The Look

“Did you get it?” I'd ask “Did you get The Look?”
“Nah, don't think so,” she'd say. “She was normal. Just miserable”
“Hm... Ok. Try the next one. If it's the man with the swept over hair you'll definitely get it from him.”
“Won't you come in with me?” she'd say.
“No, he knows me. He won't give The Look if I'm there. You never get it when they know you. When they know you you get something else, something like the shutters coming down and a pump action shotgun being  cocked.... You'll learn about that later. For The Look, that works on an air of complete and utter surprise. You'll have to go in alone for that.”

Anne came out the pharmacy shaking her head in vain. I gave her a curious look. “And you was served by the moron with the pigeon wing of hair?”
She nodded. “He served me like anyone else. I'm starting to wonder if The Look even exists,” she said “or if it's maybe some kind of a problem with me?”
“Oh it exists!” I told her, “but it's a subtle thing, like when US Presidents shapeshift on Youtube – you have to be receptive of it. We'll hit the next one together. You just stand by and watch.”

The next pharmacy was a little affair in a gentrified part of town. It was wedged in nicely between a family owned bakers and an organic greengrocers which sold mostly cherries and pumpkins. I peered in through the pharmacy window, around the cardboard cut-out display of a beaming family all off their heads on garlic pills. Behind the counter was a young pharmacist, natural blond hair, PH neutral skin and a neck which looked like it would smell of peppermint drops. I turned to Anne and nodded. “Perfect,” I said.Then: “How do I look?”
“Great,” said Anne, fixing my shirt collar and stroking my jumper down flat and respectable. She straightened herself, ditched her cigarette, and followed me in, the two of us looking like liberal bank workers or people with money pretending we had none. When the young girl heard us talking in English she glanced up and sang a big friendly “Bonjour!”

“BONJOUR!” we both replied, looking around and pointing like we were in a church or something.

Standing at the counter I looked into the pharmacist's polished enamel teeth, her young elastic lips, and then her clear helpful eyes as she positioned herself in preparation to concentrate on some heavily accented french.
“Erhm, I'd like some 1 mil syringes, please?” I asked, candidly. I watched as her smile disintegrated, furrowed like a brow and struggled to stay curved the right side of Customer Service joy. Her eyes widened as if she was trying to breathe through them.
“Pardon? What???” she asked, having heard perfectly  but taken aback.
“Some 1ml syringes,” I repeated “I'd like five Steri-Boxes.”
“Yes, FIVE... I've got loads of drugs!” I quipped, milking it and standing basking in my own idiotic cleverness.
I paid with a note. The pharmacist pushed the boxes of needles my way and dumped the change down in a saucer on the counter so as to avoid the slightest risk of accidentally touching my hand. Then without uttering the customary “Bonne Journée!” she disappeared out back – probably to have a full strip-down disinfectant scrub.

“There, did you see it! Did you see IT!!!” I cried excitedly to Anne, as we left the shop. “Now That was The Look! A good one too. Did you see it?”

Anne looked at me like I was losing my mind. She said she hadn't seen a thing, that the girl had served me as normal, had been indifferent all the while, and then went about her business. “Whaaat???” I asked in disbelief. “She gave me The Look... she gave us both The Look! God, are you seriously saying you didn't see it?.”
Anne shook a no from her head. I put the needles in my bag and thought, “maybe she's right... maybe there is something wrong with her.”

-  -  -

It took a while, almost a year, but finally Anne did come to recognize and bask in the magical properties of The Look. She saw it just as clearly as I – sometimes even seeing it when I had not – straight-laced pharmacists shocked into a state of confused incompetence, the human animal within them struck dumb, on pause, the mouth slung open and the brain struggling to control the eyes whenever we said the word “syringes”. Not that the word in itself was so shocking, it was more trying to marry the word with the people stood in front of them: me in classic pin-stripe shirt and jumper, and Anne in smart professional town wear, both well groomed and speaking in the Queen's own tongue.

Getting The Look became a game to us, something we'd do to jolly up our day or give it a little taste of adventure. On a whim we'd whip into a chemists and ask for needles, both of us watching eagerly to see whether or not we'd receive The Look. It was something akin to buying a scratch card or chucking a dime in a one-armed bandit, that mystical thing which could dictate if we'd have a lucky day or not:

Get The Look = winning ticket/good day.
Not getting The Look = losing ticket/average to lousy day.

Some weekends we'd even rise early, dress in our best clothes and travel around the city trying to procure The Look. Thinking back now I remember holding hands and running and laughing, and somewhere the sky was blue,  life was in the air and we sucked it down without the slightest fuss.

