From cyclamates to Pez, a young and rebellious Hillary Rodham did it all –
— By Frederic Schwarz
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton said that he had tried drugs only once, and that was on foreign soil. If true, it would be yet another example of his wife bringing more than her share of know-how to their marriage.
Hillary’s personal diary, a copy of which has been obtained by ly, reveals frequent attempts to expand her mind in many different ways. It’s no surprise that during the 1960s she participated in the experimentation and questioning of social taboos that formed such a large part of that decade’s life-style.
Yet even as a pre-teenager in the Eisenhower era, little Hillary displayed the curiosity and urge to explore that would show up again and again in her later years. The following is a typical early example:
November 5, 1959.
Went over to Lorraine’s house after school. She told me how her cousin Jim at Northwestern gets “high” by drinking cough syrup. We looked in her parents’ medicine chest, but we didn’t find any cough syrup. But there was a box of Sucrets. We didn’t know how many to take, so we each ate three.
I sat down and closed my eyes for fifteen minutes but nothing happened. So I decided to go to the kitchen and eat a banana. Then as I was getting up, the room suddenly started to spin real fast. The picture of Fabian on Lorraine’s wall looked right at me and winked. Then I got real dizzy. The walls were starting to collapse, so I fell on the floor and rolled myself into a ball. Lorraine was talking so fast that I couldn’t understand her. After a while I opened my eyes and the room was turning around slower and slower, like when you turn a record player off. Finally it stopped and I was able to catch my breath. I’ve never been SO SCARED in all my life. We’re taking some more tomorrow.
After this episode the girls went on a Sucrets jag that lasted until shortly after Christmas, when the local druggist got suspicious and refused to sell them any more. Hillary and Lorraine tried sniffing Elmer’s Glue, but it paled in comparison. They cast about for a substitute, testing and rejecting Vitamin C tablets, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, and St. Joseph’s Children’s Aspirin. The period of experimentation and disappointment lasted several months. Then Hillary found out about boys.
Hillary’s diary from this period reflects the anguish of a young girl cast adrift in a world she does not know or understand, bereft of the one thing that has given her life meaning. A typical entry reads:
December 20, 1961.
I’m bored. I wish it would snow. I want to move to Chicago. In Chicago you can walk into any store and get all the Sucrets you want. All the boys at school are yucky. I want to go to Chicago and meet a nice handsome boy and take Sucrets with him. My teachers assign too much homework.
Despite these yearnings, Hillary stayed clean for most of high school. In the fall of her senior year, however, worn out by after-school campaigning for Barry Goldwater, she started sniffing ditto paper to keep herself going. As usual, it started as an occasional thing, a last resort on particularly stressful days. Then she began carrying a freshly dittoed sheet around with her, to allow an instant fix whenever she needed one. The next step was to carry a whole sheaf of ditto papers in a manila envelope wherever she went. Soon, inexorably, she became hooked.
On the Saturday before Election Day, a potential disaster struck: Hillary was caught breaking into the principal’s office to renew her supply. Rather than call the police, the principal, recognizing her leadership role among the student body, let her off with a stern warning and a plea to change her ways. It worked, for a while; she never sniffed ditto paper again.
Upon graduating from high school, Hillary found herself at loose ends for the summer. With the confidence of a woman striding boldly into adulthood, she decided to put aside childish things and experiment with her hardest drug yet: Pez. Pez had long been a favorite of musicians and other hipsters; in fact, in the 1967 hit “Incense and Peppermints,” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, “peppermints” is a thinly veiled euphemism for Pez. In the summer of 1965, however, few outside the tiny but growing counterculture movement had heard of it. Hillary, as a leader of Park Ridge’s bohemian community, was one of the first to learn about Pez, and she lost no time in testing it out:
July 9, 1965.
Tried Pez for the first time yesterday. WOW! Now I know I’ve just been fooling around with that other stuff. I went to the park at 11:00 and met LaVerne, my contact. After I gave the password, she took me to her ratty apartment above the candy store. The shades were drawn and there was a big Snoopy poster on the wall. After peeking out the windows to make sure we weren’t being watched, LaVerne opened up a drawer and pulled out two dispensers. One was Donald Duck and the other was Goofy. She asked if this was my first time and I said yes. Then she asked what my favorite flavor was and I said strawberry. She laughed and said if it was my first time, I wasn’t ready for strawberry.
