The Mojave Phone Booth

Just as my generation never knew of the automat except in cultural history books, the current crop of young adults likely has no first-hand experience with public coin-operated telephones. Given that cellphones are ubiquitous, who now would ever need to drive around town looking for [one of the very few extant] coin-op examples on which to make a call? Were it not for Maxwell Smart reruns, Bill & Ted, retro Superman comics, and Dr Who, I doubt anyone younger than 40 would even know that payphones and their booths once existed @ drug stores, bus stations, libraries, and street corners nationwide.

As I prepare for my own relocation to a far-away desert location in coming months, two observations are unavoidable. First, truth really is stranger than fiction. And second, the American Southwest is a very odd place.

the Mojave Phone Booth

the Mojave Phone Booth

Enter the Mojave phone booth.

California instituted a network of what were called ‘policy stations’ after WWII in an attempt to bring infrastructure – in this case, telephone service – to remote parts of the state. A public phone booth was installed in 1948 not far from the Cima Cinder Mine in eastern San Bernadino County. This was done at the behest of one Emerson Ray, owner of the mine, in order to provide payphone service to the (very few) local employees in the area. The phone booth was located at the intersection of two remote dirt roads – 35° 16′ 40” North, 115° 43′ 53” West, to be exact – eight miles from the nearest pavement, and fifteen miles from the nearest numbered road.

At first, the phone inside the booth was a hand-cranked magneto, but that was replaced by a rotary coin-op in the 1960s, and then a touch-tone model in the 1970s.

The only problem? The mine closed.

The phone and booth remained.

In the late 1990s, the nascent Internet took notice of the isolated booth, located inside what had since become the Mojave National Preserve. A hiker from Los Angeles spied a ‘telephone icon’ on his map of the expanse and, in disbelief, decided to visit the site. Yes, there it was. He made note of the phone’s number, and when he got back to LA, wrote an article for an underground paper telling of his adventure and publishing the number. Before long, a reader created a website dedicated to the phone, and soon fans were calling the number. Others went to see the phone and to answer any incoming calls; a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visited and found a man camped there who had been at the site for a month and had answered over 500 incomings, including one from an individual who identified himself as “Sergeant Zeno at the Pentagon.”

The booth, in the middle of nowhere, became covered in graffiti, and detritus of the visitors from all around the world littered the site. Its days were numbered. PacBell removed it on 17 May 2000 at the request of the National Park Service, largely because of vocal environmentalists unhappy with the effects of all of the increased traffic.

PacBell is said to have destroyed the booth. A headstone-like plaque was installed on the empty site, but that was later removed by the park service as well… but not before an eponymous indy rock back, short film (Dead Line), documentary (Mojave Mirage), full-length movie (Mojave Phone Booth), and extensive coverage by National Public Radio guaranteed the phone’s pop-cultural apotheosis.

All is not lost. The phone booth’s number is no longer owned by PacBell, instead having been acquired by a small regional provider. And that number now rings into a conference call, sometimes. The idea is that strangers can once again connect just as when the phone booth was still active. But if there is no one else on the line, it’s often just static.

BTW, the number is (760) 733-9969. And if you get through, ask for Sergeant Zeno.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Anno Domini

For Christians, December 25th by tradition marks the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore the start of a new year in their calendar.

[sidebar: that the Western new year actually begins a week after Christmas goes back to Julius Caesar and, by necessity of length, will be fodder for another post]

From where, then, do we get ‘BC’ (‘Before Christ’), ‘BCE/CE’ (‘Before/Common Era’), and ‘AD’ (Anno Domini, or ‘In The Year Of Our Lord’)? That’s not as simple a question as it may seem; no one in what would later come to be known as, say, 10 AD called the year thus, since Jesus was by then merely an unknown pre-adolescent in Judea.

The Christian calendar got off to a rocky start as the society from which it sprang, that of the Romans, measured the passage of time from pagan emperors and events. There were two competing Roman calendars, that of Anno Mundi (‘In The Year Of The World’) which counted from the founding of Rome (753 BC), and later that of Anno Diocletiani, created by its namesake (244-311 AD), which narcissistically measured time from his ascension to the purple robe.

Diocletian fomented numerous persecutions of Christians. He particularly enjoyed Damnatio ad Bestias, what the Romans called the amusement of throwing Jesus’ followers to the wild animals. Little wonder, then, that those potentially facing the lions didn’t want to measure the passage of their lives in reference to the man who so hated them.

Fast forward several centuries. Christians, along with everyone else, had been forced by lack of reasonable alternative to use the calendar of Diocletian. For a while, some tried to employ an Anno Adami system (‘In The Year Of Adam’), but it was confusing, impossible to accurately measure, and never caught on. In 525 AD, though, a monk, Dionysius of Scythia Minor (Romania), was tasked with creating a liturgical table to determine on what dates Easter was to occur in subsequent years.

[sidebar: recall that Easter is the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, which is why it changes every year]

Dionysius decided to be rid of all association with the Christian-hating Diocletian once and for all. He is the first author of whom we know whose extant work measured time from Jesus’ birth. He listed the first year of his table as 532 Anno Domini; why he didn’t use 525 AD is unclear, but as modern scholars believe that Jesus was actually born sometime between 6 BC and 4BC, not in 1 AD, Dionysius wasn’t actually far off.

But the Anno Domini system didn’t catch fire until after the Venerable Bede authored The Ecclesiastical History Of The English Peoples (731 AD), and used it throughout his discourse. Bede’s writings were also notable for introducing the concept of ‘BC’ (what he called Ante Incarnationis Dominicae, or ‘Before The Time Of The Lord’s Incarnation’) and setting 1 BC to have been the year immediately prior to 1 AD, ignoring any potential Year Zero.

