Prologue: Caged

(February 19, 1969)


I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.

Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:

Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.

Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?

* * * * *

From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")

© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Excerpt--The Institution: The First Five Days (February 19-23, 1969)


Involuntary Commitment & Drugging, Psychiatry, Civil Rights*


Cherokee Mental Health Institute, where the author was incarcerated

(Cherokee, Iowa)
On admission, the patient was alert, anxious, depressed and appeared immature with a poor self image. On the ward, she was noted to be quiet and cooperative in the ward routine. She was slightly depressed but showed no sign of anxiety at the time of the interview. She expressed extreme hostility toward her guardians who are her grandparents. She admits to experimentation of drugs. Consciousness was clear; she was well-oriented, and there was no disturbance in memory. She showed fairly good ability to counting and arithmetical calculations. Abstraction ability was good. Her insight and judgment are not impaired. Her conflict, as noted in the diagnostic staff note, appeared to be external rather than intrapsychic.
–Dr. Mariano A. Favis, Jr., “Initial Summary: Mental Examination”

Oh-my-God. I can’t believe they did this to me. When I tried to leaving for Pennsylvania, Dee Dee and I got into a huge argument–what a scene.

All this crap after he said I could leave. He lied to me.

Suddenly, I’m in court for a bogus hearing; they declare me crazy; hours later, after being locked in an empty, windowless room without food, water, or bathroom facilities–I had to pee so bad, and did they care?–some sheriff dude drives me, stuck in the back of a caged cop car, to Cherokee; and here I am–in the funny farm. What chance did I have?

Even my lawyer was against me, the old fart.

I can’t go anywhere. I’m in what call an admission ward, a fancy name for locked ward, where they bring my meals to me. They said I have to earn my freedom. Shit. I thought I was in America, the land of the free. Only if you join the Establishment and play by their rules. In a few days, I’ll get an escort card, which means I can go places only if I’m escorted by a staff person.

Every time someone talks to me, I start to cry. Can’t they see I don’t belong here, that this is all a huge mistake? I hate all the questioning they have put me through–I’m so tired of it all. I’ll be in here forever, locked up, never to be seen again. I’ll grow old in here, no husband, no children–no life.

Damn Mo and Dee Dee; I’ll never see them, ever again, at least not voluntarily; they have put me through more misery in one month than I have experienced in my entire life. I have lost all respect for them, nothing but lies, lies, and more lies. Broken promises, sneaky and underhanded conduct. No wonder I’m paranoid.

One minute the nurses say I won’t be in here very long, and the next, they yap about having to earn ground privileges. All my outgoing mail will be monitored, which means I have to be careful what I write to Jeff and my friends. I don’t know about incoming mail. I would think not–I’m not in jail, am I?

Or am I?

But at least I’ll receive all my letters, read by my keepers or not, privacy notwithstanding. I never received Jeff’s last letter–he said he sent it on Valentine’s Day–so I assume Mo and Dee Dee still have it and have probably read it.

At least I talked to Jeff yesterday–I told him about the court hearing, so maybe he’ll figure it out and not worry. The minute I have a free moment without some stranger hovering over me, I’ll write Jeff and tell him I’m okay. I don’t want him to panic or give up on me because I’m crazy, though I’m scared I’ll never get out of here.

Damn scared.

The Long Road of Cherokee

Thursday, February 20

I feel better today; I try to keep busy, and that helps. I can’t change the fact I’m here, so I might as well play the system. I’ll get out that much sooner. I even went to a dance tonight–not as cool as L.A. happenings, but better than nothing. There are lots of people here, but many of them aren’t insane, just struggling with emotional problems they want to solve, most staying a month to six weeks. I want to make friends here, if only to keep from being isolated and bored. I kind of like rapping with the ward clerks and nurses, though some of them act like they feel terribly sorry for you, which I don’t like. But most of them deal with us as human beings. That’s really groovy.

Today, they took my mug shot in the x-ray room. I had quite a frown. I thought they’d cut my hair and make me wear a jail jumpsuit, though I did have to undergo a physical–inside and out, except for the pelvic exam, which will be done later–something to look forward to.

Nothing like a stranger sniffing up your pussy.

So far, Jeff’s been so patient, but for how long? He might decide out I’m not worth the trouble, especially after dealing with Mo and Dee Dee.

Friday, February 21

I’m now a proud owner of a ground card, which means I can go anywhere on the hospital grounds with another patient without being accompanied by a nurse. I’m moving up rapidly. God, it sure feels good to get out and get some fresh air.

Mo and Dee Dee still haven’t sent my clothes. I’ve been wearing institutional wardrobe, clothes older than God. At least I did wear a dress to the hearing, so I don’t have to wear a mu-mu for the social events.

I keep myself busy and continue attending all and any social events, although I don’t have an earth shattering time–it passes the time faster.

If only they would let me sleep in; they get us up with the chickens, 6:00 a.m. We sit around until 7:00, when we go to breakfast. Then we wait for lunch. I’ve been reading and playing cards with the other patients, mostly poker, hearts, and gin rummy. This morning, the hospital offered exercise sessions, which I need badly–Mo and Dee have driven me to compulsive eating. Daytime TV stinks. If they’d let us sleep longer, the days wouldn’t seem so long. On Monday, I’m supposed to start Occupational Training, O.T. for short, a fancy name for Arts and Crafts and Basket-weaving. I was told I might be able to get a job on the outside while I’m here, but the Chaplain said to wait about two weeks before bringing that up with my doctors.

I hope to hear from Jeff soon.

Saturday, February 22

Mo and Dee have accused me of stashing acid and pot around the house. How ridiculous is that? I don’t have a big time connection in Sioux City, and, besides, I wouldn’t take that risk. I have decided–emphatically–that I’m swearing off drugs. I’ve seen nothing but heartache: flipped out people, bad trips, and paranoia. Drugs run the dope head’s life, making him a slave, just like Mo and Dee are slaves to their old ideas. I feel sorry for them. Stoney, too, because I think LSD and the heroin will kill him.

