In his time, Richard Smart snorted cocaine with senior Carter administration bureaucrats, bought it from one congressman and used it with a second, even interrupted a meeting with an unsuspecting cabinet secretary to rush to the men's room for an emergency toot. And that, says the former lobbyist for the Port of San Francisco, Marin County and half a dozen other cities and ports, was just in Washington.
Between 1978 and 1982, from San Francisco to St. Tropez, Lake Tahoe to Capitol Hill, he wriggled along in the fast lane "using cocaine like coffee, from morning to midnight." He inflicted Ponzi-like investment schemes upon friends and family to keep himself solvent, pocketed a kickback and refused to believe, even when hapless investors had hounded him out of California, that he was addicted to cocaine.
After hitting bottom, financially and personally, at the age of 50 in 1982, Smart washed up in Washington and then headed south to Virginia to recuperate and write a book about it all: "The Snow Papers," subtitled "A Memoir of Illusion, Power-Lust, and Cocaine."
Illusion because it took so long to admit he had a cocaine problem. Power-lust because before he lost it all up his nose he was an ambitious Yale law graduate who dabbled in national politics (working in Robert Kennedy's California presidential campaign and briefly as a speechwriter for Sen. Alan Cranston) before turning to investment banking and lobbying, the growth fields of the '70s.
"I suppose I always assumed that one day I was going to be writing my memoirs," he says wryly, "but it was going to be as a former secretary of state who had brought peace to the world."
Cocaine left him more than $200,000 in debt and unemployed. If it hadn't been his relatives' money he'd squandered, he'd probably be in jail. He doesn't expect to earn much money from the book, but says he would have written it anyway. "It's not a happy thing, but it's a hell of a lot better than cowering in dark corners."
Smart says "The Snow Papers" is the first book about cocaine use among "establishment, theoretically responsible people who presume to positions of leadership."
The wisdom from California this year is that Hollywood has been swept by sobriety, that cocaine is out and fruit juice is in and that it's just a matter of time until the rest of the country follows suit. If federal surveys on drug use are any indication, it won't be a moment too soon.
Twenty-two million Americans have tried cocaine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and 5 million say they use it at least once a month. The number of high school seniors who report using the drug has climbed (from 9 to 17 percent in the past 10 years) as marijuana use has dropped off. And as supplies increase and the price falls, it is becoming more accessible. The government is concerned the problem may be reaching "epidemic" proportions.
Smart says cocaine use among the professional class is "enormous." His book is limited to his own experience, however: an unnamed congressman here, an anonymous investment banker there, his dressed-for-success circle of San Francisco friends, acquaintances in political Washington, the striving middle of the American upper middle class, a group particularly susceptible to cocaine's kick.
"The drug is very attractive to people who are preoccupied with a sense of powerlessness, no matter how effective they may really be," he says. "All these people I was taking cocaine with -- corporate presidents, bank presidents -- and myself, I never really felt authentic or secure about what I was doing, and cocaine resolved that disparity completely. You believe you are functioning better, you think you're smarter, more creative and eloquent.
"And you are; in many cases the people you're dealing with think, 'This is a fantastic person.' "
The first time Smart tried cocaine it was offered as a Sunday afternoon pick-me-up at a tennis match at the Cow Palace. He recalls the experience as something akin to the second coming: "After a few moments . . . a truly wondrous thing occurred. I was awake! Not just awake, but marvelously awake. The arena suddenly was filled with a brighter, energizing light, the yellow tennis ball danced across the net with energizing liveliness . . . Our comments about the match became absolutely trenchant. I had never been so alert or so brilliant and witty in a conversation. In all my life I had never felt so sure of myself. Or so powerful."
Within two years he was inhaling snow like a Zamboni. "I was spending about half my time in Washington lobbying and I didn't deal with anybody that I would also see socially who wasn't using grass and cocaine," he says. "I was using it a lot with mid- to senior-level bureaucrats in the Carter administration. I used it before going into a meeting with Alan Cranston and before meeting with the secretary of transportation and I'd snort it with my congressmen friends who were then going out on the floor to vote.
"You'd say, 'Look, I've got a piece of legislation, let's go have dinner.' You'd have dinner and coke. One hundred dollars worth of coke was like buying a congressman a dinner."
By 1982, the last year of his addiction, he was broke and desperate, hot-wiring his increasingly rattle-trap finances from a telephone booth in the lobby at the St. Francis Hotel, charging calls to his nonexistent office, and lying to everyone. He couldn't get through the day without cocaine, but the drug wasn't making the world glow anymore.
One afternoon in the hotel lobby "after countless fruitless phone calls and too many martinis I fell asleep on the velvet divan." The hotel manager asked him to leave and not come back. "He apparently was new on the job and didn't realize that I was a person who, only a year or so before, in a silk tuxedo, had attended an exclusive and very swell dinner dance after the film festival in that very same hotel and had danced with Goldie Hawn and kissed Mayor Feinstein on the cheek."
The last six months in the city were spent shuffling around a local shopping center in his running suit and Adidas, drinking bourbon at a local bar and hoping something would turn up.