After Bede’s landmark tome, both Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 AD) and the Holy See (11th century AD) officially adopted the Anno Domini system to measure the passage of time. From that point forth, it quickly became widespread in Christendom.

[sidebar: for some odd reason, in English, ‘Before Christ’ didn’t appear in writing until the late 17th century – ‘Before The Lord’s Incarnation’ was used instead – and one doesn’t see the published abbreviation ‘BC’ until the early 19th century]

So that explains BC and AD, but what of BCE and CE? Are they strictly used by non-believers, just as Christians eschewed the use of Diocletian’s calendar? Not entirely (and to no small degree because the modern conservative political prism and the so-called War on Christmas were still years in the future!)

While BCE/CE have been popular amongst Jewish authors since at least the mid-19th century (when Rabbi Morris Raphall published his widely read Post Biblical History Of The Jews), the nomenclatures’ uses far predate the middle of that century.

The German astronomer Johannes Kepler adopted his own terminology, Vulgaris Aerae (‘Vulgar Era’), freely interchangeably with Anno Domini in his scientific treatises of the early 17th century. This was in part because, in Kepler’s time, the Latin root of ‘vulgar’ was closer in meaning to ‘ubiquitous’ – that is, Kepler was merely employing a Christo-centric view of the civilized world. Later in that century, though, when ‘vulgar’ came to mean ‘uncouth’ in the non-academic English vernacular, many Western authors, staying true to Kepler’s intent but desiring to apply terminology that was not potentially pejorative, employed ‘Common Era’ in lieu of ‘Vulgar Era,’ both interchangeably with Anno Domini.

So despite what modern Christian apologists maintain – that ‘CE’ is short for ‘Christian Era’ – that is not borne by the historic record. And over the very years it was designed to measure, reference to the Common Era has gained much traction in modern scholarly circles in an attempt to sever the documentation of time from its semantically parochial roots.

Merry Christmas!

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Wonder Drug

A (foreign-born) relative of mine – one with extensive medical training – has chronic difficulty sleeping. X has attempted all of the usual sleep-hygiene techniques. X has also tried the rather traditional drug/ health food store aids (e.g., Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Melatonin, l-Tryptophan) and much of the prescription stuff (e.g., Seroquel, Remeron, Ambien). X often sleeps in fits and spurts regardless, and has become frustrated, tired of going to the family doctor for help that doesn’t actually help.

One day recently, X and I were going through the belongings of another relative who had visited the U.S. and then departed, inadvertently forgetting some personal items and then asking for smalls to be mailed to her. In reviewing what to send and what to keep for the next visit, X came across a small bottle of liquid. X sat down, looking at the label, and smiling.



“What did you find?”

“Ah, this is what we used in [the Old Country]. It’s great stuff.”

“For what?”

“It’s a nerve medication. And a heart medication, for high blood pressure, angina, and tachycardia. It calms you down. It even works for gastrointestinal cramping. But most people also use it for sleep. Old people love it. You mix it with water and maybe some sugar. I used it years ago. It’s great.”

Intrigued by this rather vague and all-inclusive description from a fellow medical professional, I asked for translation, as the label was written in a tongue I do not speak.


Before I go further, let me remind readers that much-vaunted Western Medicine (and culture) has a long history of employing stuff back in the day that we wouldn’t be caught dead using now. Freud was a vocal proponent of cocaine, a sanguine view shared by the original recipe for Coca Cola. 7-Up at one time contained lithium. The Victorians freely employed alcohol for colicky children. Before it was outlawed in the 1960s, many residency programs employed LSD as a means of teaching budding psychiatrists about psychosis. Benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium and its brethren) were handed out like candy by some practitioners when first on the market, as a “safe” alternative to other sedative-hypnotics. You get the picture.

So, a MedPub search of Corvalol turns up some very interesting information.

It is OTC in many central and eastern European nations and in former Soviet states, and there is a booming market for it in immigrant communities. Usually brought into this country in small amounts as personal Rx (and with labels that can’t be read by customs anyway), it is available as scored tablets, though it is more often found as a (liquid) tincture to be mixed with a beverage of choice before consumption.

It is neither approved nor legal in the U.S. in its traditional formulation. It can be obtained online, but is then missing some of its key ingredients when shipped via approved channels, rendering it, in the words of one disgusted user, “piss water.”

Okay, so what comprises this wonder drug? As brewed by its two manufacturers – Farmak Pharmaceutical Manufactory of Kiev, Ukraine, and Krewel Meuselbach GmbH of Frankfurt, Germany – it contains myriad inactive ingredients (i.e., lactose monohydrate, magnesium stearate, β-cyclodextrin, potassium acesulfam, peppermint oil), and then

• Alcohol (the tincture 96% by volume) which needs no introduction;
• Ethyl ether of α-bromizovalerianate, a combination of bromide and herbal valerian root extract;
• Phenobarbital.

Bromides have been employed as flame retardants, gasoline additives, and pesticides – appetizing, yes? – though in humans, they have a long and storied history as anxiolytics and anticonvulsants starting in the 19th century.

[sidebar: for those readers from Baltimore who are familiar with the city’s landmark Bromo-Seltzer tower, that widely-known medicinal agent lost its namesake ingredient in 1975 by U.S. Food and Drug Administration fiat]

Valerian started as perfume in the 16th century Mediterranean basin. It has been historically used for insomnia and conditions associated with anxiety. It has also been applied in folk medicine for infantile convulsions, epilepsy, attention deficit, chronic fatigue, joint pain, asthma, migraines, menstrual cramps, and symptoms associated with menopause. Despite minimal scientific data that valerian can reduce coronary vessel spasm in certain cases, the remainder of these therapeutic claims are unsupported by any research at present.