I realize that Stoney doesn’t really want to love–he wants to die.

Acid is a bore; I’ve done about 120 hours of tripping on the same thing: colors, patterns, sounds, and I don’t notice any of the so-called insights. I quit just in time–I’m not quite so paranoid, I no longer have the feeling I’m being watched all the time, not even in here.

I’ve been living in a world of two extremes, trading one for the other: Mo and Dee’s narrow-minded world of false morality and the upside down world of drug abuse.

I’m not surprised at Mo’s lies; she keeps her word only when it suits her purposes. But if the truth stands in the way of something she wants, all bets are off.

But Dee Dee surprises me; he has always been a man of his word. I adored him; he was my model, and I wanted to be as intelligent and informed as he seemed to be. He kept his cool in any emergency. When I was on drugs, I didn’t want him to know about it, but when he found out my secret, I didn’t deny it. I thought I could trust him. So what does he do? He breaks his word, lies, and then expects me to beg for forgiveness. So he declares me unfit for society and sticks me in here.

What a joke. The court appointed me a lawyer for my hearing, and they didn’t even give me a chance to consult him alone. He might as well have been on the other side. When I tried telling my story, they interrupted me. One man kept saying, “Don’t you realize what LSD can do to you?”

Damn, I know, I know. What was he trying to prove?

Okay, I was on drugs. But now I’m off–obviously, they don’t believe me. I’ve made mistakes, but I love life, and I want to explore my future.

If I ever get out of here.

Sunday, February 23

Wolfie flipped out at recreation tonight. I was dancing with him–he seemed okay–but then he squeezed me around my waist and pushed me against the wall. I thought he was going to smother me to death. I told him to stop, but it was like he was in a trance–he just stared at me with those strange beady eyes, like he was going to drill into me. As three orderlies peeled him off me, he screamed and writhed like a snake, and they had to drag him across the floor and tie him to a Gurney.


I later found out he’s in the men’s locked ward for doing something horrible. What, I don’t know. The other patients don’t seem to know the specifics, and the staff isn’t saying.

Why would they allow people like that to mix with the rest of us?

I haven’t heard from Jeff yet; he’ll probably get my first letter from here by tomorrow, but it seems like forever since I’ve been in the shrink house. I couldn’t bear it if he turned his back on me now. I just want to get out!

I’m being so self-centered–at least I don’t have to worry about the draft. Jeff has that worry hanging over him.

What if he gets drafted before I get out of here? I would absolutely die.

Maybe if I talk to my social worker, he’ll see how I am and recommend my getting out as soon as possible.

I wrote Pam last night; I hope she isn’t mad at me.

Dee Dee got his hands on her last letter; she called him an uptight Hoosier. Boy, was he steamed. He called her a 14-karat tramp. If she’s a tramp, then so am I.

I hate when he judges my friends according to Establishment standards.

After four days, still no clothes. You’d think Mo and Dee would at least send them by mail, but I suppose they’re still going through my stuff, reading my letters and diary, finding all the dirt they can dig up and use against me.


Eerie Photo Slides of a Mental Institution


Disclaimer: These are NOT photos of The Cherokee Mental Health Institute, but this place looks eerily similar, especially the grounds, the underground tunnels, and the hallways. In this video, some of the buildings look as though they may have been built in the 1950's; however, most of Cherokee's buildings date from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.


*Video Information for Involuntary Commitment & Drugging, Psychiatry, Civil Rights

Professor John Breeding, has a Ph.D. is psychology. In this video he discusses issues about with the involuntary commitment of mental health consumers.

Wiki Involuntary Commitment


Coalition for the Abolition of Electroshock in Texas


This video was edited by Psychetruth.


PsycheTruth is empowered by TubeMogul


Copyright 2008 CAEST. All Rights Reserved.



Excerpt--February 19, 1969: The Institution

(The Cherokee Mental Health Institute: Cherokee, Iowa)


when you walk

under a tree,

it can be just as annoying

to have a leaf fall on you

as a fly to land on you.

–Jennifer L. Semple

A battery

of psychological

tests reveals

that the patient

manifests some

“mild acting out tendencies

which is consistent

with past behavior.

It is probable

that the inclination

to conflict with social

convention will persist

but genuine anti-social

behavior is contraindicated.”

–Evaluation of Jennifer L. Semple, by R. Lowenberg


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Excerpt--April 2002: Driven 2


(York, Pennsylvania)

Ignited by writer’s block and a spark: driven to question.

As I stared at a blank screen and keyboard, my foot bumped against a chest.

My letters to Jeff, his to me.

At first, just a gentle nudging, eventually an incessant nagging. I tried ignoring the impulse to read them, those reminders of a past that no longer existed, not even as a puff of fog

I don’t want to become like some older people who dwell in the past, who talk incessantly about the “good old days”

I couldn’t remember too many good old days. Yet the letters tugged at me, chanting like sirens, “Read, read, read us.”

So I opened the chest, selected a letter, and read.


Holden Caulfield.

I folded the letter, postmarked February 14, 1969, and slipped it back into the envelope.

I married Holden Caulfield.

Drawn on the front, just below the canceled 6-cent stamp, a G.I. firing a rifle, his bloody target a shirtless barefoot Viet Cong in the defensive position. The caption below the address:
Jeff. A long distance courtship, a child, a marriage, a divorce, another husband–in that precise order. A whole slew of letters, intense, hot, yet oddly ambiguous love dispatches, saved for over 33 years, last read, God knows when.

Years ago, my brother-in-law Keith built and finished a small cherry chest for me as a Christmas present; I gathered together all the letters Jeff and I had exchanged between December 1968 and May 1969, arranged them in order according to postmark, put them into the chest, then forgot them. When we divorced in 1980, I asked Jeff if wanted my letters to him back–I didn’t offer him his letters to me.

“Naw,” he said. “Throw ‘em away.”

Why would you want to keep souvenirs of a failed marriage?

