The Lonely Trip Back By Florrie Fisher

If you’ve ever wondered what life on the needle is like, ask a white, middle-class, middle-aged lady named Florrie Fisher- she’ll tell you more than you’re prepared to know!

The Lonely Trip Back

Florrie Fisher’s The Lonely Trip Back graphically details a case of living fast without dying young, describing 25 years of heroin addiction, prostitution and innumerable jail sentences. While this kind of memoir is nearly impossible to fact-check (and Fisher admits in the first chapter that she’s a born con artist) the utterly harrowing anecdotes fall into both the “too crazy to be true” and “too crazy to have been made up” categories

After celebrating her 43rd birthday in the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village, Fisher is rearrested minutes after her release when she is discovered shooting up in the phone booth in the prison lobby.  How did she get to this point? Well, listen up teenagers, Florrie Fisher is gonna tell you!

The doted-upon youngest daughter of a successful Brooklyn Met Life salesman and self-professed Jewish American Princess, Fisher was expected to marry Joe, the respectable boy next door, and settle into a life of playing Mah Jongg and gossiping with other neighborhood housewives. In college she starts running around with a “fast” crowd and occasionally smoking pot, but when an acquaintance suggests in all seriousness that she could make a good living as a call girl, the idea scares her badly enough that she runs back home to marry Joe. Unsurprisingly, their marriage ends within the year.

Eager to get her daughter (re)married off, Mrs. Fisher sends her to a Catskills resort to find a nice young man for her, but Florrie spends all of her time hanging out with the musicians who work in the hotel. A bizarre sequence of events leads to car accident which kills several of her friends, and Fisher takes the opportunity to fake her own death and elope with her pot-smoking musician boyfriend, thus beginning her descent into reefer madness.

Fisher claims that she got the bright idea to start working as a prostitute, insisting that “David didn’t make me a whore, I made him a pimp… a gold-plated pimp.” Fisher claims that her “addictive personality” is responsible for her slide into heroin use and prostitution: she shoots up for the first time at a Gene Krupa concert (!):

But you couldn’t wait, not for a minute. So instead of waiting for the woman to finish and wash her hands and get out, I’d flush the toilet, reach in, pull the swirling water up from the commode into my syringe and put it in the spoon. Then I’d rationalize, “I’m heating the spoon. That must be killing the germs,” and I’d jam that needle, stool water and all, into my vein.

At this point the chronology gets hazy, as Fisher claims that she spent a total of 17 of the next 23 years in prison, 30 days at a time, as she is arrested for various drug-related offenses under 286 aliases, including getting caught telling a sob story about a non-existent dog’s non-existent broken leg in attempt to get “veterinary grade” cocaine.

While Fisher is glib about the day-to-day details of being a full-time junkie, there is a lot of real horror going on in this book, including the 1955 Florida State Prison riot, an illegal abortion that takes 36 hours and almost kills her, and an incident where she jumps out of window before she realizes that the fire escape is on the other side of the building. Eventually we circle back around to her House of Corrections arrest, and her decision to finally get clean for good when she reads about Synanon, a radical new drug treatment program based out of California. Are we ready for our redemption arc?

Not so fast! I don’t know how it is even possible but the last quarter of the book dealing with her rehab is EVEN WEIRDER than everything that came before it.

Synanon was an inpatient treatment center based out of Santa Monica.  By the mid-1970s it had gone full-on cult and was disbanded in the 1980s after a decade of investigation into increasingly bizarre criminal activities, including attempted murder when THEY PUT A RATTLESNAKE IN A PROSOCUTING ATTORNEY’S MAILBOX!

The main course of treatment through Synanon was “the game” in which patients gather in a circle and shout insults at each other, sometimes for days at time. Fisher also relates the strict rules for every aspect of the patients’ lives: the penalty for any violation was having one’s head forcibly shaved.

Fisher is able to stay off of heroin permanently, although eventually she breaks with Synanon after an employee accuses her of taking diet pills (a head-shaving offense) and Florrie begins working with “disturbed youth”. Her success in the field leads to some local media attention and after an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show she embarks on a career as a motivational speaker.

Coinciding with the publication of the book, Fisher made a 30 minute public service announcement in which she lectures an auditorium full of high school students on the dangers of drug abuse. With her thick Brooklyn accent and thicker makeup, the teenagers in attendance look upon her Gorgon-like visage with real terror, breaking down into tears swearing that they will never “shoot horse” as long as they live.

The film became a cult classic, and the inspiration for Amy Sedaris to create “Strangers With Candy”, a send up of scared-straight after-school specials of the 70s and 80s, starring Sedaris as “boozer, user and loser” Jerri Blank, a perpetual “teenage runaway and junkie whore” who returns to high school at the age of 46.

Unlike most drug-scare accounts of the era, Fisher doesn’t shy away from coming right out and saying that life as a suburban housewife is tedious drudgery, while as a drug addict you get to hang out with cool people. Like jazz musicians! And Lenny Bruce! The moral to the story ends up being something along the lines of “Don’t do drugs because they are amazing.”

