Burt Rubin: EZ Wider Man, High Flyer, Pen Pusher

Burt Rubin started out a metals trader, then invented EZ Wider Rolling Paper. He's had his ups and downs--and now he's having aches and pains.

By Michael Gross
Interviewed in New York in winter, 1998-99

MG: When were you born?
BR: June 15th, 1946. I grew up in New Rochelle, New York, which is in Westchester County, a little north of New York. My father was in the dress business, a dress buyer. My mom was primarily a homemaker, and a bookkeeper. I had an older sister, 10, 11 years older. My brother is 7 years older. So although I grew up in family of three children, I was an only child in the sense that as soon as I was in school, my brother in other schools and–
MG: Was your dad a vet?
BR: No, he wasn’t. He had some kind of problem with his eyes.
MG: Were you middle class?
BR: Suburban. We lived in an apartment. We had a home in Monroe, New York where during the summers, I went to summer camp. The experience of summer camp was very important to me. It allowed me to learn about sports and I’ve always excelled in sports.
MG: Did you go to a brand new elementary school-built for boomers?
BR: I went to Mayflower Elementary School. It was not geared for all the kids. By the time I got to junior high school, that response had started to develop into construction. So that year I remember, we were in split sessions because of the overload of baby boomers into the school system. I would start at 8 o’clock in the morning and go to school till 12:30, and then the next group would go in. The next year a new school had been built and everybody went on regular session again after that.
MG: Were you aware of politics? Of Eisenhower, Stevenson, and atomic bombs?
BR: Whistle while you work, Stevenson’s a jerk, Eisenhower’s got more power, whistle while you work. Eisenhower was a great general and a great president. Stevenson was more the intellectual, no one could understand him. I actually sent a letter to the postal department because they were looking for suggestions for stamps for the 50’s and I suggested that they put the fallout shelter on one. And they sent me a letter back thanking me and saying how they had gotten some similar letters. I remember two types of school emergencies. There was the fire emergency drill and then there was the air raid shelter drill. During a nuclear attack everybody was supposed to go to the basement and get under a desk, which seems quite ludicrous now. I remember having dreams about those drills. And if you look around you can still see those yellow signs that point down to air raid shelters.
MG: Do you remember TV coming into your house?
BR: I think there was one in my house–a small screen in a big set, with this plastic mirror in front of it that would do increase the size of the picture. I watched a lot of TV, a great amount of my value system probably came from westerns–you know, Gunsmoke and Bonanza and that Steve McQueen show, Wanted Dead or Alive. I still smoke and I smoke Marlboro because you’d see the man on the horse.
MG: Any other important childhood memories?
BR: When I was like 13 or 14, I said to my mother that I wanted to go to a psychiatrist. And she says, why? And I said, Bobby’s going to a psychiatrist and Johnny’s going and Gary’s going and I want to go to a psychiatrist. And she looked at me and said Burt, we can’t afford psychological problems. So I continued to bite my nails till I was 22, but I’m OK. [laughs]
MG: The comes Kennedy.
BR: Kennedy–I was in high school. Kennedy represented the big dream and it probably had to do with going to the moon. Going to the moon seemed like a big deal.
MG: Were you part of a clique?
BR: No, I really started working early. At 15 I was working full time at Big Top, a toy store. I would work from 3 o’clock ’til 7 at night and then Saturdays and Sundays. There was a big drive for me have some change in my pocket. I didn’t do student government. I played tennis and some basketball in high school.
MG: Any familiarity with drugs as a kid?
BR: I still remember this commercial, I think it was for Anacin, first they’d show somebody really sad with hammers hitting their head. They were bummed. And then they’d show you this big pill and then, next scene, you see the pill in their hand and they’re eating the pill and then the next scene you see them smiling and gleeful and happy. Another company’s slogan was Better Living Through Chemistry. I think that had a lot to do with what happened in the 60’s and 70’s.
MG: Were you into rock and roll?
BR: I was into dancing. I liked to dance. So it was, you know, the hip hop lindy type of thing.
MG: Not Elvis?
BR: No.
MG: James Dean?
BR: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I remember we went to the Copacabana on my high school prom to see The Temptations. I didn’t get into folk music until I was in college. I went to NYU.
MG: Were you aware of the 1963 march on Washington for civil rights?
