Monday, September 17, 2007

Tick Tock Tick Tock

A good friendship is a lot like a good novel, in so many ways:
It’s immediate, yet lasting.
You can always return to it and find more.
It starts out with something important, then slows down, but builds to something great.
It’s the right length.
It can be surprising or it can be reassuringly secure.
It’s full of great other characters.

But perhaps most of all, and what I wanna bring real attention to here, is what I call the “boredom threshold”. In every novel there’s a point where you get kinda bored. It’s the mark of a great novel, or some factor in life outside the reading of it, when you break through that and finish it. The boredom threshold in novels I find comes at many different places, in so many different ways, for different reasons. For me, One Hundred Years of Solitude’s BT is when the names get out of control and everyone’s suddenly called the same thing. You get past that, you’re gonna make it. In Great Expectations it’s the embarrassingly long exposition of childhood. The Old Man and the Sea – when he finally catches the damn fish and your realize how much of the fucking book is left. Ulysses – the first page. All these parts of books where only a proportion of the readers actually make it through. Where the author’s given you pretty much all you know you’re gonna get in terms of style and you have to decide whether or not you persevere solely on the basis of closure. I hold that this is even more true of friendships. Friends are about boredom. Well, not boredom exactly, but being able to withstand the periods of boredom between adventures. Handling the expository prose before your chase scenes.

The thing about hanging around with these guys, and it really was the guys since male friendship with women is a strange and wholly different beast, was that for all the great anecdotal moments, it honestly was mostly waiting. So many hours feeling like you never wanted to hear anything again about whatever particular interest was obsessing one and only one member of our group. Sitting in car seats enduring others’ turn to choose the music, imagining your choices to be so much more amazing. Wondering why everyone else isn’t as into your music’s turn as you are. Wondering why everyone else isn’t as into you as you are. Yet we all knew how important that down time was. It was like eventless silent bonding, just spending time with one another, sharing wasted opportunity to be doing something more productive. We were like budding couples learning to share the remote for the first time. It was real, not like in memories when it all turns into a collection of the interesting bits both good and bad. Because you never, ever, remember the boredom bonding.

Show me the meaning of being lonely. What a resounding line in what a shite song. If it wasn’t Flo who was singing it so hauntingly, so oddly, on the dewy bonnet of the car I would have been grating and hateful. Instead it just made me think about what it meant to be lonely, and I realized I’d suffered about as much loneliness in my life as a popular pub owner. Sweet sex all. It was weird to be depressed about how lonely I wasn’t. There are people, always people, always have been and I’m starting to realize we’re all the point now where the ones of us left are the “always will be” types. Just, chugging away like always, playing those songs, waiting out turn, sitting around shooting at the stars until the next grand adventure hits us on the head.

There was so much open road. So much time to bore and be bored. Over and over and over and over and over and the wheels spin round and round. Mikey was driving and had the radio up loud, but there was no music, only Steven Fry reading some audio book, I’d long lost what it was, it was some classic. Maybe one of the Amises, maybe Conrad, it was the everlasting prose of the classic English novel, so long dead. They don’t make books that feel right in those cheap Penguin series prints anymore. Last one was Perfume. After that, something stuck a thorn in the side of the words, and scowling for boring novels that everyone assumed were “great”, and no one really read began. Now it is the age of the books everyone wants to read, the ones that are fun to read, easy to read, and yet hollow. Such crap, pedestalled by popular might. It was almost hypnotic to hear the words from the long black car’s stereo. Mikey drove this heavy, unwieldy car like a Formula One usually, and yet we were strolling past the yellow pastures of the inland country slowly now. Maybe we weren’t, but it felt it, the classic literature being read eloquently from the magnetic tape. Feel it, feel the time pass. There is nothing here. There is no story here in the passing of time, it is just a process, like the growth of a sapling into a young tree. No momentous breakthrough of the earth, no mighty history in its bark, just intermediate waiting. Solidifying. We talked about what we believed in. We all believed in things, make believe fairy stories like politics and music and careers. We all had areas in which we were to succeed, and such agony of doing nothing, of drinking, fucking, buying whole bars hits of whatever drugs were going around, then towing a second hand grand piano on wheels behind Jackson’s jeep into the middle of the wheat country and playing old Broadway show tunes for the truckers and the tourists. Mikey found this shining white suit, and if it wasn’t too hot would danced on the lid like Fred A-fucking-stair. That got boring after two days. We left it there. We left so much everywhere, we may as well have just littered the cash. And still time. Time, can you feel it? Can you feel us taking up time, finding new ways to sleep on each other’s symbolic shoulders. It was waking time, but we were asleep in one another’s arms. So close, yet so actionless. The trip was almost over, I thought. Over before it even began, over before we’d made it past youth and art and driving. Well we made it past driving for sure. Late one Tuesday night.

It was howling with wind, but there was no rain at all, clear skies forever. Something was bent ripped and rippled in the gale - corn or barley or wheat or some plant. As oceans they moved and we looked in awe every time we crested their waves on a hill. It was a powerful moment. Late, late at night, at the mercy of the wild world, the weather that man never conquered, the world that remains so vast. It was a powerful moment as we were cast out from whatever happy sunshine sleep we were in and cast down the road as this storm blew all around us. It was a mighty, shattering powerful moment when Johnny missed the curve in the dark and the wind, and ploughed off the road into a ditch near the belted crops. And it was the most powerful moment of all when Mikey, distracted by the sight of the Jeep careening, missed the turn himself and went straight into their back.

I’ll never forget that car crash, for so many obvious reasons, but always the thing that stands out looking back was the silence. The screaming of the wind was so strong, and had been going for so long that we were almost deaf, and certainly no longer noticed the sound of the storm. But the wind completely muted the crash, so in retrospect, the whole thing happened – for me at least – in completely silence. I heard no metal screeching, no “Last Kiss” screams and busted glass, I heard nothing, just saw it all like a black and white film from the twenties. At the end, as I was climbing out of the back dazed, I just about hallucinated a fancily typed white-on-black sign card that read “Crash! Our Protagonists Are In A Pickle”.

And in the silence and in the black and white there was the sweetly warm blood of Jackson and Maya. So much sticky blood, so oddly comforting against the cold, as we carried them, bleeding ourselves, in turns up the unlit road not knowing anything ahead of us. And snatched up by the twisted air were the wisps of Flo, sometimes clinging to me, sometimes singing “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” as if to keep our spirits up.

Of which, we’d drunk 1.2 litres of vodka between us by the time we reached the farmhouse. Like a good novel, like a good friendship, we were drunk and bloody.
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