The White House of Whitefish Bay

 

Growing up as a child through my teenage years was absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a more blessed life. It’s important to note that they were full of positive experiences and devoid of any sort of physical or psychological trauma that might affect me in my later years during my manic episodes. I grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in the north suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our house seemed to me like a scaled down version of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave; kind of a wild coincidence given that I would later think I would be President someday.  Or is it?  I think not.

I remember when I could barely talk, we had place mats at the kitchen table at my grandmother’s house with the US Presidents on them. I used to study them closely and memorize each of their names. In those days, I always wanted my name and face on that place mat some day when I grew up.

 

You could say it was good, clean living. We were a very tightly knit family consisting of my mom, dad and five children. We were considered the model family in the community. We inspired everyone in our way with an excellent positive attitude and ability to have fun at all times, good and bad. There wasn’t a black sheep in the family.  If there was one, I guess it would have been me because my curious mind would venture to just about any level of consciousness. All five of us were successful leaders in our own right and respected by our peers. We owe a lot of that success to our fifteen older cousins on my mother’s side of the family who all were very successful in their own right; doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on.

My parents had a wonderful marriage and were the perfect role models. They always had a magical way of getting along with each other and raising five kids without imposing much of any rules. My mother, Mousie, would roller-skate every year in the village’s Fourth of July parade dressed as Lady Liberty, and then culminate the day by jumping off a three meter diving board into the deep end of the pool at the Milwaukee Country Club - with her skates on mind you.  She really was the queen of the town.

My father was an established real estate broker and was very well known in the city. He would get to know everybody in his path with his garrulous and friendly demeanor and wonderful sense of humor. He is as solid as they came; an inspiration to everybody. Nobody forgets meeting Joe. He is a man that didn’t procrastinate much and believes in the ‘Git’er Done’ philosophy.  He catered to every audience and walk of life. Despite having high net worth friends, he also loved to ride Harley Davidsons and hang out with working class men. He has always been my best friend through thick and thin. He was always there for me in times of need.  He’s traveled the planet bailing me out of trouble in my adulthood.

 

Mom and Dad were as supportive as parents could get, attending all of our sporting events, clubs and encouraged our hobbies. They got us into tennis, swimming, hockey, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and golf. Although we came from an upper middle class background, we weren’t materialistic or jaded by any means.  Even so, they spoiled us with cars, cloths, and toys.  Eventually my dad paid our way through college and subsidized all of us in times of need to make sure we weren’t suffering.  Needless to say, I was absent of any childhood trauma that would haunt me later in life.

Learning Compassion Through Adversity

 

I never had the chance to meet my mom’s mother, but I’ve been told that her compassion and generosity exceeded all others. I’ve been told that one large contributing fact thereof was that she had a very special child, my mom’s older sister Janny, who was a dwarf that measured 4’2” in her heyday.  What a pistol she was! Oh, the stories that can be told here. I only knew her in my life as the overly self-confident, boisterous character with a self-deprecating sense of humor that was essentially the command and control center for the entire family.  She subconsciously thought she was taller than the rest of us.  She never had a family of her own, so she considered her nieces and nephews as her own, all twenty of us.

 

Sometimes it was very hard on my mother growing up because of how mean so many people in the general public could be by me making fun of her.  Some people were downright cruel.  The tears shed only made my mother more compassionate as opposed to becoming bitter at humanity, which would have been much easier to do.  I think my mom was genetically predisposed to be compassionate, but having Janny around solidified that quality in her. That trait was, of course, passed on to the five of us kids, who always learned how to be helpful whenever she was in need.

Dissing Catholic Dogma

 

Given that religious beliefs going back to childhood play a key role during manic episodes, I thought I’d briefly explain what was going through my head as a little kid. All five Driessen kids started out in Catholic school at St. Monica’s and were taught primarily by priests and nuns. I considered myself religious, but at that age, I didn’t really know what that meant. What does it really mean for Jesus to die for our sins? What is forgiveness? Why am I confessing? And what are sins? The whole story didn’t compute in my mind. They were a bunch of words without meaning; words that came with two thousand plus years of indoctrination that was about to be imposed upon me.

