Excerpt for Five Years In Five Months by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Five Years In Five Months

By Chuck Blitz and Noah Brand

Published by Noah Brand at Smashwords

Copyright 2016 Noah Brand

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When we were young, the only time our entire family ate together was on Jewish holidays. Fortunately, that included the Sabbath every week; Dad’s father had been a rabbi and while Dad’s own beliefs had liberalized over the years, there was still some weight to five thousand years of tradition. So every Friday night, we had out the good tablecloths and the good china and the plain Sabbath candles, and we arranged our family around the table.

There was never a formal seating arrangement; nobody was told where their place was. But the arrangement was there all the same, and it never varied. We all knew instinctively where we belonged, Nicky most of all.

Dad was at the head of the table. He was bright, hardworking, self-doubting, and always tired. He’d built his own business from scratch, and that took all his energy and patience, leaving little of either for us.

To Dad’s left was Michael, all good looks and machismo and physical strength. He was the one who’d challenge Dad’s authority at the table, as though he wanted to take over as the father figure.

I was on Michael’s left, and always getting pulled into his clashes with Dad. As a teenager, it was often Michael’s approval I wanted as much as my father’s. I was still chasing school athletics at that time, track and basketball and trying to be cool and successful.

On my left was Melody, who had played with Nicky when they were both little, until she started school and someone gave her an IQ test. After that, it wasn’t appropriate for the newly-crowned smartest kid in the family to play with him.

The seat to Dad’s right was Mom’s, but it was usually empty during dinner because she was always on her feet serving the rest of us. Looking back, I’m not certain when she got anything to eat herself.

To Mom’s right was Judy, the oldest. She was the responsible, socially involved one. She cared about everyone, to a fault sometimes.

On Judy’s right was Linda, the prettiest, the one who not only entered beauty contests but won them. She often set the pace for the conversation, her incisive mind always up for a good argument. Or, failing that, any argument.

And all the way down at the other end of the table, furthest from our father, was Nicky. The baby of the family. The problem.

Our family prized education and intellectual achievement. We didn’t know what to do with a kid who couldn’t manage school, who was always in trouble and lagging behind his class. We relied a lot on humor and wit to communicate. We didn’t know what to make of Nicky’s repetitive, obnoxious attempts to get laughs. We were smart kids with smart parents and we knew it. We didn’t have a place for a kid the school told us was mentally retarded. So Nicky wound up at the far end of the table.

Lots of youngest children try to get attention, but most of them learn from their attempts. They figure out what works and what doesn’t, what gets them laughed with and what gets them laughed at, what gets them rewarded and what gets them punished. Nicky never figured it out, never filtered his attempts. He just kept trying everything-all-the-time, and it never got less uncomfortable for all of us.

Sometimes he’d hit on something that worked and refuse to let go of it. At Michael’s bar mitzvah, Nicky was only five, but he saw all the attention lavished on his big brother and decided he wanted that too. He told all the relatives and family friends that it was his bar mitzvah, and sang some nonsense words he thought sounded like the Hebrew chants of the ceremony. Everyone laughed like crazy, and when Nicky baldly demanded that he get presents like Michael did, the guests cheerfully gave him some money. That meant that for a solid year, every single time the extended family got together, we were treated to another rendition of Nicky’s bar mitzvah act, with accompanying request for payment.

As you’d expect, Nicky was picked on by other children, all of us included. I’d hit Michael or he’d hit me, and whoever lost would go beat up on Nicky. He was constantly being tricked and teased, always the butt of jokes he couldn’t understand. When he was six or seven, some of the kids in the neighborhood told him they’d give him a million trillion dollars if he took off his pants every time a car drove by. He was skeptical at first, but hey, a million trillion dollars is good money, so he went for it. He dutifully dropped his pants for every car, while the other kids laughed and laughed. His lack of impulse control led him to bad places, too: after that incident he hit one of those kids in the head with a baseball bat, threatening to kill him and his whole family. Not for laughing at him—for not paying him the million trillion he’d been promised.

He was so easy to pick on that it was hard to resist, and his gullibility and obnoxiousness made it easy to rationalize. Hey, we’d tell ourselves, he’s such a little jerk anyway, let’s dare him to do something really gross this time. He’d take every dare, of course. Attention was attention, after all, and he’d learned the same dangerous equation as a million children just like him: it’s better to be laughed at than ignored.

