Monday, July 30, 2007

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

Mikey was always willing to acknowledge that some things in life are bad (they can really make you mad) whilst other things they make you swear and curse. Listening to Soho tell him to quit smoking and live healthy was a really kicker for proof of this. She was sprawled on my couch, drinking scotch on the rocks, pregnant, and repeatedly saying “you’ve got to take care of your body Michael”. But Mikey was just whistling, trying to chew skittles while puffing on a badly rolled cigarette and typing one of his now-famous winding wordy letters to his maternal grandmother back east. Granny Hume remains perhaps the only person ever to actually see Michael and maintain that he treated his body well. True, she last saw him at age ten, and those e-mails weren’t exactly geysers of honesty, but I’m merely pointing out the two facts that Mikey was fairly reckless and elderly relatives are fairly gullible.

“I’m not so sure my delicate constitution will survive this mighty pilgrimage,” falsettoed Mikey across the room to me, clutching at his chest. “In fact, I think this very cigarette is… oh no van Burenberg! …this cigarette has caused me to abuse my bodily temple! Something’s growing inside me, is it cancer? No! Is it a plane? No! It’s … Unwanted Pregnancy Man! Na-na-na!” He launched himself backwards across the room on his wheely computer chair, fist and chin thrust forward like a Golden Age superhero and rammed into the table where I had spread road maps and motel guides in the hope of actually reading them. Soho was looking furious but well and truly put in her place, as Mikey began the Batman song replacing the pronoun with the words “fat camp!” and patting his belly. I really did want to find at least one place name for us to head towards, so I tried to shout him down, but that just led to the usual question to which I didn’t have a good answer: “Well what’s one good reason I haven’t already considered and dismissed as to why I should quit smoking?” I’d gotten halfway into explaining I loved smoking and just wanted him to shut up when Maya walked in and did the job for me.

“Because it’s a phallic symbol and every time you smoke you make me think of you sucking dick.”
Well I personally don’t think Mikey ever looked more like a fish. Maya smiled with that swishy charming just-plain-better-than-thou smile of hers, leant over and took the rolly out of Mike’s agape mouth. If you wanted a good idea of what a perfect circle looked like, Mikey’s eyes were like a dictionary definition as she took a long, slow drag on that crumpled rod of patriarchal power. Well, he dropped back into the chair like Superman had discovered Lois Lane was wearing a Kryptonite g-string and started furiously lying to his grandma to make up for it. Maya laughed and blew a smoke-ring at Soho’s belly, and I just sat, chin in my hands, and tried to think about anything except the word “dysfunctional”.

“I’ve noticed we’re not actually going anywhere, oh captain my captain.” Maya’s smokey fingers traced the winding red and yellow lines that marked the bitumen rivers running out from the mountain of our city into the wide sea of freedom. It was unfortunately true. We had stagnated back into drinking and hanging around reading out particularly fundamentalist letters to the editor. Something in the drunken fire of the fear and lust to escape our problems and boredoms had been doused by the light of the next few days, and Mikey’s repeated need to “tie up loose ends” wasn’t helping. Without his money we were powerless and the longer we remained in a constant state of packing the more we doubted everything about ourselves. Something about packing your things does that, it’s like a foreshadowing of your re-arrangement. But we were so down this moment. It was like we didn’t even have the energy to bicker hilariously and cynically amongst ourselves anymore. We were wading through our own honey.

