Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two kinds of tears

You need to be a certain age to remember the dope droughts of Christmas seasons past, when the business of scoring a bag of late-December weed was a strenuous exercise involving many miles and a lot more phone calls. “No, Doug’s not back yet from Mullum’,” some hippie chick would tell you, “but he should be bringing back a pound at least.”

Ah, the pound that never came! For some reason, possibly owing to outdoor cultivation and the cannabis plant’s three-month life cycle, the summer dope dry was indelibly inscribed on each year’s calendar.  It was during one such famine in, oh, 1974 or thereabouts that an old school friend stopped by the shared hovel the Professor at that point called home. The bad news, he said, was that there was no grass, hash, hash oil, putty hash, buddha, compressed or shake, not even stems and seeds, so bugger love and money.

But not to worry, he continued, a medical student mate in Carlton had come across a little smack, which he had kindly shared. Roll it into a joint and it would do until the green stuff was once again in plentiful supply. Indeed, the way he described it, there could be no more pleasant experience than studying the pressed tin ceiling from an unswept floor "once you've brought up your lunch  getting used to it."

There is no need to recount the end to this story, Billabong visitors being an intelligent lot. Suffice to say that over the next 15 years the Professor became  a polished hand at delivering eulogies, which is quite the art. There you are at the lectern, dead cobber stretched out before you in a pine box, and his mom staring from the front pew with that peculiar eye. They all had it, all the grieving mums, the look that said, ‘Why didn’t you stop him? Why didn’t you do something?’ Instead,rather than make a show of squirming, you would vamp and try to recall the sunbeams in a life gone dark – the day you snagged your first trout with his borrowed rod, for instance, and how good it tasted – and babble on with pap and crap until it was time for the organ music to kick back in. After that, off to the cemetery and more cold burns from a mother’s eyes. Did you help him score, they wanted to know? It was the question that could never be asked out loud, not with any hope of a truthful answer.

We all move on, except the dead, and it is now a matter of no consequence at the Billabong if dope is plentiful or scarce, which judging from press reports, it never is these days. Prohibition and the price-maintenance scheme it has established for marijuana and other contraband have seen cultivation move indoors, wholesalers become more efficient. It is the wonderfully amoral thing about supply and demand: someone will always lend a hand to help the former match the latter.

What brings these thoughts to mind, apart from the looming anniversary of another close friend’s long ago and premature departure, is the public anguish of a mum whose life also was wrecked by heroin, Mrs Kim Nguyen. As most will recall, her son was hanged in Singapore, and that tragedy is now the subject of a tele-movie she does not want to see screened. You have to feel for her. Anyone who has raised a child knows that visions of losing him or her make for the worst nightmares, the ones when you wake up with a scream on your lips. Her boy, Van, should be alive and going grey by now, maybe even a grandfather and, if he made the transition to life in a respectable cardigan, worried about his own progeny falling in with the wrong crowd.

But he’s dead, just like the Professor’s mates who used the same wares that earned Van Nguyen a long drop and a short rope. It must be hard for Mrs Nguyen, this wait to see her life’s greatest tragedy played out on the screens in a million homes, but her loss could be no greater than that of the mums whose accusatory gaze the Professor has tried with no great success to forget.

A few years ago at a school reunion, another survivor of those irresponsible years happened to mention that he had bumped into a mutual friend’s mother, now in her seventies. She seemed anxious to talk, so he accepted the invitation to stop by for a cuppa. It was after the chit-chat that she took him upstairs to our late mate’s former room, a shrine both to love and reckless stupidity, which was dusted but otherwise untouched some three and half decades after he was found dead in Elwood. What hit him hardest was the Pelaco Brothers poster on the wall and thoughts of what went on in the lane behind the Kingston Hotel, where they used to play. That, and the fact she was still crying when he made his apologies and left.
Mrs Nguyen’s anguish must be just as bitter right now, but given the actions and mercenary choices made be her son and the others of his ilk who brought down the curtains on so many of their customers, few would contest which mother deserves the greater sympathy.     


