Do Everything You Can and Don’t Get Caught
A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.
I can’t call it a smuggling “career” since I only did it twice—first in February 1969 when I was 19 years old, full of wanderlust (my love of travel is a Sagittarian trait) and dealing small amounts of hashish in Philly. My second smuggling adventure took place late in 1971, after I started working my chosen profession more regularly.
The mission in ‘69 was to buy red Lebanese hashish in Israel and bring it back through Kennedy Airport in Queens, NY, down the Jersey Turnpike, and to the streets of Philly. Joe Brodsky, gay and astrologically Capricorn, came with me on the first trip.
Israel was a decent source of hash—fourth behind Lebanon, Pakistan, and king of all hashish producing nations, Afghanistan. Oh, and Nepal, which was famous for its powerful Nepalese Temple Balls.
Going to Israel for hashish made perfect sense. Our families thought we were going to the Holy Land to discover our roots. Our friends and fellow hash-heads assumed we went to make money. Actually we needed to go because neither of us could imagine living another day without taking a hit off a pipe filled with dope. There was no hash in Philly or New York. Every dealer we knew was out of stock.
We planned to pay for the trip by selling three-quarters of what we brought back and keeping the rest for ourselves. Joe B. and I really didn’t think of it as smuggling—more like just having to go out of the neighborhood to score.
We boarded an airport bus at Kennedy filled to the brim with Hassidic and other assorted Jews. We were driven up to the El Al 747 that would fly us 13 hours nonstop to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
Joe B. and I had met when we were in a few plays at Olney High, as members of The Footlighters theater group. After having sought the spotlight, we now were aching to play the invisible man, or Harvey the rabbit.
To make this trip, we had each taken a semester off from our studies at Philadelphia Community College, where we spent more time focusing on getting high than achieving a higher education.
Our return flight was in three weeks, when we would be cruising though the New York airport named after our most recently assassinated and much-loved president. Both of us returned to the U.S. with 600 grams of hash stuffed in our pants . . . well, not exactly in our pants. The night before our flight back home, we went to a lady’s intimate apparel store on the main drag in Tel Aviv and purchased flesh-toned girdles (nothing sexy about these embarrassments). They were not the whalebone rib-crushers with leather laces but the thigh-to-ribcage, super-slim kind so popular with women who wished to appear more svelte.
“I’m buying this for my girlfriend,” I explained. “She’s built just like me.”
“So’s mine,” said my accomplice in deception. The shopgirls either took our word for it or knew we were neophyte hash smugglers.
The next morning, we helped each other slide the three 200-gram canvas-wrapped bricks into our girdles. Fifty years ago, there was much less airport security, even in Israel. The era of skyjackings didn’t start until 1971. We boarded our return flight unmolested and then realized we had both forgotten to buy silver-plated mezuzahs like normal tourists would. A half-day later, we were back in U.S. airspace.
When our plane started to descend to Kennedy Airport, I leaned over Joe’s lap to look out the window at the teeming populace of Long Island—7.5 million people. From his crotch, I could smell the distinctly subtle aroma of red Lebanese hashish rising into the stuffy airplane air. Subtle to humans maybe, but like a runaway slave to a Confederate soldier’s or a customs inspector’s German Shepherd. We had talcum powder with us, and through my teeth I said, “You’ve got to go to the bathroom and use more talcum powder. But don’t let any fall on the outside of your girdle and descend like snow out of your pant leg, onto your Florsheim shoes, and leave a trail all the way to Rikers Island.”
Bringing in drugs from outside the country is serious business. It’s called “smuggling.” I remember waiting in the customs line that I held my breath almost as often as I breathed. It wasn’t anything floating in the air outside my nostrils that triggered the response. It was the fear inside my bones. That fear gripped me the entire time.
The Shepherds must have been having a lunch break when we came through. As I cleared customs, I could picture the ump behind home plate at Connie Mack Stadium yelling, “Safe!” Joe got through safe and sound also.
Once I was back home, selling the hash was no problem, until I was dealing my last quarter ounce to some guys in a friend’s basement in the Kensington and Allegheny neighborhood of Philadelphia. Instead of reaching into their pockets and pulling out money, they each reached into their belts and pulled out a handgun.
