Monday, December 11, 2006

gordian knot

So you decide to drive some evenings instead of walk. Long, black car gliding effortlessly round snow packed streets, while the blue-white exhaust mingles with the breath of frozen passers-by, and the chrome grill grins and growls, pulling up at the stoplight.

You don’t notice the look of desperate admiration squeezed out of the driver of the foreign sub-compact next to you. You don’t notice, and even if you did you wouldn’t care. Above pretence, the car is more than a mere simulation of affluence. Above the rat race, the car is more than a status symbol. Above excess for excess’ sake, the car is more than the embodiment of greed, but is actually the embodiment of you. The driver. The man. The kingfish. You, who everyone else wants to be or be seen with.

Suckers. Red light turns to green, and your foot finds its way, romping on the accelerator, whipping the car into action. Speed doubles and redoubles, and before you know it, you’re cruising at thirty over the posted limit. But there’s no danger here. No. The car has been outfitted with every piece of modern automotive technology. Technology making deadly mistakes nearly impossible. Technology nearly erasing the possibility of driver error. Technology removing the need for driver skill.

So you sit back in the heated, plush leather bucket seat and let the car do the work, this magnificent piece of state of the art engineering. You sit back and you’re comfortable in the fact that you would have to actually try hard to fuck up this ride. Aim it directly at a light standard. Drive it off a bridge. Allow yourself to quietly drift into oncoming traffic.

Leather gloved hands rest easy on the custom steering wheel, and as you’re pulling into campus, you catch the admiring recognition on the faces of a few dozen students. This – this is the type of respect you live for. Not the acknowledgement of empty riches on your drive in from suburbia. Not the bullshit recognition of some fantasy brotherhood of the status quo. Not the mutually masturbatory reciprocal back-scratching of those at the top of the present class system. No. This – this is the only respect that matters.

You pull into your reserved parking stall, and as you do, a shadow falls onto the driver’s side window. The door is opened for you, and a hand is already in yours before you even get out of the car.

“Professor Wilkins?” an eager, young voice asks.

“Indeed,” you say, climbing out of your car, and shutting the door. “And you are?”

“James Levea,” he says. “Professors Duncan and Graham both said I should come and talk to you. Apparently you’re something of an expert on the subjects of myth and modernity?”

The simple recognition of a lifetime’s work. It’s all you want. Right? A young man asks for your help and gains your automatic approval. It’s the way of things these days. Getting credit for cognition. Approval for authority. Identification of influence. It’s more applause than flattery, but more fawning than applause. No. More adulation than fawning. Yes, adulation – that’s the word. Oh. Adulation.

So you choose to drive some evenings instead of walk. And you do so, knowing full well that the very attention you pretend to disregard is the exact same attention you crave. Your money, your importance, is importance gained through intellect. Your net worth is the recognition of your vast knowledge, and your net worth is the universal language of suburbia. An impossibly tight knot of roiling respect and rodomontade.

Yes, the car you drive, the home you live in, the clothes you wear, the life you live are all representations of your mental proficiency. You may deny it, you may pretend to not notice or care about the envy oozing out of those around you, but you can’t lie to yourself. No. You’re too smart for that. You’ve too good a grip on the ideas of myth and modernity.

There’s the crisp thweep thweep of your car alarm as you walk away, teacher and student, side by side. Your car, that beautiful piece of automotive science, is protected now. Protected from those who would seek to steal or vandalise it. Protected from those who lack the mental facilities, the cerebral adroitness, to obtain, honestly, such a symbol for themselves. Protected. The mechanical beast, cosseted, every bit as you are.

Monday, December 4, 2006

old klestehl (anaesthetic)

In the early afternoon, I parted ways with Agamen near the entrance to the old quarter after repeatedly assuring him of my safety, and coercing him and the giant burlap sack of coffee beans into a taxi back to the hotel.

“I’ll be fine,” I promised. “Trust me, I’ve dealt with worse than common thieves and murderers.”

Agamen peered at me warily. “Well, I do not want to have to go and identify you at the morgue – or what is left of you. Something tells me these people would not stop at seizing your possessions, but would take your body parts, as well.”

I laughed, finding humour in Agamen’s habitual worry, but caught a hint of anxiety in my reflection as Agamen rolled up the taxi’s window.

Of course I would be okay. I was always okay. I had to be. And nothing strengthens a man’s resolve like dropping a few hours in a seedy tavern, so I ducked into a grimy tent in Old Klestehl’s south side and sat down at the bar.

“Your strongest,” I told the barman, slapping a large note down in front of him.

The barman, a dark young man in a crisp, blood red turban, stared at me a moment with black-ringed eyes. “You want strong?” he asked, rhetorically, “I give you strong.”

With that, he spun around, deftly snatching a half bottle of bright green liquid from the top shelf, slamming it down on the bar before me.

“You want glass too?” he smirked.

I nodded and grabbed the grimy glass from him, polishing it on my shirt before pouring a measure of the foul, emerald liquid into it.

The smell was a highly offensive combination of dirt and liquorice mixed with a hint of pine needles and cough syrup, but I lifted the glass to my lips, tilted my head back, and poured the contents down my protesting throat in one fluid motion.

Catching the heckling face of the barman just as my guts started to fight back, threatening to expel the evil liquor from my body, I managed to barely keep it down even while my face started to twitch involuntarily, and my teeth began to chatter. My poor senses, dragged from heaven to hell inside of one day.

“You like?” the barman wryly asked.

“No,” I replied. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Tell me,” he said. “What are you doing around these parts? We’re used to seeing the stupid, the crazy, the—”

“I’ve come to find someone,” I said. “A diviner.”

“Well,” the barman said, “You might be able to find an oracle or a soothsayer or two, but make no mistake – save for our coffee, you will find nothing of the divine here in Old Klestehl.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

favourite waitress

I don’t need another admirer. Slobbering drunks, squandering their miniscule paycheques. The calculated arrogance of wannabe kingpins. Ignorant frat boys rehearsing for a lifetime of buffoonery. So easy to drop these people into tight little categories. No, I don’t need another admirer. Not here. Not them. Not now. Not ever.

A waitress hears things. A lot of stupid things. Oftentimes, not very nice things. Piggish remarks from loutish losers in their one nice shirt. Their going out shirt. You can spot it as soon as they walk in, all stiffened gait and awkward poses. Soon, one beer turns to six and the loud-talking begins – and everyone’s a winner, then.

“Hey, sweetheart – ‘nother round here?”

Sweetheart. I’ll never play sweetheart to any guy who would wear his sunglasses indoors. I toss him a nod, and—

“What time you off, anyway?”

“An hour after close,” I say, hurrying to scoop the empties from the table.

“You busy later?”

But the desperate words are spoken to my back as I rush away to the next batch of washouts. I don’t hear him when he calls me a cunt – or at least I’ll pretend I don’t this time.

To the bar now with a tray full of empty glasses drained by empty people. Finding humour, I’m mentally checking off all the things these guys do wrong, ignoring the Five Tips For Picking Up Your Favourite Waitress:

1. Don’t be a drunken idiot – I see enough of these. Stand out by not standing out. If I have to pick you up off of the floor, tell you to put your pants back on, or clean up your puke, you are getting anywhere with me. Seriously. You know what they say about first impressions, right? Well, I’ll tell you right now that you’ll do best to just not make one at all – let the losers around you be the ones to highlight your strengths, making you look good.

2. Compliment. Don’t tell me I’m hot – I already knows this. It’s my job. You’ve got to tell me something that I don’t hear thirty times a night. However, if you insist on mentioning my looks, just tell me that I’m pretty. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of that. I can’t stress this enough, though: forget about using those lines you’ve got stored away. You’re dealing with a professional, here. A girl who’s heard everything you could possibly throw at her. Don’t even try to be cute.

3. Tip well, but not too much. You’re not trying to buy me, here. You want me to know that you’ve got class, but that you’re not slimy. Get it? I’ll be impressed because you know how reward me for my services, not because you know how to use a bank machine to fill your wallet with twenties. A buck on a drink tells me that you appreciate my hard work. Five bucks on a drink tell me that you’re hard up.

4. Be witty – and by witty I don’t mean sarcastic. Everybody knows that sarcasm is just a dull man’s wit. Release your inner Oscar Wilde. Make me laugh. If that means verbally trampling on your mates, calling them out for acting like complete cretins, then so be it. You’ll be saying the things I wish I could, and the things I would if I wasn’t on the clock.

5. Finally, ask me to breakfast. Waitresses love breakfast. We work late, closing the bar until well after three in the morning, so we tend to work up an appetite. Invite me to that all-night diner you know about, the one tucked away down a quiet side street downtown. Chances are, if you followed the other four rules above, I’ll reply, smiling, “Sure, pick me up out front a little after three.”

I was once told that if one ever gets to the point of thinking she is better than her job, then she has reached that critical point where she needs to quit. Well, I know that am better than my job. I am better than this cage, and I am better than the beasts which reside within. But I’m trapped here by a steady flow of tips from the idiotic masses. See, it’s the money which has me donning this fake hair and fake smile night after night. These fake clothes, this fake perfume. It’s not me. None of it is.

A waitress hears things. A lot of weird things. Oftentimes, outright bizarre things. Cryptic remarks from that strange, strange man down at the end of the bar. The one in the wide-brimmed hat, and too-short pants. Shirt opened a little too far; chest, a little too hairy for my tastes.

“So, I’m barrelling down this ravine in the backseat of a taxicab in Bujumbura – or what they call a taxicab anyway, the car being over fifty years old and driven by a man who could only have been its original owner – and we’ve got at least three cop cars behind us.

“I’m yelling at the driver: ‘Speed up! Speed up!’ – but of course he doesn’t understand a word of English, so he begins to slow down. Just as he slows to the point where I think I could survive a jump from the moving vehicle, I pop open the door and suddenly I’m tumbling out into the night, through the brush, and into the tree line, still clutching to my chest the item I had gone there for – the Crown of—”

Suddenly, he turns to look at me, having noticed that I’ve sidled up alongside him with my empty tray in hand.

“Well, hello there, sweetheart,” he grins with perfect white teeth. “Another round for me and my friends, here?”

Sweetheart. Yes please. Those eyes. Sweetheart – I guess it’s all in the deliverance. “I, uh, yeah, I – I’ll bring them right round,” I stammer. I’m about to spin on my heel, my face aflush, when I’m caught off guard again.

