Paul Coates

Nov. 27, 1957

Paul_coates_3
[Note: This is the article that inspired Lenny Bruce’s famous bit on airplane glue–lrh. Below right, Bruce in 1963, by Times photographer Bill Murphy; bottom right, with his daughter Kitty, also in in 1963, by Times photographer Don Cormier].

This is a horror story for children, and I hope they read it.

It’s
the story of a new "kick" among Southern California teenagers which,
unless it’s halted immediately, is going to result in some very tragic
deaths. Already, nearly a dozen juveniles, from 12 to 17, have been
hospitalized or put under doctor’s observation.

Two are in Juvenile Hall, suffering apparent addiction symptoms. One has been in the hospital ward there since Saturday.

And
numerous others have admitted to their parents, school officials and
sheriff’s officers that they have been participating in the "fad."

The fad, as ridiculously harmless as it sounds, is sniffing glue of the type used in making model airplanes.

It
has become dangerously widespread among junior high and high school
students in the Bellflower area, with isolated reports of cases
beginning to pop up in other county districts.

Authorities admit they are in a quandary. There is no law against sale of the airplane-type glue.

"The only course is a process of education,’ said Lt. Harold Stockbridge of the Norwalk Sheriff’s Juvenile Detail.

"Meanwhile, we are pushing an investigation to determine the exact extent of the practice."

The
procedure followed by the kids is to purchase 10-cent tubes of glue
(with extremely high benzene content), squeeze the substance onto small
bits of rag, and then inhale the fumes either through the mouth or nose.

Inhalation of the fumes has an immediate exhilarating effect. The user becomes giddy, or as one boy described it to me, "We climb up to Cloud Nine."

That’s the immediate effect noticed by the kids.

Other
possible effects, described to me today by William Prillmayer,
assistant chief of the Los Angeles office of the Federal Food and Drug
Administration, are:

1–Immediate death.

2–Permanent body damage.

"One
strong dose definitely could be fatal," Prillmayer told me. "And
repeated use of benzene can cause the heart to vibrate itself
practically to pieces."

Prillmayer listed as possible complications from repeated small doses:

Depression of the central nervous system, weak heartbeat, gastric irritation, anemia and irregular muscular movement.

Lenny_bruce_1963_0625_bill_murphy_2He
said that doses such as many of the teenagers have taken, over a period
of time, could dissolve the fat tissue of the body, which would then
infiltrate into the bone marrow. This causes a breakdown in the blood
because it prevents new red corpuscles from being manufactured.

I
bought a tube of the type of glue being inhaled by the kids yesterday
to have it analyzed by Dr. Ralph Willard of the Hollywood Testing
Laboratories.

His report:

It contained more than 50% benzene.

I also talked with parents of some of the admitted users.

One
mother told me that her 13-year-old son, who had been inhaling benzene
since midsummer, began to have fainting spells and, on a few occasions,
passed out on lawns on the way home from school.

"There were other times," she told me, "when he’d just go blank–he wouldn’t know where he was."

Finally, this week, the boy broke down and told his mother the cause of his illnesses. Today, he’s in a hospital.

Another parent reported that his son had complained for the last few months of severe head- and stomachaches.

When the man finally learned the cause of his boy’s illness, the boy told him:

"All the guys got them. But we’d ease the stomachaches by eating tubes of toothpaste. It didn’t hurt so much then."

One woman told me that her 14-year-old son had been inhaling the volatile fluid since June.

"He finally told us so two days ago," she said.

During the five-month period, she told me, the boy suffered a complete reversal in personality.

"He began getting in fights and committing petty thefts," she said. "Once, he even poked the manager at the movies."

I asked her if she didn’t suspect something was wrong.

"Now," she answered, "I can see how blind I’ve been. He apparently was sniffing my nail polish and gasoline too.

"Because,
sometimes, I’d notice my nail polish bottle had been used, and my
husband complained that someone was taking gasoline from the garage.

Lenny_bruce_1963_0301_don_cormier"The boy even was so careless as to leave little squares of cloth around the house, with glue on them, but I didn’t catch on."

The parents I talked with all were from Bellflower.

One by one, over the last several days, they learned that their children were involved in a very serious health problem.

Some discussed it with doctors, others with law enforcement groups, and still others with school officials.

The
culmination came two nights ago, when representatives from 29 involved
families decided to meet and bring the matter into the open.

"We asked various officials to attend,’ one mother told me, "but the only one who did so was the principal of the high school."

The principal, John C. Fisher of Bellflower High School, said:

"We’re
calling in all the boys on the list given us by the parents. We’ll do
everything in our power to halt this extremely alarming practice."

As a mother put it:

"It’s
been a case, up to now, of the word being spread from one kid to
another–and all they learned about the glue was the so-called kicks
you could get from it.

"By having adults bring it out in the
open and discuss it–now they’ll know the dangers too. And I don’t
think any sane child will inhale the stuff if he knows it can kill him."

And it can kill a person–quite easily.

If
you read the papers closely, you will see articles, all too frequently,
about men dying while inside storage tanks or railroad tank cars which
had contained certain fuels with high benzene content.

Cause of death: Asphyxiation or heart failure from inhaling the fumes.

And those who don’t die can continue to carry the poison in their systems.

As one physician explained it to me:

"A
person may go days or years afterward without suffering the
effects–and then, all of a sudden, have a complete physical breakdown."

If that doesn’t scare our teenagers, then they’re a lot dumber than I think they are.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Columnists, Paul Coates and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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