Sunday, 24 June 2007

Chapter 1 - Down and Out in Brisbane and other places

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.''
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

April 20 2000 - Brisbane , Australia

I woke up feeling edgy it was still dark outside. The red digital numbers of the alarm clock glowed in the shadows, it was 5.07am. Sleep was a state that I was having difficulty accessing, you might even say it was self inflicted insomnia, the direct result of hanging out. It had only been about 2 days but it seemed like 2 weeks. My ailments were many the typical signs of heroin withdrawal restless legs, clammy sweating skin, a churning stomach, and a runny nose.

It was like having the flu, high anxiety, gastric reflux, muscle cramps, constipation, and clinical depression. However, it was pay day and my discomfort would soon be replaced by that familiar warm glow. It was like being drunk, but clear headed. When I was pinned it made me feel as though nothing could bother me, but when I was hanging out I couldn’t deal with anything. Heroin is a painkiller ,and when used regularly, it causes the addict's body to cease production of endorphins, our natural pain killers and feel good chemicals.

All my energy was directed toward one objective, my next hit, I had single minded sense of focus that absorbed all my energy. Nothing else seemed to matter, as Metallica might say, heroin was my one true source of sustenance. In order to get it, I was happy to steal, lie and exploit myself and others, because once I had a hit any guilt or pain that I had soon disappeared.

Curling up under my blankets, I watched the telly and waited for sunrise. I was living in a rundown old Queenslander that had been divided into two. It reminded me of a ship, a decrepit, ungainly old ship. My half of the house was a long narrow passage with the entry way, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom connected by a continuous corridor. A regular parade of roaches scoured the floor for tasty morsels, left amidst miscellaneous debris, plastic terumo packets, spoons with tiny bits of cigarette filter and a thin film of dried white crystals that glistened like fairy dust, yesterdays paper, an ashtray overflowing with butts, and ten empty tallies lined up against the wall.

My dole payment was usually in the bank by 6am, but I would not be able to score until about 8.30am when Lee turned his phone on. Lee was my heroin dealer, he was Vietnamese and drove a bright yellow Honda civic with a black car bra on it. Lee was a very serious guy, about 5’5” tall, pudgy with a round face, and dark piercing eyes.

It was great being introduced to Lee. Before that I had been scoring from Bongy. Persephone a girlfriend from uni and fellow junkie introduced me to him, oh actually no she first introduced me to Bevis who was a mate of Bongy’s and later Bevis introduced me to Bongy.

Bongy was about 32, skinny with straggly long hair and tattered beard. In the creases around his nose and on his cheeks he had bright red patches covered with flaky dry skin. This was caused by an allergic reaction to the heroin or the cutting agents.

I would regularly break out with a similar condition, but it would affect my eyes making them bulge out of my head. When the swelling subsided the skin would blister and peal, like a bad case of sunburn. It made me feel like a freak.

Everyone thought that Bongy got his nick name because he loved bongs, but he didn’t. Some even thought it was a reference to the famous American fighter ace, Major Richard Bong, but it wasn’t.

MAJOR RICHARD BONG was America's leading air ace with 40 kills in the Pacific theatre. A Congressional Medal of Honor winner, he was killed on August 6, 1945 when his P-80 Shooting Star suffered a flame-out on take off and crashed. He was nicknamed Dick (short for Richard), and he was based in Brisbane during the second world war, so no doubt he walked down some of the same streets that Bongy and I did.
However, good old Richard was only an amateur compared to the greatest air ace of world war II Eric Hartmann who managed to shoot down 352 enemy aircraft, and was never injured in action surviving through the war and imprisonment with the Soviets, he died in 1993.

It was in fact a child hood name for his favourite blanket. Bongy was generally pretty reliable. I used to meet Bongy in Gibbon street in Woolongabba. I’d call him and tell him what I wanted and then I’d meet him on the street corner, give him the cash and he gave me the stash. He had a beautiful girlfriend, who I ogled every time I scored. I couldn’t understand what she saw in him, although I had a sneaking suspicion that it might have had something to do with his ready access to smack.

My habit was pretty minor compared to Bongy’s $800 a day harry addiction. I mean I was still an apprentice junkie whereas Bongy was a true master. Oh sure I had been using for a few years but if I had a $150 worth of smack 5 days a week I was pretty happy, sure it wasnt great hanging out on those other days but I managed it. But a habit like mine can still create plenty of problems.

The worse you feel the more you need it and the more you have the more you need and the more you need the worse the craving.

At first it’s a buz something different but when you have it everyday you wake up with an intense desire for more. After a while it doesn’t actually make you stoned it just makes you feel normal, like you can carry on, without it you become a pathetic mess.

My mind travelled back to that day 6 months ago, when Bongy introduced me to Lee. On days when Bongy didn’t score he experienced intense withdrawals and it was on just such a day that I rang him.

