High Street Coffee Gallery (1978)

A review of a new coffeehouse recently opened in Eugene, circa November 1978, written by *Lamont Cranston, a Lenny’s Nosh Bar regular and journalist for various underground zines in Eugene from 1976-1985.


Hoping to attract a more intellectual crowd of conversationalists instead of drawing a mob of rabble rousers plotting to overthrow mainstream culture, Ann Blandin and Josephine Cole have opened a new cofffeehouse and art gallery in a cozy house built at the start of the Mexican Revolution that features a fireplace, high-ceiling rooms, large windows, and creaky floorboards.

Not to say that nouveau beatniks in Eugene aren’t welcome, but the proprietors of the place between East 12th and East 13th avenues are striving to create a more European-style esthetic instead of a beat vibe. A place for people to hang out, sip coffee, and exchange ideas. In fact, the sign in front of High Street Coffee Gallery seems to set the stage for high culture, by illustrating the picture of a dapper-looking Dickensian gent facing a lady in Renaissance Faire drag, as he pours her a cup of jamoke by tipping his gooseneck coffee pot top hat into her coffee cup bonnet.

Even richer culture can be had in your belly from the pastries served with your coffee, especially a fancy French pastry called Paris-Brest; a delectable almond-encrusted bicycle-wheel-shaped pâte à choux filled with praline cream.

Best of all, Lenny Nathan is the in-house chef, and one of his specialties is chocolate rum cheesecake (as well as strawberry, eggnog, and plain cheesecakes) which he’s been making and selling at the Eugene Saturday Market since he moved to town to open a restaurant this year with his son, Nano. That restaurant fell through, but Lenny is treating it like a temporary setback and he’s making the best of things by cooking for the coffeehouse—preparing daily soups, served with locally made French bread, as well as whipping up Saturday brunch omelettes and Sunday brunch crêpes.

The background music in the gallery is either classical or jazz, the art on the walls is locally sourced, and a brick patio is available for seating when the weather is nice.

Chess players are welcome and boards are provided. Smoking is prohibited.

High Street Coffee Gallery is located at 1243 High Street.

Open 7:00am-12:00am Weekdays
9:00am-1:00am Saturday & 11:00am-2:00pm Sunday


*Lamont Cranston is not the same man as the alter-ego of The Shadow but he is definitely a pseudonym and may also be a fictional character.

Resolution #1 • Make Memorable Impressions

I want to get out more often and meet strangers at parties, without the usual excuses that most people have when contemplating attending a social gathering.

I’m not a hardcore introvert that revels in being reserved and I don’t need a lot of solitude. Social anxiety doesn’t paralyze me to the point of panicking at the thought of speaking to strangers in public spaces. My social awkwardness feels normal and pedestrian. A bit of insecurity, a dash of shyness and fear of saying something inappropriate—the usual glitches in self-esteem that most people feel around others to some degree.

And so, before going to a holiday party and gift exchange the other night, at a house in a town in a state where the only people I knew were the two people that invited me, I decided, without forethought of acting in a certain way or saying something specific, to bring something that has usually eased my discomfort when navigating unfamiliar social situations.

I brought my sense of humor. It’s my superpower, release valve, and security blanket.

My ability to think quickly, improvise, and play with words, is my greatest asset. And, the trick for me is to not be too flashy or loud, or try too hard or too much; but wait for the right moment, in a pause in conversation, and the right context—to say the one thing that will be memorable to the strangers in my midst.

To make an impression by saying something provocative and funny.

So, when I went to select my gift at the Christmas tree, I stepped up boldly and asked the group to raise their hands if I should open it. The masses spoke so I did.

It was a large plastic jar of mayonnaise.

Appalled by the incredible lameness of the present, I dared not show on my face the crushing disappointment I felt. Instead, I said with an exaggerated smile of delight:

“This is exactly what I wanted! I’m saving it for the orgy later.”