BR: You know, at that time I was trying to take care of myself. I was trying to get through college. And I was working full time. And when you’re catering manager for the university and you’re working Friday nights and Saturday nights–
MG: Would you not have gone to college unless you earned your own money?
BR: No, my parents were able to get me there the first year. After that they said, Burt, you’re going to have to work. So I had to. I started working as a waiter and then they made me a bartender and then the Peter Principle, they made me a catering manager and I ran the catering there for a couple years. It gave me like 14 or 18 credits a semester free, it gave me all my food free, plus it paid me a $200 dollar a week salary. ’64 through ’68. That’s when I started smoking marijuana. I lived at 180 Thompson Street around the Cafe a Go Go. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention lived in my building. I saw Dylan around the corner, I’d go to concerts. You couldn’t walk down Bleecker Street, without somebody brushing you and going, “Hash, pot or acid.” That was the beginning–head shops were starting at that time.
MG: Do you remember smoking pot the first time?
BR: Actually, I was pretty much against it for a long time. My roommate had started. But they knew my feeling about it. And then eventually, one of my oldest friends, I was at his house and he was telling me how he enjoyed it and at a subsequent time I tried it. I guess they’d call it peer pressure, but it was the thing that people were doing at the time.
It was in my building. There were about 12 or 14 people there. I remember particularly because there was a knock on the door and a policeman was there. And everybody got a little uptight. And he said, “There’s been a complaint that the music is too loud.” And I remember my roommate Steve saying, “Oh that’s okay, officer, we’ll shut it right off.” And the policeman said, “That’s OK, just lower the music and have a good night.” A whole cloud of smoke went into the hall. He smelled it, but it was not something to hassle college kids about at that time.
MG: Did you get into it?
BR: Yeah. Yeah. Smoked grass every day for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long·
MG: From that moment forward.
BR: Not every day from that moment but–and there’d be different times and different interruptions, but generally marijuana is my drug of choice as opposed to alcohol. Still is.
MG: Is it a secret?…
BR: Secret to who? No, no. My mother still doesn’t think I smoke grass.
MG: Did you trip?
BR: Yes, I tried acid maybe 5, 6 times, 7 times, maybe more. I think the last time I did that was when I was 36.
MG: What about politics?
BR: I was too busy. The Muslims have a saying: praise Allah, but first tie your camel to the post. OK, praise Allah meaning be spiritual, follow religion, follow good things, follow art, follow all these things, OK, but first make a living and take care of yourself. Most of the kids that I knew who did that were brought up in a lot of luxury. You have to have time to do that. You can’t–if you have to work 3 hours in the afternoon.
MG: Did you have a career plan?
BR: No, my–originally I went to law school. I graduate college in June of ’68. I got a scholarship to the University of Miami. But I left law school ’cause I didn’t feel that I wanted to be a lawyer. I got a new VW at the time, a ’68 VW cause I was going to law school. I was at Woodstock. That was kind of funky. Driving up in a new VW, sleeping in cow manure overnight. We got there and it was pouring rain and sloppy and we parked the car and put a little tent that we had up in this cow pasture. There wasn’t a lot of room. And people were dancing in the streams naked and running around and playing music and tie dyeing and–it was fabulous.
MG: Was it after Woodstock that you quit law school?
BR: Law school is a serious place. I decided that I didn’t want to continue after my first year, I came back to New York. Had a variety of jobs. I worked for Shell Oil cause I had to make a living, in their computer data department. They put me in this cubby hole and said ‘Here’s so much work, you have 8 hours to do it.’ And I would do it in an hour and a half–writing code for their computers. At that time computers were run by punch cards. And I would form them and put them in order and re-do them and I would finish my day’s work in an hour and a half, hand it in and then say, “OK, can I do more work?” and they’d say, “No, that’s all the work we have for you.” I said “OK, can I read?” “No, you can’t read.” “Well, what should I do?” “Just do it more slowly.” And I said, “I can’t work for a big corporation; things move a little too slowly for me.” So I started looking around, I went to a head-hunting firm and they hired me. Because I had a background in catering, I handled their hotel-motel-restaurant area.
MG: You’re a young, good-looking guy in the city in 1969. Are you having fun yet?
