Want a tangerine?

According to my records, the great Mac Rebennack – better known to the world as Dr. John the Night Tripper – turns 70 today. I actually got to meet the Dr. a few years back when he and his band (including the wonderfully named Renard Poché) stayed at the hotel where I was posing as a desk clerk. He was very gracious and his people gave me free tickets to the shows; it was a real bright spot in an otherwise less than stellar period of my life.

In his honor, here’s an excerpt from his autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon where he describes how he finally kicked heroin after many, many, many years. There’s something striking and poetic about it, if’n you ask me:

…that happened again and again during my halfhearted rehab attempts: I straightened up for a while , but sooner or later I ran into some Chang Moi rocks and it was off to the races, another four years of getting strung out like a fucking guinea pig.

What changed that all around was an experience I had when I wound up in a cardiac ward. I had been suffering some chest pains, which later proved to be nothing major, and I was lying in this bed, hooked up to tubes and wires, when I noticed that the guy in the bed next to me was getting shots of Demerol and morphine every couple of hours. I pulled all the wires and tubes out of myself and began planning how to follow the nurse, with the intention of knocking off the narcotics box. I knew I’d get busted if I did it, but that was the last thing I was worried about.

But just as I was about to put myself in gear, this one particular spiritual nurse walked in with a bag of tangerines. She saw I’d pulled all my tubes out, but she was cool about it – she didn’t say a word. Instead, she asked, “Want a tangerine?”

I took it.

Until that time, nothing had stayed in my stomach since I had been in the hospital. But I bit into the tangerine, and it tasted so good. And it stayed down. I ate three of them, and they all stayed down. And it was something about just those sweet, juicy tangerines, at just that moment, that made me decide to try and square up and clean up my act.

And every time thereafter, when my roomie got his Demerol and morphine, this nurse would pop up with her tangerines and good company. I never got a chance to reconsider.