One of them put a revolver to my head. The other pressed a .45 automatic to my heart. I remember looking at the revolver pressed at my temple, seeing bullets in all the chambers, and deciding not to give them an argument, or say anything funny. You know the expression, nervous laughter? Well, imagine frightened-to-death, about-to-shit-in-my-pants nervous laughter. Yet I acted calm and nonthreatening. I wanted them to feel happy—happy about their career choice and not trigger happy.
Many thoughts went through my mind. The one I remember most vividly: If I ever get an acting role that requires me to be scared to death, this experience will come in handy. Having done plenty of neighborhood theater, this thought was not as far-fetched as you might think.
They took the hash plus the two hundred dollars I had with me and then slowly walked me to my car. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t going to panic or do something stupid. I also wanted them to know that I was taking them seriously, and I wasn’t making light of being ripped off. Deciding they were unconcerned with either issue, I kept my mouth shut.
As I drove slowly off, tears started streaming down my face, realizing how my life could have come to an end during the loaded drama I had just lived through. At that seminal moment, I came to a firm and unshakable realization and formed an irreversible resolve.
Never again, I said to myself, I’m never selling drugs in that neighborhood again.
It never entered my mind to quit selling drugs. Before long, it would become my livelihood, my full-time occupation, my raison d’être. Drug dealing was in my blood. A calling if you will. Capitalism in its purest form, just like the cocaine I would soon buy and sell for 13 years.
A year later, I made my way back to Israel, sans Joe. I wasn’t necessarily planning on doing any smuggling. Rather, I was going to meet Brad Terran and see more of the ancient land I had missed on my first three-week stoned adventure. Brad was a high school friend spending time at a kibbutz. I had made plans to meet up with him at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on November 15, 1970. I took a flight from New York to London, with a plan to take a student flight from London to Tel Aviv.
When I got to London, I found out that the last student flight of the fall was full. My only other option, considering budget restraints, was to take trains across Europe. I was disappointed but not disheartened. I had taken trains regularly during my whole short life, starting with the Broad Street subway and, later, taking Amtrak up and down the East Coast. I’ve always loved trains and their mysterious Agatha Christie–type allure. I’ll bet more spontaneous romances start on trains than planes. Murders too!
I took a train from London to Dover and the ferry from Dover to . . . well, I didn’t know where I was. I noticed a moneychanger was offering francs, so I wrote home, “Hi, I have landed safely in France.” I was actually in Belgium, the port city of Oostende.
I did know I was about to traverse West Germany with my personal stash of hash in my underwear. I would change trains in Cologne, Germany, and then head southeast to Athens. I rode through the most colorful explosion of fall leaves. In Albania, the leaves seemed as if they were trying to escape Communist oppression by pretending to be birds floating above the rivers. I watched Austria through the train windows—trees, mountainsides, dying autumn leaves. Trying not to think of the The Sound of Music or the Holocaust was exhilarating and painful.
I got to grab a snack (just a chocolate bar) at the magnificent station in Sofia, Bulgaria. The city itself dates back 7,000 years. And I thought Philly, with its 200-year-old Independence Hall and Betsy Ross House, was old.
When the train finally rumbled into the station at Thessaloniki, its first stop across the Greek border, my compartment mate asked me if I was from England. I hadn’t spoken a word in two whole days, not wanting to be pegged as an ugly American, though I was no Marlon Brando, and this wasn’t Southeast Asia (The Ugly American, 1963). Everywhere I went, I tried to blend in. I preferred wearing a cloak of invisibility, never really wanting people to notice me. Not easy to do in a six-seat compartment.
I told him I was from the States. Reaching out the window to the roving food vendors on the platform, he bought me my first skewered stick of shashlik and my first demitasse of Greek coffee. To this day, whenever I have a cup of Greek or Turkish coffee, my taste buds’ brain cells transport me back to that train station and to one of my most happy and flavorful memories.
The train ride took about three days, so I was going to miss my scheduled rendezvous with my friend at the King David Hotel. When I got to Athens, I stayed a few extra days at a hotel on Omonoia Square. The area was full of men, hundreds and hundreds, sitting at the outdoor cafes smoking from a thousand hookahs. Just like they do now in Encino, California.