As for Phenobarbital, it is an anticonvulsant barbiturate and DEA schedule IV controlled substance. There are no clinical trials supporting its use in cardiovascular or bronchospastic states. It can also alter the metabolism of other Rx when taken in combination – thus, gerontologists oppose its use in the elderly due to the high rate of physical dependence and risk of toxicity even at low doses.

And yet, the lack of controlled studies notwithstanding, in a number of countries, Corvalol is widely available – sometimes even mandated – in first aid kits (e.g., those accessible on public transportation), alongside aspirin, nitroglycerin, and activated charcoal, and freely dispensed as needed.

Sleep tight!

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

My Struggle

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ~Requiem For A Nun

I have always loved Faulkner’s oft-recounted quote, since it is true on so many levels.

With that in mind, here is an odd present-day story that started almost a century ago, and is neither dead nor past.

Adolf Hitler wrote the draft for his 720-page autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), while imprisoned after the failed coup of 1923. It represented his vision and blueprint for a National Socialist world, and was not at first a best-seller when released in 1925 (9000 copies). Once Hitler rose to prominence, however, the Nazis mandated its distribution to soldiers, newlyweds, and schools nationwide, and it started to generate large sums in royalty. Over Hitler’s lifetime, it is estimated that the book sold 10M copies (and ~$430M for its author, adjusted for inflation, all of it tax-free since he was in charge and made the rules).

Fast forward to May 1945. Hitler was dead and the war was fast closing. Bavaria, as the jurisdiction of Hitler’s official residence (Munich), seized all of his property, including the rights to the book. None of Hitler’s distant surviving heirs cared to contest this confiscation. And through assertive de-Nazification efforts, the Bavarian government promptly prohibited the publication of Mein Kampf, now their book, anywhere in (then-West) Germany.

But of course, that had little binding effect on other countries, where the tome continued to be printed and sold to varying degrees, both by previously-licensed publishing houses and bootleg operations [strangely, it has enjoyed strong sales in both Turkey and India]. Those international licensees then generated royalties for the legal copyright holder – the reluctant Bavarian state.

[sidebar: Bavaria holds the copyright for most of the world, but things are a little different in the U.S. and U.K. More on that in a moment…]

So, what to do with the tainted gains? Bavaria started to quietly donate all proceeds to charity.

In the U.S., Houghton Mifflin purchased the rights to Mein Kampf in 1933. The U.S. government seized the copyright in 1942 under the Trading With The Enemy Act – even though Houghton Mifflin is an American company based in Boston – and amazingly held it until 1979, placing the $139,000 generated in sales over those years in the War Claims Fund. In 1979, with no fanfare or press release, Houghton Mifflin bought back the rights from Uncle Sam for $37,254, and then proceeded to pocket over $700,000 in sales over the next two decades. When this was publicly revealed in 2000, the chagrined publisher said that they were distributing the monies to charities that promote “diversity and cross-cultural understanding,” and a host of other things that Hitler would have hated. Still, many of those charities – the Red Cross amongst them – refused to take the cash, leaving Houghton Mifflin wondering if buying back the rights was such a good business idea after all.

In the U.K., Hurst & Blackett (Random House) had purchased the rights to a translated English version from Hitler’s publisher also in 1933, still retaining that right in the post-war years; as with the Bavarians, H&B gifted all proceeds to charity. Interestingly, the Jewish charities initially selected didn’t want the money, so H&B started gifting anonymously (and it remains uncertain if the recipients ever knew the source of the donations).

Under U.K. law, the copyright on Mein Kampf expired in 1995. And under both U.S. and German copyright law, Mein Kampf is scheduled to enter the public domain in seven weeks, on January 1st, 2016. But while that will sever any direct connection between the text and Hitler’s estate, publishers, or those who directly dealt with them, it doesn’t mean that the book will not still be printed and sold.

Meaning that, ninety-two years after first conceived, the hate-filled diatribe of a fallen dictator dead for seventy years is still churning out income… that no one wants.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

[from the medical records dept] Alas, Poor Yorick!

[this missive first appeared from The Alienist in early 2013]

“Bones are all that survive of the body. They are keys to our collective past and reminders of our own mortality, so it is no mystery that they have a magic aura for artists, for the faithful of many religions, for collectors, for all of us.”
~Barbara Norfleet (1993)

In the winter of 1983 I engaged in that time-honored rite of passage known as the campus visit. In this case it was pursuant to my applications to medical school. Of the schools I had tentatively chosen, all of the curricula were similar, and the work load at each appeared predictably onerous. But one thing that stood out almost immediately was the manner in which the respective schools addressed and dealt with the dead. And I don’t necessarily mean dead patients. I mean dead teaching tools and specimens.

Case in point: at one public university, as part of the prospective students’ tour, we were brought through the anatomy lab. I remember that it was a large antiseptic room with gurneys, tables, and bodies in zipped bags, along with some articulated skeletons on stands next to the walls. I didn’t sense anything lurid about the showing of this area to the applicants; it was just another part of the tour: “on your left, you see some cadavers, and over here on your right….”

However, later at a private university, it was entirely different. The prospectives’ tour stopped outside the doors to the anatomy lab, and the tour guide said, “here is the anatomy lab. I can’t take you inside because it would violate the sanctity of the area. Every day before we begin our dissection, we have a moment of silence and introspection to thank the deceased for their priceless gift to us and our ability to learn from them and assist in the care of those who are still living.”

What a contrast! It’s not that I’m advocating for disrespect, but the second institution struck me as utterly dour. Being accepted at both, I wound up going to the first school, and I didn’t regret the choice. And yes, I did later give my cadaver a name, one rather tongue-in-cheek and in keeping with the usual ‘whistling past the graveyard’ approach to death employed by many in the health professions.

So much for that moment of silence and introspection.

