“Put Out The Fire In Your Head”- With Patti Griffin’s Not Alone In Mind
By Bradley Fox, Junior
[Sometimes this generational divide between parent and child that occurs naturally once the younger generation comes of age and begins to make its own way, make its own mistakes, and have its own problems grappling with day to day life in a hectic, dangerous world can only be deciphered by someone from that generation. That is the case here with the story of Sam Lowell’s youngest son, Justin’s. Sam told me his side of the story, really his take on Justin’s story since Sam had had little directly to do with what got Justin into his difficulties. I tried to write it up as a cautionary tale of sorts to help inform Sam’s, my generation, the generation that the late Peter Markin, our mutual friend who passed on under mysterious circumstances down in Mexico after the 1960s had ebbed and we had lost the cultural battles, called the Generation of ’68 about what was troubling our children. I failed in that effort.
I told my son, Bradley, Junior (with Sam’s permission), who knew Justin when they were younger, the details to see if he could write something that would make sense to Sam and me about what makes their generation tick. As for the grandkids, forget it between the Internet and its subset social media and the trials and tribulations they confront in an extremely dangerous world going forward it would take, as young Bradley told me, the minds of Freud, Einstein, and Rapper Rocco combined to even know what subliminal language they were speaking. Here’s my Bradley’s take on the whole mess [BF, Senior]:
Justin Lowell had been a late love child of Sam and his third wife since divorced, Rebecca, and as such, with eight years between him and the next youngest child, Brenda, and hence eight years of being the only child at home after she left for college, was pampered by her, cocooned Sam said. And frankly had been by Sam as well although the number one thing all of his children from his three failed marriages said of him was that he was a good and generous father but he that was a distant figure always off doing some lawyerly business and not around enough to get rid of the that foggy picture of him. But enough of Sam Lowell’s failings since this is about how Justin navigated the world not Sam.
Of course Justin had all the advantages that accrued to a financially successful small town lawyer’s son from living in a nice large house with his own room (and later own rooms since he took over Brenda’s as well), a good if not great college education (good since Justin was not a particularly studious type like myself and unlike Brenda who gained entrance to Harvard with no problem), and all the diversions that leafy suburban life in Riverdale could bring. All through high school at Riverdale High we were very close buddies so I knew a lot about his make-up, knew too that he resented his mother’s overweening attentions (and as already mentioned Sam’ distance which Justin called indifference unlike my father who went out of his way to be attentive and was a reason why we would spent much more time at my house than his). Many nights out with hot dates we would go wherever we went together, tried out and failed to make the championship Riverdale High School football team, things like that. Mostly though we talked serious stuff about dreams and what we would do when we flew the coop, when we had what Sam and my father always called when they got together and regaled us with their stories the “great jail-break.”
Naturally after high school, members in good standing of the Riverdale High Class of 1992, when Justin went to State U and I went to NYU since I was desperate to live in New York City and breath the air there as part of my becoming a commercial artist we drew apart. Maybe we would call, see each other at Vinny’s Pizza in town and cut up old touches. That was mainly freshman year when everything was new and we were “free.” Then Justin kind of fell off my map as I got involved in some school projects and Justin from what he told me one time at Vinny’s got involved in the furious social life that dominates lots of school out in the boondocks and where kids are away from home for the first time. That was when Justin, who had hated even the idea of liquor when we were in high school and wouldn’t speak me for a while after l got Kathy Callahan drunk (and horny you can figure the rest out yourselves) on a double date, started doing drugs. Started first I had heard on easy stuff marijuana to be sociable (Justin, me too, as much as we got along with girls were both kind of shy and inward at times which is probably why we gravitated toward each other beyond our fathers knowing each other since their youth) and bennies to stay up and study for those finals at the last moment. Later senior year I heard from Jack Jamison who had gone to high school with us and was also at State U Justin had graduated to cocaine, serious cocaine, serious enough to have to begin to do some small time dealing to keep up. He did graduate but it was a close thing, very close.
After college Justin moved to Boston to take a job in a bank, work his way up in the banking industry to make lots of money. In any case in Boston is where he met Melissa, Melissa I won’t give her last name because now she is a big deal in the college administration of an Ivy League college. He met Melissa at the Wild Rose nightclub, the one just outside of Kenmore Square. Met here and quickly came under her spell (a lot of guys had, did, would do that before she was through). Melissa, not a beauty but fetching was one of those women who loved kicks, loved the attention her desire for kicks brought. Her kick at that time was heroin which some previous lover had turned her on to. She something of a manic-depressive as it turned out said grass, coke, pills didn’t do it for her, didn’t put out the fire in her head, the feeling that she could never get close to anybody. (Later it also turned out that she had been sexually abused by her drunken father and had had plenty of reason to want to put the fire out in her head.) She turned a very willing Justin to smack (it goes by several names, H, snow, the lid, sweet baby, and the like we will just call it smack). Se he had been having trouble adjusting to having to actually work his ass off to get ahead in the banking industry and he too needed something to put out the fire in his head.
Melissa, as far as anybody ever knew, never got seriously addicted to the smack, maybe cut it enough to keep from going to junkie heaven. Justin of course got himself a jones, a big sleep on his shoulders. He before too long got fired from his job, went on the bum, started muling down to sunny Mexico for the hard boys to maintain his habit, went back on the bum and finally got picked up by the cops on Commonwealth Avenue trying to break and enter some Mayfair swell condo. All he would tell them beside his name was that he “had to put the fire out in his head, needed to get well or he was going to jump into the Charles River. At that point, Sam, who was clueless about his son’s drug problems as most parents are until some tripwire turns the lights on had to come into the action, had to defend his youngest son on a damn B&E charge. Got him into a “detox” program too. Did what he could without recrimination, or just a little other than bewilderment that his son would succumb to drugs.
Well I wish that I could say that Justin turned it around after that first “detox,” effort but that was not the case. He went through programs for five years before he sobered up for good, or what Sam and Rebecca thought was for good. One night I was home to see my father and to attend our twentieth anniversary class reunion when I ran into Justin on the street who said he would rather not go to the reunion since he would have to explain too many things about his life. He suggested we go into Vinny’s a few blocks up the street and have a couple of slices of pizza and a soda for old times’ sake. We did so and while we were munching away Justin explained as best he could what had happened to him. He reminded me of that night senior year when we were sitting down by the river and he had told me how much he hated his father, hated Sam, since he was such a pious bastard, was almost non-existent in his life, yet tried to be cool about his own bogus jailbreak youth like they had changed the world, like his youthful coolness made everything alright. I had forgotten about that night, had had my own small (compared to him) troubles adjusting to my own father’s whims. Then Justin said he had spent all that time since that night trying to put out the fire in his head.
Here comes the sad part, about a year later Justin met a woman, Selina, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where he went to live to get a fresh start. They fell in love, planned to be married, and had made all the arrangements, the church, reception and all. The night before the wedding when he was out with some guys celebrating he went off the bus. Somehow he had made a connection, and before the night was over he was sitting in Prescott Park by himself as the cops came by based on a disturbance call yelling “I ‘ve got to put the fire in my head, I’ve got to put the fire in my head out.”