The final weeks of November were cool and sunny, perfect for the wonderment of traipsing around the Acropolis, climbing up to the Parthenon. It’s hard to get pictures of this more than 2,500-year-old Greek temple without tourists intruding on the stunning visuals. I waited until the achingly beautiful stoic sun was setting and all the tourists were gone. Alone, I took photographs until the armed guard escorted me out.
Earlier in the day, I stood onstage at the Theatre of Dionysus (talk about name dropping), the oldest theater in Greece—and once capable of seating 17,000 patrons. There I stood, arms raised high toward all the ghosts, finding my inner orator and reciting my favorite line from A Thousand Clowns, when Jason Robards Jr. tells his ward to “go to your room,” and the kid says, “I don’t have a room. I live in the alcove.” And Robards says, “Then go to your alcove.” The line still cracks me up. And years later when I got to have lunch with Jake Robards, Jason’s son, I had to tell him that story and how much pleasure his father’s performances had given me.
That weekend in Athens, all alone with my pipe, smoke, ashes and endless tiny cups of Greek coffee, remains one of the most glorious weekends of my life, when history came alive for one young college dropout with a sock (or underwear) full of hash.
I was in service to hashish, like a worker bee to his queen. A day without hash was like a day without humor, beauty or a raison d’être. I had a pipe made from a Bic pen. In the stem of the pen, I kept the ink cartridge. Somewhere else in my suitcase, I had a little brass lamp piece that served as a bowl. When I was alone, I would take the cartridge out of the pen and put the bowl with a little rubber hose onto the pen so it became a pipe. I was high as a kite walking around Athens. I enjoyed every moment, and this experience is inscribed forever in my memory. Greece was no longer Greek to me.
Every addict has their drug of choice—or maybe some will use them all. On the East Coast, hashish was king. Until pot came along. As you can surmise, I was quite a fan of hash and its pungency. As more people were getting into pot, the pot connoisseurs would say that weed from Mexico was good; from Colombia, it was better; and from Jamaica, it was the best in the world. Wait, that was before we discovered Hawaiian pot. And Hawaiian pot growers realized the soil on the Big Island was some of the youngest, freshest soil on God’s green earth, or God’s blue ball, and perfect for producing weed that tasted like the sweetness of honeysuckle with mild hallucinogenic properties.
When it came time to leave Athens, I couldn’t afford the airfare to Tel Aviv. My only choice was to take a Zim passenger-freighter to Haifa, Israel’s only port. The first night they showed a film in their dining room, on a 16 mm projector, for the ship’s 15 passengers. The flick was Susan Slade, a trashy Peyton Place–type movie starring Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue. While watching the movie, I noticed two girls clutching cups of herbal tea, paying more attention to Connie on the screen than Troy.
I later found out they were both from Boston. One was very attractive, one not so much. I tried to engage them in conversation but was gently rebuffed. They quickly let me know that they were a couple and I should take my peripatetic penis elsewhere, although those were not their exact words. I respected that, and we didn’t speak again during the voyage.
After the ship docked in Haifa, I took a bus down to Tel Aviv. I was five days late for my rendezvous with my friend Brad. I knew he wasn’t still going to be waiting at the King David Hotel. This was long before cell phones or pagers, and I didn’t know where the hell he was. So I got a cheap room and just kept checking the American Express office for a letter from him because that’s how we did it back then—General Delivery, American Express office.
I’m walking through downtown Tel Aviv and I spy the two girls from the ship. They were happy to see a familiar face. So was I. I went over and talked to them and asked what was going on.
They said the ritzy kibbutz where they had intended on staying was full and not accepting any new kibbutzniks. They had no place to go. So, I said, “Well, why don’t we go to Jerusalem?”
We took a bus to Jerusalem and got two rooms at an old hotel in the Old City, which is literally like walking into the first century—the stones are the same, the streets and the people are the same, living in alcoves behind ancient walls and dressed the way they were 2,000 years ago. If the walls could speak, they would be speaking in Aramaic.
After checking into the funky little hotel, I show my new friends how I assemble my hash pipe and get ready to light up. Jesus Christ, I ain’t got no matches. Nobody has any matches. Neither of them smoked or were in the habit of lighting incense or candles. It’s ten o’clock at night and it’s not like there’s a 7-Eleven on any corner. There’s no one on the streets, except maybe the ghost of the Christ and his executioners. But I figure there’s got to be a stand or a homeless guy I can ask to sell me a box of matches.