New Year’s Resolutions.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these end-of-the-year desperate attempts to decide firmly on a course of action to either do, or not do, something (most commonly to change habits, patterns, and behaviors) will be made every year by billions of people all over the world. Even though many of us know from past experience that, for most people, these resolutions have a low probability of being honored and a high probability of being broken or ignored or forgotten.

So, why do we proclaim our intentions to better ourselves at the beginning of a “New Year” instead of just making incremental positive changes over the course of 365 days — or even more generally, over the course of a lifetime?

Why do temporal landmarks—like birthdays and holidays, and the start of a week, a month, or a year—motivate aspirational behavior?

What makes us think that a calendar date has any relevance whatsoever to the success of making profound changes in our lives?

The key to answering those questions about resolutions can be found by understanding the connection between the root causes of procrastination, temporal landmarks, and something called “the fresh start effect.”

Even though a temporal landmark, such as a birthday or a new year, is a social construct, it is perceived by most people to be the beginning of a distinctly new cycle—analogous to the transition of winter into spring, with all the expectant metaphors of death and rebirth. This seems like the perfect time and opportunity for many people to jettison bad habits and set positive goals that will create the best version of the person they see when they look in a mirror.

And, when a person pairs their life changing goals with a temporal landmark, they are essentially wishing and willing their past and present self to die and begin the process of distancing themselves from those selves by creating a list of ingredients [resolutions] that will give them a fresh start to become a newly reborn better future self.

And what is the number one obstacle to change? It’s procrastination, of course.

You can say you want to start losing weight tomorrow, or quit smoking a pack of cigarettes a day starting on Monday, or stop drinking a bottle of wine every night starting on January 1, but it ain’t gonna happen if you keep procrastinating and postponing yours goals for another day.

Procrastination is the enemy of self-growth and evolution. It’s the invisible golem on your shoulder that will give you a dozen or more reasons why you shouldn’t even attempt to do something that, deep down to your core being, you know you should do to survive and thrive. “Why bother,” the golem says. “You will probably fail.” And if that’s not enough to discourage you: “You’re a perfectionist and results may vary so what’s the point. You’re depressed and depressed people lack motivation. You’re indecisive, you have poor time management skills, you don’t prioritize, you’re full of anxiety, you have health issues, you have ADHD, and blah blah blah.”

Do not listen to the procrastination golem. It is a Frankenstein’s monster of your own creation. You brought it into existence and you can take it out. Visualize it, slap a piece of duct tape over its mouth, and destroy it. Go nuclear, if that’s what it takes to annihilate your inner critic and primary obstacle to positive self-change and growth.

By the way, when most people proclaim their resolutions, they are not simply stating their intentions to a broader audience—it is actually a cry for help. These people are asking others for accountability because they are self-aware enough to know they lack the willpower or motivation to ignore the negative nattering of their personal procrastination golems and keep their promises to themselves, if they keep their resolutions to themselves.

So, my advice to you, my friends, is to set your goals and make your resolutions and proclaim them for others to read — and forget about using calendar dates as temporal landmarks.

Our lives are not measured in birthdays and “new” years, they’re measured in heartbeats. And the average number of heartbeats we have is approximately sixty to a hundred beats every minute, a hundred thousand beats every day, and about thirty-five million beats in a year.

Resolve to make each one of those heartbeats a beat shift in the through line of your life and a step forward in the exact direction you want to take yourself.

We’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty.

One would think the range of a telemarketer’s reach would have a limit, but 336 Journal has received a report from the other side that dispels this notion, according to one irate spirit.

Most of us have received the notorious robocall regarding an extended warranty on our car. This scam has been around since 2007, and memes about it have been shared online in social media spaces since 2016. But, until recently, only living people have been targeted.

“These people are relentless,” the spirit (whom I contacted via Ouija board) tells me. “And now it seems they can reach you anywhere—even in Hell.”

His claim seems farfetched, and I say so, but he bangs his fists on the table with fury.