But I’ve pondered at length since then the manner in which we collectively interact with the dead in the 21st century. I’m not a policy-maker, a mortician, a crime scene investigator, or a hospice-worker. But I do think our society’s approach is rather schizophrenic, perhaps reflecting our own conflicted feelings.

Another case in point: later, as a second year medical student, one recurrent exercise in pathology class was known affectionately as the “pot case” or, better, “the man in a can.” Teaching assistants would obtain the leftovers from recent autopsies performed in the medical center and would place the offal in large plastic buckets. Hearts, livers, pertinent bones, brains, kidneys. Any part of a human body was potentially sloshing around inside. After pots were distributed, we would divide into groups and dump out the contents. We’d be told that we had an hour to look through the contents and then to report on our findings. It seemed entirely scientific and not in the least lurid. But while I remember the pathologies encountered in the pots quite well, I have no recollection of ever having pondered the ultimate question: “who WAS this person, and did she ever think that she was going to wind up like this?”

When one looks, human remains are everywhere. There are medical museums – the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington DC and the Mutter in Philadelphia come to mind – with vast collections of bizarre wet and dry specimens. The Smithsonian has anthropological exhibits of human skulls from around the world, and other academic and research centers possess similar holdings. There are the Capuchin ossuaries in Italy, charnal houses in Egypt, and bone chapels in Portugal that are filled with piles of skulls and stacks of femurs and pelvic bones upon which we gaze. Extant life-sized statuary of saints from the Middle Ages often employ real bones as accessories. And as a lapsed Freemason, I can personally attest that human crania do indeed find their way into lodge ritual more often than not.

So then there is the unavoidable question: how to treat those remains that are not in the ground? It’s not as easy a question as it might at first seem. Many answer by waffling on the age and apparent anonymity of the original owners – specimens from ancient Paleolithic sites rarely stir visceral emotions, whereas that difficult grey zone is encountered, skirting frank grave-robbery, when the remains at issue are nearly identifiable or at least bear an association with someone(s) still living.

For example, at legislative hearings in the 1990s over the fate of the Dickson burial mound in Illinois (active 9thc – 13thc CE), Professor Raymond Fogelson of the University of Chicago spoke for (a distinct minority within) the scientific community when he characterized the curated display of human remains from that site as “obscene pornography.” I prefer to think that another academic who testified, Professor William Sumner, also from the University of Chicago, was closer to accurate when he said that the display “fires the imagination of school children and adults alike…. It inspires a striking recognition of how the past is a continuation with the present and leaves a lasting impression that leads to an enriched intellectual life.”

Besides, it’s not as though such academic collections are spread out to gawkers like a carnival side show. As author Christine Quigley noted in 2001, “the bulk of institutional collections of human remains is rarely visible to the public, despite the fact that displays of [such] are among the most effective tools for luring people into museums.”

And admittedly, not all displays of human remains fall into the academic realm. The successful Bodies tour that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands in cities all across the U.S. is one example of the (some would say crass) commercialization of the dissected dead. There are businesses that specialize in providing “osteological specimens” – certainly a sanitized description – to just about anyone with interest and cash. Prominent auction houses have sold remains when they have historical interest. And human skulls and other bones are freely available online to anyone, no questions asked, as long as the items are listed as “medical teaching tools” to circumvent purported bans on selling body parts on the Internet.

This dichotomy is perhaps easier to understand when viewed through the prism of the early modern age, a time when the scientific method was blossoming alongside P.T. Barnum. Or as Alberti and Hallam presciently noted, “the macabre seeds sewn in the Enlightenment bore their morbid fruit in the Victorian era. Medical collections founded in the late 18th and 19th centuries were at the intersection of a number of cultural and scientific currents: the development of pathology and comparative anatomy as disciplines, the formalization of medical education, European colonial expansion, and the spread of popular shows and exhibitions.”

There is a wonderful book entitled Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930, by Warner and Edmonson. Based on the vintage collection of the Dittrick Museum of Case Western Reserve University, the book illustrates a surprisingly common form of group photography that became popular around the turn of the 20th century – medical students and house staff posing with skeletons and cadavers. If you search ‘cadaver’ and ‘antique’ and ‘photograph’ on Google Images, you’ll find dozens of these pictures. It seems that just about every American medical school and hospital of the day had students and staff posing openly with the dead.

This ‘art form’ died out after WWII – students would risk expulsion were they to try this today – but even when viewed through the lenses of modern sensibilities, the photos, at least to me, do not seem exploitative or pornographic. Instead the scenes appear innocent, good natured, and in a manner, curious and inquisitive.

But the question remains answered, if at all, unsatisfactorily. It is still unclear what has changed in our collective consciousness of, and appreciation for, the dead. Is it political-correctness run amok? Or something deeper that we are only now coming to understand?

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The House Of The Rising Sun


There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I’m one

I have always loved The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun, a haunting rock ballad that was released in this country in 1964, and went to the top of the Billboard chart in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Sweden, and Finland in short order. Interestingly, this version known to most Americans today – the first British Invasion #1 not connected to the Beatles, and one currently listed amongst the 500 greatest arrangements of all time by both Rolling Stone and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – was performed in one (unpracticed) take on May 18th of that year in a London studio, and was not re-recorded a single time before release.

The Animals' Album

The Animals’ Album

Having spent time in New Orleans at Charity Hospital as a resident, and being quite familiar with the seedier side of The Big Easy, I have long believed that the song lamented a young man ruined by a life spent in the song’s namesake house of ill repute. Except now, it appears that such is not the case.