But I couldn’t bring myself to toss them. They represented history, a painful and, at times, ugly history, but it was an important personal history, chronicling in some detail a landmark in my life. I hadn’t thought about those letters in years. They simply existed, tucked away underneath my work table, waiting for an opportune time to open a fissure.



"Girl" (The Beatles)



Driven to read.

It took three full nights to read the 90+ letters. I read them covertly after Jerry went to bed–a guilty secret. What would I find in those dispatches from the past?

My own letters, a disappointment: I had remembered them as being great art, the inner workings of a young girl-woman who had taken on the Establishment and won. Instead, young Jennifer recounted, sometimes endlessly, the minutiae of life in a mental institution. She often obsessed about her relationship with Jeff, the tone of her letters often immature, manipulative, and rambling, some implying future self-destruction should Jeff decide to ditch her. Still, I perceived some insights, epiphanies, self discoveries, and a vague sense of searching for meaning out of a horrifying experience.

Jeff’s letters hinted of a vividly curious mind that it hardly seemed possible that he would even consider me as a future mate. Yet he loved me as only an exuberant 18-year-old boy can; in a March 8, 1969, letter, he wrote:
I can get out your picture, and imagine (if I try real hard) you’re here: your voice, your matter-of-fact way of speaking (always as if you’re explaining something somewhat important–as much, or more, to yourself than anyone else–with a casual formality of tone, and abundance of asides [“and you see,” and “it’s like this”] and very expressive hand movements), your smile (much too sunny and radiant for a street chick. You’re a hopeless idealist!), your old hat, brown outfits with yellow handbags and shoes, very light freckles, skin too white to ever allow you to be a native Californian, and long, brown hair, sometimes dyed black, that, I enviously recall, could blot out your whole face when you combed it.
What girl wouldn’t melt at such a description?

Throughout our brief, but intense, correspondence, his letters, for the most part, retain the optimistic exuberance of a young man who saw a formidable challenge ahead, but who knew that the outcome would be positive.

I was jealous of his letters, even after all those years.

And, yet, despite the superficiality of my own letters, I realized that I just had to read between the lines and reach deep into my memory for the fear, anger, sadness, guilt, and ecstasy I felt back in 1969.

Perhaps I would write a book. First, I needed my hospital records.

I took a deep breath and emailed Cherokee.


"This Boy" (The Beatles)



Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Excerpt--February-April 1969: Driven

The Long Road to Cherokee

(Cherokee, Iowa)

To the institution. I remember this part in black and white. The police car threaded up a hill, wheels crunching the ice. Bare deciduous trees, black evergreens, a gray scape of snow, dead grass, frozen earth. A dreary castle at the apex, spires, a place where a dungeon might exist, not a place I wanted to be.

The car stopped just short of a stone portico. The woman unlocked and opened the car door, motioned me out. “Come along, you.”

The sheriff, the escort, and I climbed some steps. The woman pushed me through the door.

I disappeared inside Cherokee.

The Stone Portico to the Cherokee Administration Building

To forget. I don’t remember much about those first few hours in Cherokee: an intake report, a brief physical, and a mug shot. Maybe even a bathroom break.

Just the terror, the anger, and the thumping of my heart, all in bas relief, the physical details distorted behind crackled glass.

To escape.

For two months, I plotted, begged, cajoled, and lobbied for my release. I wanted only to flee the institution, Iowa, my grandparents.

Close-up of the Portico

Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Friday, September 19, 2008

Excerpt--February 18, 1969: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station


(Sioux City Police Station)

A distraught teenager, Jennifer L. Semple, stormed into the police station, alleging that Harley D. Semple, her grandfather, has been attempting to restrain her against her will.

For her own safety, the girl was moved to a locked interrogation room.

Opal Casey, police matron, interviewed the grandfather and filled out “Mental Illness, Inebriety or Epilepsy,” an informant’s report.

Harley Semple

Jennifer needs help, I’m afraid. I don’t know what to do.

Opal Casey

You could commit her to Cherokee for observation.

Harley Semple

Seems rather drastic, but what choice do I have? She’s so angry, and the drugs...she scares me.

Opal Casey

(Sighing as she scribbles in his name on the information form.) These kids today... (Shakes her head.) Don’t know what’s good for them, what with all these strange drugs and immoral ways. What is the world coming to, anyway?

Harley Semple

(Scratching his forehead.) I don’t know, but if she gets wind of this, she’ll despise me...

Opal Casey

You’re doing the right thing.

Harley Semple

I don’t know if I can do this. (Pauses.) Who’ll pay the hospital bill, anyway?

Opal Casey

(Taps her pen.) I’m afraid you’ll be financially responsible, Mr. Semple.

Harley Semple

(Wringing his hands.) I don’t know. We can’t afford hospital bills; my wife and I are on Social Security and barely making it now. This would kill us financially.

Opal Casey

(Takes in a deep breath and sighs.) I can’t tell you what to do here. It’s your decision.

Harley Semple

(Scratches his chin.) Can’t you sign as informant?

Opal Casey

(She sets down her pen and steeples her hands.) I don’t know the girl. I see she needs help, but, to what extent, I can’t say for sure. It’s really your word against hers.

Harley Semple

(Burying his face in his hands.) Oh, God, I’d rather die than betray her. (Raises his head. Pauses, as if he’s formulating a thought.) It’s not the money, really. If I thought committing Jennifer would help, I’d do it in a blink and worry about the money later. But she doesn’t trust me as it is; this would kill anything between us.

Opal Casey

(Silence. She sighs and picks up her pen again. She taps it against the paper a few times. Then she scratches out “Harley Semple,” and scribbles in her own name.) This is between us, Mr. Semple.

Harley Semple

(Brushes his hair back with his hand. Softly–) Thank you. (Buries his face in his hands and visibly shivers.)

