This week we bring you Chapter 2 of HIGH Confessions of a Cannabis Addict By Leonard Lee Buschel. Leonard Lee Buschel is an American publisher, substance abuse counselor and co-founder of Writers in Treatment, which supports recovery and the arts, and executive director of REEL Recovery Film Festival, focusing on stories of addiction and recovery. This week, we bring you the Preface to whet your appetite. Follow us weekly for more delicious chapters of this incredible story.
Reviewed in the United States on November 4, 2021
Everybody says sex is obscene. The only true obscenity is war.
There is a scene near the end of The Graduate when Benjamin, not knowing what direction to take in life, gets advice from and his uncle, who sidles up next to him by the pool and whispers, “I have one word for you. Plastics.” In Logan, that one word was whiplash.
When you’re old enough to drive, you’re old enough to sue. When I turned 16, I was introduced to the wonderful wide world of insurance fraud. I was always happy to be asked to “take a ride” with Elliott Fisher, my former camp counselor who was now my instructor in the art and science of whiplash.
Elliott would drive downtown to City Hall Circle and circle until we were in front of an obviously well-insured driver, preferably in a Lincoln or a Cadillac. Soon enough, Elliott would tell me to brace for the imminent collision. He would hit the brakes with a suddenness that gave the driver behind us no choice but to plow into us. Then, depending on how dramatic we were feeling, we’d throw open our doors and fall or stagger out of the vehicle crying, “Oh my back! I can’t walk! My head is bleeding. My knees are broken. Whiplash, Whiplash!”
Whiplash is usually the injury that comes the day after a crash, a delayed reaction revealing the body’s actual injuries after shock’s hyped-up adrenaline wears off. We would never go to the hospital, where honest doctors might see us. Instead, we went to a crooked lawyer who sent us to a crooked doctor, all of which resulted in documented medical bills in the thousands of dollars. We would all make out pretty good.
After one brilliant crash, hit from behind by an elderly woman driver wearing horned rim glasses, we filed a very sizable claim. I was visited at home by the insurance company investigator pretending he was Perry Mason. He asked a lot of difficult questions. The guy had significant attitude, and I was nervous as hell. Thank God for all those acting classes Mom paid for and my membership in my high school theatre club, The Footlighters. The driver’s insurance company eventually settled, and I collected enough spending money for a year. This was the only time I ever made money from my acting skills.
This was my entree into bilking the system. I knew the insurance company wasn’t going to suffer, and for the first time I felt like a real wage earner.
What did I want to be when I grew up? From the time I was a teenager, my dream was to be a successful entrepreneur. At different times, I also fancied being an actor or a lawyer. Mostly, I wanted to make money and work independently.
When I was 15, I would tell friends and family: “I don’t want to be a lawyer. I’m going to be a lawyer.” That’s how sure I was about my future—and not just because I loved the TV show The Defenders. After experiencing the mind-expanding properties of pot, mescaline, and LSD, I realized that being a defendant could be far more fascinating and profitable than being an attorney. Plus, I preferred fiction to law books. Also, I was aghast at the glaring inequities of the legal system. “He who owns the gold makes the laws.”
Greed is a wicked mistress, and at the time, I believed that human happiness was directly related to material wealth. Hence, if I had become a lawyer or stockbroker, I would have pushed the limits. Insider trading, stealing, and selling corporate secrets, along with aiding and abetting all manner of nefarious activities committed by immoral clients, could well have been my eventual, well-earned downfall and disgrace. I would have gone to jail. Because after all, don’t attorneys study the laws to know how to break them, consiglieri?
I could have blamed my crass materialism on Warner Bros., producers of the TV show Maverick. I recall a scene where someone asks Bret Maverick, “How free are you?” His reply was, “I’m only as free as the size of the roll in my pocket.” As an impressionable youth, I took this to heart. I had a hunger for cash growing up, even though my mother never mentioned our precarious financial situation. We always had meing able to serve beer or wine, we lost money on every meal served.
Being a risk taker is part of being an entrepreneur. It’s not healthy living in fear all the time. Still, some things don’t feel risky at the time.
As a young man, I wanted to consume life as if it were going out of style. Before drugs became my significant other, my insatiable appetite was completely satisfied with nature’s natural high—sex. I’m glad the first time I had sex I wasn’t high. I had sex for sex’s sake, not unlike Adam in the Garden (with the same intensity as a man wanting to start the human race). Every girl I hooked up with in Philadelphia seemed to be named Kathy. But I thought of them all as Eve.