The problem was that whenever we were canvassing The Look it mostly always took place during a very specific period of our lives. It would be that period where we'd be having a prolonged break from heroin, after having paid off our debts, having brought a new wardrobe of clothes, after having caught up with all the latest books, films and music, then suddenly having nothing much to do or buy – money building up in the bank, and at home a stock of clean needles gradually building up in the bedroom. It always started with the needles and then progressively other things would creep in: listening to the Heartbreakers; watching heroin DVDs and punk documentaries; looking at our old junk photos; reminiscing about scoring and the characters we'd met. Some nights we would get teary eyed with happiness and  nostalgia, and even the couple of bouts of sickness we had shared together we built up into a tremendous feat, laughing and grimacing at how torturous those days were. That's how it always started. Then the hats and scarves would come out, the loose round tops, exposed necks and love bites, cuts,  perfume that smelled of centuries old musk. We'd  triple our methadone doses and wander around the city. We'd, sit outside cafés, visit chemists, go home, chuck the needles with the others and spend the evening watching more of the same heroin films. From that point on it was never long before Anne would arrive home one day and I'd say: “I've got a surprise!”
She would know what it would be; any other surprise would have been a huge disappointment.

“Where is it?" she'd ask.
“In the kitchen,” I'd tell.
“Is it any good?” she'd shout through, sitting down at a syringe and spoon laid table.
“Oh, it's not bad,” I'd say, my mind drifting away behind world heavy eyelids.
“Oh yeah, it's good!” she'd say. “Fuck, it's so good.”

Coming out of reverse we'd start in first gear: heroin once or twice a week. By the end of the month we'd be raising an hour earlier each morning so as to get a decent fix before leaving for work. Slowly our stock of needles would whittle away, our cash too, and six months later we'd be scraping around for a quid to buy new works. At that point needles were never bought for fun but out of pure necessity. The Look could go fuck itself – and anyway, it was quite obvious from the burnholes in our clothes and the dried blood in our fingernails just as to what ends we were doing in the chemists.

It would have been around that time when we'd begin to postpone our rent, juggle the electricity and water bills, stall paying just about anything we could, post off hard luck stories telling of deceased relatives and asking for special permission to pay in instalments, sell our DVDs, take loans out from the bank, and invent surprise costs so as we could wheedle money out of Anne's parents. When you're at that stage in the game you visit the ATM machine with a Bible and your fingers crossed, 'insufficient funds' about the best result you're likely to get. And because of all the bad cheques we'd been cashing (saving the real money for smack) it was never too long before our bank cards could no longer take the strain and sought refuge inside the cash machine. As mine had a lower overdraw limit than Anne's it'd always be the first one to go, signalling the moment to begin battening down the hatches and preparing ourselves for the inevitable H bomb which would follow. We'd start regulating our methadone intake, rationing out what we had and swallowing a dose every three days so as when Anne's card would be finally recalled we wouldn't be left completely fucked. For a while we'd struggle on like that: using methadone, but always thinking of heroin and scoring whenever we could.

Then one day I'd say: “I need new shirts... I've no fucking shirts!”
And Anne would say: “I need shoes! I can't go to work in these... the fucking heel's hanging off!”
And I'd say: “The electricity’s gonna get CUT OFF! Maybe we should take care of that first?”

For a month we'd loaf around the apartment depressed and thinking of heroin. We'd score obly very occasionally and not really enjoy it when we did. Then when we were paid we'd find an extra ounce of resolve, knock back a double dose of methadone and instead of going out to score we'd go out shopping.  We'd buy shirts, shoes, belts, socks, scarves, skirts, CD's, DVD's, new music, magazines. We'd reload, reculturalize, and rebuild relations with our landlord, our bank manager, the in-laws, and the outlaws. We'd take all the used needles to the exchange dump and leave without taking any freebies. Soon we'd be back in the cafés, back doing weekly shopping, in and out of changing rooms, and arriving home with all manner of gadgets and accessories for the apartment. And then one day, on a whim, walking around in our new clothes with bags from Zara, H&M and Mango, I'd duck into a pharmacy and return smiling.
“Did you get it?” She'd ask. “Did you get The Look?”
And I'd say: “Yeah, I got it! Dressed like this how could I not!”
And she'd say: “It's not fair! I want The Look... I want The Look too.”
And I'd look at her, with eyes when love was new, and I'd say: “Go get it, My Love... Go knock 'em dead!” And she'd know, we'd both know, that this was life and it was about to start again...