BR: Yeah. I was. I was going on ski trips, doing a little climbing. I didn’t have a lot of spare money at the time. I was not really liking that business. Then a friend got me an interview for the job that was the precursor to E-Z-Wider, which was trading specialty metals and ores around the world or training to, for a large corporation. And that’s when I started to learn all about international trade and movement of goods around the world and all those things would help me eventually with E-Z-Wider. I stayed there for about 2, 3 years.

MG: Are you part of the counter-culture or are you straight?
BR: More straight guys were smoking dope than you know. I mean all my college contemporaries, all, okay? I grew up in the age of marijuana in America. It was smoked at other times in America’s time, but between 1965 till 1980 anyway, it was a giant growth period in marijuana use.
MG: Were you involved in the marijuana trade?
BR: No. There was something that you would do in college or a little after where–
MG: –you’d buy 4 ounces and sell 3.
BR: Thank you. That was done, yeah. Was I a dealer? I don’t know if you’d call that a dealer. Yeah, I guess. Statute of limitations is over, I can say yes.
MG: What about girls? Were you a participant in the sexual revolution?
BR: Well, it started in college, yeah. Until I got married when I was 23, 22. I was very blessed. It was pre-AIDS, pre-fear. I started having more money, I had a good job at this trading firm and I was doing well. And started socializing and starting to travel. I wasn’t in the top 10 percent of those getting laid. But I wasn’t in the bottom 30 percent–those who get none–either. I was your average 23-year-old.
MG: When does EZ-Wider happen?
BR: Well, I was still smoking grass and I had smoked grass in law school with a lot of the law students. And at that time I had noticed that people were always putting two papers together. In law school, I saw that kids that came from Chicago did it and kids that came from Arizona did it that way too, and kids that came from California also. And it just stuck in my mind and when I was at the trading firm there was an article that I read in The New York Times in 1971, or maybe 1970. And it said that a guy was moving millions upon millions of booklets [of cigarette paper] a month. And I said, if this guy could do that! I decided to see what information I could get about the volume of business in cigarette papers.
MG: A light bulb went off?
BR: Yeah, and I thought it could be done. I thought, you could make one large sheet of paper instead of two small. But I wanted to be sure that the market was large enough to have a business. So I studied the import statistics from the Commerce Department. You could find out everything: what source country it’s from, the volume in dollars that come into the port from these various countries and from that you can extrapolate quantities, booklets, companies, etc. etc. I felt it was significant enough then. If I looked at it now I don’t know if I would have, because I was really naive in terms of the size of business at the time. And at the same time I had gotten married, my wife was pregnant, Bob Stiller was my wife’s father’s partner’s son. So they were good friends. And he and I became good friends.
Bob at the time was working in accounting for Columbia University. We would dine together and play tennis and backgammon.
MG: He told me he had never been a pothead.
BR: No, Bob wasn’t. But I said listen, there’s a business here, I explained to him, and I said let’s do it. I borrowed from a bank and he borrowed I think from a bank a little bit. And then Jane, my then-wife, had a friend who was an art director and we discussed the name. You know, eight friends got together, we all lit up, passed it around, started throwing names out. Somebody was saying, Easy Roller and somebody said Better Wider and then Connie said well how about Easy Wider?
MG: Did anybody say, “This is illegal?”
BR: No. I always looked at it as though I was the bottle maker during Prohibition. That was a way to make something legal that’s used with something illegal. I’d gone to 10th Street and Avenue A to the Psychedelicatessen during college. Just to see the place. You’d smoke pot and you’d go in and they’d have all these draperies. It was kind of a little freak-out room. And in front they’d have a desk where they’d sell pipes and some papers. Now what happened was, this developed into a new distribution system, these head shops, that didn’t exist before. And they start to open up in 15,000, then 20,000 cities and there’s one in every city, and all of a sudden you have 15,000 stores, and they need product on their shelves. They try to buy this product from the standard people, from Zigzag or Brown & Williamson. They wouldn’t sell to them. So where are they going to get product? Some bodegas are selling a product they brought over from Spain called Bambu. All of a sudden people start buying the Bambu. There’s this little guy bringing in Bambu, he’s a Spanish man himself, he’s selling it to bodegas, all of a sudden instead of selling 10 boxes a week, he’s at 20 boxes.
