Destruction of Racism
“Ooh ey ahh kid! ” he shouts in his unusual, high-pitched, Yorkshire accent whilst opening the door to the pokey, run down, bed-sit he’s renting from the Jewish housing association. The first thing I notice about him is how his eyes, sunken at the best of times, are deeper and darker than ever. He summons me into the half decorated, dingy living room. “Cum ed! Sit down cocker un al mek yu uh cup uh tu finest Yorkshire,” he says before disappearing into the dimly lit, egg yolk yellow kitchen.
As soon as he leaves the room I spot the source of the sickly, sweet smell that’s churning my stomach. There it sits, his life support, throwing its polluting, potent, bi product into the air. “It elps meh sleep, forget, relax,” he always tells me. Re-entering the room he places two mugs of the finest, watery, Yorkshire tea onto the battered, wobbly, worn, wooden table in front of me before grabbing for his life support. He casts a guilty but dismissive look in my direction before throwing his distinct, high-pitched, almost psychotic, screeching laughter into the air.
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This has always been his way of breaking an awkward moment. Once he senses that the laughter has lightened the mood he introduces the life support to his Mick Jagger like lips whilst telling me of his plans to return to Barcelona. “A’ve got tu see ma son man. It’s rippin uz apart not seein um,” he explains. Jon returned to Leeds six months ago after his marriage collapsed. He’s gone from living in a picturesque, Catalan village on the side of a mountain with his beautiful, Catalan wife, two-year-old son and their Cocker spaniel dog to living alone in a hovel.
The combination of his vile temper and schizophrenia were the reasons his very tolerant wife gave for the break up. As I listen to him telling me of his regrets I find it hard to believe that the drug, that sent me into a black hole of depression, could be helping him through this. Again his hysterical laughter rings in my ears as he attempts to change the subject. “You used tu love weed you, what’s up? Ave sum. A remember yew in Israel chuntin uway frum dusk til dawn. ” Jon and I met in Israel, in 1997, in the roof top bar above the hostel we were staying in.
The first thing he did, when we met, was offer me a joint that he’d made from the pound of skunk he’d just smuggled over from Amsterdam. Back then he was a towering figure, a man mountain with long, jet black, tightly curled hair that parted in the middle like a pair of shiny velvet curtains. He had the energy of a hyperactive five year old, always playing pranks on people, jumping around like a Kangaroo while laughing like a Hyena. It was as if he was constantly high on E numbers, and not the strongest weed he could find.
From morning to night, even at work on the building sites of Tel Aviv, it’d be, “Cum ed ahh kid wu’ll ave uh chunt eh! ” He’d still be smoking away into the early hours, dancing around like a chimpanzee, while the rest of us were lying motionless, collapsed in a heap on the hostel floor. The character sitting in front of me today is worlds away from the one I knew back then. It’s as if the child like character, that was such a prominent part of his personality, has been beaten out of him.
His giant frame that was once graced by canon ball like muscles, which he’d gained from his power lifting days, is now supporting sagging fat and a perfectly moulded beer belly. The velvet curtains have been replaced by straw like, short, bed hair that sits on his head like road kill. It’s easy to see the effects of the deep, dense forest of depression, he’s so evidently lost in, in the heavy, wrinkled bags that weigh down his raw eyelids. Now fuelled by the three packed joints he’s gone through since I arrived, the piercing laugh has become more and more like the sound of a psychotic hyena.
As it hits my ears once again I begin to feel immense discomfort and irritation, and I find it hard to pretend I find it funny. “A ate it here man. Reminds me too much u ma past-still scum everywhere. Nowt’s changed man,” he tells me. His colourful past helps explain why he finds it so hard to settle in this country. The son of Jewish immigrants; he was born on the 13 March 1970 and grew up in a well to do Jewish estate in the Roundhay area of Leeds. However, Jon’s youth was not an easy one. At school he was bullied and racially abused for being Jewish.
Each day on the walk home he would experience a torrent of abuse, “They’d call me a hook nosed Jewish bastard and throw pennies at me,” he explains. Jon turned to other ethnic minorities, Pakistanis, Jamaicans and other Jews, for friendship. They’d ride the wave of racial abuse together each evening and help each other when people picked fights with them. The quiet, religious, group of boys began to change as the constant isolation took its toll. They started missing days sometimes weeks of school.
Like a pack of trapped animals they reacted viciously to the discrimination. Sick of defending themselves they became the offenders. Fighting with racists from the BNP and the National Front became part of their everyday routine. Before long drugs entered the fray: glue sniffing, crack smoking and an addiction to cannabis took over Jon’s life. “Ma lifestyle went frum bein a gud Jewish famle boy tu a fuckt up druggeh,” he tells me. Following the usual pattern of drug addiction, Jon and his friends became involved in petty crimes to pay for the drugs.
As they fell further and further into the filthy, rat infested, underground world of crime and drugs, the crimes became more adventurous and more horrific. The comedown came with an attempt at armed robbery that resulted in a six-year prison sentence for Jon. “Am glad ah got out u ear when a did man. Them lots still doin same shit. ” Jon explains in the Jamaican/Yorkshire accent he always adopts when he’s heavily stoned. He left jail a reformed character, at first setting up his own snowboard business in Edinburgh before setting off on his travels.
He nearly slipped back into the intense drug race he thought he’d left behind when he settled in Amsterdam for a year but luckily he escaped and travelled on to Italy, Greece and then to what he calls his homeland, Israel. While Jon was successful in shaking off the criminal side of his life and the class A drug abuse, he doesn’t seem to be able to flush out the two main characters, his violent temper and weed addiction, that have played such a prominent role in the drama that has been his life since those defining days of racial abuse that seem to have left everlasting scars.