It is with great pleasure, and of course with the permission of the Author, we bring you excerpts from High An x-rated Marijuana Memoir 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.
Copyright @2021 by Leonard Buschel
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced, stored or entered into a retrieval system, transmitted, photocopied, recorded or otherwise reproduced in any form by any mechanical or electronic means, without written permission from the author, except for brief quotations used in articles and reviews.
First edition, Logan House Publications 2021
Dedicated to Robert Downey Sr. (A prince)
HOW NOT TO DIE
if I feel I’m gonna die
I excuse myself
telling them “I gotta go!”
“Go where?” they wanna know
I don’t answer
I just get outa there
away from them
they sense something wrong
and never know what to do
it scares them such suddenness
to just sit there
and they asking:
“Are you okay?”
“Can we get you something?”
“Want to lie down?”
Ye gods! people!
who wants to die among people?!
Especially when they can’t do shit
To the movies—to the movies
that’s where I hurry to
when I feel I’m going to die
So far it’s worked
— Gregory Corso, Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit
I have many people to include on the acknowledgment page. Most are living, some are deceased, and a few are fictional.
My son Ben comes to mind first because when he was 14, I told him about one of my smuggling trips to Israel, and a week later he asked me to tell it to him again. Like a bedtime story.
So, I wrote it down.
Cut to: Years later in class at Los Angeles Community College in the substance abuse counselling class, we had to write an essay about the bad choices we had made in the past, and did we really have a choice. A couple years ago I found those old assignments and decided to fill in the blanks. I hope you like the book.
Thank you, brother Bruce for always being my big brother, and bringing writing into my life. My mother, Rose Lily Buschel, for always seeing the glass half full, and allowing me to get lost, and found. Thank you, Cheech and Chong, for making me think there was nothing wrong with smoking ridiculous amounts of pot every day for 26 years. Thank you, Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and Mrs. Betty Ford, for showing me the light at the end of the joint. Ahbra Kaye for typing up my horrible handwriting. All of my AA sponsors: Philip A., Tony D., Robert T. Also Bettina Buschel for continuing support and family values. Burl Barer, a legend in his own minds, for encouraging me to keep writing. Prof. Karl Abrams for answering all my science questions for 40 years (without Google). Ron Tannebaum and Ken Pomerance for publishing excerpts on Intherooms.com
William Saroyan for making writing look easy.
Martin Amis for making writing look impossible.
Tom Robbins for making writing look fun.
My very own Leprecon, Gerry ‘Wildurbangarden’ Thompson, for never taking himself or me too seriously. Jewelle Sturm for reminding me drugs can kill. I miss you.
Papillon for making life look like a death-defying adventure. Nicholai Hel for his Zen-ness. Seymour Glass, Buddy Glass, Franny and Zooey Glass, and Les, Bessie and Walt . . . for giving me the family I will always have. Billy Phelan for almost bowling a perfect game. Matthew Scudder for taking me to AA meetings in New York. Captain Nemo for hoisting the sails of my imagination.
Acknowledgements to the canines: Spook, Lala, Goliath, and Lolita.
And Laura Nyro for making me cry every time I listen to “I Am the Blues.”
I Am the Blues
I’m all alone with my smoke and ashes
I’m all alone with my smoke and ashes
Take me night-flying
Maybe Mars has good news
Who? . . . who am I?
I am the blues
And special thanks to my editor who never judged or abandoned me, Karen Chernyaev.
If this were a movie, it wouldn’t be a Woody Allen film; there are no nerds or molesters. Not a Sam Peckinpah film; not enough violence except for a few choking scenes. Not a Scorsese film; not enough sleaze bags, but a lot of drug dealers, gamblers, and loose women. And criminal behavior on every page, because whenever you spend untaxed income, it’s an illicit purchase.
François Truffaut. That’s who I feel should have been directing my life—lots of lovemaking and characters as cool as iced espresso and hot and smoldering like a Gauloises.
However, none of them French. Actually one, but she was French Canadian, and that affair went nowhere. I don’t think Parisian street walkers count. On second thought, let’s face it, it’d be more Barry Levinson. There’s way more Diner in me than Straw Dogs.
I think of things in terms of movies a lot. They seem to be markers for events in my life. Films are my newest drug of choice. That’s why in 2008, I started the REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium with Robert Downey Sr.
At the REEL Recovery Film Festival & Symposium, we showcase filmmakers who make honest films about addiction, alcoholism, behavioral disorders, treatment, and recovery. We started in Los Angeles and expanded to seven other cities over time, including Ft. Lauderdale, New York, and Denver. We are still adding other locations. During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, we went online with our own REEL Recovery Film Channel, available nationwide to anyone in any state.
I like a good movie, and I worship a good foreign film, like the 2019 masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I was transported back to the 1700s in this somber French tale.
