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shoes, like

© Copyright Rob Eveleigh 1997.

The speed was clean, white, and as it dissolved between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, I thought of pineapples. A fruity number, chateau Bradford '94.

Those special nights only came along once in a while, and as we dabbed and cooed over the speed, we took the quality of the powder as a good omen, another little signal along the thread of good shit that had been happening all day. Lost tapes had been found, sought-after choons unexpectedly Iocated in mediocre record shops, chemicals purchased with the minimum of hassle, and then the girl in the off licence had offered cashback. Free money, as it always seemed.

I took another couple of dabs, working my chops against the taste of the powder and lying to myself that it wouldn't make my mouth sore, before splitting the rest of the wrap down the middle and putting up a couple of bombs for later. A joint came my way and I pulled hard on it. My lungs felt good, anticipating the effect of the amphetamine and telling my head how much I loved the taste of weed. Later, though. Easy for now.

I switched off the toons before we pulled on our coats and stepped out into a sharp, Leeds night. Chill, but no breeze for this windiest of cities. Walking to the bus stop someone, I don't remember who, asked me: "D'ya reckon you'll be OK in those shoes.2

Shoes. Always the dilemma. Which shoes? I told whoever it was that my footwear would be fine. Suede-top boots with a chunky, plastic sole. Comfy. Ordinary. Just fine.

The bus came and, wide-eyed now, we got on, trying to find enough spit between us for our short conversations with the driver. No paranoia though. We were well past caring by then. The top deck was all boots, and hair and youth. I couldn't quite make out the patchouli oil. In my heightened state I should have done, so perhaps it wasn't there. Getting that devious, liquid feeling, we slid through the noise and into our seats, stretching and toe tapping away the trip into town.


On the bus, I struggled a carton of Ribena from my coat and, with a finger, dug deep for one of the bombs in that little front pocket made for users who don't want to lose their drugs. I decided to maintain at least a little dignity at the outset of this, our latest of chemical adventures, and faked a cough to flick the bomb into my mouth. Looking around me to check if I'd been sussed, I bit hard, but not too hard, and split the paper to let the speed tang seep out and infect me with its poison and its magic. Biting some more to soften the paper, I washed it down with some of that gorgeous, sweet, red liquid before passing on the carton.

The Leeds club we were headed for was one of the better ones that year. I won't say which, but suffice to say it wasn't Ronson so it must have been the other. It's bad of me, I know, but I can't even remember what DJs were on. It didn't really matter because the sounds were pouring out of the place in great, tingling waves when we arrived. Our mouths dried up in anticipation and we all lit fags knowing a smoke would make them even drier. Then more fags, then more, as the queue slipped away.

We watched nervously at all the bendy folk stiffening up for their scrutiny under the ruthless bouncers, and then relaxing again and oozing through the doors, laughing, relieved, the test complete.

There were four of us and the other three were just ahead of me in the crush. The speed was really working now, my scalp was creeping and the skin on my face tingled as it seemed to shrink away from my touch. I knew the others were the same as we passed the silent signals between us, letting each other know William had said hello, stepped inside and was pouring himself a drink.

Responding to the music was becoming an automatic affair and it was all we could do to stop ourselves dancing in the street, disclosing our substance abuse to the impending security moguls. Like the others, we tried to stiffen up by digging our hands deep into pockets as if these makeshift straight jackets would help us through the bouncers' portal.

My three friends slipped by the righteous ones and I tried to follow purposefully - but was barred by a thick forearm clad in black bomber jacket, standard issue to door staff. No problem, I thought, he's just waiting for the crowd to pay their cash and disperse into the club.


I looked at my bouncer, the one who was about to let me into his lovely nightclub, to give him a smile. You forget when you are in love with the rest of the world, that the rest of the world is not in love with you. His eyes met mine and dropped to my footwear then swung back up to meet my gaze again. He was not smiling. Or maybe he was. Yes, he was, the bastard.

"Shoes, mate,'' said my bouncer. "No."

3What's wrong with them?" I pleaded, not even looking at him as I shrugged at my pals, who were already about to pay their way. The bouncer said nothing while he eased me away from the front of the queue and I was left to inform my mates, in sign language, that I wouldn't be joining them. I couldn't and wouldn't have expected them to follow me. They'd been gagging for this one for a while, as had I.

All whizzed up and nowhere to go. Walking back to the bus stop, the speed played havoc with my brain, suggesting all kind of fantastical scenarios that would get me out of this most unfortunate of predicaments.

All night garages, yeah, they sell shoes, right? No. Leeds. 24-hour City, and that included all the shops, right? Nope.