The score and lyrics have also been known as the Rising Sun Blues before The Animals’ best known release. It’s had a long and storied existence on both sides of the Atlantic. The earliest known version of the song in this country was recorded by Appalachian folk artist Tom Ashley in 1934. When asked about it, Ashley merely noted that he had learned the song from his late father, and he had no idea from where his father had learned it. The tune has been covered by Georgia Turner (1937), Woody Guthrie (1941), Josh White (1947), Lead Belly (1948), Pete Seeger (1958), Frankie Laine (1959), Andy Griffith (1959), Joan Baez (1960), Mirian Makeba (1960), Bob Dylan (1961), Nina Simone (1962), the Chamber Brothers (1967), Frijid Pink (1969), Jody Miller (1973), Dolly Parton (1981), and Five Finger Death Punch (2014), to name only some; the gender of the song’s subject varies by the artist, suggesting either a ruined man or fallen woman. And there is even a Spanish language version released by Los Speakers (1965).

Paradoxically, Dylan – who arguably attained greater lasting fame – stopped playing the song in concert after The Animals’ smash hit because he was tired of being accused of plagiarism even though he did it first!

A persistent urban legend exists that both The Doors and Led Zeppelin covered the song as well, but as of this writing, no such recordings from either group are known.

Musicologists have opined that the song’s authorship is murky at best, and that it is derived from 18th century folk ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake, about a prodigal son dying of syphilis. These musical scholars suggest that the song was only adapted to a Louisiana setting after crossing the Atlantic with early immigrants.

To further muddy the (Mississippi) waters,
• Alan Price of The Animals has said in at least one interview that he was told the song was about a now-defunct Soho brothel, but he wasn’t entirely certain; he claimed that he first heard it when touring with Chuck Berry, and decided to incorporate it into their repertoire “because it was distinctive.”
• Extant records from Orleans Parish do not document any bawdy houses of the late 18th through early 20th centuries – yes, they were usually licensed and recorded back then – by the name of Rising Sun. There was, however, a small hotel thus named on Conti Street in the French Quarter that burned down in 1822 (sidebar: archaeologists have found a large number of cosmetic containers at this site). There was a coffee house with the title next to the Quarter in the 1860 census. There was a Rising Sun on Decatur Street in the late 1860s that has been variously described as a restaurant, a café, or a saloon. And there was a dance hall with the moniker in the Carrollton district of the city in the 1890s. Whether any of these businesses offered a secondary line of services upstairs is not entirely clear.
• Maybe the reference isn’t to a brothel at all, but to a proprietor of same? There was a suspected bordello at 1614 Esplanade Avenue from 1862-74 that was owned by one Madam Marianne LeSoleil Levant, her name being French for “Rising Sun.”
• And the reference to “ball and chain” in the fifth stanza suggest that the house in question may, in fact, be a jail. The front door of the old Orleans Parish Women’s Prison is said to have had a rising sun motif on the cornice. That noted, the phrase is often used as a euphemism for the bonds of holy matrimony, leading credence once again to the (frustrated husband in the) brothel angle.

Not everyone believes that there necessarily even exists a discoverable American historical antecedent to the song, especially given its apparently murky roots in Old Country folklore. Pamela Arceneaux, a librarian working at the Williams Research Center in New Orleans, has been quoted as saying, “to paraphrase Freud, sometimes lyrics are just lyrics.”

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Size Matters

There’s that old adage of Lone Star narcissism and self-indulgence that everything in Texas is bigger. In the antebellum South, the diameter of a woman’s hoop skirt usually reflected wealth and status. Sumo wrestlers are the rock stars of Japan. The number of annular rings in a cross section of a giant redwood reveals its age. European royalty and judicial luminaries of the 18th century competed to don the most luxuriant and elaborately curled perukes. And in the adult film industry, well… let’s not go there.

In short, size (or whatever parameter of magnitude you desire) does matter.

[quick sidebar: customization matters too. In the American Civil War, common military conscripts were issued frumpy outerwear called sack coats, their similarities to the canvas potato bags of the day being unavoidable. Those stylish enlistees of means and middle rank, however, paid extra for a tailored version known as the shell jacket, that which men often are seen wearing in formal portraits of the day as the antebellum females swoon]

Combining those two observations brings me to an unmistakable ‘fact’ about the doctor’s white coat.

When I was a student, and later intern, we were issued the medical version of the sack coat. Formless, hip-length, off the rack, of coarse scratchy fabric, and with sleeves that were always ill-fitting, these atrocities made us look like the kids’ toy Weebles (who wobble but don’t fall down). Before long, they all looked dingy despite the number of washings. The young women in my class, and those few men regarded as clothes-horses, however, bought their own jackets of higher quality and had them tailored to fit and regularly drycleaned. All, though, were hip length. And by late intern year, many hold-outs had chucked their sack coats and opted for something more fitting albeit still utilitarian and of acceptable length.

As one progressed up the food chain, the quality of the coats and length improved (and, I would posit, the cleanliness). Upper level residents wore longer coats. Junior attendings a bit longer. And eminent attendings had coats of regal length – the perception magnified if that doctor was of short stature – with stylish pleating, belts, and fabric buttons in lieu of the cheap plastic ones on the government issued varieties.

As a psychiatrist, I only wore a white coat as an intern. After that point, at least at my medical center, psychiatrists tried to eschew the fearful “I’m the doctor and you’re not” phenom on the mental health wards and opt for the warmer and fuzzier Mr Rogers approach – khakis and sweaters. I know that’s a stereotype, but it’s true. And that’s how I’ve dressed for the past quarter century. Until recently.

I took a new inpatient position at a nearby medical center, and found that the psychiatric attendings there often, albeit not universally, opted for the classic white coat.

I know that much has been written about this tradition, but given all of the above, imagine my surprise when my intern arrived on the unit the very first day of the rotation… sporting a flowing and long bright white coat (with embroidered name in script, no less!) Her coat was far nicer than mine. For a moment, I couldn’t figure out who was this person until she introduced herself. She had been a physician at that point for less than five weeks.

Double my shock when I saw other allied disciplines – nursing, social work, pharmacy, technicians – donning the same attire!

