Chapter 4 

Fortune Will Always Come to a House with Laughter 

Mom was right. It didn’t happen right away. In 1968, I graduated from high school high and happy. Shortly afterward, I was busted for possession. 

The cops kicked in the door to my mother’s house—not difficult as it was a warm July evening and only a flimsy wooden screen door separated us from the local gendarmes—brandishing guns at Mom and me. It was a nightmare scene from a low-budget Michael Haneke film. I don’t recall them showing us a search warrant, and my mother felt their aggressive behavior was unwarranted.

“You can’t go in my bedroom,” insisted Mom.

“Oh, yes we can,” replied the cop.

“Oh, no you can’t,” was Mom’s motherly retort.

She tried to block their way. Fat chance. Good thing she wasn’t black. Then both my parents would be dead. 

They didn’t listen to her and went in the bedroom, and while they didn’t find the hash, they did find two bags of pot prepackaged for sale. They arrested and handcuffed us both, luckily not to each other. They tossed us both into a paddy wagon. Since that night, I have a PTSD-like reaction whenever a woman pulls out handcuffs. 

Shaking and shackled, I said, “Someday pot will be legal, Mom, and they won’t bust people for it anymore. It’s not even as dangerous as alcohol. You wait and see.”

As far as I know, that was the first time my mom had seen the inside of a jail cell. She wasn’t angry with me. She wasn’t fingerprinted, but I was. No bail was set, as they released us on our own recognizance. 

My mother, street smart and savvy, retained a mob attorney who only charged us three thousand dollars to beat the rap. He knew what he was doing, and clearly explained his Temple University School of Law defense strategy: $750 for the judge, $750 for the prosecutor, $750 for Mayor Rizzo, and $750 for him. Brilliant, succinct, and effective.

“Case dismissed!”

I had heard there was a Crime Menu in Philly—a list of crimes and prices for how much it cost to buy your way out of whatever you were charged with. Italians got a discount, the Irish paid list, and Jews paid double.

You can have these things dismissed from court but not from memory. This was not an event my mom treasured in her memorabilia basket. Just being in her own home now triggered reliving the trauma of Philly’s finest waving a gun in her face.

She had another kind of PTSD (Police Traumatized Single Dame) syndrome. Feeling vulnerable in her own home, she sold it two years later—and she did so at a profit. An enterprising real estate agent offered her an extra five thousand dollars to be the first homeowner in the neighborhood to sell to a black family.

Once that historic breach was made in our all-white, primarily Jewish enclave/ghetto, more families followed my mother’s example. This would later be termed “white flight,” meaning white people escaping a Negro invasion. If you refuse to sell your home to African Americans, you’re a racist. If you do sell to black people, you’re running away. In my mother’s case, it was “white fright.” 

The neighbors were not thrilled. But they never did like my mother anyway. She was a leggy, attractive widow, prancing to work down a block dense with married couples and mieskeit wives. Every woman on the block lived in fear that their husband would make a pass at Mom and she would catch it in her end zone.

Busting the Buschels was popular in 1968. It happened again—this time to Brother Bruce. Brother Bruce, Joe D., and I did a midnight radio show in Atlantic City on WLDB (AM) six nights a week (yes, a good radio voice is one of my attributes). We had a contact at CBS Records who kept us well-stocked with the latest hit LPs by hot acts such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. 

The three of us lived together in a boarding house in Atlantic City. One night, I didn’t go to the radio show, The Underground Shoots Up at Midnight, because I had an arrangement to buy some real Panama Red from Tyrone at the 500 Club. While I was out having a liberal black-and-white malted, cops raided our apartment looking for drugs. All they found was opium incense, a thick substance with absolutely no opium in it. Sort of like opium perfume. 

Not being adept at discerning thick black incense from thick black hashish, the cops put out an arrest warrant for Brother Bruce and me, as our names were on the rental agreement. When I got back to the summer rental house, the other residents excitedly warned me. 

“You better get out of here,” they said. “The cops have an arrest warrant for you and your brother.” 

“What about our Joe?” 

“No,” they explained. “His name wasn’t on the warrant.” 