There’s a rule when telling tales, and I suppose it should go for all conversation, that your characters should always be doing something. The fact that they’re talking about doing something is inadequate, with the two notable exceptions of Hamlet and anything written by Ayn Rand. If our story was any kind of real narrative at all we’d have been mighty fucked on this one. I got a text message from Sleepy saying he’d just bought a new hat and wanted to try it out, could he come over. I had no idea what he meant so I just sent back a blank screen deciding that not talking about doing something might find a loophole in the literary law. Just to place the others, for any voyeuristic peace of mind, Johnny had gone ‘bowling’ with Sleepy (which used to be a euphemism for pretty much anything we didn’t wanna tell each other about until Johnny actually started to get quite interested and good at bowling so now no one knew anything about sincerity, just like the rest of the world really). How Sleepy’d ended up with a new hat was anyone’s guess. Flo was asleep in my bed or maybe asleep just beside my bed because she tended to roll off the mattress onto the floor wrapped in eight layers of linen and end up sleeping contorted in the floor corner. Mikey always threw any spare coins at her whenever he saw this just to remind her that while my house wasn’t an inner-city bus station she was a big contributor to the elimination of all major differences. Flo loved this because spare money was an oxymoron to all of us but Mike. We had to stop this.

Which I guess neatly brings me to my own idiotic misunderstanding. Our man Sleepy did not buy himself a new cap, as his message distinctly spelled out, but a new car, as that message distinctly mis-spelled out. A new second-or-third-or-fortieth hand Jeep which Michael would later name Sin Souci in what might have been the cleverest, wittiest amphetamine high of his life. And suddenly, in one fossil-fuel munching moment, all thoughts of smoking, grandmas and sleep leapt from our minds to make room for the one thing that has defined our species for almost a hundred years now. Our unit had become mobilized by the auto.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Friendship is rare

One of the thousands of torn-off scraps of paper stuck to Mikey’s bedroom wall had a quote from Ovid scrawled on it.

Daring is not safe against daring men.

It was notable for a swarm of reasons, not the least of which was that it was on bright yellow paper and was one of the only quotes or thoughts separated from the rest by a little buffer of wall-space. What set it apart most though was that it wasn’t in the tall mangled handwriting which Mikey produced - the kind of letters that looked as though they were scratching each other in desperation to get off the page. Instead, it was in the perfectly spaced, square block script of his profoundly different father and as such read more like a command than a classicist’s words of advice. For a very long time then, I assumed their provenance was the reason they took such a place on Michael’s wall and by extension his mind. It’s yet to be fully explored just how much a person’s living space reflects his underlying personality, but the connection always seems visible to me. It seemed natural that Mikey would assign some value to a physical piece of his most despised and revered relative. What I never realized until far too late was just how much the words meant to him outside of his father. How much meaning he placed into them himself.

We all like to feel in control of our lives, it’s just a human kicker that ices an otherwise bland and stale cake. Even if we’re trapped by a marriage, a family, a job, a mortgage and a war on terror, we’ll still find ourselves a mistress to trap us some more and allow us to say “Look! I’m still free!” It means that we all have our little ways of reinforcing and ensuring control, through ambition or sexual dominance or academic excellence or any number of combinations. We need to own our circumstances. I think what Mikey took most from his Ovid quote was not that daring could fail, but that it was simply only ever likely to if somebody else had got there first. If your competitor had dared to go where, I can’t believe I’m saying this, no man had gone before. Winning, for Michael O’Hara, was simply a matter of getting to the top first with a barrel of hot oil in one hand to pour on the followers. Perhaps with a bottle of bourbon in the other.

One of us should have seen this in him before we all set out across our great nation-state in search of liberation from ourselves. If only I’d really thought about the things that make Michael great, the things that drive him, then I would have seen that great vagina domino set that was to come in it’s full and awesome whole. But we’re all far too late for “if only”. Johnny once said almost the exact same thing back to me – that he feels the same retrospective realization that as the members of the group who had known him the longest, Johnny even more so than me, we should have… known him. He led us so swiftly and easily onward into the breach that we felt like warriors rallying behind a mad king. Or at least I did, but whenever I said that later Flo looked knowingly at me and started talking again about how much me and Mikey transferred onto each other. I guess I’d forgotten at the time that warriors behind a mad king tend to get killed in battle.

