Sir Larry the Gear – An Off-License Fixer

September 17, 2012 7:22 pm

To Hunter Stockton Thompson, born on July 18th 1937.

Happy B-day, Doc!



An empirical study of the wild variations in meaning of the word “gear”


Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the Queen of the Underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning ”

                                                                                                                                 – The Rolling Stones

casual kitchen table

This morning’s Metro featured a small article lost between news of Barclays’ chief pimp hustler Bob Diamond resigning, and some sex offender being released from custody because his act ‘was society’s fault’. The article’s title read ‘Clarke: We’re plainly losing our fight to beat drugs’. The piece itself was an unjustly short summary of yet another high ranking official’s statement on the futility and destructiveness of the war on drugs. He also said that “The government has no intention whatever of changing the criminal law on drugs.” Alas.

As I was reading this candid piece on the tube at 8:47 am, a bunch of drunken fat women brandishing American flags on their backs got on the train at Camden station. It was the 4th of July. A geezer next to me dumbly said to them: “You couldn’t look more American if you tried.” Then he grinned at his own insightful commentary, without anyone else in the carriage taking notice, not even the proud Americans.

The picture in the header was taken in my kitchen tonight. Take a good look, for there are quite a few kitchens equipped in the same manner all over the UK …I’ve just now been invited to have a bump of that gear, and I regretfully refused, if only because I’m due for work in 6 hours and I have to look sharp because my agency is running an event in the Houses of Parliament, but more of that later. To the point:

Larry, the owner of the pictured kitchen (via the British Government) has been kind enough to rent me a room in his two-bedroom North Islington flat for a modest £70 weekly rate. No washing machine, no fridge, no internet, no hot water. This guy has been addicted to heroin all his life – which he spent in and out of Her Majesty’s prisons, working petty jobs and living off scraps. An empty shell of a man, with an ailing body, a disintegrated mind and a broken spirit, but just good natured enough to make you like him – as much as one can like a 55 year-old junkie who will shake your dirty trousers down for spare change the instant you’re out the door. After a month of living in his house I started calling him Uncle Larry. He likes that.

Indeed. To the point: As I’m writing this desperate moan, my landlord is in the kitchen with his friend Jay, getting high – injecting heroin in his leg (the former) and smoking crack and smack from an improvised pipe (the latter). Jay is a 25 years old black guy with a fear of needles, which hasn’t however deterred him from being addicted for the past ten years of his life. Both of them live on benefits and dwell in free council homes. (Visit Heroin Detox & Opioid Rehabilitation in Richmond, Virginia for complete evaluation and treatment plan for faster recovery).

It took me a couple of weeks to comprehend my new flatmate’s habit. I suspected something dodgy about him from his wild swings in behaviour, but I chalked it all off to alcohol. I was brutally awakened to reality one night after a long day’s work, when I came back home with a takeaway meal of fifteen chicken hotwings and chips, all drenched in chilli sauce. I hung my coat on the corner of the bookshelf, cracked open a can of Holsten lager and sat down on the sofa. The meal awaited, steaming in the Styrofoam box on the coffee table when Larry strutted in the room with a sharky grin on his face. ‘May I join you for dinner, Harry?’ ‘Sure, mate. Sit down.’ I said and handed him a beer.

He cracked it open, then casually rolled up the left leg of his jeans and placed his foot on the table, shoe on.

I was gnawing at the wings like a mad hyena, spitting bits of bone and deep fried cartilage in the empty half of the tray when he pulled out a syringe full of what looked like tea, or good whisky. I realised what he was about to do and paused, staring mesmerised. He held the syringe up in the light, watching it carefully, gently hitting it with his index finger’s nail. He pressed the piston gently and a bit of liquid dripped out. ‘You gotta make sure there’s no air inside.’ He told me as he prepared to shoot up.

He expertly spiked his leg’s vein, hitting it from the first try, no rubber tube either. I was impressed.