Walking all alone, in the ancient night air, in the birthplace of so many competing religions, I had my first religious experience. (My next one was 24 years later at the Betty Ford Center.) I was only 20, and because of my unstoppable need to get high every day, there I was following in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ. Not dragging a cross, just a drug habit.
A few blocks from the hotel, I’m on this tiny little side street in Old Jerusalem, where in front of me, maybe 50 yards away, I see a dark figure approaching whose silhouette reminds me of my friend, Brad, who I was supposed to meet in Tel Aviv. There are some noticeable differences: this guy has a beard on his face and a beautiful woman on his arm. There’s also a redheaded boy with a Jewfro walking beside them.
As I step closer, I realize that it is, indeed, Brad!!! At that same moment, under the hazy dim light of an old streetlamp, he sees it’s me. We both scream in joy, as if meeting the Messiah or counting the money you collected at your Bar Mitzvah. We yell and we run, throwing our arms around each other, crying and laughing at this extraordinary, almost biblical coincidence.
“Oh, my God! What are the odds?” Incalculable . . . worse odds than a camel making it through the eye of a needle.
Accidentally meeting in Old Jerusalem at 10:30 at night with no plans to meet there at all was divine intervention. And there was certainly no better place for it.
Brad introduces me to his new girlfriend, Ione from Wales, and his friend Albert from New York. They came to Jerusalem because Albert’s an opium addict, and he needed to score. So far, they haven’t scored any opium, but they – do – have -matches.
Brad tells me that they are living at Kibbutz Metzer about 30 miles away. He is fairly certain that my new lesbionic friends and I would be welcomed to stay there as long as we worked our asses off. We parted that night grinning from ear to earringless ear. The next day, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and I hitchhiked the 30 miles, and the kibbutz took us in with open, unnumbered arms. It was a young, very progressive kibbutz, and they needed workers.
This place wasn’t one of the showcase kibbutzim where parents on the Upper East Side or Beverly Hills would pay to have their kids put to work to teach them how to break a sweat on a communal farm before they returned home to get a job on Wall Street or at the Bank of America. Kibbutz Metzer was a real working socialist-style collective where they raised chickens for their eggs and grew avocados and bananas. Lots of avocados and bananas. I really never saw myself as a kibbutznik growing up, but I’d been called worse.
The two women got their own room. I stayed with Brad and Ione in their cabin. We worked wrapping bananas in burlap to keep them frost free, and in the avocado groves, where we used shears mounted on long poles to cut off the avocados that would fall into little canvas baskets positioned directly under the blades. Then we would empty the baskets into a crate hooked behind a small tractor. Eventually, the avocados went by train to Haifa to be shipped to grocery stores all across Europe, well before guacamole was on everyone’s lips.
We also walked behind flatbed trucks, throwing rocks and small boulders onto the truck to clear the land for plowing and planting. Removing detritus from your environment helps new things grow and yield nutritious goodies. This lesson wasn’t lost on me.
After about five days, holding my BFF (a paperback book) and lying on the floor on my flattened mattress and impromptu sleeping bag, I hear Ione and Brad whispering in bed. Brad peeks out from under the covers, looks at me, and says, “You don’t have to sleep down there if you don’t want to.”
“Yeah? Where should I sleep?”
“Up here,” he explained, “Ione wants you in bed with us.”
“Really? Do you mean like three parallel bananas? You’re in the front and I’m in the back?
“You can have the front,” Brad said graciously, “and I’ll take the back.” It was easier for Brad to diagram the logistics than for me to diagram this sentence.
Ione wasn’t saying anything. Masterminds rarely do. It was all her idea, but Brad was making the presentation. As Oskar Schindler said, “Presentation is everything,” and a good presentation can work wonders, whether it’s to seduce members of the opposite sex or smuggle hashish.
It’s got to be warmer in bed with them than here on a mat on the floor.
I wasn’t really sure if they were asking me to a kosher ménage à trois or just wanted to warm up, a la a three-dog night. After all, it was a cold December in northern Israel.
