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From the Archives: Hash in the U.S.S.R. (1974)

C.I.A. was what sent me to Russia. It was the C.I.A. that took me to Russia. Not that I’d planned it that way. However, after three years of studying Russian culture and language at the University of Miami my longing to see the Slavic Motherland became impractical due to a stupid reason. So I took a job in the school library’s Slavic Collection.

Ironically, this library of Russian rare books and obscene journals was not something that I knew existed. The only people who seemed to know it was there were these very straight and hard-boiled guys, no flies on them, who’d come in on quiet days (while I’d be smoking grass among the stacks and reading CrocodilRussian humor magazine). You can request the most recent issue of say Soviet Navy MonthlyOr a Kremlin Report on Chilean Youth Groups. A few weeks later I’d read in the newspapers about the sudden unrest among Chilean youth. My boss, who was a cheerful Pole, said that most of the visitors had been C.I.A. He also implied that Slavic material in his collection was C.I.A. property. However, I continued to work there until I had enough savings to move to Russia.

My flight to Moscow was quick and my fellow passengers were on their commercial charter tour. We would be going there for three weeks. Leningrad will follow the same route. The entire prospect loomed before me seductive, enigmatic, enticing, but I hated the thought of going six weeks without getting high, and said as much to “Texas Jeannie,” a buxom Southern belle who’d taken the tour a year before.

“Don’t worry,” she drawled. “Them Ruskies got some of the best danged shit east of the Pecos, or west of it, depending how y’all see it.” Although I was slightly puzzled by her avowal of Russian high times, my fears were further allayed by an incident in Poland, where we stopped over to change planes and visit beloved Chopin’s birthplace. “Y’all oughta see what’s growing in the back yard,” said Jeannie. At first I took this to be an invitation of a perversely lubricious nature, but I caught on when we went in back of the great composer’s birthplace and found a patch of marijuana growing up stout and firm. My understanding of detente changed dramatically from that moment on.

My second night in Moscow was spent wandering the streets. I returned to my hotel and found a note left by Jeannie. As I reached her bedroom, five tourists were sitting on the ground, with their heads covered by smoke. At Jeannie’s welcome bidding, I fell to my knees and was handed a pipeful of dark green flakes of kaifThe smell is similar to hashish, but the taste was like grass. It had come from the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia—just like Stalin—and it was just as powerful.

Jeannie sold one of her numerous pairs of blue jeans to an Russian head in exchange for a Russian woman’s head. kaifWe were both smoking. She explained that the hunger of Russian youth for things American, like jeans, rock and jazz albums, psychedelic posters, and what have you, is so great that they’ll barter samovars, balalaikas, perhaps military secrets, and of course kaifThey would go to great lengths to obtain the trappings and culture of the Amerikan youth. I realized that Moby Grape album were the equivalent of cigarettes in Saigon and stockings at a Saigon blackmarket. This realization made me realize the ineffable spiritual value of never discarding anything, no mater how trivial or fleeting it was to American hippies.

My last week in Moscow was spent with new Russian friends who were looking for somewhere to have a good time. Russia has a huge housing crisis, forcing Russians to live in close quarters. It brought back memories of my high school days in Russia, when large portions of our youth were spent looking for places to have sex.

Russians are puzzled that Americans have all their apartments, cars and food. In the Soviet Union these items were collectivized. Old and young must share their living rooms, their likes and dislikes, their cutlery and crockery, their vodka and ideologies, which are “monolithic” only in their mutual antagonism.

When Volodya, my friend, struck up a conversation about a man with thick, black glasses and a horny rim, it was clear that our chances of finding an orgy were slim. The man turned out to have been a Russian bohemian. He invited us into his home in an old, crumbling housing estate. He told us we could use his little two-room “flet”, even his bed, while he socialized with us and shared our wine and kaif.

