REPORT A PROBLEM
Iím still here.
Itís been over five years.
New York is basking in an early summer warmwave. The skies are blue and empty, and the sun glances bright and low off the concrete angles and glass facades. Sharp-edged shadows stripe the sidewalks and lane-sharking yellow cabs shimmer in the glare. Central Park is becoming verdant and lush. Last Sunday the neighbourhood kids opened the first fire hydrant of spring. The exchange rate remains at around 2.00 and I am still paid in sterling. My homeland is a foreign country now. Leaving New York will feel like exile.
Air howls like owls, scooping duneshapes in silldrifts, crests and cols form and deform: time-lapse photography of meringue geology. Snow strewn like a grubby down comforter; human plush toys waddle, slip and curse; wheels scrabble and spin with a fraction of the traction they need for speed. Shower-damp hair freezes within seconds; I run clumsy gloved fingers through the sparse, cracking, spun-sugar strands; pull my hat low in a vain attempt to shield eyelashes from the wind-lashes. Breath clouds crowd my face, hanging like moonlit ground mist on morning marshes. Cold breath hurts a heartburn chest.
Duía Khalil Aswad: if I believed in spirits I would apologise to yours. I would apologise on behalf of my inherently vile sex, even though I had nothing to do with the brutal ending of your innocent life at the hands, feet and hurled rocks of those who did. Why do I feel the desire to do this when I feel that it is absurd, irrational and unfair to apologise for slavery? I donít really know. Perhaps because I do, at least in part, blame maleness itself for what was done to you. And I am guilty of being male.
When I was young and riding the train between Grimsby and Leeds (where I studied) or Rotherham (where my first love lived), I would imagine that two razor-thin bands of immutable and unyielding force radiated at right angles from each side of the train out to the horizon. I imagined these unseen blades scything down everything in their path which bore any physical connection to the ground. Trees, pylons, buildings... timber! Nowadays, during my thrice-weekly commute, I imagine my train colliding with an impenetrable, invisible wall of energy. If I think about this too hard I actually flinch.
And you're not old, but you are old. You feel glad that young girls never fancied you when you were young because you deal better with the fact that they don't fancy you now. You think of your teachers, the ones in their twenties who all seemed as old as Egypt. Twenty years younger than you are now and you saw them as desiccated old sticks: all bad jackets and worthless words. Someone in your class fucked a teacher. Another kid died of a hole in the heart. Same thing. Not for you. Unreal. A movie that never got made.
He swam until the noise and lights of the village faded, his muscles finding some strange second wind, a wind which carried him more than a mile from land. Fatigue came slowly at first and then with an insistence that made his limbs feel artificial and clumsy. He began to feel as if he were flying, not swimming, and it seemed as though the blackness of night was receding, and he saw light over the horizon, spreading like sunrise. He felt heat in his chest and on his arms as they cut the waves with weakening strokes. Flying like Icarus.
We cynics are frustrated optimists. We are more sensitive to the pain of the scales that fall from our eyes. The sound of the fabric of our illusions being rent is like nails on a blackboard, and we cannot hide the discomfort it causes. For others, acceptance of the end of dreams is the steady, comforting breath of untroubled sleep; for us it is the death rattle of hope. We hide our grief at its passing under a hard mask. Underneath, our flesh is raw and flayed and stung by salt water. We delude ourselves that the mask is opaque.
You know youíre an inveterate foodie when you base your entire summer holiday decision on whether (and when) you manage to snag a reservation at the French Laundry.
Today, after nearly giving up, I did. And I have spent this evening building the rest of our trip around it. Flights booked, convertible rented, four hotels sorted out (San Francisco, Yountville, Healdsburg, San Francisco again), a reservation in Kellerís other Yountville gourmet heaven - Bouchon, where we consoled ourselves last year having failed to get into the French Laundry - achieved. Now
how to book a holiday!
California here we come, again.
Iím lazy. When I need a snack I butter bread and slap some chili sauce on it. But not Ann. When Ann wants a snack, she zen-assimilates the entire contents of the fridge and she
, like a biblical femme-Beelzebub from the best part of hell, the neighborhood with those spacious, Styx-view lofts and hipster demons with rectangular horns. Tonight she took two potatoes, scooped 'em out, cooked mushrooms and scallions in a little butter and milk, added S&P, mixed with the potato, refilled the skins and omg a snack to die and go to hell for.
Greetings, fellow traveller. Allow me to explain precisely why you are a horrible scumslob for putting your feet on that seat.
Your shoes come into contact with all manner of floordirt, roadgrime, pathslime, guttershit, busdust and other germ-laden crap. When you subsequently place those shoes on a seat, some of that crap will be transferred to its surface. When someone else then sits on that seat, some of that crap will be transferred to their clothing and/or bare skin. Now do you also need me to explain why this is not a good thing, you foul little monkey?
Metro North rocks and rattles through soot-furred arteries and horizontal flues beneath midtown. I rock on my feet; feel points clatter beneath.
