the wondrous story of S

This week I cycled to the smokestacks of Sydney Park and spilled a beer for S, whom I lost to the health hazards of crust punk hedonism. The bit of life I shared with him was so full of unexpected events I had to write some down. I can’t remember exactly when I met him, but I do remember where.

I think I was about 16 when I first plugged in to IRC. My awkward monochromatic choice for clothing colours made me gravitate towards goth, punk, industrial and anarchist chats from the get go. It was through connections I made in these chat rooms that I found where to hang out. Over the years one of the other big IRC clusters, the one revolving around punk, would gather outside whichever was the unofficial punk bar of the day. As many other bohemian quarters of big cities, that might mean one bar one week and another the next.

When the punk hang out was Boca do Inferno, which curiously had also been a neo-nazi hangout at times, I’d often sit outside drinking cheap beer and have long winded conversations with whoever would be there at the time. The crowd was a mix of computer literate punk identifying youths from punk IRC channels and crust punks. There was little segregation—all of them just wanted a few drinks, some tunes and the occasional bar fight. It was during those times that I met S.

The events are scattered along many years since at all times our interactions happened under severe or less severe intoxication. Whichever the drink of the day, S would be there, with a big smile and twinkly eyes, bumming around and chatting to randoms. It didn’t get aggro ever, we were all just hanging out doing nothing, which is good in itself. Quite often me and S would have weird conversations. He wasn’t like any other of the street punks around. He was crazy. Like, mentally disturbed crazy.

Quite commonly the crust and street punks revert to the basics: alcoholism, heroin, crack, abusive relationships, squatting, busking, begging and stealing. Nothing new there. But one of the things I always loved about the hedonism and immediacy of the lifestyle is how brilliant a lot of them were. Most of the street punks I interacted with were incredibly smart people that lived through violent and abusive situations from a young age. I always enjoyed a good chat with whoever was around and S was always up for a chat, a hug or a sip of my beer. But he had the most insane stories of anyone hanging out there. His insanity would drop by late in the night, when the alcohol hit his diabetic threshold. He would tell me about how he didn’t have a cellphone because aliens were listening. He would tell me about government mind control rays. He would tell me about his past in Brazil bashing up cops and living the ‘No Future’ life. His loving and warm gaze would shift into a paranoid glare and his stare would go right through me. I think to this day, he struggled with mental health but kept it mostly to himself, since the crust punk scene isn’t really known for deep conversations that might reveal paranoid delusions like his.

For me, a sheltered privileged white engineering student, his mental states were fun and intriguing, but didn’t really affect me too much. His diabetic driven collapses after getting wasted didn’t either. He was pretty much the coolest crust punk I knew precisely because he was so past beyond fucked up and owning it so well.

We would see each other over the years and share a beer here and there. It wasn’t until I started escotilha that our lives became irreparably interwoven. Part of this story is already in the book, so I won’t dig too deep on that bit.

One of the guys that hung out at my place heard S and L had been evicted from where they were squatting and I offered them a space. S came in and I recognised him instantly. We got along great, and if there was one thing S had was the capacity to express his gratitude for anything nice done for him.

Over the time he stuck around, I fed him and he got healthier. Don’t get me wrong. S was a crackhead ever since I first met him, and any spare change he’d make on the streets would turn into crack and more paranoia. But once we started sharing meals and time together, he grew a bit more meat on his bones and started telling me more about his past. Instead of paranoid delusions about mind control, he started telling me about his youth in Brazil.

Turns out S had a troubled past. His dad was a cop and he was a punk bashing up cops. One day he ended up in jail after severely bashing one. The big irony is that his dad bailed him out of a big prison sentence. I never figured out whether he did time. I did figure out, however, he also had a family he abandoned. I can’t exactly remember if it was just one son or more. I do know he cried on my shoulder a lot, usually after a good meal, about how his son hated him and didn’t want to see him. Truth was S abandoned his family to live the punk lifestyle. His son was brought up by S’s dad, and had serious contempt for him. S would often tell me that his son was training to be a cop because of him, and that broke his heart.

I never really knew what to say to this. S would cry and show all this psychological pain, but he also lacked the tools to do anything about it. Instead, he’d just continue deeper into the drug and alcohol cycle.

Living with us had its benefits, and besides getting pudgier, he also started smoking less crack. At times he’d pull me aside in the kitchen and say that he was so happy he didn’t need as much crack. It made me think he could really get better if he wanted.

A lot of this improvement was thanks to L. L, a lovely artsy young lady from Austria, was squatting with S when they got evicted. She took great care of him even though they had little vocabulary in common. If there’s one thing S had in excess it was charm, particularly with blonde blue eyed German speaking women. Even without much of a common language, S and L had an incredible relationship, full of love, good times, playfulness and the occasional fight. I think L always knew a different side of him, perhaps a bit less dark than what I knew. In L’s own words, she loved bad boys. S was definitely bad—the old school kind of bad. A past of delinquency and irresponsibility and a heart of gold.

