Wish I could be at my old friend Brad Smith's memorial today in San Francisco. It's at a cafe on Cole Street, in the garden out back. On the other side of the fence is a small park where Brad and I used to juggle. He taught me how to juggle. His apartment overlooks the park.
Sometimes we would walk the railing separating the park from the street car tracks, practicing balance. Brad was always into strength and balance training. He told me he comes from a family of strongmen on his father's side. His grandfather, he said, could stand flat footed with a five gallon pail of milk in each hand and jump a split rail fence without spilling the milk. Brad was a strongman, short and powerful, Indian features and long black hair.
He was a troubled man, a Vietnam vet who trained as a Seal. When I read the posts of his other friends I see that he suffers the fate of the recently dead, of being extolled for his virtues while his vices are hidden. But he had them in spades. If not for his troubles he would not have lived the struggle, and it's the friction that sharpens the blade to a keen edge. Without it there's no tension of opposites, no fire in which the philosopher's stone emerges from the Nigredo.
He was trained as a Seal, but he ran into trouble with the base chaplain. One of the most stupid things a young man in the military does is trust the chaplain. They are as a rule not trustworthy. Don’t tell them shit. So when Brad went to the guy for some help with an LSD problem he turned him in instead of helping him. Brad ended up spending some time in the brig.
Brad was a mess of contradictions. He was deeply spiritual, blowing on his conch shell to the four cardinal directions, going to Australia to play his didgeridoo with aborigines, being inducted as a brother by them. At one point he went back to Southeast Asia, to Laos and Cambodia, and bought precious stones with the money he’d made working as a physical therapist. I worked with him at the same doctor’s office for awhile. He polished the stones and made jewelry, so that he could wear his wealth. Nobody tried to rob him, to my knowledge.
He was a master bodyworker and hypnotist, and was my role model for learning those skills, as well as making the healing of others a spiritual practice. It wasn’t that unusual though, for him to throw somebody all the way down the stairs. And he lived on the third floor, so this entailed following down to the landing and throwing them another flight. It wasn’t wise to cross him in a deal.
Certainly the stories of Brad’s outbursts of violence and brushes with the law are as memorable as his amazing healing powers, and his self-creating legend of himself. He looked like an Indian though he was half Dutch as well. He called himself an Aztec and identified with his Mexican Indian heritage. He was sometimes absent minded and the state was at times chemically induced. Once he left a fanny pack full of cash in a Korean restaurant in Oakland and was all the way back across the Bay Bridge before he realized what he’d done. It was many thousands of dollars.
He rode a big BMW motorcycle which had no problem screaming over a hundred, and it was screaming back across the bridge, the big guy focused on “how in the fuck could I leave it on the seat? Oh fuck me, fuck me. If I lose that money I’m so fucked.” And when he got there the nice Korean guy smiled and produced it from behind the counter, where he was holding it for him. He hadn’t even looked inside.
Because of his violent tendencies and tortured soul, mostly from his experiences in Vietnam, he idolized the one man who had helped him turn his life around, and avoid being a gang banger or career criminal. Pierre Clement, a hypnotist, took Brad under his wing and acted as a father figure, teaching him the skills he’d mastered from his own mentor, a French Canadian faith healer.
He told Brad that the old man who trained him only knew one English phrase: “I can do this for you.” It was all he needed. Whether or not this was true is irrelevant. It was a genius hypnotic suggestion. To heal somebody your most important ally is their belief that you can do it. He also told him that the best way to make the session work for the client is to get the money up front. If somebody has paid you, they will want to justify that by getting some value from it. It’s human nature to justify what you do, and the more it costs the more justification you need. Charge enough and people will heal themselves to justify the cost.
All his life Brad was torn between darkness and light, and he seemed to not quite grasp that it was his extending himself out into the spiritual, god-like aspect of himself which in turn strengthened the dark, self-destructive side. These things counterbalance each other. The angel of the light and the angel of the darkness are the same guy in need of centering. After I decided to learn hypnosis and bodywork myself, I began reading a lot and going to school.
Brad talked about going back to school but never did. It’s hard to go to school to get a piece of paper when you’re already better at the skill than the people teaching the school. In my experience, the most skilled bodyworkers have not learned in school, but from mentors. They can’t get a license in most states, because it is the schools which get the requirements passed through the legislature, so that they have a captive clientele. The people who start the schools are often incompetent, themselves. I went to a hypnosis school that accredited me, but the people who ran it were marginally insane, in my opinion. It did make me realize that if I was going to hypnotize anybody, I wanted to know more than how to hypnotize people. That’s why I did four years of analysis with, arguably, the best Jungian psychologist in the world.
