May the Power of Oz Compel You!

 

The first experience that rocked my world off its foundation happened in a church in the backwoods of northern Australia in 1989. To this day, I can’t logically explain what happened. Was it related to me being bipolar before I even knew what it was at that age? I was seventeen years old in my junior year of high school on a semester-long high school foreign exchange program on the North Pacific coast when I experienced the strangest thing up to that point in my life. It was the first time I was far away from home on my own and the first time out of the country.

 

At my high school in Noosa, all of the students were required to take a class in religion. I was a rather spiritual young man in search of truth in those times, but didn’t really find it in Christianity, much less, the Catholic Church. There was an ‘interfaith’ course offered that touched on many religious and spiritual topics, oddly enough, one being Satanism. I thought was very peculiar, yet alluring to see what the course had to offer.

 

The teacher took a liking to me and invited me to his church telling me that the pastor would be talking about Satanism within Christianity. I was excited. One school night, my host mother me took to this run down, rustic church that you’d see in the backwoods of Mississippi. She didn’t want anything to do with the excursion, so she quickly dropped me off and took off. The teacher greeted me at the door of the church and sat me down in the middle section of the pews a few rows back from the altar. There were about fifty other members of the congregation present.

 

A few minutes after arriving, the pastor stepped up to the altar and began the service.  He went through his ritual readings from the Bible for about fifteen minutes, then put the book down, grabbed the microphone off the stand and approached the audience. I thought he was going to start his sermon about Satanism, but then something happened. He was talking in a gentle voice about the Holy Spirit filling the room at that very moment. He started snapping his fingers and waving his hand on the air. He then said there was somebody in the room with a certain tingling of energy running up his or her spine. The pastor started staring directly into everybody’s eyes and started waving his arms in the air. He shouted, “Who is it? Who is it? Stand up right now. He reminded me of Chevy Chase as the fraudulent preacher in the movie Fletch shouting, “Is there a JimBob out there?”

 

But I could feel it. I knew I could. It was me. Yes, I felt the energy. Then Shazaam!  Without any voluntary control of my body, I leaped to my feet and shouted, “It’s me!” The pastor then directed me to the front of the altar and told me to put my head down.  As soon as he laid his hand on my head, I felt a jolt of energy that was ten times more powerful than my initial shock. He shouted, “Release. Release.” I had no idea what that meant. I thought, “Release what? The devil?” Jesus? Evil thoughts or whatever?

For Christ’s sake, I was I just a seventeen-year-old kid all alone in the backwoods of a foreign country thousands of miles from home.

 

For about twenty seconds, I couldn’t move.  When I finally could relax, I took a bunch of deep breathes.

 

I thought to myself, “What the hell just happened?”  I had no idea.  Was it Satan’s power?  Was it Christ’s

 

power? Was it some kind of parlor trick? I didn’t know. All I did know was that the experience was real. The energy was real and I was freaked out. I now equate it to an experience of being ‘born again’ for a Christian.

 

I had a feeling later in life that it was some sort of acute chemical imbalance in my brain. I hadn’t heard of a manic episode until a few years later, so that thought never came to mind. Perhaps it was some type of spiritual awakening. In retrospect, I am almost sure I was experiencing mania that whole month beforehand after the heartbreaking news that my first host mother had become deathly ill. Death and funerals are major triggers that can launch people into an episode. I left that day living in the mystery of not knowing what it was, or at least what to label it as.

University of San Francisco

 

In December of 1989, my father took me to California to tour various universities. We started in San Diego and worked our way up the coast to San Francisco. We had some extra time on our hands in San Francisco and I randomly spotted the University of San Francisco on the map. We hadn't scheduled to visit the school.  We rushed over the recruiter’s office and took a tour of the campus.  The recruiter asked me at the end of the tour, “Joseph, besides international business and foreign languages, what are your other interests?” I replied quickly, “Well, I love the Grateful Dead.” The recruiter added, “It just so happens to be that they’re playing an Earthquake Benefit show at the Oakland Coliseum tonight.  You guys better start heading there soon.” I looked at my dad and said, “We’re going. It’s not an option. This is what synchronicity is, dad.”  My father dropped me off in the parking lot and took off to his hotel.  I scoured the parking lot for anything I could get my hands on to get high for the show. The concert was off the charts and I had the time of my life. It turns out, I discovered that the Grateful Dead, being from San Francisco, played over twenty times a year in the greater Bay Area. That completely tipped the scale on my decision to choose University of San Francisco over USC, USD, UCSB, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. I didn’t even bother applying to the other schools.

