Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Glories of Human Individualism

For his own self-satisfaction my late maternal uncle, Osbert L., would throw words at me with forceful ferocity: "Answer the doorbell and shut the door on your way out!" - "Take that cumbersome, puckered-up face with you!" - "You look like a lesbian stranded in a Cowboys' washroom!" - "Last night I burst into flames! Did anybody come to my aid?! And why not?! I had to swallow the flames without blinking!" - "Only clay pigeons, pleural cavities, and long straight dyed hair get tired!" - "Aren't you dead yet?!"

I always ignored Osbert's irreverent greetings as I had no wish to quarrel. He was a widower with years of richness, unhappiness and loss buried deep inside him. I silently sat in a low-backed, wooden chair taking care to sidestep his intense gaze. As he lost himself in his layered memories I often permitted my mind to wander in search of a different existence. Nothing too extravagant, but something more than memorable, something entirely unforgettable.

I imagine a completely perfect man in the company of a completely perfect woman. This calms me. It gives me time to forget what most preoccupies me. The woman and I are both high in spirit and wander in a place where sweet flowers grow. Uncertainty, anxiety, painful surprises and evil cannot creep up on us and destroy our exquisite nature. We candidly grapple with existential questions: "Why does a species such as ours not possess a well-shaped head similar to that of a camel?" - "Where are we going?" and perhaps, the most taxing question of all, "Can I pay by card?"

However, the woman and I are not fools. We speak of the complexity and stupidity of many things including the question of human love, of fate, of creation, of renewal, of desire. Our walk from the garden leads to the edge of the sea. The world seems captured in the slight, silent waves and our pool of thought. These moments of contentment only last a few minutes, but are worth hanging onto while they last, for they bring me a bolt of happiness.

"You're an odd one! Why can't you make a clean sweep of things? Two children by two different woman and still not married! Your behavior is reprehensible." Osbert's vitriolic voice jolts me from thought; I sigh, acquiesce and turn my eyes towards his gaunt face. "I'm senile, worn out and have savage dreams," Osbert exclaims. "There's nothing left for me to discover in this world. Nothing!" I like Osbert: his intense thinking; his distaste for human ignorance; his mood that can toss like a leave in spring; his contempt for pity, his acceptance of growing old.

Osbert remained active until his demise; sometimes taking a bus into town and a taxi home: the downside being that he stole the vehicles and picked up passengers on route for no charge. I usually had to post bail and collect Osbert from a police station. At times, he lamented: "Why is my hair snowy-white?! I don't even like Christmas?!" And while I was driving, "A fine boat you've got here. Goes at a good pace. In this mist it's hard to tell where the shore starts or ends. How can you see?!"

Reflections: I believe my life is going backwards. It's as if everything is happening to me in reverse. In fact, it has struck me that by seeing my life backwards I may gain some sense of my existence. I went to see my doctor:

"Hello Doktor Faustus."

"Don't forget to take the tablets as I told you."

"But, I'm only here?"

"You're obviously suffering from "misconception of the direction of time" syndrome. The belief that time travels only in one direction. Why, yesterday I saw a stockbroker walking down Street Wall."

"Surely you mean Wall Street?"

"No. He was walking backwards."

"I think my life is going in reverse?"

"Hello, and what can I do for you?"

I reversed my car into town, parked at a restaurant, and paid for a meal I had still to order.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Book Sniffing Club & Telecommunication Downtime

It began with a letter addressed to the man of the house so my wife read it first. The letter instructed that a car would pick me up at eight o'clock that evening. No reason, no signature. Mysterious, even dangerous, yet I waited with eager anticipation.

I watched a black car with tinted windows arrive and stop outside my house. A menacing-looking chauffeur stepped out of the car quickly. I was told to sit in the back seat and place a black hood over my head. After that the chauffeur didn't speak. I shrunk deep into the seat, stayed silent, and regretted wearing tight alligator underwear.

We drove for about an hour until I heard the tyres hit gravel and the car stopped. The chauffeur held on to my arm as we walked silently along a gravel path. I heard a door bell ring. A door opened, and a male voice politely invited us inside. When the door shut I was told to remove the hood. I was standing in the reception of a large stately house.

