One more and it’ll be a tradition

From the Oregonian, by columnist Phil Stanford, November 12, 1987

On the lower level of the First Congregational Church, down by the exit, things were coming unglued. Lenny Dee, the local intellectual impressario who had booked the lecture, couldn’t believe what was happening. People were leaving. In droves.

When it was all over Friday night, he would estimate that approximately one-third of the 900 persons who had come to hear R.D. Laing discuss his latest book, “The Lies of Love,” had walked out, demanding their money back.

That was $10 times 300, and who had that kind of money?

Not Dee, who, as co-editor of the eclectic Clinton Street Quarterly, subsists from one issue to the next on a pizza-for-advertising deal he cut with a local pizzaria.

Dee, who has been putting out the Quarterly for the past nine years, got into the visiting lecturer business this January. Since then, he had brought to Portland audiences, hungry for a taste of what’s hot in the world of intellectual media stars, the likes of Paul Krassner, Hunter Thompson and Abbie Hoffman. And now, the world-renowned rebel psychiatrist, R.D. Laing .

The evening had started to fall apart, Dee and others say, when Laing — who is best known for his theory that those society considers mentally ill are actually the sanest of us all, and vice versa — announced that he was putting aside his prepared talk in favor of an extemporaneous “meditation” on his subject.

He then proceeded, in a rambling, not always coherent fashion, to meditate out loud. More often than not, he slurred his words, he couldn’t remember names of authorities he was quoting, and he stumbled over a chair.

About 15 minutes into the lecture, a man in the audience walked to an open microphone — Laing had asked the audience to join in at any time — and said how much he admired Laing for his contributions to our understanding of psychiatry and the human condition in general, but wasn’t he drunk?

Laing said he hadn’t touched a drop. But the rush to the exits was on. And Dee, a slight fellow with a shock of uncombed hair, was left rushing from one person to the next, taking names and addresses, trying to mollify the departing lecturees.

Not that it would have helped much, but if Dee had thought about it, he might have told them that Laing — if indeed he was under the influence — was merely the latest example of what is becoming a tradition for visiting celebrities here.

The summer before last, it was country singer Merle Haggard, who disappeared from the Clark Country Fair under what were at the time mysterious circumstances. He was later located at his home in California, where, according to his manager, he was recovering from an “influenza-type thing.”

According to Dave Pittman, the manager of the fair, what actually happened was sometime between the afternoon and evening shows, Merle got into an argument with his wife — apparently over whether or not to stop at her class reunion in Roseburg on the way back — and started hitting the bottle.

“I know it doesn’t make much sense,” said Pittman. “But after a while, they got into their mobile home and took off. We never did pay him.”

Perhaps the most notable such event, however, occurred in the summer of 1980, when several baseball Hall-of-Famers, including Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, were brought to town for an exhibition with the Portland Beavers.

Mantle and Mathews missed one TV appearance because they insisted on stopping at a bar at 9:45 a.m.

En route to another show, it was reported, Mantle got out of the car at a stoplight and approached a lady in another car.

“Hi,” he said, after he poked his head in the window. “I’m Mickey Mantle. Do you want to . . .?”

That night at the ballpark, Hank Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run king, had to be helped into his uniform, then was too blitzed to hit the ball during a home run contest.

Aaron, who later admitted to drinking too much, said he was taking medication at the time.

After last Friday’s affair, some of Laing’s supporters say it was the asthma medicine he took that afternoon, but Laing himself makes no such excuses. People frequently ask him if there’s something wrong with his mental processes or if he is “on drink,” he says. That’s just the way he is.

For his part, Lenny Dee says he’ll give anyone who walked out a subscription to the Clinton Street Quarterly or a free ticket to a future lecture. But no refunds.