“Say – you busy later tonight?” the strange man asks.

“No,” I chirp, barely audible.

“Good, then I’ll pick you up round three o’clock,” he says. “Having a little thing back at my place. Some drinks, some stories, you know the rest.”

I’m not sure I do know the rest, but I’m game. I’ll be there, waiting for him a little after three. I’ll be there and I don’t even know why. Just now, I’ve surprised myself – but it’s a good thing I like surprises. Just another reason, above and beyond the money, that I stay at such a crummy job. A girl can learn a lot about herself living in a cage of beasts.

Monday, November 13, 2006

in obscurity

I am afraid of the dark. Even then, crawling my way through the void, that deep dark cavern, I was more than a little terrified. Water dripping on the back of my neck. Things brushing – crawling? – on my face. Cramped, with little room for movement, legs begin to seize up. Back spasms with each twist. Arms grow so weary. With each yard forward, a new stage of the fear was realised: with each yard forward, I was one yard further away from safety, one yard further away from the light.

I am afraid of the dark. Yes, even then, I was afraid. Of the darkness, of what my eyes could not see. Of the unknown, of what my hands could feel but not recognise. Crawling through the darkness, my fingers clawed at the dirt and rocks towards the artefact. I hoped. Even then I was drawn to the strange and unfamiliar even while I was frightened by it. That untried and unusual. That indefinite nothingness.


Flash to six months earlier and a time of light – breakfast in the stone portico of a tiny café in Colmar. She sat sipping weak coffee, and I sat gulping strong Alsatian wine.

“Any progress?” she asked, knowing full well that I would know exactly what she meant. Her eyes shone with genuine contempt, something true, a sentiment so real bubbling up from within.

“A little,” I said, ignoring the hostility. “I’ve a general location in mind. Details in the documentation are sketchy at best, but at least I’ve my maps.”

“General location,” she snorted. “You say this as though it’s a good thing. And those maps – what good will come of them if all you’ve got is this general location?”

“A little triangulation,” I said, finishing off the last of my fourth glass of Silvaner. A wine fine, elegant, and strong – just like her. “A little trial and error. Some guesswork—”

“Guesswork!” she laughed, the mockery tinkling out past perfect white teeth and red, red lips. “You’ll never get by on—”

“Educated guesswork,” I corrected. “Remember, I’ve a general location in mind. I’ve narrowed it down, at least.”

“This location,” she said, accepting another tiny cup of coffee from our young server, “will it see you leaving the continent?”

“Would you like it to?” I asked, arching an eyebrow in jest.

“I’ll tell you what I’d like,” she replied, “I’d like to see you actually enjoy a glass of wine for once, rather than swilling it down as though it may be your last. It’s not even noon yet.”

I laughed, twirling a fresh glass slowly atop the table. “Yes, this new adventure will see me leaving the continent – but I should think that I won’t be gone for a long time.”

“When will you go?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“So, we’ve tomorrow then.”

“Yes” I admitted, “we’ve tomorrow. I was thinking we could spend the day up in the Vosges. Beautiful this time of year, I think.”

She didn’t respond, choosing, instead, to stare vacantly into her coffee cup. Anxiety welled up from her clear blue eyes. Unease pulled tight her fine lips. Hate made her grow suddenly old. She didn’t respond – she didn’t have to. She knew that the next day would be our last together. She knew, as I did, that I was a leaver. All the time, I left. It’s what I did. I was actually really quite good at it. Notorious.

“Don’t you think you ought to be prepared,” she suddenly snapped. “Don’t you think you ought to think things through, plan things out a little further, before you throw yourself blindly into something?”

The morning fell away to lazy argument, as my cares were washed away in a sea of Silvaner. The sun rose, and the shadows played their usual games, slipping silently from one side of the portico to the other. All the while, we sat. All the while, we sat, frozen in argument, wasting our second last day together. Choosing the easy comfort of hate over the complicated awkwardness of love.


Crawling through that cave six months later, I was almost wishing that I had decided to bring along those spare batteries for the flashlight. Almost wishing. Hands blindly grappling at rocks on the ground, feet scrambling in the dirt, I was almost wishing, then, that I had been a little more prepared. But a year’s planning! What more could have been done?

I am afraid of the dark. Then, as ever, I was afraid of the dark and the secrets it concealed. Inching my way through that pitch black tunnel deep within the ground, I tried to think of nothing but the potential end result. Me, achieving my goal. Me, clutching that ghoulish article in my hands at long last. Me, somehow finding it in that swirling eddy of soggy darkness.

Thoughts flashed quickly from darkness to light and back again. From inky caves to sunlit porticos. To her and her advice. Think things through, she said. Plan. Prepare. Organise. But all of the maps and charts, diagrams and graphs on earth can not help the man who is determined to lose himself. I know that as well as anybody. I, the man who will brazenly act on the first tip, following the whispers of a stranger in a backwoods inn. I, the man so crazed for knowledge that he will cut his life short to get at it. I, the man who will leave his spare batteries behind just because.

Suddenly, my fingers met the fingers of another there in obscurity, and I desperately grappled my way up a sinewy, dead arm, its hardened, ancient flesh like lacquered rope. I tried not to think about how close our faces really were as I reached a twisted neck right about where it should have been, and felt the dull cold of a braided strand of precious metal.

Her face, right next to mine. Though she didn’t breathe, I imagined that I could feel her breath on my cheek, escaping from the gaping dead maw of her petrified head. Cloves. I could almost catch the scent of cloves whispering from her mask of death, skin pulled taut, lips pulled back, with rows of hideous yellow teeth. I didn’t bring the extra batteries for my flashlight because I didn’t need to see this. I didn’t need to see her expression when I pulled the necklace from her long, lifeless neck.

Friday, November 3, 2006

the curse of tlaxacuhlta (movement)

Kinesiologists will tell you that to engage in a run is to engage in little more than a controlled fall. Well, I like to apply the same logic and say that to live is to engage in little more than a controlled death. Each day we make a thousand tiny choices which enable us to keep on living. That’s all life is: a systematic flipping of switches allowing our lungs to keep breathing, our hearts to keep beating, brains to keep thinking, legs to keeps moving.

But what happens when we accidentally – or intentionally – flip the wrong switch? It’s not always instantaneous catastrophe. No, oftentimes a singular instance of flipping the wrong switch can bring us close to death, allowing a fleeting glimpse of the other side. We trip, we nearly fall, but we manage to stay on our feet. We keep on running.

Me, I like to experiment a little. Change things up. We decided to leave that evening, renting a car and driving all night from Texarkana to Laredo. Agamen didn’t sleep. He couldn’t. He just kept looking over at me every fifty miles or so, trying to project his worry onto me.

“What do you think we will find in Mar del Mar?” he asked at one point.

I glanced over with an easy smile. I could only see his wet eyes flash in the moonlight.

“We’ll find truth in Mar del Mar,” I said. “We’ll stare a four hundred year old curse right in the face – and we’ll be better men because of it.”

We drove in silence through Dallas and then Waco, until we hit Austin and the questions started again.

“What will you say to it, this curse?” Agamen asked. “What will you say when we are staring this curse in the face.”

“I’ve questions, Agamen,” I said. “I’ve questions. The same questions that are going through your worried mind right now.”

“But what if, what if we do not speak its language?” Agamen pleaded. “What if we get there, what if we come face to face with the curse of Tlaxacuhlta, and we are unable to communicate?”

I drove awhile, pondering this. I drove awhile, my jaw clenching and unclenching, with the answer to Agamen’s question tumbling through my mind, the answer which I was unable to expel from the confines of my skull. Fear is the universal language. The curse of Tlaxacuhlta will have no trouble understanding us.

We cruised through San Antonio, and after driving a total of six hundred miles across Texas, we pulled into Laredo a little more than nine hours after we set out. Knowing I was unable to bring the rental across the border, I ditched the car and we checked into a derelict motel for a little sleep.

I lied awake for a time, listening to Agamen toss and turn in the next bed over. The poor fellow was positively beside himself with worry and unable to sleep.

“Agamen?” I said.


“You need to not worry so much – everything’s going to be okay.”

“But I am not so worried right now,” Agamen insisted, rolling over again, hard, on squeaking bedsprings.

“You’ve been fidgeting for fifteen minutes,” I pointed out.

“It is this bed – I think it is infested,” Agamen whinged. “It feels like bugs are crawling all over me.”

Monday, October 30, 2006


“Wait, wait, wait. Wait just a minute, here,” the kid says. Jarred, he’s called. You know him: university dropout, wannabe artist, a real player. He’s figuring this whole thing out, this life, this grand enigma. Yes, he’s figuring it all out, and can’t help but to share it with the world. He’s got ideas and wants everyone else to know – and everyone else just can’t wait for him to stop talking.

“What’s all this got to do with Hunter?” he asks. “You’ve been hanging around here for over a month telling these…these ghost stories.”

There’re nods of dumb agreement from the other drunks listening nearby. Murmurs of endorsement. A couple of encouraging “Yeahs.” One of the regulars, Clive, waves his hand, mumbling, dismissing the whole affair, and gets up to take his regular spot at the bar. Leon and Gus fall into arguing over who’s going to buy the next round, but Marty’s much too nimble for them, surreptitiously slipping an order to the waitress while they bicker.

“You come around here saying that you’ve met him,” Jarred persists, “that you know where Hunter is, but all you do is talk and talk about weird shit that nobody cares about.”

Every once in awhile, someone feels the need to address the elephant in the room. Every once in awhile, some brave, tactless, or just plain stupid person decides that he or she needs to point out the obvious. In this case, I can’t decide which category Jarred falls into, so I try a little deflection.

“I thought you were moving to Latvia?” I ask, drawing laughter from the other guys. “Not that I’m eager for you to go or anything, Jarred, but you were supposed to leave last week weren’t you?”

“I had to move my flight back,” he says.

“Money or girl trouble?” I ask.

Jarred looks a little nonplussed, but answers anyway. “Girl,” he says, before adding, “but I really don’t see how this has anything to do with what I asked.”

So I can rule out stupid as an option, leaving behind only brave or tactless – and my gut’s telling me it’s the latter. I remove my Panama hat, placing it atop the table, and I scratch a little at my beard. I’m thinking of what to say, of how much I should reveal. A good storyteller is one who knows just the right time to tip his hand – and how much.

