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A Dog Walks into a Bar…

Any artist can tell you, to put in a really great performance you just have to master an ability to get super comfortable with the spaces you’ll be filling up.  Know what your energy is going to interact with, what it bounces off and what kind of changes that makes in it.  Then there’s blocking around the set, lighting, and film or T.V. work means endless geometry – angles this, coverage that.  An audience on a pin head.

a sample studio set

the term you’re looking for is ‘fourth wall’

I could make a joke about a particular television director here, but I’m already barely employable.  Rest assured, though, it’s as good as said because I’m not creative that way – you’ve probably already figured it out yourself by now.  Obviously, I won’t be earning a living crafting one-liners, either, so I’m going to keep my snout shut.  I’ve got rent to pay.

But really, lots of guys, talent, crew, trainers, anyone who worked with me, they’ll tell you that my creativity is in the way I can tamp down the stage, let it settle like a blanket thrown out for a picnic.  Just get everything perfectly hush.  Just slip it on.  Like an old collar that’s leather has stretched perfectly to the muscles of your neck.  A good performance is just wearing the space as easily and confidently as slipping that old collar over your ears.

Of course, I totally fucked my shot after pissing on everyone in the business, so it doesn’t matter if I can do it or not, right?  But I’m just saying, in case it makes a difference for anybody else out there.  You know.  Trying to be profound to strangers, the only people who don’t know me well enough to know any better.

I started out part of industry royalty, born into a great family name.  Learning the boards, looking at performance as an art to speak through, to master; none of that really mattered, even without any of the effort I put into my career I would have had it all.  But I knew early on I wanted to be able to look at myself in the reflection in my watering bowl and feel pride.

So I worked at it tirelessly.  Other talent was just chasing after the dummies, fetching the retrieval weights, waiting for the biscuit rewards.  I was committing passages to memory out of Pal’s autobiography.  Pal, the doggie drag-queen who started it all, the first Lassie.  His sons, and then grandsons, and then their nephews, whole squirming litters of puppies still slick with placenta had a shot at real glory, if they were bright enough.  The first animal superstar.

Everyone had great expectations of me.  My mother’s line going back four generations had been modelling for the Walton, Co’s, Ol’ Roy dog food packaging and advertisements.  A dynasty of border collies, one paw up, red tongues lolling out between the lower front teeth.  A stroke of luck in what political ethicists call the natural lottery guaranteed me the fast-track in the trained animal industry.  First print, then a crossover into stage and film.  After a few dozen early successes, and it was smooth sailing.  My representation agency assembled a team of people to support my ascendance.  I was the Sun King; I even managed to land a live-in girlfriend, this hot Pekinese bitch who went right into heat after a few G and T’s.

At some point, the constant time around sycophants, the constant contractual negotiations between third- and fourth-party interests, I began to crack up.  I was looking at the people around me promoting this ascent, engineering each victorious step, and I started thinking – what if everyone’s only interested in the blood-line?  I felt used, is how I saw it then.  Now I can recognize it as cowardice.

So I began proclaiming to chauffeurs, masseuses, strangers in bars – everyone who would listen – in that rebellious way a bratty adolescent will, I began insisting that the responsibility of my family name was an unfair burden.  Then gradually I dropped out altogether.  Showed up late, stoned on painkillers.  Didn’t show up at all.  Bit a few hands.  My name started to mean something different from the family name.  I got my wish.

When you stop caring about something but everyone else around you is still pushing and loading all their efforts behind achieving it, they can get real shitty real fast once they feel their investment has been compromised.  It’s like betrayal.  Even if they didn’t look at you – a four year old border collie who still, given the chance, will roll in cow patties, proving Felson’s opportunity theory of crime –  as a helmsman, still, for all the handlers, trainers, agents, booking staff, the press team, your groomers, you are that individual.  To just bail on them, well that’s worse than a slap in the face after filling their duties for so long.  Everybody hated me.  I was blacklisted, first in the production studios and networks, then even the rodeo circuits where the real fuck-ups end up, even they saw me as a liability.

After a few debts pile up, your credit rating can make a steep descent.  This can keep you up nights drinking.  Under so much booze, it’s pretty understandable that you might doubt past decisions and get into some pretty undignified situations trying to undo what’s done.  This is nothing you’ll ever want to tell your children.  Once you’ve hit bottom and righted yourself out again, though, there are lots of things you can do for minimum wage in a recession economy, and lots of AA chapters that don’t mind a collie coming to meetings.

First, you have to hit bottom.

I was working in the barrel cellar at a bar, changing out the CO2 tanks for the soda, rotating the beer kegs, scooping old mouse carcasses out of half-dried syrup spilled from leaking bags of cola mix.  This is in some stagnant town outside the Black Hills in easternMissouri.  I was one of the only guys in the area who wasn’t able to trace their family back five generations, kissing cousins not excluded.  Also, I was a mostly black dog, so everyone already had cause to look at me sideway.  One afternoon on a day off work, I was drinking heavily and watching day-time television in the town’s other bar, when I blacked out and began insulting some of the patrons.  Five or six hours later, I awoke bloodied and chastened in a holding cell in the local police station.

It seems one of the female officers was on patrol that evening, and received a call that a pedestrian was lying by the side of the road near the town’s centre.  She managed to bring me around and get me up on all fours; I remember she offered me a ride, but I refused, slurring about how I could walk home from here, it wasn’t far; as I made to start moving away, that’s when she noticed the broken bottle of tequila rosa on the ground.  She begrudgingly took me in for processing, and that’s when she found the bag of marijuana on me.  Written in sharpie on the baggy was the legend, “this is NOT marijuana.”  The boys at the station all had a chuckle about this, I find out later.  In the mean-time, they took prints from my paws, and the blood from where I’ve been fighting gets caked all over the little cards they use.

They let me post my own bail in the morning, and I’ve used my one phone call to ask off sick at work.  When I go in the next day, everyone at the bar knows what happened.  One of the kitchen guys, he’s friends with the janitor at the station – everyone is congratulating me for successfully camouflaging my Schedule C controlled substance.  The manager is less than happy, tells me I shouldn’t have lied about the cause of my absence.  One week later, she fires me over a missing bottle of rum from cellar, calls it theft, calls the police in.  I’m back at the station for processing.  The woman cop, combing through my fur again looking for contraband in my coat.  “At least this time you’re not all beaten up,” she says.  It’s eleven in the morning and I’m standing for mug shots.  This is rock bottom.  I’m staring up, all the way to the top of this impossibly deep well I’m in, and I can see the studio sets, the Ol’ Roy kid actor who was my master back in the ’98 campaign.  I know I’ll never be there ever again.

