Hermosa Beach, California, in the mid-1960s. Sun, surf, swanky sand castles along The Strand, and a soundtrack of “Fun, Fun, Fun.” But the hang-loose life of the locals would soon be drowned out and painted black. The social storm brewing could turn even the most perfect wave into a brutal riptide.
How do you go from planning exotic family vacations and evaluating real estate investments to planning prison visits and evaluating rehab centers and criminal defense pleas? How do you watch your surfer-champion sons transform into drug lords? Inmates? How do you watch your entire family die, one by one?
And yet never stop fighting.
What does it take to look in the mirror and search for the meaning of enabler? To face that you’re sacrificing your own livelihood for Scotch? To ride a sheer, pounding wave of triumphs and tragedies, and then pull out and paddle back for more?
It takes a rare and special person: Karl McMillen.
Karl McMillen is America’s hard work ethic. He’s the guy Thomas Jefferson said will “determine never to be idle.” Babe Ruth’s “person who never gives up.”
Triumphs and Tragedies opens with a feral panorama of early twentieth century California; a last-gasp look at the West before it was “settled.” When hard work was still a fundamental, and “entitlement” just meant you were entitled to work your tail off. Karl’s success epitomizes that the cleanest hands in business are the ones that smeared the most elbow grease on their way up. Karl worked, and the system worked. Karl was said to have the “Golden Touch.”
But some systems break down; especially social systems. California—and all of America—changed as the wild wave of the 1960s swept so much of the country’s youth into the deep murkiness of drugs. Plenty of adults were plunged into realms over their heads, too. Karl encountered something his never-say-die work ethic and Golden Touch could not conquer: Addiction.
But Karl fought to apply his abilities to this strange new subject. Working hard now meant gathering data about the destructive force of drugs and analyzing treatments. It was a task he had the unique mental resolve and physical resources to undertake. And he uncovered so much.
Triumphs and Tragedies explores the down-and-dirty psychology of addiction through live “voices from the street.” It probes the essence of enabling and the value of “rehabs”—neither of which were common concepts in the sixties. It tests the senses, demonstrating how a perfect life can be traded for pain; but how that pain can translate into a strong antidote against one of society’s greatest ills.