: Bathroom Biography

I died, once.

First things first – there is no white light. Forget it. It just gets dark and silent.

Second thing – after it was all over, my heart doctor told me that death was one of the possible side effects of the drugs they had me on. Why do you suppose he didn’t tell me that before I died?

Third thing – OK, so I’m alive again. Death, apparently, is reversible.

Anne, my wife, was at work, and she had the car. I worked from home, and some mornings I would get right to it at 6 AM, and then shower at lunch time. Or not, depending on who might have to physically interface with me that day. This was one of those late-shower days. I’m finishing up in the shower and surprisingly tired. Noting that I wasn’t that dirty to start with, I figured it had to be something other than the effort to scrub.

I have an inconvenient heart condition known as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. It causes an occasional rapid, irregular heart beat and shortness of breath, like I suddenly got real old. (Instead of getting real old slowly, which is the actual case.) At first I dismissed the symptoms as a-fib, but they felt different than the usual episode, so I called Anne to come and get me to go to the hospital.

I must have really been hurting because I never volunteer to go to the hospital. My default cure for anything is to wait and see. By the time we got there, I was in pretty bad shape, even considering my normal shape isn’t all that notable. As a 54-year-old male with chest pains, I jumped right to the head of the line. Even so, they took the time to be sure I could afford to be diagnosed and treated, and then wheeled me back to the emergency room, Anne coming along without any objection from anyone.

The nurse was connecting me to machines, and I was trying to look recuperative, smiling as best I could, to calm Anne. When the nurse had plugged in some device, she stopped and watched the displays behind me and then turned, calling to someone, “Doctor, you’d better look at this.”

I’ve never thought I was immortal, but for some reason, I haven’t really ever had a fear of death. It is simply too hypothetical too me. (See Asthma-induced Hallucinations, below.) And I wasn’t scared at that moment, just curious and concerned for Anne, who was still at the foot of the bed, holding my foot and trying to be brave.

A woman in a lab coat with a stethoscope came over and looked at the display, and I heard her yell a word that you only want to hear on TV – stat. It came at the end of a short sentence that I don’t recall, and was obviously an order because the next thing I knew, there were people hustling all around me, doing things in an orderly if somewhat frantic way.

Doctor using defibrillator on patientThe action was sort of stop motion. Everyone doing something urgently, then they would all freeze and stare at the monitors. Then someone would mutter something and they’d start all over again. They repeated the process several times before the doctor told me that I was in ventricular fibrillation and they were going to have to use the defibrillator. She said they usually didn’t do this without some kind of prep, anesthetic or sedatives or something, but there was no time.

“This is gonna hurt,” she said. And then she said “clear.” And it hurt.

Here’s how it hurt. Imagine an infinite number of Mike Tyson’s at the prime of his career. Imagine that they surround you from every direction, from inside your body and out, that your cells have all somehow become Mike Tyson. Then imagine that they all hit you in the chest at the same time.

Anne said I levitated, a hang time Michael Jordon would envy. I remember that much. I remember shouting, “Whoa! Jesus!” And I remember seeing Anne so scared I could have died from sadness.

Then there was no white light. All that happened was that my vision narrowed from the outside in until it was dark, but I was dead before I went blind.

When I woke 30 or 40 minutes later, Anne was at my side. She told me they’d used the defibrillator again, and got my heart going.

And probably hers as well.


Leave a comment

Filed under Bathroom Biography, John Darrin

Asthma-induced Hallucinations

I don’t have asthma, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never taken asthma medication.

David, our resident pre-med study machine in college, discovered Asthmador in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Asthmador was an olive-green powder meant to be burned like incense, and the smoldering fumes inhaled to clear the respiratory system. According to the article he found, when mixed with a liquid and ingested orally, it resulted in “mild, hallucinatory euphoria.” (

That was all we needed to know.