Sign it was Written in 1971 Department: Medicinal cocaine! For your dog! That was a thing!

Hooking and Heroin Makes You Mean Department:

“None of us liked Shari for she was always boasting about her family’s plantation and her private school education. We were pretty sure that she’d really grown up in an unpainted sharecropper’s shanty and first learned about sex from her brother out behind the barn.”

Whatever Happened to Florrie Fisher? Department: Almost immediately after the publication of The Lonely Trip Back, Fisher seemed to drop off of the face of the earth. For years rumors persisted that she was living under an assumed name, and well-wishers held out hope that she was alive and well, a little old lady ex-junkie.

Sadly it was not to be: by 2008 internet sleuths dug up an interview with Mike Douglas from a 1973 issue of The Rotarian in which he states that Fisher had died just a year after the publication of The Lonely Trip Back from the effects of liver cancer and heart disease.

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Don’t Hurt Laurie! By Willo Davis Roberts

Laurie’s been keeping a secret for as long as she can remember, a secret that she’s afraid to tell anyone else…

Don't Hurt Laurie!

Willo Davis Roberts was one of the more prolific writers toiling away in the YA/Middle Reader vineyards of the 1970s and 80s; best known for her thrillers (The View From the Cherry Tree, The Girl With Silver Eyes) she also wrote YA romances (3 titles in the Sunfire series) and social-problem books such as this one. Continue reading

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Kisses For Sale By Judith Enderle

She’s giving up boys forever… again!

Kisses for Sale

Good old Wildfire, always good for a Valentine’s Day-themed title, right?

The Plot:  Actually, this is not up to the imprint’s usual level of competent writing-meets-wacky-cover. In fact, there is so little going on in this story that whole chapters are padded out with things like descriptions of sorting magic markers in order to make it to 156 pages. Continue reading

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A Family Failing By Honor Arundel

Helplessly, Joanna watches her parents tear themselves and each other apart…

a family failing

So, that cover: clearly Our Heroine has a lot going on here, including an entire parasitic family (sad emasculated dad, bitchy liberated mom, shiftless hippie brother) growing out of the back of her head.

The Plot: And here we have yet another example of how weird the Scholastic Book Services titles can be. For every straightforward, teen-oriented plot, there is an incomprehensible word-slurry, surreptitious translation-that-doesn’t-translate or (in this case) foreign reprint dropped on the unsuspecting reader. I hope you’re not just up on the argot of the United Kingdom before you crack this one, but specifically the dialects of Edinburgh, the Shetland Islands and Northumberland. Continue reading

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Snow Bound By Harry Mazer

mondomolly:

Due to technical difficulties, this week’s blog has been preempted. Enjoy this thematically appropriate selection from our archives:

Originally posted on Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989:

How hot is it down here in the city?  Hot enough that reading a book about slowly freezing to death in northern New York State sounds positively refreshing.

snowbound

Background: The novel opens with an ominous epigraph from the fall 1970 issue of NAHO, an academic journal published by the New York State Museum and Science Service:

“Without a doubt the most forbidding and unknown physiographic region in New York State is the great windswept plateau called Tug Hill. On a road map it is that strange blank area of roughly two hundred thousand acres approximately twenty miles southeast of Watertown and thirty miles northwest of Utica. An effort to locate a hamlet or even a dirt road in this enigmatic area can only be rewarded with frustration…”

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The Runaway’s Diary By Marilyn Harris

Fifteen, almost sixteen, and on the road- to where?

runaway

Oh, the contradiction of the “Based on a True Story!” story.

This book opens with the standard “The characters and situations in this book are wholly fictional… and are not intended to portray any actual persons or events”, which is immediately followed by a Note From The Author in which she describes the True Story this is totally based on, in which she witnesses a teenage hitchhiker struck by a car on the McDonald-Cartier highway in Ontario. When an ambulance is summoned to the scene, the paramedics inform her that the girl’s injuries do not appear to be serious, and the author collects the teenager’s belongings:

…a back-pack, one shoe, a small silver crucifix, a paperback book and a well-worn notebook.

It was not my intention to intrude into the privacy of a personal diary. I opened the book in search of identification, perhaps an address. What I found instead was such an honesty of response and wholeness of vision that I could not stop myself from reading. I read through the night and finished the diary at dawn.

Now I offer to the reader the following remarkable document.

Continue reading

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Secrets By Nancy J. Hopper

Everyone at Missarthur School thought that Lenore James was a loony, and she encouraged them to think it- most of the time.

Secrets

The (fairly good) pulp cover of this Weekly Reader paperback belies the content: although the YA Thriller plot is strictly standard, the first-person narration from the autistic heroine is something different.

The Plot: 14 year old Manhattanite Lenore James describes her mind as “a locked box from which nothing can escape”. She isn’t much bothered by her classmates (who dismiss her as “crazy” or “retarded”) or even her annoying, self-centered older brother, Jerome, Missathur School’s academic superstar. In fact, especially when it comes to her teachers, Lenore uses her condition to an advantage as shrewd observer of everything around her; she focuses on collecting “secrets” about her classmates and teachers. Continue reading

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