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Intelligence is not wisdom. Knowledge is not
Aikido was easily the most demanding of all the martial arts I’d dabbled with. I was initially sceptical of the claim that an opponent’s power can be turned against him – or her – most effectively by non-resistance; by encouraging,
the assailant’s momentum. Then one day I caught the blow precisely as I sidestepped, and drew it on and past me in one smooth, circular motion, and he hit the mat with an incredible force that
had not imparted to his onrushing body.
I’m smiling as I read and remember.
You could laugh or cry. You laugh at the same old nonsense being spouted by the earnest youth discussing his band. You probably
to cry at the realization that your reaction is just another cliché – the sneering “been there, done that” of the middle-aged... but you laugh, for now.
“Fuck, dude, it’s like... so fucking...like... there’s no fucking
anymore! You know?”
You imagine whispering in his oh-so-predictably pierced ear.
“Rejoice, dude! ‘No Scene’ is the fertile compost in which true originality can flower!”
You find that, like, so, like, fucking funny, you know? Dude?
It is never completely dark. Sodium yellow seeps in front and back, yet paints the room moonlight blue: some weird colour-mixing thing, the pale walls a palette.
It is never silent. The Heath Robinson plumbing spits, hisses and knocks; the ancient, dust-encrusted AC growls in constant combat with the unseasonally-active heating; incoherent yells from pre-dawn drunks; nocturnal denizens of the 24-hour convenience store over the road; the sudden whack of trucks and semis hitting the ruts and bumps at all hours.
My empty London flat is pitch dark and silent.
Williamsburg, 3:30 am. Awake. Happy.
The view from the 103rd floor was spectacular on that bright blue day, but she did not stop to admire it. It was too familiar. Everything was too familiar until the first plane hit the north tower. Instinct and common sense drove her to the stairs and she’d reached the 71st floor before the announcement came that the tower was secure and staff could return to their desks. She considered briefly, and returned.
That moment. That monstrous fulcrum. That terrible decision.
Thirty minutes later she called her husband from the 103rd floor to say goodbye. The view was black smoke.
Contact. Tracking through life like a rogue body. Sometimes an asteroid: unwittingly pinballing from bumper to rollover, bounced by forces beyond your control. Other times a vessel: dirigible. Engines firing, an illusion of control. That dog’s mouth may remain silent; it may open and bark; it may close on your vulnerable flesh. That man’s fist may relax to shake your hand; it may tighten to drive into your jaw. That woman’s lips may press together in distaste; may part to emit vituperation or kindness; may kiss you, blow you. More likely they will smile thinly and she will move on.
Man down on East 14th Street. He’s on all fours, a straw-headed scarecrow abasing himself before some harsh deity only he can see. Every few seconds a sharp spasm jolts his body, his back arches like a cornered cat and he barks like a kicked dog. A wet patch of uncertain colour and origin shines on the pavement directly beneath his pain-crushed face.
A woman hurries her small child past the ragged wreck in a wide arc. The child stares at him, round-eyed, with an expression of fearful curiosity but no discernible revulsion. Not yet, not yet.
Such strict booze laws over here. This thing about not being able to drink alcohol in public is something a European soul just can’t accept. It’s
, dammit! A picnic with no wine? Can’t sink a cold beer whilst walking the hot city streets? Outrageous!
Last night I sat alone in a nice, grungy bar. The barmaid was friendly. She asked almost every single person who came to the bar for ID. Many of them looked to be pushing thirty. None of them were surprised or offended. The 14-year-olds in the pubs back home certainly would have been.
The more deeply you see, the less clearly you see. It’s the old adage about not being able to see the wood for the trees. I have always been finely aware of the power, depth, and ambiguity of language. Philosophers spend entire books defining terms; attempting to specify
what particular words mean. I analyse language. I see hidden meanings and alternative interpretations. Now, whenever I read written instructions I find I cannot understand them because they offer too many possible interpretations. I need to be
how to do anything. In my sophistication I have become a child again.
This is so hard, this job. So hard. My eyes defocus and wander, then snap back into clarity on the coffee cup. On the cardboard holder I read
“We Proudly Brew Starbucks Coffee”
Why is so much of everything sheer bloody nonsense? You “proudly” brew Starbuck’s coffee? Really? I mean, do you
? You don’t, do you? You don’t feel the slightest degree of pride, so why lie? Why make such an empty, fatuous statement? No, you just tote that fucking bale, same as me, same as everyone. Please. Stop your bullshit. It makes me so tired.
What a nightmare! Came home, bad day at work, feeling the pressure of this mad life change, cracked a beer, tried to chill and then the fucking CAT starts talking to me! I was pretty freaked, as you can probably imagine. Cat says, “don’t sweat it Jack, it’s just the start of a really,
tedious episode in your life which will go on for month after interminable fucking month until everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is bored shitless hearing about it.”
