I finish my £8.30 and head for where I used to live. Why? I’ve started writing now, I might as well go. It’s an ex-council block. East London thick brick. Rubicon cans on the stairwell, faulty lifts. A kid called Abdi that tries to sell you weed every time you see him, even though you tell him that you don’t smoke weed. It was him that I thought I saw walking past the pub. He’s got a dog. He told me that it is was rare for a Bengali to have a dog. I wonder if he’s still here?
My vacation condo’s washer/dryer combination is tiny and inefficient, so I launder my comforters ten miles away at the decrepit Maple Fuels Wash-a-Ton. The old-school machines don’t take credit cards, only quarters. It takes a lot of quarters to wash a pile of gamey comforters. Since my mortgage and HOA fees are high, I have to rent my place to overnighters through Air Bnb. The guests are often careless, spilling wine and body fluids willy-nilly on the bedclothes.
He slashed at me a few times – I can’t say for certain how close he got, but when you can feel the air move because of the swipe, the blade is too close – but mostly he stood in place making these hesitant jerking jabs. He kept saying, “Come on, I’ll stab you. Come on”, as if it were somehow my responsibility to move closer to him. Perhaps that’s the way things work, I don’t know, this was my first knife fight, and frankly it was a bit unfair, I didn’t have a knife.
So far, complex titles ranging from the heart wrenching narratives of Baldwin to the mind-expanding prose of LeGuin have been met with such turns of phrase as ‘it was alright’ or ‘it was good’. Now, given that the English language is prone to the kind of linguistic flare afforded to it by an unequalled vocabulary and system of expressions, I feel I could do more justice to these totemic works of literature than my long-suffering missus has hitherto been privy. Clear? Then on with the show.
I have given up so many times, thought I had hit absolute rock bottom, but after this morning I want only to cry, just cry, Lord please let me just cry. I want that great, cleansing, belly-shaking rain of tears that I had wished would come for depressed Cassie, but I can’t. I can’t cry. I try to bring something up from deep in my chest but nothing comes. I realize now that ghosts have no bodily fluids. Tears, blood, semen, sweat; these are the province of the living.
From a global perspective, living in a world in which absolutely nobody seems to be able to agree on anything, it is in fact quite reassuring that one thing in life remains unilaterally recognised. I’m not referring to the the Geneva Convention or the Unilateral Declaration of Human Rights, fated as these are by the capriciousness of feckless dictators and ardent populists. No, the world can tear itself to bits, yet one thing will remain constant, from Santiago to Sydney, that being that the referee is, and has always been, a wanker.
The centre of town burns, the fires of the barricades rise until late at night. Seen from above the city recalls scenes from its past, when Barcelona gained the nickname of Rosa de Foc. But we are in 2019, a time when political dissent is intertwined with late capitalist tendencies, and indeed you can see Glovo’s workers diligently darting around the front of a barricade fire. Because in the burning city there are those who do not give up ordering sushi at home.
But the metamorphosis deepened, and I became the most frightening apparition of all: the man who really was a dog. All human perspective was gone now. I was a tall dog standing on its hind legs, teetering close to traffic. This was serious. I could bolt into an oncoming car, or nip a passerby in my confusion. I looked around me at the world of people, orderly for them but incomprehensible to me.
Jonah stares over my shoulder, suddenly quiet. He holds his coffee close to his mouth but doesn’t drink. He looks troubled by something, like he’s made the worst decision of his life. I don’t know what to say so I just stare at the girls’ table, at Lindsey stealing glances at us and laughing with the others like we’re in the high school lunchroom instead of being locked in a mental hospital, in some story we don’t fully understand but know will define and direct the course of the rest of our lives.
I guess they’re the kind of lyrics most songwriters would use as a place-holder before coming up with something more universal and generic. Apparently the Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ was originally about bacon and eggs, but obviously McCartney decided to change the words to something more commercially viable. Thankfully commercial viability isn’t something I need to worry about. And for me, at least, I still find the lyrics quite meaningful as they are.
