The time was 1958 and my UCLA room-mate, the last of three interesting room-mates, was the local drug dealer for amphetamines. His stash was of the highest quality, a bottle of thousands of pills as sold in bulk to pharmacy chains. He had bought the bottle in Tijuana and brought it across over the border.
The huge gallon-size bottle set dead center on top of the chest-of-drawers in the tiny room we shared. The room was the cheapest off-campus housing approved by UCLA. We each paid a dollar a day to share the room. Furnishings consisted of two cot beds, two small desks, and the chest-of-drawers acting as a pedestal for the huge bottle of drugs on display for all to see who entered the room.
I was living on $110 a month GI bill to get my B.S. degree in Physics and he was self-supporting and paying out-of-state tuition to get his Ph.D. in English Literature.
He supported himself by working 40 hours a week as a dishwasher in a famous Westwood Village drive-in restaurant and selling amphetamine capsules out of the kitchen to students who wanted “speed” as an aid to studying and taking exams.
I have never taken an illegal or recreation drug and my one experience with a prescribed tranquilizer, Valium, was not good.
During my first year at UCLA, suffering with what I now know as migraine, I went into the UCLA Health Center for help during finals. They wanted more test results before arriving at a diagnosis and made an appointment after finals for more testing. To help until then, they gave me some Valium pills to get me through finals. I took my first one the next morning before a three-hour physics final. I finished the final in 20 minutes. Thinking that was too easy for a three-hour final, I spent the next 10 minutes reviewing my answers and then, satisfied I had all the answers right, I turned the test in to the graduate-student monitor. Looking up in surprise from the papers from a previous final he was grading, he asked if I was finished. I said yes, and I had reviewed all my work. He stopped what he was doing and started to look at my final. I walked out and others in the class looked up to see who was leaving early. I have no idea what I got on that final, but I did get a B in the class.
I did not like what Valium did to my perceptions and vowed never again to take a drug that acted on my cognitive abilities — that screwed with my mind.
Therefore the jug of amphetamines was no temptation. Also my room mate thought drugs where a thing to be avoided so he was supportive of my viewpoint.
But the experience that cemented my resolve was getting my room-mate out of bed some mornings. He would come in a little after midnight from his dish-washing job, wake me, and ask me to get him out of bed the next morning before I left for classes at my normal time of 7am. He would ask me to make sure he was up and sitting on the edge of the bed with feet on the floor and he could talk coherently.
That was easier said than done.
In my Air Force photography days I had to photograph a dead acquaintance, the bus driver who dropped me off and picked me up at the base photo lab every day. His nude body laying on a table was covered with bruises indicating a severe beating. He “officially” died of a “heart attack” in a Mexican jail. I had to spread his legs to get a clear shot of the bruised testicles and his arms to get photographs of the bruises in the arm pits. Rigor mortis had set in. The limbs were very difficult to move to get the photos.
So it was with my room-mate. He would lie face up on his cot, rigid as a french loaf of bread, with his arms stiff at his sides and his fists clenched tight, occasionally twitching.
Rotating him to get his feet on the floor and then to get him to talk to me took about 15 minutes and was not the most pleasant of tasks with which to to start the day, since it always brought back memories of photographing the stiff body of my dead acquaintance.
This was not my my only experience with drugs at UCLA. I hashed in a sorority, and one day the house-mother found drugs in the room of one girl. The house-mother called the police and when they arrived they checked out the girl’s room and led her away in handcuffs in front of all of the sorority girls. The girls were furious. Instead of calling for advice from the national sorority headquarters, or student health care, or her parents, the house-mother just called the police. The house-mother was replaced the next day. I wonder if the girl ended up with a misdemeanor or felony charge or conviction. One thing for certain, it was probably not a happy memory of her UCLA or sorority days.
I might have had the same unhappy experience if the police were called to our room. The spring semester was the last semester with this room-mate and my wife and I were engaged and set to be married that summer. She has stated unequivocally that she would not have married anyone arrested or convicted of being a felon.
The risk from my room-mate might be very high now, but maybe not then. Remember, this happened in 1958.
From about 1934 Smith, Kline and French began selling the volatile base form of amphetamine as an inhaler under the trade name Benzedrine and it was not until 1965 until the FDA banned over-the-counter sales and made amphetamine a prescription drug. And it was not until 1972 that amphetamine became a Class II drug under the Controlled Substance Act. [Source: Wikipedia-Amphetamine]
Another story told over coffee and biscotti during our morning talks.