Saturday, May 23, 2015

the boy with his arm in a cast

On the Northern Line (towards Angel where I would depart to see Anne Teresa de Keermsaeker dance), he perched on the high seat near the door. The door was a possible escape, headphones an immediate escape. He wore a bad Topman-probably black t-shirt trimmed in heiroglyphs and acid washed jeans. It sounds garish and bright but rather he looked slightly distant and bleached out, as if photographed by Alasdair McLellan, born in 1974, who surely re-watched Morrissey videos taped off the teevee in the chalky twilight before rave. He was a candy necklace left out for days. A cheap sweet, sugar, that kind of boy, so British, a gosling and the French would say gosse. He had a funny earring and black trainers scuffed at the side. His cast, however, looked brand new. What happened last night/this morning. The cast held him in comfort, not yet itchy but already compromising. His skin was now partly plastered. His blond hair was pushed back and undercut. He had a big sad face with a crimson smudge under each of his lash-heavy big brown eyes. He looked like a picture of sadness, sad to have broken that arm. His features, in a fucked up way, reminded me of those of my own youth: ungainly but at the right angle comely, that badly mannered nose and those balcony lips. Features one is meant to grow into but maybe never will. Ugly features that seem to strive not to be. The eyelashes both kept out and beckoned the word. Eyelashes like unweeded long grass. For a moment he had the saddest face you've ever seen. Or at least the most, I don't know, wistful. That vacant look of abandonment as if amongst others he'd abandoned himself. He complied with the nurse, he complied with the tube, he compliantly played his role of the arm-broken teen. His shoes took the residue of London on the bottom and the insides absorbed the pungent baseness of his being. Now he leaned but so often those feet took the whole of his weight. The smell of his feet is the smell of his day. Above ground, the clouds abated, the feel of the air almost balmy, the sky holding its rain in firmly cupped hands. Down here, we moved invisibly and navigated these terms: terminal, terminus, indeterminate, interim, intermediacy. This train terminates here. Strange terminology. Where was he going (he didn't get off at Angel) and to where does he or would he like to escape? Can you have a searching look on your face when you are looking at the floor? Is the floor of the train carriage moving, or is it considered to be still as it is carried along? It carries passengers, and what do they carry. They are each of them, in this particular moment, British. Or, underground, they could have no nationality at all. The boy's sad brown eyes managed a slow version of darting. They moved without glancing. I peeked into the top of his cast. I wondered if the NHS had done a decent job. I wondered what he listened to on his headphones, what world he was lost in, and what burden he carried.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


My neighbourhood has become very bushy. I moved here in the winter and failed to imagine it could be this green. It's doing a very good job at springtime. The springtime is a teenager. The plane trees shed their new blossoms like adolescents ashing cigarettes. The city is particularly blowy this year. The stuff gets stuck in my eyes, and I get infections. Walking down my bushy street, I remember the first blush of my own bush. It seemed bushier at first. Maybe because it was shorter. Later I sat on the toilet and looked down and thought disappointedly that it had retreated but I suppose as the hairs grew longer it looked thinner as a whole.

My street is full of birdsong. I've been meaning to text Mark and ask him why the bird calls never seem to be the same. Surely that's impossible. But there are always new, exciting ones. I wake up to sweet duets or sparse single-note bleats or machine-like vibrational repetitions. The birdsong makes me think of 'pretension'. The word works like this: nobody likes pretence. It's pretending. It is talking bollocks; it is the attempt of the ignorant to impress. It is the hot air we shirk from, and regret when we puff out ourselves. But I think the word pretentious gets applied to criticise things that are not pretending, but rather reaching. Or, things that require a reaching to understand. Nobody understands birdsong. The most you can do is imitate it. You can speculate using biological facts but you can't translate the lyrics. But is listening to the birds pretentious?

When people cry pretentious!, a classic source of objection is the use of a loanword, a word from another language. It might be considered pretentious to say the word chic, for example. Because it is from the French. But sometimes something is just chic. It is not just stylish, smart, elegant, sophisticated, dapper, debonair, dashing, trim, tasteful, understated, attractive, flattering; fashionable, high-fashion, modish, voguish, in vogue, up to date, up to the minute, ultra-modern, contemporary; (informal:) trendy, with it, now, sharp, snappy, snazzy, natty, dressy, swish; (informal:) fly, spiffy, sassy, kicky, tony, stylin'; (archaic:) trig. Sometimes only chic will do, especially maybe if you're talking about a French person.