He was actually a painter, but his place was full of horrible day-glo paintings of dogs poking into space and lampposts firing darts at children. There was also a photo of a man extending his arsecheeks in order to see the infinite cosmos from his hole. One of the genuine Mad Russians that you often hear was our host. The tiny space was packed with twelve of us, all puffing pipe after pipe. kaifThe boy started playing on the bed and took turns. We played some of my rock albums—Hendrix and Pink Floyd—on his record player. I asked him if he had any examples of Russian rock music, and he replied, “You want to see example of Russian rock, da?” “Da,” I said. He went up to the shelf and picked up a paperjacketed CD. The record was placed on the turntable and we listened to it for a couple of seconds before he took the record out of the window. “That’s Russian music,” he said.

“I knew Nicholas before he was a superstar,” he raved, reminiscing about his family. “My mother-in-law boy, is she fat! I took her to the Mayday Parade and C.I.A. Man offered me to sell my missile secrets. . . . No, really, she’s very talented. She’s being sent to America on the cultural exchange program. In exchange, we’re getting Texas, Brooklyn, and Raquel Welch!” He began to roar out his life story, which became more and more horrible. Finally he dropped his trousers to show a long ugly scar left by Stalin’s torturers. When I was sleeping with young Muscovite honey at one time, a Mad Russian came in with a small Scimitar. I dragged him off to my friends and we soon found him asleep on the floor. His snores, nightmarish outcries, and arguments mixed with all the songs, laughter, and argument that flowed into every apartment’s common courtyard. This episode seemed to be a true representation of Moscow.

Leningrad has more similarities to Moscow than Moscow. During the centuries of Tsarist rule, the city reflected the Romanovs’ imitation of Western European culture. This tradition continues to be a part of our culture today. When I first walked along the Nevsky Prospect, it was the first time that I felt at home among the more youthful, stylishly-dressed communists.

Hip and trendy are the kids kaifThere are many. With three young Komsomoltsy (members of the Lenin Youth Organization) I dropped in one evening to a local disco called the “Molotok” to hear the top local rock band. The music was loud and fancy with lots of drum beats. [an]A funky, almost funk-rock bass line was surprisingly well put together. It reminded me of high school bands who played in garages at home. I was impulsive and asked the drummer to let me join him for one song. “Konyeshno!” he cried, smiling. The leader said that an American rock and roll band would be playing, and the crowd was stunned.

Through their cheers and applause, I was unable to hear what they were saying. For the next several days I was followed around by several “groupskies” who believed I was a big rock star, and I did nothing to disillusion them.

Soon I met my first Russian dope dealer. Misha was his name and he was just as crazy as any Russian can hope to be. His height was impressive, his body was swarthy and he had a beard. In his cowboy jacket, black-market Levis, he lived. Signpainter by trade, he sold dope to tourists abroad and was actually incarcerated for five years. We were invited to his flat to have some smoking, in an argot of Leningrad and hip Russian street slang. Gashgish.

Gashgish is the people’s hash, imported from the Uzbekistan, a central Asian Soviet Republic near Afghanistan. Natasha was a charming Lenin-era youth who shared the apartment with him. Misha and Natasha shared their apartment the first time they were there. papirosaThen I mixed some bitter Russian tobacco and some hash from a small pouch of leather, then I poured it into my cigarette. Although I thought it was too strong, I am not complaining.

I later gave Misha an American pipe, and some screens. Misha was so impressed and stoned that he promised never to smoke hash again. Natasha however, decided to keep smoking Soviet cigarettes. papirosas. She did, however, take to “shotgunning” her reefers quite hungrily.

Misha’s scene was pretty loose, so one day I asked him what the neighbors thought.

“They think I am crazy,” he said. “And do you know, they are right? Every time they see me coming, the old one-leg and the ugly witch, they run into their rooms and slam the doors.” I regaled him with a few Florida redneck tales.

Misha was higher than Yuri Gagarin when I last saw her. Dostoeyevsky, that dark Russian, who once said, “consciousness is a disease,” would have been proud of us. Misha, mystic Misha, came to meet in cosmic detente. This is a Russian thing. I shared with him my long-held desire to be stoned with an authentic Russian. He shared his dreams of being stoned with an American.

“Est bog!” he cried excitedly, “there is a god!”

Chronic News MagazineFall 1974

You can read the entire issue by clicking here.