Compared to some, I’ve lived an exciting life. At least parts of it were. However, compared to others, my life has been humdrum. The only thing I’m satisfied about is that all the drama took place when I was young and able to handle it. That would not be the reality today for I have grown old.
It’s confession time. I’m not looking for absolution. My only intent is to show some of you out there that there is hope. Nothing is forever. Perhaps my story might help you get to the next stage of your life. Maybe not, but I had help getting there, and I’ll tell you about it in a minute. First, a little background. And please, feel free to judge me. You cannot condemn me any more than I have already condemned myself.
When I was kid, I always had a wanderlust. I would see a freight train sitting on a siding, waiting to go on its way, and I would try to imagine its ultimate destination. Those open boxcars called to me. If I could only get into one of those cars, then I would be transported into a new life. Finally, I would see where the rails ended—that magical place. Then, and only then, would I know the secrets of the road. The secrets of the universe.
But, at the age of twelve or thereabouts, I wasn’t going anywhere. It would be a few more years before I broke with the bounds of conformitality (a word I just made up).
I was seventeen years old. It was summertime. I was between my junior year in high school and my senior year, and I was restless. On the spur of the moment, I decided I was going to hitchhike to California—a three-thousand-mile journey. At the time, I was living in Miami, Florida.
I went to my mother and told her of my plans. She was horrified. So I set out to con her. I told her no one was going to pick me up, and I would be back in a few hours. Just the trying would get it out of my system. I don’t know if she fully bought it, but after I packed a few things in an old-fashioned suitcase, she drove me to the beginning of the Florida Turnpike. My last words to her were, “I’ll see you in time for dinner.” It would be a while before I saw her again. But see her again, I would.
I was given a ride within the first few minutes. I had no map and no idea how to get to California. I took whatever rides were offered, and like a leaf in a strong wind, I went where the currents took me. These particular currents landed me in Peoria, Illinois.
It was a dismal town. Or maybe it was me. I hit it right after the sun went down. As I walked the empty streets, seeing the blue lights radiating from the family television sets through the front windows, I imagined those families sitting around the TV—with full bellies—watching Walter Cronkite. I was mighty hungry. Then it started to drizzle.
Wet, tired, hungry, and alone, I stuck out my thumb.
The next guy to pick me up dropped me off on the fabled Route 66 and I rode it all the way into 2017. It seems that I’ve been on Route 66 for the last fifty years of my life.
First I’ll tell you a few of the highlights of my journey. Then we’ll talk about my addiction.
When you’re hitching, you meet all sorts of people. Some of them are good, some of them are evil. But most of ’em just want someone to talk to as the miles roll on. I became a good talker, but I became a better listener as those miles rolled on. And believe me, there were a lot of miles—more than 100,000.
As I write this, I’m listening to Mose Allison, if that means anything to anyone.
I killed my first man in the swamps of Florida. I was seventeen and it was in self-defense. You can read about it here. The next time I had to kill a fellow human being was two years later in San Francisco. Here is how that went down.
I went there to see my good friend Michael. He and his girl were living in the Haight-Asbury district with this guy named Bobby. It was my first night in town and we were sitting in Bobby’s pad smoking a joint when Michael told me he was going to be a father. I looked over at his girl, Linda. She was radiant, and she was also blushing. I was just about to say something appropriate when the door crashed open, and two guys burst through the entrance. It turned out that Bobby was supposed to buy a pound of pot from these assholes.
Only one of them held a gun, but that was enough for us. When told to lie down on the floor, we did so without protest. They then said to Bobby, “Where’s the cash?”
He answered, “In my pocket.” The guy covering us with the gun told the other guy to get the money. Bobby, trying to be helpful, reached into his jeans and pulled out a wad of cash. As soon as the money was in the asshole’s hand, the other one with the gun walked over to Bobby, placed the gun to the back of his head, and killed him. Upon hearing the shot, Michael and I looked at each other and we knew we were to be next.
Before I could think of anything to do, Michael bounded to his feet and rushed the guy with the gun. When I saw Michael go into action, it released me from my paralysis, but not soon enough to help him. He took a bullet to the chest. As Michael was falling to the floor, I picked up a lamp from a table and smashed it over the gunman’s head while his partner stood frozen in place.