“Hey Bongy how ya doin dude”

“Pretty fucked up man I’m really fuckin hangin out hey, I need ya to help us out man, you wanna score don’t ya…..yeah ya do, stupid question, anyway I can introduce you to me deala if ya can shout us a taste. I really need a hit man I’m hangin out real bad”, the desperation in Bongy’s voice was hard to resist, I had never heard him like this it was disconcerting.

“Yeah sure man, you really going to introduce me to that Vietnamese dude?” It seemed too good to be true, getting connected to the main line.

“Yeah man, after this taste I’m fuckin headin to rehab, got a slot booked, I’m gunna give this shit up man, I ‘m so fucking sick of this crap!” I had heard this before just one more taste and then “I’m gonna kick tomorrow” as Perry Farrell sings in “Jane Says”. But the fact that Bongy was going to introduced me to Lee made me think that maybe he was for real.

Dealers don’t usually introduce you to their supplier, if they did they lost a customer, so I was blown away when I was introduced to Lee. Now there was no middle man. Besides that Lee was very reliable, he had good shit and he gave tick. It was a dream come true, I was really moving up in the world.

I hadn’t seen Bongy since that day, but heard that he did go to rehab, the Buttery at Byron Bay, but busted after a week, went to Cabramatta, got busted for possession and did 6 months in Long Bay Gaol. The lyrics from “too her door” by Paul Kelly come to mind, “he went to the ‘Buttery’ and stayed about a year”, but Bongy only stayed a week.

In the meantime I had become a part time dealer myself. After scoring from Lee I would sell a few fifty’s and quarts to some of the locals. If I got stuck I would do a tour of the Fortitude Valley mall and local boarding houses to rustle up some business.

Smack addicts were pretty easy to spot the hang dog look, rough, dirty clothes, and general disregard for life. But this sounds a bit stereotypical, because there were of course the invisible addicts, the ones who had enough money to hide their perversity. Because heroin does virtually no damage to the body and if you are supplied with a pure source, could happily live a fairly normal life.

The problem is largely related to the exorbitant cost, impurity and illegality of the substance that generates the atmosphere surrounding it.

Enough day dreaming back to the present, wandering down the street to the auto-teller, I was feeling anxious. I was always a little stressed before I got to the machine, would my money be there or had the Centrelink dicks fucked it up again. But on this day it was all good.

I crossed over Lutwyche Rd and walked into the 7/11. Strolling into the dazzling brightness of the store, I grabbed an orange juice, the one without preservatives, a packet of ‘Winny’ Blues, a plastic spoon and a copy of the Courier Mail. In the corner of the store was a cash machine and I withdrew all of my dole payment $380.

Sitting in the park across the road I had a cigarette, some juice, read the paper and waited. Every minute seemed to drag, it was still only 7:50am. The churning in my stomach continued and I kept sneezing, a woman passing by said, “Get some Echinacea love that’ll help it” ,and I thought no it fuckin wont.

Glancing up the street I could see Ned Kelly, well that wasn’t his real name, but he looked like Ned, he was tall and slim with a long bushy black beard and close cropped hair. I saw him on a regular basis, one of the many people we come to recognize in our daily lives but never come to know.

From a distance I could clearly identify him, his long black beard, short cropped hair, ambling gait and gangly limbs. He stooped low onto the ground grabbing something and continued scanning the pavement for some precious item. His movements were jerky but quick.

I knew what he was doing, something I would often do myself. If I ran out of tobacco to mix with my pot I would take a walk down to the local bus stop, and check it out.

“He browsed the pavements unceasingly, never missing a cigarette end, or even an empty cigarette packet, as he used the tissue paper for rolling cigarettes.”

George Orwell, (Down and out in London and Paris)

Today I was going to splurge and buy a half gram. Lee was selling them for $250 which was pretty good considering the quality. I had dropped 2 weeks ago on some of Lee’s shit. I had a taste in the toilets and was walking down the street when I collapsed in front of Centrelink. I woke up in the hospital sometime later, apparently someone had found me and phoned an ambulance. When I woke up I couldn’t remember how I got there and thought bloody ‘lost time’ again, fucking UFO’s wish they would leave me alone.

There was a phone box in the park. I called Lee’s mobile, just a recorded message. “Call back later”, he had a strong Vietnamese accent.

I thought about the situation, I’ll give it 5 minutes and try again, shit I hope he’s going to turn his phone on soon. I rang back again and it was still the same dead pan message. Sure enough when I called back a third time I felt the tension in my stomach ease when Lee answered. “Hello”,

“Hi Lee it’s me Dave, can we meet up, same place as usual.”

“Yeah, Ok 45 minit.” Lee always said ‘45 minit’, it was his standard reply.