As he got older, Brad’s spiritual teaching -- which even years ago was getting a biy pedantic -- began to degenerate into rambling sometimes, especially when he was medicated. I was one of his friends who could talk to him straight about it, as he could talk to me straight about my own demons. “You’re talking too fucking much, man. I’m getting afraid to ask you how you are.” And he would laugh at this and keep talking, holding up the straight razor and grinning at me in the mirror. I went over for haircuts. It was one of many things he excelled at. When he learned something he liked to be the best at it. “Pretend the conversation has a guest house in it, where you let somebody else say something once in awhile.”
“I know, Dan. It’s just that this situation has me so nervous I don’t know what to do.” But there was always some situation like that, wherein he needed to recount what had happened, and in which he was justifying himself. We all do that, and when we’re in that mode we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves alone more often than usual, or becoming addicted to something which steals the life force. As he grew older he had more pain, and more medication for the pain. He had hurt himself too much, laying down the bike or falling out of the sky when his wing folded up on him. Once he crashed into a cliff out by the sea and fell to earth. The tide was dragging him out. He managed to get out of his harness and crawl part way up the cliff to escape the tide. Another time he and his wing took a dive into Lake Powell.
I guess some men can’t expect to live into old age. That’s the prediction for the Puer, for sure, the Eternal Youth. He likes to fly, like Peter Pan, whether on a wing or a prayer. So long as Brad was with his woman he was grounded enough by her that he did pretty well. Julie is a professional gardener. She knew how to ground a man, even one like Brad. When I met them they had the big room in the apartment filled with birds. There were parrots and love birds and Cockatiels and Macaws. Rainbow was a big, predominantly red, Macaw. You had to watch out of he’d sneak up on you and bite you. He could be vicious. There was an African grey which talked a lot, and was busy eating one of Pierre Clement’s books, “Hypnosis for Therapists.” He had made it through the introduction and Table of Contents.
I rescued the book and reconstructed the Table of Contents. Then I sat down and rewrote the book so that I’d learn it. This technique was so successful I applied it to other books I wanted to learn, and that was how I began exploring the inner worlds of the unconscious, and of the healing arts. It was Brad who introduced me to those skills by working with me when I had crashed and burned.
So now, today, when I remember my old friend I have to be honest about it. He was, as the song says, a poet, a pilgrim, a prophet and ... well he wasn’t a picker ... he was a drummer, a didgeridoo artist, and aficionado of Tibetan bowls and bells. He was an Aztec standing on the mountain, bringing the sun up with the mellow blast of his conch shell. He rode his motorcycle too fast and he took too many chances. He had some problems with drugs once in awhile, and during those times I stayed away. I didn’t want to get shot or arrested. He healed people. He took care of them, and he taught other people, me included, how to heal.
“He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, taking all the wrong directions on his lonely way back home.”
What I felt sad about, sometimes, was that he was a man who was a quick learner who could master a skill quickly, because he had focus. He could have been anything he wanted to be. But he always felt some secret shame, that drove his self-destructive behavior. And around him there were his friends, many of whom saw it in him and in themselves, this conflict between an out of the box existence, where they would be rewarded for fitting in. There was the drive for home and family, for children and being asked to stand up at the company meeting, to be recognized as an essential cog in the wheel of production ...
... and then there was a rebellion against it, a longing to fly free over the ocean, like Icarus on his wing, leaving Crete for the mainland. There was the fatal attraction to the sun, and the crashing into the sea, the great mother, ruled by Proteus the shape shifter. There was the long, slow process of rebuilding, of learning to fly between them, but now with the hard won knowledge of both the sun and the sea. Some people just don’t listen. They have to check it out for themselves.
And then the life is over, like a candle snuffed out suddenly. But it wasn’t sudden. It is at the end of life that the pattern of the life becomes visible. When it is complete the curtain closes. And my friend is dead, gone forever. I loved his light and his darkness, but when he was most powerful, in his prime, and I loved him best, it was because the light and the darkness were there together, playful and forever young. That’s how I remember him. He’s my first long time friend to die. He always did volunteer to take the point position. We are coming along behind him.