The inside of a new 80.000 ton bulk carrier was to put it mildly, a very religious experience. To go from the coffins of Castle Dracula, in driving snow, with a temperature hitting minus 25 Degrees, into a vast silent cathedral-like environment, had a profound effect on me. It was a place of bright bright lights and dark dark places. I suppose, with the scaffolding and the hanging lights it could also have been mistaken for some enormous Egyptian tomb excavation.
I sit up in bed with my hand over my eyes. The shards of sunlight, shining through the open window and the scream of a scooter from the street below make me wince. Through my fingers the black and white poster of the singer Morrissey looks down on me with pity from the bedroom wall. I return the look with remorse and regret.
You didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by smoking in front of her, or subject her to secondhand fumes. You huddled in your bedroom with your stash, emerging when the coast was clear. Still, the smell should have been a tip-off. Not to mention your red eyes and dilated pupils.
The Magic Bus stopped for no man as it sped across Europe, heading for Amsterdam. In Yugoslavia, it was changing Drachmas for Dinars time. My memory of the journey through Yugoslavia, is a rainy wind swept communist country. Pretty backward, with kid soldiers, wearing the worst looking ill-fitting uniforms you can imagine. These kids had guns, so it was scary when they went through the bus.
To commemorate the centennial of Degas’s death (1917), many books were published and shows were held. In London, The National Gallery show “Drawn in Colour” was organised in conjunction with it and with the marvellous opportunity to include works from the Burrell collection. I visited together with Dr. Penny Florence (Slade) and as we both come from a different background, our conversation in front of the paintings spurred new insights and encouraged me to write about Degas’s work, the way I see it.
And so I often find myself wandering through a hollow house alone, as he adventures to the tool sheds in the far corner of a backyard. I sift through the trinkets, the decorated knives, commemorative postcards, and wonder – who held these before me? I find a binder full to bursting with buttons of all types and sizes and colors. What hands carefully sewed each into place?
Lesson learned. When dealing with the Island Greeks, they’re lovely people, but they’ll take you to the cleaners given half a chance. This deflated our egos for a few nanoseconds. We saw a family out back refilling plastic water bottles from a well. If the silly tourists want bottled water, we’ll sell them bottled water. This was the Greek idea of keeping the tourists happy.
I mean, even the first time round, who the actual fuck was Alice? And who cared about living next door to her? I’m not very good at either listening to or remembering pop lyrics, but even without knowing any of the rest of them, I understood that it was a song about the girl next door. But rock stars didn’t want the girl next door, did they? They got on planes and travelled, got off, collected all that gear, got into vans and disappeared up the road, in search of more glamorous girls.
But the market wasn’t just a place to buy and sell, it was a meeting place for grownups, filled with chittering and chattering. It was the weekly news update in a pre-Facebook era; the who married who, and the who got who pregnant; and the biggest scandal on everybody’s lips, was the waiting times at the doctor’s surgery. I loved seeing my wee Ma’, surrounded by friends, super animated and smiling; this, I guess, was how she nourished her mind.
Down on terra firma, it’s my turn to pass through the weathered red, flaking door and into the gloom. The entrance is a small and, currently crowded, five metre square. Despite the doors being open, there is a musty, damp smell which overwhelms the huge spray of carnations, roses and lilies on top of the near empty mahogany bookcase in the corner. I am handed the white order of service by a faceless man and then it’s my turn to whisper clichéd condolences to two men, one of whom I know very well, the other I have never met.
Twenty-nine years ago I was an off-off Broadway playwright clerking in a chi-chi toy store for grown ups on the Upper West Side when in walks Robin Williams. I was speechless. He smiled and nodded at me before exploring the various aisles. I knew he was in rehearsal at Lincoln Center for Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting For Godot, so as I sneaked peaks at his inspection of the store, I tried to think of what I would say to him should he approach my register.
Folk music, formerly the prerogative of ale-swilling beardies, is now cool, a bit like smashed avocado and Swedish backpacks. What happened to the old scene? Where are the pork scratchings? What happened to ‘Dirty Old Town’ gurgled into a pint glass for single figure audiences?
After each practice, I would get out that Glovoleum and tenderly apply it to the mitt. Somewhere in my heart, I knew I was out of step, that this love for playing baseball would have to stop at some point. All us girls were approaching adolescence. The social pressures to be girly and adapt to the cultural norms were overwhelming.