“I have friend—a demon who shall remain nameless because naming her will summon her to Earth—that is routinely interrupted by telemarketers while she’s torturing damned souls! This is a real problem for everyone.”

The spirit apologizes for his outburst.

“Look, I was a confused and angry spirit when I first crossed over. A real poltergeist. The kind that would knock books off shelves and shake beds. But, I’ve mellowed over the decades and I’ve finally accepted my demise. I just want to enjoy my afterlife without being dragged back into petty issues that plague the living.”

I ask the spirit if he even owned a car when he was alive. Judging by his appearance and clothing, I’d guess he expired sometime at the end of the 19th century.

“Oh yes, I had one of the earliest models built by Karl Benz,” he says, perking up with the memory. “I bought it with my life’s savings in the late 1800s.”

“Did you purchase an extended warranty?”

The spirit laughs bitterly and tells me there was no such thing in his day. And, besides, he says, “That car was a death trap!”

I ask if he died in his car.

“Are you kidding? I died of pneumonia, like almost everyone else in those days.”

Huck Finn on Acid

I was just a boy when I went on my first psychedelic drug trip.

It happened during Easter break of 1972 when I was hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with a friend and schoolmate from Whittier Elementary. My dad gave me money for the movies and to get Italian sodas at Caffe Mediterranean before he settled into his usual spot in front of Cody’s bookstore where he sold his space age medallions. I went to the Med with my buddy and we knocked back our beverages before heading over to the art house cinema where a line had already formed. People were gathered on the sidewalk when we joined the line, just a couple of little kids on campus among an assortment of college students, street people, hippies, and other fans of the Fab Four, all of us waiting to see a Beatles movie marathon.

A medley of odor molecules filled the air with the aroma of city bus fumes, marijuana and incense smoke, patchouli and body odor, and just a whiff of freshly shat dog shit that came out of a mutt that crossed the graffiti covered Avenue when we arrived, leaving a dump at the curb near our feet. The line started moving closer to the box office and a Hare Krishna dude came up the street—like a freaky doppelgänger of the Candy Man from last year’s Willy Wonka movie—and he’s suddenly dispensing hits of blotter acid to the moviegoing masses while reciting the familiar mantra of Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.

Instead of promises of rainbows and sighs and groovy lemon pies, or a shower of sugary treats, we are serenaded by a bald religious freak who places tiny squares of LSD-infused paper on the palms of our outstretched hands. I take one without really understanding or caring at all what I’m getting myself into simply because there is no adult to stop me from finding out—and because the motto of the street is do your own thing. That mandate includes kids, when it comes to navigating the same unknown territory, and in this instance we will be guided by a hallucinogenic chemical on a piece of paper stamped with a color illustration of Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the Disney movie Fantasia.

I doubt I considered the probability that my parents would likely shit a brick if they knew I was taking acid before they tried it. They would most certainly be surprised if they learned I was embarking on a fantastical adventure with Hare Krishna Hare Poppins, even though the fellow wasn’t sticking around to witness the turning on and tuning in to come. My folks knew I was being exposed to all kinds of urban street culture that they couldn’t possibly shield me from in the Berserkly ghetto of the 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue. Of course, they were also testing their own limits and I knew they had been smoking pot for at least a year. I reckon that means they might shit a brick of hashish if they knew I was about to slip through the doors of perception like a naughty boy sneaking into a forbidden room.

My parents sometimes expressed concern about my safety when I was in the world without them and they worried about what I might encounter in the schoolyard during recess. Like millions of parents everywhere, they told me to never accept drugs from strangers or other kids. I’d heard from other kids at school that some drugs were better than others and some drugs were much worse and I felt confident that none of my friends used drugs. Some had older siblings that did and I heard some cautionary tales, especially about heroin which had become a real problem on the streets of Berkeley, but I never saw anyone I knew strung out on smack. I told my parents not to worry about me trying hard drugs like heroin at school because the kids at Whittier were savvy enough to jeer and throw rocks at any junkie or dealer that strayed too near the fence around the schoolyard.