 

In first grade, I remember vividly remember that we’d have to go to mass during second period. Sr. Dorine would file us into the church and sit us down in alphabetical order directly in front of the statue of St. Joseph. I stared at that statue for the entire class year trying to listen to what he was trying to say to me.  It told me to be the best person I could ever be and never to sin, just like the clergy had taught us. I knew that he had a special place in life for me that was to be incredibly rewarding in the end, like getting into Heaven.  At times when I was just a kid, I would fathom if it were possible that I could be

 

“Jesus-like” and never sin in my whole life? I thought I would be able to break some of the rules when they were in my favor as long as they weren’t grave. Killing was evil, but swatting a fly wasn’t exactly a cardinal sin.

 

The idea of confession to me was absurd. When I went to get my First Communion, I had to sit in a chair next to the pastor of the church and admit my sins that had committed up through my first five years in life. We were told that was the only way into Heaven.  I looked at the priest and said, “Quite frankly father, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.” The priest laughed and then coached me through an episode where I irritated somebody. I told him I threw sand in somebody’s face in the sandbox. Whoop- de-frickin-doo.  Luckily, he pardoned me and I was able to get into Heaven at that moment.

 

To me, the Bible, organized religion, the miracles, the nuns and priests all seemed like a bunch of malarkey to me.  So I decided to transfer to public schools after sixth grade.  I’ve considered myself spiritual my whole life, but I could never grasp the concept of a miracle. It seemed too farfetched. It was impossible to conceptualize the laws of the universe that “God” made and then he went back to break those laws so humans could get to know him better. I had Jesus deep in my heart, whatever that meant, but he just seemed to me like an exceptional prophet, not the Son of God. 

After six years of Catholic school, I finally threw in the towel and said enough is enough. I begged my parents at the age of eleven to transfer me to Richards Elementary, the public school down the street that my father had attended in 1948. It was then that I started getting into trouble, not the innocent trouble like “ding dong ditch”, but real trouble like pyrotechnics, cyber theft, grand theft, arson, pornography and illicit drugs. It was the diametric opposite of the years past wearing uniforms and getting slapped on the wrist with a ruler by a nun for cursing.  We were now enjoying close to ultimate freedom.

 

I started getting into girls and started dating a girl in my class, my first love, whose father happened to be prominent in the Italian mafia. He would send a limo to pick up a group of us that were able to sneak out of the house at midnight to take us to the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Oriental Theater on the “cool” East Side. Afterwards, we’d go to his bachelor pad that usually had salacious, coked out women running around with porn on the TV in the background. He’d usually make sure we were all looking when he’d hand his daughter her shopping allowance. He’d take out a fat stack of hundred-dollar bills and shave a few off for her. At that young, innocent age, we busted into his extensive collection of porn on VHS cassettes that we’d take home and watch one at a time.  We’d sneak them back into his collection on the next visit, so he wouldn’t know.

We grew up fast spending many nights in bars and Italian restaurants with some of the most dubious characters in town. Of course, we found our way into the booze, but we learned to moderate so it wasn’t so obvious. My parents had maybe heard he might have been tangentially tied to “The” infamous crime organization, but they had no clue I was getting exposed to all of this. It wasn’t until he got busted for trafficking major quantities of cocaine that they found out he was up to no good. He did some heavy time in the state penitentiary.

Junior High was my foray into sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.  I started getting into Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, The Who, Yes, Eric Clapton and the list goes on. We used to go to my friend Darby’s house at lunch time, play with martial arts weapons, smoke pot, and get drunk on cheap wine.

 

My four best friends all had older brothers that were typically a terrible influence on us. They were the ones that really led us into vices like stealing, drugging and drinking. Home computers were just coming out and one of my friend’s brothers figured out how to steal calling card numbers, so we could call long distance.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know many people that lived outside our little village in order to call.