My Thoughts & Wishes to All, Shane. X

Dedicated to Anne Spieswinkel


Absolut Ruiness said...

its as if i was roaming around with you guys. you write beautifully.

bugerlugs63 said...

It was like reading the first pages of a really good book . . . then wanting to stay up all night to finish it . . . So I relished it a few more times then went back to your archives.
Brilliant as always x

karl said...

I used to buy my pins, some chemists would, some wouldn't.I knew all I had to do was sign on at the exchange but that was like admitting I was now a full time addict. I put it off as long as I could but a few quid makes all the difference when you're trying to score, especially when you know you can get away with a of couple of £'s off of certain dealers.Also at the exchange you always seem to bump into people you rather wouldn't. I remember going in once & sat there was one of my old school buddies, he was really good about it completely non-judgemental & I realised a lot that day. THEY ARE THERE TO HELP & help they do! Sometimes I go through 5-10 clean ones trying to get a hit so a pk. of 5 or 10 doesn't really go that far.
Again I've really enjoyed your post & wish you all the best.
Love & respect Karl

Kono said...

I knew these two girls, i called them the Glimmer Twins, both hooked, one night i was sitting in the ones apartment snorting bumps of H followed by rock star lines of blow, the one told me she had been in re-hab 8 times, i laughed and she asked how i never got hooked, i shrugged and mumbled something about discipline, this sounds much more enjoyable than her story, though i'm sure there were parts that were less enjoyable than others, nice one. cheers.

QP said...

back to your brilliant best

Georgina said...

Brilliant as always Shane. Hope u are well.

JoeM said...

I thought at first this was going to be Kafkaesque - The Look being ambiguously ultimately undefinable.

But I liked the way it turned into a circular almost bourgeois couple's Heroin Tales - purging and binging on consumer goods in between the dope.

And working daily jobs on or off.

I've learned from here that are as many types of users as there are users.

Simon said...

This is so soulful. Love, self-destruction, pain, and love again. What a writer you are!

P.S. "Notes from the Underground" is my favourite book as well.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hiya Absolut Ruiness... all ugly men write beautifully; poetry's our only hope. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey ya Bugerlugs, thank you, darling... don't stay late on my account and don't read my words more than once as there liable to fall off the page/screen. Take care, Shane. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Karl,

France isn't like the UK for needles (maybe Paris, but not here), you can get them for free but there's like one exchange place in the entire city and so it's a day journey to visit, pick up enough for months and get home. So we end up buying these little boxes for a euro a piece (containing only two fucking needles) and reusing the needles until the pin snaps off in a vein. I occassionally bought them in the UK but only when it was closing time, no exchange packs left and buying insulin needles as a diabetic was the only option left. There were times the chemist refused to sell me needles saying "They're for people with diabetes!"
I'd say, "I'm diabetic!"
She'd say: "No you're not!"
Scary stuff, pharmacists judging if you have the illness you say you have and either selling or not on that whim.

Take care Karl, thoughts and wishes, Shane. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey KONO! Oh, I'd much rather be undisciplined.. though saying that a smack addiction is as disciplined as the army. I don't know... I suppose I'd rather be raw and if I like a certain chocolate eat it whenever I like without thinking of anything else. It's like smoking - I just light the things up without a second thought. I probably won't live as long as you, though... that's the positive side of it all. lol


Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Cheer QP... not sure if it's my best, but I'm back at least.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Gina, thanks... yeah I'm great thanks, hope you are too.. try and send us some news. X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Joe,

I was going to do the kafka thing and only make it kinda obvious at the end what The Look was, but then it started going into a fictional piece to cover its track. I've another couple of pieces I wrote alongside this one... i'll be posting them and it's interesting as you see where I used the same lines I enjoyed and moved them around and played with them.

Rather than bourgeois it was more getting at the after-effects of a period of sustained addiction and how you pass 'straight' time and how you kinda over compensate for all you missed out on and wanted while you had barely enough money to live. I suppose it's a little like how people living under communism must feel when the regime comes down or they flee and suddenly after years of uniformity they have access to all the allures of business and capitalism: a million different gadgets and TVs and chocolate bars and things which work the same but look different. You kinda want to try them all, and when you have, you realize your life is just as empty as ever and you go back to how you was. It was also a post that went into the kind of plastic/capitalist side of heroin addiction, where we do play off and up to the image it gives out and when straight do romanticize it still and to an extent live the life of addiction straight. Many won't talk about that side of things, but it really exists and in a way the addiction is the kinda punishment of living the image you want. Like anything it's complicated and that is still in itself only a small part of the real whole. I suppose going into chemists or walking around with tracks showing or talking and walking half wasted is our equivalent to camping it up. We live in the image of who we think we are, just as much as we really are it.