I would have been shamed out of my residency program had I tried that back in the late 1980s.

Should it matter? No. Does it matter? I suspect in some ways, yes.

And while the egalitarians applaud, I doubt that the protocol at Mass General – where I am told that attendings wear short coats to symbolize that they are students for life – will catch on elsewhere anytime soon.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

What’s In A Name?

There are the names of certain American warships that even the minimally-versed will immediately recognize – Arizona, Maine, Intrepid, Missouri, Bonhomme Richard. And when you find a good name, you stick with it, right? A number of vessels have been christened with these monikers more than once since the U.S. Navy was founded in the late 18th century.

One source maintains that there are over 1400 ships’ names that our nation has used at least twice in the past two centuries; 470 used at least three times; 182 used at least four times; 83 used at least five times; and 30 used at least six times. The titles Enterprise, Hornet, Niagara, and Washington have each been used eight times. Wasp has been used nine times, and Ranger comes in at ten.

What about Chesapeake? It’s a rather all-American name. There’s a reason, though, that you won’t be seeing that nomenclature employed very often or anytime soon.

President Washington asked that the first six frigates of our embryonic navy be named patriotically but generically, in ways that wouldn’t inflame any regional rivalries. His directive resulted in USS Constitution, USS United States, USS President, USS Congress, and USS Constellation. Leave it to Sec’y of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, though, to stir the bucket and name the sixth frigate, once Washington was out of office, USS Chesapeake (for my foreign readers, that is the name of this country’s largest estuary, located entirely within the boundaries of Virginia and Maryland, the latter being Stoddert’s home state).

Going against the wishes of the Father of the Country proved an inauspicious start; the ship was saddled with bad luck almost from its launch.

Chesapeake was a 40-gun heavy frigate. She was supposed to have 44-guns, but material shortages and budget overruns necessitated last minute changes. After some initial success – capturing in 1801 the privateer La Jeune Creole during the undeclared war with the French being the most significant – she was decommissioned and put into reserve because of a shortage of crew. Once tempers flared with the Barbary Pirates, though, she was re-commissioned and sent to the Mediterranean, arriving off Gibraltar just as her main mast split and her bowsprit was noted to be rotting. The ship remained laid-up in Malta for months while repairs were undertaken. Seeing no action against the pirates, Chesapeake returned to the U.S. in 1803 and was once more put into mothballs. The ship’s captain, Richard Morris, was then court-martialed for his relative inactivity; it seems he brought his wife along on the voyage – derisively referenced as ‘the Commodoress’ by the crew – and allegations that the ship remained at Malta far longer than necessary for repairs while the couple conceived another of their growing brood onboard were never satisfactorily explained to the subsequent board of inquiry.

In 1807, the ship was re-re-commissioned but needed lengthy repairs because of her long period of inactivity. Sailing finally from Norfolk VA in June of that year, she was almost immediately intercepted by HMS Leopard, which demanded to search onboard for Royal Navy deserters. The captain, James Barron, refused, the British let loose a devastating broadside, and Chesapeake struck her colors after only a single harmless retaliatory shot. The Royal Navy was apparently unimpressed with the vanquished, refusing to even take her as a prize, and instead carting off four suspected deserters and leaving behind three dead and eighteen wounded Americans.

Barron was court martialed for this embarrassing outcome, the second of Chesapeake’s commanding officers to suffer the indignity in less than four years.

The ignominy of the Chesapeake-Leopard affair contributed to the United States’ decision to declare war on Britain five years later. Chesapeake set sail for the Mediterranean, and during the first few months of 1813, did in fact capture six British merchantmen. But the crew became restive, wanting prize money, and mutiny was whispered. The captain paid cash out of his own pocket to keep everyone happy.

Shortly thereafter, off Boston, Chesapeake was confronted by the similarly-sized HMS Shannon. The battle-hardened crew of Shannon, however, was vastly superior to the disgruntled hodgepodge on board the American ship. Broadsides were exchanged, riggings, masts, and gun crews were decimated, and when the smoked cleared, the American captain lay mortally wounded, uttering his now-famous words, “Don’t Give Up The Ship!” That was not to be; the British this time did take the frigate as a prize, heading to Halifax in Nova Scotia and imprisoning the surviving Americans until the War of 1812 was over.

The hapless warship was repaired and became HMS Chesapeake. But before she could rejoin the fight against her country-of-origin, the war ended and the British, still unimpressed with her design and construction, decided to put the colonists’ frigate up for sale. A Portsmouth UK timber broker purchased her for £500, totally dismantling her and making a tidy profit when he resold her timbers to a Hampshire merchant, one Joshua Holmes, for £3,450. Chesapeake’s blood stained and bullet-ridden flag, kept by descendants of the British captain, was eventually sold at auction in London in 1908 and now resides at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. And several of Chesapeake’s cannons now guard Province House, that of the legislature of Nova Scotia.

The Chesapeake Mill

The Chesapeake Mill

And the timbers? They were used by Holmes to build what he called the Chesapeake Mill in Wickham, a small town southwest of London. After a long and productive industrial life, the grainery went out of business in the 1970s, and is now an antique shop. It sells overpriced tchotchkes, mostly to American tourists, those likely clueless of the history of the heavy wooden beams overhead.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Reason Not To Travel With Kids #336

(today’s post is sponsored by renowned scholar and antiquarian Robert White, of Bristol TN; as this post involves lemon forks, Bob, I thought of you immediately)

This weekend past, I purchased the latest release from author Erik Larson. Entitled Dead Wake, it is the story of the final days of Lusitania, which was torpedoed and sent to the bottom one hundred years ago off the southern coast of Ireland. Larson is one of the very few non-fiction writers whose works I purchase in hardcover the minute they’re released, instead of waiting for the paperback version the following year. He can tell a story, and he hasn’t suffered a misfire yet. This newest work is no different, weaving the major players and events leading up to the Lusitania disaster with stories of unheralded and ordinary victims caught in global events over which they had no control.