“I never said that I know Hunter,” I say at last.

“But all that talk of pirates…” Leon says, looking a little puzzled, a little disappointed.

“That’s what it was,” Jarred says. “Talk. A story. Nothing more.”

I can’t help but to laugh. “It was a story, to be sure,” I chuckle, “but the stories I tell are not those of fiction. I never said that I know Hunter; I said that I know of Hunter. He’s a brave man, a courageous man. A man courageous enough to seek what is obscured by shadow. Courageous enough to pull back that curtain, to reveal what is hidden from the eyes of most others. Courageous enough to go out and find the answers for himself in the darkest of corners.”

All the eyes in the room are on me now, all the ears in tune to my voice. Glasses are raised halfway to lips, unable to go further. There is silence when I pause, and it is the eagerness in this silence which keeps me, as a storyteller, going.

“Me,” I say, “I come here as a raconteur. I come here with a little flashlight poking into the shadows, its beam of light falling on the nasty and horrible, the strange and wonderful, the believable and unbelievable things found within. I reveal these things to you, and you then decide for yourselves what to make of them.”

More silence for a moment.

“Any questions?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.

“Just one,” a more subdued Jarred says. “All of this, then – it’s all in some way connected to Hunter?”

“Yes,” I say, “it’s all connected to Hunter. Everything is. Everything and everyone on this earth is connected – remove the blinders and you’ll see. Dots will start to connect. Patterns will begin to form in the chaos. We are, all of us, pieces of this puzzle. We are, all of us, born with the ability to see the whole picture – but only if we want to. And only if we are then brave enough.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

scathing review

Part of the problem with your art, I think, is that it is not good art, but simply art for art’s sake. Images, words, melodies without significance. Material without content. No inherent meaning, no…essence. Is that the word?

The force which may be called a living creature’s élan vital is decidedly absent in your work. Rather than thrusting meaning upon the viewer, your work sits back, passively asking the viewer to seek meaning.

“Find it,” your work seems to say, “I dare you.”

An inferior artist might call this absence of substance ambiguity and be done with it, saying, “If you can’t find the meaning, then you’re the problem.” A true artist, upon creating such an empty piece, will scrap it and start over, saying, “There was no meaning, it was not art. It lacked that…something.” And the word she seeks will be essence.

“But what of the surrealists?” the inferior artist will ask, desperate to align herself with someone, anyone. “Decades later, we’re still trying to figure out what their art meant.”

But it’s simply the difference between hollow and multifaceted work. The difference between a piece with no energy, straining the viewer’s eyes with its absence, and a piece bursting with energy, blinding the viewer with its brilliance. It’s the difference, really, between an idiot’s trite remark and a wit’s double entendre.

Is it not cheap to write a book without a plot and ask the reader to look for one? Are fancy words enough? Is spot-on grammar, impeccable punctuation, and a good idea enough to lay down a classic which will be enjoyed for generations to come? Is asking a whole string of questions a lazy way to get your point across?

Part of the problem with your art, I think, is that it is not good art, but simply the art of someone who wants desperately to be an artist. It’s easy to surround yourself with others who want the same thing and feel that you’re all really part of something. Slap each other on the back. Be supportive. Throw around words like profound, genius, and brilliant. And as long as you never look beyond your circle you will never be wrong.

But what if, on the way to the market to buy some milk, you finally run into greatness? To pass Picasso on the street, you’d have known you were approaching a great man. To stand in line behind Kafka at the till, you’d have known you were in the presence of an awesome mind. Will your fantasy life be able to withstand such a shock to the system as when you finally come face to face with true brilliance? Or will the integrity of your fantasy life be undermined and those who you surround yourself with be instantly revealed as what they truly are? Non-artists. Anti-artists, even. Not celebrated creators, but mere manufacturers. Manufacturers of style, of personality, of the very lives they live. Manufacturers without that élan vital. Poseurs, the whole lot.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

trade secrets

“Just flash a twenty.”


“Flash a twenty,” I tell the guy beside me, some loser who’s been waiting for a drink, leaning desperately across the bar for the better part of five minutes. “Flash a twenty and you’ll get the bartender’s attention quicker. Pay with twenties for your first three drinks, and he’ll know you mean business. You won’t be waiting around like a chump after that. No way he’ll want you to walk out that door with a pocket full of unspent cash.”

The guy looks a little chuffed at my words, but reaches into his pocket for his wallet. There’s that initial look of panic when he finds it missing. Eyes fall to the floor, searching, and the poor idiot’s practically on his hands and knees inside of ten seconds.

I allow him to make an ass of himself for a moment before tapping him on the shoulder. He looks up at me, his eyes nearly feral.

“Another tip,” I say as he slowly stands up from the floor. “If you’re planning on leaning across the bar like that, you really shouldn’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.” I say this, and as I do, I toss his wallet onto the bar.

I smile as I watch a range of emotions flash across the guy’s face in half a second. Confusion. Realisation. Anger – the guy really wants to kill me, but is just smart enough to know not to try. Finally, there’s humility.

He mumbles something at me, I pretend it’s “Thanks,” and he withdraws a twenty from the coffers, clutching it in his hand on the bar.

The bartender is there in seconds, and a beer is slid into the guy’s eager little hand seconds after that.

But I’m not the kind of guy to say “I told you so,” so I just sit back and watch as the guy disappears into the crowd.

The bartender leans across the taps with a smirk on his face. “Spilling trade secrets again, I see?” he says.

“Somebody’s got to help these suckers out.”

“And who better to learn from?”

I chuckle.

"You’re one of the good ones, Casey,” the bartender says. “A real character, you know that?”

“Aw,” I say, with a depreciative wave of the hand, “I’ll bet you say that to every sucker in here.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

beau ideal

When you realise that every place is the same, you will invariably be called home. When the mountains fall out of sight, when the ocean’s magic dries up, when the trees collapse away into the back of your mind, home is where you’ll want to be. So just let go. Freefall. You’ve a safety net right below.

When the present falls away, when that carpet is ripped out from under you, where else is there to go? Most will wind up plummeting to the past, pulled down by the desire for familiarity, tempted by ease, beckoned home by nostalgia. Others will step off that carpet on sensing the slightest tug. Step off to somewhere new. Step off to start all over again – only to find that it’s all the same.

Wherever you go, you are doomed to follow the pattern you laid out at home. Your body is little more than simple machinery intended to carry around your brain which is little more than complex machinery designed to reset to default. So that’s how it is that you, plunged into a new chaotic environment, will inevitably slip back to old orderliness, condemned by a sequence of habits, sentenced to sameness by your own system. It’s more than fate – it’s design.

“But this time’s going to be different,” the kid whinges. “I’m going to plunge myself into a totally alien setting. Someplace where I don’t speak the language. Someplace where I don’t understand the culture. A tiny place filled with the strangest of strangers, a small town in the middle of nowhere—”

Then you will find the least strange stranger of the bunch – or he or she will find you. You will naturally seek the one place in that town where you feel the safest, the most comfortable, the most, yes, at home. And from that point, it’s all downhill. You’ll be falling into pattern even while taking in your surroundings, learning the language, immersing yourself in the culture. And soon you’ll be nothing more than yourself in another place.

“I’ll leave everything at home,” the kid cries, “everything which reminds me of home will be left there. I’ll pack light, you’ll see. Everything I need, I’ll find in my new home—”

But there are things you’ll bring along with you that don’t quite fit into a suitcase; things like memory, nostalgia, and yearning. Things you’ll bring along with you that you don’t need to sneak past the watchful eyes of airport security; things like regret, doubt, and worry. These are the things which conspire against change. These are the switches which will force you to reset to default.

How soon before you realise that every place is the same? Perhaps when you’re sitting, alone, at the bar of the most comfortable watering hole in your new town. Perhaps when you lift that first pint to your lips. Perhaps when the waitress smiles that same smile she smiles all around the world. Perhaps then you’ll realise that you’re not anywhere new, that you’re not doing anything different.

The barstool will quaver slightly with the realisation, and you’ll look down to ensure that the floor beneath is still sound. What if the floorboards were to suddenly fall away? What if they fall away, and you fall with them into the void below – where will you be? Freefalling in the darkness. Tumbling through the air. Plummeting home.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

penumbrous leanings

Have I gotten away, then, from what I originally set out to do? That writing without structure. That writing without hope. That writing without care. Have I gotten away from the ease of the improvisational, trading down for the burden of the calculated with the hope that I might discover a new voice within?

“When’s the next article due out?” Gus sweeps a hand across his comb-over, dabs at his glistening forehead with the corner of his serviette, digs back into his mountain of fries and gravy.

“I told the boss I’d write another review when somebody writes something worth reviewing,” I say.

Mouth full, Gus smirks. “So, you’ve finally reached that point, hey?”

“And what point would that be?”

He swallows, stuffs another forkful past his puffy lips. “That point in your career when you’ve reached the top,” he says, between chews, “when you’ve gone as far as you can go and can no longer resist the temptation to sabotage yourself lest you go mad with the impossible desire for more, more, more.”

Those days when writing came easy, bubbling up from the depths. Those phantom conversations, two voices echoing up from a dark chasm. Who spoke? It didn’t matter; what mattered most was what was said. Those distended thoughts, thoughts allowed to grow exponentially before being brought back from the brink of verbosity. But who thought, and why? It didn’t matter; all that mattered was the idea.

“That’s absurd,” I scoff, sipping at my vodka tonic, not even believing myself.

“That’s reality,” Gus tells me. “A little self-subversion. You’ll knock yourself back a few steps if only to make room for forward movement. Trust me – I reached that same point five years ago.”

I cock my head slightly, thinking. “The air rage debacle?” I ask.

Gus nods. “And I haven’t made a film since.”

“Sort of undermines your theory doesn’t it?” I ask. “You know, the whole making room for forward movement thing?”

“Well,” Gus says, sheepishly, “sometimes it takes a little longer to pick yourself up after you’ve knocked yourself down – and it doesn’t help that Happy Hour at this place is three hours long.”

“I hear that.”

That broken writing, words layered on top of words, signification covered by symbolization. I could ask, I could ask you or I could ask myself: who wrote, then? Who wrote and for whom? I could ask, but I would only be setting us up for disappointment.