 

Another terrible influence on my friends and me was Angry Arnie. He was a local hoodlum that had a peg for a leg after his father ran over it with a lawn mower. Angry Arnie turned us on to pot, BMX biking, and blowing shit up with homemade explosives like park benches and people’s porches. In high school, he did some hard time in the grey bar hotel for stabbing someone in the stomach. After college, he ended up getting gunned down by the SWAT team one day after taking his parents hostage in their own home.  It was a huge fiasco in the village.  Although I was never sure, I always thought he was bipolar, the mean anti-authoritarian type with a perpetual chip on his shoulder about the whole leg situation.

I went to the number one ranked high school in the state of Wisconsin, Whitefish Bay High, home of the Blue Dukes.  I again followed in my father’s footsteps who was a graduate in 1960.  Admittedly, I was one of the most talented guys in my grade. I was known to hang out with the musicians, jocks, nerds, cliques, druggies and everyone in between. I had tons of raw talent and was a jack of all trades. Because I had older and younger siblings, I always made friends with the kids in the other grades. I learned at a young age that age did not matter. There was always value to find in every human being despite age and other prejudices. I was elected the Freshman Homecoming King and rode on the float in the parade along with the Queen.  I was the first student ever to score 100% on one of Mr. Bake’s final algebra exams.

 

 

I was always the captain of the football team year after year. We had two excellent coaches, Baer and Tietjen, who taught us many values and pushed us to our maximum limits of human conditioning. Their big thing was Duke Pride, which meant a heck of a lot to us and to me personally. It meant becoming a young man at an early age both physically and emotionally by being responsible, knowing your role, and giving it everything you got. They were able to transform a bunch of privileged rich kids that were much more physically inferior to our competition into intense fighting machines that ended up winning the North Shore Conference every year I was there.

 

I was an excellent student.  I did great in art, math, science and languages.  I was consistently on the honor roll every time a report card came out.  I was a nerdy “Mathlete” who represented our high school in math contests statewide. I also played percussion in the wind ensemble as well as in a few garage bands. I was a wannabe rock star for sure. I can’t remember if I was voted to be most successful, but I know I was a top contender. Nonetheless, I left high school thinking I was capable of doing ANYTHING in the world I wanted; artist, musician, professional athlete, the CEO of a company, a master architect, actor or even the gosh darn President of the United States, although at the time I wasn’t focused on that.

You could say I was good seed, but as the saying goes “to those that much is given, much is expected.” And indeed life came with intense responsibilities, pressures, and temptations. Granted my four closest friends and I were always trouble makers since kindergarten, we took it to the next level in high school getting into drinking and drugs. That kind of stuff. At one point, I was growing pot on the roof of the white house when I was fourteen. Even though my grades remained superior, I continued my marijuana and alcohol consumption and, in addition, threw in hallucinogens to the mix in my Freshman and Sophomore years.

In the summer of 1985, my friends and I built the largest skateboard ramp in the Midwest in our backyard and had pro skaters come from California come to skate including world great Stevie Caballero. At age fifteen, I was exposed to all of the hoodlums of all ages from miles around that taught me some great character traits, but also showed me the dark side. One major influence on me was my buddy Trevor. He was an adopted kid that was five years older than me and was the epitome of the word REBEL. He kind of viewed my closest peers and I as his flock to experiment with. He had about a five-pound bag of marijuana that he cultivated by the village water tower. We puffed on that for the entire summer. He was anti-establishment and anti-everything that mainstream society had to offer. He turned me on to books about Che Guevara, Noam Chomsky, the Shining Path revolutionaries of Peru and all sorts of other crazy stuff you’d never hear about in school. He really opened my mind up to question authority.