I exhausted all the legal options in little time and turned to the less lawful. Bricks and shoe shop windows and back street muggings all sprang to mind. But even with the speed, I wasn't that bold. Clearly I had been sent a test, a Golden Fleece-like task to complete to secure my place in the heavenly temple of misbehaviour. The bouncer had at once crushed me and yet, bizarrely, made me feel elated by setting the challenge: To locate suitable footwear when I had none other, in a city new to me where I had no friends. Strange things these drugs. I pondered over the puzzle on the bus back to the flat.


I was stuck with what I had and disguise seemed to be the only option. The bouncer's shrewd eyes had obviously spotted the tan, rubberised sole on my shoes and his keen mind had equated the colour and texture with that also found on trainers. Clever chap.

Back in the flat I pulled off the offending shoes and turned one over in my hand. I switched on the TV to catch the start of the ten o'clock news. Lots of bad stuff was happening but it meant Iittle to me, a victim of such rough justice.

"And finally," the newschap's words rang in my head, "a young man is at the centre of a footwear row tonight after being turned away from a trendy city centre nightclub. But speaking exclusively to ITN, the youth vowed revenge on his cruel oppressors as he boldly told them 'this dog shall have his day' ..."

I was speed-dreaming again. My head needed the strobes, darkness, and some bass, the sort that sets you off on your journey for the night by tugging at your pants and woomphing into your guts to tingle through breathless lungs and out the top of your head.

An intense frustration hit me and slid quickly to the edge of panic. I pulled back from it with a new plan to resolve my awful predicament and dug a black marker out of a kitchen drawer. Gripping the thing, I pulled off the cap. The nib was old and furry and grey. My idea was doomed to fail, but, as expected, my drug fever convinced me of success.

I looked like a play school kid flicking my tongue over dry lips as I scribbled at the tan on the shoes. it wasn't working. The colour faded a little with each grey stroke and I licked at the nib, completing the play school image in that hopeful, but always disappointing, bid to revitalise the decrepit felt-tip.


I stopped and carefully and deliberately replaced the marker's lid. Even it's satisfying click as the top locked home sent a tingle through me. I was too far gone to be putting up with this. The frustration hit me again and I considered putting on some tunes to try and take the edge off its intensity, then realised that it would only make matters worse. Times like these, when you couldn't have the noise and the people and the dancing you wanted, called for dark rooms, silence and solitude.

It couldn't end like that though, not tonight. Easy cliches like 'seize the day' and .live for now' came to mind. I was plainly chemically deluded yet at the same time able to see with frightening clarity, so miserably aware.

I left the newsman to tell the world's troubles to the walls and went outside to look at the street, hoping for some strange event to end my problem. With my perception boosted, the roads, even the air, hummed with a dirty orange street lamp glow. Shadow folk passing between pubs and parties walked by without seeing me in my doorstep shadows and I beamed them out a telepathic SOS for some shoe-aid. The plea fell on closed minds, or, at least, it wasn't heard, and I went back indoors.

Then the idea happened. Knock on a door and ask a stranger. Simple, and totally implausible I know. Unless you've taken a drug. Which I had. Then it seems like the most natural thing in the world, just what anyone faced with a similar footwear dilemma would do. Of course, I knew it wasn't and recognised that my enthusiasm for the scheme was purely chemical. But with that thought held foremost in mind , the idea lost no time in becoming a reality.


The street was still orange when I went back out but I'd already seen it and the effect wasn't as striking now. I didn't waste any time trying to choose a house to knock at, in case any second thoughts beat me back, and knocked at the nearest with a light on. An ordinary terrace in Headingley.

While I waited for an answer, I went over my patter in my head and tried to anticipate a response. I couldn't imagine handing a pair of shoes to a total stranger knocking at my door but the situation was bizarre enough to warrant an equally bizarre response.

It was an oldish guy, about 55, who answered. I dived straight into it. I sounded over confident and insincere, but this was a bit of a do or die thing so it didn't matter.

"This is going to sound really strange," I told him. You're not kidding. "I've come up from London for the night to visit some friends. We planned to go out to a night club together, only I wasn't allowed in because of my shoes. They said I had the wrong shoes. So I wondered if I could borrow some, if you've got my size. I'll drop them off in the morning. You'd be saving my life. It's a special occasion."

"What size?" he said. He didn't look surprised, or angry. He didn't look particularly anything. He just rubbed his chin and asked me what size. "Er. Ten," I said, almost forgetting in my shock. "Just wait there a minute," he told me and went back inside. Even more amazing. What was going on? I felt like stopping him and asking him just what the hell was going on. I'd never really expected to get anyone to go and look. I had thought maybe they would run away and call the police, but to actually go away and look. What was going on? Who was this guy? Jesus? It wasn't even Christmas.