So here’s the litmus test now – if I can look at myself from the perspective of me at fourteen (that’s two in people years), and have two (fourteen) year old me be even remotely all right with six (thirty-five or so) year old me, I mean just a shred of respect will do, then I can live another day without feeling like I’m at the bottom of that well.  I don’t get on the boards anymore, but I have been doing some teaching projects with one of the great-grand-nephews of Sparky, the original Purina Puppy Chow springer spaniel.  We host a few workshops each month.  If you know any up-and-coming animal talent in need of some classes on poise and delivery, send them our way.  Anyhow, I have to be going; I’m a sponsor now in AA, and we have a meeting in twenty minutes.

Drinking with Julian

So, I was down around Knightsbridge, hanging out with Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy over the weekend, being a drunken buffoon and making a general ass out of myself.  I don’t think he’ll be inviting me back around anytime soon.  This is the third time I’ve acted up at a party he’s hosted!  My only prayer is that the American foreign press don’t catch wind of this – poor Jules might be fucked this time if he’s associated with my antics.

one of the girls passing out flyers before the party

one of the girls passing out flyers before the party (photo courtesy wiseupforbm)

Which would be a shame, because it culminated in a really great Saturday morning.  The two lesbians who talked me off the step-ladder I was using to piss into the laundry room sink, and convinced Julian, who had phoned me up with great enthusiasm but now wanted me ejected, to let me sleep it off in one of the other guest rooms; these same pretty girls were now in their terry-cloth robes rubbing sleep from their eyes and setting out toast and jams on the table in front of the television.  Some cable channel was on, showing re-runs of “Fresh Prince” with Spanish subtitulos, and we’re having coffee.  I’m still quite drunk.  Actually, when I woke up, there was one of those drinks carts in a corner of the room, the kind with the two wheels on the back and the mirrored top, and I had a large bolt out of whatever bottle had been most full.  That’s right.

They were gorgeous girls, really.  I was quite lucky that they had showed up late in the party, just as I was fading in and out and starting to black out totally and finally.  Without them, even before I was found pissing in the sink, a few of the embassy staff had already been trying to get my home address from someone, in order to push me onto the curb and into a taxi.  They had no idea who I was.  That I was completely broken down.  I had been childishly screaming at my girlfriend right out in the street earlier in the night on Bayswater in front of the Notting Hill crowd, in front of a friend of ours no less, shouting about hunger, betrayal or some weird shit.  Already drunkenly circling the drain.

We arrived at the other end of Hyde Park late.  I put on a sartyr-like face for the crowd in the main room, glad-handed Jules and the others.  Then I raced to get beyond merely drunk.  I knew I wasn’t paying for any of this, so I imbibed with abandon.  The crowd was mostly art types and fringe dignitaries, a few queers.  A few spoke other languages.  I tried to mingle.  The host offered me drugs, some crazy club shit you drank, and another you snort, both from the same tiny spoon; I accepted greedily.  I probably tried to kiss a few people, with certainty offended quite a few, this being my forte during such trips to the bottom.  Bottoming out.  It’s how you know you are getting fed up with yourself.  You just stop caring.

Anyway, then these two angels showed up.  I guess they were Ecuadoran, right?  I lounged with them for a bit through one or two episodes, snacking on toast and dropping more booze in my coffee.  At one point, I got up to use the restroom, and instead of coming back in to the parlour or mentioning anything, I just left through the back door onto Basil Street.  I made sure to grab a six-pack of beers from the refrigerator first, by way of gratitude, which I drank on the way home.  One of them broke on some train tracks along the journey.  I was changing platforms, one just slipped out of the cardboard, rolled a bit.  Mind the gap.  Just a complete fucking lark.

At one point in the evening, I had my arm around Julian’s neck in one of the smoking rooms, and I asked him about his mom’s new koi pond.  She just had it put in last month and had apparently been having a hell of a time getting the pH levels and whatnot sorted out.  And he just rounds on me, ‘Don’t ask about my mum, a’right mite!’ but he laughs about it real loud, and then his face just gets all serious real quick.  The blood is still pink in his cheeks, like the afterimage of a camera flash.  We kind of stare at each other like that for a little while making bulldog faces, I can’t make out if he’s still joking around, but too afraid to ask if he isn’t.  Then the joint’s back in his hands, and he’s turned away to talk cheerfully about some new comic book with someone else.  Jesus, we all had quite a bit of unhealthy steam to blow off this weekend, didn’t we?

I just hope he’s not too sore about my behaviour.  Poor guy’s got enough on his plate as it is – I think I’ll pop onto moonpig, get him a card by way of apology.  Oh, and another for that Cuban diplomat whose wife or girlfriend or whoever I was getting grabby with.  And I might as well include a few for the embassy cunts; oh, an Assange party can get so costly so quick, do you see?

A Sartorial Selection

[please feel free to play the video prior to reading this paragraph]

The ragged nut pouches, the torn hems hanging down in loops, the slack elastic waists; these boxer shorts have had some long careers.  Literally slinging dick, winding about in this sewer of an ass-crack each one in succession, day after day.  I envy their resolve.  One bare seat has been playing pants to trousers for nearly six years.  Many have toured other continents.  They’re wearied soldiers, and if they could get leave for some other branch of service, they would have already fucking taken it.  Yeah, they’ve been trapped like so many before them by what they saw perhaps as their duty, only now to think of it like a sentence, ticking a mark up on the wall with tailors chalk for each day spent pressed against my sweating taint.

So, that’s their job, anyway.  Some people schlep away in porn, prostitution.  Everybody’s got a job to do.  Me, I sell dreams, vapour.  Steam from piles of bullshit.  Oh, I don’t take a moral stand on it.  It’s a living.  But it’s such a load of bollocks that sails right over most people’s heads, until it smacks right into the face of those dumb enough to buy it.  Fuck me, what a truckload of winners, the marketplace is just for them.  They just keep lapping it up, the puddles oozing out of the cracked sides of those fetid piles.  I should go to work at the stock market.  Just a bigger row of stables.  More bulls.