The man with the gun went down hard and the gun fell from his hand. All this went down fast, in a blur. I did not have time to think. I picked up the gun while the other guy still stood frozen. I aimed it at him and shot him dead with two shots. Then I turned to the one on the floor; he was moving and about to get up when I put a bullet into his head.
May God have mercy on my soul.
With Michael and Bobby dead and the other two not in much better condition, I grabbed an hysterical Linda and told her we had to get out of there. The cops would see the whole thing as a drug deal gone bad. If we got involved with the cops, she would be having her baby in prison.
I took Michael’s wallet holding his ID. He had never been arrested, so they couldn’t get any info from his fingerprints. It wasn’t Michael we were leaving behind, just his body. I wiped down the gun and then vomited all over Bobby’s blue shag carpet.
Linda’s folks lived in New Jersey, so I hitchhiked with her to the east coast. She was in a state of shock the whole way. After getting her to her parents, I stayed in the northeast for the next seven months. I kept moving, but would drop in to see her every few weeks. Seven months later, when the baby was born, I was there. I was there for my friend Michael. It was a boy and I was asked to be his godfather.
There were other adventures I had while I was on the road. But those I do not want to talk about at the moment. However, there is one thing that still makes me smile even after all these years. I was once kidnapped.
Yes, at twenty years of age, I was kidnapped. I was somewhere outside of Macon, Georgia, on Highway 301, heading south to visit my mother. It was about ten in the morning, and I was on the side of the road with my thumb extended—the usual—when this old station wagon pulled up. There was a lone woman of about thirty years of age behind the wheel and, through the open passenger side window, she told me to jump in. Normally that would not be a problem. But she had everything she owned stuffed in that car. However, I managed to squeeze in.
As we rode south, we talked and talked and talked. We talked of this and we talked of that. We covered baseball. We covered politics. We covered metaphysical shit. We covered everything under the sun. But there was still one thing left to discuss—what species would inherit and rule the earth once man had destroyed himself. That was easy. According to her, it would be dogs. “Okay,” said I. “Sounds good to me.”
By then we were somewhere in Florida and the sun was sinking fast in the west. She wanted to get a motel room for the night and I wanted to keep hitching. I was anxious to get home to Momma. She asked me to stay with her until she secured a room, then she would drive me back to the highway. Sure, why not?
She got off the highway and drove down a desolate country road that then turned into a gravel road. I don’t know how she found it or why it was there, but after about five miles, before us stood a broken down, third-rate motel.
I stayed in the car while she checked in. Then we went to her room. It wasn’t bad. Bigger than I expected and nice and airy. Plenty of windows. No air conditioner, but plenty of windows.
I stood by the door while she got her stuff situated. She then sat on the bed and asked me, “What do you want to do now?”
“I thought you might give me a ride back to the highway.”
“I don’t think so. I’m tired of being lonely. I want you to stay with me tonight.”
I was twenty and had virtually no experience with women. If I had had any experiences with women, I would have dropped my pants right then and there and enjoyed a wonderful evening. Earlier she had even offered to buy dinner. And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, she was no Dorothy Lamour, but she was good-looking (and a little crazy).
Of course, I had to get up on my high horse and remind her that she had promised to get me back to the highway.
“If you want to go, you can go, but I’m not driving ya,” she said with her jaw jutted in a northerly direction and her eyes starting to get moist.
Being the idiot that I was at the time, I grabbed my bag and walked the five miles back to the highway. A decision I have regretted ever since.
Okay, enough with my hitching adventures. I came off the road at the tender age of twenty-two. Actually, four months before my twenty-second birthday.
My uncle took me into his business and let me run with it. Not bragging, but I doubled it within three years. I had opened three branch offices around the state by 1975. Then I got bored. So I opened my own business. I manufactured rolling papers. I had read where the two leading brands were raking in almost $20,000,000.00 a year between them, and I thought I’d like a little of that action.
I did my research and found out Spain was the place to go if you wanted someone to make your papers for you. I went there, signed a contract, and came home. Then I got a designer to work up the packaging and it was off to the races.
I only tell you this because without the rolling paper business, I might not have become a junkie. I say, might not, but truth be told, it was in the cards I was dealt.
