Digging Deeper: A Memoir of the Seventies by Peter Weissman

What does rehabilitation for a young Brooklyn native who has turned Timothy Leary's credo, "tuning in, turning on, dropping out," into an acid art form every day for the past year, and yet somehow avoided frying his brain like Syd Barrett’s, look like?  Like the kind of pathetically maudlin rehab witnessed on Celebrity Rehab, or like the in-your-face, confrontational rehab of Intervention?  Or like something else altogether?  Maybe something unexpected and not as sexy – but far more real – than some reality TV show?  Definitely the latter.

Digging Deeper - A Memoir Of The Seventies

But I couldn’t help thinking, as I began chapter one, “Rehabilitation,” that the titled denoted, well, rehab!  You know, the place you get checked into in order to get sober from whatever addiction it is you're addicted to -- or worse -- the place where you undergo group “therapy” with Nurse Ratchet.  But I was wrong.

I had no problem imagining the flat-affected, socially awkward (and “awkward” is putting it mildly), and unkempt, Peter Weissman (or Weissman’s narrator, I should specify, his alter ego or doppelganger or whatever you’d prefer calling the clever mouthpiece of his meta-memoir, Digging Deeper, since Weissman, at times, is actually a character and not the narrator in Digging Deeper; a character who is writing a novel about the aftermath and recovery of a certain young man's psychedelic year, a year not dissimilar to that which was chronicled in I Think, Therefore Who Am I?),  but what I never saw coming was … the obvious!  The obvious being that sometimes “rehabilitation” for an individual like Peter Weissman means doing what most non-chronic LSD users take for granted ... like, namely, getting a job or speaking when spoken to!  Actually engaging with the so-called "real world" rather than remaining mute and immersed in the surreal world of hallucinogenics.  Rehabilitation for Weissman meant figuring out how to reintegrate himself into a society that suddenly viewed with contempt his previous virtual-zombie or, "far out man; can you dig it?" counter-cultural persona.

I should back up and point out too that Weissman's delving into meta-non-fiction is not gimmicky (as perhaps I might have made it sound up above) but actually serves to draw the reader in deeper (hence the book's title) into his personal journey of becoming a man and a husband and a writer (and a postal carrier!) amidst all that sociocultural hubris and gaudy excess of the 1970s.

Weissman’s second book of interconnected tales is reminiscent of what Raymond Carver did and Denis Johnson still does with their respective short stories, both stylistically and thematically, with their reappearing blue collar, down-and-out drug addled characters watching what's left of their dreams empty out in either spiritual deaths or outright divorces from sanity and reality.

Thankfully, for Weissman, he survived with his mind mostly sane and intact.  Survived, however, by sacrificing his own dreams temporarily so that his seizure-prone wife, Noreen, could pursue her dreams of being an artiste.  Which meant (uh oh!) a stint as a postal carrier.

Can't you just see an ex-hippy being a successful and happy postal carrier?  Neither can I!  But he did it -- and did it his own way -- sometimes bringing undelivered mail back to the post office (a cardinal sin, holy shit!, among carriers; and I know, having once worked myself for the post office -- long story like Peter Weissman's) because he was fed up getting screwed by spineless government supervisors who schlepped extra mail bundles off on him (half of it literally junk) when the regular carriers went out "sick".

Nevertheless, the sit-on-their-ass bureaucrats expected him, on unfamiliar routes, in the rain and winding hills of the Bay Area, where he had to face down the angry poor demanding their welfare checks; or, sometimes, put up with the rich sons of bitches wondering aloud, within earshot of the ex-hippy mail carrier slaving away to support his wife's distant dreams, why the hell it was taking him so damn long to deliver their mail, to, like I said, nevertheless get double the work done in the same amount of time.  But Peter had his own golden rule,

"I won't work more than ten hours in a day,"

and he stood by it, come threat of being fired or high water, whether all his mail for the day got delivered or not.  Didn't exactly endear him to his supervisors, or make him a hero among his fellow carriers, whom, I should mention, Peter initially (and brilliantly) identified dead-on in his narrative only by the colloquialisms of their streetwise spicy dialogue (some of my favorite scenes of the book), but I think Peter had to take whatever control he could in his life, since his life, despite being off drugs, was still largely out of his control at the time, controlled instead by the unspoken dictates of the duties he perceived himself obligated to abide by in what was becoming a rather one-sided, responsibility-wise, marriage.  That is, in his doomed marriage to Noreen.

But what a wild ride it was with his wife, the times they had together, through Europe, where they lived on a shoestring and the goodwill of an acquaintance couple in their cramped flat who took them to a free mime performance as a night out on the town one time (hysterical!), and on back and forth across America for seven dizzying years.  Winding down, flat broke and pretty much broken in every individual and relational way possible, at Noreen's father's palatial compound.  What a pad!  Noreen's father, the Napalm maker and a man as antithetical to Peter's worldview and philosophy as, say, a Deadhead's would be, I suppose, to an Amish's.  I do wish there had been more interactions between the two, but they despised one another, so how could there be?

 And there at the guest cottage by the garden Peter kept on the compound, the eventual, inevitable demise of Peter and Noreen's marriage, when Peter dug deep and took back the reigns of his own life and, one could argue, manned-up mightily, and thereby finished successfully, I'd say, even with the divorce, phase one of his rehabilitation from that long ago, psychedelic year.