HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict
Mon, 31 Jan 2022 04:34:47 +0000
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Chapter 5: Do everything you can and don’t get caught
A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do. —Bob Dylan
I can’t call it a smuggling “career” since I only did it twice—first in February 1969 when I was 19 years old, full of wanderlust (my love of travel is a Sagittarian trait) and dealing small amounts of hashish in Philly. My second smuggling adventure took place late in 1971, after I started working my chosen profession more regularly. The mission in ‘69 was to buy red Lebanese hashish in Israel and bring it back through Kennedy Airport in Queens, NY, down the Jersey Turnpike, and to the streets of Philly. Joe Brodsky, gay and astrologically Capricorn, came with me on the first trip.Israel was a decent source of hash—fourth behind Lebanon, Pakistan, and king of all hashish producing nations, Afghanistan. Oh, and Nepal, which was famous for its powerful Nepalese Temple Balls.Going to Israel for hashish made perfect sense.
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. Actually, we needed to go because neither of us could imagine living another day without taking a hit off a pipe filled with dope. There was no hash in Philly or New York. Every dealer we knew was out of stock. We planned to pay for the trip by selling three-quarters of what we brought back and keeping the rest for ourselves. Joe B. and I really didn’t think of it as smuggling—more like just having to go out of the neighborhood to score.
We boarded an airport bus at Kennedy filled to the brim with Hassidic and other assorted Jews. We were driven up to the El Al 747 that would fly us 13 hours nonstop to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.Joe B. and I had met when we were in a few plays at Olney High, as members of The Footlighters theater group. After having sought the spotlight, we now were aching to play the invisible man, or Harvey the rabbit. To make this trip, we had each taken a semester off from our studies at Philadelphia Community College, where we spent more time focusing on getting high than achieving a higher education. Our return flight was in three weeks, when we would be cruising though the New York airport named after our most recently assassinated and much-loved president. Both of us 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-ribcage, super-slim kind so popular with women who wished 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 shopgirls 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. Fifty years ago, there was much less airport security, even in Israel. The era of skyjackings didn’t start until 1971. We boarded our return flight unmolested and then realized we had both forgotten to buy silver-plated mezuzahs like normal tourists would. A half-day later, we were back in U.S. 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 Long Island—7.5 million people. From his crotch, I could smell the distinctly subtle aroma of red Lebanese hashish rising into the stuffy airplane air. Subtle to humans maybe, but like a runaway slave to a Confederate soldier’s or a customs inspector’s German shepherd. We had talcum powder with us, and through my teeth I said, “You’ve got to go to the bathroom and use more 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 leave a trail all the way to Rikers Island.”
Bringing in drugs from outside the country is serious business. It’s called “smuggling.” I remember waiting in the customs line 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 the entire time.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 Stadium yelling, “Safe!” Joe got through safe and sound also.
Once I was back home, selling the hash was no problem, until I was dealing my last quarter ounce to some guys in a friend’s basement in the Kensington and Allegheny neighborhood of Philadelphia. Instead of reaching into their pockets and pulling out money, they each reached into their belts and pulled out a handgun.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 frightened-to-death, about-to-shit-in-my-pants nervous laughter. Yet I acted calm and nonthreatening. I wanted them to feel happy—happy about their career choice and not trigger happy.
Many thoughts went through my mind. The one I remember most vividly: If I ever get an acting role that requires me to be scared to death, 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 and then slowly walked me to my car. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t going to panic or do something stupid. I also 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, realizing how my life could have come to an end during the loaded drama I had just lived through. At that seminal moment, 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. It never entered my mind to quit selling drugs. Before long, it would become my livelihood, my full-time occupation, my raison d’être. Drug dealing was in my blood. A calling if you will. Capitalism in its purest form, just like the cocaine I would soon buy and sell for 13 years. Excerpted from HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict by Leonard Buschel.
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