Have I moved onward and upward, then, from what I originally set out to do or am I simply the victim of a creative devolution? One form changing for another. A backward movement of the artistic kind. A creative emollition? A softening, perhaps, of ideals. Trading the truth of extemporaneity for the falsehood of preplanning. A creative pollution. Indeed, a clouding of accuracy. Eclipsing genuineness. Obscuring ingenuity.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


A simple thing, in the end, to look back and point out the exact moment in your life when you took a wrong turn. That moment when you neglected to look at the map. That moment when you let your attention stray. That moment when you ignored all the signs. A simple thing, in the end, to look back and say, Maybe I should have stuck to course, maybe I should have followed the predetermined path – or maybe you’ll just blame your co-pilot. Perhaps he or she should have said something.

“Is it so very wrong for a man of thirty-five to involve himself in a casual flirting relationship with a girl of twenty?” Leon asks, with a glimmer of that certain desperation in his eye.

At that moment, our favourite waitress, Janine, appears beside the table and we order up another round; Vodka for Leon and a pint of Stella for myself.

I allow a puff of air to escape my lips, throw my hands in the air. “It depends on the man,” I exclaim.

“A totally innocent flirtation from the man’s point of view,” Leon says quickly, oblivious to the onset of my exasperation. “Perfectly harmless. Friendly, you know?”

“Then it depends on the girl,” I sigh, already tired of Leon’s neurosis.

“Same thing on the girl’s end. Got a good head on her shoulders, that one.”

Janine returns with a tray of drinks, and sets ours on the table atop fresh coasters. She goes to make change, which Leon and I wave off, and turns to leave before suddenly stopping, turning on her heel. “Wait,” she says, pointing directly at Leon, “I’ve a tip for you.”

Leon crinkles his forehead, allowing the ghost of a condescending smirk to materialise on his thin lips. “All right,” he says, guardedly.

“Forget about the girl,” Janine says. “I was a twenty year old girl, myself, once. No good can come of this – trust me.”

And with that, she’s gone, off to deliver more drinks to the rest of the decidedly desperate.

The sheepish expression on Leon’s face brings a smile to my own, and I can’t help but to twist the knife a little. “So, tell me,” I say, leaning across the table, my voice conspiratorially muted, “does your wife know?”

Leon’s clearly horrified by the question, and his mouth hangs open on broken hinges. “Does my wife know that I’m infatuated with a twenty year old girl? What!” he shrieks. “Have you gone mad? Of course she doesn’t know!”

“Well,” I shrug, “how am I to know? For all I know, you could have one of them, you know, one of those open relationships.”

“Believe me,” Leon scoffs, “if my wife knew about this, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Never mind the open relationship – they wouldn’t even be able to give me an open casket at my funeral. My balls would be in the dog’s supper dish, my head would be mailed, express delivery, to the girl, and the rest of me would be buried in a shallow grave in the garden.”

“That bad, huh?”

The lenses of Leon’s glasses flash beneath the black lights. “I think there’s a reason you’re not married,” he points out.

I shrug, taking a few deep gulps from my pint. “Followed the signs, that’s all. Stuck to course,” I say, dabbing at the corners of my mouth with the serviette. “Most importantly, I listened to my co-pilot.”

Leon just sits there, tipping his vodka this way and that, letting the ice clink absently against the glass.

“Listen, Leon, don’t stray,” I say, sympathetically, my eyes momentarily meeting Janine’s through the crowd. “Just stick to the road you know. No good can come of this.” I pause to drain back the last of my pint before adding, “Trust me.”

Saturday, September 16, 2006

life in the off-beat

Keep the lights low so the patrons don’t see the grime, so the patrons don’t see each other. An age-old trick utilised by barmen down through the ages; illusionists, all of them. Building a haven from a hovel, a sanctuary from a shack. Keep the lights low so nothing is seen for what it really is: a wooden crate of cast-offs waiting to be picked up by the rubbish collectors.

“You always gotta play that jazz here?” Clive asks roughly, his eyes not budging from the paper in front of him.

I stop before him, resting on my elbows, leaning across the bar.

“What would you prefer I play, Clive?”

He looks up at me with bloodshot eyes over his bulbous, red nose. “Something with words,” he says, “I dunno – anything.”

“There are words,” I say. “Just have to listen for them.” I straighten up and begin tapping out a rhythm down the bar top with my index fingers. “Hear that, Clive? That’s a little off-beat syncopation for ya. A little stress between the beat.”

“Stress all right,” Clive snorts. “Little busy ain’t it?”

I laugh. “Just listen, Clive. You hear that? Hear that guitar riff, there?” I stop, cocking my head, concentrating. “Leads into a bit of call and response with the trumpet right aboouuuut…now. Cool, huh? You hear what they’re saying, Clive? You hear that?”

“I hear something,” he says, “the sound of a man losing his mind.”

“Okay, right here, Clive – the guitar says, ‘Clean, clean, come clean, baby’, and the trumpet says, ‘I’m as clean as I wanna be’, just like that. They’re talking to each other.”

“Right,” he says, “sure. How ‘bout you set me up with another pint o’ lager, jazz boy.”

“Coming right up, there, Clive,” I say, snatching a bleached pint glass from the end of the bar. “Coming right up.”

A forty-five degree tip of the glass, a simple pull of the tap, and I’m delivering a perfect pint of golden goodness into Clive’s hairy mitt. A quick glance at my watch reveals that it’s seven o’clock on the nose. Time to dim the lights a little more. Turn the music up just a notch. Get this night in gear. Evening staff will be showing up soon—

—and here’s Janine, one of my waitresses, walking in the door right now.

“Long hair tonight, hey?” I point out, as Janine ducks behind the bar to sort out her float.

“Yeh,” she says, looking up at me with that mischievous smirk. “Find the weekend tips are a little better with the wig.”

“Worth a shot,” I shrug.

Everyone here’s got a little trick; illusionists, all of us. Keep the lights low so the patrons don’t notice the wig, don’t notice the coloured contacts, don’t notice the look of derision on Janine’s face. Create a saint from a siren, a Venus from a vamp. Keep the lights low so nothing is seen as what it has the potential to be: something. The observer just needs a little prodding, that’s all.

Yes, there’s soul in the off-beat, only brought to the attention of an especially alert listener by the inclusion of an unexpected accent before or after the beat, creating a veritable auditory illusion - and that’s syncopation, baby.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

the catechumen hustle

Off shift, back in my civvies. Retired to the bar with a book opened on the table and a pint of beer in my hand, my brain soaks up words while my liver soaks up alcohol. Gone is the uniform of the servant, and on is the attire of the mistress. I’m in control, now. No-one’s lackey. If I had to build one more double latte espresso-chino with half decaf and extra low-fat foam I was seriously going to snap. A shadow sidles up beside me; a body slides into the booth opposite. Sara wielding an appletini. Speaking of servants.

“What are you reading?” she asks.

“Writing and Difference, I say, tacking on at the end, “Derrida.”

“I’m familiar,” she says with that hint of the aloof.

“One of those, hey?” I ask. “I caught the tone.”

“What are you talking about? One of which?”

“One of those holdouts from yesteryear,” I say. “One of those who still views Mr Derrida as an enemy of philosophy.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she says, “everyone knows Rorty is the real enemy of philosophy.” Sara smoothes out her skirt, recrosses her legs, and turns the appletini in her fingertips. “I’m just surprised you still bother to read this stuff at all.”


“I thought I remember you saying you’d never finished university?”

“I did, yes, but I don’t think there’s some kind of cap on my learning ability just because I didn’t get a degree.”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” she says, sipping at her sickly green concoction. “I’m just surprised you bother, at all, to subject yourself to such opacity when you don’t need to.”

“To each her own,” I say, grimacing at Sara’s sugary potion.

Oblivious, Sara pushes on. “Why did you decide to drop out, anyway?” she asks.

“Drop out,” I scoff. “You make it sound like such a negative. We prefer opt out. We’re university opt outs.”

“We?” she asks. “Who’s this we?”

“My fellow revolutionaries and me.”

“Well,” Sara sneers, “you’ll call it what you will. Why did you decide to opt out, then.”

“Wanted to find an idea, to shake things up, to lead a revolt,” I say. “All things nearly impossible to do when confined to a classroom or auditorium ten months out of the year.” I pause to take a gulp of beer. “Better to be confined to a bar, I think.”

“Come on, seriously…”

“Seriously. I’m choosing to feed myself rather than be force fed,” I say. “It’s the difference between choosing to thrive on a nutritious diet of wholegrain breads, fresh veggies, and good, clean, meat, rather than merely subsisting on the unwholesome slop most are accustomed to. The difference between—”

“Are you saying—?”

“—the difference between intrepid adventurer and insipid milquetoast.”

Sara is clearly aghast. “So, you’ve really something against education, then!”

“No,” I correct her. “I’ve really something for choice is all. Carte blanche. I’ve also really something for courage, confidence, and creativity—”

“Verbal acrobatics and verbosity—”

“—all leading to certainty. Convinced?”

“Consternated is the word,” Sara says, with a modicum of disgust.

“Another C,” I wink. “I think you’re really starting to get it.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

pipe dream à go-go

You are not a revolutionary. It’s the troubled dream of an adolescent mind to think that one might change the world. Might somehow make a difference. Might make one’s mark. No, you are not a revolutionary, not one to blaze trails, not one to call the shots – only the product of that age-old propaganda machine which has you believing that your life matters, that you are important, that you are unique. But you are not so much a puppeteer as you are a marionette. Dangling from strings. Played by fingers. Mouth chattering away.

“You like what you do?” I ask the cute barista from behind a steaming cup of morning coffee.

“I do what I do,” she says, cockily, blowing by me on her way to the espresso machine.

“How come you don’t wear a nametag?” I ask.

“Because this ain’t what I do,” she replies, peeking from behind stainless steel. “I only work here.”

Not a mover nor a shaker, not a rebel nor a leader – you’re no-one’s champion. More reactionary than revolutionary, you’re more than happy to don the uniform of an innovator once in awhile if only to have others believe that you are on the edge of something new. But you ain’t no pilgrim. Only a backyard camper in a shiny new pith helmet. Never venturing far from the comforting hum of electricity. Never straying beyond the familiarity of the manicured hedges. Never too far out of sight, out of mind.

“Probably meet a lot of losers in here, hey?” I ask. “Pretty girl like you must really attract them.”