Next thing you know, the fucking VILE bursts in through the window! I mean, fucking hell, or WHAT?!
We sit at a greasy table watching bands so abysmally untalented that people are cheering and shouting with heavy irony; taking the piss with such good nature that the surly, nervous youth fronting “Hemlock” should be grateful. In other venues he’d be dodging hurled ashtrays and bottles. Uh-oh, they’re doing another.
“I’ve got a horse. It’s an empty horse. It’s a Trojan Horse.”
Some of us fall about in hysterics, some gape wordlessly. A gnarly guy of almost eighty hits the lights, and red laser Lissajous figures flicker across the freak show.
The Charleston bar is an unbelievable night out.
I hate these jerks who think it’s funny to go around pushing pies into the faces of famous people they dislike. It’s objectionable, on several levels. Mainly, it’s sanitised assault. These pricks know that they can’t take a swing at the object of their loathing without risk of retaliation or serious consequences for their personal liberty so they hide behind the “joke”. I’m not laughing, ass. It’s still violence.
I remember the red rage when an ex-girlfriend tipped a pint of beer over me. I remember how much I wanted to break her face. And how justified that reaction felt.
“Don’t say anything. Not a sound. Not a whimper.”
I am hyper-aware. The fur tickles my eyelids and I feel the buckle pressing into my skull, just behind my right ear. My splayed limbs are tense against the unyielding bands encircling my ankles and wrists. I am a fallen star.
I feel a warm shock of smooth skin against my thigh. Soft, so probably... but I can’t feel your hair, so... and then the cool curve of leather tapering to a spike resolves the geometry of your body.
“I said don’t move. Now open your mouth.”
I was so engrossed in my book that I entered the train carriage without due care and attention. It was packed with drunken Millwall supporters en route to Selhurst Park. I realized my mistake just too late to avoid it, so I tried to become invisible as they screamed and bayed and tore up seats and made monkey noises at the black station guard; threw bananas at him (I kid you not). I stuck it out with an increasing sense of... not fear, more resigned incredulity and disappointment.
These days the whole world feels like that train carriage, pretty much.
Insomnia takes me differently here. In my London flat my intermittent awakenings find me reasonably clear-headed. I know where I am and I usually know which of my approximately two-hourly sleep interruptions I am experiencing. Here, I float in some sort of confused intimation of senility. I find myself locked into dreams or mutated versions of daytime worries. I try to associate my position in the bed with the complex entity relationship diagram I was working on, and somehow this makes sense as it makes my head ache and binds me within the humming circuits of my nerves.
When I first started this damned “career” I worked for a company where projects changed rapidly. I became used to the sensation of starting at a new place; the apprehension and uncertainty; sussing out the culture; locating toilets, coffee supply, printers, photocopiers etc. As time passed these changes happened less frequently. Before coming to New York I’d worked at the same site for over three years.
It’s been three weeks since I started here and I think I’m just – only just – starting to feel vaguely familiar with the environment. It no longer feels like the first day of infant’s school.
What he can’t understand is how she can have been so angry and hateful towards him for so long, yet now she becomes this weeping, breast-beating embarrassment when he tells her he wants to end it. He thinks perhaps it is because of his youth. He is oddly ashamed that he is thinking “men and women can never understand each other”. He doesn’t want to accept that old-fashioned sexism may actually contain truth. She has sulked and nagged at him for months. Now she is wheedlingly trying to persuade him to fuck. His heart is an open wound.
What he can’t understand is how love can become an ultimatum.
She’d pursued him but he’d been doubtful. She’d had to persuade him, and he was glad she did because he fell in love too. Now, just one year later,
“This isn’t enough. I want commitment. I want to get married.”
They are only 24. It seems irrational. Needlessly precipitate. They are
. They have money. Friends. Holidays. A good life with good prospects.
How can she love him enough to want to spend her life with him yet also be willing to cut him out of it forever?
What she can’t understand is how he cannot see that love is an unstoppable force. It cannot be restrained by his tight little bonds of rationality. He seems to experience love as something that can be measured, boxed and labeled in a similar way to his records, books and ideas. She concludes that he cannot know the head-spinning, soul-shattering
that is her experience of love. She feels pity for him amidst the anger. If he could feel love as she feels it for her lover, perhaps he wouldn’t smear her life-affirming passion with the term “adultery”.
Another thing is this fondness for trivial service. I really don’t like it or need it. Every time I return to the hotel a doorman rushes to open the door for me. Don’t do that, man, really. Don’t lower yourself like that. And don’t call me “sir”. I’m a bloke just like you; no more, no less. I’m also perfectly capable of opening doors for myself. In fact, I prefer to do that. I prefer to wipe my own arse too, you know? I’m an independent man. Stay out of my path. Leave me alone. And have a nice day.
