Updated: Dec 5, 2022
I’m Waiting For The Man— No, I Mean I AM The Man… I Was
1969— sitting in my van on the Pakistan-India border in the sweltering heat, waiting hours for someone to figure out the carnet de passages en douane I got at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran a few of months earlier for the brand new shiny VW was legit— and one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced happened. I had been trying, with varying degrees of success, to stop using drugs. I had already stoped using acid and hard stuff. It was just marijuana and hash that were still giving me a tough time. I mean, I would stop for a month and it was a full moon and I would celebrate the only way I knew how to celebrate-- getting stoned. It was becoming a real drag on my life. So I was sitting in the van, waiting and waiting and not knowing what was going to happen and suddenly this huge "celestial" arm and hand reached into my… I don’t know, my heart, my soul, somethin’— and ripped out of me the desire for drugs. That was it; the tedious struggle was finally over. It was no longer a matter of depending on will power. It’s almost 55 years and I never desired drug use again. I mean if you see some dog poop on the street, do you desire to eat it? That was my degree of my desire for pot a minute later on the Indian border that day… and forever after.
It was good to get that desire out of my life. I still had plenty of others to contend with.
Years earlier, when I got to college in September, 1965 I went to freshman orientation with a guy I had met that summer, Barry, working on the campaign of Bill Ryan, the Upper West Side congressman who was the first member of the House to come out against the War Against Vietnam and was now running for mayor of New York. The freshman class of 1969 was addressed by my future nemesis, university president John Toll and by my future close friend and mentor, student body president Sandy Pearlman. Sandy had long hair. I had never seen an authority figure with long hair before. Barry said, “I bet we can get pot from him. Go ask him.” Barry had never smoked pot before but was dying to. I had and was eager to get some again. Sandy, it turned out— despite the long hair— had never tried it either. But he did talk me into running for freshman class president. Unlike Bill Ryan, I won.
Anyway, back to pot. There was one guy who had cornered the campus market. He sold one ounce bags for $35. Since there are 16 ounces in a pound and a pound, I soon found out, was selling in the City for $110, he was making a little over $2,000 a pound profit, which seemed like way too high. I suggested to the other freshmen that we all chip in $10 each and split the pound evenly and take turns going into the City, buying the pot and bringing it back. Everybody loved the idea. I went first. Nobody ever went second. They were all either too busy or too scared-- mostly the latter.
I decided to sell ounces for $12.50, almost $100 profit. I drove the competition out of business, first on campus and then countywide. Pot went for $35 an ounce to $12.50 an ounce and I learned how profitable wholesale can be. I was the top marijuana dealer in Suffolk County. The cops never tired of trying to bust me, but they were clowns and never were able to. I put myself through college (in style), stayed high all the time, and stayed in business even when I was traveling, sending kif back from Morocco and hash back from Afghanistan and Nepal.
Mostly I sent the drugs back to my mother and she would take some to smoke and call my best customers to sell the rest to them, take a small cut and send me the rest. When one of those packages came through, it meant another 3-4 months of survival for me. But I didn’t always send the packages to my mother. She didn’t like me sending them to her; real nervous nelly. I also sent them to some especially close friends who I knew I could absolutely, 100% trust in every way.
One was my pal Michael. He was a couple years behind me in college and when I was galavanting around Europe he was living with Ellen, another close friend of mine, off campus. I came up with a brilliant idea that would protect them if a package I sent was discovered and they got busted. Michael wrote about it in real time, calling the story “Max Out.” That's a shortened version of Michael's story below the photo of us a couple years later in a farm we rented with some Dutch friends in northern Finland.
I believe that there are two kinds of luck— unexpected good fortune and misfortune averted.
Right now, I’m hoping to avert disaster.
My small house is bustling with frustrated detectives and uniformed officers of the Suffolk County Police Department. The lead detective is dangling a pair of beautifully woven Afghan slipper-boots inches from my face.
In spite of the commotion, I’m captivated by the intricate craftsmanship and the small mirrors that have been meticulously stitched into the design. The detective reaches into one of the boots, and like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, withdraws a plastic bag containing four black objects, each the approximate size and shape of quarter-pound butter bars.
“You know what this is, right?”
“I’m warning you. Don’t insult my intelligence. It’s hashish. A pound at least. I’ve got your signature on the delivery receipt. I can arrest you and your girlfriend right now for possession with intent to distribute.”
“I told you. The package wasn’t for us. We ran into a guy on campus who knows a friend of ours. He needed a place to stay, so we let him crash here for a few days. After he left, we got a letter addressed to him. Then the package came for him today. The letter was still sitting in the hall. We never opened it, and we didn’t touch the package. I swear, I had no idea what was in either one until you opened them.”
I knew he thought the story was bullshit. He left me sitting on the couch and walked out to his cruiser, presumably to call headquarters again. Since opening the letter, the mood among the cops had deteriorated. They’d been combing my house for over an hour, and hadn’t turned up anything incriminating except for their big prize-- a pound of black Afghani hash-- which had been thrown into doubt by the letter. Now they were grasping at straws.
With every minute that went by, I became more hopeful that we’d actually get out of this.
Lizzie had wanted to open the package as soon as it arrived. The prospect of what it might contain was irresistible. I wanted to stick with our plan and leave the package unopened for a day or two. We knew Howie had sent it. His name and passport number were on the brown wrapping paper. It was postmarked India, and other friends had received similar packages filled with hash from Nepal and Afghanistan.