“Nowhere near the level of loser they see here at night,” the cute barista says before adding, “but we do get the odd one.”

Ouch. She’s got claws, this one. A fragile little girl wearing the costume of a big tough broad, she has yet to find out that this is, really, what she does. And will do. Forever. Server – nothing more. Big plans, but I know all too well that her twenties will run out all too fast, and her thirties will rush in to fill the void. There will be a desperate grasping for meaning, a regret, a clawing at the past. Pessimistic? Naw, realistic. I hear, too often, the same story: they’re always better than their job. I’m only doing this for now, to save money, you know? I’m gonna travel the world. I’m gonna learn, like, seven languages. I’m gonna go back to school. I’m gonna—

“—need you to settle up your tab.”

“Pardon me?” I smile.

“I’m gonna need you to settle up your tab,” she repeats. “I’m going off shift.”

Yes, yes, run along, dear. You’ve things to do and you’re not going to get them done hanging around this place. Being cute. Forcing smiles. Serving caffeinated beverages to losers like me. Run along and lie to yourself some more. Start with an idea, put together an army, and change the world – at least until the start of your next shift. At least until you punch that clock, don that apron, and whip up that first double non-fat soy latte of the day.

Don’t worry – I’ll still be here. A defeated revolutionary, failed radical, conforming nonconformist. Sipping coffee percolated from the ground beans of some backward island nation. There’re tattered fatigues beneath this suit and tie, you know. Ragged ideas in this old head. I was once the guy. I was once the guy who was going to change everything. Now, I’m just a guy who has realised that he is unable to change the fact that he will never change anything.

Saturday, September 9, 2006


When I leave, will my ego leave as well? When I lift my ass up off of this stool, will he do the same? Will he follow me outside, across the parking lot, and onwards, home? No. Not my ego. My ego is apparently bigger than I am. That’s what she told me.

“You’re such an asshole!” Sara shrieked.

“So, you’re not going to go out with me next weekend?” I asked.

“I heard about you and the others!” she cried. “You make me feel special, you lead me on, and then I find out you’re flirting with practically every girl in the program—”

“But none are as pretty as you,” I lied.

My ego. He’s bigger and can hold more alcohol, so he decides to hang around a little while longer. Discord, here, while the flawless reflection looks back through the mirror at its flawed origination. It’s the personification of Lacan’s Ideal-Ego and Ego-Ideal; the Beautiful Me sits politely at the bar making witty conversation with strangers while scoffing at the Ugly Me tramping around the room bumming cigarets, leering at the girlfriends of other guys, and getting into fights. Stirring up all kinds of—

“You all right, there, Marty?” the bartender asks.

“Yeah,” I say through gritted teeth.

“Look a little dazed, that’s all.”

“Naw,” I say, “I’m fine. Thinking about work tomorrow. Another day at the pulpit, you know how it is.”

The bartender laughs and sets up another gin and tonic, the first sip of which nips my parched lips and the rest of which bites at the back of my arid throat, the tonic’s bubbles like a pack of rabid dogs.

Work tomorrow. I sneer. Work. Another day in that infernal hall. Another day at that rotten lectern. Another day preaching lies to the masses. If I’d have known then what I know now, that life in the belly of this dead and bloated institution would be so depressing, I never would have bought those lies all that time ago. Could have broken the cycle. Would have been one less echo in the—

I spot a student across the bar. What’s her name? Millie? Camille? Emily, I think. Cute little thing. Grad student, right? Philosophy? I can’t remember now. These days, they all seem to run together. Our eyes meet, she smiles, and is suddenly on her way over.

“Professor Wilkins?” she asks, beaming.

“The one and only,” I smile, my eyes momentarily dipping down to her cleavage.

“You want another drink?”

“Does a philosopher value opacity?”

She laughs, sits down on the stool next to me, and orders two gin and tonics from the bartender.

My eyes drift lower, down to her denim mini, down to her creamy white thighs. By now, I’ve lost track of which Me sits on this stool, and a hand finds itself on the small of her back. I’m leaning in, close, and filling her ear with disingenuous compliments, really laying it on thick.

“Are you familiar with Lacan’s Graph of Desire?” I ask.

“Vaguely,” she says. “But I’m sure you could fill in the gaps – in my understanding of it, I mean.”

“Of course,” I chuckle, “I’d be glad to. Say, what are you doing next weekend?”

Friday, September 8, 2006

mot juste

So we’ll take this discomfort, then, and give it a new name. A name easily recognisable as something unwanted. A name easily recognisable as something undesirable, something unwished. This silence. This awkward, incommodious silence. It looms suddenly, a dark cloud above us, before falling down and wedging itself into the small space between. This fog, this unwieldy lack of words, this lack of communication – it shall be the death of us. So we’ll take this discomfort, then, and give it a new name.

But what should we call it?

“I can say it again,” he says. “I’m sorry I didn’t show up.” He’s fidgeting, really squirming in his seat. He’s lying. “I just didn’t – didn’t – I had this other thing that I—”

He’s lying, and while he does, I’m left with nothing to say. How does one respond to a boldfaced lie? Resentment? Anger? Fury? None of these things would make any difference – it’s not a lie if it’s a truth to the liar. So we sit, again, in quiet. This dreadful, uncomfortable silence. What should we call it?

“Listen,” I say. “You don’t have to—”

“No,” he says, interrupting, “it’s just that I want you to know that I didn’t forget, that I knew we had a date, but I just had this other thing – you know?”

And we easily slip back into silence. Staring at the table. Picking apart our napkins. Shuffling our feet.

The French probably have a word for it, this silence, them with their words to describe the indescribable. Their déjà vu. Their demimonde. Their avant-garde. The Germans, too, with their feared compound words, the awful German language as Twain dubbed it. Yes, they would have something – and if not, a word could easily be created.

He gives me that smile, and I laugh a little. We’re being silly, of course. There’s nothing wrong here. Our eyes quickly meet and flit away. Dreaded silence melting away to something more innocent.

“Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. “I just want you to call next time you can’t make it.”

He averts his eyes.

We both know that there will be a next time, and we both know that he, again, won’t call. We both know these things, but it seems to not matter at the moment.

So we’ll take this discomfort, then, and give it a new name. A name easily recognisable as something unwanted but something innocent. A name easily recognisable as something undesirable, something unwished, but something unsullied. This silence. This awkward, naïve silence. It emerges suddenly, a gauzy mist above us, before falling down and wedging itself into the small space between. This haze, this unwieldy lack of words, this lack of communiqué – it shall bring us together for the time being. So we’ll take this discomfort, then, and give it a new name. This silence, this façade – we shall have to call it something.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006


“So I told her, I told her, you can’t tell anyone anything about themselves that they don’t already know. I said to her, I asked her, why should he believe you if you call him up with all this garbage about how he’s irresponsible, about how he’s a jerk, about how he could be a better man?” Leon pushes his glasses further up onto his nose before continuing. “If he doesn’t believe these things, if he doesn’t see these things in himself, and, in fact, sees the exact opposite, then her breath is going to be going to waste. That’s what I told her.”

I want to tell him to stop. I want to tell him just to stop talking, to take a break, to have a few gulps of that beer instead of sloshing it around all over the table. Goddamn hand talkers. Goddamn beer wasters. Goddamn time stealers.

“So, I’m telling her all of this, and she’s just telling me all of this other stuff about how he thinks he’s this and he thinks he’s that, and I tell her—”

The bartender catches my eye, clocking my agony, really recognising my annoyance, and shoots me a smirk. He knows. Leon and I have been coming here for years, financing the place with our debauchery, and he knows all about Leon’s wanton verbosity. Makes me wish we were at our usual spots, hunched over the bar, side by side, bullshitting - least then I’d have the bartender to save me from this torrent of talk. But he had to talk to me about something, he said. Something private.

“He’s not going to believe it, you know? I told her that flat-out. If a man doesn’t see in himself the flaw that another is pointing out, then why should he believe it?”

I offer up a little shrug and a bit of a smile while dabbing at my temples with the corner of a napkin. I run my hand through my hair. Take a sip of my beer.

“I said to her, you’re going to point this out, expecting him to see it, too, and he’s just going to think you’re being a bitch. He doesn’t think he’s irresponsible, he doesn’t think—”

He doesn’t think – and that’s the problem. Leon doesn’t think of himself as a long-winded bore, so there’s no need to tell him that he is one. His theory is correct, but his delivery is a little lacking in pizzazz. Lacks that zing. That zest. That dynamism. Too many words to express a single thought. I listen, and as I do so, a smile creeps. Here’s Leon, before me, proving his own theory through his own actions.

“—wasting her breath,” he says.

And I desperately want to waste my breath, too. I want to tell him he’s an egotistical bore, a real drip. I want to throw the word soporific out there. I want to tell him he’s grating. I want to, but I won’t. After all, you can’t tell anyone anything about themselves that they don’t already know.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

faux fur and fishnet stockings

Everyone here’s on their way to checking out. They’ve had their little trip. Bags sit, packed, on unmade beds. There’s the cursory glance around a half-lit room to check for the inevitable – something potentially left behind. Nothing found. Short trip, now, to the front desk down dimly lit hallways, feet treading on threadbare carpet. An anxious glance behind. Tense. Hands clench.

Who sees more than a bartender? Years piled on top of years. Hours poured, the last ounce from an empty bottle. Minutes rung from a terrycloth towel. Glassware clean and sparkling, lined up in brass racks above. A veritable wall of booze behind. The crystal clean bite of a good gin. The warm amber of an aged whiskey. The top shelf where only the bravest dare to venture. Who sees more than a bartender? Not many. In here, the world is easily divided into two types of people. Me and everyone else.

Before me, the usual row of sad sacks and schlemiels. Snakebitten duds and luckless losers. Underdogs and also-rans. Good old Clive, right there in front. Civil servant and non-starter, his eyes rarely move from the newspaper before him, page always turned to the financial section. Gus and Leon down the way. Critic and washed-up filmmaker, together at last. Words fly, as words are wont to do, on drunken pomposity and dirty wings.

Emily, leaning through the regulars, chockfull of studenty potential, face radiant with the glow of an ever distant future, turns up the charm as she produces another folded twenty from her purse. I’m over in one second flat, pushing another bottle of brew across the bar.

“Still waiting, eh?” I ask.

She just smiles. She smiles through it, stood-up again by the jerk she’s dating.

