Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Search of a Different Existence


I always ignored my late maternal uncle's irreverent greetings as I had no wish to quarrel. Wendell 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, 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?' - 'Why does bindweed proudly choke my plants?' and perhaps the most vexing question of all, 'Why do we sag with a heavy load as we traverse this earth until we die?'

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 us to the edge of a splendid lake. The world seems captured in the slight silent water and in our pools of thought. Such moments of contentment last only 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.' Wendell'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,' Wendell exclaims. 'There's nothing left for me to discover in this world. Nothing.' I like Wendell: 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.

Wendell 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 Wendell from a police station. He lamented, at times: 'Why is my hair snowy-white?! I don't even like Christmas!' And while I was driving, 'A fine boat you have here. Goes at a good pace. In this mist it's hard to tell where the shore starts or ends. How can you see?'

*
Reflection: 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'.

Friday, October 24, 2014

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. 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 charity shop clothes and shoes, which, in their simplicity, remained tight, just like my finances.

After we said goodbye I waited a moment or two. I watched Arabella walking slowly towards the town square, her head slightly drooped. However hard I tried, all I could think about was her face covered with wrinkles of anxiety, regret and weariness.  

*
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, a 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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Book Sniffers Club


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. The driver, roughly my age, stepped out of the car. He was well dressed and told me to sit in the back seat. He then asked me politely to place a black hood over my head. After that the driver 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 driver 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; 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 does one 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?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Tranquil Clock


An apartment. The white moonlight falls on each object in the living room in turn. The carpet, the table, the sofa, a bookcase, the pictures and paintings on the wall, a two-handed mahogany wall clock. All the inanimate objects appear to come alive, guests of the unusual white light. A meeting place for reality and illusion. A room invested with life. The minute hand (MH) and the hour hand (HH) of the clock strike up a conversation.

MH: I can't find my shoes.

HH: You're a hand on a clock. Hands don't wear shoes. You need feet to wear shoes.

MH: I can wear shoes if I wish.

HH: If that's the case, what do you intend to do with the shoes?

MH: Go for a walk.

HH: Where to? Am I invited?

MH: Only if you have a pair of shoes. (Pause) I feel a bowel movement coming on. (Pause) No. It's passed. I was thinking of going to see the town hall clock. I believe the clock was made by Dotards & Sons of Liverpool and the bell and chimes by Naysayer & Co of Scarborough. It is said the chimes are beautiful to the ear and pleasing to the soul.

HH: Amazing. How do you know all this?

MH: I heard the mistress of the house conversing. A fine looking woman. She had friends over for lunch. (Pause) You must have been daydreaming? A calamitous thing for a clock hand. They were elegantly dressed and sat around eating cake and drinking tea. During their conversations they talked about the beauty and splendor of the town hall clock.

HH: Indeed.

MH: I listened in polite silence, of course.

HH: Of course. What with?

MH: My ears.

HH: You don't have ears.

MH: How do you know? You can't see.

HH: Irrefutable.

MH: That's a big word for something that can't speak.

HH: And for something that can't hear.

MH: Exactly.

HH: A fine pair we are.

MH: Indeed.

Pause

MH: Do you think it will ever end?

HH: What?

MH: Our friendship? Our existence?

Pause

MH: That's funny. You shook your head.

HH: What's funny?

MH: You don't have a head. Neither have I.

HH: You're reading too many spiritual books.

MH: I can't read and neither can you.

HH: True.

Pause

MH: Do you think we have an ultimate goal beyond our prevailing use?

HH: We are on a road with no sign posts. My soul tells me that you and I have a timeless, ultimate meaning. That is all.

MH: You are indeed wise, even if I don't fully understand your explanation.

HH: You're not alone. We could not exist without doubt.

MH: I'm pleased you are my friend.

HH: It is reciprocated for all eternity.

 *
Reflections:  Some individuals seem to possess qualities of character and a personality which others - no matter how long they may live - will never possess. Even when one feels irascible, bewildered, indignant, the value of an authentic friend is invaluable.

However, if you're looking for a friend without faults you'll end up with none. Sometimes its hard to tell the wheat from the chaff. Just don't wait too long to find out which category some of your friend's are in - they may use and abuse you, and move on to the next soft touch.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Unwavering Sound of Invisible Things


Warm feet and socks, sweaty brow, half-opened soft mouth, dummy hanging on for dear life. Pale light glistens on slabbers, above and below. The trembling dummy falls. Pali! Pali! Not yet, poor dear. Have faith: a lie long known to be true. Where's nanny? God knows you love her for the right reasons. Your daddy's a strange one. Let him cast the first stone.