The first official warning we got about Nicky’s capabilities came when he was in kindergarten and the school principal said mom should “lower her expectations” when it came to her youngest son. The official report was more blunt: “[Nicky had] displayed a very short attention span, had difficulty following directions, and seemed unable to do simple tasks. He should be enrolled in first grade, even though he will probably have to repeat it.”

They were right: Nicky did fail first grade. What the schools were telling us was that Nicky wasn’t just an awkward kid, there was something wrong with him.

Academic success was how you got praise in our family, and as Nicky realized that avenue was closed to him, his demands for attention became more strident. He’d bull into a conversation or whatever was going on and tell us we had to play with him. We’d indulge him sometimes; Mom had told us that complimenting him would bolster his self-confidence. But we were kids ourselves, and we thought he was a pain. I fear that all our inconsistent and sporadic reinforcement did was teach him that understanding other people’s motives wasn’t just hard, it was impossible.

Sure enough, when Nicky did make it all the way to second grade, he failed to improve. He simply couldn’t keep up with the other children. At the suggestion of the school, we had him evaluated for a separate program for hyperactive kids. The Special School District’s assessment was cruelly accurate:

“He dislikes sitting down and once sitting is distracted by everything in sight. He does a good deal of bragging and tells bizarre tales, and is quite manipulative. … This is a nervous, talkative, easily distracted boy. … Nicky could benefit from the structured situation of a special placement. This mother seems to be a warm, interested, intelligent person who somehow seems remote in her relationship with this child.”


The program for hyperactive kids helped some; it had a better student-teacher ratio and some awareness of how to handle a kid like him. The assessments we got from them were more optimistic, anyway, and he was able to complete a couple of grades. It wasn’t ideal, but it was at least an improvement.

There was a downside, though. Kids that age are cruel, and no sooner did they hear that Nicky was in a special program than they branded him a “retard”, and treated him accordingly. Worse, since he was traveling to a different school by bus, he couldn’t socialize with any school friends and became even more dependent on the family for play and attention. Even as he was doing a bit better in school, he’d become even more exhausting for his siblings, and for poor Mom and Dad.

Dad worked an awful lot of hours to keep the family in decent style, and the truth is that when he got home, he didn’t have the emotional energy left to handle a houseful of kids who were always beating each other up. And then there was that one kid, the one who took the most beatings, the one who wanted the most attention, the one who couldn’t be reasoned with like the others sometimes could. Small wonder he and Mom were casting about for some kind of fix, something they hadn’t tried.

Then they were introduced by a friend to a book called Summerhill, a series of accounts by A.S. Neill about a school he ran in Scotland. It was part of the new wave at that time of progressive parenting and education, and it advocated giving children greater freedom and self-determination than had been in vogue until then. Mom was deeply intrigued by these ideas; she didn’t say outright that they might help with The Problem Of Nicky, but then, she didn’t have to.

So, like many other families at that time and in the years to come, we formed a “semi-democracy” wherein we were all equal, making a point of addressing our parents as Ronnie and Marvin instead of Mom and Dad. Dad didn’t really enjoy it, but he was willing to go along for a time. We had family meetings with proper solemnity to vote on things like chores and bedtimes, and we all had a vote, because again, we were all equals.

Trouble was, none of us quite believed that. Sure, in theory Nicky was equal and had the same vote as the rest of us, but none of us really thought he was equal, and his vote was usually absent. He couldn’t follow the discussions and got bored easily, so he’d wander off to watch TV or amuse himself elsewhere. If we’d really considered him part of our semi-democracy, we’d have made more effort to get him back at the table, to engage him in the process. Instead, we usually didn’t even notice his absence; if we felt anything at all, it was mild relief.

It was probably Nicky who ended that particular experiment, indirectly. His habitual disengagement from the process implicitly condemned its legitimacy, and the one time we managed to get him involved just underlined that point. In the wake of a heated argument, Nicky was dragged in from the TV to cast a tiebreaking vote. Unfortunately, the only comment he offered, “This shit is fucked!” was not decisive. It was also, however, not inaccurate. After that, Dad lost interest in the experiment and ceased showing up to the family meetings, and soon the rest of us did too.

The biggest setback happened when another experiment came to an end: the school district pulled funding for the program Nicky was in. He was dumped back in regular public school, a fifth-grader a year older than every kid in his class. Being small for his age meant that was no advantage, though.

