Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Life, the Universe and Everything (Including Kisses)

The blue in the lights burnt low and hard the night I first kissed Flo Vale. There were two silver buckets, of all the things to snapshot in memory these damn silver buckets with thin coat-hanger-wire handles, and they were catching water dripping through the dying roof. It was somewhat appropriately Salvador Dali’s birthday, and I’d been angling for months to make a big night of it. I thought we’d dress surreal, get all pent up and erotic and melt some time away, but it wasn’t to be.

See, dates are important things. Stuff happens on dates. I had a date with this mad new girl I’d met the night before and I sure as hell wanted some stuff to happen. We all had a bit of a date with madam destiny. But this particular one was not only Mr Dali’s birth date, it was also the very morning upon which the world lost Douglas Adams – the British author whom many of us, and I refer chiefly to Soho here – quoted ad nauseum. Death of someone close to you tend to cast a bit of a dampening pallor over the merriment of such things as intercourse, or tigers bursting from pomegranates moments before awakening.

Anyway, it was late, and it was raining hard, and it was dirty and dead. Soho was silently reading Mostly Harmless like scripture, Johnny was spinning pinball without effort or heart. I still have no idea where the others went that night, but I know Mikey was in my apartment the next morning badly scratched and with pockets full of golf tees and scoring pencils. Us writers mourn hard for writers, you see. But then there’s Flo: the buzzing flash; the girl who went through life like a bubble through champagne. I didn’t expect her to get why we were all so flat, and I didn’t ask her to sink on down and join us, I just wanted to be close to someone who could pull me up and out of here. Only of course she couldn’t, but sometimes it felt like that. So we sat navigating our noses around paper umbrellas and tried to talk. It was out of sheer lack of anything else to do, or maybe just because it’s protocol, but we honestly talked on a date. Lame, I know.

I knew someone back in lower high school who committed suicide. Hell, didn’t we all? You know exactly the ones, the ones that you expected to, because they were outcasts, with no friends, and generally shunned people, but who everyone claimed to really adore afterwards. O masses, do you hear how sweet you sing! There was endless talk on the tribute chatroom set up and changed instant messenger names to project how much we all cared onto the other caring mourners. But you know we didn’t. By lunchtime the first jokes were already boomerang-ing and I was more worried about having to pay some 11th grader the money I’d lost betting on which teacher would cry first at special assembly. You know that kinda death. But it ain’t like that.

Flo said her best friend had fallen off a rock face, just meters away from her when hiking as kids, and that it really shook her up. I couldn’t figure out why I thought it sounded like a fake story, but I did, and I let it slide anyway because even the stuff we pretend impacted us actually then does, in a roundabout way. ’Sides, it was obvious something had happened to her friend as a kid. I just wanted to reach out and hold her and explain I knew she was full of shit but that it was so damn beautiful shit. I just wanted to show I got the general hurt too.

Before he died, obviously, Douglas Adams had a lot to say about life and death. “Life is like a grapefruit,” he once wrote. “It’s orange and squishy with a few pips in it, and some folks have half of one for breakfast.” I read that, went out, and bought a grapefruit tree, only it was actually a tangerine tree and I decided the salesman at the plant place was either an idiot, or a genius who realized what a bad idea it was to sell a guy like me the meaning of life. Either way, my life’s a whole lot darker and juicier than most people’s so I figure it all has something to do with citrus. Some of the cocktails me and Flo were drinking sure tasted like the meaning of it all, and it all tasted pretty good.

I can’t describe how good Flo tasted. We were talking in amber waves of lager at each other by midnight or so and we were so drunk, so tight, so connected, it was like our brain cells were giving off death wails in melodic harmonies. I said I wanted to be Ulysses, to set out on some incredible journey and ride hard an epic life, all the while just begging and striving for the long-lost Penelope who loved me above all others and all else. Who waited, while I wandered, yet who in herself was great. Flo put her glass down with liquid still in it for the first time in the night, and sniffed. For a brief blurry second I was sure she was about to break down in tears, and then the rain belted down and music seemed to fade out of consciousness like a movie as we kissed.