With one scratch of Mrs. Casey’s pen, Woodbury County and Iowa assumed financial and legal custody of the girl.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Page 1 of Jennifer's court records filled out by Opal Casey


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Excerpt--February 18, 1969: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Downtown Sioux City

(Sioux City)

Today, a total disaster. All because I decided it was time to get the fuck out of Sioux City now--nothing here for me anymore.

I got into a huge fight with Mo this morning about some dirty dishes I left in the sink last night. Big deal--I was going to do them this morning, but I wasn’t about to do them after that old bitch yanked me out of bed at 6:30 a.m. and called me a dirty, lazy hippie whore.

Who needs this abuse?

“I’m getting the fuck out of here,” I said, struggling into my jeans, sweater, and shoes. I grabbed a travel bag and threw in my diary from high school, all my letters from Jeff and Pam, and a change of clothes. What else did I need? In Pennsylvania, I could get a job and buy all the clothes I needed--I just wanted out of here, big time. Now.

I slammed the front door behind me and headed for the downtown bus depot to buy a one-way ticket to York.

Dee followed me, and we got into this huge fight, right in the bus station.

“Let’s see what the police have to say,” I said.

As we stepped into the police station, a short walking distance from the bus depot, I knew immediately I had made a huge mistake.

That police matron wouldn’t even listen to me; instead, she had me locked me in some tiny room while Dee Dee told a bunch of lies. They told me only one thing: tomorrow, I’m scheduled at the courthouse for some hearing to determine my sanity.

I wish I could reverse the clock.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Excerpt--February 18, 1969: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Harley Semple, about 1972

(Downtown Sioux City)

Dee Dee slinks behind a department store column. Conspicuous in his oversized raincoat and hat with feather in brim, bumbling around like some hick private dick:

Inspector Clouseau.

Does he really believe I can’t see him? I pretend not to see him.

Sioux City (Historic 4th Street)

I slip inside the depot and buy my ticket to York, Pennsylvania. Which leaves me about $4.00--but, with Jeff’s help, I’ll get by. The bus isn’t scheduled to leave Sioux City for another 90 minutes. I try shaking him, trick him into thinking I’m not splitting yet.

As I turn to leave the station, Dee Dee blocks my way. “Absolutely not!” Dee Dee grabs my arms.

“Let go!”

He grips so tight I can’t move without pushing him to the floor.

“Let go of me, old man.” I try to break free without hurting him.

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“You just try and stop me.” Still trying to break his grip.

He squeezes more. Vise grip.

“Leave me alone!”

Damn! That asshole has no right to hold me against my will. I should just push that old man to the floor, turn tail out of Sioux City, not stopping until I cross the state line into Nebraska or even Illinois.

Instead, “Let’s see what the police have to say.”

Nothing to fear, right? I’m of age, after all, and I’ve done nothing wrong.

After I tell the police about quitting LSD, weed, and Bennies, they’ll let me go. Yes?

Dee Dee releases me.

I flee to the police station, a short distance from the bus depot, Dee Dee at my heels.

The Pink Panther Trailer (with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau)



Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Flashback--October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round



As Stoney, Jeff, and I prowled the strip, we ran into Wild Man Fischer, clenching a tape recorder, one of those portable Juliettes, blasting a song from his new album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer.

He shoved it under my nose and shouted, “Hear my song?”

C’mon let’s merry go, merry go, merry go round! Boop boop boop!

Merry go, merry go, merry go round! Boop boop boop!

Merry go, merry go, merry go round! Boop boop boop!

Me and you can go merry go round!

It’s very easy, just go up and down!

C’mon, c’mon let’s merry go, merry go, merry go round! Boop boop boop!

–“Merry-Go-Round,” Wild Man Fischer

“Yes, Wild Man, we hear it.”


Circle Song



“You like my song?”

“It’s a cool song.”

“You wanna buy it? Only ten cents.”

“Not today, Wild Man. Thanks, anyway.”

A pest, but harmless--probably a rich pest. He fit his name; he was manic, always wound up tight, fast like a fly or hummingbird. He even looked manic: eyes practically popping out of his head, his hair, black and frizzy, stuck out at all angles. He wore a loud yellow shirt with blobs of red, orange, and green, and flip flops, though, sometimes, only one, even when it was cold. Plus, he was constantly running around the strip with that tape recorder.

I’ve heard that he’d spent some time in a mental hospital.

“I’ll play it again,” he said, pushing the rewind button.

“That’s okay.” We inched away.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but he had a way of getting under your skin. And then he’d be off to the next group of freaks. They were all out tonight, unusual for a week night: Julius Caesar, drag queens, streetwalkers–a circus. We verbally sparred with Caesar, an old dude, his Roman soldier costume stolen from 20th Century Fox. He harassed tourists, the middle-aged straights who arrived on the strip decked out in Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts, straw hats, and sunglasses, big clunky cameras around their necks, loud voices: “Hey, Herman, look at the dirty hippies.” Everyone was a dirty hippie because the straights couldn’t distinguish between groups that populate the strip.

Caesar yelled out his standard slogans: “LBJ is a necrophiliac; he digs dead dudes” and “All the way with LBJ; Lady Bird Johnson is a nymphomaniac.”

What a freak; his slogans angered many of the gawkers, who turned red.

Some even yelled back, “America: Love it or Leave it.”

Caesar paid no attention to the counter-yellers--like he was in a trance.

What a nark.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Friday, September 12, 2008

Excerpt--February 1969: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Jeff Brown

(Sioux City)

Finally! I heard from Jeff; he says he’s been writing me all along. I happened to be home alone when the mail came, and, voila! a large envelope covered with psychedelic drawings, a peace sign, flowers, and a slogan: “My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny, in Subtle Forms.” Inside, he let me know that he had written me a very important letter on the 20th. Says he’s turning into a nervous wreck waiting for my answer.

What answer?

I never received any letter from him dated January 20.

I couldn’t even finish his letter, I was s-o-o-o mad.