It’s difficult now to credit the extent to which casual, everyday violence was considered a normal part of childhood back then. Not to put too fine a point on it, Nicky got the crap kicked out of him pretty regularly. And to my shame, I was part of that. Our older brother Michael was always athletic, and he’d use his strength to assert himself physically, making macho threats and pushing the other kids in the family around. I, who looked up to Michael, would imitate this behavior and push Nicky around in turn. And Nicky would try, in the family and at school, to do the same thing. For him, though, it never worked. He couldn’t understand when it was appropriate or at least when he could get away with it; the incident with the baseball bat and the million trillion dollars was part of an unfortunate pattern in his life. The other part of the pattern was getting beaten up a lot.

At this point his deep abhorrence of school really set in. He would do anything he could think of to avoid going, but his imagination failed to extend very far. Instead our poor mother had to live with literally hundreds of repetitions of the exact same scene, which she later said made this the single most stressful period of her relationship with Nicky. Every morning, just about, she would have to go try to drag him out of bed for school, and every morning, he would claim that he was feeling sick and couldn’t possibly go to school. And most mornings, by the time the ensuing argument was finished, Nicky had missed the school bus and Mom had to drive him.

Worse than that, since the school was only a few blocks away, more often than not Nicky would just walk back home the minute Mom was out of sight. Often he’d beat her there, so she’d have to stuff him into the car and drive right back the way she came. With a great deal of yelling and threatening, he could usually be persuaded to spend that day at school, but the next morning she’d go in to wake him up and the cycle would start all over again. It was exhausting, and slowly began to foster a deep resentment in Mom. Rather than start hating her own child, she handed responsibility for getting Nicky to school over to Dad.

The immediate result was that Dad’s relationship with Nicky, never that great to begin with, got even worse. His exhaustion and lack of patience was bad enough with us other kids, the bright overachieving ones. How could he stand the daily obduracy with which Nicky greeted the prospect of school? Especially knowing that, unlike his other children, Nicky wasn’t even learning anything? Dad couldn’t admit how much he came to resent Nicky, so he’d suppress it until he suddenly found himself hitting his youngest son. This, in turn, weakened his relationship with Mom, who threatened to divorce him over one such incident.

Every time we thought we had a handle on the Problem of Nicky, he’d somehow manage to get worse. By the time he was twelve, he wasn’t cute any more, and he was hitting puberty. He handled it poorly, to say the least. He’d sneak into Melody’s room when her friends were sleeping over and try to grope them, or he’d hang around me or Michael and try to get time with our girlfriends. He was wheedling and insistent and unsubtle, and his behavior steadily became more and more inappropriate. He just couldn’t learn how to be around people in a functional way.

I don’t recall the date, but I do remember that one day it simply occurred to me that I didn’t want my little brother around. I had no use for him, and everything would have been easier if he just weren’t there. That was a sobering realization for a teenager, but as I turned it over in my mind, I realized it wasn’t just me. Nobody in the family wanted Nicky around, but it seemed like we were stuck with him.

Through all of this, though, there were signs of hope. As much as he was frustrating and difficult and embarrassing, as often as it seemed like he’d never learn or be capable, sometimes he’d surprise us. He took to the piano as a small boy, and while he first just saw it as a machine that could produce noise, he kept playing with it and experimenting, until eventually it became a machine that produced something like music. His time in the special school district program showed us that it was, under just the right circumstances, possible for him to function in a school setting.

When he found one of the elusive areas where he could thrive, he thrived magnificiently. At summer camp, he made friends and functioned as just another one of the kids. In the country he rode horses, helped on a farm, engaged with the world in a real and curious way. It was only at home, among his family, trapped in the pressures of school, that he got worse.

Most interesting of all, when he was thirteen we learned that he could learn. He was only in sixth grade at the time, always in trouble for fighting, unable to keep up with his class at all, looking as hopeless as ever. But the Talmud only cared that he was thirteen, and that meant it was time for his bar mitzvah. All the rest of us, like most Jewish kids, had been going to Hebrew school for years, learning the old words and rituals, getting ready for the solemn ceremony we knew was coming. Nicky, however, had never been to Hebrew school. He couldn’t handle school in one language, what were the odds he’d be able to handle two? It made sense as a decision, but now his time was approaching and he wasn’t ready.

That’s when our aunt Ester stepped in. She was a teacher, and more than that, she was a kind, patient woman who was willing to tutor Nicky one on one. With her, Nicky suddenly worked. He studied. He learned. And when his day in the synagogue came, he was perfect. Before the whole family and the entire congregation, he did as all the boys in our family had done before, declaring his transition to manhood in accordance with tradition.