Mom and dad weren’t yet hippies but they weren’t exactly straight either, especially when it came to their opinions about illegal drugs, Nixon, and the war in Vietnam. Both were loosening up more, in different ways, after their recent divorce. At the same time, they were still mainstream enough to be the responsible adults that raised me in New York in the mid-sixties before we moved to California at the start of the decade. People around me were in the midst of rapidly changing and evolving every day and experiencing mental and emotional growth spurts akin to a second childhood. Meanwhile, I’m an actual child, trying to reach my developmental milestones in the usual chronological order while also scrambling over those milestones in an effort to keep up with the childlike adults around me.

I began to question confusing statements made by adults after hearing one say that “smoking is bad” a moment before he lit up a cigarette. It’s difficult to trust the judgment and opinions of people that assert that alcohol is dangerous when you’ve seen them having cocktails after dinner. I was only seven years old and I’d heard the phrase do as I say, not as I do enough times to wonder if adults understood how absurd and unfair it sounded. I needed a word to describe the absurd thing adults say and the word was finally heard at the coffeehouse one morning when I overheard someone say, “People are so full of hypocritical bullshit.” When I asked my mom the meaning of hypocritical she explained it and I knew that it was the perfect word to describe adult logic. I was catching glimpses of the man behind the curtain and beginning to wake up to the reality that the path to adulthood led to a cul-de-sac of contradictions.

Marijuana was one of those drugs that wasn’t supposed to be as bad as the others and I recognized weed from the smell and from seeing adults around me smoking pot and noticing that it effected their behavior. I still hadn’t tried smoking reefer, even after some kids laid on the peer pressure, mostly because I didn’t like the smell of it and the idea of inhaling any kind of smoke into my lungs seemed stupid. Adults frequently did stupid things.

For instance, I recently caught my dad tripping on mescaline in front of Peet’s, the neighborhood coffeehouse I mentioned earlier that stands at the corner of Walnut and Vine, just around the corner from where we lived on Oxford Street. I knew he was tripping on something, even before I asked him why he was acting so strange, and he told me what he had taken. Dad was so disoriented and was having such a bad trip that he was relieved and happy to see me so I could help him find his way home. The walk from Peet’s was particularly challenging for my dad that day because apparently the sidewalk was moving. And, even though I perceived the sidewalk as being more traditionally rigid and unmoveable, I knew the futility of arguing with my father when he was certain about something.

I didn’t know what mescaline was, though I’d heard the word before and assumed it was probably an illegal street drug. My dad scored it from his housemates, a very nice young deaf couple who also happened to be the neighborhood drug dealers, operating out of the house my dad moved into after my parents separated. The house was conveniently located next to the building I lived in with my mother and sister—in the same apartment we lived in together with my dad when we first arrived in Berkeley from Long Island.

At this point I should add that everything I thought I knew about LSD came from an episode of a television show called Dragnet.

Reverend Chumleigh

He was born Michael Mielnik but in the early 1970s most people that lived in Eugene, Oregon knew him as a fire eating, joke cracking, vaudeville performer who called himself the Flaming Zucchini. It was a character he would reprise over the years, even after he rebranded himself at the Oregon Country Faire as the tightrope walking comedic cult leader of the Church of the Incandescent Resurrection.

Ladles and gentimen, I present to you . . . Reverend Chumleigh!

Reverend Chumleigh (actually a trio of madcap-characters-in-one that included Michael and the Flaming Zucchini) was a counterculture vaudevillian that excelled in captivating audiences with his snappy patter, playfully plucked from the Groucho Marx playbook, while engaged in daring acts of derring-do—such as walking barefoot on the business edges of machetes, laying on his back on a bed of nails, and balancing between two chairs while an audience member used a sledgehammer to smash a cinder block on his stomach.

