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!
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 a 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 a 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.