A portly, red-faced man flashed a smile and greeted me warmly. 'Splendid! Glad you could come. I'm Maxwell. Welcome to The Book Sniffing Club. We've been expecting you.' He led me to a large, round table where six people were sitting, and introduced me. The table contained a pile of books in various stages of decay.

'As you can see dear fellow,' Maxwell continued, 'you are in the prestigious company of fellow book sniffers. Decaying books are wondrous. The chemicals ... The volatile acids ... The emissions combine to make a vivid, musty smell!' His face became redder as he spoke. He immediately lifted a book from the table, raced to a chair, sat down, and buried his nose deep inside the book jacket.

A woman flashed a smile and indicated a place at the table for me. I was struck by her beauty and husky voice. Her name was Rachel. 'It's open seating. Here, sit beside me.' I liked her. She described how her habit had developed through different stages; sniffing newspapers, pamphlets, then progressing to the slicks: Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, then Horse & Hound. I paused, and though how ludicrous, yet profoundly beguiling, the whole situation was.

Some of the group were using straws to delve deep into the spines of books, and took long deep sniffs, then sat back in exhilaration. Rachel said fresh books were all right for beginners, but nothing could beat an old crusty book. I asked if they had ever been raided by the police. She crossed her legs, then she laughed. 'No fear! Most members have influential positions, or connections, within the police and judiciary.'

Rachel handed me a straw, smiled, and pointed to the books, 'Now get sniffing!' I placed my straw deep into the spine of an old book. I believe it was a first edition, a first issue copy of Grimms Fairy Tales. The last thing I remember is inhaling, feeling drowsy, melting in a blue haze, and losing consciousness.

Reflections: Throughout my life I have sought good advice and fallen supremely beneath it. I have often, undeniably, encountered many good creatures whose talk and laughter meant nothing. Each day these creatures performed a motionless, timeless dance; rocked in bottomless chairs; barked and grunted - perhaps for food, or escape. Some fell silently to the floor unnoticed. Their eyes glazed with tragic emotion. 

There were eternal problems, of course. What to fall back on during telecommunication downtime?! How to deal with such a loss?! How to communicate with dispirited creatures who have nothing to confide?! Their bodies trembling, their minds discarded to avoid engagement, misapprehension, the chance to escape. To get out.

Is it a triumphant option to remain a shadow on a page, never daring to look away from a screen?! Each day, every day?! Like a cat watching a bird?! They didn't see it that way. Did they see it that way?

Friday, August 01, 2014

Living on Parallel Lines & Hitchhiking

This morning I was lying in bed - awake, though still snoring - when someone hammered on my front door. It was a neighbour, Ivar Kalmar, who I find difficult to talk or listen to without losing hair from my body. I could tell he was in distress: his bleached-blonde hair was standing upright, and the tattoos on his heavy muscled arms were walking on all fours like a shaven-headed chimp with nappy rash.

I also knew his house had four toilets. He explained that in deciding which toilet to use he had become gravely confused and bewildered. I could see by the stain on his elegant blue pajamas he had suffered a 'little' accident. I invited Ivar into my home: to sit in the cat’s litter tray. My cat felt threatened, of course - and is not the most generous creature on earth. In fact, it is a peerless disaster as far as alcohol and gambling are concerned.

I poured fresh water in the cat’s feeding dish. The cat and I watched my neighbour lick the dish bone dry. It seemed to have a calming effect on him. To disarm the silence I tried to engage my neighbour in conversation. I commented on the marvelous array of automobiles outside his home, his family’s fine clothes, the numerous extensions made to his property, and his profession as a high-ranking, marketing consultant.

Suddenly, Ivar pounced, grabbed my neck with his hands, and started to rant: 'I haven’t slept for five days! I’m exhausted from working in a god-forsaken company I hate! A job I hate! And worrying about unpaid bills for things neither my family, nor myself, required in the first place!'

'But you look so happy?! ... Your wife?! ... Your children?! ...'

'DON’T MENTION MY WIFE! First it was dual master bedrooms, then separate houses in the same city, then separate states, then separate countries, then separate continents! She took everything, including my cherished toupee made out of parrot feathers!'