Pretension gets used to degrade the foreign, the other, the new. And to reject things that are reaching — yearning — towards something else. Pretentious is used to describe someone who disquiets expectation, and especially when they do it quietly, and when they require time. Pretentious is used for things outside familiar form, especially things which do not yield a 'productive' result. Things that ruminate.

In Heptonstall, a tiny town on a hill, stoic like a picture from the past, we walked near Sylvia Plath's gravestone in the ruins of a church. A man — bad postured and bob haired, he could have been from a 1970s teevee show, could have played a child snatcher — walked around the grounds, in this shell of something former, and played a violin. He would stop in a spot and raise his bow and force a strange mournful descent, tiny solitary elegies. Everything, the man's hair, his back, his bow, the sound, sloped downward. It was astonishing. Later (after a dutiful walk to Sylvia Plath's gravestone, near which a woman harangued a man with a tirade of objections — to him and to others she'd had to deal with that day) we walked back past the ruin, and could hear the violinist playing a fully resolved, 'classical' composition. I realised then that he had just been testing the acoustics earlier, while I'd taken it for a kind of site-specific experimental minimalism. But if he were to be 'the kind of musician' who just played those sad, sloping down, isolated notes, he'd be called pretentious. It would be considered ungratefully unfinished, aesthetically remote. You know how people say self-indulgent. I never know what they think that person is indulging; the burning desire to bore you.

The day flickered: after days of rain, it timidly beseeched the sun. A kid scrambled over the graveyard wall. Another ran down the middle of the street. Everything now seemed to point to a dark tale of child snatching. My imagination is frequently influenced by British 1970s spooky teevee. Children of the Stone. We settled into the pub. The town outside glistened, as much as such dark stones are capable of. Inside, the pub was nostalgically flat. It was low-ceilinged, short-carpeted and pleasantly dim. A group of rowdy men entered with booming voices and wide arms. They looked like miners. Lucy said some were actually local actors. She'd seen them in a play.

We're all playing. We are each strange, other and new. I felt for a moment like I was between time periods. I looked out at the dripping day; this England like a leaking tap. Spring is tentative: the rain is a burden, but comforting. I've lived in England for eight years now, and it is against grey that I can define hopefulness. The spring is a teenager; it is in beautiful, smelly bloom, but insists on shutting itself away, covering itself up. The rain is making my street bushy. When it passes, the leaves are boastfully glorious and fat, the bloom a sharp-tongued allergenic, and when it stops how brightly the birds sing.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015


Nobody wanted to be a gay but everybody wanted to know one. Remember when you figured out that all the smart kids knew gays? And to me everyone was like, you have got to meet Lance, but Lance was in Europe and when he finally came back which took forever he was going I am such a Euro Gay. And I was just a Depeche Mod. And it was too philosophical for me at 15 to think about the fact that the grumpy faced tall older guy that was always at Coffee Society was called Dave the Realist. And everyone rolled their eyes like, you know Dave: 'the Realist'? He insists on being called that. He wore a long coat, of course. And there was a girl who worked at Coffee Society called Jeremy which always made me suspicious. I'd wait for the bathroom, that was when it was so popular you had to wait like five people deep for the bathroom, and think about Lance the Euro gay or Jeremy the girl — which was just, really? Jeremy? And lesbians called Summer, now that was believable. Thank you California for making lesbians called Summer because otherwise there'd be no point. And the coffee was drunk by the gallon and somebody threw Jen Oh's ironic Glo-Worm into the parking lot and she screamed and the oncoming car might hit it, have you ever seen a Glo-Worm explode, and all of a sudden it wasn't just ironic but my precious Glo-Worm!! And on Saturday nights everyone would peel off to watch Twin Peaks at various parents' houses and luckily I had houses to go watch Twin Peaks at, too, because I always thought, it must be totally empty back at Coffee Society now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the video stores of youth