 

In August of 1990, I packed my bags for the University of San Francisco. I was hoping for a good roommate assignment. In 1979, my first cousin, Robbie, was assigned a freshman roommate at Brown University that was a person of interest. It was none other than John F. Kennedy Jr. I knew I couldn’t one-up that. I walked into the dorm room and there sat a young dark-skinned man that I could tell was from the islands. Turns out his name was Ookel Temetookel from Micronesian islands of Palau. It turns out his father was elected President of the island nation. His American uncle, Terry, grew up in the Bay area and it turns out he took banjo lessons from Jerry Garcia on Haight St. in 1969.  I thought, “Bing.

Bing. Another sign I’m in the right place. More synchronicity.” He turned out to be one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met.  I felt it was my duty to culture him on the Dead.

 

I was walking down the dorm hallway one day in the first week of school and noticed a Jerry Garcia poster on the wall of a dorm with its door open. I peaked in introduced myself. His name was Cassidy. We agreed to catch a Jerry Garcia Band show together the next month and we became best friends on campus.

Cassidy had a secret he didn’t let out for a while. His uncle was John Sununu, the former Chief of Staff for George Herbert Walker Bush who was arguably the second most powerful person in the world. We didn’t talk about him very much unless he was in the news. I thought to myself, “I now have a top contact in the White House! Hopefully someday we can go there, take the tour and get to meet the President.” As soon as I discovered Cassidy’s connection, I figured I could get on the playing field with the big boys someday.

University of Jerry Garcia

 

I was the kind of guy that didn’t want to miss a beat when it came to having fun and seeing live music. By hook or by crook, I had to see every show possible, but mostly the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band. I would ride my bike down to the Warfield Theater to see the Jerry Band play three show runs every other month it seemed. Cassidy was with me for many of the shows. There was no way I could afford seeing more than two or three with my college allowance, but I already had the answer to that. I got into selling T-shirts, fake I.D.s and laughing gas.

 

Not only could I afford all of the local Bay Area shows, but I could see them all over the country. I became a jet setter at age eighteen. I flew to Las Vegas, New York, L.A. Phoenix, and back to the Midwest mostly without our parents’ knowledge.

 

I was cramming for my final exams on the red eyes. I’d have a tie-dye, Birkenstocks, and long hair with an International Finance or Aristotle’s Logic book in my hand. Throughout all of the partying, I still held an excellent grade point average.

I'm a paragraph.

Neutron meets the Governor

 

After freshman year, I flew home to Milwaukee to visit my family. In the gate area at the San Francisco airport, I noticed an older gentleman wearing a bright red vest. I thought, “God, I know I know this man from somewhere.”  I didn’t hesitate to approach him and ask who he was, as was my nature.  He said, “Lee Sherman Dreyfus, former Governor of the State of Wisconsin.” I responded, “J.P. Driessen, son of Joe Driessen and grandson of Sherburn Driessen.” He said, “Oh yes. I know your grandfather well.  He’s a banker like your dad.”  We chatted for a few moments, then boarded the plane.

 

He went to the back of the plane and I noticed nobody was sitting next to him. I boldly asked the flight attendant to ask him if he’d mind that I join him. He said, “Sure.” I sat down next to him and we talked for just about four hours straight about politics and life. I mentioned that my roommate was from Palau and he knew exactly where it was. I explained to him that my roommate’s father was elected President and then the CIA came in, killed a few people, imprisoned others, and put a different President in place because of his stance on rejecting a deal from the U.S. to put nuclear submarines there to guard against the threat of North Korea. My friend’s brother was put in jail for numerous years for having done nothing.

