Penny Arcade Aka Susana Ventura is a performance artist, author…
A chance encounter with a gangster drug dealer led to sex, violence and a brush with crack cocaine. It proved a harsh and valuable lesson, that could be shared with kids whomight find themselves in a similar situation, says Stewart Who?
The first time I met Shane Kelly was in ’88 at Spectrum, Paul Oakenfold’s seminal Monday night rave at Heaven. He tried to sell me pills, but who’d buy drugs from a Scouser with a ponytail? Not me…and I told him so. After laughing raucously, he gave me a pill on the house and melted into the lasers and strobes.
Fast forward six months. I’m at The Lisbon in Liverpool, a week after arriving in the city to do a degree. Suddenly, the crowd parted, a frisson rippled through the drinkers and emerging like Moses from the whispering throng, was Shane Kelly.
We chatted, he flirted. Then he got into an argument with one of the door security and left. Following this departure, a retinue of queens took turns to enlighten yours truly.
He beats his boyfriends, sometimes to death. He’s the biggest drug dealer in the north west of England. The Kelly family are notorious murderers/gangsters/armed robbers. Don’t ever speak to him again. He’s been in prison three times. Blah, blah, blah.
Even when overlooking his scarred but handsome features, wicked charm and impressive physique, one had to admit he sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the Gay Mersey Chorus were right. His family were infamous.
In an attempt to compensate for his sexuality, Shane had established himself as the most violent of five brothers. With more to prove and nothing to lose, even his decidedly psychotic family were scared of him.
Bone and blood
Despite the reputation, Shane displayed old school manners. On several occasions, he’d ask me to leave a venue and wait in the car, prior to committing some gut wrenching carnage. He knew I didn’t approve, you see.
On one occasion, a shower of glass, bone, beer and blood sprayed on my back as I hurried from a nightclub called the Coconut Grove. Before the incident, we’d been having a quiet drink in the half empty club when he turned and said, ‘It’s gonna kick off. Walk to the car and don’t look back.’
You never had a dull night with Shane.
One night before Christmas, he rocked up unannounced. His shellsuit was damp with sweat and he demanded a beer. After popping it open, he poured the contents down the sink. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked, horrified at the waste of alcohol.
‘Making a pipe,’ he snapped.
‘But you don’t smoke,’ I said, tentatively.
‘Get me a fucking pin, Dickhead.’
He stabbed holes into the empty can, produced a lighter and fired up a greyish crystal with smooth efficiency. ‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Crack,’ he squeaked, as a cloud of white smoke unfurled from his chapped lips. Fairy lights warmed the room with a rainbow glow, Lisa Stansfield oozed from the stereo and a man was smoking crack on my sofa. It didn’t feel like a bleak government funded film, nor was it particularly exciting.
As Shane fired up another rock, I found myself asking, ‘Can I have some?’ He stood up slowly, grabbed my face with one hand and fixed me with his dilated pupils. ‘You can ‘ave som, Stewit, but, if you eva ask me forrit again, or I ‘ear you’ve don it with someone else, I’ll bash your foquin’ brains in.’
Always looking after my best interests, that Shane. So, what was it like? Well, there was no big epiphany. No brain frying rush. Perhaps it was the taste of the aluminium beer can, or maybe the crack itself, but the whole experience felt very chemical, bleak and pharmaceutical. So, I did some more, you know, just to confirm it wasn’t that great.
As the second cloud of crack smoke hurtled into my lungs, I heard a key in the door. My flatmate. Adam was a rugby playing electrical engineer, but he liked to party. ‘What are you boys doing?’ he asked.
‘Smoking crack,’ I said.
Adam sniggered, put down his kit, greeted Shane with a laddy grin and asked, ‘Can I have a toot?’
And then there were three. Eventually, Shane left as he had some ‘business’ to do and quite frankly, we’d smoked all his rocks. Adam skinned up a succession of joints, put Massive Attack’s Blue Lines on the stereo and gibbered away in his husky Welsh accent.
At about 2am, after clocking we had lectures in the morning, our bedrooms beckoned. As I lay there, staring at the ceiling, my entire body taut with tension, a strange emotion crept over me- raging fury.