I’m reaching for that twenty, and as I make change, instinctively sliding my tip into the spill tray, my eyes flit to the end of the bar where a stranger’s setting up shop. Bottle blonde and bogus bust. Faux fur, fishnet stockings, and a fake Fendi purse. That type - you know the one. Always selling some kind of image. Looking for just one more look.

The boys at the bar have taken notice, and I watch, bemused, as they try not to. Try to be civilised. Try to be just a little discreet. Distracted, conversation goes astray, and Leon’s left to clean his glasses on his shirt while Gus runs a thick hand over his immaculate comb-over. Clive’s eyes dance down the stock columns, unable to read a line, until he can’t take it anymore and cocks his head, staring at the beast balanced on a stool at the far end of the bar.

“Don’t worry,” I tell him, sotto voce, “I’ll handle ‘er.” I smile and zip away.

Within seconds, I’m leaning across the bar, breathing in cheap perfume and second-hand smoke. Drugstore shampoo and cherry lip-gloss.

“Manhattan,” she purrs, producing a hundred from the folds of her faux fur coat.

“I can’t break that,” I tell her, matter-of-factly. “Got anything smaller?”

She smirks and reaches into her fake Fendi, producing a five.

“Better,” I smile, snatching the bill from her hand.

I set up the drink, and slide the glass across the bar along with her change, which the wannabe socialite promptly waves away as though she can easily afford to do without. Instinctively sliding my tip into the spill tray, I move on to tending to the lemon slices before being called over by a thirsty Leon.

“Another?” I ask.

“How about a couple,” he says. “Got another coming by in five. You remember Casey?”

I do. Another lost soul wandering alone down a darkening corridor. Yes, everyone here’s on their way to checking out. Whether they’ve been here for a quarter century or it’s their fist fifteen minutes, they’re on their way out the door. It’s universal. Inevitable. Unalterable. They’re all handing in their keys one shot, one highball, one pint at a time. I’m just here to make sure their checkout goes smoothly.

Friday, September 1, 2006


I am an archive,
a lonely monument to the past-
watch me deteriorate.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

airport dreams

Woke to dreams of political intrigue played out in the discothèques of a post-war Russia. Dreams of conspiracy and subtle manoeuvring, a crafty wrenching of one man’s life into the lives of others. Not so much a wrenching as it was a tinkering, gentle coercing, a tender coaxing. The difference between working with a tiny set of jeweller’s tools rather than the mammoth wrenches of an airplane mechanic. All of this action set to the vacuous beat of some nameless DJ’s uninspired soundtrack. Little more than Muzak. That background noise transmitted over the telephone to the ears of the on-hold. That filler to take the place of the dead silence of an elevator. That gormless tune played over the inferior speakers of an airport waiting area.

Dear god. I had drifted off, only to awake, once more, to find myself still curled into the tiny, unforgiving, plastic chair of an airport waiting area. Same insipid song playing. Same faceless waitees beside me. Same ache in my back. What is there to say about airports? Nothing that hasn’t been said before, I’m sure. Cold and utilitarian. Sterile, but not. Everything built with functionality in mind while creativity was left by the wayside. Shrines to the uninventive. More a sepulchre, perhaps, for the staleness of one architect’s unimaginings.

An already draining experience is made only more draining by the soul sucking environment one is steeped in while resting in stasis within the purgatory of the airport. Boredom is bloated. Anxiety is augmented. Loneliness amplified. I took a sip of substandard coffee from a cheap paper cup. Leafed through some pages of notes I had been taking before the collapse. Soon found myself out of my chair, clinging desperately to the plastic handset of a payphone. Dialled the number of an ex just for the hell of it.

Two hours more, and I had explored every explorable deplorable inch of that colourless structure. Spelunked through the yawning caverns of the souvenir shops. Reconnoitred the vast stretches of the duty-free stores. Traversed the wilds of the food courts. I was ready to board. And I was ready to be bored on a whole other level - for the wan surroundings of an airport do not even begin to compare with the totally bland interior of an airplane. There, once past the invasive searches and accusing eyes of security, I would be subjected to a higher plane of boredom. Films of yesteryear, screened for our mental safety. Tasteless gin. Poor company.

There, hunched into that polyester clad, stain resistant seat, I would fall asleep to troubling dreams of cursors blinking and untyped pages. Unwritten stories and things I have yet to check off on my ever lengthening to-do list. Subjected to horrifying nightmares of demonic robots giving chase, all glowing, red eyes and sooty, black breath. Forever running and getting caught. No leg room. Screaming babies.

Eyes will open to headache inducing yellow light. Panicked lungs filled with fake, opaque air. The grotesquery of a stewardess’s counterfeit smile. Somewhere, my ears will pick up the soothing manufactured melody of a piece of piped-in Muzak. On the wings of these artificial notes, consciousness will give way to unconsciousness, and the adventure of a clandestine cybernetics smuggling operation played out in the glittering future world of a pre-disaster France. All will be well for awhile. Packed into a steel tube. Hurtling through the blue, blue sky. Going elsewhere. Always elsewhere.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

anamnesis in minor (canada, and memories of)

Who was she, then, sunbathing on that southern beach beneath a hungry, orange sun? Lying tummy down, top untied with bronze back glistening, hair piled up. Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker lay open before her, nearly forgotten, pages absently flipping on the fingers of a warm breeze. And what was it the breeze searched for over her shoulder? Which Walk did it seek? Just as Rousseau was able to find a haven in nature from the fickle, if not outright nasty, human world, so, too, did she on that day. Fingers trailing in soft white sand, sun hot on the back of her neck, mind a mere 93 million miles away.

“We don’t have to leave, you know.”

I heard her, barely, but there was no response to be offered.

“We can stay right here,” she said, her words little more than a mumble lost in the crashing of the Great Lake’s waves.

I pressed my feet further into the hot sand, jaw clenching. NK could do that to me.

“No-one to bother us,” she continued, “no-one to get in our way.”

I opened my mouth to speak, only to close it again. Mind change. I pushed the sunglasses further up onto the bridge of my nose, just for something to do.

Who was she, then, walking across campus in the inspiring cool of autumn? Great, felt coat wrapped around her, plaid scarf warming neck, furry, black hat pulled down low onto ears. I carried her books for her, just like the boys did so long ago. That scarf, I thought. Nuzzled up to creamy white, strawberry scented skin. Embracing her. Protecting her. That lucky, lucky scarf. JE could do that to me. Drive me right out of mind, right out of my senses. We walked, warm shoes clicking on old cobblestones, past the engineering building, past the annex, past the library. Cool breeze nearly breaching the upturned collar of my loden coat.

“We could leave, you know.” I said this, knowing full well that she really couldn’t.

“Right now?” she laughed. “And where would we go?”

“We’ll dump these books and head north to T______. Find a little café with a nice stone fireplace. Sit reading to each other from the new journals until they kick us out—”

“You’re being silly.”

“All right, then,” I said, wrapping my coat tighter around me. “We’ll take a little drive south until we find a suitable honky-tonk. Drink cheap draught until we’re walking all crooked. You can teach me how to two-step—”

“Really now, that’s even more ridiculous! I’ve a class in twenty minutes – my students are likely showing up already.”

“Keeners, eh? Just throwing some options out there,” I quipped. “How long have you been stuck on this campus, anyway? Between student life and—”

“A decade, at least. A lifetime? I don’t know,” she shrugged.

“What did Bacon say of studies?” I asked, arching an eyebrow with some dramatics.

“I don’t know – what?”

“To spend too much time in studies, is sloth.”

JE smirked. “I’d have to read the work to understand the context.”

I laughed. “You’re hopeless – but I love you anyway.”

Who were they, then, these women, these indefatigable memories? Little more than reminiscences cut from the satiny, star flecked cloth of experience. Pasted on the gossamer paper of mind. Bound between the worn covers of this illusory scrapbook. Strong women, obviously, for who else could so easily traverse the wilds of time? Independent women, apparently, for what other type could make such a deadly lonesome journey from past to present seem so effortless? And they would keep coming. Lying in my bed at night, I would often be visited by their spectral visages, their haunting, lingering voices.

“You could leave, you know.” Her voice, a whisper in the dark.

“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve responsibilities now – anchored, like.”

“No-one to bother us,” she continued, “no-one to get in our way—”

“Oh,” I interjected, “I can think of a few people who would get in our way.”

“We’ll take a little drive south until we find—”

“No!” I shouted angrily through the dark. “Responsibility aside, there’s accountability! Answerability! Liability, even!”

“Liability? Really?”

“Well,” I blushed, “it just sounded good.”

“You haven’t changed have you.”

“No,” I mumbled, rolling over and pulling my blankets up over my head. “I guess some things never do.”

Friday, August 4, 2006

the old man's promise (russia, and memories of)

Time yawned, stretching its weary arms from the comfort of a hammock strung between the crinkles in an old man's aged eyes. We had met the old man, the inn's proprietor, in the inn's tavern on that first wintry night in Moscow. The tavern empty but for DB and I, the greyish old man invited us to sit with him at an elderly table in a forgotten corner of the bar. Being guests to his country, we could find no easy way to decline; so, the old man set down a bottle before us, along with four smudged glasses.

"I promise," he said, sitting down, staring at us intently across the table from behind his grizzled beard. He roughly opened the bottle of vodka to make his point. "I am a man of my word."

DB and I looked at each other sceptically.

The old man went on. "SK, my granddaughter, she has a way of knowing," he said, carelessly tossing the bottle cap across the room. "She has a way of knowing the future."

DB smirked, and snorted, "Impossible," while the old man set up our drinks.

"Oh, quite the opposite," the old man rejoined, his dark eyes stealing through the lamplight. "Very possible, in fact. My grandfather, her great-great, was chased out of Hungary by a fearful lot after he was found to be in possession of divining paraphernalia. His son, my father, SK's great-grandfather, bought his life and freedom from the concentration camps by secretly reading the futures of his Nazi captors. After the war, he fled to Russia where he met my mother, the daughter of a cobbler."

"And you?" DB asked. "Are you in cahoots with the future, as well?"

"Me? Not so much, no," the old man said with a dismissive wave of his wrinkled, liver-spotted hand. "Weak blood, you know how it is."

I fidgeted in my chair, made suddenly uncomfortable by all that talk of prognostication. The freezing wind pushed against the small, rattling windowpanes beside us, sending flurries of oversized snowflakes whipping chaotically at the glass.