I confronted Mo and Dee Dee, and we got into this huge fight. They’ve been stealing my letters, and censoring my phone calls. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard from Pam and Eleanor, either. They denied taking any letters and intercepting my phone calls, but I know better. Those old coots are a two-person Gestapo! I hate them! How could they do this to me? Mo thinks I’m the biggest whore in town.

Harley (Dee Dee) and Olive (Mo) Semple

“Why would you want to shack up with all those guys?” she asks. “You’ll have all the time in the world for that necessary evil once you’re married.” Those two Nazi guards are watching over me; they want to mold me into a dental hygienist and darling little housewife.

I called my dear, sweet mother to see if I could come back to L.A.--she told me to go to hell. Bitch. It’s all well and good for her to drink until she’s stupid and screw around like a jackal. What a hypocrite. Why can’t these people stop hassling me? I want to do my thing, without everyone imposing their morals on me. But it looks like L.A. is out of the question; my mother thinks I’m a nut, and Auntie hates my guts. I went to my room and threw things around, just to make my point.

Mo and Dee are making me see this psychiatrist. I hate her, too; she’s on their side, and I have no intentions of telling her anything personal. She’ll just blab back to them. They’re wasting their money. Now they want me to go to college. What a joke. It’s waste of time and money; I don’t need Auntie’s college fund--she should find a kid who wants it. I hated high school, and I doubt if I’d like college much better.

I’m still clean off acid. The flashbacks keep coming back, but now I get a warning: a splitting headache. I hope the flashbacks and headaches eventually go away. I read somewhere that acid doesn’t leave your body for at least two years. I still do whites and grass, but not very often. Bennies are hard to get here, though Isabelle turned me onto some fantastic Acapulco Gold a few days ago. But I’m getting tired of drugs. Weed makes me sleepy and stupid and hungry.

I babysat Aunt Colleen’s kids the other night; I need all the money I can get so I can blow this town. After Colleen and Lyle got home, Mo called, worried about how I would get home; it’s only a block away. It’s a good thing she never saw me wandering the streets of L.A.



"Love Street," The Doors



Last night, I went to the Loft with Susie and her boyfriend, but Dan stood me up, story of my life. No big deal. I didn’t like him much anyway--he was a bit of a creep. Besides, I don’t like juicing with strange guys; they buy you a few Colt 45's, and they think they can ball you. Know what? We had a good time without him. Why can’t guys just be friends with girls sometimes? I like having male friends, but I don’t like the sexual games.

Like with Tom, who I met at Foster’s Freeze, just after Stoney split for New York; he invited me over to see his pad. I told him my sob story, about being all alone. Tom offered me a place to stay, but that’s not what I wanted--I already had a place to crash. I wanted someone who’d listen, a friend. But, then it was too late to hitch back to Ivar Street, so Tom said I could stay over--permanently, if I wanted. That meant only one thing, and I wasn’t interested.

“I have the clap,” I said. That seems to cool a lot of guys off.

“I’ll risk it,” he said. “I’m really horny.”

God, what a character. When I made it clear I wasn’t going to ball him, he cooled off. He was actually pretty nice about it, and I stayed the night. Tom’s a cute guy, but we had known each other for only two days and had nothing in common. He liked classical music, like Madame Butterfly, and I like The Doors.

Even Stoney and I didn’t make love until after we’d been living together for about a week.


Puccini's Madame Butterfly, "Un bel di vedremo," Ying Huang




A couple of nights ago, after reading an article about the Amish, I had a dream that Jeff lived in an Amish community–makes me think about Pennsylvania and what it might be like. What does happen in East Berlin, Pennsylvania, anyway? Makes me think of the Berlin Wall, and how life behind it is regulated–much like my life now.

Jeff’s writing a 1,000 page book about a 28-year old guy on a super ego trip who’s still a virgin. Cool. I haven’t written anything since high school, just three awful novels, two about the Beatles and other rock and roll singers. The third novel is so-so, about a beautiful, smart 17-year-old girl who gets involved in an international spy incident with a German man, based on my old pen pal Hans.

Jeff mentioned Miami and the Siege of Chicago, by Norman Mailer. I was kind of out of it during the election, with L.A., Stoney, and all that acid, but it sounds like a good book, one worth reading. I like the way Jeff describes Mailer’s style: “He chops up pages out of the dictionary into bite-size chunks and pours them onto to a table and comes up with a work of genius.” I’ve never heard a book described like that; this Mailer must be one heavy dude.

I haven’t read anything important lately; my head’s too screwed up. Just a short story in Aunt Colleen’s True Story, a tear jerker about a woman who runs an ad in her local newspaper: “Wanted--Live-in Lover.”

Mo interrupts my reading, something about a pile of dirty dishes to be done.

“Fuck you!” I scream downstairs, and throw some more stuff around. Nag, nag, nag.

After I settle down, I finish reading Jeff’s letter. He can’t get me off his mind and wants me to come out to Pennsylvania.

How heavy is that?

He signed off: “Your loving Big Brother and fretting Also-Ran.”

Stoney was never so poetic.

I don’t need to hitchhike to the East Coast. I have more than enough money to take Greyhound. But Mo and Dee Dee say if I go, don’t bother coming back, ever. As far as they’re concerned, they’ll write me off, forget they ever had a granddaughter named Jennifer. That’s really unfair, making me choose between freedom and them. Maybe they would eventually come around, but I seriously doubt it–they are so rigid.

Maybe Jeff’s right: we should create our own country and the hell with the U.S. and its Establishment values. Secede from the union and get rid of all the narks, parents, employers, and any uncool people.


LSD Trip Simulation



I once met a guy who had the perfect plan for taking over the country and populating it with freaks; he would take a quart of pure liquid LSD, and go from city to city, dumping a tablespoon in each reservoir. Eventually, everyone in every major city would be tripping and grooving; it would be easy, then, to conquer the country, place freaks in positions of power, and exile all the uptight people to one place, like North Dakota. Maybe it would be easier take over a small state; Jeff suggests Iowa might be a good place to hijack.

No way! I want to split so fast, leaving the black Iowa dirt from my shoes behind.