 

I also mentioned that my friend’s uncle was Sununu. He said he knew him very well and that if I wanted to take the initiative, I could put together a brief report on my roommate’s father and brother and he would be able to get it to the President’s desk. I thought, “No way.  I’m a freshman in college and writing a report for the President regarding global thermonuclear war like Matthew Broderick in “War Games”.  It couldn’t get much more awesome.”

 

We had a lot of laughs after serious business and then debarked the plane. It was pre-9/11 and my father was able to meet right as I got off the plane. I told the former governor that my father had bumped into Walter Cronkite at a Super Bowl game once and they played a little stunt of his best friend, who had gone to the bathroom when my dad met Cronkite. He said, “Walter, would you put your arm around me when my friend returns and act as if you knew me your whole life?” He agreed and when my dad’s buddy saw them with their arms around each other, he just about crapped his pants. So I got off the plane with Dreyfus’ arm around my shoulder. My dad immediately recognized the governor with his trademark vest. He said to governor, “I see you’ve met my son, Governor.”  Dreyfus responded, “Oh no. J.P. and I go way back.  Great kid you have there.”  We all chuckled and parted ways.

 

My roommate’s father declined to participate in the report for unknown reasons, so I dropped it. I later found out that Lee Sherman Dreyfus was a 33rd  Degree Scottish Rite Freemason.

Seizures and the Neurologist

 

One day in my freshman year at USF, the world changed for me for the worse. One year prior at a high school football practice, I had some strange occurrence when suddenly during a play, my legs cramped up in a kind of a small seizure and I would have a debilitating pulse of energy running through my left leg coursing into the right side of my brain. A few times the energy would run through my left arms and into my face.  My eyes would roll to the back of my head and I couldn’t talk without slurring my speech, if at all. It was like a small epileptic seizure. It only happened several times, but enough to be a big concern. I was praying that nobody saw me during an attack.  I didn’t know what it was so I kept it to myself all the way into college.

 

I didn’t know if it was from the recreational drugs I had taken. I certainly didn’t want my parents to know. They never used drugs in their lives. They never were able to relate to us about it either. After suffering a series of seizures over the course of the football season, they went away by the winter after I stopped exercising as rigorously. This malady would turn out to be the catalyst that affected my overall chemical balance.

 

In my first year at USF, the seizures started acting up again every several days.  This time, they were more powerful and overbearing.  One day I was in the middle of the crosswalk and all of sudden, I had a thirty second seizure that took me to the ground. People were getting out of their cars and crowding over me. To me, it was embarrassing.  I couldn’t explain to the passersby and other students what was going on.  Afterwards, I had a mental breakdown thinking I might die. If I wasn’t terminally ill, I thought I had the early onset of Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy.

 

The next day, I found an excellent neurologist not far from campus that agreed to see me on short notice. He said there was a few cases like mine but could never properly diagnose the ailment. It was rare for someone at my age to have such problems. He said it wasn’t Parkinson’s as it usually manifests itself in other ways and later on in life. He prescribed a drug called Dilantin to his other patients, which is an anticonvulsant/antiepileptic, also used infrequently for the treatment of bipolar disorder. As soon as I started taking it, the seizures went away like magic. That wasn’t the end of the story though. I was now hooked on Dilantin. If I went just a couple of days without taking it, this pain in my leg would reoccur and the seizures would start up.

 

The doctor monitored me for a year and my situation was stabilized. The doctor encouraged me to taper myself off the drug little by little as long as the symptoms were subsiding, which I later found to be poor advice.

My First Love

 

On May 11th, 1991 I was at a Grateful Dead show at Shoreline Amphitheater just south of San Francisco with three friends, Joe, Paul and Ali Baba.  They had brought a friend with them to the show.  She was not just any old friend; she was a drop dead gorgeous American Airlines flight attendant named Stacy. Certainly, she wasn’t the hippie type, but she sure loved the music and party. All five of us were high as kites on ecstasy, dancing like maniacs to the Dead playing “One More Saturday Night.” We were sweating it up. I was in my peak physical condition. I had my shirt off and was sweating profusely. My hair was at its longest, below my shoulders a several inches.