If you were a boy, growing up in Logan usually meant your first sexual experiences were of the homosexual nature, unless you had a sister. At 15 years old, I didn’t really care who was going down on me. It was the thrill, the feelings, pleasurable sensation, and orgasm that mattered. Years later, I participated in a number of sing-a-longs with Allen Ginsberg. He loved to play the harmonium and sing his poems. One song lyric I remember so clearly was, “Everyone’s a little homosexual, whether they like it or not.” When I told my therapist that I often dreamt of Ginsberg, I asked him if that meant I was gay. He said no, but that somehow, Allen had become my guardian angel.
I knew I really wasn’t queer because when I was 23 and living in Amsterdam for the summer, I did a little experiment to see where my sexual chips would fall on their own. Living in the sexiest city in Northern Europe, very far from home, without a friend or family member within 3,000 miles, I was feeling bold. My research results would guide me for the rest of my life.
One afternoon, I went to the Red Light District and made a date with a woman to have sex with me that night at 8:00 p.m. Then I made a date with a man to have sex with me a block away from where I was meeting the lady. At 7:30 p.m., after a few pipefuls of opiated Afghani hashish, a couple shots of Stoli, and a whiff of MDMA (I liked to snort it), I started walking to my pair of paramour providers, emptying my mind of any judgment, shame or guilt and just letting my body decide which way to amble to see which gender I was most attracted to. It wasn’t even close. As I approached my chosen hooker, her miniskirt looked like a sequined curtain about to rise on my next act, which would last for the rest of my life. Selling drugs=money=sex equals e=mc2. I did feel a modicum of relief I wasn’t 100 percent gay. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (Thank you, Larry David.)
A collateral benefit of this experiment in the Netherlands was that whenever quick homosexual opportunities did arise, I was able to partake and not be afraid I would go that way forever. Just like being back in Logan.
Funny coincidence. In 1973 the New York Times bestseller was The Happy Hooker, by Dutch-born Xaviera Hollander.
Back in my teens, my friend Joe D. and I were always looking for girls. On the street. At school. At fairs. At parties. Everywhere. One night, around nine o’clock, we were supposed to meet some girls we knew when they got off the subway at the Broad and Wyoming station. There was nothing special planned other than hanging out together. Drugs had not yet made their way into my scene. I was still a virgin in every way.
Joe and I showed up on time, but the girls failed to ascend from the subway. While waiting, we saw an attractive woman walking down the street in our direction. She was tall, slender, and seemed to be on her way nowhere. Taught to never let a beautiful woman walk by without at least trying, I started walking with her and engaged her in some light conversation, saying things like, “Do you need a light?” I always carried matches because, while I never smoked cigarettes, most sophisticated (loose) women did. Joe stayed back at the subway station waiting for our alleged dates to arrive.
I was well-schooled in the Zen of Picking up Girls: “Never use a pick-up line. Only speak of the here and now. Stay in the moment. Authenticity is a powerful aphrodisiac.” Brother Bruce, the horny Zen Master, was correct, and his advice served me well.
I convinced the young woman to come back to my house. Mom was out of town and my brother was home watching television. The girl and I went upstairs to my bedroom, and I was rejoicing that I was going to get to at least make out with this wayward beauty.
Sitting on my bed, I tried to unbutton her blouse. Her hands went up immediately, to block me? so my hands stopped in mid-button. What was this—a sudden rejection? Or the firm setting of boundaries. I had to ask.
Me: “What’s going on?”
Her: “You want me to take off my blouse, don’t you?”
No argument from me. I answered positively with an enthusiastic little asthmatic pant.
She not only took off her blouse, but she also took off her pants. And MY pants too! We proceeded, for lack of a better phrase, to “make love.” This was my first experience with full frontal nudity and my first sexual act involving penetration and not just prostration. It was spectacular.
I was awestruck upon the Mount Sinai of sexual revelation. It was as if God was a ventriloquist speaking divine words of encouragement, praise, and appreciation via her enchanted vagina. I felt at one with Moses. But instead of tablets, Allah sent down unto thee a labia majora. A constellation I would travel through space to visit often.
Afterward, she smoked cigarettes, and we talked up a storm. I am grateful to this day that I wasn’t smoking pot yet. This was a completely sober experience. So, years later, after joining Alcoholics Anonymous, I could remind myself that sex is the best natural high in the world.