I might consider living with Jeff out of wedlock. Shacking up, as Mo calls it. Why not? If Jeff and I love each other, it only seems natural that we would want to spend our lives together. We wouldn’t be committed legally, but emotionally we would take our decision very seriously.

As Dylan says, the times are a-changin’.

Evidently, Sioux City hasn’t heard the news yet.


Mother (left), Jennifer's two brothers, and an unidentified woman.

I’m bummed. Mom wrote and bawled me out. What gives her the right? She’s nothing but a juice-freak, married four or five times, abandoning two out of her four kids. I’ll never forgive her for what she did to Robin and me. Why the fuck should I listen to anything she has to say?

Mo and I got into a big hairy fight again--as usual. She thinks she can stop me from leaving, but Dee Dee gave me permission, although not his approval--that’s another matter. Mo can be such a bitch. When Tricia--she got married last summer--called to get my address, Mo wouldn’t give it to her.

When Tricia asked why, Mo said, “Because I just don’t want you writing her.”

That kind of shit is for the birds. Tricia isn’t even a hippie, just an ordinary girl who wanted to write to an old high school pal. If she had her way, Mo would chase away all my friends, and lock me up in a tower, and watch me wither of loneliness. I am lonely, which is why letters from Jeff are so important.


I heard from Pam. Jimmie, Eleanor’s old man and major drug dealer, was busted and is still in jail. A lot of the other dealers have split, which is why, I think, Stoney left L.A. It frightens me--although I never dealt--well, maybe a little, but no more.

Just before I left the scene, a girl just breaking into dealing asked me to list the different types of acid, and what was good, what wasn’t. I rattled off the names I knew: Purple Haze, Blue Moons, White Lightning, Orange and Strawberry barrels, Blue Cheer, STP (super acid), Rainbow, and Sunshine. How do I know what’s good or bad? Someone would give me a tab, and I’d pop it. How else do you determine quality of street acid? And this girl’s younger than me.

When Dee Dee was in L.A., I pointed out a street woman to him. “Trash Can Tilly,” named so because she spends her days rooting through the garbage cans around town, looking for food and junk. She’s harmless enough, maybe a little nutty, but everyone likes her.

Dee Dee freaked out; he said, “You’re going to end up like that, if you’re not careful.”

I hope not.

A lot of characters hang out at Wallich’s Music City, like “Wild Man Fischer” and Caesar, permanent fixtures on the strip.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Excerpt--January 1969: What to Do With My Life?

The Hewlett-Packard 9100A

(Sioux City)

Mo’s been bugging me about finding a job.

Is she kidding? I’m not hanging around here long enough to find a regular job. I’ll have to work some day, but the time isn’t right yet.

Maybe I’ll hitch to East Berlin, Pennsylvania, and find a job there.

I agree to work some banquets--only because it’s temporary work, and I needn’t get in that hangup of having to quit again.

This banquet work is tiring, putting up with picky hungry people, unhappy with their food. Can’t they just not worry about it? It’s just one meal, for God’s sake. I could never do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

My job record is shot to hell as it is. I didn’t handle myself too well at the bank–I hated the job with a passion. Even so, I should have quit properly, given my two weeks notice, instead of just not showing up. I should have looked for a job in a head shop like The Crystal Ship, something groovy and fun, not boring, like checking credit histories.

A Credit Checker at Bank of America, Establishment extraordinaire.

For about the first month, the bank job was kind of fun--

Then Maggie left.

It was my job to call credit agencies, employers, mortgage companies, past lenders, and personal references and check the credit of applicants who wanted to borrow money for Toyotas and Fords. I was good at my job, quickly boiling down an applicant’s credit history to its bare essentials. I had been notified that I’d be getting a pay raise, though only a few cents per hour.

Last August--seems like forever ago. I hated that job, sitting on my butt all day and calling all those credit bureaus and references. I hated making phone calls to strangers, but, on my first day, Maggie said, “It’s gotta be done and done fast,” so I went into a zombie state and just did it. Early on, I discovered that it was best to use a pencil when dialing--saved your fingers from getting sore. Also went faster.

The job was okay when Maggie was still there, but a month after finishing up with my training, she left to marry some 30-year-old dude with six-year-old twin girls.

I don’t get it; she didn’t really want to marry him, but she, very attractive, statuesque and blonde with a sunny personality, was desperate to find a man. She kept talking about not wanting to die an old maid. An old maid? She was only 22–lots of time to find her dream man. But too late: they got married the weekend after she left the bank.

She admitted up front that she didn’t love the man.

“I like him, though,” she said.

But if the chemistry isn’t there, it’ll never be there. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life living with a man who makes me feel dead inside. But she gave up a promotion to marry him; management was going to move her up to Collections after Gert handed in her resignation, who stayed on until they found Steph, her replacement. For the next month, I endured Gert screeching all day into the phone at deadbeat borrowers.

Now I endure Mr. Redmond barking orders at Mo, Aunt Doris, and me all evening as we schlep hot plates to the diners. He’s kind of mean, treating Mo like some stupid old woman. Mo may be a lot of things--irritating and bossy, mostly--but stupid she’s not.

I’m glad this job’s temporary--I just wish I knew what I want to do with my life. Get married and have kids. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe the bank job wasn’t all that bad, after all.


Good Manners & the Golden Rule in the Office & Workplace, Part 1 (1950)



Carol, my co-worker, was cool.

She worked the Insurance Desk, figuring out ways to finagle homeowner’s and car insurance for borrowers with iffy credit. She was good at her job, all efficiency and courtesy. But once five o’clock rolled around, she sloughed off the job and became Carol the wild woman--not wild like loose. Just fun wild. She rode a big Harley to and from work, but she was tiny and delicate, with porcelain features, milky skin, and perfectly aquiline nose. Just 23 and married, she had long carrot red hair and big brown eyes. She was the mother of two boys, three and five, both with the same carrot hair.

“I like having fun,” she said. “I dig my job, but when the day is done, I leave it behind.”