Then the lightning reflected off the empty green beer bottle and reminded me of the size of the earth, and Flo and I stared at the silver buckets and cried for all that was broken, bent and lost. And I think I knew then I loved her.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The salmon are spawning.

Fuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk. Fuke, Feck, Funk, Fick, Frank, Fank, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. Johnny was running like a madman, running down this golden street flushed with artificial light, running in fear, screaming in loss, in confusion, in the complete scared sacrificial agony of a man whose world is lost. A man whose life is wrenched from him at its sweetest.

See, this wouldn’t be a real story without a central conflict. I would mean nothing, my friends would just be friends, just like everyone else, like yours, were it not for Johnny’s catalystic screams of fuck. It wasn’t the fear of course that started it all, it was the words of Sara Holmes, who we all called Soho because it was almost a combination of her two names and because she’d grown up around there. Or so we assumed; England isn’t really a place, it’s just a moshpit of accents vying for proximity to the big tourist attractions. And it wasn’t just the words and the fucks that form the important story of our little pack, but they were the flick of the finger and the first domino, respectively.

If you were to construct a pattern of dominoes that was to best represent in every way our stories, from the single starting point of it all, to the bulge of action, to the one big tip of an event and then a scattering of aftermaths, if this story was a pattern of dominoes, it would look just like a vagina. Pudendum. See how it falls? Oh if only I could possibly convey just how perfect a picture this paints of us in a shorter form. It encompasses thematically, shapely, referentially and symbolically the arc of the events which tie us all together. The events so many of which were carnal. So welcome readers, to the base. Prepare yourselves for big, deep, dangerous, wonderful plunge.

Johnny sure wasn’t thinking of dominoes as he panicked, in fact he probably wasn’t thinking of anything, just screaming, just lost, but if he was it may well have been vaginas. Soho’s in fact. Well, at least as a starting point. Oh, right, maybe you haven’t figured it out yet. The words that rammed the key into the locked door of our lives, the moment that sealed a million other moments. See Soho – sweet, gorgeous make-you-smile-just-by-walking-in, bubbly but well dressed Soho – was everything to innocent little Johnny. Everything, including pregnant.

And so now we were all in a bar that cost too much for types like us, you know the kind with whole rooms and tables made of what seems to be a single piece of glass inlaid occasionally with vinyl-leather. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s birthday too, just another important anniversary ruined by the complexities of life. It was just a couple of weeks after I’d met Flo, and a lot of other minor introductory stuff had happened that I’m sure I’ll get back to, but we must get rolling here, get into the crux of some things and one of those things is Johnny and Soho! Some pretty and culturally valued figures have posited that love might actually be a cold and broken hallelujah, and not at all the simple thing it’s sold as in fairy tales. Johnny and Soho are to this theory what fossils were to Darwin’s – damn compelling evidence.

They’d met in high school, though they attended different ones, and Johnny thought Sarah looked like Fay Wray raised by hippie wolves. Sarah thought Johnny looked a lot like he actually did, and oddly enough this explains why she liked him as much as Ms. Wray explains why Johnny liked her. They weren’t ever really a big “thing”, but they did get along well, or at least well enough to hook up drunk now and again when it suited their selective memories. And so of course they were going to end up waking up in each other’s arms, hung over but satisfied every so often. With one notably shattering and unexpected result. Soho joked much later that she’s wanted the kid’s middle name to be “Inheritance” to match a christian name of “Goodbye”.

Anyway, Johnny was understandably, and rather vocally, distraught. Flo was just coming back from the toilets, looking refreshed from powdering her nose, if you catch on, and I was counting coins for more consolatory beer. Sleepy was arguing about the rankings of playing card suits with a mustachioed stranger and Maya was stealing salt and pepper shakers in her underwear. Mikey, the last of us, slammed his glass down for attention and said four words that probably changed the course of things almost as much as the “I am pregnant” three did.

“Let’s go on holiday.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Modest Mouse put it very well.

You know what though? The times were good. Some of those times were times where it was real good. The best.

