Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Notes from a Cast-Iron Bathtub at Christmas

The landscape has disappeared behind a curtain of silent, glistening snow. The wind is fierce, chilly, full of mischief. It's approaching dawn. I'm sitting in my small but well-groomed living room. The Christmas tree partially fills the room with a gentle, greyish-blue light; a timeless stillness.

The streetlamp outside glows soft like a distant fire. The cars are all white and the trees are dressed in snow. The pale winter sky protects the silence: a silence that permeates the snowy, icy depths. The scene is compelling and delicate. I think of my mother and father's grave covered in snow; the sparse trees nearby eloquent in grief. My parents lie in unimaginable silence.

The weather forecast confirms the snow is causing mayhem. That is how it must be. I shake my head. There is too much talk about the melancholy of snow, not its beauty, its mystery, its fragile existence. Such days are not lost for they are tenderly captured by one's measureless, evolving memory to be evoked perhaps on a warm afternoon, or evening, when peace and quiet abound. 

Each one of us witnesses snow falling for the first time. Some people screw up their eyes at its presence as if to avoid witnessing its calm beauty. The image of falling snow is best captured by the innocent eyes of children who never fail to be enchanted by its silent motion, mystery and charm. 

I decide to take a bath. The fact that I bathe in my neighbour's cast-iron bath tub with his girlfriend ensconced in its interior, in truth, causes me little concern. Her warm green eyes, soft hands and calm smile beckon me to join her. I do so with profound pleasure. A hot scented bath with a young woman hardly accrues to bitter disappointment so close to dawn. I make an effort to look younger than I am, of course.

Nicole, her long, silky blonde hair spread over her shoulders, tells me she is about to take flight with another man. Indeed, it is her intention never to be in this part of the world again. We drink champagne to celebrate her good fortune.

'I always leave a man in December,' she ventures. 'I must be alone each January. I adore the fresh air and sunlight. It is vital I recharge my batteries before embarking on each new affair.'

'Of course,' I reply. Her exceptional beauty justifies my response.

'Anyway, I dislike being in love. The thought that a man would believe I could love him day in, day out, forever, is frankly horrifying.' Nicole understood her power over men, or women for that matter. Yet I knew nothing about her.

'I see a look in your eyes I've witnessed a thousand times.'

'Really?' I say, murmuring, trying to smile.

'There are few moments of true passion and exhilaration in one's life. In fact, most of one's time is illusory and wasted.' Nicole leans towards me. 'How old are you?'

'After sharing this bath ... talking to you, I'm not sure? After thirty I stopped counting. To do otherwise ... well, it seemed pointless, exhausting.'

Her wide green eyes stare at me. They sparkle with desire. 'Everything must come to an end.' Her lips part in a sweet, delightful smile. 'Maybe we should just embrace this moment. I'm a woman, which I see you've noticed. And life is always too short.'

Nicole enfolds my hands softly, pulls me towards her and kisses me. My body feels as if it is rising from the dead.

Reflections: Even though Christmas Day is tomorrow some people are looking forward, with an eagerness bordering on frenzy, to warm spring mornings, roads without snow, trains and planes running on time, and going to work in heated expensive offices and shops.

An ill-considered yearning to embrace the brash fast world is visible in their cold eyes, bored faces and weary demeanour. They fail to notice the immediate radiant beauty around them that will soon fade. Why the hurry?

Good advice: Run through work and walk through life.

A Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to All.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Search of a Different Existence

I ignored my late maternal uncle'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 afford to pay?'

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 was the only boy to drop out of college because I was pregnant. The psychoanalyst said I was obviously starved for attention and fabricated the pregnancy to skip class. When I give birth she jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge. An observer believes her last words were, "I'll never eat kangaroo meat again".

Tuesday, September 09, 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.

Tuesday, August 12, 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 and 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 and every day? Like a cat watching a bird? They didn't see it that way. Did they see it that way?

Monday, July 14, 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 listen or talk 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.