I don’t know how she separated the two--I found it hard to think like those bankers without wanting to puke.

Carol and I often went shopping on our lunch hour. She loved trying on sexy mini-dresses--and she looked good in them–but she rarely bought anything. “We’re saving for a house,” she once said.

“I don’t think I’ll ever buy a house.”

“When you have kids, you obsess about the future.” She sighed. “You’ll see.”

I don’t quite see it. I want to have kids some day, but I don’t want to live a regular life.


“Dude gave me this,” Mo says, shoving a magazine in my face. “Read this.”

An ad in Science News, advertising a new kind of computer: “The new Hewlett-Packard 9100A personal computer is ready, willing, and able...to relieve you of waiting to get on the big computer.” It costs $4,900 and is designed to sit on top of a desk top, weighing 40 pounds and equipped with magnetic cards.

Uncle Dude, Mom’s oldest brother, is always tinkering with one gadget or another.

“You should get into computers,” Mo says. “Data processing’s the future. That’s where the money’ll be.”

Yeah, right: women, all women, sitting at their keypunch machines, grinding out punch cards all day, while men make all the important decisions.


Good Manners & the Golden Rule in the Office & Workplace, Part 2 (1950)



My job at the bank stunk, but it was a piece of cake compared to what the keypunchers at the credit bureaus had to do. When I called them up and dictated all customer information, they had to get it right the first time; otherwise, they had to start a new punch card and retype the information from scratch. If they made too many mistakes, they got fired, because time is money. Though keypunchers are paid well, the pressure would get to me--they can have their big salaries. Callers have to speak clearly, spell out names and addresses carefully and slowly, “A as in apple, B as in boy...,” etc. I’d hate to listen to that crap all day, day after day. The fast keypunchers get all pissy if you do each letter like that; by the time I quit, I was beginning to figure out who liked it slow and easy and who wanted it fast.

Keypunchers are not fun women to be around--they can have their jobs.

Mo has no idea what “getting into computers” really means.


HAL 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)

Mission to the Infinite - Music video by DJ Mindsnare.


I’m going to split in exactly one week--where, I don’t know, but I’m definitely going somewhere, anywhere but here. I haven’t heard from Jeff yet. Maybe I scared him, and he doesn’t want me coming to Pennsylvania. I sent him my awful school pic from freshman year--Beatle haircut and white blouse--Mo and Dee Dee hadn’t yet bought my navy blazer with school insignia. Probably grossed him out. Maybe he’s mad at me for coming onto him. Maybe he just wants to be friends, and I blew it for getting all gushy and lovey-dovey.

Haven’t heard from Pam, either.

I’ve got enough money to get to Pennsylvania, but I would have to hitch back, and the more I think about it, the less I dig that idea. It’s one thing to hitch with a guy, but alone...that’s crazy. You never know who’s behind the wheel–maybe a psychopath, like The Boston Strangler.


Cynthia and I are on speaking terms, sort of. I don’t feel the same about her anymore, not since she snitched and showed Mo that letter. Also, her mom is so annoying and naggy--she hates my guts! Thinks Cyn is still five years old. But we still hang out, sometimes.

This afternoon, Cynthia and I hitched downtown; it was three degrees, so we got a ride right away, but I it’s taboo here for girls to hitch alone, the looks we got. Gotta be careful; hitching’s illegal here.


In Hollywood, I did it all the time.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Monday, September 8, 2008

Flashback--October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party



Finally! My real birthday party.

When Eleanor and I arrived at Rudy’s, Pam was already there with her new old man, a tall, about 6'5", Indian dude, like from India, with wide shoulders and huge brown muscles.

“This is Draino,” Pam, barely five-foot, said, tucked under his arm.

“I dreenk anything, hence the name.” He crushed Pam against him.

“He drops anything.”

The party in full swing, Mel, Derrick, and some chick with them were stoned out of their heads. She looked about 15--no way should she have been at a party like this.

Eleanor and Derrick on the outs.

There were some new people here, too, my eye on a dark-haired dude across the room.

Rudy greeted me like I was his best friend in the world. “For the birthday girl, I have a special present.” He handed me a tab of multi-colored acid. “Rainbow. Supposed to be the best on the street.”

The Rolling Stone's "She's a Rainbow" blasts from two large speakers.




I slipped the Rainbow into my pocket. For later. I wanted to check out the dude across the room, who had caught my eye.

“We get together tonight?” Rudy slid his arm around my shoulder.

“Maybe later.” I slipped away. “Thanks for the present.” I found Pam, on the sofa, her top off, kissing Draino.

“Pam,” I said, tapping on her bare shoulder.

“Honey, can’t you see I’m busy?”

“I need to talk with you.”

Pam sighed, disengaged from Draino, and threw on her top. “What’s up?”

“Rudy wants to ball me.”


“Not cool.” I nodded toward the dude across the room. “I want to meet him.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing. You’ve been anointed.”

“That’s okay. How do I get out of it?”

“Look. The thing about Rudy, he doesn’t push–doesn’t have to. He’s got women lined up. He’ll get over it, maybe try again some time, but not tonight. Go to Prince Charming over there.”

I pulled the tab out of my pocket. “He gave me this.”

“Whoa, girl, that’s some super shit. You lucky bitch.”

“Maybe I should give it back.”

“That’s another thing about Rudy–he’s not an Indian giver. Now, I’ve got a date with a super-stud. Split.”

I drew a deep breath and moved across the room.

Prince Charming smiled and introduced himself as Richard, but call him Rick.

I was drawn to this guy, his dusky complexion, brown eyes, and perfect teeth. He didn’t strike me as a true hippie--he was dressed too well and his hair was too short--but he was so gorgeous, and he was interested in me. He was already tripping, his pupils fully dilated, two black coals.

He could be the one.


"Birthday" (The Beatles)

Scenes from the Fritz Lang silent classic "Metropolis" with BGM the Beatles' "Birthday"


I dropped my Rainbow.

