Leonard Lee Buschel shares a full chapter of his upcoming memoir, At Play in the Fields of Addiction: From Drug Dealer to Drug Counselor, here on the In The Rooms blog. This is the final post in the series. If you’ve missed the earlier pieces, be sure to start with Part One, then read Part Two and Part Three, then conclude here with the final segment, Part Four.
Now, the plan was that Paula and I were going to board the ship separately, and pretend not to know each other. We were definitely not going to talk, not going to associate. We’re traveling separately. Maybe a casual ‘hello’ that one would give a stranger of a similar age. When the voyage ends, we’ll hook up. We’ll meet up in Marseille, after she cleared French customs.
The first morning on the ship, she comes over and sits down at breakfast with me like we’ve been best friends forever. She did not follow the instructions about “we don’t know each other.” I wanted to meet her on land, after it was a fait accompli, not as an accomplice. Plus, the first morning found us just outside Haifa’s port. I had thought the sea was very calm our first night out at sea. That’s because the Captain decided to wait in harbor while bad weather passed over the Mediterranean. I thought the ship was still in the bay so the authorities could come on board and take us away. There is no such thing as paranoia when you are actually doing things people want to lock you up for doing.
By noon, the Captain decided to shove on and try to get back on schedule. I learned on that voyage that it’s not the Captain that makes the schedule, it’s the sea.
So much for avoiding bad weather.
We 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. I could not leave my bunk, at all. I couldn’t even keep water down. Five kilos of Dramamine would not have helped. Luckily, I did have my BFF: a well worn copy of I don’t remember what. But definitely not the Hemingway classic, The Old Man and The Sea.
The ship made an unscheduled stop for one day in Genoa, Italy. I had claimed this day for myself to be alone, walking around the docks and exploring the side streets downtown. Everyone was so stylishly dressed, like extras in a Bertolucci 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 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.
Everyone was so fashionably dressed.
I bought a designer sweater with no label off some guy on the street. I wore it for years as a memento, and to keep warm. It also reminded me of one of the few mementos my father left us when he croaked at 42. He left us a grey marble ashtray, shaped like the island of Sicily. That’s where he fought off Mussolini’s men as an anti-fascist anti-aircraft marksman.
We finally do get to Marseille and are disembarking, safely though Immigrations. Paula and I walk down the wooden plank with a guy from San Francisco we befriended, when one of the bricks of hash falls out of Paula’s pant leg, hitting the gangplank with an audible plunk! I smoothly pick it up and slip it in my 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. On New Year’s Eve day, we took a 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 Paula some Francs I bought at the Gare du Nord after our uneventful train from Marseilles. I told 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 masking 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.”
There was everything a new 21-year old in Paris 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. It was like 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 to fall asleep, multiple cappuccinos not withstanding. It’s four in the morning, Paula’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 these bricks of hashish on me.” She is loud and getting louder, and I’m picturing this giant gendarme army brigade running into the room and 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 sexual or healing purposes. In her 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, PLEASE just be quiet, shut up! Be quiet, just be quiet, please just 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, because I certainly wasn’t going back 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 on the Metro and she flew nonstop back to New York, where my brother and my best friend Jerry anxiously waited for her to get through customs safe and sound. They took her to a nearby motel because the airport hotel is too expensive. They had her get undressed, and marveled, not at her perfect bi-sexual twenty-one-year-old body, but rather at how much hashish fell onto the motel’s shag carpet. Jerry handed her the grand and said a fond adieu.
I never saw or spoke to Paula 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 from Paris. I remember on the short flight from Paris to London, not seeing a clear sky for even one minute. Heavy clouds the whole flight. It gave me great confidence in radar. I’ve never worried about flying through bad 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 with discounted fares back to New York from Gatwick. I’m in pretty good mood because Paula had made it back undetected. I took a sigh of relief the size of an asthmatic’s first inhale right after getting a shot of adrenaline.
While in London, I take in a movie — Straw Dogs.
It’s 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, it was a dark and foggy night, and the streets felt more suited to Jack-the-Ripper than a 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, Susan George prefers Dustin to 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 cutting close to the bone. Most reviewers agreed: “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.
I didn’t let my guard down until I returned to my hotel room, where the only heat source was a gas space heater. I turn it on, and reach in 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 make it back to Philly, re-grew my eyelashes, and got a real job.
Looking back on my “travels”, I marvel at the extent I went to procuring drugs with all the risks involved. At the time, it was all very exciting, like living all of the unfulfilled fantasies others never realize.
In truth, I was an addict—someone who knows they can’t live without their substances. I knew the first time I got high on marijuana, that I had found a friend for life, a tool for living, the key to the magic kingdom. Shortly afterwards, 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, (big hash head) who am I to dispute its wonders. Can’t you see why I got high every day of my life for two and a half decades?
My early twenties were just the beginning of becoming a resident of the “underground” for 25 more hyper-aware years. Call me an outlaw if you must.
I was just a good boy who did bad things.
Looking back on my attempts to avoid society’s traps, I could have been caught in its worst trap: Prison. I’m grateful it only took me 25 more years to get such risky behavior out of my system. Eventually, I cleansed my addicted brain and found an easier, softer and safer way to live. Much more sustainable, too!
Check back for details on the release of Leonard’s upcoming memoir. The book will include tales of addiction, love of movies, and outlaw behavior. And a most miraculous recovery. We can’t wait to read it!