I drove down West Boulevard today and it was raining, but you could see the sun through this huge gap in the clouds. It was pouring in full light and it just changed the whole mood. Little things matter in the big movie of life you know, like lighting choices. So anyway this duck, one of those ducks that look like they should be on a wall, you know with a green kinda shiny neck that’s utter pointlessness queries evolution, yeah well this duck was just swimming around in a puddle in the road, totally carefree. I remember seeing footage in the rough days after Hurricane Katrina of this one guy going around in a little dinghy, paddling and bopping along to a battery-powered boom-box, like the flooded streets were the greatest thing since Christmas. This was probably the most fun this guy had all year, dancing a couple of meters above the dead. I guess we all are in a way. Anyway, this duck looked just like him, splashing away like a tiny-brained bird about to get flattened by some divorced truckie smoking Camels on his way to a drag racing meet.

Ok so that was today, ducks today, gone tomorrow. But this feeling, this utter contentment in the midst of carnage and the blind ignorance of the oncoming cars just like the cars that killed those before us… this was the happiness we had. It’s too easy to mope about stuff that’s happened, Mikey used to yell his head off sometimes when I sat around and got all nostalgic and sad. Truth be told, the times were all heaven made flesh.

Maya Guardian, who was this dark brown haired hippie girl with all the best music, sat on this tiny red carpeted stage in the corner of an uptown café-bar. She held this old acoustic guitar like a dying grandma, kinda half carefully half screaming “why!?” at the gods. She was singing like a mixture of high pleading for mercy and low lickings of love just casually breaking the hearts of the mid-50s speed freaks who were tired of their mining jobs. The night rang out the essence of being correctly lit. Mikey had Mod Philosophy 112: Intro to Ethics with her, and had fallen madly in love ever since she blew him a kiss when he got a question right after her power-point presentation. Now he’d dragged the rest of us out pitching for taxi fare to see her get underappreciated for a fifty buck player’s fee. And yeah, she was good, and she was beautiful. There were four of us: Johnny, Michael, me and this guy called Jackson Barker who was always so tripped out we called him Sleepy Jackson. Sleepy was trying to buy our round in his drawling whisper when Mikey got turned down by Maya. Which was a pity, for it sure was a sight to see. In all the time I’ve known Mikey he never got turned down by anyone, and when I think about it he only missed Maya because he went about it all differently. He treated her like an angel, like the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and tried to gush himself all over her. Sickening yeah? But I think it ended up bringing them closer together, and it certainly got her talking with Johnny, if only to avoid eye contact, which meant she was pretty much part of the group.

There was the thinnest moon I can remember this night, it was so barely there, you had to really look to see this slash of light across the ink sky. Maya was drunk by the time we got out, and shouting Auden at the night like an incantation. Behind me, Johnny and Mikey were arguing about whether or not men could get breast cancer, and Sleepy was quietly smoking. I stopped in front of the big window of a bric-a-brac store to stare into the cluttered host of other people’s lives when right out of all fucking nowhere this guy jumps out with a flickblade and grabs Sleepy, screaming for money or drugs or some crazy shit. Johnny hits the deck, scared of his mind and cursing in Italian, Mikey starts waving his hands going “whoa man, whoa, whoa, whoa, hey, whoa man, whoa” and I’m eyes wide open staring lost like crazy, when Maya walks right up to this guy, whispers something, kisses him square on the mouth and gives him a cigarette and a light. It was the maddest, bravest, weirdest thing I probably ever saw, and this guy is just left standing there, smoking, stunned, with that just-lost-control-of-the-situation face and a dash of satisfaction. Then Maya just grabs Sleepy, motions for the rest of us to get up and come on, and we all walk away. Sure, the look on this nutter’s face was priceless, but it was Mikey’s face that I’ll never forget. He went out and bought a knife later that week, but he never had the guts to carry it.

Many years later, I think it was just after the 2004 presidential elections, yeah it was, right when me and Flo hit a real crazy patch after we both first tried heroin and it got way, way too dangerous., years later I finally asked Maya what she’d said to that guy before she kissed him.

“Life’s short pal, and to dust thou shall return.”

Fuck, he probably never mugged anyone ever again. But Maya Guardian was like that, she made everyone so damn frustrated, but so damn in love with her. And she sang like the sun lit the pouring rain. I drove alone down West Boulevard today, and I saw some ducks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

King Louis II

There’s a person in everyone’s life who gets blamed for a lot. A hell of a lot. You know the one, the backstabber. The girl who wronged you, the guy who sold you out for 50 pieces of silver, and must therefore be the reason the whole rest of your life looks like the back end of yesterday’s cigarette butts. Mine isn’t Flo, but Michael thinks it is. It’s Michael.