A few of Smart's acquaintances were able to use cocaine for years without becoming addicts. Why he could not, and why athletes, entertainers, television journalists, politicians, bankers and brokers have been checking into clinics for treatment in increasing numbers is something he is still grappling with. He thinks it has something to do with the gap between where he came from and what he desperately wanted to be.
Smart was raised in a highly religious family in small-town Utah and attended Brigham Young University. By 44 he'd shed his first wife, two children and his Mormon guilt and installed himself in a San Francisco "bachelor's pad," raring to romp through the disco decade, ambitious, upwardly mobile and anxious.
In the book, he seems slightly ambivalent about those years; some paragraphs read as though he typed them with Hugh Hefner perched on one shoulder and Cotton Mather on the other, and the prose veers dizzily from pitiless self-appraisal to bizarre passages that leave the reader wondering how much to trust his observations. This ode, for example, to a San Francisco drug dealer named "Greg," whose enthusiastic peddling (credit available to his best customers) kept Smart in cocaine long after he could no longer afford it:
"He was actually deeply sensitive," Smart writes, "and often he favored not only his women, but also his men friends, with the poetry he composed late at night on a yellow pad while sitting in his hot tub, then painstakingly copied onto parchment in a fine calligraphy. It was poetry of love and birth and death and friendship, often disjointed by too many drugs, but always in meter and freighted with caring insights."
There are pages about his romance with a young French woman who later became his second wife, and frequent reports about his sex life and how cocaine affected it: " . . . That first morning of the new year of 1979, I felt the rush of power, spun the mobilizing erotic fantasies, and copulated heroically."
Smart says he set out to write a "theoretical" book about cocaine addiction but was soon persuaded by his editor to make it a highly personal account, to include as many name and place references as possible to convince the reader that he was an important player in heady times. It can read, however, like name-dropping, an effect heightened by the updates he supplies on the careers of prominent people:
"I was also introduced," he wrote of one stint in Washington, "to Doris Kearns, who had been Lyndon Johnson's confidante; it was gratifying to date the bright, well-connected young woman who later would write an intimate biography of LBJ and become a Harvard professor and marry Richard Goodwin, who had gotten famous working for JFK." Smart believes it was cocaine's effect on his judgment that ruined him. "There is this incredible illusory power rush. You forget all your boring obligations and you get involved in wild, insane business ideas. You destroy your life with bad business judgment and corrupted ethics."
Unlike a heroin addict or an alcoholic, he says, a cocaine addict can hide his addiction for years, and that is what makes him dangerous. "For a very, very long time, this person can be destroying himself and lives, without it being very evident. He can be lying and conning you in a very effective way."
He finds it perfectly logical that cocaine should have become the drug of choice in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington: "Nobody is from Washington, just the way no one is from San Francisco or L.A. They're filled with people who've left their roots and gone to these places to make it, powerful people looking for a way to relax. In the past, it's always been booze. Well, now you've got something better, because cocaine doesn't depress you. It has the opposite effect; it makes you think you're a pretty great guy."
The tales about cocaine in official Washington could have been longer: "The big investigation on the Hill a few years ago was a joke, because I know for a fact that drug use on the Hill is very widespread, certainly at the staff level and certainly at least among five congressmen that I know of, and one former U.S. senator and one present U.S. senator.' "
He will name no names, however, because "the purpose of the book is not a sensational expose'. The idea is to expose a general problem. I don't want to cause any individuals difficulty." He will say that Rep. X has since left Congress. Rep. Y is still in office.
Smart believes his addiction was more psychological than physical. He drank heavily the first six months he was without the drug. (He drank while he was using cocaine, too, to calm his coke-jangled nerves.) He believes the "experts" do addicts a disservice by insisting that medical treatment is critical to breaking addiction.
"There are a lot of people who will never seek professional help who can get off the drug . . . You never have the motivation to get off until you are very, very near the bottom of the pit . . . I was forcibly removed from the drug by coming to Washington, I had no money and no one who would give it to me. And I had consistent and tough intervention from people I cared about, family and friends who said 'We love you but we're not going to take any more of this, and we don't want to see you until you change your life.' "
He is thinking about setting up a foundation to "deal with drug abuse in professional circles," but worries about giving the appearance of capitalizing on his misfortune. Actor Stacy Keach (himself only last year released from a British jail for cocaine possession) is interested in the book. Smart thinks it would make a good movie.
Last week, Smart lectured to two classes at the Harvard business school. The students were circumspect initially, but afterward one man who had recently left an investment banking firm approached to ask what to do when the boss is using cocaine and it's affecting his performance. Another student who had helped manage a family business in Aspen, Colo., wanted to know how to act when an employe is discovered to be using cocaine. Smart advised the hard line: two warnings, an offer of counseling and then, the third time, dismissal. "It's the only way," he said.
Smart lives in a rented house in Massanutten, slowly paying back his debts and stitching his life back together. His wife teaches French at a nearby university; he watches his young son after nursery school. The Smart family sent Christmas cards this year, wishing their friends a wonderful holiday season. On the front of the card, there was a picture of a snow scene.