This ex-banker I met, he’s been floundering since the banks imploded four years ago.  I hadn’t spoken to an ex-finance guy in a while.  I hadn’t even thought about them in a while, those guys – just pencil pushers, playing the leveraging game the way they had been coached to do.  Like when their dads used to yell over little league umpires, or pump their arms in the air from the side lines of the high school football fields.  Go go go!  Push those pencils, goddammit.  None of those guys got fired or anything, they just had no job to do anymore when the credit disappeared and the product was revealed to be empty of all value anyway.  Selling nothing.  Only so much of that around.

How were you to know then, I tried to reassure him.  ‘We knew how CDO’s worked,” he said through his eyelids.  He looks a lot like the current president, and I kept wanting to ask him if he hasn’t tried to make it as one of those  impersonators, at least taking coin tips posing with tourists on the south bank or Covent Garden.  I kept this to myself.  I told him you can’t blame yourself for everything in life, it’s unhealthy.  He said, “we knew what we were doing.”  Just another guy, trapped by what he saw as his duty.  He can’t spend what he doesn’t have these days – he seems to think that’s  justice enough.  His sentence.  But when will it be over already?   That’s between himself and his bathroom mirror.  I wonder why I don’t meet more of those guys, those ex-finance guys.

Take this kid I knew when I was growing up in Indiana, Allen.  He was the kid selling gumballs out of a sack in grade school.  When he was twelve or fourteen or whatever, he was selling advertising space, on restaurant place-mats, to businesses up and down our county seat high road.  Later the next year or so, he was booking vacuum cleaner sales calls out of a legit-enough looking office, him and a telephone and a stack of phonebooks all filled up with various highlighter colors.  He explained it to me one evening when I visited.  Actually, the guy who was helping me buy some pot, he had coincidentally met the dealers outside the main doors of the building, and since I had nothing to do while he was making the purchase, I buzzed the intercom.

“The first step is to ring a person, get them on the phone and find out about them.  Just tell them the office is involved in a hygiene study.  Are they earning, do they own their property.  Do they give a fuck about clean carpets or whether airborne particulate could cause respiratory disease, cancer in kids.  If they’re responsive, thank them for their valuable input and copy the number to the sales-log.

“Once someone’s information is in the sales log, they get a juicy phone call a couple weeks later – this is the offer to have a state of the art machine clean their home for free.  No obligation to buy, just watch a man work his magic and compare.  Someone who books an appointment goes up on the wall.  Once they’re on the wall,” he points to the cork-board covered in thumb-tacks and index cards, “a sales rep takes the vacuum to their house and scares the shit out of the poor bastard for about twenty minutes.  Turns on a UV light and uses various sprays that show how dangerous their existing vacuum cleaner is; it’s up to this guy to sell the person on the sofa a finance plan so they can afford the vacuum.  The vacuum units are fifteen hundred dollars, but we make our money off of the finance plan service charges, got it?”  I think he did well enough at that operation.  I remember the office not being there the next year, wondering what he had moved on to.

This crazy bastard, Allen, he was always pretending to be or have been schizophrenic, I couldn’t tell if he thought anyone else actually believed it;  I couldn’t imagine anyone buying into anything he said if they knew anything about him.  He  would concoct these sprawling dramatic histories, self-made myths pasted together out of cinema reels and practiced in the chat rooms and bulletin boards on the mid-‘nineties internet.  After I left town, I heard he was claiming he was going to die of a brain tumor.  Fat bastard deliberately went bald, would mutter it as an answer or excuse to anything and everything, “my brain tumor, my brain tumor.”  On a visit home one year, I found out he was running a pool hall near the river, that the police were watching it as a known area for drug peddlars.

One time, I think I was about fourteen, him a few years older, he asked me go to the bank with him.  Except it wasn’t the local credit union, we drove to Indianapolis and went to one of those huge banks downtown without tellers.  The kind rich people go into.  He had no appointment, but he told the receptionist that we needed to speak to someone in charge of speculative commodities investments.  While we waited, he tells me, “keep eye-contact with this guy.  It’s the first thing they teach you in business school.  Never break eye-contact.”  And this investment guy, he comes out a lot quicker than I expect, and he stops dead when he sees us.  His smile, it’s not friendly, it’s amused.  Two teenagers, one with a thick file of maps and invoices describing some gem mine in some part of South Africa.  The banker guy sits us down in his office, and Allen pitches him a chance to invest in these mines.  No, he cannot reveal how he obtained this information.  No, he cannot reveal ownership of the operation, only that they are going to make who ever invests in their expansion a big, fat return in two year’s time.  The banker never breaks eye-contact.  He starts to look annoyed with Allen.  Slides the file back across his desk.  Says the bank cannot consider a proposal without discerning whether it has come through the appropriate legal channels.  Allen just tells him that no one has ever seen a success without taking a little risk, gives the banker a business card and a chance “to sleep on it – but keep in mind that we’ll be shopping the offer around to other banks in the meantime.”  Then my mom picked us up and drove us the three hours back home.

You have to wonder, if that banker guy has ever thought to himself even for a moment in all the years since we sat there having our staring contest, whether he made the right decision on that diamond mine or whatever; you have to wonder whether that crazy bastard Allen might have been on to something.  Some people just spend their whole lives hustling a big box of bullshit up on one shoulder, twirling a big, filthy wooden spoon around, singing “who wants seconds!”  All they’re waiting for is one person dumb enough to think they’ve already eaten shit, they might as well have another helping.  You get enough dumbies doing it, and normal people around them who wouldn’t otherwise dream of doing something so horrible, well, a few of them start holding their noses.  Don’t want to miss out.  Next thing you know, everyone’s kind of stuck smiling with their lips closed, wondering how they got there.

Anyway, I need a few new pairs of shorts.

A Few Short Ones this Afternoon

I.

I’m dying.  I am fucking dying and I know it.

Every night, I don’t drift peacefully into sleep.  I am suddenly slammed into the slate cliffs on the shore of sleep.  I awaken much too early, always needing a fierce piss, always remembering I forgot to floss.  When I lie back down, the extra hour only makes my back hurt.  I feel rushed to relax, rushed to get up.