"And where might one find Savka?" I asked, taking a nervous sip of strong vodka.

"There are some things you wish to know, yes?" The old man asked, smiling.

"Who doesn't wish to know what the future has in store for them?" I snipped, defensive.

"Not me," DB replied. "I'm more than happy to wait out the storm."

"Your friend here is not a very good liar," the old man joked, thumbing towards DB. "Anyway, to answer your question, my friend – SK and her good-for-nothing husband keep a penthouse in the Sadovoye Koltso. She's done quite well for herself, you know."

"Well, how can you not do well for yourself when you can see the future?" I said. "Talk about your safe bets."

"I suppose, hey?" the old man shrugged, gulping back half his glass. "So, where's the third?"

I looked confusedly to DB and then back to the old man. "The third what?" I asked, perplexed.

"My daughter told me I would be visited by a group of three foreigners on this night," he said, clinking his glass to the extra one he had earlier set on the table, "yet I see only two sitting before me."

DB laughed. "I'm telling you—"

At that moment, the front door opened, and SA tramped in with a blast of cold air and a whirl of snow.

"Right miserable out there!" he exclaimed, stomping towards us across the worn floorboards.

The old man smiled, and set up another drink. "Welcome to Russia!" he cried out, genially.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

the right time (europe, and memories of)

An old cobblestoned quarter in Vienna, luxe-bohemian, a little too trendy for my liking. The type of scene that never fails to make me feel a little awkward, a little out of my element, all touristy inside.

Turning down a narrow side street, claustrophobic, devoid of natural lighting, depressing, with just a touch of the suicidal, my feet walked towards our predetermined meeting place, a little café tucked away beyond a crumbling stone vestibule. Little more than a walk-in closet, really. I noticed her hair at first, auburn and long, hanging down about petite shoulders.

"La police, ne t'a pas encore trouvé?" she asked on first seeing me. NK smiled big, stood up, and wrapped her slender arms around me. She was so small, I felt as though I might have been hugging air.

"That's some greeting," I whispered in her ear.

"You are a wanted man, yes?" she asked playfully.

"By some people, I suppose," I acquiesced, and draped my loden coat over a tiny chair at the tiny table. "So, you've been reading Mirbeau?"

"Yes," she said, "Le Jardin des supplices, but how did you-"

"Oh, you've that look about you," I said, "like you've been flogged by a thick branch of solid pessimism."


"No, not really," I laughed. "You mentioned it in your last email."

An unnecessarily standoffish waitress came over, tiny, dark eyes, and stiff, irritable lips. NK and I cast an uneasy glance across the table at one another, before finding the courage to order.

"A croissant for me, thank you, and a cup of your strongest coffee," I said, adding, "I'm a little on the hungover side today."

"Today!" NK scoffed. "Try everyday," and she turned to face the waitress, quickly asking, "Parlez-vous français?"

The waitress smirked, then snorted, "Oui."

"Une café au lait s’il vous plaît," NK perkily responded, smiling.

"Con piacere."

I waited until the waitress had turned on her heel, stalked behind the bar, and was out of earshot, before I leaned across the table and jocundly demanded, "Why not just order in English? Italian, even!"

"It's a French drink," she coyly replied.

"It's called the same in English! You would have got what you ordered either way!" I exclaimed. "And why not just have the milk put in it? It's going to wind up there anyway."

"I like to add it as I go," NK shrugged, "different amounts of milk at different times during the drinking process depending on my state of mind. And you," she accused, pointing at me across the table, "you should know better than to order a croissant outside of France."

"But the Viennese make perfectly fine pastries!" I protested.

"Pastries, yes, but you'll never find a better croissant than a French one."

We argued like that until the afternoon grew into evening, and it came time for me to go and meet SA and DB. In an old cobblestoned quarter in Vienna, luxe-bohemian, a little too trendy for my liking, I sat at a diminutive table arguing with a willowy young woman about all things from art to life and everything in between. But schedules must be adhered to and I had a train to catch. I would see her again, to be sure, but not for awhile, and nowhere near that place.

Standing, we offered each other a hug in the vestibule, and I held her close, my face buried in her hair, auburn and long, hanging down about petite shoulders. We broke, and I stood back to get a good look at her face.

"Bonsoir, my dear," I said. "See you again soon."

"A presto," she smiled, her eyes dancing mischievously. And with that, she turned and walked away, new heels clicking down an old cobblestoned alley.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

trapped in mind

More yielding than assentive. More submissive than yielding. More acquiescent than submissive. Acquiescent; yes, that's the word. Thrown from the back of my throat, bounced off the top of my tongue, and squeezed out through the teeth, the word lands on the table between us, and we both stare, shocked, as though it were the rotting corpse of a dead trout.

"You have the gall to say that I, me, that I am acquiescent? I don't know if the word means the same as it did last time I used it, but I seem to recall it meaning something along the lines of 'willing to carry out the orders of another without protest'? Is that what you think? That I'll just go along with anything?"

Flies buzz. The carrion festers on the table between us like so much dead meat. Silent, I raise my eyebrows, and my pint to my lips. Not much to say when I'm right; no need to underline a fact. I wince almost imperceptibly as the acrid Japanese beer scores the back of throat, this same throat which recently managed to disgorge the diseased carcass before us. This caustic beer, antiseptic - I take another sip.

"You're telling me that you think perhaps there was some kind of choice? That perhaps I could have just gone another way, done another thing? That there even is another way? You don't know-"

You'll keep talking. You'll keep talking until you believe these things you say. Until all of these lies turn to truths. You'll turn from mere acceptor to believer. From convert to devotee. From doctrinaire to dogmatist. Yes, you'll keep talking until you believe your self. But, if there's one thing I've learnt in life, it's that while you may be able to lie to your self, you'll never be able to lie to your best friends. We'll see right through it.

"Another way! There is no other way! Pursuit of empty goals. Chasing meaningless dreams. All a man needs is-"


Apparently, all a man needs is acquiescence. Yes, all a man needs is to have the ability to believe unthinkingly. The resourcefulness to follow. A keen desire to find comfort in the echo chamber, and a need to make a home there. All you need is to finally make that jump from proselyte to prophet. To cross that nonexistent bridge between nothing and nowhere.

Acquiescent. A stench rises as the corpse begins to suppurate, its decaying flesh rotting and cracking, releasing streams of yellow-green puss. I catch the waitresses eye, and consider asking for cutlery. Delicious antagonism - I've a heaping plate of it before me.

You continue your rant, and as you do so, your voice fades into silence. Your lips move, but you're saying nothing, and I lift my eyes to the window beyond your shoulder. Clouds are rolling in, turning the afternoon sky from brilliant blue to dull grey - but it's all the same in here: a smoky haze and nicotine stained lamps, the fading wallpaper of decades gone by, books as ornaments high up on crumbling shelves. Years upon years of bullshit; not a shovel in sight.

Monday, July 3, 2006

what you do to me

Why write? Nothing more than a little exercise in bridging the gap between what is real and what is not, what has happened and what never will, things actually done and things only dreamt. It's a short step from possible to impossible, but a step that will not, no, can not ever be undertaken by anybody - except in writing. It is for this reason that a writer writes: to experience unreality, to live the unliveable, to wake in a dream. To take that step.

My foot falters.

I am haunted. Tormented by this great asomatous beast forever on the horizon. A beast I do not run from, but instead run towards. I am a hunter; my game, plot. I wish to capture it, encage it in a prison of black and white words, put it on display for the whole world to see. And if I can't take it alive, I'll take it dead. On the wall of my study, a trophy, this monster's taxidermied head.

"Why write?"

I listen to the clink, clink, clinking of your coffee spoon, while searching for an answer in the swirl of cream in your cup. You wait for my words, brushing aside a lock of blonde. Then, your painted lips part, as if to speak again - but I can't let that happen.

"Because," I say. "Because I have things that need saying, and the only way to say them is to write them." There is a better answer, I know, but somehow I just can not put it into words. My gaze turns, instead, to the café window as if what I search for lurks out there in the street.

"And if you don't?"

"Pardon me?"

"What if you don't write?" you ask, taking a sip of steaming coffee. "What if you do something else instead? There are things that pay better, you know."

"If I don't write them," I say, "if I don't get these thoughts onto paper, then they bouce around in my head, and things get all muddled up in there." I pause briefly to root around in my pocket, looking for change. "And trust me - you don't want that. By the way, how much for mine?"

"Don't worry about it - get me back next time."

"Thanks," I say. "Listen, I've got to run. Call you later."

I'm in a hurry now, weaving between the tables towards the front door. Close, now, to the outside. Close, now, to an idea. Growing faint. In one motion, my hand is pushing open the door, and I'm about to step through, when I'm suddenly blinded by the midday sun. I'm just about to cross the threshold when

my foot falters.

Row upon row of polished oak pews, they sit, forever transfixed. Transfixed, because they found another to guide them. Transfixed, because they found someone to interpret Those Pages for them. Transfixed, because they saw the future reflected in his three hundred dollar gold-rimmed shades. In this old worn photo, he leans over the pulpit, all starched white shirt and gleaming epaulettes. He stands, eternally frozen in time, mouth agape, with those brilliant white teeth, in mid proclamation. The choir, having lost their collective voice, stands behind him, silent; everyone waits for the other to make a move. No-one does. Not now. Not ever.

I awake on the dirty sidewalk an indeterminable amount of time later with a crowd of concerned faces around me. You're there. I've been gone maybe seconds, maybe eons, but I'm back now, and you still look the same. A rope of blonde hair lightly brushes my cheek, a soft hand grips my rough one, and in a moment I'm back on unsteady feet, with a bruised shoulder and mangled pride. war wounds.

Injuries sustained during my latest hunting expedition.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The Ego has a nightmare, and wakes up long before I do. He tramps grumpily around the house for awhile waiting for the coffee to percolate, the scent of freshly ground beans teasing his nostrils at every turn. On edge, he chews on his thumbnail while staring vacantly out the front window. Then, summoned by a desperate whinging, he lets the dog out for a piss.

I pass him on the stairs awhile later, and he just looks at me with these dark eyes as if to say, "I'm going back to bed - don't even talk to me." So I don't, and I make my way to the kitchen where I pour myself a cup of coffee, add a little Irish Cream, and sit at the table where I watch the dog sleep by the patio door, her legs kicking and lips curling. Bad dream, I think, and lift my tired eyes to the window.