In the middle of my postcoital revelry, I hear a classic pulp fiction/porno cliché. She asks, “Isn’t there someone else downstairs?”
“Yes,” I replied suspiciously, “My brother.”
“Maybe he wants to come up now,” she said smiling.
I put my underwear back on, went to the staircase, walked down a half a flight, and confusingly proclaimed the glad tidings.
“Bruce, you’re next!” I announced.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“She wants someone else now,” I answered.
In the blink of an eye, Brother Bruce and I traded positions. I was downstairs watching TV, and he was having sex with that cute woman I’d picked up. About 10 minutes later, while I’m watching Johnny Carson, Joe returns from his stakeout at the subway.
“They never showed up.”
“Doesn’t matter, Joe. You’re next,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked befuddled.
“That girl I picked up just hit the trifecta.”
Let the games begin—and continue. The three of us, one by one—never all together—took turns satisfying the young woman’s yearnings till dawn. No drugs. No drinking. Just pure, unadulterated sexual pleasure. At my young age, and due to inexperience, I didn’t know the difference between a nymphomaniac and a sex addict. Neither did she. And none of us cared. We were into some antics, not semantics, and all of us were in seventh heaven, on cloud nine.
At six in the morning, surrounded by the heady aroma of all-night sex, we entered a local diner for breakfast, and suddenly the odor of frying bacon vanished, and it Smells Like Teen Spirit. When the final triangle of toast disappeared down the throat with which we were all familiar, she had us drive to her neighborhood, near her house. Before getting out of the car, she gave us her phone number.
“You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this number in error . . .”
The number was phony, and the name she used (was it Misty, Trixie, or Kathy?) probably wasn’t the one on her birth certificate. Sadly, she was probably just a living example of the adage, “Sick in the head, crazy in bed.”
If there are any therapists or trauma specialists reading this, I apologize for being 17 and a human.
None of us ever saw her again, although I thought of her often. If, by some twist of fate and destiny, she is reading this right now . . .
“Thank you for one of the most wonderful and memorable nights of my life. You were my Annie Sullivan, my personal miracle worker, who opened new vistas of communications beyond sight and sound—full of squeals of delight and sighs of the supranatural. Wanna go have breakfast?”
What made the night spectacular transcended the sexual experience. More than losing my virginity, I was able to do a favor for my brother and a good friend. Our hearts were now bound together stronger than ever.
By my senior year, something else was also happening to me. J. D. Salinger explained it in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” The story describes this fish who’s always hungry. One day, he swims into a cave full of bananas. He eats one, then another, and then another. He is consumed with eating all of these bananas because they satiate his hunger, temporarily. When all the bananas are gone, he swims to the mouth of the cave, but he’s too fat to get out. Captive in the cave, he dies of malnutrition (and loneliness). Pot and hashish would soon become my bananas.
It may have started with my best friend, who was a bookmaker and five to ten years my senior. Mom said to him: “Why are you hanging out with my son?” She was streetwise to the way of the world of creeps.
He told her, “We just get along. We became fast friends when we met at Cooper’s. Your son is a cool kid, and we have a lot in common.”
Eventually, the bookmaker would be the first person to lend me money to score drugs to sell (and to take me to a brothel). But I didn’t tell Mom that. Or maybe she already had an inkling about it.
Funny thing, looking back I realized that cruising Columbia Avenue for hookers was a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never knew what you were going to get. You never really noticed what sex they were until after you had an orgasm.
The first time I got high on marijuana, I knew that I had found a friend for life, a tool for living, the key to the magic kingdom. From my high school senior year on, no matter where I was, I always had pot in my pocket or shoulder bag. Right next to my asthma inhaler. Sounds like a scene of a self-fulfilling prophecy. From my first exhale I was hooked. The weed gave me that indescribable feeling of ease and comfort, inherent human qualities I sorely lacked as a teenager. Shortly afterward, I was turned on to the superiority and compactness of hashish. I can only describe the experience as mystical and earthly. If it was good enough for Victor Hugo, who was I to dispute its wonders?
Reality can slap us in the face or embrace us when we’re young. The irony is, I think I only started to create my own reality after I started getting high. But even that can be an illusion. Everybody has a choice, or do they? I thought getting high every day was my choice. Or was it my medicine? People can stop getting high with a little effort. Or not.