“See you there”


I started walking toward the train station. I continued walking and then started running toward the station the adrenalin filling my body driving me onward. I had the money, the deal was organised it was going to be great, after hanging for three days I was going to get hammered.

Jumping up the steps at Wooloowin station, I caught a train to Roma Street and marched across the road to the needle exchange. I grabbed a five pack of syringes and hailed a cab to take me to Kangaroo Point. I was a little superstitious about collecting the tools of the trade, but I was not unique most junkies had there little habits. I never picked up a kit until I confirmed the score, it was a ritual. One of those little beliefs that we hang onto but deep down know are just bullshit. But there was nothing worse than having a pack of nice clean fits, swabs, and sterile water but nothing to inject.

I jumped out of the cab and waited. It had taken me about 30 minutes to get there, so Lee should arrive any minute. I kept my eyes on the road, the anticipation growing, as I waited for the bright yellow civic. The sky was crystal clear, not a cloud in sight, the beauty of my surroundings eased the tension in my stomach over my impending score, but I couldn’t relax till I had that gear in my hand.

Standing on the cliffs at Kangaroo point, I could see the city across the river and the green expanse of the botanical gardens lining the rivers edge. The air was cool and dry on this spring morning, just like my mouth, it was going to be a beautiful day.

In the distance I saw a glint of bright yellow coming my way, with a black car bra on it. The Honda pulled into a parking bay on the cliffs overlooking the river. I jumped into the passenger seat and closed the door. Lee grunted his usual greeting.

“You wanted a gram”, Lee said as he passed me a red balloon, knotted up into a little ball.

“Lee, I’ve only got enough cash for ha…”

“No halves man, only grams made up, aahh, no matter you take a gram, yeh?”

“But I’ve only got $250”

“No problem, you pay next time, alright.”

“Yeh, sure that’s cool with me, man!” I said, grinning and elated at my good fortune. I did a quick fantasy number in my head, imagining all the money I was going to make. Prior to meeting Lee, I had never been able to get tick from any heroin dealer, the ones I had known just didn’t do it. But then Lee was no small time street dealer he was a major supplier.

“Ah…..Oh look I have one here, a half gram here,” Lee pulled out a blue balloon slightly smaller than the first. I felt my excitement evaporate.

“If it’s cool with you Lee, I’ll take this one, I know I can get rid of it easily. I’ll have the m...”,

“Yeh no problem, I trust you, take it, be careful its strong shit man.” I took the red balloon and gave Lee the cash.

“What happened to you the other day when I rang?” I had tried to score from Lee late in the evening.

“Yeah sorry bout that, we were pissed you know, I cant drive like that, might get busted. If you wanna score, better you ring me during day, yeah” Lee didn’t use heroin but loved his bourbon whiskey.

“No worries, anyway better scoot, see ya.” We parted company.

My heart began to flutter as I scrambled down the stairs on the cliffs, and the churning in my stomach seemed to get worse in anticipation. At the base of the cliff face was a toilet block. I went into the toilet block, entered a cubicle and closed the door. Sitting on the toilet I pulled out a fit pack which included 5 syringes, alcohol swabs, cotton filters, sterile water and yellow plastic disposable cylinder. As the moment of truth approached the tension escalated, the only thing on my mind was the rush that was headed my way.

After removing the syringe from its plastic wrap, I inserted the end of the syringe into the small vial of sterile water and sucked up 0.5 ml of liquid. Opening the little balloon with the heroin and I pulled out a rock of white powder about half the size of a die. I carefully scraped off some rock into the spoon, and then wrapped the rest up and put it in my wallet. Then I got the syringe that was filled with water and squirted it into the spoon. Using the soft end of the plunger, from the syringe, I mixed the heroin rock and water together until it dissolved into a clear brown tinged liquid.

Tearing off a piece of cigarette filter I placed it in the spoon. I then put the tip of the syringe into the filter and sucked up the liquid through the filter. Once I had it all, I carefully raised the syringe skyward and tapped the side as I pressed the plunger and ejected the air bubbles.

Once clear of bubbles, I grabbed a swab and cleaned the vein at the base of my left bicep. It bulged, red angry sores and small scars were thinly scattered in this part of my arm. I tensed my arm and the veins came readily to the surface, all the years of weight training had paid off creating easily accessed veins.

I injected the needle into the vein and pulled back on the plunger. As I pulled back on the plunger there were only clear air bubbles coming in. I had missed the vein. So I pulled out the needle and inserted it again. This time as I pulled back on the plunger I watched as bright red blood surged into the syringe, mixing in with the clear liquid swirling together chaotically.

I was in the vein and pushed the plunger down, injecting the liquid into my arm. As I did so I felt a cool clear rush of energy flood my body filling me with an ecstatic glow for a moment, I could see the light it was drawing me upward, higher and higher I floated and then nothing.

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