I first met the guy on a cross country road trip to see some whales off the coast, at some cold and lonely cliffs somewhere. Johnny Opinelli – this guy I knew from high school who had something constantly wring with his teeth – said we should do it and I believed him because I’d just finished reading “On The Road” and thought I was living it. More on that in just a moment though. Johnny wanted to detour by this town I’d never heard of and never did again because apparently some great correspondent known as ‘Biscuit’ had offered to show us the best spot for seeing whales. Biscuit wasn’t there, and I wouldn’t meet him until 4 weeks later, when his name was very much Michael O’Hara.

Anyway, to understand how much this guy meant to me you need to know “On the Road”. It’s a famous beat-era American novel by Jack Kerouac, and he wrote it based on his real experiences and real people he knew, just fictionalized and romanticized a little. It ended up inspiring countless hippie road trips, millions of bad hitchhiking experiences and a collective adoration of acting on impulse and wrecking yourself and you life in search of a higher, shining dream. I read this book like a bible, an instruction manual for how to be in life. I saw myself as Sal Paradise, setting out after some dancing messiah clown and burning my time and my life, marrying women and running away, being what my heart decided to name free. When this guy came out of nowhere, hell even meeting him after a friend’s correspondence… it was so perfect, too perfect. I fell in love with Michael O’Hara as my own Dean Moriarty. As my hero, my savior, and of course, as my best friend. And I’d never met the guy.

So we made it through this little detour town, knocking on doors and hotel rooms and even asking at the post office for an electoral register, forgetting we only had the name ‘Biscuit’ to go on. So we headed for the cliffy coast anyway, and tried to see some breaching mammal wonders. If you’ve ever tried to go unaccompanied whale-watching you’ll know just how successful we were. If not, I’ll be not seeing any whales isn’t a big leap of imagination for you. Hell, you’re probably not looking at any right now, you might as well be me. So we did what all men on road trips who want to be great do, hit the bars. And we hit them so hard, we hit a few other guys in them pretty hard too. It’s hard to drink without fighting, and vice versa. We get all relevant though, when one of them turned out to be the oh-so-sought after Michael Biscuit O’Hara, and I learnt his name from the police report. If I wasn’t his best man before, I sure was now. We hit each other like drunken brawling freight trains… and it was the metaphor that endures.

There are so many stories of me and Mikey, there must be a million anecdotes, I bet if you interviewed all the people who knew us they’d each give a different one to sum up how we were, but since I’m a little biased, Flo gives the best one. It was two years after the trip across the country and the group was solidified. We were living the dream, you know, the literary corps of lovers, friends and heroes all in this perfect group… you’ve heard it. Anyway, we were watching an old episode of Captain Planet playing in one of those indie clubs in the big cities – the kind that think Pac-Man and garish 80’s clothing made of parachute material is the definition of classic décor. We couldn’t hear the sound or anything, but everyone knows the Planeteers, and we were arguing about which ones we resembled. I demanded that Michael was Wheeler, and he disagreed, saying I was much more like Wheeler, and that he was nowhere near as rebellious and hot-headed. What happened next was what Flo described as “the transfer-off of the century”, in which both Michael and I attempted to force each other to be wild impulsive heroes, force each other to be the cool-guy bad boy Wolverine of the group so that the other could be the chisel-jawed good guy Cyclops. I think I actually said “You’re supposed to be Dean Moriarty”. Which seems like a stupid battle, until you actually have it.

But I guess I should talk more about what I set out to, it helps people listen. About people who you blame, even for things that have nothing to do with them. Like how me and Flo turned out, I blame that on Michael, he made me the way I am. I blame my goals, my self image, my hopes and dreams and my failures all on this guy. I guess it’s time I stopped, considered how much of it he deserves, but I know it doesn’t matter if it’s connected to him at all. He’s my channel of hate, and it stops me hating a lot of other people. It excuses a lot of other people.
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