 

During the intermission, the guys went to get beer and I stayed to talked to Stacy. We started playing the age game.  I thought she was 23 and she thought I was 24.  Turns out, I was 19 and she was 28.  I thought, oh Lord, could this girl teach me a thing or two about a thing or two. It was obvious there was a mutual instant attraction. During the second set we kept dancing closer and closer to each other until our hands touched each other. Once that happened, it was game over. I got behind her and put my arms around her and we were dancing in lockstep to “Morning Dew”, one of Jerry’s best slow songs. We

started making out and continued to do so for the rest of the show. We exchanged numbers and parted ways.

 

 

 

We arranged to meet each other on her birthday in Las Vegas, Nevada at another Dead concert which was April 28, 1991. We had an absolutely killer time the whole weekend. At the end of the show on her birthday, we ditched all of our friends to go back to Caesar’s Palace to make some serious romance. The deal was sealed and we continued to go out hot and heavy for two years.  She was all I could think about. I was obsessing and found it hard to concentrate on my studies. I was in some kind of trance I had never felt before.

 

Just prior to meeting Stacy, I had enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in Madison to take some courses over the summer and party with my friends. After dating her for just under a month, I scuttled the mission to Wisconsin to live with her in East Palo Alto, California, one of the most segregated, dangerous cities in the United States.  She didn’t have the income to afford something nicer.

 

I finished my exams in June of 1991 and caught my original flight that I had bought to go back to Wisconsin. My parents and siblings came to pick me up at the airport in the family Custom Craft van. I jumped in and right after giving everybody hugs and kisses, I dropped the bomb on them. I explained, “Guys, I met a girl in Cali that I fell in love with and I’m moving back with her for the summer.” My dad was super pissed. He asked in an upset tone, “What are you going to do and who’s going to pay for it?” I responded, “Dad, I got this great job at a company called Vector Marketing, which is a subsidiary of Alcoa Steel.” He asked, ”And what’s the job?”  I responded, ”Selling Cutco knives in the wealthiest city in the country, Palo Alto, where Stanford University is. That’s where I’ll be living. Dad, they’re the best kitchen knives in the world” Little did anybody know that I was going to be living on the other side of “Whiskey Gulch”, which separates East Palo Alto from Palo Alto.  Mom asked, “And what does she do?” I said, “She’s a flight attendant that works on the jumbo planes, but she doesn’t have to give the safety

 

talks and point at the exits. She just plays the video. Oh, and she’s 28. We met at a Dead show.”  There was a dead silence in the car. My siblings thought my dad was going to rip my head off. But what were they going to do? Stop me? I was ready to accept all consequences such having my tuition money cut off by dad.  I loved her so dearly.  There was no way my heart wasn’t going to triumph in this case.  I spent an awkward week in Milwaukee and my parents finally conceded and even gave me a “loan” to buy my starter set of knives to demo.  I jumped back on a plane and flew to California.

 

Truth be told, I did get accepted into Vector Marketing, however, I didn’t have intentions of pounding the pavement door to door to sell the stupid knives.  I demoed them once to an older hippy lady friend and she said to me, “Knowing you, it would be in your best interest to just sell laughing gas at six of the local Dead concerts instead of wasting my time with the knives.  It will pay for your whole summer.  I can get it for you.” A new plan was hatched.

 

For the whole summer, I just relaxed while Stacy went to work. We were living in a colorful apartment complex. One apartment had about twenty illegal immigrants from south of the border stuffed in there. Another apartment was shared by four skinny prostitutes hooked on heroin. The other apartments had Stanford students that couldn’t afford campus housing. Many of our neighbors were heavily armed gangbangers. The place was dangerous.