Once I started getting high, I needed to make sure I knew how to make and follow plans because if you’re high all the time you can become more like a leaf on a branch instead of like a root anchored to a timetable as accurate as Mussolini’s train schedule. Occasionally, I do live life by the seat of my pants, preferably without them on.
I clearly remember the exact moment I decided to make smoking marijuana part of my life on a daily basis. When I was 18, I dropped some acid. Not an exorbitant dose, just enough to hallucinate my ass off, astral travel, and see God as energy in everything. Just the usual LSD trip. I was blessed/cursed with the realization that as much as I loved the experience, I could not drop acid every day and be a coherent functioning member of society. But I could smoke pot every day to suggest the essence of the essence of being at one with everything. Like the old man ordering a hot dog from a vendor in Central Park:
Vendor: “What do you want with it?”
Me: “Make me one with everything.”
I cut class a lot in the 12th grade, as the mood struck me. Some days the only reason I went to school was to sell pot and football pools. And to check in with my clandestine girlfriend Sandy. We had to keep it a secret because she was engaged and the only woman in our class who already had a daughter. We rendezvoused outside school at least once a week. It went something like this: After doing his popular radio show, Sandy’s future husband would drop her off at home, usually well after Sandy’s mother had put the baby down to sleep. I was ninja-like, hiding in the tall bushes in front of her house. After the fiancé drove off, I would go through the alley next to the back of the house and she’d let me in. I would climb up the backstairs, stay all night, and split before Baby and Grandma awoke the next morning.
Maybe it was the pot that stole my motivation to go to school. But in all honesty, I had perfected this habit of cutting class over the years, well before I was introduced to marijuana. When I was at Jay Cooke Junior High, older friends of mine would come by during lunch, on their way to the track, asking me if I wanted to join them. I would walk out of the schoolyard like a man who could not refuse such an offer. Social studies or Secretariat in the fifth? Maybe they called roll after lunch, but I was on a roll. Which would later in life be described as “self-will run riot.” School was no longer interesting. I just didn’t care.
Daytime TV sucked, so if I wasn’t gambling, getting high, or having sex, I would ride my bike, trying not to be seen by the truant officers, who usually didn’t patrol my neighborhood as much as they did the “bad” neighborhoods. After all, what Jewish kid isn’t anxious to go to school, even just to get away from his mother for a few hours? Mine was always at work, so that wasn’t an issue.
Drugs were quickly ruling out some of my career choices. Until I started smoking pot, I took acting classes and performed in small theater companies. For several years every Saturday morning, I rode the train from Philly to New York’s Penn Station. From there I took the subway to Greenwich Village to attend classes at the legendary Circle in the Square Theatre. There I started to wonder about my potential career as an actor. On stage at this iconic theater, I noticed all my classmates could sing beautifully and dance like pros, while I couldn’t carry a tune or touch my toes. I felt like a mutt at the Westminster Dog Show. However I did score the starring role at the Rising Sun Theater on Rising Sun Avenue in Philadelphia, playing Aladdin in Aladdin. I loved being on stage and spending time with the cast and crew. The time and effort we put into rehearsing and preparing for opening night was time I wasn’t spending alone.
I wish theater acting had been my bananafish, a way to satisfy my hunger for more in life, but when I smoked my first joint, I went on stage and suddenly, as if cursed by Shakespeare himself, became so paranoid that nothing came out of my mouth. It was as if Will was saying, “Get off my fucking stage you no-can sing, no-can dance blossoming hippie!” I knew I had to make a choice: acting or smoking marijuana. Naturally, I gave up acting. The satisfactions from performing take hard work and patience and a good voice. Screech. With pot you’re high on the spot. No work, no waiting.
I always got high to improve my emotional condition and the ambiance of my surroundings. I see clearly now that my overuse, misuse, and self-destructive indulgence with mind-altering chemicals probably weakened my performance on the stage of life too.
One day in my senior year of high school, Sy Schultz, wearing spectacles as thick as 6-ounce 7-Up bottles, told me that if I could score him some weed, he would pay me 10 bucks over cost. I had never scored weed before, but that $10 bonus was an excellent motivator.
“Yes,” I said, “I can get that for you.”
“By Tuesday night?”
“Yes. Tuesday night, 8:00 p.m.”
Being a man of my word, I kept my word. I said yes. The second time I ever scored weed, I bought enough to sell some and get mine for free. Fast cash and entrepreneurialism. I was charting a path.
“Ma, I know what I want to do for a living,” I proudly announced the night I fulfilled my promise to Sy. “I want to be a drug dealer.”