MG: And somebody has the idea that there is business in paraphernalia.
BR: Right.
MG: Are there big people in this?
BR: It’s all small operators. But those cartons turned into more cartons. I developed the idea, I write letters to 13 companies in Spain, Italy, England, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, anywhere I could find that exports cigarette papers into the United States. I call the commercial attaches, they give me information about who the companies are, I write them basically a dear sir letter, I think I have a good idea for product and you make cigarette papers, would you be interested? Five of them wrote back that they had no interest in the business and the other seven or eight didn’t even write back. So I took those five and wrote them again. And said, thank you, however, if you’ll notice, here are the statistics that in the United States the cigarette paper business in 1961 was X and ’65 was Y and ’69 was Z, there’s been a big growth pattern-and finally this one manufacturer in Spain called Jean said yeah. Jean did it, started making E-Z-Wider and then we took up all of his production.
MG: How do you launch it?
BR: At the time the head shop market was the only market that would take the paper. And I was also working full time at the same time. It wasn’t as though I quit my job and started working on this. My wife was pregnant, I was having a little boy, a terrific son that I have. So I kept working E-Z-Wider nights, weekends, da-da-da, for about a year and a half or so. Bob is still at Columbia. Then I leave my job when it started to generate sales. I was doing the packaging, the importing, the storage, the shipping. I handled all new things in development, accountants, attorneys, banks, whatever. Bob handled inside administration and manufacturing. Eventually we were in 125,000 stores.
MG: What was the reaction?
BR: We used to get letters all the time. This is amazing, I went out to buy a pack of rolling papers, somebody said why don’t you try these E-Z-Wider, I now sit with 32 perfectly rolled joints in front of me. Thank you. But what really told the story is–people were reordering.
MG: Did you use EZ-Wider?
BR: Yeah, absolutely.
MG: At your best you were selling–?
BR: 78 million booklets. A year. That’s what I sold. EZ-Wider generally started at about 35 cents but you know, if you wanted to buy them at the Plaza Hotel they were 2 bucks.
MG: How does the market change following the introduction of E-Z-Wider?
BR: For our first 5 years from ’71 till ’76, maybe ’77, all we could put our fingers on we could sell. We started developing new brands, like Joker and Roach and Harvest and Salsa. We designed a rolling machine. And we worked with a senior design engineer from Polaroid and had a spill-proof water pipe. All cigarette paper was sold through tobacco candy wholesalers. And they weren’t interested in EZ-Wider. So I went down to Chalfont, Pennsylvania to this guy, who was a blender of tobacco. I found a natural tobacco, and we packaged it-we put 12 of those in a box and 50 E-Z-Widers. And then the tobacco wholesalers would take them. Except they sold no tobacco and the 50 packs would go out. So they called and said, do you think we could just re-order the paper? And I’d say sure.
MG: Any problem with the government?
BR: Never. Never a knock on the door. And we used to throw some big parties, we never had a knock on the door. At the introduction of our water pipe, George Plimpton was having a fireworks display in Central Park, so I quickly booked the Sky Garden at the St. Moritz, we sent out an invitation, we invited 250 or 300 people, and catered a party and had the greatest time. Afterwards, we got a call saying that they had heard that people had used marijuana in our party. We sent them a letter that, said, no, we didn’t think that that was the case, we’re sorry but we do want to thank them for the wonderful work they did in catering and we appreciate it. And so we got a nice letter back saying oh, anytime you guys want to have a party here, please let us know.
MG: Did you have contact with the drug culture?
BR: I could tell you a lot of stories. We were big donators to NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, I used to donate $10 or 20,000 a year which in today’s dollars might be 50 or 100 thousand. Many of the growers and distributors and importers, smugglers, used to send NORML cash. They’d also show up at the convention and what would they show up with, but some of the finest exotics that were ever grown anywhere. A lot of the seeds from then are being sold in Amsterdam today. I was a businessman, first and foremost. It so happened that I also happened to do drugs, at that time smoked grass primarily. I heard about this magazine, High Times. I call up the company and I say, hey, I’m Burt Rubin, I saw this first issue of High Times and I’d like to advertise because this is what I do. Eventually I was their biggest advertiser. At that time we had our own advertising agency. I thought in 1971 that marijuana would be legal in ten years.
MG: But the political climate changes.