One day I was smoking out in front of the complex when a black Cadillac sedan drove past, the back door opened, and a man covered in blood was thrown out of the car as it went by at 20mph. He did about three rolls while kicking up a bunch of dirt and landed on his face. The man was able to get up on his own accord but had lacerations all over his body and his scalp was slit open on top, pouring blood down his face.

 

It all happened ten feet in front of me. I was on pins and needles freaking out inside, but playing it cool on the outside. I wanted to help the man but was afraid I’d get his blood on me. In that neighborhood, you had to worry about AIDS, as it was rampant.  I reacted by running inside our apartment to get some towels. Stacy asked, “What are you using those for?” I said, “To wash your car out back.  I’ll be right back.”  I didn’t want her to be traumatized seeing all of that blood.

I walked the man to the back of the complex to a staircase.  I gave him the towels to wipe off the blood and stop some of the hemorrhaging from his head. He said, “Don’t look behind you.” Of course, I immediately turned around and there was a huge black guy carrying some kind of machine gun and was pointing it right at us from about fifty feet away. I froze in my tracks. I thought that if I tried to run, he’d shoot me. My adrenaline was pumping so fast. I had to think of something fast. So what did I do?  I looked at the gunman straight in the eye and, without any fear, I started walking straight towards him like the frickin’ Terminator.  This could have been construed as suicide, but I felt it was my best option.

 

Without even putting my hands in the air, I got closer and closer until I was about ten feet away from him. I had seen him in the neighborhood before and knew him to be the alpha male on the block.  He spoke first and kept it very short, “Yeah?”  I said to him as if I had just been juiced with testosterone, “That man.” And then pointed at the bleeding man. I continued, “I’ve got nothing to do with him.  The reason I’m here is because, you see that red Honda Prelude over there in the parking lot?  Well, that belongs to my girlfriend.  Now if there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.  But if you don’t mind, sir.

 

I’d appreciate it if that car didn’t go missing like two others did from our parking lot this year. Are we cool?”

 

He was dumbfounded but kept a poker face.  Walking up to an alpha male gangbanger pointing a machine gun at me was as insane and unpredictable as swimming with Great White sharks without a cage. He looked at me and said his second and last word without moving any facial muscle but his lips, “Cool.” I slowly turned around and walked back to the apartment.  I had to come clean with Stacy and tell her what had just went down. She was upset that the blood-soaked towels weren’t coming back, but she just about collapsed when she heard I approached a man with a machine gun.  She broke down in hysterics and said there was something very wrong with me. The truth of the matter is that I, indeed, was experiencing some kind of mania; however, I hadn’t been diagnosed yet.  The addendum to the story is that every single car was tampered with or stolen from our parking lot except the red Honda Prelude.  I was never thanked by Stacy for that.

The Neutronic Cliff Jump

 

In the summer of 1992 on a Eurorail trip through Europe, Stacy and I visited the island of Corfu in Greece. In hindsight, I was quite manic and over elated at the time. I felt I was in Heaven on earth.  She and I took a tour to a little outcropping of rock islands in the sea there called Cucumber Islands.  You could climb up the rocks and jump off from about forty to fifty feet. I loved to dive from high places, so I started climbing up the rock with no shoes on. The jagged rocks were sharp as broken glass and were digging into my feet.  I made the mistake of not stopping where everybody was jumping from and climbed all the way to the top. I was about seventy feet above the water. That rivals great cliff jumpers from Acapulco. My feet were practically bleeding at this point and I didn’t think I could climb down with all of the pain.

So I looked over the edge and studied the possibility of jumping from there. It was ludicrous. The rock extended out below my feet quite a bit. I thought if I jumped I wouldn’t be able to clear the rocks unless I propelled myself forward about fifteen feet.  The only way to do it was to bend my knees, lean forward and spring out head first. If those guys in Acapulco can do it, I knew I could. Everybody on the ground including Stacy shouted, “Don’t do it! You’ll kill yourself.”