Rick and I stayed up all night, talking and tripping–

A birthday sendoff, the best acid I’ve ever had.

Rainbow colors, dimensions, music that paints the sky with its broad strokes, fluid walls, incredible glittering trails flowing from our fingers and mouths, even our feet...Maybe some day I can describe an acid trip without stumbling over my own words.

Rick and I slow danced, swaying to the music, even fast hard rock, he growing hard.

I was excited, too, but--

“I want you,” he whispered.

“Let’s just stay this way.”

He didn’t push, though I sensed impatient animal instinct, something sexually dangerous about him, like a panther, held back by a thin tether. That if I offered all myself, he’d rip into my body and consume my flesh, leaving behind nothing but a pile of bones.

We made out, French kissing and feeling each other up--each kiss reaching deep into my throat and down to my loins--

Each kiss a different color of the rainbow; a different note on the musical scale; each flick multi-textured: flutter, rock, hot lava, feather, pillow, sand paper, fire and ice .

He undid his belt and unzipped his jeans--no underwear. He thrust hard against my jeans, a shudder rumbling through him, me, the room, all of Hollywood, like a quake. He jerked upward and groaned. When he stopped, a warm wetness on my jeans. “Oh, baby.”

Too stoned to worry about the stain on my crotch.

Rick grew slack; we sprawled on the floor, he, apparently satisfied and calm, I relieved I hadn’t balled him.

We fell asleep.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Excerpt--January 17, 1969: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Jennifer's home (West Third Street, Sioux City, Iowa) 1964-1968

(Sioux City)

There must be some kind of way outta here

said the joker to the thief

There’s too much confusion...

I can’t get no relief

–“All Along the Watchtower,”
Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan


"All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix



What a drag--it’s not only literally cold here, but the icy chill coming from Mo is frightening; I definitely want to blow this joint as soon as possible.

Yesterday, when we stepped off the plane, I thought she was going to hit me. Instead, she said, “You look awful.”

Like she looked so great herself.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said.

Olive ("Mo") and Harley ("Dee Dee") Semple in front of their West Third Street home.

Dee Dee told her to ice it.

“How could you do this to us?” She burst into tears.

Like I personally set out to hurt her.

Back at the house, I fell into bed and slid into a dream, reliving my birthday party at Rudy’s--once I ditched my relatives.

The night I met Rick, heartbreaker and prick.



Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Sunday, September 7, 2008

Excerpt--August 2004: The Miracle of Google


August 2004

(Delta Flight #5883 to Omaha, Nebraska, on approach)

I yearn to understand my mother, but I doubt if I ever will.

Jennifer's Mother (in green), circa 1970 (age 39)

I Googled her as Jan Durrell, her professional name. Mary Lou “Marilyn” Semple Carson Kraft Whalen was a burlesque dancer who performed under the Durrell name.

On “Java’s Bachelor Pad,” accessed through Google, a full body pinup of Mary Lou, scantily clad in a red feather bikini and high heels, her short hair platinum, adorns the cover of Devils Dance in Me, by Lee Shepard (Chariot Book, 1963), accompanied by the blurb, “Her body ruled her brain. She lived in a town where female flesh was willing, waiting–and dirt cheap.”

Jennifer's mother as Jan Durrell

A pulp fiction cover.

Her pose, by today’s standards, is mild: Jan Durrell, head haughtily tossed in the air, her chest thrust forward, legs slightly apart, right hand on lower hip seems to dare the men gawking at her to try any funny stuff.

Even knowing what my mother was, I’m still shocked by the pinup.

She’s my mother, for God’s sake.

Jan Durrell spot in Gala Magazine, probably the early 1950's

Of four defining early events in my life, Mary Lou dominates three.

One: Mother’s chronic alcoholism. In 1979, Mary Lou died of liver failure–a slow suicide. She was just 48. To this day, her shadow trails me–as if she’s tapping on my shoulder, begging forgiveness. It’s difficult, though–probably why she continues to plead–but my inability goes beyond her lifestyle choices. I would forgive for that.

Two: Robin, my younger sister, and I being run over by a truck. Mary Lou was in bed when it happened–hung over. Robin and I escaped unharmed, at least physically, though, at six, I got a crash course on the concept of death. Experts insist the age of reason comes later, but I know better; it comes when it’s awakened.

Three: Robin and I being raised apart, she in Arkansas, I in Iowa. I’ll always feel a profound sadness and loss and, yes, anger. If only Mary Lou had reconciled her life, my grandparents would not have been forced to choose between raising Robin and giving her up.

Mom, if you were alive, I would tell you: your own mother Mo carried the guilt of that decision to her grave. As I grow older, I understand why she and Dee Dee gave up my sister, though knowledge doesn’t lessen pain. It only affects how I choose to forgive; she did what she thought was best and made a decision that offered little clarity of hindsight.

But it was the wrong decision. Thirty years later, in 1987, when I finally reunited with Robin, how could I blame her for preferring ties with her Arkansas kin? She remembers nothing about Mother or me, so how could she possibly love us?

Mother, your part in this drama is unforgivable. I’m still working on forgiving Mo and Dee Dee, now long dead. Perhaps this year’s trip to Sioux City will be one leg in that process. I concede that you had little to do with Cherokee, defining event four; by this time, you were remote from my life. But you should know that I’m about to undertake one of the most important journeys of my life. I’m going to the Woodbury County Courthouse, obtain my commitment records, accept whatever they reveal.

I might even go to Cherokee again.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Blaze Starr, Queen of Burlesque


NOTE: Mother aspired to be a burlesque dancer in the league of Blaze Starr, but it was never to be. She did work in some of the same clubs as the comedian Lenny Bruce and his wife Honey, but she was always on fringes of the industry.

When I was 17, she taught me some of the classic moves performed by strip tease dancers, but it was never something I wanted to do.

"Jennifer Juniper," Donovan Leitch, 1968 (YouTube)

Jefferson Airplane


Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love"

Jefferson Airplane performing live both "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. More