It was a few days before Christmas. I don’t know what year, but I was about twenty-seven and I was at one of my accounts, a “head shop.” You know, where “drug” paraphernalia was sold. I walked into the shop thinking I’d just shoot the shit with the owner, let him know I was thinkin’ of him, and if he had a little dope (cocaine or pot) and offered me some, so much the better.
Well, I hadn’t been through the door for more than a second before I fell in love. There she was, looking into a display case of hash pipes. Red hair, petite, a figure a woman half her age would kill for. She was fortyish, but to me she was the sexiest woman I had ever seen.
I walked right up to her, gave her my killer smile that never failed and said, “Howdy, may I help you?” I figured if she thought I worked there, she’d be more likely to talk to me.
She told me she was looking for a hash pipe for her son, for a Christmas present. Well, to make a long, embarrassing story short, I came on to her with everything I had. But this woman wouldn’t give me the time of day. I tried everything, and she just blew me off. The best I got that day was her name and where she worked.
I remember walking out of that shop, getting into my car, and just sitting there waiting for her to come out. She came out alright and gave me a half smile, then turned her back on me. FUCK! “I’m gonna get the broad if it’s the last fuckin’ thing I ever do,” were my thoughts as I started the engine.
Anyway, I knew where she worked.
Okay, I’ll tell you what I didn’t know at the time. Her name was Terry; she had just gotten out of prison after having done five years of an eleven-year rap. She had been a member of the infamous “Murph the Surf” gang, named after Jack Murphy, the leader. Jack got all the press. They even made a movie about him. But there were two leaders of that gang. The other was Bobby Greenwood, Terry’s old man. You older folks might remember the “Star of India” heist from the New York Museum of Natural History. It was one of the biggest jewel thefts in history. Well, my little love was in on that. The gang all got light sentences because everyone loves a jewel thief. But when they got out and reassembled, they went crazy. No need to go into the details here, but it involved murder, and all the men are still in prison. The women received lighter sentences, as women did in those days. Which was only fair; they had nothing to do with the killings. They just spent the money from those endeavors on furniture.
So anyway, after a lot of effort, I won Terry’s love. That’s when I fell in with the “boys.” They were second-tier members of the gang. At the time all the shit went down, they were young, but when I met them, they were her age and just getting out of prison.
Back then, almost everyone was smuggling marijuana into South Florida, even the “good old boys” on the west coast: shrimpers, fishermen, and the like. They referred to the bales of pot as “square grouper.” That is where Sonny, an old friend of Terry’s, was based out of. He had done eight years of a twenty-year sentence. So, Sonny and the other guys fell right into the smuggling thing. And they were making money hand over fist with nowhere to put it. That’s where I came in. They thought my business was just the place to invest some of their ill-gotten gains.
Now I’ve got these wise guys as partners. And I have to admit; as far as partners went, they weren’t too bad. Every Saturday, another briefcase of cash was flung onto my desk. It got so I told them, “Enough already.” I remember one Saturday I was on my boat because I was trying to avoid that week’s stipend. Well, ol’ Butch tracks me down and says, “What’s wrong with me? Why won’t you take my money?”
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I said, “Okay, Butch. Just this one time.”
And with that, he tosses me a brown paper bag and says, “Here’s fifty large ($50,000.00). Thanks for taking it.”
“Don’t worry about it; maybe someday you can do me a favor.”
They never asked for stock, or for anything to prove they had invested their money with me. They never even asked what percentage of the company they were getting for their investment. Actually, they bought the damn thing three times over.
Anyway, back to my story. They were bringing pot in every week. They had a squadron of boats that would go out and pick the stuff up from the “beaner” boats. A beaner boat was what brought the stuff up from Columbia. It was a square-hulled thing with a wheelhouse big enough for only one man.
The thing is, more pot was coming up from Columbia than could be brought in. Anything not off-loaded to a boat for the run into Miami was tossed overboard. Millions of dollars’ worth of pot was thrown into the Atlantic. The beaners only brought the pot one way. There were no round-trip tickets for the bales of marijuana.
One day Sonny comes up to me and says, “I just found out you know how to sail. Want to make a run for me and pick up a load? I’ll give you $50,000.00, and you can be the foreman of the off-loading crew for another twenty-five large. You won’t have to do any work, just watch the boys and keep ’em working.”
