I became fascinated with graffiti in the early 90’s around 11 years old. Writers usually operated within a group called a crew and from my observations “GAS” appeared to be the most prestigious one in Perth.
Me and my mates started our own shitty crews and our own tags trying to recreate that underground rebellious mystique ourselves.
I continued destroying endless stacks of paper practicing my tags accompanied by intermittent vandalisation from then on.
In 1997 after leaving High School to work in the city, I returned to a mature age school called Cyril Jackson Senior Campus. It seemed like people were only attending for the big social atmosphere including me who skipped class down on the oval, high on dexamphetamine, smoking cigarettes with everyone.
I noticed a guy I did swimming lessons with when we were boys at the pool in Morley that’s not there anymore. I’d also seen him at Basketball in Midland a few times, he was over confident and had graffiti on his Nike Air Force.
We started hanging out, he was doing art at school and would show me his drawings, he was older and walked a certain way, listened to Wu Tang, wore cool clothes and people talked about him, (especially girls.)
After school one day at the train station he got out his marker and started tagging on a panel, he wrote TUMBLER – GAS followed by my tag TWERP. He looked over at me and said “I bet you think your hardcore now coz I wrote you up.”
He drew my tag in an amazing piece, I’d never seen anything like it. “Don’t bite my style,” he said.
I soon realised that Tumbler was using Heroin. I could tell when he was on it because his face was pale and vacant, his eyes were red and his heart was generous. His gold rings would disappear some days and he would jovially anguish over figuratively injecting them into his arm. He’d winge about his pimples and ask me to help him get off drugs to get his life together and treat his girlfriend right. He’d say how pathetic he was for hanging around people much younger than him.
Through a new mysterious blue eyed friend and other people at school, my circle extended amongst other vandals, thieves and like minded youths. I got invited into a crew even though my writing sucked.
Funnily enough besides crime, most of the writers were generous and morally upstanding amongst their friends, welcoming new people and sharing what ever they had. That’s what it was all about, making friends and getting known.
I grew up excited by what I could get for free, smashing things and going where I wasn’t allowed so breaking the law was familiar to me but some of these guys had been in jail and had no fixed address. They were very street and their acquisitions could be methodical which took my dishonesty to a new level.
One of the big news stations did a prime time report about Perth Graffiti and interviewed 3 of our friends with their faces blurred. I know at least one of them is now dead.
One day in the city some of them stood in a fancy watch store appearing as innocent window shoppers, a minute later they had looted a cabinet with a screw driver.
We walked passed an older Aboriginal guy soon after who reprimanded VIRUS about bombing his area disrespectfully. He tried to change the subject and got told, “Don’t try make a conversation with me VIRUS just walk away.”
We went into Macdonalds across the road from Midland Gate Shopping centre. There was a glass donation box half full of money fastened to the counter and everyone was too scared to take it so I walked up and cut the wire with my snips and walked out the door. A customer said “that’s not yours,” and I laughed at him then disappeared over an adjacent fence.
We went straight to the bottle shop and I bought Strongbows for everyone. TWERP was officially a mad cunt.
My family went away for a weekend so I invited friends round to get drunk. Early in the afternoon the phone rang and my mate Tom picked it up and started teasing the caller.
An hour later Tumbler stormed through my front door and went for Tom, “Was that you on the phone?” His fist cracked Tom’s mouth like a baseball glove.
I started screaming and telling him to get the fuck out, he grabbed me and forced me down the hallway in a bear hug. I was drunk and crying, summoning all my rage to break free as he overpowered me. “I love you man,” he said, sedating me, “I respect you more than anyone, you stand up for yourself.” He did weights and boxing and was just too strong and had too much influence over me, I gave up. I’d found my role model.
We all got pissed and Tom forgave him, holding frozen peas to his pummeled mouth.
We had a bonfire out the back and some of my other friends from Lockridge came round. Tumbler had picked up his mate from jail after being released that day. They were sitting by the fire and his mate was leaning right over to one side with eyes half closed, mumbling and shaking hands with newcomers like he was mentally impaired.
My Lockridge mates left disappointed and angry that I was hanging out with drug users.
I followed Tumbler into the bathroom.
“Have you used man?”
“No,” he said fixing his hair in the mirror with red eyes and spotty cheeks.
“I fucken haven’t,” He said pushing passed me with the tonal warning not to interfere.
Some uninvited dude bought police to my house so 2 of us smashed him while Tumbler disappeared with a girl.
Then I slept with Tom’s girlfriend.
As the sun rose over Swan View I sat on the street kerb with Tumbler comforting him as he cried about cheating on his girlfriend and being out of control. Something had happened to him between growing up in the middle east and migrating to Australia and he was angry about it.
After he had cracked Tom
I was spending a lot of time with blue eyes by now. She had been in my health class at school, sitting directly across the room with short bleached hair, striking eyes and vintage fur coats. I couldn’t stop looking at her and one day she caught me, I looked away immediately returning shortly later to a wonderful gleam of white teeth and direct eye contact. I thought she was from another planet.
She moved into a house on Bushby St in Midland with 2 friends, one being Tom’s now ex girlfriend. I’d hang out with 3 chicks and everyone was curious because blue eyes was popular and I had fast become her best friend. One night I’d had a few sleeping tablets and was settling down in the lounge room when all three of them came and tenderly tucked me in, I felt cute.
The house started getting very busy with all sorts of people and one morning Tumbler came around early with a pocket full of jewellery and 3 or 4 watches on his arm. “I just broke into 3 houses,” he chortled and continued his brash repertoire. He’d started ignoring me by now and was living somewhere near Maylands selling gear.
I was giving someone a haircut one morning out the back when we decided to break into a nearby house. I jumped the fence with someone and pushed through an open bathroom window. I let him in and he went straight to the bedroom and tore it apart, he looked in places I never would have thought of and found all sorts of cheap jewellery. “She must be a hooker,” he said. I went into the lounge room and there were kids toys allover the floor.
Later on we were out playing pool and Tumbler showed up to sell gear to us, he had gold rings allover his hands and a roll of cash. He ignored me. Even though nobody trusted him or necessarily liked him, they respected him because he was the supervisor, he dominated everyone. He once told me that he used to look up to the bigger taggers until he met them and realised he could push them around. That’s what he wanted from me, to stand up for myself and be someone he could look up to.
I hadn’t done hard drugs before but we went back to Bushby St and I shared a needle with VIRUS (irony?) I felt nothing, Tumbler had ripped us off and no one would say anything about it.
Tom’s ex took a few of us with her to break into her parents house for food. Seeing as she had apparently been kicked out of home we figured it would be alright to rob the place while she was in the kitchen.
Someone must have found a bit of cash because the police raided my bedroom looking for it.
I was the only one to get caught because she knew where I lived. The police promised not to charge me if I told them who the other people were, so I did. I started getting threatening phone calls from someone who said they were going to break into my house so I moved to Sydney to live with a relative and straighten up.
I constantly listened to a hip hop cassette tape Tumbler had made.
One night about 8 years later back in Perth I saw Tumbler coming down the stairs from the Look Out pub in Scarborough. He called out my name smiling with that same self assurance. I ignored him.
Not that long ago I heard he died from an overdose.
RIP TUMBLER GAS