BR: Big change. We sold out in as ’80, January of ’80. For the year, year and a half before we sold, Bob and I were in a personal battle. He and I were not getting along. Bob and I were young, hard-working people. We both worked very, very hard. In certain ways, compared to our contemporaries, we were sophisticated, but compared to businessmen we were not. And a person came to our company with the intent to divide and conquer. He divided, he didn’t conquer. He came in, pretending to be our friend and in our naivetŽ we believed him, didn’t check up enough on him, whatever. And he just drove us apart, would tell us different things, make us believe different things.
MG: What was he after?
BR: Taking over the company. And Bob and I just stopped communicating and he was successful in that. And then he tried to oust me and I tried to oust them. Bob tries to buy it at one price in September and I say you’re out of touch, it’s worth much more. He says, no, look at these numbers and I say, I don’t believe your numbers. And so he says well, then let’s dissolve the company. And I suggested that we have an auction, knowing that this company Rizla would have very strong interest. And not having the backing that Bob had, I said hey, I’ll try to raise the money, invite them and eventually they were the ones who got the company.
MG: You sold for $6.2 million. At twelve times earnings, that means the company was taking a half million in profit a year?
BR: Yeah. About. That’s after we were taking big salaries.
MG: How well are you doing?
BR: I’m driving a 450 SLC Mercedes. And I had a home in Fire Island. We had a boat called the EZ-Wider, a 30-foot Sea Ray. We threw a lot of parties every year. We had 250 employees.
MG: Did your social circle include people from the paraphernalia/drug world?
BR: They were friends, just like now. But I’m still skiing, I’m still playing tennis, I was traveling, I was in Europe three times a year, not playing, building a business, visiting eleven cities. I might be taking 30 employees to a Moody Blues concert and throwing out EZ-Wider booklets at the concert.
MG: In ’74, ’75 the drug scene changed to coke and Quaaludes. Does that affect you at all?
BR: It was the down syndrome, the downs time. I would use Quaaludes occasionally. But not as living on Quaaludes or anything like that.
MG: You weren’t blowing your money on coke?
BR: No, not at the time. That didn’t happen till Studio 54. Bob used to play tennis with Steve Rubell. So he knew us. So I lived at Studio 54 every night till 4 in the morning, after hours clubs.
MG: Are you still married?
BR: No, at that time I wasn’t. I was divorced.

MG: Tell me more about Studio 54.
BR: It was a dream. I was involved with very hip people at the time, EZ-Wider was pretty well known, particularly in New York. So I was open to go anywhere I wanted, you know, and fair weather friends, quick and easy. I lived with a model, a couple of times, different models. One Ford, one Wilhemina. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been lucky, all my life I’ve been lucky. I could have been born in Russia during pogrom time.
MG: What do you do after you sell the company? You’ve got 3.1 million…
BR: You pay the government. I bought a home up in Connecticut and I decided to start learning how to ride horses, do a lot of travel and rebuild this house. I bought an ugly duckling and turned it into a swan type of thing. And I was working on trying to find businesses. I basically liked the action of business. I think there’s a certain edge to it and a gambling to it and so I searched and I saw some articles about Halley’s Comet. It was supposed to return in November of ’85. When it returned in 1910, the sales of telescopes were astronomical–they sold every piece of glass they could get. And I thought that there was an opportunity to buy telescopes and develop a consumer brand name like I had done with E-Z-Wider. And I liked making really good products. I had worked at E-Z-Wider with this senior designer engineer from Polaroid Corporation who knew optics and design. So he also did the telescope which we named the Halleyscope in honor of Edmund Halley, the person who predicted that the comet was going to be sighted, died before the comet came and then the comet showed up just as he had predicted. Edmund Halley was one of the true renaissance men.
We made a very small, very portable telescope that could also be attached to your camera and become a super-telephoto lens, 600 to 2400 mm. The Halleyscope was sold in Sears, Roebuck, J.C. Penney. It got all kinds of write-ups, all over, about the quality. It was considered a best buy in Consumer Digest. I sold 75,000 telescopes. That’s a lot of telescopes. They retailed about $199 dollars.
MG: You were way ahead of the curve when it comes to the importance of branding and marketing.
