It’s Friday evening, and I go over to my friend’s father’s flat again (see Old Stoner). Part of the urge is my need to feel part of a family, and part of the allure is knowing I’ll be getting stoned. Both are powerful driving forces, and both are illusion since I am not blood-related to this fellow, and drugs provide temporary escape. This is not your usual fly-by family visit.

Dave’s flat is in the same disarray as I left it last week. It’s just him at home though, which is nice. As I shake his hand, he grabs it, and plants a welcome kiss on the back of my hand. My friend C sits on the sofa opposite me, and we women flank her father in his usual easy chair. C is her usual bubbly, chatty self, and I watch and listen to their father daughter banter of quick quips and harmless jabbings. Their interaction is not at all like mine with my mother; they might as well be old friends. I feel slightly remiss not having brought the old guy some food (Cornish pasties, oranges, or maybe some biscuits), but C reassured me that he doesn’t require any formality. Nonetheless, it’s the traditional Chinese side of me that has been brought up to bring the gift of food if I’m visiting, especially at an elder’s resident. A shaft of afternoon sun pierces the room, and I notice how C’s inherited the fine blonde hair of her father. It’s thin and delicate, wispy, not at all like my straight, dense, black strands.

The old guy kindly rolls me a hashish spliff, since I profess I cannot roll one to save my life. I’m not trying to be coy or evade responsibility; spliff rolling is simply something that is beyond my usual manual dexterity. Ask me to draw a human figure, or throw porcelain clay into a bowl, and I’m fine. However, managing a small amount of tobacco and hash rolled into thin paper and I’m all thumbs. He’s ornery, but indulges me. I’m appreciative.

C relays her day: about her frustrating experience buying a pink toilet brush with no bar code at a local store, while her father speaks of his experience at John Lewis, purchasing a seven foot swish curtain rod. Both stories are about their frustration with incompetent, dismissive store clerks, and the utter British lack of customer service. I am comfortable on the couch, my attention focusing on the sounds in the television and their voices, while the room itself shrinks into itself, cave-like. The conversation veers towards the usual British topic of drink. Is there any, and if so what kind? If not, what to do about it? C offers to go buy her father Grolsch at the local off-license, pausing to ask me what I’ll have. I recently discovered Strongbow Cider, so I tell her I’ll split a can with her. “Split?” Dave snorts. “There’s no such thing as splitting a can. You either drink it all or not in this house.”

Once C’s exited, the mood changes a bit. I find myself leaning forward, eager to speak with Dave. It’s a need to connect, but also the challenge of being able to connect. Me, with this sixty year old English guy. We are generations, cultures, and experiences apart. But first, the setting must be right.
“Dave, there’s no music,” I say, and he mutters something like, “Get it yourself!” as he simultaneously shuffles towards the tape deck.
“What did you want to listen to?”
“Well you turned me onto Dylan last time.”
Dave goes through his Dylan tapes, only to discover none of the tapes are in the correct cases. He slips something into the deck, and I recognise Blur’s “Parklife”.

Is it my own need to connect with others or my desire to inject into someone something completely outside his usual realm of interaction and conversation loop? I toss out my first topic, patient as a fly-fisherman.
“I watched an Alfred Hitchcock bio the other night,“ I start, and Dave goes for the bait. We speak not of the obvious – Hitchcock’s movies – but rather of watching Hitchcock’s television series. Actually it is not really even about Hitchcock’s television show, but really an examination of how television culture was “back then”. We both grew up with black and white television sets.
“My father’s television set had a button that he pressed and the control panel would flip up,” Dave said.
“Ah, our TV set had a pull out switch,” I tell him, acknowledging a lesser build of television.
“Each week my father sat down to watch the Hitchcock show. We weren’t allowed to go near that television, much less change the channel, so that’s where my education of the master of suspense started,” Dave reminisces. The two of us think back on the signature Hitchcock opening titles, his stylised profile, and the haunting strains of the Marionette’s Funeral March.
“But what do you think of Hitchcock’s recurring theme of beautiful manipulative blondes, blondes meeting untoward demise?”

I take a drag on my spliff, uninterested in a feminist critical discourse on film. What I want is to draw out Dave more. His question jogs my memory towards another 1960s icon, Marilyn Monroe, and I pipe up, “My grandfather had a thing for Marilyn.”
Dave growls in appreciation, “Now that was some blonde. My first job was just over that way, across the bridge at an iron factory. The factory’s no longer there, just luxury flats now. I used to pass this window every day, a window that was covered by something big, but it faced inside, so I never saw it.” Dave sips his Stella Artois. “When I went to interview, it was in the office of that very same window. And you know what was covering that window from the inside? A giant poster of Marilyn Monroe. The famous one where it’s just her, underneath a bed sheet, one leg sticking out.”
“Halsman,” I say, “Phillipe Halsman.” The photographer who captured those hypnotic images.
“Oftentimes, during my shift, I would look up and see Marilyn, and all of a sudden, I’d drift away. I was just gone, far, far away. She, even as a poster, had that power.” I glance over at Dave’s expression.
“In order to capture those images, Halsman was perched on a ladder, birds-eye view over the bed with Marilyn,” I say, “The story goes that at one point she invited him down to join her.”
“Oh I would have liked to be there,” Dave murmurs.

My hearing focuses on the music of Blur. The song, “She’s So High” sounds better than before, a song befitting our discussion about Marilyn Monroe. When “Coffee and TV” comes on, I explain to Dave about how the music video – one of my favourites – was shot, with the its director dressed up as a giant milk carton with legs and arms, in front of a green screen, asked to act out strange motions, possessing no idea what he was expressing. The video is about the adventure of an endearing milk carton looking for its missing person.
“Damon Alban is someone to watch for years to come. I respect a person unafraid to experiment,” Dave says. I chuckle inside, thinking about Dave’s lifelong pursuit of substance abuse. At the same time, I’m surprised by this old guy’s excellent taste in music. With my heightened senses, each Blur song sounds different, and takes on its own flavour, accompanied by Damon Alban’s expressive voice. I focus on the deliberate percussive track of “Tender,” and its delicately urgent, mournful guitar strumming.

“Oh my baby, oh my baby, oh why, oh my…”
“Oh Lord I need to find someone who can heal my mind…”

“Come on, come on, come on, get through it. Love’s the greatest thing that we have,” Dave sings softly in gravelly tones, “I’m waiting for that feeling, waiting for that feeling, waiting for that feeling, to come.” Listening to him sing, part of me feels heartbroken, dour, and remorseful all at once.

The combination of two spliffs and Blur’s “No Distance Left to Run” leaves me feeling both stripped and full at the same time, the body buzzing while the mind is softly and comfortably cushioned.

C comes back with several bags of crisps, the Grolsch, and my Strongbow Cider. The mood is broken, and when C confuses “Beetlebum” with The Beatles, Dave’s usual cantankerousness flairs up. I know it’s time to go, but I stay and sip my cider just a little while longer.

Erica, 34, London UK

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