While I’m not of the age that I can personally remember the biggest names in trans-Atlantic voyaging – Empress of Britain, United States, Normandie, the two Queens – as I have been reading Larson’s work, I am recalling my own experience with an elegant New York to Europe round trip before commercial jets sealed ocean liners’ fates.

And luckily, my passage didn’t turn out as tragically as did that of Lusitania – at least not for me, although it could have, had my conspirator and I been caught.

[Quick background: Italia di Navigazione SpA, founded in the early 1930s, was late to the trans-Atlantic game compared to competitors Cunard, White Star, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, and North German Lloyd. The Italian Line, however, fielded some impressive ships in the few years up to, and immediately after, WWII – Andrea Doria, Conte di Savoia, Guilio Cesare, Rex, and Leonardo da Vinci all come to mind.

By the late 1950s, aircraft passenger travel had yet to exert a noticeable effect on the numbers of those in ocean transit between the United States and Europe. The Italian Line, therefore, ordered two new ships, the Michelangelo and Raffaello, amongst the very last vessels built primarily for liner service across the North Atlantic. And the company flouted the old sailors’ convention that naming ships after men is bad luck, later proven to be true.



Architect Gio Ponti wrote that an Italian ship is a movable piece of Italy, and it must represent the highest and most prestigious aspects of the homeland’s culture. In those showcase times, and as Rome partially subsidized the Line, the foyers, staircases, ballrooms, dining areas, corridors, and chapels were filled with works by Italy’s most important artists of that period, including Capogrossi, Ridolfi, Turcato, Fiume, Mascherini, and Luzzati. No Holiday Inn lobby schlock here.]

My father booked passage for the family from New York to Italy, and back, on the 46,000 ton Raffaello in the early 1970s. The entire trip was to take almost a month with stops.

Raffaello had 30 lounges, a two-level cinema, three night clubs, eighteen elevators, a garage with room for fifty automobiles, closed circuit TV, six pools, and an operating suite – not to mention that the fusion art deco-futuristic décor was entirely fireproof, a marvel for its day. And her two unique trellis-style funnels were instantly recognizable, even to the present.

But what was an eleven year old to do, trapped in a elegant prison?

High tea was then still a big deal. Each day, after the lunch seatings had finished and the dishes cleared, the wait staff would start to set places and prepare the Darjeeling and scones. The afternoon salon was located on one of the upper decks, and there was a sweeping semi-circular staircase just outside its entrance. Over the landing of the staircase were large paintings of famous Roman mythological deities and events – they were beautifully executed in the style of the Old Masters, in carved and gilded frames, and inarguably of considerable value.

It didn’t take long for me to find a bored co-conspirator, a fellow pre-teen hellion named Roland from the American Midwest whose dentist father had brought his family on vacation (Roland, if you’re reading this, please contact me). As the waiters were scurrying about, preparing for tea, Roland and I would sneak between the tables and pocket as many of the pre-cut lemon wedges and creampuffs as possible without being seen – but these were not to eat. Instead, we learned that garnishes and confections stuck quite well to canvas when flung from a distance, lemon forks and serving spoons being excellent catapults. So Roland and I spent our lazy afternoons at sea dodging the wait staff, requisitioning foodstuffs, and sitting on the balcony overlooking the master staircase while taking potshots at the Ridolfis and Turcatos over the railings. Hitting Mars or Venus in particularly private, er, places was uproariously funny when in 6th grade, as long as the peels of laughter didn’t somehow draw the attention of the stern purser who might be patrolling the area at any moment.

That we weren’t caught by angry staff, throttled, and thrown in the brig remains a miracle.

But this taught me two valuable lessons for adult life.

First, that vasectomies are good and sadly underutilized.

Second, that should you have offspring, do not travel with them anywhere nice before they have reached their mid twenties at the earliest.

And of the Raffaello? Despite huge financial losses, the Italian Line operated its trans-Atlantic route until the mid 1970s, when Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raffaello were all withdrawn from service, and the company turned instead to container freight shipping. In 1976, Raffaello was sold to the Shah of Iran and used as a floating barracks near Bushehr. Heavily damaged during the Islamic Revolution and later in the Iran-Iraq war, rammed by a cargo ship and then struck by at least one torpedo, Raffaello partially sank in shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, and she is barely visible from the surface today.

So I suppose what Roland and I did to her wasn’t so bad in comparison. RIP.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Rolling Stones!

Age is a cruel taskmaster indeed.

I attended the College of William and Mary for my undergraduate education. Back then, as a Phi Beta Kappa history major with a biology minor, I studied a lot. There were no girls’ schools nearby. I didn’t do drugs or drink to excess. It was difficult to get into too much trouble in that small picturesque tourist-laden town. So opportunities to road-trip and have some ‘real fun’ were not only few and far between, but much desired.

It was December of 1981, my second year in college half-over. Grades were on-track. It was starting to feel more relaxed. I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was not too late to start having some real fun.

Then the news hit. The Rolling Stones were playing the Hampton Coliseum on the final stop of their ‘Tattoo You’ tour on the 18th and 19th of that month, just after exams were finished. Unfortunately, to get to Hampton required a car… something that I didn’t have in college. One of the fellows across the hall in my dormitory did have a car, though, and the next thing I knew, he had landed six tickets to see the Stones, and I was offered one of them.