His signature stunt as the Flaming Zucchini was fire-eating, until one fateful summer in 1976, while performing his act in front of a crowd of a thousand peyote-stoned hippies during the midnight show at the Oregon Country Faire, his liver organized a protest march decrying the dangers of hydrocarbons in his body, and he vanished in a huge ball of flame before the amazed fairgoers.

Yeoman Rand

This is Yeoman Janice Rand (aka Grace Lee Whitney), a character that appeared on the starship Enterprise, circa 1966.

She was sort of a glorified space secretary, assigned to Captain Kirk, that served on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Not exactly a feminist icon but nerd boys like me thought she was the tribble’s pajamas. Alas, her tenure lasted only a year before she was replaced by Ensign Chekov in season two of the original series.

I met Ms Whitney in 1977, in Eugene, Oregon, when she was one of the guests of honor at Space Con Five, which was also billed as a Star Trek Festival. I also met George Takei, her co-guest-of-honor and Bob Wilkins (the creator and host of Creature Features), who was the master of ceremony.

But, the biggest thrill for thirteen-year-old me was being Ms Whitney’s assistant when she was signing posters for fans at Gandalf’s Den, a bookstore and role playing game shop in The Atrium, a building on 10th Avenue in downtown Eugene. My job was to roll and rubber band posters after she signed them and hand them off to the fans.

Afterward, she treated me to an ice cream at Prince Pückler’s, on the ground floor of The Atrium, and then kissed me chastely on the cheek before saying goodbye.

The Eggsnatchur

It was a half a day’s drive from Aberdeen to Eugene in the Grey Elephant and we arrived at around three o’clock in the afternoon, parking our 1956 International Harvester Metro Van in front of a large house at the corner of 12th & Ferry, several blocks from the University of Oregon campus.

The summer heat that day was awful and the van had overheated more than once during the drive. We’d soon learn that our arrival in Eugene coincided with the hottest day on record. August 7, 1972 recorded a blistering temperature of 106° Fahrenheit.

Relieved to be released from the belly of the Elephant, we walked toward East 13th Avenue—my dad and I shirtless while Linda followed behind in the sun dress her sister had given her in Los Angeles.

Turning left on 13th, and staying on the left side of the street, we headed east until we reached a corner store at Patterson Street called Bob’s Superette, where we stopped to buy soda pop, sunflower seeds, and beef jerky. Just after crossing Patterson we passed by a dry cleaners next to a bookstore called Koobdooga and the next house over (an orange and brown American Craftsman house with a yellow porch) was the Eggsnatchur Natural Foods Restaurant run by the guys that were selling honey ice cream at the Renaissance Fair in Veneta last month.

The Mayflower Theater

This 600-seat single-screen cinema opened as the Colonial Theater on September 30, 1925 at 788 East 11th Avenue in Eugene Oregon and was renamed the Mayflower Theater on July 1, 1935. A year later, in 1936, the Robert Morton Pipe Organ installed in 1922 (used to play music from its 377 pipes to accompany silent movies that screened there for a decade) was sold to Riverside Community Church in Hood River, where it remained until 1973.

The first movie screened at the Colonial Theater was the 1925 silent comedy Seven Days, starring Lillian Rich, Creighton Hale, and Lilyan Tashman (above).

A unique feature of the Mayflower Theater was the large glass windows located upstairs next to the projection booth through which audience members could watch films and listen to the muffled dialogue while waiting in line to use the restrooms. They were much appreciated by cinephiles with weak bladders as the line was frequently long because there were only two single-occupancy restrooms.

Almost a half a century after it opened the Mayflower Theater was in decline. When I moved to Eugene in 1976 the seats were rickety and the seat cushions had lost their cushiness. The red curtains covering the walls were dirty and frayed and the auditorium was either stiflingly hot or freezing cold depending on the weather outside.

But this was funky old Eugene just before home video hit the market and in 1977, after the first-run films that played during “normal” hours, there were also movies playing every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at midnight for the discounted price of 98 cents. Movies like Harold and Maude, A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail came and went and then came again.