I immediately called Brother Bruce at the station. “You want me to forget the deal and come meet you?” 

“Hell no. If it’s real Panama Red, we’re going to need it now more than ever.” 

I took the Jitney to the 500 Club and scored some real Panama Red. The 500 Club, popularly known as The Five, was a nightclub and supper club at 6 Missouri Avenue in Atlantic City. It operated from the 1930s until the building burned down in 1973. The Five had become one of the most popular nightspots on the East Coast. 

Our radio show was on until 4:00 a.m. on the weekends, but Brother Bruce left at 2:00 a.m. in case the cops were overly ambitious and on their way to the station to arrest him. Joe finished the show by himself. After I scored the weed, I waited at the bar and nursed a Tom Collins for a couple hours. I wasn’t 21 but I had a driver’s license in my name, printed to perfection by a guy at Cooper’s Corner. I had it laminated and could use it to get into any club or bar in Philly or Atlantic City. 

Eventually, Brother Bruce picked me up and we headed home on the White Horse Pike. As the sun rose behind us, the radio played Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the song is based on a spontaneous conversation he had with his friend P. F. Sloan when the two stepped outside of Pandora’s Box nightclub into a riot on the famous Sunset Strip in 1968. 

For What It’s Worth 

There’s something happening here 

What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there 

Telling me I got to beware 

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

There’s battle lines being drawn 

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

 Young people speaking their minds 

Getting so much resistance from behind 

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street 

Singing songs and carrying signs 

Mostly say, hooray for our side 

It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away 

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

Stop, hey, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

Stop, now, what’s that sound 

Everybody look what’s going down 

Stop, children, what’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down

The lines “a field day for the heat” and “paranoia strikes deep” captured the fear and emotion Brother Bruce and I were experiencing. Suddenly our eyes filled with tears. We were crying so hard, we couldn’t see the road and had to pull over to gain our composure and roll a joint. 

After a few days back in Philly, Brother Bruce decided to go back to AC and do the radio show. That’s dedication. On the first night back, Brother Bruce was arrested live on the air, with Joe doing play-by-play commentary (as if it were a ball game), as handcuffs were being slapped on Brother Bruce’s wrists and he’s hauled out of the station and off to jail. 

Brother Bruce made bail, but we needed to get him a lawyer. I had stayed back in Philly, and I saw a newspaper story about cops finding wild marijuana growing in a vacant lot in South Philly. Where there is one vacant lot, there must be more. I was right. 

My childhood friend and fellow vandal, Frankie, grabbed his dad’s car and we went cruising around South Philly looking for some pot plants. Eureka! We found dozens of plants growing like weeds in a vacant lot (occasionally the police are accurate). We armed ourselves with sickles and saws, chopped ‘em down, and stuffed them in the trunk. They were too big to fit in the plastic bags we’d brought. No one knew what pot plants looked like in 1968. However, these were not the resin-rich female plants we had hoped for. These were skinny male plants with barely a single grain of THC-rich pollen anywhere on them. With the branches and green leaves hanging out of the trunk, we got out of the neighborhood. Nobody paid any attention. Just a couple of punks, a Jew and an Italian, trying to earn some money to pay my brother’s legal bills. 

Our harvest was all leaf, but we sold enough to fund Brother Bruce’s successful defense. The cops had no case as incense is not illegal. We now had cash and an un-jailed brother.

Because of the bust, the radio station cancelled our show. With Brother Bruce a free man, we all headed to the Atlantic City Pop Festival where Janis Joplin was performing, along with The Byrds, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, B. B. King, Little Richard, Santana, Joni Mitchell and so many other greats! Even with all these headliners, Janis’s set illuminated the firmament with white-hot energy. Too bad two years later some couple stood her up at Barney’s Beanery. Disappointed, horny and alone, she drank vodka and shot heroin. The Los Angeles coroner ruled her death accidental. 