Here, on the bone of my wrist, see that?  There’s a red splotch, it’s skin disease, it has to be.  It has gotten bigger today.  Just a matter of time, just a matter of fucking time.

And there’s this little pain in the front of the bulge of my belly.  Like there’s a soft spot there on the inside.  Like there’s a little belly chicken inside pecking it’s way through the enamel.  I change my diet.  The belly chicken keeps at it.

I haven’t had a decent, non-onanistic orgasm in over five months.  Six!  I’m sick of all my favourite pornos.  The passive, organic part of my sexuality, completely weakened by wanking.  There’s no beauty for me in a statue of a dancer anymore.  Only a fidgety shame.  Fuck me, I’m depressed.

But at least I have my dignity.

II.

Mad Flavour, he calls himself.  Mad Flavour or Coco.  Have your pick.

He grew up mixing with the wrong crowds and got pinched for some offense at an early age.  Something worthy of a stint in some bighouse.  The lore says he used to entertain the other inmates by goofing on the food served at meal times; he honed a craft that has kept him alive in the quarter-century since then.  He is a stand-up comedian.

He’s a big guy.  His voice is very distinctive, an undulating gravely yell.  A smoker, he sounds like someone is strangling the dirty truth out of a drunken Brooklyn priest.  Cuban extraction.  Tells real raucous stories about growing up rabble-rousing, then selling drugs in late-‘eighties Los Angeles.  His opinions are quite firm, and he accentuates them with well-placed explosions of “fucking cocksuckers” and “you better fucking believe it.”

One of his colleagues and close friends says Joey Diaz could crease you up reading out of the phonebook.

A true American story.  This youth takes a turn out of trouble and supports himself and his family from his art.  By putting in the effort to get good at something positive.  He’s no household name, but he’s got enough of a following to have his shows sell out while he’s on the road.  Check out his wiki page – they’re even making a documentary about his life.  Fucking cocksuckers, better believe it.

III.

Ten percent is one in ten.  Nine percent is nine times out of one hundred, or .9 out of ten.

This isn’t the only example of what is an insubstantial difference nonetheless appearing much larger.  If you heard that taking ten lovers in the next year, there’s a one in ten chance one of them turns out to be the love your life, next to whom you would end up buried, well you would think, oh, but for the journey there.

On the other hand, I tell you that you have a nine in one hundred chance over the next year of finding that same person, you would probably say fuck all that happy ending bullshit and ask me to pick up the tab, you’ve got an engagement elsewhere.  There would be ice left in a highball on a coaster and nothing else.  But the amounts of the probabilities are virtually the same.  Do you see yet?

This is the trick in the butcher’s window.  Four pound, ninety-nine pence per kilo beef will never, ever look as expensive as five pound per kilo beef.  Ever.

This is the way car lots are playgrounds for magicians.  Wave the paint-marker about on the windshield of the saloon, and pronounce a price point more palatable to the demographic.  Even the Bentley sales lot will repeat the spell.  Once you have a power like this in your grasp, to not take the advantage becomes risky business for the whole institution.

And that is why, my friendly readers, you get TWO candidates, each one of them ashed with a slight variant on the same blue-grey, asphyxiated tone of death, during each election cycle.  Only a slight variant, appearing so different from the other.  Tada!

A Bit on Social Ineptness

image

By a trick of the light, she remembers me.  I see her from a hundred yards away and know with a kind of jolt of youthful nostalgia, that it is indeed the Kiwi I had flirted with exactly two weeks ago.  Big deal, I hear you say?  Yep.  Wait, it gets even lamer. I met her when the moon was full and now it’s a new moon, this being merely a trick of the light between two wobbling celestial bodies – we can surmise a fortnight works nothing but such outward, insubstantial changes on anything, and that includes my social skills.

You will recall the last exchange with this barista was mostly just me trying to coax a laugh out of her, an attempt at which you’ll also recall I failed.  I do not want to at first, I want to give the coffee a miss, just keep going, avoid having to talk to a person TWO TIMES in a ROW; nevertheless, I walk in with as much of a level gaze as I can.  When she straightens up from the task she’s bent over, her eyes, mildly vacant at first, reach mine and recognition slowly enters them.

There’s no other impression to read. I flounder about inwardly for the right reaction to this.  She remembers my face, though in what lights?  I consider waving, but instead I give this little cold-concrete finger-point, ‘you’ that I’ve been doing lately. I just remember she doesn’t smile at me.  At all.

There is some other girl at the register, she’s in one of those official-looking collared polos, the ones these corporate places use to set apart the people with minimal amounts of responsibility from those barely trusted with their own timekeeping.  I let her take my order, incorrectly, while trying to nonchalantly fix my attention on the Kiwi, who has not said anything to me yet.  I am really conscious of trying to strike an even ground between being polite enough that the girl at the register will like me but not mistake the exchange for flirting.  What am I worried about, again?  She passes the order to this blonde barista, and I think hard for something to say.  I am conscious that I shouldn’t think for too long.  Panicking,  I re-join the topic of the last stale conversation as if no time has passed.  The topic had been – wait for it… ‘to-go’ beverages coming in ‘dine-in’ vessels!  Oh, pure pantie-peeler, I know!

‘So… I ended up having to steal a mug the last time I was here.’  That should sound pretty cool.  My ‘to-go’ coffee, on the last trip, it came in a mug, see, which the person serving me let me sip while putting together another in a paper cup.  I vindictively chucked this mug in my bag after I had finished.  There’s a picture of it, above.

‘You did,’ she states in a tone usually reserved for the most unremarkable things that are yet somehow remarked upon.

‘Yup,’ I reply, and the topic is certifiably dead.  Then, with bravery that only comes from profound stupidity, I carry on, ‘it looks great on the shelf in my cupboard.’

She turns to face me, not smiling, sits the paper cup down as she points to a formation of mugs hanging from hooks above the bar, ‘the ones in this design are always disappearing,’ instructively rebuking me.  It is as if she is pointing to the empty teat on the sow’s belly where her piglet had been only moments before, before it was torn away and died of head trauma.  Watch the rest of the exchange unfold along this same tenor.

‘That was me.’