‘You have to draw a bit of blood first, to make sure you don’t miss’, he explained as he did just that. The syringe filled with blood as his pupils dilated visibly. Time suspended for a millisecond, after which he shot up quick and the mixture of blood, dope, citric and water disappeared inside.

He instantly stood up straight, eyes the size of pinholes now. He started talking fast about how sick he was and how he lost his bank card the very same day he got a loan in on his account. He started walking restlessly around the room, syringe forgotten stuck in his leg, wobbling as he moved. He took out a tissue, pulled it out – still talking: “This saves the vein. You have to press hard so it doesn’t burst with pleasure.”

I was dumbstruck. His eyes were glassy and restless, like two bouncing marbles. He sat down, still talking about furniture and the council who will furnish his house for free ‘next week’. He told me I could stay on his sofa forever, if I wanted to. I said “Thanks, Uncle Larry.” That was the last thing I said for the rest of the night. I fell asleep half an hour later with Larry standing by my side staring at his own painting he made ‘years ago’, hung next to a portrait of Jimi Hendrix.


After a while, I became less and less bemused by his open junk habit. One night I got back home from work with Indian takeout. He asked me what I was having and I said “It’s veggie Curry.” “Oh, I was a vegetarian for three years.” he said. “Spiritual kick?” I naively inquired. “No. I was in prison.”

On another occasion, I got home at midnight, after a successful date with a Polish girl I met in Camden. I was planning to tell Uncle Larry all about how we hit it off and ended up drinking half a case of Budweiser, smoking weed and making out on Camden Lock, but when I got in the house he started rambling immediately, while drinking my safety beer on the couch I was renting out from him.

His solicitor and his assault case in court, and his housing compensation for the sewer which blew open in the bathroom just before I moved in – filling the flat with raw human shit… and his ex-girlfriend, and t-shirts with funny phrases printed on them… and his friends who helped him get back at a bailiff for breaking down his door on behalf of the gas company…

He wouldn’t stop.

This whole monologue went on the whole time I changed, showered, ate a sandwich and smoked a bowl of weed and two cigarettes. Larry proceeded to reveal how “Every dealer you buy from needs to be given a transactional analysis. That means talking to at least two of his customers to make sure he won’t fuck you over before you make the purchase. If you’re really desperate, you can go by the cashpoints at Archway Station. Some fucker will always be there in a car, especially on weekends, selling weak stuff to Friday fixers.

“Some people only get high on Fridays, when the unemployment check comes in. Heroin used to be such a beautiful cure-all. Now it’s just shit gear.”

I kept my mouth shut and took notes. I reckoned this was too good copy to miss out on. The savagery of the human spirit goes beyond our farthest imagination. After meeting Larry, I decided my problems don’t exist. The problem with him wasn’t that he injected himself with heroin+cocaine, but that the drugs explained everything. His weirdness ceased to be a mystery. Even still, I wrote down his geezer wisdom. We soon got round to racism, AIDS and gentrification:

“We used to call pakis wogs, back in the day. That was a much more polite term. It stands for Western Oriental Gentleman. I never hated on anybody, though. There’s nothing better than living your life without being a hater.”

“Have you ever got yourself tested for AIDS?” I asked at one point.

“HIV positive? I’m a man of the world.” Larry answered smiling candidly. I changed the subject.

“Half the buildings in London are empty, and they’re building more of them every day,” said my uncle.

“Do you care?” I asked.

“Yea, I live here. The Buddhists were right not to dwell on the past. Doing so would make you wonder what went wrong.” Was that a pun? Perhaps.

So went many conversations we had during the seven weeks I spent couchsurfing in his Islington flat.

To the official, face-value notion of society (the one you see on TV) Uncle Larry is no more useful than microphones to the Spice Girls (or tits on a boar), but to real society – the one made of human relationships, drugs on dole money, free council homes and interest-free credit at the corner off-license shop, Larry is a very important gear, turning at very high revolution. So important is his input in the dynamics of Archway Islington’s day-to-day life, that he should be granted keys to the city or at least the borough, along with a knighthood by the Queen herself, were there any justice in this world.