 

He ended up doing his PHD dissertation in cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies on the human stream of consciousness through four thousand years of history. Unfortunately, before he could finish, he got caught up in substance abuse, namely smoking crack, drinking and popping anti-depressants. We had grown apart for several years and I later found out that he suffered from deep depression and was probably bipolar. Apparently, he wasn’t in his right state of mind after fighting with a girlfriend and decided to hang himself from the ceiling fan with telephone cord. I was deeply affected by the saddening news.  He was my mentor and closest friend at the time.  I gave the eulogy at his funeral and did my best to keep it together without turning into a puddle of tears.  What a shame!

Fortunately for his family, he was posthumously awarded his PHD a few years later.

I can honestly say that there was a fork in the road. On one side, I could have said no to drugs and probably would have gotten the grades to get into one of the best universities in the country. I was eyeing out the International Relations program at Stanford in Palo Alto, California.

 

I would have had a much brighter mind to think clearly and contribute more on society’s “big stage”. On the other side, I ended up trying to balance school, sports, family and my social life along with drugs and alcohol. The results were that I had a ton of more fun than I would have had; however, I ended up in a second rate university, and subsequently, less than optimal jobs. Just as my idol Jerry Garcia, lead singer of the Grateful Dead once said, “I’ve opted for fun in this lifetime.”

Sex, Drugs, and Grateful Dead

 

In the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school in Milwaukee, I entered into the dimension of recreational drug use that would stay with me into my late thirties. For the average mind, excessive drug use can be destructive enough.  With a bipolar mind, it’s amplified by a thousand-fold.

 

A good friend of mine, Jack, drove up to my house with two cute girls in a red convertible Camaro.   It was one of the most poignant memories of my childhood. He said, “Go get three changes of clothes, two hundred dollars and jump in the car.  I asked, “Where are we going?”  He said, “There’s a four day run of Grateful Dead concerts at Alpine Valley just outside of Milwaukee.” I scurried into the house, grabbed my stuff, and hit mom up for the cash.  I told her I was going on a camping trip and needed to buy gear.

 

The band the Grateful Dead and its fans, called Deadheads, were closely associated with the hippie movement and were seen as a form of institution in the culture of America for thirty years. Drugs were prevalent at the shows, particularly pot, LSD, pills and psychedelic mushrooms. Deadheads would travel from city to city selling their wares in the parking lot to make it to the next show.

An MVP NBA basketball player for the Boston Celtics, Bill Walton, said it best:

 

“The Grateful Dead, they’re my best friends. Their message of hope, peace, love, teamwork, creativity, imagination, celebration, the dance, the vision, the purpose, the passion of all things I believe makes me the luckiest Deadhead in the world.”

 

Little did I know, I was about to jump on that bandwagon. Jerry Garcia was the lead singer and self-proclaimed reluctant guru of the Deadheads. He was a cultural icon with one of the greatest, most loving personalities I’ve yet to come across.  He was on the top ten list of Rolling Stones greatest guitar players ever. Hippies loved him and some even revered him as their god. He was the most influential person in my life on stage and off.  He had the biggest heart ever.

 

We got to the parking lot of the show and I was just blown away at this mini-universe of hippies running all around doing drugs, throwing Frisbees, and tailgating with tapes of their live concerts blaring.  

 

It was the first time I lived the psychedelic experience. I must have eaten close to an entire eighth of an ounce of Psilocybin mushrooms, which was an incredibly strong dose. At first I felt a weird churning in my stomach, then I started to laugh profusely at anything and everything. I started to hallucinate audibly and visually.  I went into the concert and words cannot describe the euphoric sensation when the Grateful Dead broke into their first tune. The music was alive, tangible, and magical.

 

The fractal visuals on the giant screens kept my mind traveling at the speed of light. For three straight hours, I was in an undiscovered paradise. I would never be able to deny how real the experience was. It was a shamanic experience and Jerry was my shaman, well the whole band really.  It was the greatest experience of my life up until that point. It was the start of a trend that would lead to literally hundreds of more concerts, a lot more recreational drug use and a lot more FUN.  There certainly are remedial qualities to using the right amount of psychedelics, but I may have surpassed that quota at some point long ago in my humble opinion.

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