Monty Python’s masterpiece of absurdity was a film I’d partly seen with my mother and sister in Berkeley in 1975, but the experience was interrupted when my mother’s housemate, Bianca, freaked out when the Black Knight was being dismembered by King Arthur. She was too sensitive to handle the comedic violence and she guilt-tripped our mother to bail on the film, even though we were enjoying the movie.

“Tis but a scratch.”

In 1977 I finally saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety at the Mayflower Theater with two of my Roosevelt Junior High School friends which, in retrospect, was a better time to see it.

Always at risk of closing due to diminishing ticket sales, the Mayflower Theater took a risk on being the first movie theater in Eugene to screen a poorly promoted unknown film that was released on May 25, 1977. The previous year I’d seen a 30-second TV spot for it that blew me away so I sort of knew what to expect. That film was called Star Wars and it became a smash hit that played to packed Eugene audiences throughout the entire year, generating a windfall of unexpected and overdue revenue. Hundreds of people in town returned to see Star Wars multiple times.

I cashed in bottles for nickels to pay for many of those screenings, collected cash trimming cannabis, made two bucks an hour strolling around downtown on Saturdays wearing a canvas sandwich board advertising the Eugene Saturday Market, and doing other odd jobs for people—anything to pay for my cinematic obsession.

By August, after my 13th birthday when I had to pay the adult ticket price, Star Wars was also playing at Cinema World at Valley River Center. I saw it there several times mostly because it was showing on a better screen with better sound and better seats. The first time, the manager at Cinema World didn’t believe me when I told him I was twelve. He said, “What’s your phone number?” I told him and he called my mother and asked her the dreaded question, “How old is your son?” I thought I was sunk but she didn’t miss a beat and said I was twelve. I could tell by the scowl he gave me when he hung up the phone that he didn’t believe either of us, but he let me in to see the show for the 12 and under ticket price.

At an October 31st showing back at the Mayflower there was an authentic looking Darth Vader flanked by two stormtroopers holding court in front of the theater and many people were dressed as other characters from the movie. That cosplay continued to be the norm long after Halloween and from then on there was always a Darth Vader with a stormtrooper entourage.

One very memorable evening early in November of 1977 I was in line at the Mayflower to see Star Wars (again) and there was a Hollywood film crew set up across the street in front of the Dr. A.W. Patterson House at 751 East 11th Avenue—a house that had been a fraternity in the 1960s—and that house would be immortalized in 1978 as the notorious Delta House fraternity featured in National Lampoon’s Animal House.

National Lampoon writer, Doug Kenney with Darth Vader in front of the Mayflower Theater circa 1977.

That night we witnessed a mannequin thrown out of the second-story window of the house and watched as Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst, two young actors we would get to know the following year as Pinto and Flounder, step over the body and walk up the steps.

In December 1978 The Rocky Horror Picture Show was screened for the first time as the Saturday Midnight Flick at the Mayflower, and it played every Saturday night at midnight for a very long time. How long? I don’t know, but it was playing in the winter of 1979, when I saw it for the first time (in drag) with a few girls I knew from drama class at South Eugene High School. The movie was such a successful money-maker for the Mayflower that the manager at the time, John Deskowitz, had a cavalier attitude about the extra work and cleaning cost from all the rice, popcorn, toast, toilet paper, hot dogs, and panties that were tossed around by audience members during the show.

Fast forward to the 1980s and the final days of the Mayflower Theater . . .

This picture was taken in December of 1985 and Back to the Future and White Knights were the last films to appear on the marquee.

Back To The Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, opened July 3, 1985, and I saw it for the first time on August 23rd, 1985, the day I returned to Eugene from misadventures I’ve written about elsewhere.

White Knights, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, was released on November 22, 1985.

As for the Mayflower Theater . . .

It was torn down by a demolition crew by order of Sacred Heart General Hospital on Monday, March 3, 1986, one day before a scheduled Eugene Historic Review Board hearing that could have resulted in the building being designated a historic landmark.