Still, though Johnny and I were smothered in a paste-like mixture of doubts, dreams, fears and loyalties, one thing was clear: We were all running away together, so come what may. Bring on the future! We larking, lonely few were titans on this journey and the best warriors do not need to feel invincible to know that they can still win.

I was going to cut short this train of reminiscence there, but I remembered a post script to this grounding information which sits just as well here as anywhere else. Again, it was just after the 2004 U.S. presidential elections and our world was blowing up around us when I found the quote on the yellow paper tucked inside the wraparound of Michael’s hardcover edition of The Fountainhead. I’d taken it out to stare at in a pensive and serious manner as you do with such trophies of history when he saw me. I kind of smiled and waved the paper a few times as if to say, “look, remember this?” but by the time I’d hit the second and a half wiggle of it Mikey’d already exploded. I couldn’t even understand what he was saying for a lot of the time he was screaming so loud and so viciously. He threw around all the madness, all the never ending energy he possessed, which he mostly kept metered out or focused and let loose. He was pouring out curses, death threats, vows for revenge as well as apologies, promises and pleas, all at once, in a devastating unstoppable wave. He’d quickly snatched the paper from me and swung it, sometimes with both hands, wildly around him splashing his own tears and spit and fury upon it. I have no doubt that the quote itself did not cause such a reaction, what we’d been through, what he’d been through, he was on the edge anyway, but something in that fatherly remnant had triggered everything inside Michael to break free, all the best in him and all the very worst. It wasn’t the last time I’d see him angry, and certainly not the first, but it was by far the worst. It was the kind of anger mixed with depths of despair, an anger rising to hide and to hunt all else within him that might hurt him. He tore that paper into hundreds of tiny pieces, picking them up again and again to tear at them like pieces of his own flesh. Only when, after maybe twenty earth-shattering minutes he saw the expression on my face did he suddenly choke on his words and swallow loudly, before silently walking out. No one saw him after that for some months.

It's so much better on holiday

“I’ve been thinking about really wild sex a lot ever since this whole pregnancy thing came up,” is undeniably one of the best ways I can remember anyone’s ever began a conversation with me. The speaker in question was Maya Guardian, who in the few weeks since we’d recruited her had picked up the sometime-nickname of Mad Maya, or even just Mad, and she kept on earning it.

“No really, Lou. Listen to the songs of sex my man! Ok, so I can see by your troubled face you’re not so sure if I’m in all places together right now, but you must be thinking of Flo, ’cos I’m always in one. But think! If you were gonna get pregnant – no, wait – if you were gonna make somebody pregnant, and you had to live with all that forever, don’t you agree you’d want that particular session of intercourse to be the best ever, the stunning, whipping high point of your carnal career? You know that it’s gonna be a better baby if it’s forged in the fires of a fantastic fuck.”

I couldn’t bring myself to disagree, and I was momentarily impressed by how seamlessly and effortlessly Maya had alliterated her last few sentences. I was throwing clothes into piles according to whether I’d need them on the road trip that seemed increasingly stupid/fascinating, and Maya was smoking a cigar that was at least twice too big for her face writing in the big brown leather book she always carried. Why Maya was sucking a phallic symbol and spurting sex talk all over my room instead of packing herself was admittedly a mystery.

“Actually,” I said, taking a break from considering the cross-country benefits of a bright red parka, “I think I’d just take the brilliant sex and nag Mikey for abortion money. I don’t share Johnny and Soho’s affliction for the Christian Wrong.”
“You heard me.”
“Fine then, affectation maybe. Thinking about it too hard will no doubt re-align their faith. Although the chances of anyone with any faith in anything thinking too hard engorge me with pessimism.”

