In anticipation of his upcoming memoir, Leonard Lee Buschel shares excerpts from his writing on the In The Rooms blog. In previous blogs, he shared the Preface and Chapter One. Now, Leonard shares Chapter Four: Going To Any Length in The Holy Land.
My smuggling experience—I can’t call it a smuggling career, since I only did it twice—started when I was nineteen years old, and full of wanderlust. My love of travel is a trait of a Sagittarius. Joe Brodsky, gay and astrologically Capricorn, came with me.
We boarded an El Al bus at Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York. It was filled to the brim with Hassidic and other assorted Jews. The bus drove us up to the El Al 747 that flew us non-stop, 13 hours to Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Our mission was to buy Red Lebanese hashish and bring it back with us through Kennedy, then down the Jersey Turnpike to the not-so-mean streets of Philly (little did I know what I was in store for). My first trip with Joe was in February 1969, and the second (and final) was November-December 1971, when I turned 21 in Israel.
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. We needed to go because neither of us could imagine going a day without taking a hit off a pipe filled with dope. There was NO HASH in Philly. Every dealer we knew was out of stock. The town had gone dry. Our hopes of getting high laid low. Our goal was to pay for the trip by selling three quarters of what I brought back, and keeping the rest for ourselves. Joe and I really didn’t think of it as smuggling, more like just having to go out of the neighborhood to score.
Joe and I met when we were in a few plays at Olney High, as members of The Footlighters. After seeking the spotlight, we now were aching to play the Invisible Man, or the rabbit in Harvey. Our return flight was in 3 weeks. We would cruise though the NY airport, named after our most recently-assassinated and much-loved President. Joe and I both took a semester off from our studies at Philadelphia Community College, where we spent more time focusing on getting high than on achieving a higher education.
We each 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-rib-cage, super-slim kind, so popular with women who wish 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 salesgirls 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. There was much less airport security back in 1970, even in Israel. We boarded our flight unmolested, then realized we had both forgotten to buy any silver-plated mezuzahs like normal tourists would. A half a day later, we were back in American 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 the 7.5 million people living on Long Island. Like in an unwakable nightmare, from his crotch I could smell the distinctly subtle aroma of red Lebanese hashish rising. Subtle to humans’ maybe, but like a runaway slave to a confederate German Shepherd. We had talcum powder with us, and through my teeth I said, “You’ve got to go to the bathroom and use the 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 then have it leave a trail all the way to Rikers.”
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 Park yelling, SAFE! Why did I love to get high every day, and every day henceforth for 24 more years? I don’t know. Did I have a disease? No way. Was I addicted? Well, duh?
Bringing in drugs from outside the country is serious business.
I remember 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 till we got through customs.
Once I was back home, selling the hash was no problem. I was dealing my last ¼ ounce to some guys in a friend’s basement in the Kensington and Allegheny neighborhood of Philadelphia. But instead of reaching into their pockets and pulling out money, they each pulled out a hand gun.
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 me having frightened-to-death-about-to-shit-in-my-pants nervous laughter. I acted calm and non-threatening. I wanted them to feel happy about their career choice –and NOT trigger-happy.
So many thoughts went through my mind. The one I remember most vividly is, “If I ever get an acting role that requires me to be deathly afraid, 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, then slowly walked me to my car. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t going to panic or do something stupid. Also, I 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. I began to realize how my life could have come to an end during the loaded drama I just lived through.
Moments such as these are when men such as I have life-changing epiphanies. It was at that seminal moment that 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.”
The story continues in the next blog—Going To Any Length in The Holy Land: Part Two.