My friend Steve Seid was a curator at the Berkeley Art Museum’s Pacific Film Archive for 25 years. He revered film as an art as much as I do. In 2021, in response to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art closing its Film Program, he wrote the following on Facebook:
“I propose that Cinema, the seventh art, be promoted—promoted to the first art because it contains aspects of each of the “lesser” arts. Cinema encapsulates aspects of its lesser brethren and though Cinema was formulated after the assumed perfection of Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Literature, Music, and the Performing Arts (theater, dance, symphony, opera), the medium in its many forms arrives at a cumulative impression that is greater. Cinema can mesmerize as it transits upon a whited screen or delight and absorb as it engulfs its environs with dazzling abstraction. Cinema can be encountered as a language-based experience or absorbed as non-verbal recitation. Cinema can dance upon the architectural space or illuminate a multitude of dancers. Cinema can tell vast stories or reduce experience to a pigmented utterance. Cinema can depict the world with photographic insistence or astound with graphical departures. Cinema can occupy complex interior spaces or reflect back your colorful claustrophobia. Cinema can dazzle the impatient ear with mellifluous sonorities or flow frantically forward with an airy musicality. Cinema can be painterly, sculptural, literary, theatrical, architectural, musical, simultaneously.”
Movies are about telling stories, and they’ve done so beautifully for well over a century.
Showcasing films about addiction and recovery is deeply personal to me because, as of the writing of this book, I have lived the last 27 years sober . . . without a drink or a drug (except for some Dilaudid after open-heart surgery and Percodan after brain surgery).
For 25 years, I dealt drugs, got high every day, and lived under the daily specter of arrest, incarceration, and violence. I travelled the world, met brilliant charismatic men and women, ate in fine restaurants and had orchestra seats for plays by Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard and every Sondheim musical on Broadway. I avoided the cops when it counted, welcomed poets and musicians into my life regularly.
Since December 12, 1950, I have been floating down the stream of life in a rowboat that could have sprung a bad leak at any moment. Too often, I was gasping for breath (fucking asthma). Breaking the law. Worshipping nature, art, literature, and females. Getting high as a kite. Being funny, because if you can’t play an instrument, you better make people laugh. And always looking for love, sex or the Benjamins. I spent my whole life climbing to the top of the mountain, and when I got there, I realized, oh fuck! Wrong mountain.
Welcome to the world of a five-foot, eleven-inch Jewish Sagittarian dilettante’s drug-addicted life. No one would ever guess this edge-of-the-cliff dance ends with a most miraculous miracle and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I don’t know if my story can help anyone. I hope so. Maybe there is someone reading this who only smokes pot every day because it seemed like a good idea 40 years ago. No, it’s because you’re addicted. The highest you can be is when there is nothing between you and reality. Reality, the ultimate natural high, is more exciting than any drug-induced roller-coaster ride.
Marijuana is often called the lazy man’s way to enlightenment. It can also be called a lazy man’s way to creativity. And it is, until it’s not. If you think there can be heaven on earth with a joint in your mouth, then it must be very good weed. No, that’s bullshit. Drugs wear off. Reality never does. My son often reminds me of what Timothy Leary said: “The goal is not to get high, but to be high.”
The idea of writing a memoir never occurred to me until I was taking classes at Los Angeles Community College to get my certification as a substance abuse counselor. The classes were pretty much made up of recovering drug addicts, rappers, and ex-cons. I felt right at home.
The teacher wore sweaters every day probably bought on sale from Banana Republic. The class worked from a paperback textbook called Did I Really Have a Choice? Every week I had to write an essay about my formative years and the “choices” I made along the way.
Discussing “free will” with a 10-year-old is a moot point. I was programmed to be me by my environment, mother, brother, and the cataclysmic death of my father. The actual dying was not cataclysmic (quiet heart attack in his sleep while being driven home from the night shift at the post office) but the effect on my breast feeder and my sibling were life changing, shattering, and a fucking bummer.
When I was young, around 17, after just having been introduced to the works of Henry Miller, I read several volumes of The Diary of Anaïs Nin (Miller and Nin were very close) and was blown away thinking I’ll never lead such an interesting life, such an introspective life, or be able to write like her. Yet here I am . . .
My brother has always been the writer in the family. Brother Bruce wrote lots of great magazine articles for GQ, Forbes, Medium, a column for the New York Times, his own memoir for Simon and Schuster in 2007, Walking Broad: Look for the Heart of Brotherly Love, and in 1973, he co-wrote the pre –All the President’s Men exposé on the Nixon Watergate break-in, The Watergate File: A Concise, Illustrated Guide to the People and Events.
I think there a few well-known Jewish writers hanging around on our family tree—the editor for the Forward, a legendary newspaper founded in 1897, and the author of Famous Jews in Sports (a very slim tome). Famous Jewish Chess Players was more substantial. If any readers are about to throw this book into the fireplace because I seem to be bragging about the innate and superior intelligence of Hebraic peoples, stop. Achtung, halt, STOP. I promise you there are some pretty idiotic tales to come.