This week we bring you Chapter 7 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.
He Who Strongly Desires to Move Up Will Think of a Way to Build a Ladder
By now, I had devised my own brilliant plan to completely avoid the open-heart surgery business still unresolved from my youth: continual distraction and a slow drip of drug-induced suicidal behavior. If life is about creating our stories on the tabula rasa we are born with then my life as a drug fiend was about to become a chapter full of typos with no Wite-Out in sight.
I never knew what great disappointments or triumphs might greet me when I left the house, so I was always prepared to adjust my mood, alter my perspective or insulate my emotions with a full flask of vodka or tequila, five joints, Valium, Percodan, a vial of cocaine, some ‘shrooms and a half-dozen hits of Ecstasy. I never met an intoxicant I didn’t like—be it drink or drug—that wasn’t temporarily useful, even as it undermined achieving any of my long-term goals.
Goals? They were for footballers and hockey players. Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of ambitions, but they were simple and I achieved all three: Make Money. Make Love. Don’t Get Caught.
Making love was a priority, but I also spent a lot of time on the road, alone. In 1977, on my way to Big Sur, I was staying at the Holiday Inn in Carmel, yearning for some company. Before going out to dinner, I looked in the Yellow Pages for a restaurant or nightclub. It was then that I saw the page listing “Escort Services/Outcall Only.” Funny how Marriage Counselors was followed by Massage Parlors. The latter usually precedes the former.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that my future was no longer dark and lonely. I’d go out to the only club with live music on this Sunday night, get some bar food, and have a few drinks. I would do my best to meet someone I could invite back to my room. If I didn’t meet a woman, I’d go back to the room and call one of the offerings on the Escort page because I’m in a good mood and I don’t want to be alone. Two hours later, back in the room, I make the call.
Forty minutes later, after a joint outside and a half-dozen lines inside, I hear,
“Mary? Mother of the Universe?”
I paid Mary for two hours upfront. She called her service and told them, “This will be my last call for the night.”
I tell her before we get in bed, “We’re going to watch the rest of this George C. Scott movie on TV.”
It was They Might Be Giants. Later, after the hanky-panky session, she says she’ll stay all night for no extra money, and asks, “Do you give good sleep?”
I apologized and told her I didn’t, but that I appreciated her offer. Under different circumstances, I would have gladly had her spend the night, but I was holding thirty thousand dollars cash stashed in the trunk of my rental car, and the keys were hidden under the mattress of the bed we weren’t on. This was in case she had the Pea and Princess syndrome. I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t wake up with no Mary and no money. I did learn that night that you can only experience “free love” after you pay for it.
I also learned that you can usually count on a professional being pleasant to the touch, eyes, and nasal cavity. An excellent call girl, escort, or street worker relies upon her health being in good standing while lying on her back. There is no woman more destined for a night of insufficient revenue than a streetwalker with the aroma of a small Sicilian fishing village before refrigeration.
I carried my tradition of planning ahead into the 1977 football season. Every Monday night I always had a hot plan after going to see the hottest acts in New Wave music, like Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads at the Hot Club on Lombard Street in Philadelphia. I knew the owner, so I always got in free and had access to the Monday Night football game on the TV in the band’s dressing room. After the show, in old galoshes traipsing through the snow on my way home, I would regularly stop by a friendly bordello for warm companionship and some laughs with one or two women, depending on my mood and whether the team I had bet on won or lost. It was winter, and on some nights, brutally cold, yet always warm and cozy.
Some people are not always kind to sex workers. I recall back in 1978 my cousin Eric the Rap and I picked up a pair of hitchhiking hookers on Van Ness Street. We took them to our “fancy” motel room where we had sex and played chess all night. Despite the hookers’ proficiency at both sex and chess, Eric the Rap, a chess master, would not allow them to win a single game. The bastard.
“I never metaphor I didn’t like,” someone once said, yet there are two or three escort experiences I found unpleasant, and not from the aroma. One was New Year’s Eve, 1985, when my girlfriend Ilene and I had hired an escort for the night. Around three in the morning, things got a little out of hand, and it seemed like everyone was losing their grip.
The escort got naked in the hot tub, refused to leave, and demanded more and more sex. It was a difficult and arduous process getting her out of the tub, dried, and dressed in time for the cab we called to take her away.
We succeeded in getting her ready to depart, but the taxi took longer than anticipated. Each tick of the clock increased the tension because we feared she would refuse to leave and cause more drama. If she did refuse, our next call would be to the police or a hospital. Thankfully, we convinced her to crawl into the cab, which spirited her away into the darkness.