“Do you mean like the Jefferson Airplane song, “Triad”?” I asked. Ione’s mouth turned into the Cheshire cat’s smile. Didn’t François Truffaut make a film called Jules et Jim and Ione?
We three had an amazing relationship for the next few weeks. No jealousies or competition. They were planning on traveling to Afghanistan next. Maybe Israel wasn’t old enough for them—or the red hash not strong enough. And I was going home, eventually, so the third wheel (me) would be coming off soon enough.
Brad and I worked our asses off every day and ingratiated ourselves with the Kibbutz administrators while repeatedly penetrating Ione in combinations of sexual positions that would send a Kama Sutra expert screaming for a chiropractor.
Ione worked in the kitchen every day. She was enthusiastic, versatile, and maintained her pre-established boundary—I believe it’s called the perineum. There was no sex between Brad and me, although occasionally we did bump heads in the night. Our little Welsh rabbit was very sweet—like an incredible and edible cookie one can share with a pal. She knew what she wanted, and being gentlemen, we graciously complied.
I assure you that neither Brad nor I felt exploited in any way. But since Ione was not even Jewish, Brad and I said our Berakhahs softly, or in a silent way if we were feeling jazzy. We weren’t sure which prayer would be most appropriate—the one for breaking bread or sipping wine.
We took a few days off from working on the kibbutz to explore the Sinai Peninsula. We got as far as Dahab, really just a scuba diving and snorkeling outpost waiting to be spoiled by some capitalistic developers. While exploring the outskirts, a Bedouin woman approached us beseechingly, asking us if we would accept as a gift the baby in her arms, flies on his eyes. We knew we could provide the child with a better life in America, but we weren’t sure if we could get him through customs. None of us had ever been confronted with such an example of third-world poverty. It was heartbreaking realizing that this probably went on in one form or another all over the world.
A couple weeks into my stay, Yahweh provided a new miracle. The good-looking lesbian, Ellen, suddenly redefined her sexuality by inviting me to privately engage with her. A gracious invitation indeed, and I eagerly complied with her request. Remember, I had been given an assortment of Henry Miller books by Big Ed at Cooper’s Corner the day after he heard I went down on a girl for the first time. Big Ed had said that act gave me the right to have an opinion, and I had to read some Miller to learn about how the world really works. And what men and women are really thinking but are too polite to say out loud. He was right!
Ellen’s requests continued, as did my compliance. She also requested that we keep our affair a secret from her girlfriend. Secrecy, sexuality, and betrayal are fraught with potential peril. Perhaps that adds intensity to the sex.
For a young man on an Israeli kibbutz, secretly pleasing a lesbian while having three-ways with my best friend’s enthusiastic Welsh girlfriend is as Jewish as I’ll ever need to be.
By this time, Brad and I had decided to try smuggling some hashish back to the mom-and-pop basement drug dealers of Philly. We would take a break from banana bagging, clipping down avocados for grocery stores in France, and our nightly sex capades to travel to Tel Aviv to score.
In addition to penetrating Ellen sexually, I had firmly implanted another kind of seed in her mind—that she should become my drug mule.
“You’ll fly back to New York,” I tell her, “wearing a full-body stocking, and you’ll have twelve bricks of hashish taped to your body and you’ll be given $1,000 by my brother at the hotel at Kennedy Airport. You can continue home to Boston, and you’ll be a thousand dollars richer ($1,000 in 1971 is equivalent to $6,300 today). Perhaps infatuated with my sense of style and confidence, she agrees.
Before her planned departure from Ben-Gurion, we heard a rumor that airport security was starting to search people flying out of Israel. We had some friends who were flying to Istanbul, so we asked them to send us a telegram when they arrived to let us know if it were true, about the searching leaving the country. Sure enough, the next day we got a telegram saying, “WAS SIDETRACKED SLIGHTLY.” Oh, fuck!
I had already bought five pounds of hash in a very dark empty lot in Tel Aviv, doing math by longhand, using butane lighters as our only source of illumination. I had to change plans. Ellen and I left the kibbutz and took a bus to Haifa so we could leave the country by ship. Two hours later, the police raided our kibbutz. Our friends assumed the guy we bought the hash from turned us in, thinking he could make money selling us the hash and then buy it back from the police. When the police arrived at the kibbutz, we were already long gone, and our friends at the kibbutz pleaded ignorance as to where we were. For weeks they thought we were in an Israeli jail somewhere.