Forget time and listen for sound, faint or loud. A bin is moving rubbish, speckling and confident like orange tea in a swimming pool. Does no one hear it? Not the sleeper, the cow's milktaker. A small sharp cry, a change in position. Not yet awake, nor any intention of doing so. Lying still upon the knee.

First cause, second cause, third cause . . . Pali! Pali! Not yet. Have faith. The tide is out. Will it come back? She scratches her head though still asleep, muffled and huddled. Silence no longer hidden by a pillow, a blanket, a healthy appetite for a doze. Flaxen hair, rosy cheeks, pumping heart, still rhythms. Still in life, still in death. A soft sigh, wipe of the eye, change in position. Fourth cause, fifth cause, sixth cause . . . Pali! Pali! Forget time, listen to the unwavering sound of invisible things.

Warm milk and bobo aids sleep upon the knee. Change of position, the sleeper oblivious, possibly dreaming. The young body centre stage. The old body stretched out, mouth open, transformed. Upon the knee, the cow's milktaker. Warm feet and socks, sweaty brow, half-opened soft mouth, dummy hanging on for dear life. Where's nanny? A jailer bound to a prisoner. Has it crossed her mind?

Feet swing from a warm bed. Flushed face, mouth dripping, eyes blank. Restless steps on stairs, faint then still. Wide-eyed. A funereal cry. Face bereft of a groan, a giggle. Fluster flanks the unwavering sound of invisible things. The cow's milktaker murmurs strange, sleepy sounds. The old body is stretched out, mouth open, cut off from the world. Where's nanny? Forget time, lie still upon the knee. The chill night will come soon enough.

*
Reflection:  Similar to love and friendship, health is fragile and complex. One can protect, but not influence the outcome.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Month in the Country


During my daily stroll on a desert island I was accosted by either a woman sporting a beard; a man wielding a beard; or a hedgehog on stilts. In truth, the incident happened so swiftly I cannot be sure. I recalled how David slayed Goliath with a simple slingshot. I took off my right sandal and threw it in the air, which to my amazement distracted my assailant. Suddenly the man's shape and features softened. I removed one of my blue cotton toe socks, filled it with five 'twenty dollar' bills, and beat him about the head. Unfortunately, the effort proved fruitless.

Despairing of hitting my assailant's head continuously with my sock (I felt the advent of a dazzling migraine), I enquired if he had change of a twenty. He announced, with the aid of a late 19th-century speaking trumpet, that he had a few nickels and quarters he could lend me. I thanked him and we exchanged currency. I filled my sock with stark bright coins. However, just as I was about to strike my assailant I was hit on the head by a flying sandal and lost consciousness.

When I came round he had disappeared along with my blue cotton toe socks. However, he left a note that read, in its entirety, the abridged works of Shakespeare, and which also solemnly declared: 'I'm heading back to Toytown where donkey's ears remain a symbol of individuality and freedom.'

*
A neurologist recently confirmed I have 'alien limb syndrome' - the sensation that my 'right leg' is acting of its own accord. That would account for my 'right leg' saying, 'Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow,' each night as I retire to bed. It even has the audacity to wake me during my blessed sleep to deliver a Shakespearean soliloquy; usually one of Macbeth’s troubled musings which I now find tiresome. Moreover, it has the gall to express in mocking tone, 'How poor are they that have not patience.'

This coming from a 'right leg' that walks away during conversations! Writes clandestine letters! Bleeds for no apparent reason! Runs errands for neighbours without my permission or knowledge! Quite frankly, it is tantamount to blatant attention-seeking! Even writing about my plight I find it hard to breathe. 

To make matters worst my right leg is good-looking, intelligent, looks at least twenty years younger than the rest of my body, and is extraordinarily striking in a black leather jacket and heavy boots.
*
Reflections: One night I attended a performance of Ivan Turgenev's play A Month in the Country with my girlfriend Alisa. We had to leave three days after the start of the production as we both experienced dizzy spells and hallucinations due to lack of food and drink.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reaching the End Without Trying


This morning I was lying in bed (awake, though 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 Ivar lick the dish bone dry. It seemed to have a calming effect on him. To disarm the silence I tried to engage Ivar 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, 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.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Broken Clocks and Blind Squirrels


I'm composing a ten-minute-play which is overrunning by two milliseconds. I now consider it a blunder to have 12 male characters, 5 female characters, extras, chorus (m/f), and a prehistoric jaw bone that tragically dies of a frozen stomach while eating a sizeable ice-cream cone. The title How to Avoid Running Away with the Minister's Wife or Mother is playing havoc with the plot, theme, and motif. Not to discount my mental and physical distress.