The second upsetting escort experience was distressing only because it forced me to swallow my morals. Alone in a motel in Key Biscayne, 10 miles south of Miami, I had ordered a full-service escort from a full-service outcall agency. With nothing good on TV, all there was to do was get high and do lines. So, I got high and did lines. And waited. And waited. And waited. I called a few times to find out her ETA and the answers were always the same, “She’s on her way, she’s almost there.”
With my heart pounding out my ribcage like timpani drums at the climax of the opera The Ring, I decided the wisest thing to do would be to start taking Valiums. Twenty milligrams later, I finally hear a knock. It’s my savior, it’s my nurse, it’s my relief. Just after we disrobed, she made an anti-Semitic remark. You know, something subtle, such as “Hitler should have finished what he started,” or “Hitler wasn’t all bad. Look what a good job he did with the Volkswagen.”
For the high and mighty, for the high-and-mighty horny, the much-anticipated arrival of an exceptionally attractive professional sex worker overrides the revelation that the woman is one brown blouse away from being the Eva Braun of outcall escorts. I did what any red-blooded American Jewish drug dealer from Logan would do—I paid her, had sex with her, and told her that she should use the money to plant a tree in Israel. As her between-the-sheets performance was stellar, the night was not a total bust. More than my morals got swallowed that night.
Breaks were an absolute necessity to maintain good mental and physical health, especially after escapades such as those 24-hour round trips from Boulder to Philly to turn a quick half-kilo of blow and return to the Rockies. After one such escapade, Joe D. picked me up at Stapleton International Airport in Denver and took me right to Boulder’s best nightclub. The Paul Winter Consort was playing their unique blend of new age jazz music. For the encore, Paul brought on stage a wolf to howl along with the song, which it did, eerily and happily at the right times, as if on cue. The sheet music must have said, “Howl Here.” It was poetic irony since Allen Ginsberg lived nearby.
We were moving and grooving to the music, standing next to a young Buddhist girl. When we offered to buy her a drink, she said, “No thank you. I’m horny enough.” She asked if we lived nearby.
“YES!” Joe and I yelled out over the music.
Soon enough we were back at our dorm room in Boulder. Actually, an apartment we rented for the summer to attend Naropa University (I guess I did have goals), founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master who died at the age of 48 of liver damage caused by severe alcohol (mostly tequila) abuse. As part of Naropa, Allen Ginsberg started the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics with poet Anne Waldman. Writers, poets, and seekers came from all over for many magical seminars with some of the best poetry, tai chi and writing teachers in the world.
Speaking of magic, that’s what the night turned out to be. Pure magic. Our new Buddhette friend made it clear we were going to a have a threesome. Maybe the Buddha was wrong. Life is not suffering. We had good weed, and I had brought back some coke from my overnight trip to Philly. I forget what music we put on, but it was probably more soulful than the smooth jazz the Paul Winter Consort was putting out.
After the poetry of moans and giggles, we reclined by the pool, watching God’s free yearly August light show. The three of us were marveling, oohing and aahing, at the Perseids meteor shower, and while lying together there all cosmic and cozy, the girl says warmly, “I think my outbreak is over, so you guys probably don’t have to worry about getting my herpes.” The true miracle of the evening was that neither Joe nor I contracted the gift that keeps on giving.
A lot was happening in Boulder in the seventies. Walking into a party, I said to my friend Joe D., “This is the kind of party that when you see someone who looks like Timothy Leary, it is Timothy Leary.” Allen Ginsburg called Tim “a hero of American Consciousness.” He was also an American psychologist and writer and became an avid club-goer in Los Angeles. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of that disco lighting.
Allen Ginsberg and I interacted many times over the years, at Naropa and elsewhere. He scolded me in Boulder, for selling 5” x 7” photographs I had made from Polaroids I owned of Allen and his longtime companion, Peter Orlovsky, naked. Ginsberg was pissed off that I hadn’t gotten the photographer’s (Elsa Dorfman) permission. I told him I thought since I bought and owned one-of-a-kind Polaroids (20” x 24”), with no negatives in existence, that I could do whatever I wanted with them, including make copies and sell them. He did not agree and was quite adamant. So, instead of selling them, I gave the 5” x 7” prints away. (The Polaroid camera mentioned here is one of the largest format instant cameras ever made—so says Wikipedia—and many well-known photographers have worked with the bulky 235-pound, wheeled-chassis Polaroid to create their art.)
