April, 1971, finally arrived and Spring was in full bloom. What’s better is that I had just gotten out of the Army and was free for the first time in years. I had a couple of blankets, a pillow, some clothes, a few pans, and my horn, and that’s all I needed. I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, at all. But I needed a place to live.
Tommy Horne, the guitar player in our Rock band, also needed a place to live, so we rented a dumpy old apartment in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia, and moved in. We flipped a coin and I got the back bedroom, Tommy got the front bedroom. Sleeping on the floor was never so sweet as it was that Spring.
But Tommy was a few years younger than me and had a date for his draft physical coming up. If he passed, which he would, he’d be 1-A, which would make him a prime candidate for a trip to Vietnam, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
One morning, he woke me up early. It wasn’t even noon.
“Hey man.” Tommy said. “I’m going to the doctor and try to get him to write a note and get me out of the draft,” he said. “I’ll be back later.”
I muttered something non-committal and went back to sleep.
At four o’clock we were supposed to meet the rest of the band at the King’s Head Inn to load and set up equipment. It was Wednesday night, the first night of our two-week long gig. I was at home when John and Marty came by to get me.
“Where’s Tommy?” John asked.
“I don’t know. He got up this morning and went to the doctor and I haven’t seen him since, ” I said. “Maybe he’ll show up at the King’s Head.”
We drove to the gig, and Tommy wasn’t there.
“Just like him to skate outta this load-in,” Marty said.
We set up the equipment and went home. I called his sister. She hadn’t seen him.
Nobody in the band had any idea where he was and it was getting late. The gig started at nine o’clock with or without Tommy. We knew if we showed up without a guitar player we’d get fired, and we couldn’t afford that.
“I’m gonna call RB Sharp,” John told me.
RB was a good local guitarist and knew some of our stuff, so with RB sitting in, we could get by without Tommy for the night.
Tommy never showed for the gig. He wasn’t at home when I got back around two AM, and he wasn’t there when I got up in the morning. I called everyone in the band again, and no one had seen Tommy.
The hospital Tommy had gone to for the doctor’s appointment was only a few blocks away, so I walked over and inquired at the front desk. Nobody had seen or heard of anyone called Tommy Horne.
I called the police station. No Tommy.
John came by and we made an executive decision. We called Tommy’s parents, in Florida.
This may have been the wrong thing to do.
They flipped out.
“Tommy is MISSING? His mother screamed. “My Tommy! Oh my GOD!”
His father, a retired navy Commander, was as bad: “Now, son, you tell me just what the HELL is going on! If this is some kind of joke, it’s not funny! How could he be missing?”
I explained what had happened, made some quick excuses, and got off the phone. But that wasn’t the end of it.
A little while later Tommy’s sister called.
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID?” She yelled. “Now they’re worried sick! How could you?”
“We were just…” I tried to say.
“Well, don’t!” she screamed. “Don’t call them again! This is not helping!”
“I’m sorry, we were… I thought maybe he took a bus to Florida or something.”
“Don’t call them!” she shouted, and hung up.
She had always seemed so nice before…
We were out of options. John and I combed the neighborhood like we were looking for a lost dog, even occasionally shouting “Tommy!” and whistling. We went to every store and shop and inquired if anyone had seen a tall, bespectacled, long-haired hippie-kind-of guy.
We played the rest of the week with RB Sharp on guitar.
No one knew where Tommy was. No slightly decomposed bodies had been discovered by joggers. No alien spaceships had been sighted in the area. The police had taken our missing persons report and filed it under “Haven’t got a clue.”
On Monday, I dragged myself out of floor around 10 AM and went for a walk.
It was another brilliant, fresh spring day and the birds were chirping, The trees had sprouted new green leaves, and I’m pretty sure that somewhere, the cotton was high.
As I walked by the park near our apartment, I noticed people playing, full-grown adults, happily playing with colorful balls and balloons. One teenage girl was trying to get a kite into the air and failing miserably. She seemed to be deliriously happy dragging the poor little kite across the grass.
And there he stood.
He was one of a group of people throwing a ball back and forth.
I hurried over.
“Tommy?” I asked, not quite believing what I was seeing. He seemed surprised to see me.
“Oh! Hey, man!”
“What… Where the hell have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you! Who are these people?”
He chuckled a little, backed away from the group, and pulled me aside. “They’re from the Nut House,” he whispered.
I stared in disbelief at his new “friends.”
He put his hand up to prevent anyone from hearing and said, “I got stoned before I went to the doctor and started crying in his office. He gave me a note and told me to take it to the nurse at one of the hospital buildings nearby.”
He paused and waved at a woman that seemed to be in charge of the outing. He turned back to me, and continued:
“When I got there, two orderlies grabbed me, took all of my clothes except my underwear, and put me in a straight-jacket. They shot me up with something, and threw me in a padded cell.”
“Holy shit, ” I said. “Why didn’t you call? We had to hire RB Sharp!”
“They wouldn’t let me call or talk to anybody. I gotta stay there another week, and then he’ll write me a note to get me out of being drafted. He’s gonna tell ’em I’m nuts!”
Looking back on this incident now, after almost fifty years, I have to confess that the doctor may have been on to something.