The next bit is fuzzy, as I am nervous.  Remember, I think that I’m flirting with this girl –   she says something like, ‘here’s your coffee, you sick petty thief.”  Trying to be natural, I tell her, ‘I don’t think I’ve gotten your name,’ which comes out as a half-question in a weird tone.  I can’t even look up while I stir the sugar.

‘Julia.’

I hold out my hand, ‘Greg.’  As I look in her clear eyes I worry, what if my eyes cross or one suddenly goes lazy?  What if she sees some kind of pervy desperation in my gaze?  What am I doing?

‘I feel like we’ve been through this before,’ I’m completely disarmed.  Do I argue with her?

‘I don’t think so,’ there’s the half-question again.

‘Then you’ve forgotten,’ she barbs and ducks away like a boxer.

‘Oh!’ I have to recoil.  I’ve been listening to Andrew ‘Dice-Man’ Clay, so it comes out like him.  I couldn’t get a laugh out of her, and now that I’ve gotten her name, I realise there’s a good possibility that last time I met her I was so stoned that I forgot her fucking name.  I put the stirrer in the little rubbish pot.  I ask for a paper sleeve.  She says that they are all out of those, but I can have an extra paper cup.  I say something like no worries – I’m already turning to leave.  She has two cups held out dead in front of her.

‘Don’t just let me hold these out for nothing,’ she jokes sternly.  I just kind of walk out.

Throbbing embarrassment, then a wave that hey, this is like the most interaction I have had with someone in a while.  Where I still manage to insult the person’s effort to serve me.  I remember she shouts out at me as I’m almost through the door, ‘don’t forget!’  I don’t reply, not even with a tiny wave.

Now certainly I have magnified the situation all out of scale, focusing on the throw-away parts of life that never amount to anything, and moreover have used these parts to construct a false scenario.  I am deluded, as a man in the desert tricks his own eyes with his thirst.  Falling to my knees.  Which reminds me of a comic strip from that stalwart of Hustler magazine, ‘Chester the Molester,’ where a man’s pictured crawling through the desert, and he’s come to two signposts: one points to water a short distance away, and the other path is marked ‘pussy’ but only at quite a considerable haul in the opposite direction… and he’s crawling toward the “pussy!”  What a dick!  Surely he’ll die before he makes it there!  Always makes me laugh.

Busking with Phoebe


... into the rabbit hole

I was so nervous I forgot to warm up my voice.  Going through a few scales together is pretty polite anyway, isn’t it, when you’re out busking with someone new.  What a frightened little thing I was, how I had to temper my courage as I thumped my G chord off the walls and arches of the stone courtyard.  My confederate was far more at ease.  We were in the middle of the buildings in the Inner Temple Gardens just off the cenotaph at about half three or four in the afternoon.  It was Monday in late March.

Just as I managed to relax a bit, this gray haired woman strode in looking irritated, stopping ten yards away from where I sat on a granite bench astride a squat obelisk in the centre of the court.  My rendition of one of the acoustic White Album tracks, the one with the heartbroken gunfight and the bible, well, it had offended.  What are you doing, she spat to open the confrontation.  I thought to get smart, reply that what I was doing should be rather obvious, but instead I just smiled and tried to look innocent.  You can’t do that here, she continued, ‘there are people at work, these are offices!’  I don’t remember what I said.  I remember thinking that she looked overly angered by a bit of strumming and singing.  I guess I felt a bit like Elvis might have felt.  She stomped off.

My confederate and I moved past a hall where a chorus was rehearsing.  We entered a kind of tunnel with stairs at the end and a glass ceiling framed with black iron buttresses and old glass lamps.  Some modern, electronically-keyed glass doors in the side of one of the hallway’s walls led into some fucking banking operation or another.  Suits and high heels for an audience.  The acoustics in there were awesome.  I sang an up-tempo blues thing one and a half times, gathering my nerve.  I felt really unseasoned.  We traded a handful of songs, I sang my dirge for the river, and that’s where the story is interesting for me.

I had been going in to the river night after night, get off work at eight, be at Embankment by ten, spend and hour out over her on the Hungerford.  I often read from Grant Morrison’s new book in the café on the ground floor of the National Theatre.  The winter wind blowing over the swollen river filled up my lungs.  I took that wind home with me on the trains, back into my den, and in the mornings I’d accordion those airs in and out and, eventually, shaped and sounded a song from them.  Like punching the breath out of a ball of dough laid across the work surface.

When my old acquaintance, the singer/songwriter, was to visit, I knew I would take the song back in to the river.  I packed it up, just as I snapped up the guitar in its case.  Trains here, trains there, calling all stops to Temple.  And in that white stone-tiled hallway at the end of a very clement March, the river heard what came of her winter winds.  The songwriter only remarked afterwards, ‘so sad.’  The beauty I distilled from that bitch the Thames and her consort theNorth Sea, well it was all patent-leather pain in the end, wasn’t it just.

It is just the river and I that know what we made together.  It is our love song, one to the other; she from her bed explaining to me sleepily and with playful slaps on my cheeks, that women are fickle and not to be leant upon by the weak, lest the weak find themselves permanently reduced to their knees.  Me to her from behind a tray holding toasted slices of bread and jams, spreads for breakfast in bed, begging her to keep me around for another day, another hour of the morning.  Me to her, squatting against a stone wall so near to chapels and vaulted halls saying my prayer, ‘I know, I know.’

A few of my recent failures to socially engage women

I stopped in at Leon on the Old Spitalfields pavilion, as I often do when I stroll through the area.  The coffee is a pound and the staff have been consistently pretty girls except for once at the Old Compton Street location.  There was no crowd at the glass bar, so I went straight to the middle of its stacks of bagged dried fruits and chocolate bars.  A few employees were engaged in little tasks, one took a rag to a tabletop in the corner.  Another in an official-looking collared top passed in front of me twice, first approaching a colleague at the edge of the kitchen, asking her a quick question, and then back again.  I waited for some eye-contact.  She moved off in a preoccupied way which somehow seemed to justify itself out of mind.  I actually thought to be impatient, but I found that I was too far under the influence of marijuana for my comportment to become impudent.  Eventually an attractive young blonde came from somewhere off at the left to wait on me.  Watch how I flounder.

‘What can I get for you,’ she asked perfunctorily.  She had an accent.  Student, or here on working holiday.