Flowers for Jean-Dominique.

I want to write. But . . .

Suddenly, I’m transported to the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, twenty-five years in the past, and I’m standing by the grave of Jean-Dominique Bauby—paying my respects with a pot of chrysanthemums.

I open my journal and read some French words I’ve transcribed and translated into English, sourced from a book called Le Scaphandre et le Papillon. The English version is called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Derrière le rideau de toile mitée une clarté laiteuse annonce l’approche du petit matin.

Behind the linen curtain a milky clarity announces the approach of dawn.

J’ai mal aux talons, la tête comme une enclume, et une sorte de scaphandre qui m’enserre tout le corps.

My heels hurt, my head is like an anvil, and a sort of spacesuit seems to surround my whole body.

Ma chambre sort doucement de la pénombre. 

My room slowly emerges from the shadows of twilight. 

These sentences were “written” by a writer unable to use his hands to type words, communicate through gestures, or to speak words to be transcribed by another writer. The following italicized words are from the English version of the book:

No need to wonder very long where I am, or to recall that the life I once knew was snuffed out Friday, the eighth of December, last year.

Up until then, I had never even heard of the brainstem. I’ve since learned that it is an essential component of our internal computer, the inseparable link between the brain and the spinal cord. I was brutally introduced to this vital piece of anatomy when a cerebrovascular accident took my brain stem out of action.

The accident that rendered Jean-Dominique Bauby mute and immobile?

In the past, it was known as a massive stroke, and you simply died. But improved resuscitation techniques have now prolonged and refined the agony. You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as “locked-in syndrome.” Paralyzed from head to toe, the patient, his mind intact, is imprisoned inside his own body, unable to speak or move.

But, how was Jean-Dominique able to communicate the words you’ve just read if he was unable to speak or move?

In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication.


Of course, the party chiefly concerned is the last to hear the good news. I myself had twenty days of deep coma and several weeks of grogginess and somnolence before I truly appreciated the extent of the damage. I did not fully awake until the end of January. When I finally surfaced I was in room 119 of the Naval Hospital at Berck-sur-Mer, on the French Channel coast–the same Room 119, infused now with the first light of day, from which I write.

Enough rambling. My main task now is to compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher’s emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter.

He writes these words by dictating his memoir, one letter at a time, to his clever and efficient conversational co-conspirator, Claude Mendibil, who lists the letters in accordance with their frequency in the French language.

In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.

By a fortunate stroke of luck and intuition Jean-Do’s physical therapist noticed that he could blink his left eyelid—his paralyzed right eyelid had been sewed shut to prevent his eyeball from drying up—and she had devised a communication system called partner-assisted scanning, which utilized his singular muscular ability to dictate a beautiful memoir.

It is a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet (ESA version, not ABC) until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word, and then fragments of more or less intelligible sentences. That, at least, is the theory. In reality, all does not go well for some visitors. Because of nervousness, impatience, or obtuseness, performances vary in the handling of the code (which is what we call this method of transcribing my thoughts). Crossword fans and Scrabble players have a head start. Girls manage better than boys. By dint of practice, some of them know the code by heart and no longer even turn to our special notebook—the one containing the order of the letters and in which all my words are set down like the Delphic oracle’s.

And what are those travel notes of which Bauby babbles about? They’re excursions of the imagination, of course—the only recourse for a traveler physically bound and rooted in place like an oak tree. His thoughts branch out, stretching beyond the boundaries of place, allowing his mind (which he likens to a diving bell) to take flight like a butterfly.

You can wander off in space and time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and ambitions.

Ten months and two hundred thousand blinks later, Jean-Do completes his magnificient memoir and expires from pneumonia on March 9th, 1997, two days after his book is published.


Returning to the present and presented with my first thought—

I want to write . . .

The “but” is a needless word that must be omitted. I write without excuses.