That image stuck with me, afterward. Nicky up at the podium, singing the haftorah and giving his speech, a little nervous and unsure, but no more so than a lot of kids who got up there. He’d learned. He’d done something important and done it right, with help from someone willing to take the time with him.

It was that day, more than anything, that made me begin to think we’d been wrong about what Nicky was capable of.


For my part, I spent a lot of my boyhood wanting to be more like my older brother Michael. Dad was great and all, but Michael was athletic, smart, popular… everything I wished I was. I went out for various sports at school and excelled in some, which felt pretty good. Most of all, though, I wanted to assert my masculinity in the casual, natural way that Michael did. I wanted to be manly, a tough guy, all that old stuff.

And, like a lot of boys, I had an anger problem. Fighting was part of growing up, everyone just took that for granted, so we kids fought amongst ourselves almost constantly, without needing a reason and without damaging our basic love for each other. The trouble was, as I say, Michael was strong and athletic, so whenever I fought him I got my ass kicked. As an angry pubescent boy, do you think I simply took that with good humor and moved on? Of course not. I turned right around and kicked Nicky’s ass, for any reason or none.

I still have a vivid memory of one nasty incident, when I was chasing him down and grabbing him; I don’t remember what my excuse was that day, but I remember the look on his face. His jaw was clenched so hard in terror that all the veins and tendons in his neck were standing out sharply, and his eyes still haunt me. They were filled not only with fear, but with confusion. He didn’t understand why this was happening to him, why it was always happening to him.

It’s hard to admit to that now, that I helped make my little brother’s life that much harder, but I’d be lying if I denied it. I just used him as an outlet for my frustrations, as did Michael, Melody, and some of the neighborhood kids. Nicky used to refer to himself as a human punching bag, and that was truer than he knew. A punching bag can be a useful tool for letting out excess aggression, releasing stress, and just generally blowing off steam. Which is fine when the bag isn’t alive, when it can’t wonder why you’re doing this to it. When it’s not your own younger brother.

By 1970, most of us kids had become politically active, following our mom’s example. In hindsight, helping organize marches for peace and nonviolence and then going home to pick on Nicky strikes me as strange, and it should have at the time. But I was a teenaged boy, very politically radicalized, and wrapped up in my own concerns, which meant that I had more anger than I needed or knew what to do with, so Nicky bore the brunt. My cruelty was so random and arbitrary to him that Nicky trusted me less than any other member of the family. I can’t honestly say he was wrong to do so.

The worst of my anger came to a head one day around the time of Nicky’s triumph at his Bar Mitzvah. For once, it wasn’t at Nicky. Michael was home from the University of Colorado, and for one stupid reason or another, we disagreed over who got to use one of the family cars. Naturally, this led to us two long-haired peaceniks coming to blows, because god forbid we back down over automobile usage. Then, at some point in the fight, I grabbed a kitchen knife. I actually pulled a knife on my own brother over who got to use the stupid car. Worse, I cut him. Or rather, he got cut in the process of taking the knife away from me, because he was still much better at fighting than I was.

The cut on his hand wasn’t even that serious, but it finally crossed some threshold in me. I had become frightened of myself. I realized that my anger was something I couldn’t control, and I ended up just sobbing uncontrollably for hours. When I could talk again, I asked Michael for advice on what to do about myself. He had a lot of advice, being a college sophomore, but what stuck with me was his mentioning of a new thing called Transcendental Meditation that, he suggested, would help me “get my head together.”

TM was a big deal at the time, especially with countercultural progressive types like our family. (Well, mom and dad were progressive, we kids fancied ourselves countercultural.) It was a specific form of meditation training, one that had its own classes and trainers and business structure, a whole organization spreading the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru who had famously trained the Beatles, among many others. Some years later, the whole organization would come apart in the wake of a sex scandal, but back in 1970, it was highly recommended by a lot of people I respected, most especially Michael.

Most importantly, it worked. Not the part about being able to levitate while meditating, but in terms of getting my head together? It worked. I took the initial four-day course as soon as I could, was given my mantra, and now had a new habit of sitting quietly for twenty minutes, twice a day. I needed a place to get away from my anger, from family and school stresses, from all the stuff that had me so wound up, and TM let me build that place inside myself.