‘Yeah!’ I was ecstatic that I had gotten some attention before my decision to be pleasant had been worn down by idleness.  ‘May I have a filter coffee, please!’

She looked past her chin at the register where she was tapping in the order.  ‘Will that be for here, or to take away?’

‘Ah, yes, to take away, please,’ in a knowing tone of voice.  Thinking this a good chance to flirt, I turned on what I think is charm.   ‘And, thanks for asking by the way, the last time it ended up coming in a mug.’  Huzzah!

‘Ah, I see,’ she said, the joke demonstrably falling flat.  I offered up a more meaty punchline to try and dredge up a laugh.

‘Which, to be honest I had thought about stealing.’  I caught a minute smile hidden in an even more minute glance.  I shut up in order to avoid looking like a forthright, desperate buffoon too early in the conversation.

‘It’s supposed to be compulsory to ask,’ she put in suddenly with a slight dismissive shake of her head – although this defense of the rules came out in a tone hardly sounding seasoned or principled.  She handed me my change and receipt.

‘Oh, fuck all that corporate stuff, you know?… sorry for my coarse language!’  I smiled as broadly as I could put a casual turn on the outburst.  I was starting to regret it, but then she gave back a little, ‘that’s alright, mine’s probably just as bad…’  She gathered to the steam machine.  I milled about, forcing my eyes away from her figure while she assembled the cup and its cardboard sleeve.

‘Would you like milk?’ – I tried not to be uneasy with the transaction coming to an end…

‘I’m just going to use some of this,’ I replied nonchalantly pointing to the cold milk decanter, and I took the paper cup from her.  Everything slowed down for a moment.  I could sense her refusing to sign off just yet, no ‘have a nice day,’ only a brief pause.  I took two sugar packets and carefully began tearing the top edges open.  The only thing that I could think of to say:

‘You sound like you have an accent, is it Oz, or …’

‘No,New Zealand!’ she pronounced in the genial tones of someone perpetually revealing the same surprise.

‘… oh, a Kiwi! – North or South?’ I parried at the ready.

‘North,’ she stared fixedly at me.  I gave a quick scan of the glass bar in order to dispel any customer-like interruptions and went again.

‘North,’ I repeated her answer, ‘did you guys get hit as badly as the South?’ referring to some earthquake or other I half remembered from some conversation or another I had been having with a stranger about Christchurch.  She responded they luckily had been spared the worst.  Why am I talking about natural disasters?

‘Have you ever been?’ she inquired quite genuinely as I finished pouring the sugar in and went for a wooden stirrer.  I summoned my bestNew Zealandjoke.

‘Not unless you count watching the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings in a row, that’s like twelve hours there!’  Still no laugh, just a rebuking smile as she pivoted slightly, I could tell through my pot haze that I had done all I would be able to at this juncture.  Then I was out in the foyer of the market, supping at my coffee.  Forget asking for a number – even a name – if you can’t even get a laugh.  Oh, well.

But I watched a mate of mine yesterday, he’s a master.  I learned a lot.  He took me to an Italian joint on the other end of Old Compton; made me share a starter and a dessert, I laughed and told him it was like being out with an Irish fucking drill instructor.  Anyway, the waitress was fromSardiniaand had a very thick, regional accent.  I loved it – and this guy just opens up his eyes and acts as a child with her, and she starts gushing back to reciprocate.

‘… and for the main I’ll have the Arrabiata – did I pronounce that okay?’

‘That time was perfect!’ she told him encouragingly, laughing the whole time.  It was really quite remarkable to observe in the brevity of time in which he had completely won her undivided attention.  ‘The penne is my favourite, my FAVOURITE!’  A lot to learn here.

In fact, I narrowly avoided cocking up the whole goddamned lunch right at that moment.  She turned to me and I couldn’t stop laughing.  I tried to order in a northern accent and it came out at an incredible volume.  I think some spittle may have made contact with the poor girl.  She had really kind brown eyes.  My mate saved the situation with one dismissive comment and my behaviour was forgotten.  I resolved to keep my mouth shut and take in the example.  The next round of girls didn’t stand a chance –Warrenlevelled them in about half the time of the islander.  Ah, the Irish and their world famous patter.  As for myself, I barely held on.  I left a tenner for the tip to cover my own insecurity during these exchanges.

2,000 words on youthful affairs

It was when she finally shouted at me down the alley, ‘Stop, you crazy bastard!’ when I realised she had been giving chase for a block or more.  I guess she spotted me on a quick go-round at the Video Saloon haling friendlies at the pool tables and dart boards to come along to the evening’s underwear party, the attraction of which ought to be abundantly obvious.  I had been moving up the main drag in this manner a few mugs of beer at a time, making enough haste through the June night towards the bar where we were amassing.  I guess my pace was brisk.

Why she ever felt compelled to run me down is a mystery even to this day.  A one-time roommate of my friend, I may have met her two unremarkable times prior to the alley.  I certainly never got the sense that she was interested in even just getting to know me, much less anything else for that matter.  In fact, whatever enthusiasm she might have started out with seemed to dissipate in a rapid fashion as we smoked a cigarette there on some brick steps, and about midway through our conversation there was an audible click as the heavy tumblers rolled into place unlocking a creeping doubt inside her breast as to whether she could actually picture herself fucking me.  I confusedly beamed about a party where I would strip nearly nude, she said something about a band in bar on the opposite end of the strip, I was more than welcome to show up when I had my clothes back on; I left it at that.

Oh, yeah, and just 95 cents!     Later on, after the underwear party belched me out, I realised that I   might have gone in several directions that night, none of them correct. We gathered first not in the bar but rather on a residential green near the front of the bar, drinking quarts of Miller High Life out of paper “public intoxication” sleeves.  This attracted a bit of extra attention and we managed to recruit a couple few girls to the cause.  Can’t contribute to a sausage-fest, forbid the thought!  In the end we were a motley bunch.  A few boys in our bearded mid-twenties; the slightly unlaundered Asian girl who gave off the scent of mild schizophrenia and pushed her bicycle along; the womanly redhead who came reluctantly.  Ian, the smooth-talking drunken poet, coaxed her into it.  We danced with them down to their bras and panties, at one point as the redhead ground against me I predictably began getting an erection;  I sensed that might be a breach of the peace at this early stage and somehow talked it down.