'Really! I ... I never knew! I mean about your situation!' I fumbled behind me for an onion slicer, a large pot with a lid, or a large lid with a pot. The guy was nuts. Panic and anxiety bounced around in my brain - not much room, I know, but it’s the only one I can access. I grabbed a banana skin, and regretted eating the banana earlier. 'You should live like me. No television, smartphone, cyberspace, magazines, shopping. Marketing and advertising is brash, the bane of people’s lives!' I paused for a second. What was I saying?! The guy was in advertising, for heaven’s sake! I didn't tell him my cat had only last week bought expensive cat clothes, food, and sex toys on eBay, with my credit card. I was cleaned out.

'Perhaps you should go and live in the mountains, the jungle, or the state of Ohio! Away from civilization!'

He clamored to his feet. 'I believe you’re right. The mountains, the jungle, Ohio. I need to start packing.' He moved towards the door. I slightly relaxed my grip on the banana skin. With his eyes moving in different directions he turned to me and said, 'Sitting in your cat's litter tray has helped me reassess my perspective on life. How can I ever repay you?'

As I pushed him out and engaged the twenty locks and bolts on my front door, I whimpered, 'Send me the fangs of the first venomous snake that bites you.' I believe Ivar exclaimed, 'You’ll get them, buddy! I swear, if it kills me, you’ll get them!' I had a feeling he was right. That's when I decided to move house.

Reflections: People today don’t seem to trust each other the way they used to. Out of fear, I guess. Somehow picking up hitchhikers kinda makes sense to me again. First, I need 'fresh wheels' - fast.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Narcissism & How to Dine with a Noisy Eater and Survive

I met an ex-girlfriend yesterday afternoon. At first I thought it was a stranger who had approached me, then I discovered it was Arabella. We eat in a sleazy bar where the women drank beer, and the men danced while debating whether or not it is indiscreet to run during a moonlit walk. The longer I gazed at Arabella's face the less I understood what I was looking at.

Life doesn't prepare you for instant confusion, how to think rationally under duress, or how to dine with a 'noisy eater' without wishing to push their face in whatever they are eating. Arabella looked weary, her face damaged by alcohol. She kept flipping through missed calls and messages on her mobile. This tore me up. And to think she was once the prettiest girl in the village.

Appalled by her appearance and behaviour, and devoured by my incessant need to naively judge others simply out of boredom and conceit, my mind went into overdrive. Recalling our short romance reminded me how irrelevant it was.  

After some small talk she turned to me, her hazel eyes ready to shed tears, and said:

'Do you remember the afternoon by the river? What images and sensations does it provoke?'

'A fear of rats.'

'You're teasing me. It's the passage of time, emotional currents, fish, men in nylon thigh waders, fishing rods ... '

'You have a great memory, and, if I may say so, a great imagination.' Her self-inflated snobbery and constant preening made me wonder how we had coexisted in a past now entirely dissolved.

'Do you notice anything about me?'

'You still radiate mindless malice when you're not the subject of praise.'

'No, silly. I'm wearing the same skirt!'

'But you were nine, I was ten! You must be approaching sixty!' (I knew Arabella was fifty-two now.)  

'How do I look, and be truthful?'

I lied as best I could. It seemed to satisfy her desire for assurance regarding her appearance. For a moment I saw the smile of a young girl when she was nine, who enjoyed picnics, butterflies, cats, playing the piano, inventing funny nicknames, and mimicking teachers. I didn't disclose to Arabella that I was wearing the same old underwear, which, in their simplicity, remained tight, just like my finances.

After we shook hands, and said goodbye, I missed her.

Reflections:  Scientific experts believe that human beings have about 7,000 facial expressions at their disposal. My wife wears an incessant expression and her resemblance to Colonel Rosa Klebb, the fictional character from the James Bond film From Russia with Love, is uncanny, let alone disheartening.

I try to forget that my wife keeps her 'cocktail party' face (along with other faces) locked in her dressing table. Sometimes you can hear the faces talk for hours: mostly about make-up, beauty tips, parenting, and irritable bowel syndrome. Thankfully, I have my Sooty glove puppet and the darkness.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Human Condition & Playthings of Embalmed Deluded Gods

A GP surgery. Doctor Wilkelfield Finkelfukal is sitting behind his desk.

Doctor: (sighing) Take a seat.