  1. I'm no ethicist, but I don't think that Van Nguyen's complicity in the deaths of the trade's customers need rest on the shoulders of his mother, who, like the grieving mothers from your past, all have a son-sized hole in their lives.

  2. The mothers deserve equal sympathy. They both lost sons they loved because of stupid decisions made by the *sons*, not by the mothers.

    The *sons* deserve different degrees of sympathy -- one harmed himself and the other harmed many other people.

    Professor Bunyip, you have often made me see important issues in a new way. I have learned from you and respect your opinions. But the last sentence of this post is unjust.

    1. As I recall there were two sons and a lot of strident denial put up about the nefarious activities of both. I don't recall any sanction for making the investigation more difficult, which is unjust.

  3. Thank you, professor. I didn't have to bury any mates. Most, like me, had a healthy fear of the dreaded scag.

  4. At the time, the hoo-haa from the Left about the rotten government of Singapore was deafening, as was that of the MSM. Within weeks of his death it was 'Van who?' as they moved on to another Cause de Jour. People are used by these cretins as no more than cannon fodder in their unending quest for the nirvana of a total Communist/Socialist society.

    Who is at fault? Well we all make choices in our lives. The more noble of us don't whinge when ours come unstuck. One good thing about the education system in this country is that NO ONE can claim ignorance of the existence of these substances and can therefore make no claim as to ignorance of them or their effects. If you make the choice to shove this **** into your body and it comes unstuck-stiff ***!

  5. This moved me to tears Professor B. He made his choices. We all do.

  6. There are indeed times when life becomes deeply personal. Enough said.

  7. Well written bunyip.

  8. Touching post, prof. Very, very well written. Not often I'm moved by words on this subject, having seen the results of such activity myself with those close and not so close.

  9. mom?

    or Mum?

    don't worry. I'll stay mum about it.

  10. Thank you professor, I have tears foe my sister and her son, who though is not dead is not living either. He exists in a stupor mostly,it's the intra-muscular i njections you see they leave him a fog and if he's not in a fog he's committed to a psych hospital. I haven't seen him for years bcause he won't cometo family gatherings becuase there are too many people and his paranoia is too great. He turns 30 in a few days, I will call on him fwor his birthday and i will goover now to my sistr's place, hug her and share a cuppa.

  11. Thank you Prof. I another life Himself had to sit through the autopsies of young Australians who had died of overdoes outside of this country. It haunts him to this day.

  12. thank you very moving

  13. What's really sad is a child dying before a parent, whatever the cause. It just doesn't fit with our expectation of the natural progression of the scheme of mortality, and having witnessed the beginning and end of a life you have held high hopes for, makes the whole pointlessness of the human condition the more bitter and stark. It's somehow easier for us to shuffle off with our younger baton holders still running the race.

  14. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.July 25, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    A generation lost its way, Professor, and the money followed them, to entrap the foolish or unwise. Now we have more to ease our pain than alcohol, and some chose an alternative to the way of the pub. I'm still at the pub, myself (the luxe of the wine bar, actually), but many contemporaries have tripped to Mount Doom and looked in or fallen, helpless against the pull of the cauldron's maw. We cannot claw them back nor fully absolve ourselves. Nor blame those who grieve, for grief has no limits to its dominion.

  15. Professor, that is the best piece you have written on this current website. I have never buried a dear one who died from drugs though I have officiated at tragic funerals. Very moving words - thank you dear fellow.

  16. Actually, Van Tuong Nguyen would have been 33 this August. Perhaps a bit early for grey hair and cardies.

  17. Yes, they are moving words.
    Nevertheless, there is a huge demand for drugs - an awful lot of people don't want them banned. The traffickers are supplying what so many want.
    No one is forced to use them. No users, no traffickers.
    No executions. No deaths from drugs.

  18. It's not a pine box. It's a chipboard box with a paper veneer. These days they are imported as CKD kits from Vietnam for about $220 wholesale. The family pays $1,400.