4 November 2015

Astral Voyager


We were at Danny’s place listening to records and relaxing with some good ganja. It was chilly in his drafty flat, but the grass and lashings of hot tea kept our minds off the cold. Danny was at least ten years my senior – which seems like a lifetime when you are only nineteen. Despite the age difference we apparently had much in common, like literature, music and of course drugs – we were both very keen on drugs. It was deeper than a hobby with us – it was more of a vocation.

To tell the truth Danny was a much heavier user than I was; he had a long standing junk habit which meant he had to have hits at regular intervals or he’d get sick. I was never into skag; I was afraid of it. I could never have lived the life of a junkie; I hated needles for one thing and couldn’t deal with deprivation for another. I respected Danny, but I could never live in the frugal manner he did. Of course I attributed his thrift to the heroin; I did not realise at the time that he was also supporting an estranged wife and two kids. Many people had warned me to beware of Danny simply because he was an addict – but he was always straight with me and everybody else as far as I could tell.

We were listening to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Danny’s choice not mine, and I was standing at the window watching the snow fall when the phone rang. Danny answered it and turned to me. “It’s Buddha”, he said, “he’s been looking for you,” and he held out the phone.

“Get your arse up here post-haste John boy – I have a surprise for you.” Buddha sounded excited, but I hated it when he called me ‘John boy’ I was a good three or four inches taller than him and only two years his junior.

“What is it?” I asked – knowing full well he would not tell me. He loved to be mysterious did Buddha. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you now would it?” he replied.

“This better not be a wind up”, I warned him, “It’s brass monkeys out there.”

“Just get your arse up here and bring Danny – you won’t be sorry I promise”

We took the lucky thirteen bus into town. The snow was still falling as we trudged up to Buddha’s pad. We found him highly animated and speaking at ten to the dozen.

“Come in boys – take the weight off. Would you like a cuppa, a glass of wine, a wee dram?” He was buzzing around his flat rearranging his soft furnishings and checking his reflection in the mirror, he was always a little vain was Buddha. “I suppose you are wondering why I sent for you?” he beamed. We both rolled our eyes but nodded in assent.

“Well, follow me lads,” and he led us into the kitchen where we found a mountain of white powder waiting for us on the worktop.

This,” said Buddha sorting out three large lines from the mound of white stuff “is pure methamphetamine sulphate – crystal meth to the uninformed; snort it and watch the diamonds roll from your eyes.”

So we did and it was good, it was very good. With the initial rush my blood engorged veins glowed electrically with a million watts of creamy power. It was prolonged and orgasmic, so strong I that I felt nauseous and only just held down my lunch as cold beads of sweat erupted from my forehead. Then I felt a great euphoric wave envelop me and I was expanding and unfolding into the universe over and over again. I was as light as a feather now that the weight of life was lifted from my shoulders; you could have dropped me in the ocean and I wouldn’t have left a ripple.

“So d’ya dig it?” asked Buddha, “I knew you’d be surprised. I can get unlimited quantities of this shit. I know the guy who runs the lab somewhere in Perth. I can lay it on you, any quantity you like, starting at eighty an ounce. You’re getting it pure because you are mates, but you can step all over it and still sell it on at a tenner a gram – it’s a license to print money.”

It was too good an arrangement to turn down, so Danny and I opted for four ounces each just to test the market. Little did we know that we’d be snorting a hell of a lot of this stuff ourselves in the months ahead. Nor did we realise what a problem that it would become – especially for Danny who was already strung out on smack. We toasted our new enterprise with another line and agreed that it was indeed auspicious karma that we had landed such a sweet deal.

“This stuff is ambrosia,“ said Buddha, “the crème de la crème. They’ll be beating down our doors to get to it. We’re gonna be rich gentlemen – we’ll be rolling in it.”

We glided out of Buddha’s place and onto the snow white streets a couple of hours later, it was already growing dark. We were immaculately high and did not even feel the cold. Our bus was late and we figured it might not arrive at all with the snow lying so thickly. So we decided to walk home, but stopped at Moscardini’s cafe for a cup of tea and another furtive line on the way.

We were wrapped in conversation all the way back; we just could not stop talking. We were so engrossed we didn’t see the police car drawing up beside us until an officer called out, “Hold it a minute boys.” My heart was in my mouth as the copper got out of the car and crunched through the snow towards us. He enquired where we were destined and we indicated we were on our way home. He asked our names and addresses and I gave him mine, but Danny hesitated a beat before answering.

“Astral Voyager,” he said.

“What was that?” asked the bemused cop.

“Astral Voyager,” repeated Danny, “It’s my name.”

My heart sank. This was no time to be playing jokes with the police. I had four ounces of pure methedrine in my pocket. I thought we were headed for the cop shop and a search which could only conclude in a bust. The copper turned and spoke to his oppo in the squad car who ran a radio check for Astral Voyager at 138b Leith Walk. It came back positive – there was indeed an Astral Voyager residing at that address. Evidently satisfied the cops drove away and we began to laugh the way only immortals can. Danny explained he’d changed his name by deed poll back in his Hare Krishna days and that he had never officially reverted back when he left the temple.

“You lived in a temple?”

“Sure, for three years almost.”

“I never knew that.”

“No reason why you should.”

I was beginning to realise I really knew very little about Danny, or should I say Astral Voyager. He was now a proper man of mystery in my eyes. I knew he was a sound geezer and a good laugh and I knew he liked Todd Rundgren and drugs, but I never knew he had lived in a temple. I didn’t know he was a skilled welder either until I bumped into him on a construction site one day. There’s the cliché about junkies; that they are all liars and cheats, but I never heard of anybody being ripped off by Danny. It was always a point of principle with him that he worked for a living and paid his own way. There was nothing tragic about this man; he was a born survivor and a decent human being.

I lost touch with Danny when I moved away, but I bumped into him again about twenty years later. He told me he was straight now and that he had remarried and was living in one of those fancy houses in the New Town. He asked about Buddha and we reminisced about how fucked up we both were with that speed and how fried our brains got through malnutrition and sleep deprivation. Of course Buddha was still tweaking – he couldn’t function without amphetamines; we marvelled at the man’s stamina but agreed that meth was too much like hard work to be considered fun.

We had a good long conversation and we agreed to meet up again soon, but we never did. Someone told me later that he contracted some virulent form of cancer that felled him quite suddenly. When I heard I felt my world shrink a little and my mind went back to that day in the snow. I hope Danny’s beliefs were a comfort to him in the end and that the gods were kind to him when his time finally came.


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