Speaking of great men and great partnerships, you can’t do better than Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Albert, a.k.a. Ram Dass.
Ram Dass was an American spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author. He helped to popularize the spirituality of the Eastern cultures, along with yoga and meditation. He remains popular to this day, even after he let go of his body on December 22, 2019. His super-classic, Be Here Now has sold over two million copies and will be considered in a hundred years to have been one of the most significant books of the 20th century. If there is a hundred years from now.
I also took classes with Allen at Naropa University. He gave a class with his teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as the guest speaker. In the middle of the class, Gregory Corso bursts into the room with a very unique haircut, and proclaims, “You’re not really a completely free man until you can cut your own hair.”
Ginsberg says, “Fine, now sit down!”
And he whispers to him, “It looks great Gregory.” It did not.
One afternoon, in a stunningly sunny moment, a red Cadillac convertible careens around the corner. Driving is none other than Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, coming to visit his friends on an August afternoon that summer at Naropa. Gary Snyder was giving a reading that night and wouldn’t all the local owls be hooting it up and making wise cracks.
I come from a long line of long-winded storytellers, and it is not a contradiction to my rather drug-centered lifestyle that I’ve always been interested in spiritual concepts.
Since reading Ram Dass’s classic Be Here Now when I was 18, I’ve had an interest in New Age thought and ancient teachings. In 2010 I got to experience one of the favorite weeks of my life. Rev. Michael Beckwith, leader of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles, held a five-day retreat on Maui with Ram Dass. My dear friend Renee Lynn, Esthetician to the Stars, gifted me this remarkable gig by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. My nicknames for the Rev. and Ram Dass. They spoke separately and would riff off each other’s solos. Everyone in attendance, all 30 of us, could see that these two wise guys, gurus, brothers, teachers, loved each other as much as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Every evening we would sing Kirtan with world-famous musician Jai Uttal. Maui never felt so high. Each day was like watching God pouring God into God.
Back in the early eighties, I especially enjoyed the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti. When the opportunity arose to go to Ojai, California to see him in person, I couldn’t say no. My companion on this trip was Karl Abrams, a.k.a. The Professor.
I met Karl Abrams, tenured chemistry professor who knows a lot about a lot, in 1981. His cousin Henry Abrams was Albert Einstein’s ophthalmologist. And Karl Abrams tells me Albert’s eyes are in a jar at Henry’s house in Princeton. See what I mean? The Professor has been my best friend for more than 40 years.
The Professor and I flew from San Francisco to Santa Barbara and rented a car from Avis (always preferring the underdog) and drove to Ojai, where we had the privilege of hearing Krishnamurti speak. He sat in a simple wooden chair, we sat on the ground under a large oak tree. He started giving these talks in 1924 and continued them throughout his life. He died in 1986 at home in Ojai, near the old large oak tree. He was 90. Krishnamurti is credited with having written over 60 books. Most of them I suspect actually transcriptions of his talks. Oh boy, could he talk.
When he ended his rap, and despite having dosed off several times during the enlightened man’s talk, I wanted to buy that simple wooden chair. I felt that the chair was now imbued with a solid sense of the spiritual. It wasn’t just me who felt the energy during that day. The audience sitting around me felt the vibe they were seeking. They were from all over the world and did not come to California to ride the Matterhorn at Disneyland. They came for “the truth.”
When Krishnamurti finished his talk, he was escorted up to his residence nearby. I immediately rushed up to one of his handlers and asked, “Can I buy that chair?”
“Can I buy the chair he just sat in?”
“Well, no, we really don’t sell Krishnamurti’s chair.”
“How about $200?”
“No, Sir, we really don’t . . .”
“Listen,” I said. “I’ll give you $500 for the chair. Nobody has to know.” I thought, if a man wants a chair simply because Krishnamurti sat in it, the man must be spiritual, right? I didn’t get the chair Krishnamurti gave his talk from.
Years before, my brother and I managed to walk out of the Academy of Music carrying the red velvet chair from the opera box that my brother had sat in during a Van Morrison concert. We formed a V-formation and put the chair between us and managed to make it past the defenders (security) without being tackled. Brother Bruce figured having the chair would preserve the memory of this unforgettable concert. Having to steal it mattered not. He still has it—50 years later. Perhaps, we should have tried to steal Krishnamurti’s chair in broad daylight, and if we got caught, we would tell the staff to improve their practice of nonattachment.
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