I first met Robert at Manatee Junior College
in Bradenton, FL in 1965. He was a curious fellow, a Blues
Brother before the Blues Brothers existed. He was dressed
(almost always) in a dark blue suit, with a tie. It was the
mid-60s, folks, and this was not unusual attire for a college
student. In fact, it was the expected attire. But Robert gave
the outfit his own twist – he wore sandals.
Blues Brother Bob |
Bob Randall, 1967
We both went on to the University of South
Florida to finish our college studies and begin our life’s
education. It was 1968 and the times were a’ changing
and so was fashion. For Robert the dark blue suits gave way
to paisley shirts and bell-bottom pants. And, of course, there
was hair . . . lots of hair. . And there was pot which Bob
first smoked in 1968.
Bob Randall in New England,
Bob Randall on the porch,
It was at USF that we became good friends.
As he would later write, we “associated rather than
dated.” Our courtship was long, sometimes rocky but
always we were friends. We separated after college but remained
in touch – letters, phone calls, traveling to different
parts of the country to meet.
“Rounding the age of 25, we
found the hormonal surges of youth were giving way to
fuller emotions. We had played through an elaborate dance
and finally mated but did not wed (that would come later).
We had long been friends and settled slowly into lovers.
The arrangement work well.”
Marijuana Rx, page 12
But to make a long story short: In February
1974 we moved into a large apartment on Capital Hill in Washington,
D.C. and would spend the next 27 years together.
Bob Randall and Alice O'Leary
Robert was diagnosed with glaucoma in 1972,
shortly after he arrived in Washington. He was 24 and had
suffered from “eyestrain” for years. Far too young
to have glaucoma, his condition was easily dismissed throughout
his adolescent years as the by-product of a bookish young
man but the Washington ophthalmologist was definite. He laid
a hand on Robert’s shoulder and admonished the young
man to seek disability assistance from the state and perhaps
learn Braille. “You’ll be blind in five years,”
Bob followed the first bit of advice but
never the latter. At the time of his diagnosis Bob was driving
a Red Top cab in D.C. but the eye drops prescribed to treat
the glaucoma rendered him almost as blind as the promised
outcome of the disease.
Bob Randall, Truck Driver
For a year he received state disability payments.
During this time his ophthalmologist tried every available
medication to control Bob’s eye pressures but they remained
stubbornly elevated and damage to the field of vision continued.
It was a discouraging and frightening period for Bob. He began
to think that the diagnosis was right – he would be
blind before he reached 30.
He noticed, quite by accident, that marijuana
helped his eyes. One night he looked out his apt window at
the streetlights and saw a telltale sign of the elevated eye
pressures associated with glaucoma – haloes around the
lights. Turning away he decided to forget his troubles and
get stoned. Some time later, happily stoned, listening to
music, he looked out his window again and immediately realized
that the haloes were gone.
“It was a singular moment.
I immediately drew the connection between the use of marijuana
and the now absent haloes. Indeed, parts of my brain absorbed
the connection so quickly and so assuredly that I was
certain I must be stoned, which of course I was. I tried
to follow the exploding synaptic spasm but was quickly
left behind. …Marijuana beneficial? A delicious
thought perhaps, but nothing to hang your sight on.”
Marijuana Rx, page 10
He told me in a phone call. Oddly I can remember
the event but not my reaction to it. For a time I was skeptical.
After we began living together in early ’74 I began
to see, first hand, the problems he would have visually when
marijuana wasn’t available. The passage of time –
with its ebb and floe of illicit marijuana supplies –
quickly proved to me his medical need for the drug. We did
all that we could to assure a supply of marijuana and, for
the most part, succeeded.
As our first anniversary rolled around in
February 1975 things were pretty good. We were both employed.
Bob had gotten a job teaching speech at a junior college in
the D.C. suburbs. He was also writing theater reviews for
a suburban weekly. The dark days of disability and food stamps
were in the past. We were talking about buying some property
to renovate and enjoying all that Washington, D.C. and the
nearby environs had to offer.
January, 1975 in the life of Bob Randall
on Page 3