Downtown in the afternoon beneath overcast skies, I pull my coat around me, its pockets heavy with books. Hegel's Science of Logic and Georg Lukacs' The Theory of the Novel tug at my waist, making their presence known. Striding hurriedly down the street, I'm sipping greedily at a paper cup of cheap coffee, watching people move in and out of buildings like shadows.

We're all ghosts down here, I think. Non-bodies gliding this way and that, spectral entities going about their lonely daily business, the true tragedy of it all being that though they are cut from the same cloth, they possess no conscious knowledge of one another. Rain starts, quickly turning to hail, and I duck into a portico, instantly melding with the stone.

But I can't wait around for long - there's another to meet. Just one bundle of atoms begging to move on, to move on and hook up with another. And these hands. These hands which will so easily forget the mind that they rely on when the waist they're wrapped around is yours.

Walking down the street,
I'm pulled in your direction;
a kind of subatomic coercion,
an extrasensory connexion–

Saturday, June 24, 2006

the experiment

Easily the stupidest thing you've ever done. Soft white walls growing softer and whiter as the shit seeps into your brain. Slow haze and roiling guts, present fiction mixes with past reality forming a virtual psychoaudio collage of indeterminable quality. The angle all wrong, the ceiling stretches to become part of the wall.

No doctors. No, sir. Not me. Doctors are like goddam auto mechanics. Fix one-thing, unplug another...

Ratso. From the other room, fucking Ratso and Joe squawking from the television.

Well, just exactly what the hell you think you're gonna do? Die on me?

I'm going to Florida, that's my only chance.

You know what's wrong with you? You got fevers. You kinky as a bedbug. How you gonna get to Florida?

Are we there yet? Are we fucking there yet? Your shuddering turns to convulsions as you let loose a stream of vomit onto the kitchen floor. Hands and knees now. Steady, old boy - this is just an experiment. You remember how it is right? The sickness will pass. The sickness will

Why are you keeping this?

Jane. Janie, no. Janie's voice rises up from last month, an old conversation crackling out of the ether. A dusty old recording. Analog reel-to-reel.

I thought you were through with that shit...

I just-

What, are you going to start using again?

I just keep my old gear around as a reminder.


It's not really quitting if you never have to resist temptation.

The tape snags, stretches, and snaps, your voices lost in the past, as nausea gives way to bliss. On the edge of Euphoria now; a warm, fuzzy blanket. Almost there. Just push on through.

When I put you on that bus down to Florida tonight, that'll be the happiest day of my life!

There are big, gaping holes in the fabric of time. The clock's hands skip seconds and entire blocks of minutes, jumping and jittering around the face.

You get your first palm tree in South Carolina.

You're telling me you keep this shit around so that you don't use it?

How'n hell a dumb Bronx kid like you know that?

I'm just saying that if I'm never tempted, I'll never know if I can resist-

Where the hell did you get a stupid idea like that?

I read it.

I read it. Saw it in some article about a month ago-

Shee-it. You believe all you read?

And you believe everything you read?


"What have you gotten yourself into, huh?

A mess. A goddamn mess. Treated to a private laser show, the stars explode in the heavens above. Your stomach is rattling the cage door, wanting desperately to vacate its confines.

"If you have to shiver, why don't you pull the blanket up more?"

Hurts. Hurts so bad. There's a pain now, right behind those closed eyes. Eyes as good as welded shut, and a mind that just will not wake up. Want to go. Want to get the fuck-

"Shhh - baby, be quiet, lie still. I'm-"

-out of here.

"-here now. I'm here now. Everything's going to be okay."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

futur parfait

You're little more than a faint voice nearly lost amidst crackling static, a tiny, tiny voice pushing her way through great, jostling, white and black globs of interference. I'm holding my cell phone up to my ear, and squinting through the train window into the gloom.

"I'm sorry dear, but I can barely hear you."

"Je serai-" Fade to fuzz. "-avant que-" squealing dissonance. "-arriviez."

"Pardonnez-moi. Really, now - my reception seems to be almost nil. Can I call you back when I find a more reliable telephone?"

"Je serai-" Urgent now, but this line, as well, deteriorating, crumbling away like those before it.

"Listen, the train is just about to depart. I'll call you right back."

Clicking my phone shut, I'm just about to get up from my seat when the door to my cabin is opened, and in blows a whirlwind of long legs, Luis Vuitton, and platinum hair.

"I'm sorry," she breathes, "I wasn't sure anyone would be in here."

I just stare, partially standing, my mouth agape.

"I think this is the right place is it not?" she asks. "Cabin B-2?"

"Yes," I acknowledge with some apprehension, "but I really wasn't expecting anyone."

"I know, and I hope you're not upset that I'm here," she says before nibbling at her bottom lip. "It does seem, though, that they have gone and overbooked themselves."

"Well, I'm not upset that you, in particular, are here, but I did pay for privacy," I say. "Now I'll have to rearrange my stuff." With that I begin clearing the other seat of my belongings.

"I'm sorry, but is that your phone beeping or mine?"

"It's mine," I say from amidst a great pile of things. Balancing my appurtenances in my arms, I attempt a clumsy gesture for the woman to sit in the newly vacant seat across from me. "Sounds as though I've a message."

All at once, the train lurches to life, there's a little confusion, and the two of us resort to sitting in silence as it gains speed, whisking us from the grey concrete of the platform into the barren yellow countryside. The mammoth machine settled into motion now, we fall into a semblance of relaxation, tranquilised by the droning thrum of steel rolling on steel.

"I'm sorry," I say, offering my hand, "I think we got off to a bad start back there."

She takes my half smile, making it her own, and takes my hand as well, shaking it gently.

"It's perfectly fine. Understandable, even. My name's-"

There's another beep from my phone.

"I think you're still beeping," the woman says, with a chuckle.

"Yes," I smile, "you'll have to excuse me while I check my messages."

Phone pressed to ear once again, I hear your voice now, clear as ever.

"Je serai parti avant que vous arriviez. J'expliquerai plus tard pourquoi."

I click my phone shut.

"Something the matter?" the woman asks.

"Seems as though I'm on a train to nowhere," I say.

She just looks quizzically, unsure of what to say.

"So, where are you off to?" I ask. "Maybe we're going the same way."

Friday, June 16, 2006

futur proche

There is one question on the mind, and yet a whole host of letters waiting to be hammered onto screen by eager little fingers. Vocalisation, those words sung from another room, forcing a disconnect between that which is thought and that which might soon be writ; ideas not yet formed into words, interrupted, instead, by incessant half-threats.

"Je vais partir!"

How long will she wait? In my mind, there is an image of the impending paragraph; a photograph of an idea, I suppose. I know the number of lines this future paragraph is going to be composed of, and even the number of words in each line. There will be no waste, no unnecessary words, because such verbosity is intolerable, even inexcusable. No, there will be no waste, because such waste is not only supererogatory, but actually totally impossible. After all, an author is not actually capable of writing more words than is required to express an idea of his or her own.

"Je vais partir!"

How long, how long? The singsongy tone lost, and replaced, instead, by breathless fervency. Exasperation? She's going to leave, yes, but when, and will I be with her? At which point does the immediate future happen? When threat becomes reality. When the bolt is undone, door is opened, when threatener crosses the threshold and threatenee is left behind. It is at this point that she will walk arm in arm with the Present across the threshold, and the Future will slip inside, unnoticed, through the closing door.

"Je vais-"

"Just a minute, please."

The Future waits just on the other side of that door, an unwanted guest longing to breach the peace of my house. I hear, now, its hand rattling the exterior doorknob, and I'm out of my chair, running down the hall.

"Just a second! I'll be there!"

A head full of ideas, but not a single one transcribed. Frustration. To see life, to truly see life, to understand life at all, will bring about a yearning to make art of it. Will give birth to a restless desire to copy it. Could very probably hurt one psychologically to some degree. Truth through rose-coloured glasses; writing's just the price I pay.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

futur simple

How can the Future endure us? It sits, waiting patiently, in a small café outside of time, outside of mind. But the Future is never bored. No. In fact, the Future, right now, flirts unabashedly with a barista while sipping from a cup of strong Turkish coffee.

"Explain the weird taste in drinks," she says.

"It's simple, really," the Future replies. "Unlike your common, vastly inferior percolated coffee, this coffee takes time and effort to make. Listen to me now: the freshest of roasted beans ground so fine so as to be almost powder; an easily dissolvable, but equally tasty sugar - my personal favourite being blanco directo; filtered water; fresh cardamom. All of this is mashed together and boiled three times with time to cool in between." The Future closes its eyes for a moment, taking a sip, savouring the taste. "See, this relatively lengthy process cultivates not only the best tasting coffee, an unparalleled gustatory enjoyment, but a sense of satisfaction as well. And you will certainly appreciate the effort spent - you will have no choice."

The barista rolls her eyes. "You should write commercials," she suggests.

"Perhaps something for the future."

"That reminds me - you know what else Turkish coffee is good for?" the barista asks.


"Tasseography; a form of fortune telling. The Turks read their futures in the grounds left at the bottom of their coffee cups."

At this, the Future just smirks and stares at the waitress for a moment. "Come on..." it says, "who do you think you're talking to here?"

Smiling sheepishly, the barista blushes and mutters an apology.


"How can the Future endure us?" I ask, taking a brief sip from my Turkish coffee. "It knows not what or who it is waiting for, but it waits for us all the same. Twiddling its thumbs. Lying on the sofa with a television remote in one hand and a domestic beer in the other."

"I'm really curious," the barista starts. "Why do you suppose it is that you're so stuck on this idea of the Future as such a passive entity?"

"What other life is there for it?" I ask.

"I suppose one could go another route, she says, "and suppose that the Future is an obsessed collector. Cataloguing. Creating databases. Constantly researching. You know, taking an active part in its own neurosis."

"I don't know if I'm sold."

"Or maybe," she says, "it's a narcissist. A misogynist. A megalomaniac. Perhaps all of the above."

"Perhaps," I say, "but for now, it waits - I've no reason to believe otherwise."

"Vous changerez," she tells me. "You, too, will change."

And I've no reason to disbelieve her.

"Tell me," she says, "have you heard of tasseography?"