Sunday, November 29, 2020

Purple Haze Blasting From the Playroom

When I was a teenaged inmate in the early 1970s at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, which I affectionately refer to as the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT), I resided on the Alpha Beta unit. A unit consisted of two adjacent corridors with rooms that each contained two hospital beds. Each corridor bore the name of a letter of the Greek alphabet. Adjoining the corridors were community bathrooms and the houseparents’ station. The people that did stuff like help us inmates get dressed and out of bed were called our houseparents.

At the far end of each unit was a playroom. The playrooms were large community rooms with a television mounted on the wall, board games and puzzles and crayons in the closet and stuff like that.

Well one day I heard the song Purple Haze blasting from the Alpha Beta playroom. And it was loud as hell, too, as if Hendrix and his band were playing it live. But what it really was was John Robbie, one of the inmates, got his hands on the record Purple Haze and played it full blast on the playroom stereo. I figured one of the houseparents would d go down there and put a stop to it right quick, but none of them ever did.

So John Robbie blasted Purple Haze over and over, sometimes playing it 20 or 30 times in a row it seemed like. And it also seemed like this went on every day for about a month but the houseparents just ignored it and went about their business as if they were all deaf. Rumor had it that everybody was afraid-- even the houseparents—to disturb John Robbie when he was immersed in Purple Haze because he was wild-eyed like a crazy man and he’d throw something at you, like a lamp. People said John Robbie was all hopped upon acid when he was blasting Purple Haze.

I doubted that any of this was true because I never saw any evidence to back it up, such as a shattered lamp in the playroom.  And otherwise John Robbie was a pretty cordial and easygoing guy.

But all this plunged me into a whirlwind of adolescent self-reflection. Maybe that’s what happens to a guy when he gets all hopped up on acid, I thought. So maybe I should get all hopped up on acid, too, because it was so cool how John Robbie got away with blasting Purple Haze. There was no way I could get away with anything like that. If I blasted any of my records, a houseparent would immediately rush down to the playroom and put me on restriction, which was like being on house arrest in my room for a week or so.

Now of course the records I had at the time were infinitely more annoying than Purple Haze, like The Carpenters. (Ouch! I can’t believe I just admitted that!) But that was a moot point because I would never have the guts to blast my records because I was terrified of being restricted.

But John Robbie didn’t seem to give a damn about being restricted while he was blasting Purple Haze. When he blasted Purple Haze, he was taunting the houseparents, daring them to restrict him. Maybe if I got all hopped up on acid I’d overcome my paralyzing fear of being restricted and free myself up to become so cool that even the houseparents would be afraid to mess with me.

But then John Robbie suddenly stopped blasting Purple Haze. My guess is he wore a hole in the record from playing it so much. And the houseparents quietly removed the stereo from the playroom.

Consequently, I never got hopped up on acid, nor did I ever overcome my fear of being restricted. But at least I stopped listening to the Carpenters. 

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