I didn’t notice anything at first, but I kept at it. Then one day about a month after I’d started, I noticed I needed to trim my fingernails. This was unusual for me; I rarely needed to trim them. I realized that at some point, without noticing, I’d stopped biting my nails.

Around the same time, Melody commented on how much nicer and more tolerant I’d become lately, and asked where she could take the same TM course I’d taken. She loved the results, and the two of us lobbied the rest of the family tirelessly, and soon Mom, Dad, Linda and Nicky had all taken the same four-day course.

Transcendental Meditation was a whole packaged philosophy, what Adam Smith called “the McDonald’s of the human potential movement,” but that was part of its appeal. The mystical and foreign elements were limited to a little ceremony involving incense, candles, and a picture of Maharishi’s guru. It was something easily comprehensible that you could go out and buy, and what could be more American than that?

I threw myself into the TM movement. With the whole family involved in it, it was easy to get support to spend a month training personally with Maharishi when he was in northern California. I was blown away by him. This little, soft-spoken Indian man was like nobody I’d ever met; having grown up with the Jewish tradition of answering questions with more questions, I was stunned by his simple, wise answers to all the big questions people had for him. What was life? What was death? What was God? Even when he was challenged harshly or angrily on some of his answers, he would respond in the same quiet, gentle voice. It was the exact opposite of how I’d been taught to argue, and I saw immediately that if anyone could show me a path that led beyond anger, it was this man.

After that, it was more lobbying my family to accept the teachings of TM, and then off for four months in Spain with Maharishi, during which time I qualified as a TM teacher. There was a strict process for qualification, tests to be taken and so on, but upon advancing to the next level, a student would be given a new mantra, and who got which mantra was a surprisingly big deal within the TM structure. In hindsight, the similarity to a multi-level marketing scheme seems obvious, but at the time, it was something that was helping me, something I genuinely felt was saving my life.

The change for me and for Michael, who was also in the program, was external as well as internal. We dropped out of other forms of activism, because after all, by spreading TM we were helping people find inner peace, and if enough people just did that, there would be no war. Also, once we qualified as teachers, we had to cut our long hair and stop dressing like hippies. We were in the business of selling TM now, and that meant dressing like salesmen, in suits and ties and an aura of respectability. Mom was pretty thrilled with that particular change, we discovered.

Our whole family was benefiting from TM. Everyone seemed to be doing better with some twice-daily meditation under their belts, and there was even a trend piece in the local paper describing us as “a happily meditating family.” Michael and I were soon in charge of training for the whole St. Louis area, which was no small thing for a couple guys as young as we were.

The only problem, as usual, was Nicky.

Nicky, at seventeen, had never sat still for fifteen entire minutes in his life, and wasn’t about to start now. He found it boring and pointless, and couldn’t make it a regular habit. Once, while meditating with Melody, he quietly turned the clock ahead so it would look like he’d done fifteen minutes, and just walked out. That, to him, was preferable to sitting there for ten more minutes. With the whole family doing it, Nicky was under a lot of pressure to meditate, which was the only reason he ever did it at all, but was also missing the point of meditation. It became just another thing that everyone else in the family could do but he couldn’t, like school, like socializing, like everything. For him, this transcendent new experience was just one more thing he could feel like he’d failed at.

Then, in the spring of 1973, something happened that changed Nicky’s perspective, and mine as well. And it happened entirely because Nicky still couldn’t grasp what was socially appropriate and what wasn’t.

Maharishi was spending a week in Chicago, and the whole family went to see him. Unfortunately, his time was so much in demand that we didn’t actually get a glimpse of him until the end of the week, when there was a last public lecture, only for teachers and their families. We all sat reverently, listening to Maharishi hold forth on the nature of death and reincarnation, and the importance of inner peace. For once, Nicky listened without fidgeting or talking. He even moved to an empty seat up front to hear better. Then, when Maharishi was finished, he simply darted up to the podium and asked to speak with him.

A private audience with the Maharishi was something any of millions of TM adherents would have given their right arm for. It was a great honor, something one had to earn within the structure of the TM organization, and earning it wasn’t easy. One certainly did not just walk up at what was supposed to be a closing lecture and demand one, especially not if one was a teenaged novice. Nicky’s action was, in TM terms, grossly inappropriate, as usual.

But Maharishi simply nodded and said “Come,” and he and my brother walked off together.