Hope you're well Joe... I should mail more, but with the arhritis in my fingers it's hard... hahha X

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

hey Simon, there's been many but I think you're a new one. Thanks for all you say, compliments don't lose their charm and I hope never will. I could have been Underdground Man... I may still turn out to be him yet. Love and Thoughts, Shane. X

JoeM said...

Interesting - I never knew that actual users could also be into Heroin Chic.

I think 'camp' is a perfect analogy. People sometimes say 'Why do some gay guys over-exaggerate being effeminate etc'. And the only reason I can think of is that they're saying 'By the way I don't give a fuck what you think of me and my "affliction" '.

I suppose these days flirting with Being An Obvious Junky is as dangerous as Quentin Crisp in the 1920s - when his very existence was illegal - trawling the London streets, dumb with lipstick and blind with Mascara.

Kono said...

That is the funny thing isn't it? that once you get that habit going there is a fairly large amount of discipline, in my case i think i had such a large amount of respect for heroin, knew what it did and where it led that i kept it to a weekly regimen, knew not to do it over and over because i knew what the end result was, of course there are any number of things that i was far less disciplined with see: angel dust, cocaine, sex, booze and yes even chocolate, fucking love that shit and of course cigarettes, toss in milkshakes for good measure and with the new craze of booze in milkshakes it's a dangerous world i live in, haha, thought provoking as always... cheers.

Memoirs of a Heroinhead said...

Hey Joe, oh yeah, the users are just into heroin chic as anyone else - though that stops when you're really in the midst of the addiction. I reckon that at least 80% of addicts acted at being addicts way before they ever were. I did, and I still so stuff like that and let it be secretly known that there may be dangerous eddies under my my exterior. It's false and it's fake but it's useless to deny and cover it up out of shame or a sense of being immature because there is a reason why we do such things, and those reasons interest me. And every one does it, from the Gangster, to the Queen, to the Socialist, to the Politician, to the Whore and Poet and even our dear old librarians! We all revel in certain ideas of who we are and at times try to walk and talk it. If you look at addicts who have quit, hey are then online or set-up groups saying: I was an ex-addict!They are still living off that vibe of who they were and what they did and it becomes their new preoccupation. But it's still a part of it and in a way still gets the 'kudos' for having been there and knowing of it. Talk to my mother and it won't be five minutes before she's mentioned methadone and that she doesn't use "heroin or crack" anymore. And most addicts and ex-addicts are like that... and I'm maybe the worst of them all!

camp/pose, etc..

Well in one sense and to one group they are saying "I don't care what you think of me!" But in another sense and to another group they are saying "I REALLY care what you think of me, and I'm this type and maybe we'll fit together well." And I always think we do things for those who we attract more than for those who we will repel. Crisp may have repelled 9/10ths of Britain (and I'm sure he enjoyed doing so immensely) but I think that wasn't his reward, that's not what pushed him to that place. What pushed him (other than the pure attention) was the 1% of like-minded or awe-struck people he'd attract with that. For example, when he stopped his carnival I bet he had a lot more fun with the boys trailing behind than those who'd run away! As he once said: "I was looking for love!"

We all are, Joe.. in one way or another.


JoeM said...

Absolutely - if you didn't care what people thought about your 'affliction' you wouldn't be shoving it in people's faces provoking a reaction.

Crisp made no bones about the fact that he was desperate to get into The Big Time.

I liked him not only because was a master style writer but because he didn't toe the gay party line. I'm sure there are drug people - Militant Junkies if you will - who hate any sort of negative comments or even debate. Like when Crisp said he could understand why Rock Hudson didn't want to sacrifice his millions, career etc to come out for The Cause he was pilloried for that. And when he said that gay favourite Princess Diana deserved all she got he was virtually crucified!

Great fun!

fallen said...

I've been a heroin addict for many moons & found it so weird that an addiction can almost define who you are.I often wondered who I would become if I ever managed to give up.Because I was a mother I became a sort of functioning addict.My children never went without & managed to have all the materialistic crap society tells you that you need .People have often commented that I didn't look like a junkie/shoplifter but this was also part of the game I enjoyed to play.Like you said it's what you doom the straight time.Shane,I love the way that you break down preconceived ideas and how beautifully you manage to portray this ,thanks x

Sailor said...