I see them reflected in the door pane. One slim; fit-looking. The other is heavy, lumpy, staring down.
ďSee, you donít sit when you can stand. You donít walk when you can run. You donít take the elevator, you take the stairs. You donít stand on the escalator, you walk. And then
He whacks the guyís belly.
ďÖwill get hard. Itís easy. Itís obvious.Ē
A study in shame, reflected in a smeared train door window.
I have the maddest dreams.
Iím being driven along Upper Tooting Road by Tom Waits. The dream Upper Tooting Road curves continually to the left (in reality, itís straight). Tom and I are shooting the shit. I tell him ďOrphansĒ is good, but overrated. He snorts; laughs that tobacco laugh. Says he wants a cigarette; asks me to take the wheel. I reach over, hold the wheel. He fumbles in his pockets. The traffic gets heavy. I struggle to steer. He has the pedals. I tell him to hurry up, to slow down. Tom just keeps on fumbling and fussing.
I lie awake and fret at vague clouds. Things are good: in many ways the best theyíve ever been, but here I am, awake for the eighth time tonight, too hot, too cold, one leg dangling outside the covers. I look at the face in the ceiling where the rain came in. As a child it would have terrified me and fed further nightmares; now itís just a hook to hang my insomnia on. I try to let its black eye hypnotise me into another hourís sleep. You snore softly. I kiss your back. You make a troubled, ambiguous sound.
I am a fierce loner at the gym. I do not understand people who work out in pairs. They talk too much and work too little. They hog the stations, spread their shit everywhere. They chatter and fanny around and get in my way instead of
, watching the clock, counting the seconds from one set to the next. Meanwhile, I am ticking boxes on a work order, packing boxes on a production line. Fifteen reps, move, fifteen reps, move, fifteeen reps, move. A sweat-drenched middle-aged man on a mission. Sometimes I think I know what it is.
Itís like at the age of twelve somebody put the batteries in, flicked the switch and this smart, sensitive, shy, sweet kid became the energiser bunny with a dick instead of a toy drum. I lost my mind. I knelt in front of the window of my bedroom staring at passing women, wanking like a wizard. I couldnít work. I couldnít concentrate. All I wanted was anything to do with women. Of course, I didn't get it.
Viz comic: ďIíd Ďa crawled a mile over broken glass to wank over her shadowĒ. That was me. Not a comfortable way to live.
Here in the sand we talk about the single, sad church bell at St Aidan's, and the scrawny string that slanted down from the hole in the belfry floor; angling slackly to the stone pillar and looped twice around it. We remember the secret cues from the pulpit, of which the ovine congregation were unaware; at which I, or you, depending on who, would quietly rise from our stall (stifling the swish of starched surplice) and unloop the cord, and at the right moment pull, just a little ahead to allow for delay. Our bleak, fake campanology. Our thin childhood.
The sweetest moments in my life have been when women have been kind. When women are kind to me I feel like a murderer forgiven by his victimís family. I have never felt worthy of women. Iím not naive: I do not idolise them unknowingly. I see faults and frailties. But women simply unman me; they make me surrender to subjectivity. I am the most meek and hapless of heterosexuals; I blush at a smile and a soft word. I am a foul romantic, shot through with smut and flowers, a vicious submissive who kisses feet with a snaggletoothed bite.
Stepdaughter; after a fashion. Reading your poetry; realising you are realising a talent I once mistakenly fancied I had, and I am not envious. We share no genes, yet I am proud. Not of you, but for you. Young you: tonight flushed and unbalanced by frustration at the unfairness of the world; at the bitter necessity of the unnecessary. I remember. I see the memory in the flash of your unassuageable eyes: why are you old people no longer outraged? Unable to tell you how it is. Knowing you will know one day. Write it down, girl. Write it down.
And I love getting drunk, because it is surrendering to slack sensation, watching the walls fall down and dancing in the dust and kicking the bricks around and sometimes in the mad eyes of the drunkard you see the real human poetry: resistance and acquiescence, hate and love, fear and courage; restraint and release; despair and hope. Booze loosens shit up and lets paradoxes run wild. You leave me. I have cancer. I got beaten up. My parents hate me. You died and I loved you. There is no god, no reason, no point. I feel good. I will live.
I come from nowhere. I dropped out of a dumb working class cunt into a roiling mess of nothing. I should have left school at 15 and gone to work on the docks, or the Humber bank, or on the farms in the Lincolnshire wolds. Every night the bus and the bastards fresh drunk out of the pub; a fat wife back home; fair of face but run to seed, all bleached blonde and amateur home porn; the working class horror. The horror. A dumb job that anyone could do, and most of us end up having to.
I hate my background. I hate my family. I hate the gutlessness of them. I canít stop myself from thinking: youíre dumb, youíre just not smart enough, you just canít cut it. Youíre the kind of people I make an annual charity donation for.