Long pause.

Doctor: Did you know one thousand individuals dictate the thoughts, opinions, customs, trends and fads of our entire world of seven billion people? What we eat, wear, read, watch, talk about, do, think?

I: Well ... No ...

Doctor: I thought so. You're an Idiot!

Long pause.

Doctor: You live in a sunken world. You remind me of an old chair with a bulging leg. Dark with age and redolent of the old.


Doctor: Did you know I was beat and bullied as a boy. Of course not! Furthermore, my head's too big for my body, my body's too big for my trousers, and my wife sounds like a squealing fiddle! The stink of boredom is everywhere. I'm dead and so are you! A trivial matter, you'll agree.

I: I'm sorry ...

Doctor: To hell with your damned, "I'm sorry". What are you here to whine about?

I: (uncomfortable) Well ... Sometimes, I hold two thoughts at the same time. For instance, my life has purpose ... yet it is without meaning. Sometimes, I feel sad ... yet happy. Sometimes, the scales drop from my eyes ... yet I am blind to everything I see ... Sometimes, when I'm in a room full of people I feel I'm in an echo chamber listening to myself ... Sometimes ...

Doctor: Sometimes! Sometimes! Sometimes! Me! Me! Me! Get a grip on yourself! Can't you talk without bleating?! You live in a dream world like most idiots. (Shouts) Wake up! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?! WACH AUF!

Long pause.

Doctor: There's no point in telling you lies. I'm a hypocrite and a wretched doctor. What impelled me to live in this multi-coloured hell escapes me. Don't be fooled by certificates, diplomas and expertise. A day comes when all men and women are proved wrong. (Thoughtful) Even a professed 'genius' like Einstein will get his comeuppance one day. I believe he never took his hands out of his trouser pockets, even in bed. What a strange man?! (Pause) A few inescapable truths - I see I'm overwhelming you - something like genius cannot be measured. What's more, excess of wealth, or natural ability, do not ensure happiness, success, or freedom from diarrhea.

I: (timidly) Indeed ...

Doctor: I'm sorry to say there's no medication for your condition.

I: Really?

Doctor: Yes. Really. You appear to me to be a person who is holding on. Old and weary before your time. A mixture of anger, tenderness and shattered visions. In short, you're carrying a perpetual burden. A million shapes and sizes of shadow beleaguer your mediocre mind!

I: I see ... Well ...

Doctor: Isn't it good to fit into society. However that may be, I once aspired to be a farmer's wife: my parents were livid, of course. Instead, I'm a faceless false dummy who has to listen to dreadful boring people whining and sobbing all day about large dark clouds and the absence of clear blue sky. (Thoughtful) One can only guess, of course ...

I: (timidly) Really ...

Doctor: You're not the only one with a neurotic fear of growing old. We're bombarded daily with images of smooth faces like 'Thanksgiving Day' balloons, pert breasts, lineless mouths and full lips. (Pause) Here's my prognosis. You've taken stock of your life and realised how little you've achieved. You are leading a factitious life and not going anywhere. Welcome to the club, old chum!

I: Oh …

Doctor: (writing) Have you heard of euthanasia?

I: No … I don't think so?

Doctor: Excellent. Take this confidential letter to a doctor friend of mine. His name and address is written on the envelope. He''ll show - sorry - tell you all you need to know about the subject. (Pause) And good luck with the rest of your short life.

I:  You said short?! ...

Doctor: It did sound like it. I said, 'Good luck with the rest of your sport life'. You must learn to be less anxious. Goodbye.

The Idiot walks out into the sun and faints.

Reflection: Most people, if not all, are acquainted with the clenched fist, ill-temper, malice and oppression. The "stinging wind" that falls at random: broken furniture, broken hearts, broken dreams. Few individuals confess to such vile deeds as they pursue their inexorable actions with eager energy and ominous determination.

Misplaced pride, insensitivity and inertia are the playthings of "embalmed deluded gods" whose minds are dominated by thoughts of self-love and immortality. A person's rise to fortune, however, can rapidly turn to failure irrespective of their gifts, personal charm, high intellect, eloquence and passion. Sometimes all it takes is the public display of one fatal defect, or more perhaps, and their true undesirable intentions are laid bare for all to see.