She told me to lie down on the couch, and after I did, she pulled Mickey’s head way back and a little yellow candy came out. I grabbed it with my teeth and swallowed it. I asked if I could have any more and LaVerne just smiled and shook her head. Then she went over to the record player and put on Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
The next thing I remember, LaVerne’s pet dachshund came into the room, turned on the television, and started flipping through the channels. His coat kept changing color, so I figured he wanted to go for a walk, but when I tried to get up I found my feet were chained to the floor. Meanwhile the dog was watching a commercial where this little stagecoach drives into a kitchen cabinet. Suddenly he started barking and leapt into the TV set. I tried to stop him, but it was too late, and before I knew what was happening, I was in the TV set too.
I ended up on the Ponderosa Ranch on “Gunsmoke.” Everybody kept waiting for me to say my lines, but it was an episode I hadn’t seen before, so I didn’t know them. The whole thing seemed really weird, because “Gunsmoke” is usually on a different night. But then I realized it was a rerun. Anyway, I was getting really embarrassed, but then LaVerne’s dog showed up and told me to get on her back and ride off into the sunset. He had a little saddle with stirrups and everything, so I hopped on and off we went. The Cartwrights were gaining on me, so I started digging in with my spurs and shouting for him to hurry up, but his little legs couldn’t go very fast, so I started riding him harder and harder. That’s all I remember, until I found myself back in LaVerne’s living room, whacking her little dog with a copy of “Seventeen” magazine and singing along with “The Lonely Bull” (which is funny when you think about it, because “The Lonely Bull” is an instrumental).
Then I went back home. Mom had fixed meat loaf and mashed potatoes for dinner. She said she’d never seen me with such a big appetite. Afterwards I was very tired, so I went off to bed. I barely had enough strength to say my prayers before I was out like a light. I can’t wait to meet LaVerne again.
As the summer progressed, Hillary moved on from lemon to experiment with new flavors. She took three hits of cherry while listening to Herman’s Hermits and spent most of the next day throwing up. Orange Pez and the Swingle Singers yielded a very intense high, while grape combined with the Turtles made for a relaxing change of pace. Some of her friends started chewing wintergreen Life Savers in the dark, but Hillary never went that far; she knew her limits. After reading in “Life” magazine about college students getting high on sugar cubes, the figure-conscious Hillary downed a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low, but the ensuring rush was so intense that it scared her. She retreated to the familiar, friendly Pez high; when things got frightening, she could always clutch her favorite Mickey Mouse dispenser.
Inevitably, Hillary built up a tolerance for Pez. Larger and larger doses elicited smaller and smaller responses, and it was murder on her waistline. Then when she got to Wellesley, she found that strawberry Pez (the favorite of experienced users, which is how the Strawberry Alarm Clock got its name) was unobtainable in Massachusetts. Besides, in the rapidly developing counterculture of the mid-1960s, being a Pezhead was already passe. Hillary decided to put aside girlish amusements and concentrate on schoolwork and social activism. Her next hallucinogenic discovery came about completely by accident:
April 27, 1966.
Anthropology paper due tomorrow. While typing, I found it hard to concentrate and began nodding off, so I went to Diane’s room to see if she had any No-Doz. She seemed worried that I’ve been taking too many, but I assured her that it’s just for finals and I can quit anytime. I took two and washed them down with Mountain Dew.
Diane asked me what I was staying up for, and I told her about the paper. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time, either,” I continued. “I was feeling really crummy this afternoon, so I took some Midol and . . .”
Diane’s jaw dropped. “You mixed No-Doz and Midol?” she screamed.
I shrugged and said yeah, so what? Diane muttered a quick “Oh my god” and shouted for her roommate, Martha, to get in there.
Before I knew what was happening, Diane and Martha had grabbed my arms and were trying to make me lie on the couch. I resisted for a few seconds, but then I noticed that Martha’s hands had turned into huge red claws. In fact, her whole body was a giant lobster. I knew she and Diane wanted to cook me in boiling water and cover me with tartar sauce, so I ran down the hall and into someone’s room. Just my luck — it turned out to be Jane Austen and she was very busy with her next novel, so I had to leave.
I went to the stairs, but they were crawling with poisonous snakes, so I slammed the door. Then I noticed that the entire hallway was filled with water and all the girls on my floor had turned into octopuses, jellyfish, stingrays, and other sea creatures. They were coming right at me, and I had no choice but to swim for it. I started doing the breaststroke as fast as I could, but Martha and Diane (who had become a rather plump squid) caught up to me. That’s when I remembered that I don’t know how to swim. I got so scared that I must have blacked out, and when I came to, I was lying on my bed desperately flailing my arms and legs as Martha and Diane held me down. They had returned to human form, which calmed me down a lot. They fed me some milk and cookies and then we watched “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Pretty soon everything was back to normal.