E, who kindly let me know of his passing, also met S at escotilha. E, S and L became inseparable in a strangely conventional emotional triangle. I mean, for street punks, they were surprisingly heteronormative. Maybe because S was definitely old school. I remember him commenting that ‘he’d love to, but L wouldn’t let it happen’. Maybe it did. I wasn’t really in the loop in those days—I was just providing the space. S lived in pure delight thanks to the attention of these two beautiful young women, especially since he’d be past his mid thirties at this time (if my estimate is correct).

The life of bumming around had the upside of keeping us going out and exploring the derelict corners of the city. That’s how we eventually found a place to squat. S moved in and we lived together for a while. He’s all over the documentary as well.

During this time, his exotic good looks, tattoos and piercings were the delight of travellers staying with us. After all, what is a squat without the quintessential street punk hunk? S delivered this masterfully with his beautiful smile, warm and kind spirit, and talent for hedonism.

Once eviction hit us, S had to move on. I didn’t see him for quite a while, especially since the new squat most of the punks had moved to was basically a crack and heroin den. I visited that place once and ran out within the first couple of minutes.

My life in Lisbon became quite mundane after the squat days. I’d commute on train and metro for hours carrying my folding bike around. One afternoon, coming out of the metro in Cais do Sodré, I heard a loud, angry scream ‘ACORDEM! ESTÃO TODOS MORTOS!’ (‘WAKE UP! YOU ARE ALL DEAD!’). I knew that voice—it was S, delirious and angry, shouting at everyone around him. He was staggering around in despair, shouting at all the commuters going by him. They paced and looked away, trying to avoid hearing his harsh truth. I walked toward him faster, pulling my folding bike behind me, and screamed ‘S!’, touching his shoulder as if preparing for a hug.

His dazed paranoid glare fixated me for a couple of seconds. His eyes were twinkling as if they had hardened to shiny dull porcelain. His angry wrinkled face slowly softened, his angry look morphing into helplessness and love. ‘João?’ His eyes slowly lost the glaze and deepened again. He was here with me now. ‘Is that your chair?’ He thought my folded bike was a wheelchair. It did look like one, and given his past, he definitely was more acquainted with those. ‘Nah, it’s my bike, look!’ I unfolded the bike then folded it again. We laughed. Then his despair came back, this time with slumped shoulders and teary eyes. He collapsed on the floor, crying, sitting against one of the metro tunnel walls. I sat beside him and hugged him. I asked about how he was doing, he said he wasn’t doing well. No surprise, he hadn’t found a nice group of people to hang out with and was back on his vice loop. ‘Tens trocos para uma cerveja?’ (‘Got change for a beer?’) he asked me. I gave him some spare change. ‘Tu és gente boa João’ (‘You’re a good guy João’) he said. We hugged and off I went to my bagpipe class. I could still hear him scream at a distance. Screams of surprising sanity during a rush hour that seems far more inhuman than the things S was going through. I didn’t know, but this would be the last time I saw S.

His story, however, did not end here. After I moved to Sydney, I got the news from Lisbon punks that S had been deported. S had averted deportations for years so this was quite surprising. He was sent back to his home town in Brazil. Brazil has cheap crack, so he fell deeper and deeper into his bad habits.

I shared the first place I lived in down under with a few other people, including E, my former guest that met S and L in Lisboa. E and L were planning a big adventure in South America to find S wherever he might be. They started a social media campaign, printed t-shirts, got in touch with many people and through it, they eventually found him. Their dedication for S was incredible, especially when you think most of us will never even elicit one transcontinental flight from a friend, never mind two.

Once they found him, the harsh truths of hedonism hit E and L in the face. S was a wreck. His diabetes and drug habits had made his foot deteriorate badly and his mental health and spirit had decayed past recognition. E and L made an effort to fix him by getting in touch with his family and getting one of his relatives to let S move in with them. S did move in, but instead of looking for treatment he robbed their place clean and spent the money on crack. E and L saw their hopeful and beautiful campaign collapse right in front of their eyes. S stole from them and they left. S’s loving soul was gone, eaten away by drugs, alcohol and disease. E and L scattered through the planet again with the realisation that the S they loved dearly was gone and all that was left was decaying vessel enslaved by substance abuse.

E messaged me yesterday—S had died during surgery on his foot. His heart stopped during an induced coma. We were all sad, but we weren’t shocked. We had lost S a long time ago, but for me, his wonderful story remains. How a street punk from Brazil met an Austrian and an Australian in my home town, how they weaved their life lines through my own, and built a friendship that spanned continents and language barriers.

May S rest in peace in Crust Punk heaven, in Love and Anarchy.

Me and S

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One Response to the wondrous story of S

  1. ash says:

    thanks for this J. a beautiful story.