The first step was to acquire some, and I saw two problems with that. First, it would cost money, probably a lot of it, and I didn’t have much. Any, really. Second, a bunch of college students traipsing into the small-town pharmacy, none of them wheezing, and buying Asthmador was bound to attract attention. Law enforcement attention, in my mind. Asthmador wasn’t a prescription drug, and drinking it wasn’t even a misdemeanor, yet I imagined local police (with whom I’d had experience – see My Life of Crime Part 1) would know something was up and we’d be under 24-hour surveillance.

asthmador1So it was decided that the others would pitch in and go buy it, and I would be the guinea pig and drink it. I waited in the apartment, ready to beat it down the back stairs when the SWAT team showed up. Instead, my roommates returned with what looked like a tin can of Nestle’s Quick, complete with the pry-off metal lid, and told me no one even noticed.

It was about a pound of powder, and it cost something like 89¢. So much for money; so much for cops. David took charge and made it into a scientific experiment. He measured the powder and mixed it with orange juice, using ratios he didn’t explain. The yellow juice and olive powder combined to make a soft pastel green drink, and a tentative sip revealed a sweet, creamy orange flavor – quite tasty.

Maybe it was the bella donna.

Under David’s scrutiny, I drank half the glass and he noted the time. And then, in order to fully demonstrate just how foolish I was about the whole process, I drank the rest. I didn’t really hallucinate, but that’s probably because I didn’t drink enough of it. I didn’t die, either, which definitely means I didn’t drink enough of it.

I spent the next four or five hours horizontal on the day bed in our living room, eyes closed, not moving a muscle, paralyzed. A party developed around me, and I could hear everything with extraordinary clarity, I could smell every cigarette or joint or perfume. I don’t know if I could feel, because I didn’t even try to move.

Michael, our guitar-hero friend, seemed to be the only person who noticed me, and he was very concerned. He sat and talked to me, he asked over and over if I was OK. I didn’t answer. I just lay there in my eyelid-sealed solitude just enjoying seeing the sounds.

Youth is accompanied by a sense of immortality, the conviction that nothing bad will happen to you. You hear about car wrecks, or you go to some distant relative’s funeral, but that couldn’t happen to you. It’s not a sense of immortality – it’s a lack of appreciation of the nature of cause and effect. Today’s lesson in cause and effect is that if you drink poison in sufficient quantities, you will die.

We were all well aware of that, but it never occurred to us to check the Asthmador label and see what we might be drinking. Later, when it was all over, we did, and found the active ingredient was the aforementioned bella donna. The same stuff Duncan the First of Scotland used it to poison the entire invading Danish army in 1035. I’m not making this up. King Sven was pissed.


Filed under Bathroom Biography, John Darrin

My Life of Crime – Part 1

I have been arrested on three continents. Sort of.

Arrest 1 – Hamilton, NY, June, 1967.

The charge was moving a park bench. The story is when and how and why.

It was my brother’s graduation from Hamilton College (located in Clinton, NY, about 20 miles from Hamilton, NY where I went to college at Colgate University. Confusing, isn’t it?) He was one year ahead of me, and after a day of family and friends celebrations, my friend and I drove the 20 miles to my apartment in Hamilton. Which was, of course, closed for the summer and the electricity turned off.

We had been drinking a bit, and I substituted an tire iron for a key and broke into my own home. Since we’d only drunk a bit, there was a bit more to be drunk, so we sat in the second story bay window overlooking the main street and finished our beers. Disposal of the empties was quite easy – there was a trash can on the sidewalk below my window, so we just launched the cans, hitting some, missing others.

When we tired of this, and of sitting in a dark apartment, we went outside to the park across the street to finish our last cans. The park was boring, so we took the bench and set it in the middle of Route 12B and sat there. The first car that came by was, of course, the town cop, who was also a classmate of mine at Colgate whom we fondly referred to as The Shrew. He was quite patient with us and told us to put the bench back and go to bed. Cops did that kind of thing back in 1967.

We complied, and then spent some time laughing about the experience, and exchanging good-natured jokes about The Shrew. Next to the open window. The one The Shrew was standing under while he examined the debris around the trash can, and determined our names by the cursive urine trails in the street. Turns out The Shrew didn’t have the sense of humor I’d given him credit for.