I sure as hell didn’t need the money, but I was a junkie for adventure, so I said, “Sure, why not?”
I had some adventures doing that. Outran the Coast Guard one time. Got arrested five minutes after I handed over a load. Two associates were murdered by modern-day pirates. And I made a ton of money. All cash. You know, the usual.
Don’t worry. My karma was just around the corner, waiting for me.
After I got arrested and beat the rap, I retired from my smuggling career. By then, Terry and I had gone our separate ways. But I was still friends with all her friends. Rose in particular. Rose was Terry’s best friend. They had known each other forever. Rose was an ex-Playboy Bunny. Rose turned me into a junkie.
I was just twenty-nine years old. I had $630,000.00 in brown paper bags ensconced in my bedroom closet and I was getting laid at least fifteen times a day from fifteen different women. Okay, that was a bit of a stretch. But not by much. Remember, I was twenty-nine and I was rich. I also had a good front—fancy cars, fancy digs, and a killer smile.
So after Terry was out of the picture, Rose and I got tight. Nothing sexual. We just dug each other. That one time we had a three-way with one of my girlfriends doesn’t count.
I would go over to her pad to hang out to get away from my life. In those days, there was a party taking place on my boat twenty-four hours a day. When I needed a little peace and quiet, I’d crawl into Rose’s bed, and together we’d watch game shows on her TV. I really liked Rose. I still do, even though she turned me into a junkie.
This is how it went down.
One night I went over there to see if she wanted to hit a few clubs with me. Maybe she could get lucky, maybe I could get lucky, but at the very least we would have a blast.
She told me she had something different in mind.
I woke up thirty years later and I still wonder what the hell happened. Here’s the deal. She brought out the shit: the baggie, the spoon, the lighter, the tie-off, the syringe. She cooked the shit up and offered me the needle. “What! Are you crazy?” I said.
“This is great!” she responded. “There isn’t a person in the world who would share their shit, but I like you.” Long story short: After ten minutes of her chasing me around the apartment with the goddamn syringe in her hand, I held out my arm and let her inject me in the vein. It was love at first sight. Or whatever.
That’s it, gentle folks. I became a junkie. I loved it. For the next thirty years, I did not miss one day getting high. Except that time I shot up some bad shit and lay comatose in my boat for three days. When I came out of it, I saw that I had soiled the sheets (if you know what I mean) and vomited all over myself. The first thing I did was go out and cop some more, but from a different source——hoping it would not kill me.
Twelve years later, I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to get high anymore. That surprised the shit outta me. I figured I’d be a junkie forever. I knew that after thirty years I couldn’t just go cold turkey. I needed a plan. But before I go into that, I’d like to tell you about two people who were a big help to me: Jamie Lee Curtis and Herman Goering.
First, Jamie Lee. She wrote about how she beat her addiction and that inspired me. I forget what she said, but I’m clean today, in part, because of whatever she said. Herman was something else. He was a big junkie, and when they caught up with him after the war, he had a suitcase filled with his shit. He was doing about ten times my daily dosage. (I read a lot of history.) When the Allies discovered he was a junkie, they put him on a ten-day detox regimen. My first thought (as a junkie) was, “What the fuck!” But then I thought if that asshole could do it and live, then so could I. However, I’m a sissy. I gave myself seven months. Every day, I took less and less. I figured when I got down to next to nothing, I’d just walk away clean. I thought I was so smart.
I did my seven months and then stopped. At first, I felt fine. But I didn’t know that opiates stayed in your body for seventy-two hours. On hour seventy-three, I dropped to the floor and into the fetal position. I stayed that way for six months. My mind was clean, but my body went through a hell that I cannot describe. I mean, I really cannot describe it. Even with all my acquired writing skills.
In closing, know this: I destroyed my body in ways that I might be able to describe, but I won’t. I’ll never be right again. But hey, I did it to myself. I got no bitch.
This is my take-away from all that shit. When it’s your time to get clean, you’ll get clean. All the interventions in the world won’t do it. All the rehabs in the world won’t do it. Only you can do it.
I got clean at sixty years of age, and while I was in that fetal position and in indescribable torment, I wrote my first book. I am now working on my fifth. I’m no Stephen King, but I’m making money from my writing and my books are well received.
There is always hope. But better than that … there is always you.