I was excited! The Rolling Stones, always the bad boys to the (initially clean cut) Beatles and Elvis, had by then outlasted the Fab Four and the late-King on the live concert circuit by twelve and four years respectively. The Stones were the premier act of the British Invasion still going strong. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

But fate had other ideas. Most college students wind up getting the sniffles around exam period, the effects of long hours, poor diet, and intermittent sleep. Some get it worse than others. I came down with a bad upper respiratory infection in the days prior to the concert. I even had to go to student health, something we all tried to avoid because of the long wait times. Needless to say, I felt awful when the day of the concert rolled around, and with great regret had to let someone else take my coveted place.

Med school and residency. Marriage. Children. Dogs, Relocations. Re-marriages. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. They all intervened. That missed gig in Tidewater was the only opportunity for me to see the Stones conveniently from that time… until this month.

I was at work three months ago when a fellow psychiatrist texted me that she had gotten tickets to see the Stones at Carter-Finley (the 58,000-seat NCSU football stadium here in Raleigh) in early July, and did I want a pair of the tickets that she had snagged? I had a flashback to 1981, and told my thoughtful friend that my wife and I would be thrilled to go with her and her group!

There was an inauspicious start to this plan, though. I excitedly texted the missus and told her I had tickets to see the Rolling Stones! She texted back that she was happy… and would have to Google ‘Rolling Stones’ to see if she knew any of their music.

Google the Stones?!?!

[sidebar: in her defense, she only emigrated to this country in 1994, but still, the Stones are known the world over. The Iron Curtain wasn’t THAT impermeable, was it?!?]

I planned on taking the day off work so that I wouldn’t have to worry about missing the concert in the early evening commute/ traffic jam. I read all that I could about parking and routes by which to approach the stadium. I had planned on scanning eBay for some Stones’ paraphernalia to wear on the big day. I showed the missus a t-shirt I wanted to buy, one with the large red ‘lips and tongue’ logo that the Stones have been using since at least the mid-1960s. She asked me why I wanted to buy a KISS t-shirt?

[sidebar: this wasn’t looking too good; even my ‘golden oldies’-knowledgeable teenage stepdaughter rolled her eyes when her mother made such comments, and she wasn’t even BORN when I missed the Stones in Tidewater!]

Last night was the event. We left on time, got to the stadium parking without difficulty, and found a decent spot (though it was far from the exit, which, I knew, would make egress a nightmare when the concert was over). Everyone was tailgating. Grills. Cooking meats. Ice chests with libations. Though the youngsters were there in force, there was an equally large contingent of folks who, like myself, sported more than a few grey hair. I kept thinking of that line from Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’ about having seen a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac.

I found my friend’s car. She and several others were standing around drinking and eating snacks at the rear hatchback. Talk turned to work. And kids. And our various physical ailments. Really, you had surgery? How much did you lose on that diet? So-and-so retired/ died? I don’t remember you wearing those glasses? Then it was time to head to the stadium entrance.

The hill was long. I was sweating by the time I reached the gate. I was starting to feel sore. I asked my friend about the quality of the seats. She looked sheepish, and said that, though she had been made a special offer through her credit card company to buy these tickets in advance, one of our party had decided to come at the last minute, had bought his ticket only that afternoon, and had apparently scored a much better seat than did the rest of us (he bid us farewell as he veered off for the seats nearer the stage, while we hiked up into the section requiring supplemental oxygen).

The logo, through zoom lens

The logo, through zoom lens

Far removed from the days when big-name acts played small club venues, the organizers of today’s mega-concerts have developed a trick to fool those in the nosebleed seats. By putting up giant Jumbotron video screens around a site, one gets a clear picture of who is on stage, even though this is essentially like watching TV at home, only minus the comfort and nearby refrigerator. That was the case last night. I could clearly see the faces of the ants on the stage. But that was really the least of my concerns. The stadium bleachers were the most infernally uncomfortable seats I have ever experienced. Plus, much like flying coach on domestic airlines, the people were crammed in so tightly that it was a challenge to keep my knees out of the backs of those in front of me, or even stand to stretch (since it would be difficult to wedge myself back in the seat afterward).

It was hot and sticky. The crowd was loud. The wannabe warm up band blared in the background. My butt hurt. The concessions were highway robbery, and the band’s merchandise was outrageously expensive too. My cellphone had no reception. The restroom lines were unspeakable. But hey, I was going to see the Rolling Stones, right?

At 9:30 p.m., the lights dimmed, and then in a technicolor explosion, the Jumbotrons flashed the red ‘lips and tongue’ logo, and onto the stage strolled Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger. Or at least that’s who the TV showed me was on the stage.

They launched into their first number. Someone had turned the volume WAY up since the warm-up act. The seats reverberated. My pacemaker vibrated. I strained to figure out the song. Was it ‘Tumbling Dice’? Or perhaps ‘Brown Sugar’? Maybe ‘Midnight Rambler’? After close to a minute, I figured out that it was ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ but only because I recognized features of the beat, not because I could actually understand any of the lyrics.

By 11:00 p.m., the band was still going strong, but I was not. I couldn’t possibly be heard over the din to explain to my group that we were leaving, assuming that I could have even stretched over to yell in their ears. I told my wife we were going to do ‘the English departure’ (a former Soviet term for slipping out without saying goodbye to the hosts). I ‘went to the restroom,’ and she followed five minutes later. We made our way to the car. At least, I thought, we’ll avoid the total jam that will occur when all 58,000 fans head for the parking lot when the concert is finished.

Not exactly. Stiff and palsied, it still took us a while to exit – a lot of those formerly-referenced grey haired fans were making for the doors as well. And sadly, the sound quality was far superior in the parking lot, probably more than half a mile away from the stage. We should have saved the ticket price, paid for parking, and listened to the concert from outside!

Home by midnight, I fell fast asleep like the dead. I have no idea what time the concert ended, or what time those hold-out stalwarts actually made it home. But as I drifted off, I could not have cared less how many encores were played.

Thirty four years after Tidewater, Mick Jagger is right. You can’t always get what you want.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]