Perhaps our thirties are plateau years and perhaps this makes them – in a sense – our dullest years. Already my forties seem stranger, deeper and more interesting than any age I’ve known since adolescence. My twenties were primarily about doubt, frustration and searching. My thirties were… happy, easy, comfortable… and oddly flat. Marriage, acquisition, consolidation, adequate means, travel. Most people have the kid thing going on, too.
Now I see how ageing is upon us; the changes in our bodies. Adolescence in reverse. The onset of decay, yes, but there’s something profoundly bitter-sweet about it.
Walking through fallen leaves.
For God so loved the world that he created an unimaginable number of pain-feeling creatures and designed a system in which it would be necessary for them to prey on each other; to hunt, chase, terrify, catch, rend, kill and devour for survival. See the teeth and claws entering soft flesh; lifeblood spilling from a billion new stigmata every day, every month, every year. See Christ in a caterpillar as young wasps eat their way out of its living body. Marvel at the divine beauty and love made manifest by these things. Think to yourself: what a wonderful world?
Although I am a man of few desires (you said), when I do desire something I choose it with impeccable taste. The funny thing is, it’s the first bit that pleases me – that you recognise I have few desires. I was never very acquisitive or materialistic and I have become less so with age. Generally speaking, possessions either bore me or make me anxious: I like to be unencumbered. I am repelled by the modern ratwheel of bigger house, better car, better stereo, bigger garden... ugh.
You flatter me with the “impeccable”, I think. Except where you’re concerned, of course. :-)
We go into our schtick as soon as you enter the pub. You raise one hand as if for a high five; I feint, go for the low five; you switch hands; I swipe and deliberately miss. We keep up this comedy handjive routine for a few seconds more, laugh, then fall out of character. Two pints of London Pride and our usual seat by the side exit. There will be further pints followed by pizza or Moroccan, then back to mine or yours for the late music, brandy, coffee and grass.
It's the only thing I miss.
I don't understand why more people aren't smashed by falling objects in New York. These concrete canyons with their rusty fire escapes and battered AC boxes sticking out of crappy old windows like robot limpets... all the psychos and nutters you get in any big city. Why isn't shit falling from those buildings every minute, somewhere? I sometimes get the fear and peer cautiously upward. I'm no tourist but... I guess I'm an alien. My brutal hometown is still in me. I imagine the vermin I grew up with living in this towering, snaggletoothed Legoland and shudder at the thought.
I don't want anyone but you. I look at that beautiful young woman and I think how she can't possibly be as smart as you, as witty as you, as thoughtful as you, as sussed as you, as experienced as you, as self-aware and self-contained as you, as fucking amazing in bed as you. I look at her Cosmo skin, her carefully cool clothing, her Playboy tits and her oh-so-unstudied style and I laugh to myself at just how far she has to go before she can become the merest shadow of the woman you are.
First team drink. They know the job but I know the city and they were looking to me for locations. We cabbed to the East Village and the Ace. I like the juke, but what I really liked was the way some of the clientele seemed unable to pigeonhole Richard, the black Londoner with the plummiest voice of us all. I liked the way some young punk called us "fucking Limeys" and Richard said, "Oh dear. How very charming", in those BBC tones of his. The look on their faces. They just didn't know where to put him. Or themselves.
You make me tremble. Your body is a manuscript; cave granite and papyrus, Braille and hieroglyphs. I read you by touch and feel you in pictures without understanding. You make my nerves twitch and thrash like a snake under wheels. My fingers follow lines and dapplings and the long white skin of your leg slides over me makes my blood surge towards it to be inside you. Your hand on me and your tongue on my neck your saliva in my mouth your breath in my lungs and I need you like air let it not end until we die.
He is Australian and traveled to London a year ago; to the opposite side of the earth. We met on a course and were assigned to the same project. He is brilliant and has forgotten more about computer technology than I ever knew. Five weeks ago I flew to America and he remained in England but sent me regular updates of his life and his amazingly useful bits of original software. Next week he starts a project in Taiwan. We will send our updates from the opposite sides of the earth. Four years ago I was dead. This insane life.
In another life she is piloting planes and mourning another dead relationship, the doomed pattern, a stuck record. Her face is lined and she will not have children now.
In another life she is comfortable with her beautiful home and bourgeois family existence. Isn't she?
In another life she is happy or sad. She is with him and content, or with him and longing to be free again, sheltering the cold flame in her heart so that he cannot see it flicker, writing bleak poetry inside a book's cover so that it will pierce him long after she is gone.
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