 

I had no option. I was stuck. The manic man inside my head said, “Just do it.” Or as Yoda once said, “Do not try. Do or do not.” So, I took a few deep breaths, counted down from three and sprung like hell straight out from the precipice. It seemed like ten seconds in the air. It was the same sensation as skydiving.

 

There was no doubt in my mind I knew I was going to hit the water in perfect form. I couldn’t think otherwise.  I put my hands together above my head and kept my head up. I splashed into the water. It

 

wasn’t a perfect ten, but I’d give it an 8.5. There was a lot of pain to the head involved, but I pulled it off. Had I not been in tune with the ‘Force’, I could have seriously injured myself.  The crowd below gave me a standing ovation. Once I climbed ashore they told me how stupid I was to have attempted it. Stacy was crying in terror still.  She thought I was going to die a horrific death right before her eyes.  I, too, thought I was going to die for a split second.  I had another death-rebirth experience.  I used up another one of my nine lives.

 

The moral of the story is to not do what I had just done, whether manic or not. I could easily have snapped my spine in half. I didn’t know what mania was at the time, but I did know how to use better judgment.

Santa Clara University

 

Things were going well at USF, but I just didn’t think I was getting the education I was paying for. The teachers in the business program at the time were not as strong as I would have liked them. I had an excellent grade point average, so I tried to get into Stanford’s International Studies program. Oddly

 

enough, my main essay was on the CIA takeover of the Palauan government. It turned out my SAT scores weren’t high enough so didn’t make it in. Instead, I decided to transfer to another excellent school, Santa Clara University, only forty miles south of San Francisco in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Santa Clara is an exceptional private school, a Catholic Jesuit institution just like USF. It had a strong international business school, with top professors around the world. The school turned out two very successful and well-known alumni that served as the Director of the CIA and the Director of Homeland Security under the Barack Obama administration, Leon Panetta and Janet Napolitano respectively.

 

My junior year went without a hitch. I played hard and studied hard. The academia was tough. I had to study twice as hard as I did at USF. I made friends, but still went back to San Francisco frequently to visit my old school buddies and see Jerry Garcia play on Market Street at a small venue.

US & Foreign Commercial Service

 

In the spring of 1993, I began my career in international business and government affairs. I worked for the US government as an intern for the US and Foreign Commercial Services in the US Department of Commerce in Santa Clara, California. My role was to research companies overseas that would be a potential trade partner match to export to or partner up with in some fashion.  Within the team, I worked on programs for US business executives to fly over to foreign countries for match making missions. I researched companies with the government’s extensive international trade database and synthesized proprietary reports for my clients. I then organized meetings in foreign countries at US Embassies with the Commercial attachés for my clients to be introduced to target companies.

 

Incidentally, the US Secretary of Commerce at the time, Ron Brown, organized the first trade missions with Russia right after the iron curtain fell in 1989.  It was the first time Russia opened its doors to capitalism.  The father of one of my best friends from USF was one the first entrepreneurs to go on one of the missions. He worked with a match making program to partner up with a local company to build hospitals in the former Soviet Union countries.  I later would go on to work for this local company.

 

In April of 1996, Ron was on an official trade mission to Moscow and several other Eastern Bloc countries. His plane mysteriously crashed in Croatia. US officials declared it was a pilot error, although many conspiracy theorists thought it was a set up by ex-KGB agents. To me, it was a message to the US by former KGB agents to keep our form of capitalism out of their country.

 

I speculated that if I had worked my way through the system and climbed to the Director position, I may have ended up with a similar fate as Ron  Brown. It was dangerous territory. I was thinking grandiose at the time and had aspirations to climb to positions of power and stature. Did I actually think I was capable of one day becoming the Director? You bet. But I realized I would need to proceed with caution so as not to be in cahoots with an enemy of the state.  Was that position worth paying the ultimate price for your country in the name of capitalism?  I had my doubts.

 

I completed the internship successfully and received a great recommendation letter from my boss, Mr. Theodore Kennedy. I never looked back to looking at the government for employment.  I was determined that entrepreneurial pursuits would be more fruitful than a bureaucratic job from a career path standpoint. 

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