With the Midol-No Doz combination — known to Wellesley girls as a Bloody Mary — Hillary had finally found her ideal stimulant. It had all the kick of Pez but none of the morning-after effects, and instead of requiring a bulky dispenser, the pills were easily hidden in one’s pocket. There was little potential to get seriously hooked, since she could trip only once a month. Scoring was no problem; Midol could be found in everyone’s medicine chest, and No-Doz was easily obtainable from the Amherst and Harvard boys who swarmed the Wellesley campus on weekends. (Unlike some of her more libertine classmates, Hillary was careful never to trade more than a chaste peck on the cheek for a box.) On top of all that, it cured cramps.
Law school brought a temporary halt to Hillary’s drug taking. Bloody Marys were beginning to pall, and the eager young idealist found regulatory policy much more exciting. For most of her first two years at Yale, Hillary abstained from drug use, except for the occasional handful of Good ‘n’ Plenty at an impromptu gathering in someone’s dormitory room. Then, in 1970, Hillary moved in with a classmate, Bill Clinton.
The act was quite daring by the standards of the time, especially in view of Hillary’s conservative suburban upbringing. It seemed to have a liberating effect, as the couple went on to experiment with other forms of social rebellion. They tried smoking banana peels, but Bill refused to inhale; in fact, he ran from the room as soon as he got a whiff of the foul odor. Unaware that you have to dry the peels first, Hillary could not achieve the desired results, so she revived a trick from her suburban Illinois girlhood and tried smoking popsicle sticks. Bill was able to share in this activity more fully: He would eat the popsicles and then hand over the sticks to his pleasure-seeking lover. Unfortunately, this system soon resulted in a huge backlog of unsmoked sticks, which attracted roaches and other pests. Hillary’s studies left her little time to indulge, and one day early in 1973 she dumped the whole sticky mess into the garbage.
Things happened fast for the bright young couple after their 1973 graduation. The following summer saw Hillary working 16-hour days as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, which was considering the impeachment of President Nixon. The stress of such an important assignment told on her, and as the work mounted, between tracking down leads, researching legal points, and briefing committee members, she fell into her old habits:
June 25, 1974.
Charles Sandman is the WORST!!!!! Every time he starts asking questions I have to sneak off to the ladies’ room and take another Sweet ‘n’ Low to calm myself down. I’ll be glad when this thing is over — not just to get rid of Tricky Dick, but so I can put my life back in order. Yesterday at the luncheonette I poured six packets into my coffee and then compulsively stuffed another six into my purse. All the waiters were looking at me. How much longer can I keep this up?
Two weeks later, with the hearings approaching a climax and the Washington summer heat at its most oppressive, a troubled Hillary degenerated even further:
July 11, 1974.
Another crazy day on the Hill — running around, meetings, phone calls, one thing after another. Didn’t get home until 12:30, and I have to be up at 6:00 tomorrow. (I mean today.) The only bright spot came during lunch recess, when _________(a fellow staff member) handed me a packet of bootleg Canadian sweetener with CYCLAMATES!!!!! Praise the Lord — I would have kissed her if we weren’t both so busy. One hit of that stuff and I was flying all afternoon. Next chance I get for a vacation, I’m definitely going to Toronto.
The next month Nixon resigned, lifting an enormous weight from Hillary’s shoulders. She quit Sweet ‘n’ Low cold turkey, and after a few weeks of Cremora maintenance under medical supervision, she started drinking her coffee black, a habit she has retained to the present day. Marriage to Bill in 1975, and the responsibilities of being a rising young lawyer and the wife of a prominent politician, sharply curbed Hillary’s drug use as the 1970s wore on. There were occasional Necco Wafer parties on the weekends, but they became less and less frequent. Then in late 1979, after learning of her pregnancy with Chelsea (itself the result of a green-M&M binge), she completely gave up chasing after kicks, in preparation for her new role as mother.
Nowadays, as she leads the fight against teenage drug use, it’s revealing to look back at an earlier Hillary, one who was determined to live life to its fullest, come what may. Today’s kids have much harder drugs available to them: Nutrasweet, ibuprofen, and even Pop Rocks, which are making a distressing comeback in the inner cities. Yet their problems and concerns are the same ones that faced young Hillary Rodham in the suburbs of Chicago in the early 1960s. As she and her husband struggle to frame a solution, it’s encouraging to know that at least one member of the team understands what it’s like to be a lonely, bored teenage kid looking for kicks — and what sorts of things you’ll resort to when Sen-Sen just doesn’t do it anymore.