Old John

From ages 18-20, while I was busying myself with taking drugs and learning to shuffle in front of full length mirrors in night clubs, me and my friends used to sporadically hang around this dude called Old John. Old John was 40 or so (judging from his face? Maybe younger? I was 18 and everyone over 25 looked the same), and used to come out every weekend and take drugs with us. He’d show up on the dancefloor at like 5am, with a bottle of jungle juice and a vodka cruiser in each hand, eyes wide and laughing his gravelly laugh, he’d put his arm around you and yell something in your ear like, “HAHAHA TACOOOOO WOOHEEEYGAAAA YEAH HAHAHA!!” And his breath usually smelt pretty bad.

Old John was a hairdresser I guess. He had a salon in Glenelg a 10 min walk from the beach, and he lived in a rented place round the corner from the salon with his son who was 13 or so around the time I was hanging out there. Every now and then a bunch of us would head back to Old John’s place after a night out to sit around on his couches drinking, smoking weed, and doing petty drug deals. Once on a hot summer’s day we taped four lengths of toilet paper to the roof of his verandah and placed bets on which one would burn to the roof first when we set them alight at the same time.
Another time I saw a guy come out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist, holding an A4 sheet of paper and spraying it with hairspray. When I asked him what he was doing he said the sheet was blotter paper full of acid, and the hairspray was to stop the LSD evaporating off of the paper in the open air. That was a bummer, and every time I’ve taken acid since then I swear I can taste hairspray.

The vibes at Old John’s house were never great. There was always something a little bit off, but I never went by myself, and so with a bunch of mates my own age around it was always pretty easy to ignore. Plummy was there a lot though – Plummy was one of the guys in the group I’d known for years, even before I started going clubbing. We were all thick as thieves – like brothers I guess, out of fear, love, and desperation – but Plummy was always between places to live, with his parents kicking him out and never being able to hold down a job. He stayed at John’s place a lot, for weeks at a time sometimes I think? Although it was always pretty vague. I used to worry about him being there sometimes, but Plummy was always positive and up beat, and no one ever really brought it up.

Old John’s kid added me on facebook a few years back, like way back when I was still around that whole scene, and I never really thought much more of it until this year when I caught a glimpse at one of his photos and realised he’s properly grown up now. Well, he’s the same age I was when I knew him, which is grown up enough I guess. Grown up enough to make his own mistakes now, and be more than just a wild little fuckup on a bike throwing shit over fences after school.
The last time I remember seeing Old John was just before new years 2011 when I went round his house to pick up some shit for a music festival. It took way longer than than it needed to and involved a lot of pointless wandering around and side-tracked conversations before I was bustled out of the house. I remember feeling annoyed afterwards, he definitely ripped me off, but that is what happens though. I paid my price in dollars, but Old John paid the price in sadness for a life that he could never come to grips with.
In the time that I was in it, going to Old John’s place, hanging out there, seeing all these weird creepy people float in and out, I just accepted it all as normal. “This is just a guy who’s older than us, but is into the same things, right? If anything, we’re being open minded hanging out with him! We’re mature, we’re grown ups!” Old John was a man who never saw reason to grow out of the giddy world of drugs and loud music. We used to tell ourselves and each other all the time back then that we were lost, we used to revel in it. For me it was more because being ‘lost’ fit into an easy rebel narrative than it ever being something I legitimately felt. But no one was more lost than Old John.

I remember one time my mate Plummy telling me a story about how he and Old John were driving around the suburbs of Adelaide one afternoon and out of nowhere Old John jumped; “SAM! [Old John was the only person who called Plummy by his real name] WAIT! STOP THE CAR!!” John leaped out of the passenger side, ran across the road without looking, bolted up to the front door of a house and knocked. Plummy followed behind in time to see the door opened by an older, stranger, larger man with grey hair and a huge beard, whose eyes widened: “Johnny? JOHNNY MATE IS THAT YOU?! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN 20 YEARS!! Come in and have a cone mate!!”
That was the house John used to go to to buy weed. The same guy still lived there hahaha.

Old John passed away a few days ago. I don’t really feel it at all if I’m honest, I haven’t seen the guy in years, and as often as I did see him, I never saw any of myself in him, and we were never more than superficially close. I’m sad for his kid though, and I’m sad for the people that did know him, and more than any of that I’m sad for him and people like him. Some people go their whole lives having never been able to figure it out.

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