BR: Yeah. Well that’s because we’ve been so branded. We’re the branded generation. The Marlboro Man, Anacin, McDonald’s, Pepsi-Cola, or EZ-Wider, there’s always a brand.
MG: Part of the myth of this generation is that they rejected branding as kids. But suddenly 1978 comes and they’re all wearing Calvin Klein jeans.
BR: People go to one way, and then they come back a little bit.
MG: What happens to this company?
BR: We had a lending agreement and just before the comet was supposed to return in April, a bank pulled the plug. The company just went down. I sued the bank as a side action and I prevailed over the bank. I had signed my house away in Connecticut to them and I personally guaranteed everything. That’s an entrepreneur, I believe in what I do. I didn’t go into bankruptcy but it created havoc for me. I had to retrench completely.
MG: What did you get out of it?
BR: That the law works very, very slowly and it costs a lot but in the end there’s a lot of justice. You just have to be in a position to be able to finance that justice. I put 2.5 million dollars into that piece. All my returns from E-Z-Wider plus.
MG: Any other ill effects?
I got very sick. I overdid it, I became weird, paranoid. I joined Cocaine Anonymous, about the same time that everything seemed to fall apart, ’85, ’86.
MG: Did your sordid past as a rolling paper magnate have anything to do with the bank’s turning against you?
BR: No. Nothing whatsoever. I’m a businessman. People know, you can’t build a business selling 78 million of something and have 250 employees without being reasonably organized and have something together. It was just a business like somebody sells washers, someone else sells packaging.
MG: Does your lifestyle change again?
BR: Yeah, rapidly. My travel slowed down tremendously. And the style of travel changed. I start doing more reading into certain areas of different religions and Buddhism and things. Some deaths happened, some friends start dying. People I know–all younger than 50. So every one of those is untimely. I’d had a charmed existence. I didn’t know it.
MG: As early as the mid-70’s, a lot of people our age began to turn to cults, to est, primal scream therapy. Here you are 10 years later, you start reading about religion. Is there any parallel there?
BR: No, no, I think it came out of the stars experience, out of my sense of the distances of space and time. Talking about travel, go to the nearest star where they think there might be a planet, the travel time is 250,000 years. That’s a long time. I had no idea what those numbers meant when I was in my 20’s. And so that type of understanding starts to come upon me, and I want to look into it what’s going on in the planet.
MG: ..You were exploring, not escaping…
BR: Absolutely. I wasn’t escaping. I did my escaping. I didn’t play when I was a teenager, I didn’t play when I was in college, I didn’t play afterwards. But when you’re in Studio 54 you’re a kid.
MG: Then came herpes and AIDS.
BR: AIDS had a big effect. It put a cover on everything. Put a fear on it.
MG: How did it change for you?
BR: I would wear condoms when I was sporting and not when I was in a serious relationship. And that’s how it changed.
MG: Did you sport less?
BR: Yeah, but I don’t know whether that has to do with the fact that I was then in my 40’s. You know, men are blessed with that 25 to 35 year-old period where everything is fun and then·
MG: So what happens next?
BR: I’m looking around. I decided to work in real estate because I knew New York City quite well. I trained there and got my broker’s license. Starting to make bucks. But I’m not closed in, which was the thing, and I started to work on a pen. The pen is called the Evo pen. E-V-O, for evolution, evolutionary. And it started with a finger callus which a lot of people have, which is nature’s way of saying that something is going on. And it’s nature’s way of protecting the finger because otherwise it would go straight to the bone. I like creating a product and marketing products, that’s what I like to do. I don’t just learn about a little pens, I know the history of pens, I know how pens got started, what happened, where, what’s going on. Pencil manufacture, I visit pen companies, I mean I involve myself in it. So I enrich myself tremendously by learning all these things.
MG: So you’re making the money in real estate while designing this pen?
BR: Right. I joined another company, went to another firm. And then by 1991 I had enough money, and I got Evo Pen started. We start manufacturing in ’93. We get all kinds of mentions and we do some advertising and whatever and we sell some 100,000 pens or more. The Museum of Modern Art must sell 8,000 or 10,000 a year. The Smithsonian Institution sells about 2 or 3 thousand a year, with their logo on them. And these pens are commended by the Arthritis Foundation.
MG: It’s ironic that you’re marketing pens just when personal computers take off.