RE: 'Users into heroin chic' - so true. I was attracted by and drawn to the lifestyle years before I ever tried gear. Something about the cliché of skinny, pale junkies with bloodstained tshirts and dark ringed eyes.. the consuming need and the intensity of the addiction. It's something to do with who I wanted to be and who I thought would understand me. There's something beautiful and mesmerising about willful self-destruction.

As you've said before, the reality of heroin addiction is just as boring and domestic as any other existance, except for the extreme characters you meet and situations you end up involved with. But try to leave it behind and I end up reminiscing and romantisizing, craving the actual substance as well as all of it's cultural connatations again until I'm back to square one.

I can never listen to Spacemen 3 or watch 'Panic in Needle Park' when I'm trying to stay clean..


Anonymous said...

this is exactly my life, the same pattern of relapse with my boyfriend. "I've got a surprise!" so funny. Realizing that you never wanted to be clean and accepting this is your life and you like it..all this in the 4 seconds it takes to throw off coats and shoes and run to the kitchen.

Addiction is a funny thing when its BF/GF. I get my own enjoyment but then I get it doubled when I have someone to confirm back to me "aw its good".."yeah its good" makes it so much better for some reason.

I work at a bookmakers whilst i'm on it and nobody notices, its crazy. I get off talking about how scummy addicts are to the customers and getting them on a rant about these "low lives", all the while I'm sat in a smacked up little bubble. It kills me haha.

love love xxx

Anonymous said...

The months of both conning yourselves watching the heroin films and listening to the music. If you just came out and said "lets get a bag" it would somehow take away the enjoyment. I guess there is an enjoyment in slowly failing at being clean. Like you are finally breaking free of this lie you have had to live, but its a self imposed clean lifestyle. Maybe it harks back to kicking back at authority in youth. You create a fake struggle in your head to maybe sweeten the decent..or justify it kind of. I know how I feel its just hard to analyze. Interesting creatures aren't we.


Anonymous said...

thank god I got the time to read this. what a beautifully written text!
tho' the story behind it was a lil' sad but at the same time so fascinating! but hey, don't take me wrong. I know u accepted ur life as it is, and I only said "sad" because for me it's unthinkable to have your lifestyle.
by reading your blog I'm discovering another side of heroin addicts that I thought it never existed.
maybe I'm wrong but I'm getting the idea that not all heroin addicts are homeless, asking for money on the streets, can't have a full time job, don't shower and their clothes are all dirty with blood and other things. please, correct me if I'm wrong!

anyway, how are u dear?
hope all is good. :)
right now I'm in college, on a multimedia journalism course. pretty good but all they are saying I already know heheheh!

kiss kiss,
V - Portugal

eyelick said...

Haha. Never wanted a "look," that's for sure. Quite the opposite. For quite a long time, pretended that getting needles was for a diabetic family member, always making sure to look "respectable" when going in for them (so none of that lazy no makeup grocery run type of look.) Also made sure NO one was around when going up to the pharmacy counter. Now, just asking is fine to me, not so much caring who's there and so on. Although - at a different place to purchase needles (independent pharmacy), upon calling to inquire if they sold and was any proof of being diabetic required, we were told that they did and no, and after the boyfriend got them, the guy told him to come on back anytime he wants to get high. The guy who sold them looked like he probably used drugs too, so going back to that one was fun - but it costs more than just going to the chain-run store.

Wildernesschic said...

I loved this .. i love the mischievous soul that lives within...
Wonderful writing as always, I am slowly catching up but not reading in order sorry xx

Anonymous said...

Although my own addiction is to pain meds, I can totally relate to the whole cycle. As soon as I leave the Dr office with my scripts I go immediately to the pharmacy to refill. I always get the look as pain med addiction has swept the states and especially Las Vegas. I go thru my months worth in a week or two then just stay on methadone til I can get my next months Lortab and Soma. I'm usually happy to be out and -more or less- clean, get organized, sort my life out. I'm much happier without them, except for my chronic back pain, but the mess I become when using is such a relief to be away from. Then about 5 days before the Dr, I become obsessed with getting high again, counting the days....then back to the pharm for the look

Russell 616 said...

"There's a weapon that we can use in our defence: silence; Just look at them - look right through them, that's when you lose the fear, that's when they disappear". They got a Look, we got a better Look in return. Good comeback Shane, hope you are high on heroin cause life doesn't really swing it any more. Yours: Dr Nuke