Next thing we know, The Shrew and his partner are clomping up the stairs to my apartment and banging on the door and shouting – I swear this is the truth – “Come out! We know you’re in there!”

We didn’t come out. Instead we feigned sleep, and heard one of the cops say to the other, “You wait here while I get a warrant.” Not fully understanding the seriousness of that statement, we did go to sleep, only to be awakened later by two angry cops and my landlord in his bathrobe.

The Shrew took us to the cop station, really an old house on the other side of the park, unoccupied at 4 AM on a Sunday morning. When he went to unlock the door to take us in and book us, he was so angry that he twisted the key too hard and snapped it off, locking all of us out of the station. That did nothing to improve his attitude.

So instead, we went to the lobby of the very nice Colgate Inn and were booked there. I guess he decided misery loves company because he woke the Justice of the Peace and took us to his home to try us on the spot. The JP, also in his bathrobe, fined us $40 each, a lot of money for two college students in 1967.

Fortunately, my friend had just cashed his paycheck and had a $100 bill in his wallet, another very unusual sight at that time. He casually took it out, tossed it on the JP’s desk, and asked, “Got change?”

I never said we were mature. Or even very nice.


Filed under Bathroom Biography, John Darrin

Our 20th Anniversary

It was probably my second-best idea ever, the best being marrying my wife, Anne, in the first place. For our 20th anniversary, I used every frequent-flyer and hotel reward I had, and we spent a week at a resort in Palm Springs, California. As a surprise, I arranged a wedding with the help of a romantic concierge.

All of Anne’s frequent flyer miles came from the only airline she would fly – Air Valium. She took the first pill in the car on the way to the airport to catch the transcontinental flight in our First-Class seats. The instructions from the doctor said to take it thirty minutes before departure, like an airsick pill for the mind, but she decided she needed a pill just to get into the airport. The second pill at the gate was probably a little more sedation than required, and as we boarded, the stewardess asked if she was all right. I briefly explained the Air Valium theory, and she looked at me like I was doing date rape.

Somewhere over Colorado, Anne sobered up, and for the rest of the trip, she kept a grip on my arm like a tourniquet and wanted everyone to sit down so they wouldn’t tip the plane over. Somewhere over Arizona, the stewardess came to appreciate my theory and was offering Anne champagne. She mixed it with a little, a very little, orange juice, and Anne started enjoying flying.

Our ground-floor suite on the golf course in a first-class resort in Palm Springs is just what you’d expect – extravagance. It was bigger than our first apartment, and we had a dining room with a table that would seat six. Among all the other little touches, they provided two silk bathrobes that were so soft it was decadent. In the mornings, Anne and I sit on the patio wearing our robes, watching the ducks and geese in the pond not twenty yards away.

Fowl, gathering for the attack.

Fowl, gathering for the attack.

One morning Anne decided she would feed the fowl. When the Cheerios ran out, they chased her, pecking at her toes and at her ass, and she ran across the fairway with the robe flowing behind her like a naked superhero’s cape. She might have gotten away with little notice if only she hadn’t been screaming.

Anne trying not to cry with joy.

Anne trying not to cry with joy.

When it was time for the surprise ceremony, I tricked her into getting all dressed up by telling her that because of my Platinum level frequent traveler status, we were invited to a private cocktail party where she would get to meet Peter Allen, who was performing at the resort. So we dressed and went to a private meeting room, and on the way, I gave her an anniversary card. Hallmark’s hyperbole was never more evident, and at the end of their description of the perfect marriage, I had hand-written “If you had it to do over again, would you?” She said, “of course,” and got the surprise of her life when I took her up on it.

After that, whenever my son wanted to do a little good-natured bitching at me, he would complain that he wasn’t invited to the wedding. I finally shut him up when I told him that was because we skipped the reception, and went right to the honeymoon.

1 Comment

Filed under Bathroom Biography, John Darrin