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from A Squandered Life / Re-finding Roger '80
I'm afraid I was off my face again....
It was at about this time that I re-crossed paths with my old friend/adversary Roger from the Doyle House era. Like me, Roger had been away travelling and sampling the essences of counter-culture elsewhere on the continent. His hair was longer and straggly and he was sporting a short beard which he used in the same way I used my tache - to cover up going for days without shaving.
Roger was always a strong and independent thinker, but he still had a strange reliance on what I could only characterise as a side-kick compulsion - ie, he couldn't function properly without a side-kick. I hadn't understood this completely in the old Doyle days when Dunphy was his first side-kick, but I began to get a sense of it when I found myself being drawn into the role. Roger was always on a mission of some kind and he needed a side-kick as a witness to his exploits and to whom he could externalise his thinking. He also needed someone to whom he could turn for silent assent or acquiescence in complex discussions with third parties.
At the time I re-encountered him he was obsessing about how grass and hash was finding its way into the city. In those dark and paranoid times I had no interest in this whatsoever, but he had the car and the mission became apparent only as it unfolded. At first we were just going for a drive and a chat about old times and recent experiences, but then, as night began to fall, we were going to some guys he knew to score some smoke, and only then were we finally engaging in the deeper mission. We found the guys he knew ensconced in their gloomy late-night subterranean lair, drinking and smoking (something I never did - why would you drink when you were high; why heighten your senses only to deaden them?).
I knew one of the guys - Adam - by sight. He had been busted earlier in the year and he and his mate Paddy had come back from the cells of the St John's Constabulary to organise an extraordinary public event in one of the university lecture theatres to relate to an incensed student population their emotional tale of police raids, brutality, and set ups. They were so brazenly outspoken about their experiences that some of the more paranoid began to suspect them of having been “turned”. Rumours circulated that they were now in fact informants for the very forces that had pulled them down. All this flashed through my mind as Roger and I stepped into the flat and I was immediately uneasy about being there. The other guy was a large chubby guy called Percy who, of the two, seemed both the most pissed and yet the most knowledgeable and together.
As we sat down to do a deal and puff some of the product, Roger launched into what seemed to me to be a cheeky and invasive cross-examination of how they got hold of their gear. My unease escalated as he pressed for more and more information and I thought either we're going to be busted for being users or shot for being informers. At one point I could hear Roger saying, “So if I wanted to buy a kilo right now, you could supply it?” Percy slurred his confident assurance but added, “but it's not here”. “Where is it then?” asked Roger brazenly. “Somewhere else,” said Percy. “Can we get it?” persisted Roger.
Percy and Adam contemplated Roger for a long still moment, then Percy suddenly started to get heavily to his feet. As he struggled to achieve verticality I imagined he might be going for a weapon of some kind, but all he said was, “Come on then.”
Leaving Adam behind, Roger, Percy and I went outside to Roger's car. We were stoned but Percy seemed helplessly pissed as well. How he could lead us to anything I didn't know, but, after some fairly aimless driving around, with Percy occasionally slurring, “Turn here,” we found ourselves up on a wooded hillside to the east of town. “Pull over here,” burbled Percy and, when Roger had stopped the car, he opened the door and staggered off into the woods. We could catch glimpses of him in the dark as he lurched about among the trees, looking as though he needed to puke or crap. After a while he re-emerged from the woods and stumbled back to the car. “Here,” he said, and dumped a parcel on Roger's lap.
Impressed, Roger gave it a long sniff and said, “Great, but I only wanted an ounce.” Percy looked over blearily and stared at Roger for a few moments. “Well let's go back to the house then,” he said, and, with a kilo of grass in his lap, Roger drove slowly back to Percy's dark flat. I was nearly vibrating with anxiety as we followed Percy's heavy groggy body back inside. Adam hadn't moved and simply raised his eyes as we paraded past him. Roger and I sat down again while Percy lurched off to find some scales. He returned and painstakingly weighed out an ounce, fat pinkies extended as if he were serving tea, while we puffed more product. In slow motion Roger and I got up and, while Roger dug out some cash and paid Percy, I edged towards the door. Outside again, I breathed in the clear air deeply. We went back to Roger's to smoke some more, but I was never his side-kick again.
My relationship with Roger continued to have its ups and downs and we always seemed slightly competitive and edgey with each other, but I realised how much I missed him when years and years later I spotted him at one of my beloved British outdoor summer fringe festivals.
He was standing at the back of a crowd looking into one of the big marquee tents and listening to one of the acts. I'm afraid I was off my face again but I felt a profound elation building up as I drew closer and could see that this was indeed the absolute spitting image of the man. “Roger?” I said, and he turned towards me with that slightly edgey shifty squinty-eyed smile, nodded, and then turned back to look again in to the marquee.
Nonplussed, I came closer and repeated, “Roger?” and he turned again and smiled quizzically but didn't say anything. By this time I realised he must have already known I was here at the festival and had come to wind me up as my facial recognition systems kept ticking off certainty after certainty.
Eventually he said, “I ain't Roger matey” and my heart plummeted. I was still staring at him and not certain he wasn't still, in fact, Roger, but as the evidence mounted I felt that initial elation evaporate into a harsh empty nothingness. My disappointment and deflation must have been as clear as the light of day because, after a hesitant moment, the guy put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey, I'm really sorry man.” Not only that. He broke off from whatever was holding his attention and led me round to a quieter side of the marquee and said, “Here man, sit down here” and he sat down with me and proceeded to roll a joint.
As I gawped disbelievingly at him he told me he was from Suffolk and filled me in on bits and pieces of his life leading up to his presence there that day. I gradually came round and in so doing realised both how much I missed Roger and those long gone foggy days and, at the same time, what an amazingly sensitive and nice guy this non-Roger was.
© 2013 Deacon Martin