It was surreal: the roomful of TM people lined up on either side of the aisle leading to the exit, palms together in respect, parting like the Red Sea in front of the great guru, spiritual leader of millions… and my little brother who could never do anything right. When they came alongside our family, Nicky actually stopped to introduce us and Maharishi to each other like he was a visiting friend.

As they moved on, the national director of TM, a man I’d worked with and had deep respect for, muttered to me, “That’s your brother, huh?” His tone said everything, and I suddenly felt something bridle within me. Sure, this guy was my superior, sure, he’d trained me, sure, he was second only to Maharishi himself in the structure of the organization, but who the hell was he to put down Nicky?

I fell back on the defense I’d learned since infancy: sarcasm. “Yeah, that’s my brother,” I said. “Who’s that little Indian guy with him?”


Later, I would learn what took place during Nicky’s private audience with Maharishi. It wasn’t much. They sat in silence for a few minutes until Nicky, pressured for something to say, asked a few questions he already knew the answers to. Maharishi answered them patiently and kindly, and there was another awkward pause. Finally Maharishi said “I think it’s time to rest” and for once, Nicky took a hint. In one final faux pas, he shook Maharishi’s hand, despite a tradition holding that touching a master without permission was simply not done.

After his audience, Nicky was ecstatic. The rest of the family didn’t even know where to look for him; he finally turned up in the hotel lobby at two AM, still riding a high that he’d never felt before. He was calmer and less difficult for days afterward, and threw himself into meditation in pursuit of his new goal: to attain enlightenment.

Enlightenment was and is a complicated and slippery concept, deeply tied to a variety of spiritual ideas. For Nicky, though, it was simple: Maharishi was enlightened, everyone loved him and listened to him, therefore enlightenment meant being loved and respected and therefore happy. He had found something he believed he could do, and he went for it.

In the summer of 1974, at the age of sixteen, Nicky left home on his own for the first time. He did a one-month course in New York to train him as a teacher of TM. The homesickness and loneliness frightened him, but he stuck it out. He didn’t follow the theory or coursework very well, but he’d absorbed enough terminology from the family that he was able to bluff his way through the exam and pass.

By this time, I was a sophomore at Maharishi International University. Nicky was sixteen and still in ninth grade. There was some talk in the family of finding a boarding school for him to take the strain of his daily presence off of our parents. Linda even made a scouting trip to Washington D.C. with him to look at a couple of schools, but nothing came of it. School, traditional learning, was in the set of Things Nicky Can’t Do in all our minds, including his. However, this year, for the first time, we had a major entry in the set of Things Nicky Can Do. His dedication to TM had helped him in many ways, though not academically, and most importantly, it was something he actually practiced and followed through on.

Despite his age and scholastic record, Michael, Melody and I talked the other TM teachers into recommending Nicky for the next phase of teacher training. It would mean three months on his own in California, in a structured learning environment, teaching something he was passionate about. Michael and Melody were absolutely convinced he was ready and that the experience would be good for him, and I never contradicted them in front of Nicky, but privately, I harbored doubts. I just didn’t have much faith in him.

Nicky’s time in the three-month course lasted two days. The first day, he put a fake gun in the back of a teacher and pretended to stick him up for his mantra. The second day, he bragged to the other students that he was already fully enlightened and could see auras and so on. In other words, the same inappropriate jokes and random, hyperbolic boasting that he’d always displayed. He was sent home immediately and had to spend the rest of the summer living with me.

Our living together actually worked pretty well for him, but come autumn I was off to Europe for another advanced TM course, and Nicky was back home.

I don’t want to belabor my TM education; suffice to say that I returned from Europe the following April, full of new-won knowledge, exciting spiritual experiences, and a deep 23-year-old certainty in my own wisdom and beneficence. I knew exactly who I was and what the rest of my life would be, I was certain. I was enrolled in a philosophy program with the famous Buckminster Fuller at International University in Los Angeles, but I could complete the work for it in sunny Santa Barbara. I would read the great masters on the beach and seamlessly integrate their ideas into my own mix of Judaism and Maharishi’s teachings, occasionally dashing off a brilliant and incisive paper, in recognition of which I would be awarded a degree.

Those months had been less confidence-building for Nicky. When he returned to school for another try at ninth grade, the guidance counsellor at the school told him “You don’t actually need high school, you could just go and get your GED.” They couldn’t legally bar him from school because he was still a minor, but the counsellor was hinting as broadly as he could that they’d all prefer it if Nicky just left.

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