God, what do we do about dumb, stupid people? What do we
about them? Theyíre always with us, like the poor, yet theyíre so much more intrinsically offensive than the poor. You can be poor for all sorts of reasons. You might be a genius and be poor. But Christ, if youíre stupid, youíre
Ding! Another morning, another round.
Every day I have to find ways, plot tactics, implement strategies to deal with my unfortunate condition; namely, hating pretty much every human being I encounter. I really donít like people. I donít like the way they look, the way they act, the way they dress, the way they speak and oh-dear-lord-above-all-else, the way they think. Or rather, donít. The lack of thought evident in the words and deeds of nearly every one of these jumped-up baboons is a kick to the soul. So I drink and crack jokes.
Perhaps misanthropy is one of the fundamental psychological drivers for the masochist. This seems counter-intuitive: isnít it more likely that sadists would be misanthropes? Maybe. But sometimes I see in the sadist something more like exuberant delight in others, whereas the yielding of the submissive contains a powerful torque which turns the power gradient around and justifies the misanthrope in his misanthropy. I know you want to beat, abuse and use me. I know you donít care about my feelings. I know you think Iím inferior to you. I was right all along. And that gives me intense pleasure.
On my eighth birthday I had one of those sixties working-class parties involving a few friends and lots of jelly and ice cream. I recall being petulant about a duplicate present (ungrateful little sod). On my eighteenth I remember being stressed about A-levels but giving my recently discovered love of booze free rein. Twenty-eight is hazy. Iíd been celibate for almost four years and was as fit as a motherfucker. Thirty-eight: even hazier. Six months before my life fell apart.
Forty-eight: the tasting menu at Bouley. Itís been a long ride ridden much too fast. Happy birthday to me.
At Broadway subway station, in the shallow canal between the tracks of the G train, a sluggish, shit-coloured effluence trickles constantly towards Greenpoint and Queens. Brooklyn is an incontinent borough. The animated ash clumps of hump-backed rats dodge the rapids as they duck under the rails and play chicken with the incoming trains. I play my own version of the game; idling along the pimpled yellow platform edge, stepping between flecks of human spit spattered along the surface like glutinous shreds of shattered jellyfish, waiting to feel the stale breath on my neck before turning and stepping back.
New York is like people: it can look impressive from a distance, when the light hits it right, or in the mist and grey of a rainy day. But close up itís all rats and rotting trash spilling out of ripped plastic bags piled high on crumbling sidewalks. Itís potholes and roadwork. Itís leaking AC units. Itís wino piss and pigeon shit. And when you get close to that long, cool hipster babe she has greasy hair and skin like a vegan junkie. You can see the veins as plainly as that nasty-ass tattoo at the base of her spine.
Why do I still dream about you, you unwelcome bloody horror? Why does my sleeping mind still summon your miserable wraith like some mutant succubus who, contrary to all decent mythological convention, seeks to conceive her demon children by fucking with my head, not my body? I purged you from my conscious years ago; why is it so hard to keep you out of my subconscious?
But then I still dream about the cold panic of university exams and the tight-chested shame of school beatings.
Unlike in the waking world, youíre never going to leave me, are you?
There is no denying that overfeeding a living creature via force and a funnel down the gullet is a horrible thing to do. And yet there is also no denying that well-prepared foie gras is one of the most subtle yet powerfully delicious tastes it is possible to experience. It is equally undeniable that the melt-in-the-mouth unctuousness of its texture is a sensory delight of comparable intensity to sexual pleasure. A benevolent and omnipotent god would not present his creations with such malign temptation. And donít give me that bogus free will Garden of Eden bullshit.
A week ago I tripped on an uneven piece of sidewalk and fell harder and more awkwardly than Iíve ever fallen in my life, including skiing falls. I cracked my right foot against the offending irregularity and then went crashing down in a sort of half spin that left me with a gashed left knee, a throbbingly bruised left hip, a flayed and aching left elbow and, worst of all, a left hand so swollen and bruised I still canít grip with it. Thereís a suspected hairline fracture in there too.
Five days after my birthday.
I feel old.
I have never been a patient man but I seem to be getting increasingly impatient with age. I used to read several novels a month and would finish all but the very worst. These days I give up on a book within the first few pages if it bores or irritates me even slightly. The same is true for films and even my beloved music. I am losing interest in
. Thereís so little that seems worth effort and application. I am behaving like one of the irksome ADHD-crazed youths I despise so heartily. Unlike them, I regret it.
So come on, buck up, shake the shit out and letís go. Like I said at the start, Iím still here. Still fuckiní here, man: New York and planet earth. So itís not so bad, right? Iím an old fart, increasingly given to clumsiness and forgetfulness; watching the wrinkles deepen, the eyelids droop and the nose sprout mad black hairs like I have spiders living up there. I fall in the street and fuck myself up. Canít remember what I did last night even though wasn't drunk. Alzheimerís is coming. Hell with it. Still got wine. Still got you.
The Tip Jar