Speaking of music and accidental death, the following year I almost died of asthmatic embarrassment in the company of several folk music icons. I was invited to spend the weekend at the Woodstock home of famed folksinger Tim Hardin by a mutual friend, Fat Anne. Our transportation was my buddy Joe Brodsky at the wheel of his new Fiat. After a four-hour drive from Philly to upstate New York, and up a windy unpaved road to Hardin’s home, Tim meets us outside. Impressed with Joe’s new Fiat, Tim asks if he could get behind the wheel for a short spin.

“No,” said Joe flatly, “I don’t lend out my car.”

I jabbed Joe in the ribs and said, “Joe, you mean you aren’t going to let Tim Hardin drive your car? The Tim Hardin?” Famous for “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Misty Roses” and “How Can We Hang on to a Dream,” to name a few.

“No,” said Joe.

“You’re an asshole,” I said.

Hardin too was taken aback a bit. Eleven years later, long before the opioid crisis was a trending topic on Yahoo, he died of a heroin overdose. As for Joe, he had what a 1960s astrologer would term “a weird Capricorn self-centeredness characterized by overprotection of personal property, as if sharing diminished dominion.” In other words, Joe didn’t like lending out his car.

Being in that same room with Fred Neil was like being in the same room as Walt Whitman, if Uncle Walt had been a functioning heroin addict and the composer of “Everybody’s Talkin’” (from Midnight Cowboy), “Dolphins,” “The Other Side of This Life” and so many more. 

To add to Tim’s Fiat disappointment, several hours later, I was about to make a visit to the coroner’s office, except that Hardin, Fat Anne, Joe, Fred Neil, Bob Gibson and Odetta saved my life. 

It was after midnight when an unscheduled asthma attack came to call. I attempted taking a blast off my trusty inhaler, but it was empty. An empty inhaler after midnight, high in the hills of Woodstock, New York, was a nightmare. The panic of needing a rescue blast is only exceeded by the panic of realizing your rescue inhaler is empty and that you’re about to choke to death in the pristine air in the mountains far from home. 

I don’t recall which folk music luminary heard my post-midnight screams first, but the entire household arose to my rescue. Someone called the hospital and arranged for an ambulance to meet us down on the highway. I was bundled up into the Fiat, Joe behind the wheel, racing down the road to my life-saving rendezvous. Flashing lights and wailing sirens in the distance augmented my embarrassment at inconveniencing famous folk singers—a faux pas worse than inconveniencing a family’s Christmas dinner. 

The ambulance met us on the highway and sped me to the hospital tasked with saving my dying life. An injection of this, and an injection of that, some top-shelf O2. I did not sleep at all but stayed awake to make sure I was still able to breathe. I was released the next morning. Joe found a motel nearby and slept with sweet resolve to certainly not let me drive back to Philly nor blame me for ruining an all-star weekend.

 My near-death experience at Woodstock did not prevent me from returning to that same neighborhood a few months later for one of the most glorious and significant musical cultural events in the history of America. Going up to Yasgur’s Farm anyone? Woodstock here I come. If you haven’t seen the film, please do. Words alone could never do justice to the life changing/affirming explosion of love and musical genius that happened in Bethel, NY, August 15–18, 1969. Or measure all the pot I smoked and mushrooms I nibbled.

After a day and a half, my asthma treated me to a foreboding attack of claustrophobia and I was afraid that 500,000 people all exiting on Sunday afternoon would cause a historic traffic jam, and if I needed an ambulance, I was fucked. 

It took me five hours to hitchhike home from paradise (usually about a three-hour drive). My ride dropped me off near 10th Street. I had to walk a few blocks to get home. It was 3:00 a.m. Doors locked, no one home, and no keys. The only expression of joy I could muster was to masturbate off my front porch. My neighbors slept not knowing that The Chambers Brothers had proclaimed “Time Has Come Today” and Jimi Hendrix had just liberated the Star-Spangled Banner, forever.

