One is the Loneliest Number (A Harry Nilsson song that fueled my teen angst, performed by Three Dog Night)


 Me yearbook 1971

One is the Loneliest Number is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

I sit alone for hours brooding. If you meet me, you’ll think I’m a happy-go-lucky kid. But sometimes I live in a darker world.

Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.

The need to smoke my first cigarette is profound. I think it will give me that teenager lift I’m looking for. Smoking is camaraderie. I’ll be a comrade.   My mother isn’t around today — which is rare. She’s always a figure in motion around our house. Or she’s sequestered in her bedroom fighting her own private demons.

No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know. Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know.

Alone again.  In a photo booth.

Alone again. In a photo booth.

I seize the moment by stealing a Kent from her bedside. I run quickly into my green and black tiled bathroom. I bring matches with me though I’m terrified of lighting them. A friend from first and second grade — a wild redhead — is a virtual pyromaniac. She stands Lord of the Flies-style atop rickety garages and fences with a matchbook in hand. She’ll light up any piece of wood or debris. I’m scared straight by her pyro jobs.
‘Cause one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
One is the loneliest number, whoa-oh, worse than two

In the privacy of my bathroom, I try again and again to light a match.   I know I shouldn’t be holding my finger so close to the head. I fear getting burned or starting a fire. I hold the match loosely so I won’t touch the tip.   I need more practice at lighting these. It never occurs to me to use the burner on top of the stove. I hide my future cigarette and matches and will try again when another moment presents itself.

One is the loneliest number
One is the loneliest number
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

I have many friends, but don’t care to really fit in.  I crave setting myself apart. Each morning when I dress for school, I choose something that best represents me. It is usually a costume. My father has been to Mexico and Spain and he presented me with a Matador outfit. It was oversized when I was a tiny child.   But now, in high school, I can fit into it. So on certain days, I’m a Matador. On other days, I might take a plastic duck on a leash and wheel it around. I never address these get-ups. I’m just doing me. Me is a new character each day of the week. At home I often change every hour.

One is the loneliest
One is the loneliest
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

Some days I bring a child’s teacup set to school. Books? Don’t bring those. I sit at my desk and set up shop. Tiny cups and saucers fill the desktop. I pantomime pouring tea from the pot into the cups. I hand one to a student sitting near me. Or I sit alone and play by myself. I’m sixteen and need some attention.   My brother says he’s glad I got the need-for-attention gene and not him – that it landed in the perfect person.   It never occurs to me that this is strange behavior. Sometimes I talk too much to people near me, or to the imaginary friends at my tea party, and I am thrown out of class. I’ve been thrown out of many classrooms. But teachers usually like me. They really, really like me.

Cause one is the loneliest number…

One night I successfully light a match. I’ve been practicing. I put the flame to the end of the cigarette and take my first dizzying puff. I wait for the vertigo to fade before trying again to inhale the foul smoke into my virgin lungs. The nicotine and chemicals burn my throat. I have to cough the pain away.   I will not succumb.

No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know

In the near future when I’m ditching high school at lunchtime, it will be too tempting not to steal Kools from a boy named Benjy.   He’s popular and drives an open jeep and keeps his cigarettes between the front seats. I will light them and take a few menthol puffs and not be as dizzy or grossed out as I was by Kents. Still – smoking isn’t for me. Drinking isn’t either. I can’t even stomach cherry cough syrup.

It’s just no good anymore since you went away
Now I spend my time just making rhymes of yesterday

In the distant future I will be in my brother’s home emptying the last boxes from when our dad died twenty years before. I hate it. It’s mentally exhausting. There’s dust and I’m allergic to dust and it is the hottest day of the year. I need to get out of this garage. I say I’m hungry, Alan. I need a little protein or some kind of snack. He offers the cheese in triangles he loved as a child. “No thanks, I never liked those,” I say. I am reminded for a moment how different we are. I blurt out: “And I also hated peanut butter and jelly.” He says he loved it. My brother looks at me as we stand facing each other, cracker in my mouth, the cheese he loves in his, and says: “I never smoked a cigarette.”




Public Service Announcement: Don’t smoke.  It causes cancer and an early death.  My mother succumbed at age 66, diagnosed only three months prior.


Food:  When I wore my costumes, I also went daily for a period of time, a year at least — to pick up a Kaiser Roll at a local market, Haigs.  It’s not around and Kaiser rolls are very dry.  Can’t believe I got so into them.  I just like carbs.  Try the cherry and nut bread, made daily at the Tavern in Brentwood.  Also the Tavern in Beverly Hills/West Hollywood or sold at the Farmshop in Brentwood.  It’s amazing.  It sells out quickly at the Farmshop.


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3 Responses to “One is the Loneliest Number (A Harry Nilsson song that fueled my teen angst, performed by Three Dog Night)”

  1. Jim Tyre says:

    Jeez, Fred, you just stole that pic I took of you, stole, Stole, STOLE!

    Pretty good pic, actually. ‘-)

  2. Linda Mancini says:

    So vivid … so good …

  3. Libbie Lane says:

    Wow!! That story! You are genius!!

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