Lizzie was anxious, so I suggested taking a drive without the package. I reasoned that if the police had intercepted it, they’d be watching us and wouldn’t give us an opportunity to move it.
I went alone, and was a block from the house when I picked up a tail. I drove to the local gas station and tried to look nonchalant as I unscrewed my gas cap. An unmarked sedan pulled alongside, and a detective got out. He flashed his badge and pushed me up against my car. He cuffed me, maneuvered me into the cruiser’s back seat and drove back to the house. My Opel Kadett was left standing in front of the pump with the door open and the gas cap balancing on the rear fender. I could see the attendant gaping at us as we drove away.
If I hadn’t been so scared, I would have laughed at the series of expressions that played across Lizzie’s face as I walked through the door. She greeted me with a big smile, figuring we were in the clear. Then she saw the unfamiliar man trailing behind me, and her expression changed to concern. Three more vehicles converged outside our front gate, discharging a small army of detectives and uniformed police. Concern gave way to shock, and her face finally mirrored what I was already feeling in my gut.
That had been an hour and a half ago. Now things were going sideways for the police.
The lead detective came back into the house. He didn’t look happy. He made a last ditch attempt to crack our story.
“You know what’s in that letter?” Of course I did. We’d already been through this.
“I told you. It wasn’t addressed to me. This guy Max…”
“Yeah, yeah. Max Hammer. Let me read some of it. ‘Hey Max, Funny you ran into Michael and his skank girlfriend. They’re totally straight and uptight about drugs, so don’t tell them about the hash. They’ll freak out if they find out you’re using their address.’ Your friend purposely put you at risk, and he doesn’t think much of your girlfriend.”
He was trying to get under my skin and turn me against Howie. I couldn’t understand how that would’ve helped him. Howie was on the opposite side of the planet, traipsing around Asia. The bust was coming apart, and I guess the detective was trying to salvage anything he could. What he didn’t know was that Howie is one of our closest friends. He’d written the note to protect Lizzie and me. There was no Max Hammer. I think the detective suspected as much, but what could he do?
We’d been lucky.
Lizzie had gone out that morning to run errands. Her car broke down, and she called me to pick her up. The mailman tried to deliver the package while we were out. He left a note saying he’d come back. Lizzie and I got home, read the note, and immediately thought it was odd. Mailmen don’t leave notes, and they never come back the same day.
We were expecting Howie’s package, and I’m paranoid by nature, so we immediately went to work sanitizing the house. We swept, vacuumed and buried our stash in the back yard. If the package was the one we were expecting, and if things went badly, at least we’d have a chance of convincing the cops that we were the innocent bystanders we claimed to be.
The plan had been for Howie to address a letter to a fictitious house guest, absolving Lizzie and me of any involvement. We left it unopened to support our story and to provide us with a credible out. I never actually expected customs to intercept the package. Max Hammer was a not-so-subtle reference to the Beatle’s Maxwell's Silver Hammer. It was all a big joke… until it wasn’t. The plan had been stupid and simple, but thankfully seemed to be working.
Two uniformed cops came back to the living room and reported finding nothing. The house was tiny, and they’d spent over an hour picking it to pieces. If we were druggies, they would’ve found something— papers, pipes, seeds, or more dope. The fact that the house was clean was probably the most confusing thing about the whole situation. Suddenly, they weren’t so sure about us.
“How’d you like to help us out on campus? Let us know who’s dealing. Keep an eye out.”
That’s when I knew we’d be OK. I almost cried.
“I really can’t see myself doing that. I don’t hang out with those kinds of people.”
“Suit yourself, but we’ve got your signature on the delivery receipt. I can come back any time and bust you. Just pray you never see me again.”
The gas station attendant looked even more shocked when the detective dropped me back at the pump, and I drove away in the Opel as if nothing had happened.
I walked through the front door, alone this time, and hugged Lizzie. The house was a mess and smelled of too many men in too small a space. I finally broke down and began to shake uncontrollably.
Misfortune had been averted.
Some of our friends had also been lucky, but without the drama. Howie sent several packages postmarked India and Afghanistan. Some even arrived unsealed and reeking of their contents. But none had been intercepted, and nobody else had been hassled by the police.
It was the end of senior year, and our lease was up. After what we’d just been through, all I wanted was to finish packing and move out. A few days later, I was doing a final walk-through when my landlord showed up. I could see that he’d been drinking. He was slurring his words and squinting at me as if sizing me up… like a cop.
“I heard you had some trouble with the police.”
“It was a mistake, a mix-up with a guy I met on campus.”
“Bullshit. I know exactly what happened.” He pulled a badge from his pocket, and I nearly fainted.
“I’m a customs agent at JFK. I see this shit all the time, and I know what you did.”
My legs turned to rubber, and my mouth went dry. I had no idea what my landlord did for a living, and suddenly he was challenging my story in the same room where I’d been questioned by the detectives. I couldn’t go through it again. My heart pounded, and I wanted to run.
He just stared and said, “You can kiss your fucking deposit goodbye.” Then he left.
I slumped on the couch until my heart settled down.
I’d planned to retrieve our stash, but all things considered, I decided to let it stay buried in the back yard. I closed the door behind me and never looked back.
I wasn’t going to press my luck.
Michael remembers the letter being his idea; I remember it being my idea. "Lizzie" was a nickname for Ellen, who was his girlfriend at the time and there’s never been anything skanky about her. He got together with Helen soon after this happened and they eventually got married, had two sons and are still together.