There was an alternative lifestyle conspiracy theory that Ellen’s lesbian girlfriend ratted us out in a fit of jealousy, vindictiveness and her version of betrayal, motivated by my exodus out of the Holy Land with her Last Supper.
That experience certainly confirmed Mom’s prediction that people ratting you out is a treacherous occupational hazard. If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s that there’s a knack to knowing who to trust and who not to trust. That’s the advantage of having a well-developed bullshit meter.
Ellen and I planned to board the ship separately and pretend not to know each other. We were definitely not going to talk or otherwise associate with each other. We were traveling separately. Maybe we’d exchange a casual “hello” that one would kindly give a stranger. We’d meet up in Marseille, after she cleared French customs.
The first morning on the ship, Ellen comes over and sits down at breakfast with me as if we’d been best friends forever. So much for my strategy. The first morning also found us still in Haifa’s port. I had thought the sea was very calm the first night of our voyage. That’s because the captain had decided to wait in the harbor while foul weather passed over the Mediterranean. For a brief moment, I thought the ship was still in the bay so the authorities could come aboard and take us away. I had reason to be paranoid after all.
By noon the captain decided to shove off and try to get back on schedule. I learned on that voyage that it’s not the captain who makes the schedule but the sea. So much for avoiding annoying weather because we soon hit a terrible squall, a violent storm that rocked the boat like a little boy with ADHD on too much Ritalin in a bathtub with his Mermaid Ariel doll who rejected his advances. For about a day, I could not leave my bunk, at all. I couldn’t even keep water down. I don’t think a pound of Dramamine would have helped. Luckily, I did have my BFF, a well-worn copy of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.
The ship made an unscheduled stop for one day in Genoa, Italy. I had claimed this day for myself to be alone, walk around the docks, and explore the side streets downtown. Everyone was so stylishly dressed, like extras in a mid-career Fellini film. I’d never been to Italy. And here I am drinking the best espresso I’d ever had, dipping in a biscotti under the gleaming Mediterranean sun, not knowing whether I would be going home to handshakes or handcuffs. I should have been more nervous, but I still felt the invincibility of a teenager, even though I had just turned 21 two weeks before. And it certainly helped to be high the whole time.
I decided to buy a fancy designer sweater with no label off some guy on the street. I wore it for years as a memento, and to keep warm. Being in Italy also reminded me of one of the few mementos my father left us when he croaked at 34. It was a gray marble ashtray shaped like the island of Sicily. That’s where he fought off Mussolini’s men as an anti-aircraft gunner.
When we finally get to Marseille, Ellen and a guy from San Francisco we had befriended were walking off the ship when one of the bricks of hash drops out of her pant leg and hits the wooden gangplank with an audible plunk! Walking behind her, I smoothly picked it up and slipped it in my new sheepskin coat pocket. The guy from San Francisco is drop-jawed.
“Are you guys crazy?”
Yes, but undiagnosed. The accusation of crazy was one with which I was becoming more and more familiar. That was 1971, New Year’s Eve Day. From Marseille, Ellen and I immediately took the train to Paris, got into a taxicab, and told the driver, “We need a room.”
I assume what he said in French was, “Are you fucking crazy? It’s New Year’s Eve and this is Paris!”
Nevertheless . . . “Yes. Please help us find a room. Merci, merci, merci.”
He takes us to a snazzy little hotel with one vacant room directly above a lesbian bar. I’m not kidding. We check in, and I give Ellen some francs I bought at the Gare du Nord after our uneventful train ride from Marseilles.
I tell her, “You can go to the bar downstairs but do not leave the premises. Go have your fun. Do not bring anyone back to the room. You go to theirs.” It’s hard to mask the aroma of 5 pounds of Red Lebanese hashish in a little heated Parisian hotel room above a lesbian brasserie. “I’m going out to explore Paris.”
Paris possessed everything a new 21-year-old could ask for. Except maybe for one of Henry Miller’s sloppy seconds. There were street performers, musicians and mimes just like Marcel Marceau, actual French crepes from a kiosk on the corner, cappuccinos and even student protests (I swear). I’m there alone with my hash pipe and hashish until three in the morning, just walking around Paris on one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had in my life. As if Jean-Luc Godard was there with a film crew, and I was indeed Breathless (in a good way).