The sixties and seventies produced some of the greatest folk music and rock ‘n’ roll ever, and where there was music, the drugs and sex were not far behind. My girlfriend, Kathy Mayers (see, I told you about the Kathys), could easily breathe through her nose, a requirement for performing oral sex, which is exactly what she was doing while I drove us back to Philly from a Grateful Dead concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

Still seeing trails from the LSD we dropped at the concert, it suddenly felt as if a hot tub had sprung a leak in my lap. I was still hearing the music in the distance, and it turned out to be “One More Saturday Night.” My head was in the clouds and hers in my lap, life was a delightful all-paisley pleasure zone. Until she unexpectedly and involuntarily threw up all over my private parts and custom-made bell-bottom pants. (I had an old neighborhood tailor with numbers on his arm. I taught him how to take inexpensive pants and turn them into designer bell bottoms.)

 Kathy and I were both embarrassed, me for her and her for her, and we both laughed uproariously at the absurdity of life and the Dead needing two drummers. It was the middle of winter and I thought if we opened the windows the throw up would freeze and we could pick it up off my crotch in one piece and throw it out the window.

Life’s absurd, silly, or self-effacing moments comfort us as we age. Somehow, they are proof that we exist. When every day is the same, the stress of predictability drains us of vitality. The universe, including humans, favors novelty. The novelty must be balanced with familiarity. Hence, the proven maxim of Top 40 radio stations: Too much of the familiar is boring; too much of the new is baffling. Moderation in all things, including moderation.

Another memorable concert took place May 16, 1970—Jimi Hendrix headlining with the Grateful Dead (never again would this happen), the Steve Miller Band, and three other acts at the Temple University stadium in Philadelphia. Tickets were $6.50 for general seating at this small football field.

The concert started at 3:00 p.m. The Steve Miller Band was on when we arrived. By the time Jimi Hendrix took the stage, night had fallen. In a harmless act of solidarity, people started ripping out the benches and throwing them into a huge bonfire in the middle of the field. It wasn’t dangerous or hostile. It was tribal and prehistoric. It was beautiful. Just a way for everyone to feel cozy and cast a warm light onto the stage.

Before the concert, I took a hit of LSD and felt like I was teetering on the precipice between a field of daisies and a field of disaster. Back home after the concert, my brother had to keep dropping the needle on “Turn On Your Love Light,” on the Live/Dead album, over and over and over again because if that song wasn’t playing, I thought I would freak out and have a bad trip. The music kept me in a blissful, unearthly state. Since the album version was only 15 minutes, Brother Bruce had to get up four times an hour. When the Dead play it live, it’s usually over a half hour. 

When Jerry Garcia died of an overdose, it helped save my life. On August 9, 1995, the sixties finally ended, again. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was out on the back deck of Café Nuvo, the local coffee shop/hangout in San Anselmo. Five days before that, an AA group had presented me with a One Year medallion celebrating being clean and sober for 365 continuous days. We love to acknowledge people’s sober time in meetings. But that made me start to think that maybe this last year, this “sober thing” was just a fad, or a passing fancy for me, and enough was enough and it was time to start getting high again. After all, I had proven I wasn’t a drug addict because I just went a whole YEAR without using. And now, 2 miles from where I stood, JERRY GARCIA was really DEAD from a drug overdose. What the hell was I thinking? Of course I had made the right decision and saw Jerry showing me the light, in which I have lived every day since. I knew I did the right thing. Hopefully lots of his fans stopped doing drugs after that day. 

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The radio show, the cops, “the field day for the heat,” the Panama Red, the music, the energy of the late sixties and early seventies. Some of us thought a peaceful world was possible. Woodstock proved it; it was certainly The Time of Your Life. Yes, I love William Saroyan. But sure enough, Altamont and the Hell’s Angels came along to remind us that violence has always been and always will be with us.

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Author

Leonard Buschel is a Philadelphia native, and a very happy Studio City resident. He is a California Certified Substance Abuse Counselor with years of experience working with people struggling with addiction. He attended Naropa University in Boulder, CO. Mr. Buschel is the founder of Writers In Treatment whose primary purpose is to promote ‘treatment’ as the best first step solution for addiction, alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors. Leonard is the director of the twelve year old REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium®, and for seven years has been the editor/publisher of the weekly Addiction/Recovery eBulletin®. He also produces the annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards® in Los Angeles.

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