The first day I walked in, I was confronted by the sight of a tall, gangly looking dude in a loud floral shirt sticking a two-litre Coca-Cola bottle into his mouth, and his head into a bucket. Sheer terror should have driven me out, out, out of The Rockery and down the stairs, into the soft blue light of the Student Union Building; but for some reason I stayed. Something about the crazed, laughing faces on the people watching. Something about the faded, torn furniture and the Bob Marley posters on the wall. So I stayed. For two years.
Only 3 metres wide, 3 metres long and 2 metres high, the Hot Box was originally an unused storeroom, built inside a much larger room know as The Rockery. The Rockery was, technically, the British comedy society, but since most of them were regular Boxers too, the Rockery was a more like a place for us to sleep and get drunk when we weren't smoking a phat one. Also sharing The Rockery room were a motley group of desperately sad people called RAWP, who role-played more than we did and had all the Magic cards.
It turned out that Signor Lamb (who sang in a band called The Black Sheep) was smoking a what we called a bucket, and the rest of the world called a gravity bong: a joint pressed firmly into the lid of half a Coke bottle, which is submerged in water and pulled slowly up, allowing the vacuum between the water and the bottle to draw smoke out of the joint, and thus allowing removal of the joint from lid and much feverish inhaling as the bottle is pushed back down.
And behind Lamb (who wore the same shirt for almost two years), a odd cluster of pale complexions, red eyes and bright smiles. Pearce, a deranged blonde hippie no more than waist height. Krist, amateur psychologist and full-time pornographer. Peggy, his girlfriend, tiny and armed with the most insane laugh ever committed to tape. Gene, the roller and master of blades. And Shcott, the man with the Mary, the bringer of the herb, dude with the dope.
And what dope it was. Sometimes, we toked up plain old jut from the townships, but more often it was something exotic. Something special and imported and warm and fun. Swazi from up north. Dark, mellow Transkei Red. Glorious Super Skunk from the government labs. Beautifully wrapped Malawi Cob, all browns and greys. Durban Poison, from the coast, and sometimes, just sometimes, a little Northern Lights or White Widow.
And, I must add, on one memorable occasion, a three-tier chocolate hash cake made of the most delicious Belgian chocolate and twenty grams of Moroccan Hash.
Those days were halcyon. Afternoon drives to the dealer Duins, or Oomies, all activity and laughter and danger and stupid. Strange, almost psychedelic memories of weird and wonderful things; daytime raids on the cafeteria, demanding chocolate milk and a petting zoo; almost inhumanly stupid plans to build an ark from tin foil and insulation tape. And on one memorable occasion, a most incredible afternoon spent planning the cunning robbery of a nearby store, complete with fake briefcases, power cuts and fake I.D., all for a couple of bags of biltong.
Oddly enough I passed my first year of University, with the added bonus of an A for English. Pearce immediately put this down to my almost suicidal dope and booze intake, and in a wonderful moment of Hot Box illogic, forced himself to give up both.
Second year rolled around, and at this stage our relations with The Rockery (many of whom were Boxers) and RAWP (none of whom were) were a little strained. Apparently, the constant cloud of doob smoke hanging around our room had caused complaints; as did our penchant for playing cricket in the toilets, getting drunk and invading lectures, and suing the University Council for harassment. The situation finally came to a head when we were brutally attacked by the chairman of RAWP, holding a fire hose through the roof of the Box.
Our somewhat more laid-back minds were finally pushed into action, and after some deliberation, we formulated our plans. And so it was that, two weeks later (during which time we had cleaned out the Hot Box and fixed up the walls and ceiling) at the annual Rockery committee elections, I was voted into the chairman's seat with a massive landslide. I filled the other posts with loyal sympathisers, and we stood up that day, proud and true, and promised to make a difference.
Obviously high on power, as well as a batch of insanely hectic Swazi Brick, we re-instituted the bar tab system, organised parties every night at club expense, and generally lived it up. To our fascination, this strategy somehow worked out quite soundly, at least financially. More people came to the Rockery, and more people spent money. Physically, however, it was a difficult pace to keep.
It was when I decided to take a month away from the Box that things came to a head. It turned out that for some incredibly obscure reason, undoubtedly linked to massive amounts of marijuana, I had failed to register for most of my second year courses, and thus was ineligible to write exams for them. It was only slightly more surprising to find out that those I had registered for were horribly weird without any real relation to my course. I could, conceivably, have picked International Relations as a filler; but French? Caribbean Poetry? Basic Seminary Studies?
All things being equal, it came as no surprise to realise that I couldn't even find the correct places and times at which to write the exams. It was eventually during Drama and Film 201 that I realised that no amount of speed-induced last minute studying could save me now, so I walked out of the exams hall, and technically, out of University. I learned later that around that time, The Rockery had been broken into from the Box, and the bar money and hi-fi had been stolen. Campus cops eventually tracked the thief back to an anorexic smack dealer from Angola named Bones, who had been known to hang out around the Box, trying to sell us horse and stealing our bankies.
But that was the end of the Box. Security took our walls down, and bashed in our roof. They removed the faded corduroy couches with the lethal springs, and the tables made from logs and the Bob Marley posters. And all that marked our passing was, perhaps, a seed here and there, embedded in the linoleum of a brand new store room filled with pamphlets for meetings that happened years and years ago.
Perhaps here, at the end of the story, is where we come closest to a moral. You see, the people of The Hot Box turned out OK. We went out, and we got degrees, and jobs, and houses and cars and girlfriends and boyfriends, and most of us ended up wearing a suit and tie and driving a Honda, or at least a Volkswagen. None of us are dealers, or smack addicts, or abusive bastards with a penchant for shoplifting. None of us walked through the gateway, none of us fell. To paraphrase (and bastardise) Tyler Durden: we are the people who build your networks, who sell you skis, who build your bombs. We trace the markings on ballistics, and make your movies. We are the chemical engineers, the accountants and the social workers. And believe me, there is nothing to fear. You're in good hands.
And it's comforting, to me at least, to know that on top of a dilapidated building not far from your house sits a stoner with a head full of smoke and his eyes on the sky.
coward softlinking: gotta love it!