Genre: will it be tragicom, satire, romance (try to forget the prehistoric jaw bone overdosing on ice cream), musical drama, pastoral, or a folk drama? I’m on the verge of collapse. Moreover, I have observed the drama lacks clarity concerning a central question: what compels the jaw bone to climb naked up a tree? a jaw bone that comes from an affluent and devout family? Am I exaggerating my plight? No, but I haven't eaten for days, I sleep on the ground at night, and can't stop shaking the hands of beggars, broken clocks and blind squirrels. What would Molière do?


It is late afternoon. I am surrounded by illness and death. O.K., I’m in a hospital, but is this how patients are treated in the 21st century? How did I get here? I performed the 'Heimlich manoeuvre' on a man called Maurice Flapper who swallowed his false teeth while dancing the Charleston. During the unfortunate incident Mr. Flapper's dentures flew out and bit me on the nose. 

I might have been the victim of an unprovoked mastication attack if Mrs. Flapper had not been on hand to wrestle the dentures off, and secure the teeth in a container. As I left the scene I could hear the false teeth trying to escape: gnarling, snapping, and sounding uncannily like a debauched black crested gibbon. A policeman later informed me that the dentures had been taken away and destroyed. Apparently, I require a single stitch on my nose and, considering the trauma, will not be able to eat fish, or french kiss, without written clearance from a reputable doctor.

*
Reflections: Today, I'm not waiting for Godot; I'm waiting for an escalope of energy to pervade my existence. My marriage is badly frayed, my trousers and finances in shreds, I've mouths to feed - some with herpes simplex lesions - and my family has grown tired of eating soup each day made from my wife's left elbow. To be honest, my wife isn't particularly happy either, especially during the simmering stage.

At such moments I dig into my memory. If there is no sign of life I try to recall a time when all I had to worry about was the ability to forget. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Search of Lost Time


Each year in early spring family members congregated at my parents' house and resolutely nodded at each other without talking. We sat in a billowing silence for several hours and listened to the noise of passing traffic. As the nearest road was 10 kilometers away this ritual affirmed that affinity and honesty do not mix. Eventually someone gravely undernourished would rise from a chair and faint. A sign that food should be served.

We sat down to a restrained meal - usually throttled fish legs - and chatted about all sorts of things: work, illness, death, repetition, work, illness, death, repetition. Occasionally I gazed at the hollow assemble and thought, 'So many people sitting amid the paradoxes of identities and consciousness.' I include myself, of course. On numerous occasions I remember asking, with latent hope of dialogue, 'Where are we?' Did anyone answer? No one answered.

For a while I couldn't fathom my father. He possessed an inability to think rationally under stress. He was a man who said what he thought, formally and orderly. And he could doze in front of the living room fire at any time of day. He had a habit of keeping his cardinal smile for fire light. His favourite hobby was shuffling socks. Sometimes he would suddenly leap from his chair, hold five socks aloft, and cry, 'A straight flush!'

He used a carpet beater to punish his begats for minor misdemeanors even though our home was devoid of carpet. Impulsive behaviour, even disheartening, but plausible for one whose conditions in early life were occasionally difficult to navigate without collecting hurtful wounds. The floors were cloaked in linoleum which held a diversity of smells: buttermilk, cat urine, dirt from footprints, and the sweaty armpits of a hoary man from Bavaria whom no one in our family had met.

My father, with his vanity on clear display, would insist on reading from his favourite book In Search of Lost Time. After a hundred pages - give or take a leaf - someone would usually chant, hyperventilate, or rush from the room wailing: 'It's not easy being a candle', or something of that nature. A frighting experience for the faint of heart, or, indeed, anyone with a clicking hip joint. Of course, my father would promptly stand up and in an uncomplicated and straightforward manner violently throw Proust to the floor. He would storm out of the room through the nearest window; his voice quivering in his wake, 'No man deserves honest ignominy heaped upon him! Plot is not the point!'

To calm things down someone - usually myself - would simulate a sudden rise in temperature, fall to the floor, pant heavily, and whimper in a colourless voice: 'Malaria.' This act advised all present, in a simple, productive tone, that farewells were in order.

*
Reflections: A growing craze worldwide is knitting and crocheting. My addiction started when I read a copy of Stitch 'n Stitch Again in the dentist waiting room. Then, suddenly, I was knitting until the early hours, then night after night, when I was out with friends, or going to the bathroom. It didn't occur to me that my actions were, in anyway, pathological. I was using terms such as, 'I'm in the Zone,' and 'Pass me some thread, man.'

My life was out of control. I sought help through Knitters Anonymous (KA) - a worldwide fellowship of men who share a desire to stop knitting - and it seems to be working. The only downside is that I used knitting as a calming distraction. However, I'm now making customised underwear for young single and married women and it seems to help me relax.