The best part of the whole story didn’t even happen that night, in fact.  I remember I had quit the kitchen to smoke a joint outside, trying to divine how to get in the queue for the “seven minutes in heaven” closet, when I somehow found time to insult the host of the whole affair.  Something about his reluctance to strip off his boxers and prove some specific amount of manhood, I’m not really clear on this point as two or three girls had shed their brassieres by now and one was sporting quite a rack.  Months later I would go to some birthday party, a real friend-of-a-friend thing, and think to myself, boy this house looks familiar.  I hand this guy a birthday card, which he refuses as coldly disdainful as you like.  ‘You’re that asshole who told me I had a small dick.  It’s my fucking birthday, and I want you to get the fuck out of my house.’   I would have beaten me up.  I slunk off with my paper sack of Pabst, and later found the guy’s identity.  An ex- of mine had actually had a fling with him a few years prior.

Guess what she said about his cock.

Here's what an underwear party consists of:

Anyway, as I hinted at earlier, I did not get laid either at or following this underwear party.  As the sun began to rise and I was picking my way dazedly through backyards, I remembered that girl’s breathless invitation in the alleyway.  Salt in a suddenly large, obvious wound.  Not that I felt at that moment that I had wasted an opportunity, as I maintain.  No, I was irritated by the acknowledgment that at least one person in the world had by this point found someone to fuck her silly, while as for myself, I was going to walk home getting more and more sober to my sex-starved condition as I went along.  Nothing could ever make me feel more sexually worthless than I felt at that moment.

Which is not to say that there aren’t any contenders for a close second place, of course: in one instance, a girlfriend’s lesbian acquaintance  interrupted a Valentine’s drink with a remark about a little ‘whisky dick’ incident, wink wink.  I had called earlier that day from work and told her she ought to come out for some stand-up comedy and ‘company’.  Her friend was at the same bar either fortuitously or deliberately, I am not sure.  I bristled, drank a bit too much, was removed from the comedy show for throwing candy hearts at the comic.  We drank some more.  Then I yelled at the poor girl for the twenty-minute walk back to her house.  Surprisingly resilient, a week later I fucked her in the women’s restroom on a night out at a gay bar.  Eventually I made up for the lesbian’s insult by leaving sex stains on her leather sofa.  C’est la guerre.

She was the most drawn-out, complex relationship I’ve ever had.  The first act was our meeting outside of a lecture she had dropped.  She approached me in the hallway of Woodburn, knew me from some pithy comments I had made in previous classes, under the pretense that I might want to take some readings off her.  I courted her with witty emails, eventually being invited over to her place a few times before finally making out with her over a six pack of Red Hook IPA on a rainy summer day.  I was studying for finals that term in the music school building on the southeast corner of campus, as it turned out just half a block away from the place she was staying.  We met there serendipitously I thought, and what had been correspondence was suddenly open to sweaty, real world physicality.

It was nine or ten months later before we finally had the first affair.  She had moved to the old neighbourhood I had first lived in when I got to town, and my old friend Simon had moved around the corner.  I popped by hers one afternoon, as I had done casually once every month or so being in the area, and her roommate happened to be out and I just happened to be feeling bold that day and we fucked twice.  I felt like a bandit afterwards, I went to a small party at my friend Joe’s.  I felt like I had a secret – how dumb and young.

I went by once more after that, played her some Harry Nilsson and we danced, kissed.  She was struggling against a deadline and leaving for a fortnight in the morning, so I took my bottles of Samuel Smith and drank with an old drunkard I knew in the area.  We watched an old western on his television, we smoked cigarettes.  After another lengthy pause, we suddenly hooked up at the beginning of the following January, and now she lived south of town.  She dropped me off on campus that next morning and I had breakfast in theUnion, no sleep and sex on my clothes.  This time we saw each other for just under three months.  The whole thing plays out like a disconnected series of start-stop love-making over two and a half years, you see what I mean?

When she left I didn’t feel any loss, but I was rather put off at the time by how she went about it.  Still the best end to any relationship I have ever had: for a week she didn’t pick up the phone, and then there was an email that a few of my things would be in a bag hanging from her front door, she had moved back home following her graduation.  Everything was there, except for my black Hooters t-shirt.  By then the phone number didn’t work anymore.  How much like watching a boat sink is that?  A few years later I lived around the corner myself, and went and read by the swimming pool near that apartment block, drinking beer and getting tanned.  I was in love with life that summer.  That was the summer I tried to start an affair with my live-in girlfriend’s bff.  It backfired.  We had been at a 4th of July pool party barbecue the day it happened, and she was gorgeous in her bikini, we smoked pot huddled together down out of the wind next to some picnic tables.  I made a pass at her later that night on my front porch step.  I was honestly probably in that stupid puppy love that we find ourselves in every once in a while, especially when drinking.  I tried again later in a small playground at the bottom of the slides.  She apologised, which was weird because I was remorseless, and the next night found me at the bar to tell me she had confessed to the presumably now live-in ex-girlfriend.  Which is of course brutal irony, because she confessed that she, feeling the same stupid thing, perhaps encouraged such a situation and we were punished without having properly consummated any substantive crime.

The stories all kind of bleed into and recall each other, so that once I get started, they just start to pile up on me.  Would so many of these women speak ill of me today?  And how many would not remember my name – hopefully out of the two categories the latter is greater in numbers.  It distracts me, furthermore, from wanting to dig my claws into anyone else when I consider a series in this way.  I just want to be goddamned good to people, and not being in relationships with any of them may be a start for right now.  Let’s see if I can get these orange seeds going – the sun shines in my windows between seven and seven forty P.M. each day for the time being.   If that’s successful perhaps we’ll consider taking the program forward a stage.

I have two names: Really & Seriously.

I’m not a lonely guy, this is not a lament.  The facts are merely as they stand.  I am alone since this girl left me at the beginning of the year.  There have been ups and downs, sure.  I’m straightening myself out.  There’s always something to be said for strips of solitude in one’s life, anyway, helps you focus on your mores and habits, get your gaze set dead level.  Like a recalibration of the self – a healing.

As long as you don’t medicate yourself, of course.  Bloody hell!, that was the worst bought of mania I’ve suffered under in at least a few years.  The demon in the soul and the grain spirits amplify each other until any finer parts are trampled over.  So I’m clicking my crossed fingers and clacking my heels that I’ve made it through intact.  Swerving wide of the drink has saved me.