I get back to the hotel and try not to wake my sweet little crashed out lesbian drug mule. Eventually, I fall asleep, multiple cappuccinos notwithstanding. It’s four in the morning, Ellen’s jumping on me screaming, “I can’t do it. I know I’m going to get busted. I can’t fly to New York with those bricks of hashish on me.” She is loud and getting louder, and I’m picturing this giant gendarme army brigade running into the room looking to stop a murder but instead finding all the hash neatly piled up in the closet.
I’m not the type of man to lay hands on a woman except for consensual sexual or healing purposes. In Ellen’s case, I made an exception. I choked her. Not a sexually related “Oh-please-choke-me” and certainly not an “I’m gonna kill you” choke. It was the old-fashioned, “Shut the fuck up” choke—just enough to get her to stop screaming.
Now I’m on top of her pleading, “Be quiet, be quiet, shut up! Be quiet, be quiet, shut the fuck up! It’s going to be okay. You’ll be okay. I promise. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it. You’ll do this. You’ll be okay.” I had to make this work because I wasn’t going to get stuck in Paris with all this hash, and I certainly wasn’t going back to the States with it.
I held her and stroked her gently until we both were asleep. The next morning, we talked it through. I reminded her that she was getting a thousand dollars and she had a promise to fulfill. The God of Abraham was not going to let us down. Most of the pot dealers I knew considered themselves to be doing God’s work.
I took her to Orly Airport on the Metro. She had calmed down enough to carry on. She flew nonstop back to New York, where my brother and my best friend Jerome anxiously waited for her to get through customs safe and sound. They took her to a nearby motel, had her undress, and marveled not at her perfect bisexual 21-year-old body but rather at how much hashish fell onto the motel’s shag carpet. Jerome handed her the grand and said a fond adieu. I never saw or spoke to Ellen again. We were just two brave idiots passing through young adulthood. Risking incarceration while exploring our boundarylessness.
I had to take a flight to London because I couldn’t afford to fly home straight from Paris. On the short flight, heavy clouds covered the sky the whole time. It gave me great confidence in radar. I’ve never worried about flying through inclement weather or thunderstorms ever since. Plus, as a gambler, whenever I think of my plane crashing, I think, What are the odds?
There were still some post-holiday winter student flights from London’s Gatwick Airport to New York leaving the next day. I was in a pretty good mood. Not only could I afford the student flight home but Ellen had made it back undetected. When I learned that, I took a sigh of relief the size of an asthmatic’s first inhale right after getting a shot of adrenaline. She was safe . . . and so was the hashish.
While in London, I took in a movie—Straw Dogs, a horror film for the college educated, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman. Films establish a certain mind-set and mood, and Peckinpah was a master craftsman. When I got out of the theater that night, it was a dark and foggy, and the streets felt more suited for Jack the Ripper than a young tourist. That’s a polite way of saying I was scared out of my mind.
The film is about a group of British ruffians attempting to brutalize American teacher and mathematician David Sumner (Dustin), just because his flirty, hot-as-hell wife, Amy (Susan George), chose Dustin over them. The film ends in a showdown between the teacher and his jealous adversaries in a ballet of ingenious brutal violence. Filmed in England, it was hitting close to the bone. One reviewer called it, “A violent, provocative meditation on manhood, Straw Dogs is viscerally impactful—and decidedly not for the squeamish.”
The night’s chill cut to my squeamish bone, and I didn’t let my guard down until I returned to my hotel room where the only source of warmth was a gas space heater. I turned it on and reached into my pocket for matches. No matches.
Ah, the suitcase, I say, breaking the fourth wall between me, myself, and I.
The gas, hissing away pleasantly, awaits my return as I dig the matches out of my suitcase. Were this a cartoon or a Jerry Lewis movie, you would already anticipate the soot-covered climax. I strike a match, and all the gas that had built up in the fireplace explodes into a fireball that blows me across the room, burning the “l” out of my eyelashes and singeing my eyebrows. I made it back to Philly, regrew my eyelashes, and got a real job.
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