If Adam hadn’t come home when he did, there would have been a bit more crack for me. In fact, he really sucked that shit down. Greedy, thieving skank. Should I speak to him about it? I’ll wake him up. That’s if he is asleep. After all that crack, MY crack, he’s probably really buzzing. Cunt.
Somehow, I resisted the temptation to kick down Adam’s door and stamp on his head. It wasn’t easy. Waves of hatred, anger and resentment washed over my bitter husk with alarming force. Oh, how I wanted to bash him.
Once the appeal of such actions had subsided and my usual demeanour returned, I slowly understood crack cocaine and all the associated social problems. Mild experimentation had rendered GBH almost irresistible. That’s quite a personality change.
No wonder crack heads rob their mothers, and then punch them, I thought. I worried what my dead mother might think of me. For brevity’s sake, my post-crack account isn’t as detailed as it might be, but rest assured, I wrestled with my conscience in a barbed wire boxing ring ‘til day break. Considering the short and unremarkable high, it was followed by an intense and exhausting trip to hell.
Back to work
As part of my drama degree coursework, we were required to create a Theatre In Education project. See! It wasn’t all crack smoke and psychopaths. This project involved using drama to convey a social message to a group of people who wouldn’t normally have access to theatre.
We scrapped the idea of a musical about bullying for pupils at Pleasant Street Primary School and thought better of an Anger Management Dance Workshop for the inmates of Walton Prison.
Instead, we plumped for a Drugs Awareness Improvisation with patrons of a Speke youth club. This was rather cavalier to say the least. When we arrived at the single storey community centre in the middle of a seemingly endless housing estate, the local children threw bricks, bottles and a shopping trolley at our car.
‘Bet they don’t get this at RADA,’ I muttered, running across the car park, like a soldier in a war zone.
Surprisingly, the shellsuited children refused to embrace our vocal warm up exercises. They didn’t really warm to our ‘dancearama’ movement class either. These kids had never met students before, let alone drama undergraduates. They didn’t want to learn about Brecht, or feel the joy of improvisation. They hated us.
After about an hour’s stand off, out of sheer boredom, they started to chat. We had a frank discussion about drugs, which was mostly about them testing our knowledge. Aged from eight to fifteen, they’d tried most substances already and most had parents or elder siblings who were alcoholics or seriously addicted to crack, heroin or both.
They fell silent with fascination and awe when told of my night on the pipe. Like children and a bedtime story, they hung on every grim word.
It would be outrageous to claim that the tale of my dalliance with a gangster’s crack pipe saved them from a life of drug riddled misery, but it did have some impact.
Like yours truly, they were shocked at how devastating the withdrawal proved. They asked heaps of questions and eventually, stopped ridiculing my accent. You wanted to hit your best friend? In his bed? After a couple of smokes?
For a few of them, my pipe parable went some way to explaining the behaviour of their siblings and parents.
They’d never heard a first hand account of drug use, with all the ugly details. As the children of addicts, they’d only heard rumours, slurred words, silence and lies.
For a couple of hours we bonded. It had never occurred to any of them that a kid from a council estate might end up doing a degree. ‘Look where it’s got me,’ I said, indicating the grubby room. ‘Right back where I came from.’
It had never occurred to them that education offered opportunity, but they got it. There might be a way out. Back then, in the late ’80s, you could get a grant and higher education offered a potential geographical and mental shift.
They were amazed that working class kids went to university and quizzed us on our families and the types of houses we lived in. If nothing else, we’d sparked their curiosity.
My drama troop all scored first class marks for our T.I.E. project. The Speke Youth Group Facilitator, who’d proved useless when the kids were bricking our car, lavished us with praise and admitted he hadn’t harboured much hope for our project.
And Shane? Well, we fell out when he pulled a gun on a fellow student, after using my pass to access the university halls of residence. Luckily, following that incident, he allowed me to withdraw from his life, from his bed and his business.
Whether he allowed me to step away because he cared, or because he didn’t care enough, I’ll never know. Either way, I got out alive. Most of the time, that’s something to be very grateful for.
First published: The Hospital Club Magazine, April-June 2009