“Why?” Her question was her response. There was no tinge of judgment or condemnation, only curiosity.
“Because you can do it seven days a week, and you can do it at night, and you can do it on weekends. I’ll never be bored,” I explained. “I don’t want to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., come home, put some steaks in the oven, little red potatoes in boiling water, and after dinner just watch TV and eat vanilla fudge ice cream every night like we do . . . like you do. I want to have interesting things to do, places to go, and people to hang out with. I want to buy things and go out with more interesting women.”
I didn’t quite realize that what I wanted—expensive clothes, high-stakes gambling, attractive women, or even more attractive women offering vastly entertaining sex by the hour—was not attainable if I didn’t continue my new career as a drug dealer.
Sung to the tune of “Maria” from West Side Story:
DRUG DEALER, say it loud and it’s music playing,
say it soft, and it’s almost like praying,
DRUG DEALER, DRUG DEALER,
I’ll never stop be’n a DRUG DEALER.
Yet somehow I knew I wanted all these things from the bottom of my heart. I thought there was nothing I wanted more than money and sex. What else is there? With money in your pocket, you can travel, not shudder at prices on menus in nice restaurants, buy artwork, treat friends to shows and concerts, bet frequently on horses or Phillies games, and drive a car that won’t break down every other month. And you can engage in sex whenever you want.
I really didn’t expect Mom to say anything other than, “Good for you, Son. Could you get me some more ice cream?”
She surprised me by giving me one solid sentence of good advice before requesting the ice cream. “Be careful who you deal with because someone will drop a dime on you. Someone will get busted and turn you in.”
She was correct. It was good advice. A Jewish boy’s best friend is his mother. But I never took a big bust or did time. Had a lot of close calls, but by the grace of God or Lady Luck, was always free to do as I pleased but never truly free until I got clean and sober at Betty Ford’s in 1994 and did the 12 Steps of AA (except the anonymity step).
Thank God for my mom—she was even keeled, even when expressing her deepest concerns about me. She was even funny when the tension needed breaking. Years later, when I came back from Israel and dumped the red Lebanese hashish I had smuggled onto our dining room table, she looked at me, she looked at the three 200-gram slabs of Lebanese hashish, and said something only a Jewish mother could say at that moment: “Are you hungry?”
Where there is excitement and danger, there’s no boredom, no middle-class slumber of mind-numbing conformity. There is an alluring danger to a career in which the consequences for failure are more than just a write-up, suspension or docked wages by a moronic manager or a stupid supervisor. Extended imprisonment or death by misadventure were excellent motivators not to fail. I was determined to stay awake—madly awake.
No falling asleep on the job when you’re driving through downtown with 10 pounds of pot in the trunk of your low-profile Volvo or when driving across the Florida-Georgia border with 300 pounds of weed wrapped in six burlap sacks just off the boat from Columbia. Nope, no dozing on the job on the 95.oney for everything we needed. No more, no less. She never once kvetched about our middle-class cash flow or talked about finances, mortgage payments or utility bills. All I knew was if I needed a new pair of corduroy pants for the coming winter, I had them.
No wish to be in corporate America—it’s a trap because you become a cog in their wheel. I knew well what I did not want to spend my life doing. The majority of people have to do what they do to make a living, to provide food and shelter for themselves or their loved ones. Or it depends on what their families did, or what they studied in college or maybe what they are good at. I always believed my destiny was entrepreneurial success.
In my twenties and thirties, my entrepreneurial tendencies got me to open a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, for several reasons. One was to meet an interesting woman as a restaurant owner. The other was to serve Allen Ginsberg lunch. (I did get to serve Allen lunch a couple times.) My fantasy of owning the coolest vegetarian restaurant in Boulder and sleeping with a few hot angel-headed hipsters attending Naropa University never materialized because I brought my own soon-to-be pregnant girlfriend with me. And because my career as a restauranteur never got past the appetizer.
When I bought the restaurant, it was called Corn Mother. But my Genius Cousin Bobb, who I brought in from Los Angeles to run the place, thought the name Corn Mother was too hippie-ish, so we renamed it The Yarrow Stalk. Genius Cousin Bobb promised to give free I-Ching readings to all our patrons. When he threw the coins for himself, the Book of Changes told him to change his mind. Not a single reading ever took place. Turned out the restaurant was too close to an elementary school to get a liquor license, and without b