Now, back to the mighty war on drugs: the heroin comes from Afghanistan (mostly) and the cocaine from South America, with neither experiencing the deserved economic boom from their lucrative exports. So where does all the money go to? We know where it comes from, don’t we – the taxpayers who live quietly with all the Fear in their heads.

But where in the name of screeching Geezus does it all go? Does it go to the retailers? It’s already expensive when they buy it. Does it go to the soldiers who bring it over in their raggedy knapsacks? To corporations who own prisons and health services and security firms and public transportation and media outlets? I might be struck by lightning momentarily if I keep up with this blabber, but I can’t help myself.

If you Google ‘Serco’ you’ll get a Guardian article calling it ‘the biggest company you probably never heard of’ and a Wikipedia page saying that “Among its operations are public and private transport and traffic control, aviation, military and nuclear weapons contracts, detention centres and prisons, and schools.” It also says that at some point in the past, the very same company was founded by Radio Corporation of America, which later got broken up by General Electric and evolved into Sony BMG and other big time players. Conspiracy theories go even deeper with the freakout, blaming Serco for the Fukushima disaster, the Stuxnet virus and many, many other crazy Black Swan events.

I would venture on a whim here and say that the same circle of humongous companies, owned by even bigger financial holdings, groups, banks, etc., are operating and actively encouraging the class A worldwide business, with politicians as their bitches. I guess class A is actually a double entendre, also meaning ‘class A assets’. That could be the reason why we don’t get lax, realistic drug laws devised to help people and balance out society, because there’s simply too much money in the illegal traffic – and the infrastructure for it is already there, firmly grounded everywhere, much like the other, acceptable branches of human consumption (electronics, clothes, pot noodles, et al).

The production is based in the poor countries where the laws of survival are above the laws of the state, and people’s behaviour is primal. All you really need to control is the logistics of multi tonne transportation to get all the juice out of it. If you count in the profits made from prison sentences and so-called healthcare programmes for addicts (methadone is more addictive than heroin itself), plus the rest of the public sector jobs in councils, it all results in a hallucinating alternative universe where the same beneficiaries (maybe aliens or the Church of Scientology, why not?) are making money on all ends of the drug trade, with the only real victims being the sober people walking the grey line, waking up early and going to work, earning money and paying taxes for everything. FYI, real junkies always get given everything – be it by means of panhandling or social benefits of holding a UK citizenship – the one thing that can’t be taken away from them.

The hardcore addicts don’t really give a shit about themselves, their families, the large public or any social contract whatever. They are mere vehicles used for transfer of wealth from the taxpayers. Woe is the most profitable business in the world, because it surpasses judgement and reason, surrendering all the power and any trace of free will to the ‘protectors’. Res Ipsa Loquitur, as Raoul Duke would put it…

Fittingly enough, New York underground rapper Ill Bill has a track out under the title ‘My Uncle Shoots Heroin’ and it says that “Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity.” Amen to that, Bill.

Goddamn, I just went over what I just wrote… where is my journalistic etiquette? Have all these cold showers I’ve taken the past month fucked up my otherwise sound judgement?

No sources, no proof, absolutely no basis in reality. Better take this one as another idiotic rant of an insane nobody trying to make a name for himself by sounding outrageous.

Libel. Sickening. Paranoid. No future. Where will it all stop? Is God there? Is this Gonzo, Doc? Can you hear me?


Ah, Jay is back with fresh gear. He asks me again if I’ll join the party.

‘Fuck it, I’ll just have one hit.’

Ultimately, drugs are but another Darwinian bump in the road, regardless of who pushes/ accepts/ enables their widespread use. The hard ones at least have an almost poetic way of weeding or smoking out (rimshot) the weak. The illness lies not in the addiction itself – the countless returns to advanced rehab facilities all our favourite artists keep on making are proof that the root disease is weakness of character, as it is commonly defined. When you set the bullshit aside for a minute, though, they are also fun – a great ride, and if we aren’t getting on it once in a while just for good old kicks, what else is there?

Harry Cathead @harrymatei

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