Then, to complete the madness, he came back with some shoes in his hand. "Try them," he said, and handed them over. A pair of shiny, grey slip-ons with a smooth, plastic sole. They were ugly, but after such bizarre luck I couldn't refuse. I tried them and they fit. I didn't know what to say, other than "thanks" and a promise that I'd bring them back in the morning. It wasn't quite a Dorothy-finds-the-ruby slippers feeling, but it was something close, only a little more perverse. His generosity had thrown me. I mean, I thought I was behaving strangely by asking, but this guy must have been off his head. It was the conclusion I wanted to the scene, but not the one I expected. Perhaps he'd been planning to throw them out.

He nodded, didn't even ask for a deposit, and closed the door on me. I looked at the shoes. I'd been bold enough to ask, now would I find the new valour needed to wear the things. Grey loafers. Plastic. Nice shoes mate. No.

Back at the flat, I deliberated a little more as I paraded around the lounge in my new shoes. I turned the light off to see how bad they looked in the dark. The bastards glowed back at me. "Fuck it," I thought. I had come this far, the first part of my task complete. Now the key had to be put to the test before the mighty bouncer. "They'll all be too off it to notice inside," I told myself, and pulled on my coat.

I didn't want to waste any more time and I hailed a taxi for the trip back into town. I wondered if I'd be able to find my mates if I got back in. The story was too good to fizzle out there, I needed a triumphant return and a magical night to complete the plot. I thought about how I would recount the story to my unbelieving pals, and felt a spreading glow for my shoe saviour. Top lad. How could I ever thank him, and other schmaltzy stuff.

My chariot arrived at the club which was not Ronson but the other one, and after fishing out some change, no tip, for my cabby, I approached-the guards for the second time that night, flicking a quick eye over my luminous loafers burning bright under the club's neon glare.

The dark ones never gave me a second glance. I could have been invisible. Maybe I was. I felt no victory surge rise in my belly as I passed, just calm assurance. I didn't smile, but I'm sure one of those bastards did. So what. I won. That's that.


It was a big club. The pre-Pleasure Rooms venue was a huge sprawling monster of a place, it seemed, with the decor ranging from bright colour to dinge and camouflage nets. So many people and dark corners to get lost in. The club was awash with folk and it took a couple of minutes to accept I was really there. I stumbled off on a search sticking a palm on the chest of a lad coming the other way to steady myself, and grabbed a handful of breast. Short haired chicks and moody lighting make things very difficult. I told her sorry and sloped off to look for the others.

I was surprised at how quickly I managed it. Our shared tastes must have pulled us to the same spot and once I'd found it I felt like I'd been there for hours already. My shoe problem had been a simple hiccup and the rest of the night went like the good one we had always thought it would be. In fact, overcome, it added that little something extra. My mates laughed at the footwear, even pointed it out for other people to laugh at but I got on one, lost some senses and found some new ones to the music in me, around me and through me.

I couldn't deny that they were ugly bastards, but those shoes felt like the best I had ever worn. Slipping, dipping, slicing the hot air with liquid limbs and riding the pulse towards a pumping heart shared with several hundred like-minds. Now I knew how Dorothy felt clicking those rubied heels for her express flight home. Pity she never had a clue what I was feeling then.

I ached afterwards. My knees kept locking up with cramp and my kidneys felt battered. Dazed and wide mouthed, we stumbled outside and made half-hearted, bungling efforts to hail a cab. One eventually took pity on us and whisked us home, stopping at a 24-hour along the way for the usual bits.

Back at the flat, the night's events were given close scrutiny to a back-drop of more frustratingly animated music. Invent a drug that you can turn on and off like a light switch and you've got a sure-fire market leader. The story of the shoes was recounted many times and every nuance of it examined as we tried to figure out what forces had conspired against us, or maybe with us, to create the situation.

Looking at the loafers to fuel more aching giggles, I promised aloud to thank the man who saved my night. I'd shake his hand, present a box of Roses, I decided. Thank-you ver-y-much just-for-lending-your shoo-oos, etc. My ampheta-brain told me we were all pals on this big old planet, and raced past the nasty stuff. It would plod back to it over the next couple of days.

In the morning, wearing the uglier face of the two-headed drug beast and with my chemical imbalance lapsed to dull, numb and confused, I returned the shoes. Sheepish and embarrassed, I left them on the doorstep and sneaked away, not even caring if I was seen.

I did not leave a box of Roses, and I did not thank my saviour.

©Copyright Rob Eveleigh 1997.

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