BR: Yes. Yes. Stupidity. It could be. I had problems of distribution and financing and money. We ran out. I had to go back into real estate. But the pen business is still burgeoning. Booming. 5, 6 billion dollars a year in America. Retail pens could be worldwide 7, 8 billion dollars. I want 5 percent of the pen market. Worldwide pen market. Now it’s going to take me time. And I may be totally nuts.
MG: Do you still smoke dope?
MG: There’s a sense now among people our age that people who are still taking drugs seem really pathetic.
BR: And boring. Yes. Boring. Absolutely, boring. Just boring. It’s all-consuming and it’s boring. You’re not very productive, you’re not learning anything. You’re not experiencing anything except that. understand that it’s not good for you and that if you continue at that pace it’s going to be one direction, down. Now, most people have what I call a flywheel. It takes a lot of energy to stop that flywheel but once it’s stopped and it goes in the other direction, and it’s moving bad in the other direction, before you get good things going, you got to stop that negative. I remember one time being in the program and this was when I was really early in it, I was maybe sober at the time seven or ten days, thinking that I could go to that club on 20th and 6th, the Limelight. At the time though it was quite a nice club. And one guy sees me and says, oh, I got some great something, and I go no, no, no, man, I’m sober. But a girl comes up and says, listen, I got some cocaine and I want to give you a blow job in the bathroom-and there you go. You slip. So you learn from that. You don’t go there anymore.
MG: Did you find that being sober your life was less fun? Was it a loss?
BR: No, it was an experience. I felt the power of chemistry. Chemistry was controlling me and I was out of control. That’s powerful. I think that put me on that spiritual study path too. I’m not a believer in God, I’m a believer in nature. And I believe that all smart men are of the same religion. They all have a certain understanding, the golden rule, do unto others.
MG: Have you been involved in philanthropy?
BR: I’ve loaned a lot of money to friends, I gave a lot of money to family. I donated a lot of money to museums. There’s a big corner block at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that I paid for. I’ve donated to a lot of Buddhist causes. For 10 years I’ve been making lunch for homeless at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine every 4th Sunday. There’s something called New York Cares. My closest friend from college is the chairman. But when I was with E-Z-Wider, I donated money and helped out. That goes back to the Woodstock generation. I think the Woodstock generation has given a lot of pro bono, more so than most. I’m proud of the generation. I think they’ve done a good thing. I think they’ve worked hard.
MG: Have you ever gotten involved in politics?
BR: I vote. I’ve donated some money to different politicians from time to time. But I’ve never spent time.
MG: How have your politics evolved over the years?
BR: I’ve gotten more liberal. As long as somebody’s not being harmed by something it’s people’s right to do what they want to do. I wear a suit and tie often now, okay? Now, a tie is worn with a shirt that has a collar. Dogs have collars and cats have collars. I have a tie that’s around my neck. It may be beautiful and I get really nice ones, but basically it’s society’s thing about pulling you around by the neck and you’re going to follow within the pattern. So in that way I’m more–not more conservative, more classical I would say.
MG: More willing to play the game?…
BR: More willing–no. I have to. I don’t do it because that’s the way I want to be.
MG: Do you have a sense of aging?
BR: Absolutely. You get aches and pains that you never had before. They come say hello and then sometimes you may not hear from them for 3 months and then they come say hello again. I go to sleep earlier and I wake up earlier. I can’t eat all the foods that I once did. My metabolism or digestion has changed. But then again, in other ways, the experience has made certain things easier. Conditioning, knowing that the older I get the more exercise I need. So whereas 7, 8 years ago I had back problems and a knee problem, by staying in condition all the time, I have no problems. You want to climb a mountain tomorrow? Yeah. So I’m in better shape than I was 10 years ago. I want to do whatever I want to do when I want to do it. I like to be active. I like to ski, I like to ride horses, I like to climb mountains. I like to do bike. And being physically free is very important to me. Maybe I’m trying to fight the eternal fight for youth. My neck is getting a little fatty– whereas once I always condemned plastic surgery, I’m starting to think, well, just the neck, okay.
MG: Do you fight the good fight right up until the last?
BR: Yeah. Absolutely. I don’t ever want to retire. I will never retire. I can tell you that. As long as I can blink one eye to give you information. One blink is yes and two, no.