I’ve taken up one of the bagel shops on Brick Lane, mouthwash, wearing my hair short.  The plan for this Saturday afternoon is to shoot out to town via the Manor Park library.  My quarry? – one collection of Calvino stories.  Then I plan on willing the sun to burn itself out from behind the clouds while I have a tour of Hampstead Heath.  If I do this all by myself, it is merely because I have been a toxic person in the past and I am still realigning my self.

For instance, late last month I had an old friend come and visit the city while her husband was on business.  I met up with them and had a great re-introduction, I had only started drinking a few nights prior, had a few glasses of wine and a late walkabout.  By the end of their trip, I was blowing off plans with them to lie in bed and drink all day.  When I was around them, I was very conscious of my behaviour and in an attempt to loosen up drank steadily.  I don’t think I was the best guide to the city, I remember the couple tussling together in a comfortingly American way on the Central line platform over how important it was to see the British Museum that very day.  I felt at the time as if it were my place to deflate the confrontation, now I can see in hindsight that it was probably all my fault in the first place.

Here’s the Sunday roast I had at three in the afternoon at the Mason & Taylor:

His first Sunday roast EVER

Please notice that yes, I am indeed intoxicated by the time this photo I ask for this photo to be taken.

Let me also note at this time that I am not expressing apologetics or looking to be forgiven.  Such weaknesses are luxuries not to be afforded by one so ‘umble as me.  It’s merely the fact that I was expressing a good deal of pain in the most awkward and compromisingly shitty ways.  Other, worse stories abound from this time period, but I suspect the melodrama is too repulsive.  Really, seriously.

****

UPDATE

I did not make it to the hills of the Heath – the rain was interminable, so I walked across the river and sat in the top floor of the Festival Hall overlooking her swollen currents tossing about in the drizzle.  I read and thought of a few of my youthful adventures.  Already home now, readying supper.

I have a history of deeply offending the best people

When Brennan took his own life, the girls were shocked.  All four of them dropped everything to join his equally shocked family.  Three were in college classes at the time, I’m pretty sure we had been in the house on Prospect Hill for over a year.  Lani was painting again.  Jono headed up the wagon train with his Volkswagen, Lysee may even have driven along as well.  I had just gotten home from work.  I remember saying to them it was fine, they were the ones closer to him, I would stay with the house and the dog and the cat.  There was a sharp pain for me after they had gone up the gravel alley, headlights first.  I was alone.  The same feeling that drove the man to it.

He must have been twenty seven.  I had met him two years prior on my arrival in southern Indiana.  I had a strange history with him already, as I had been certain the summer earlier that my (then ex-)girlfriend had been interested in him, a few odd mentions of him during the long telephone calls before we had reconciled in Kansas City.  There were a lot of heartbreaks between the two of us that summer, the prominent motif of the relationship for the next four years, as luck would have it.  Anyway, I didn’t know how much I would enjoy meeting someone with whom she may have had some sort of encounter.

He wore glasses.  He wrote hilarious stories with Jono.  He was soft-spoken and deflecting.  He bought us liquor on New Year’s Eve that first year when everyone else was already gone to parties and we were still underage, a bottle of Ezra Williams.  I remember thinking between the label design and  assertive identification it looked exactly  like Jack Daniels’ cousin.  He read us a poem of his that consisted of repetitive cooing sounds and comically sexual syllabic words.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  He had no love interests; the girls always teased him that the youngest sister secretly fancied him.  I had nothing but fondness for old Burt as we called him then.

One night at a dinner party at Prospect Hill, I offended him deeply with something I said, and he left.  Just drove off without saying goodbye or giving an explanation.  I myself have now pulled this exact move many times in the intervening years – I learned later from an acquaintance named Fitzpatrick that I’d been taught how to give a proper ‘Irish goodbye’.  The incident occurred while we were on the porch playing a board game, and I had mentioned in an off-hand way his Jewishness.  We had always known, I told him, whichever bottle of wine he brought to dinner, that would be the wine on special offer at the grocery down the street.  I laughed.  He excused himself quietly.  Later, we put the pieces together, Jono and I, and I don’t recall if or how I offered an apology.  So many people I have offended deeply in the intervening years.

A good handful of months later, he quit his dead-end bookstore job on the campus from which he had long since graduated, and moved back to the house in Pittsburgh that he had quit even longer ago.  He took the job at his dad’s business that he never wanted to accede.  A few months after, we stopped hearing regular news from his new start in ‘Pitty.’  A few months later, I was standing in the backyard with a panting dog and no sense of closure.  They would mourn, share stories.  I just thought about how odd it was, that there would be no follow up to the now-immortal short story, “The Queef Catcher,” no deliberately poor guitar strumming accompanying improvised lyrics.  No Burt Marsh anywhere anymore.

Now, I’m not intoning that I had a fundamental part in his depression.  It is not as dramatic as if I had, say, strode into his only safe place, upset the people who harboured him there, even got them to join me in mocking him, and a year later the path hit its logjam, for want of a less hackneyed term.  No, he was the one who pushed the world around him further and further away from himself, until staring at it from a foreign, unforeseen and uncomfortable place, he thought he noticed how little he had actually been there.  That detachment came from him.  Besides, I’m not so self-important to think like that.

What I am saying here is that I recognise what he must have been doing.  All kinds of alienating feelings seem to fill my own breast lately, crowding up and into my thoughts.  I have a written account of every moment since December 10th last year where I gave away a piece of my world, put it to one side.  Gone.  And I appreciate how easy it must be to pile those up, each one a successively illogical step.

I was in the supermarket when I thought of this.  My friend was stocking up on ‘survival food’ for the next week, and I was painfully detoxing from a week of solidly irresponsible drinking on the cheap.  I saw an over-large canister of Slug Killer pellets.  Active ingredient, something metalhyde, very toxic.  I thought about how easy it would be to spend a pound, disregard the warning on the label.  Would I feel any more pathetic than I do normally, disregarding the units and warnings on the sides of lager tins, themselves full of toxin?  The thrill might be in reuniting with a desire for life again in the final painful, irreversible moment.  Was that the trip I had been on, have been on?