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.