Anyone who didn’t know Maya would have thought she had a pocket dictionary/thesaurus glued to the backs of her eyelids the way she talked. It’s impossible to quite capture the constantly surprising and inexplicable way she put words together – you really did have to hear it to understand. In addition, she was blessed, by whatever forces we both lacked faith in, with the kind of contradictory sexually charged yet pure and clean beauty that one associates with the phrase “Earth Goddess”. She was undoubtedly a mad hippy artist, dripping with purples and rags which so naturally matched her flowing darkwood-brown hair. And yet at the same time that hair was never tangled, those clothes never messy, her skin was tanned and perfect. He could easily see why Mikey was a mess for her. I tried to nudge the conversation in Mikey’s direction now, firstly to avoid thinking about babies but mainly because I wanted to know if she even gave the poor guy a chance.

“Michael is burdened by being both devastatingly good looking, and unrepentantly egotistical,” was the hardly enlightening response. “See, I just wish Michael took more time to cultivate his appearance and less time admiring it. Actually, I wish Michael thought I was only just attractive enough, instead of something amazing, so that I could convince him how great I was myself, not from some random impression he’s getting. Finally I wish Mike’d hurry up and fuck my brains out because I’m obviously thinking about it way too much to be healthy and someone has to, especially if we’re gonna be on the road. Preferably without the baby bonus.”

Then with all of that suddenly and clearly out into the open, Maya returned to smoking the log of a cigar and penning thoughts.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Everybody has secrets left to conceal

You don’t have to look very far in your city for a basketball hoop in some car park or courtyard where a few lonely half-hoods are killing the night. You can walk down any street and walk hard, dropping the tails of your jeans in the wet dirt and cutting your face against the wind laced with ice. You can pull your jumper over your wrists and you can sing together as you lean forward that when you ain’t got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose. But that’s everywhere, these things are in your city everywhere, the Dylan is universal.

To be left outside alone

Events in life are often traced back by the scared human agents caught up in them to a single cause, something that helps catalyze the confusion. Some of these things are simple, for example pregnancy has a pretty cut-and-dry definite beginning, but most of the time it’s not that easy. Beginnings require explanations; they require contexts and back stories and other stories’ endings to help construct their existence. The holiday we were about to set out on had a whole bathtub load of kick-starts and reasoning but (apart from Soho’s little uterean blunder) there was a big glaring point of import. Mikey, you gotta understand, had a bit of a problem with xenogeniture.

It sounds rare, doesn’t it? Like a lung disease brought on by alien contact or some other thing no one else ever has, but it’s scarily common. And incidences of this multi-syllabular curse are growing. See, you’ve probably heard of primogeniture – the process in which the first born in the line gets everything – but this isn’t so popular anymore largely due to the fact that we’re none of us feudal kings. However there’s still a general pervasive societal undercurrent which drags money down through generations. Unless one of those generations happens to be a guitar playing poet alcoholic nymphomaniac who didn’t get into that pretty looking university with the old looking buildings. Like Mike. And in such a situation, the decomposing generation often deems it prudent to invest their considerable accrued assets somewhere more responsible. Somewhere… outside the family. This somewhat logical undertaking blossoms into a glorious ravaging disease though, and Michael was being eaten away by it from the inside. Michael was running out of other people’s money. He was dying, quickly, of xenogeniture.

I’d never really paid that much attention to the 30th of June before. As far as I was concerned it was just another day where things happened for other people to worry about. Like the other 364 really. But this year, this year we were riveted to the calendar, our minds and wallets locked onto that smoldering, blood-soaked date as though God himself had wrought the midnight moment in our hearts as the rapture itself. The 30th of June was when the banks closed Mikey’s account, when they bounced back his cheques, when his platinum Mastercard became… well… priceless. The 30th of June was the last day we had money, and thankfully it was almost four whole weeks away.

Few times, or at least fewer than I guess most people would hope, has the question been asked, “How can we blow a couple of million dollars this month?” In addition, when the topic is brought up it’s even rarer for there to be qualifying constraints such as “whilst running from a pregnant woman”. The majority of morons would buy something expensive and unsuited to fleeing maternal pursuit, like a mansion. I assume. The first thing we all bought was suits. Suits and ball gowns. Really, really, nice ones.
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