The thing you remember about them is the movies you didn't rent. The X section, obviously. And just stuff like The Woman In Red, which I knew had the theme song "I Just Called (To Say I Love You)" by Stevie Wonder but other than that what is that film. I knew even then it was random. Early days: the narrow, bright old-school shop, plastic VHS smell, formerly laser discs, in the strip mall along with Nob Hill supermarket. I would get posters for films that were done being New Releases and I didn't care what it was or if I'd seen it; if I responded to the graphic in some way it went on my wall, which my parents were pretty liberal about, in terms of holes. I had Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, and probably never saw it but I loved the sound of the words. Then, the creaky shop with a staircase when we moved to the quaint, creaky town of Saratoga, and it smelled like plastic VHS, too, but tempered by wood and pets, real smells, and a real popcorn machine. By the time we made the switch to Blockbuster, because that was all that was left, my experience was like: this is going to take a half an hour at least and let's face it, it's the event of the evening, and at the counter we are going to add popcorn or candy. My mom loved adding things. She loved indulgence and she loved confessing to what bad things you like. For her, Jujubes. But it's like, mom, who likes those? Seriously, still. I liked sour, gummy pink straws caked in sugar. Blockbuster was so big that categories took up whole aisles. It was very geographical. Like, being stuck in Action walking along forever and thinking they all look the same and why do they keep these old ones and what am I missing in terms of being able to differentiate. And I remember European films that looked vaguely appealing but very adult and always had something to do with eating dinner. And then: who cares about dinner, this is eating up images of people on shrinkwrapped boxes, people to be enthralled by or confused. I've been thinking about video stores because those moments of going with the whole family to pick out a movie are maybe some of the memories of my childhood that feel the safest. It took me awhile to find the word, but: safest. Like, nothing is going to really happen tonight, just this. And that's fine. I'm not going to be bad tonight, which I already was from a young age, even if that just meant smoking half a clove cigarette. Tonight it's just about the needs of my little sister which are anodyne and that's great. It's kind of, strangely, a feeling I return to as I get older and my sister has had a baby of her own and I don't so frantically go looking for trouble in bars and am fine with folding clothes on a Saturday night. Remember all those New Releases. And you'd think: maybe next week. Here it is, it's still on the alphabetical New Release wall, which at Blockbuster bends around three or four corners. It's still here and I said last week maybe this one, so probably never. And I'd walk the alphabet and think: so many films, aren't there any new ones? I liked to dawdle early on, in the A's and B's, then get serious in the P's and S's. Friday night. And that one is still here, too: that foreign language movie about eating dinner. Where's mom? She's just waiting, really. With her soft leather generous purse. I bet she gets Jujubes. And/or microwave popcorn, which either burns or half doesn't pop. How can something like that go so wrong? Wasn't it invented to be easy and perfect? Eventually as I became a teenager a frozen yogurt place opened around the corner, and I knew a secret attached to it that probably had something to do with a) French kissing, or b) rehab. You're not going to believe this, it sounds so poetic, but I can't seriously think of one single film that we actually chose, rented and watched from that Blockbuster. I recall the deliberating.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

and later that night

Just before bed, in the thick of Friday's deep sleeping, after the pubs closed, after the woman shouted to us IS EVERYONE FUCKING GAY?, we were nestled into our bedroom wearing long johns and fatigue, when we heard through the window rough male voices and I said let's look out the window! And through the slats of the wooden blinds we saw a group of lads roughhousing, jumping onto and wrestling each other down onto the pavement, where the loser was held a little too long, and then all of them scurried off, together and apart, a pack, hollering and shouting and leaping in delight. And I thought again of that Barbara Kruger line: You construct intimate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men. The night seems too young to that pack of wolves. The night is young but holds no promise. The pubs are closed. The lads could climb to the top of the hill for the view but probably won't. The streetlamps illuminate nothing but some petals or fast food wrapper stirring in the bored breeze, and the sky carries no other sound but the occasional passing car like a wave, and the stillness before birdsong.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

before and after the party

On the train on the way to the party, an off-duty clown fell into the carriage and took the seat across from us. I say clown. He had painted red hair and the tip of his nose was painted, too. But his clothes were regular, jeans slightly frayed at the cuffs, and he switched the various gear on his face frantically: sunglasses, glasses, headphones. He seemed aggressive; he seemed, I suppose, like an off-duty clown who'd had too much to drink. He growled at a boy and girl, some twenty years each, who sat sweetly together, obviously in the first blush of something hormonal and probably on their way to a party, too: HEY! YOU TWO! ARE YOU TWO IN LOVE? GO HOME AND CUM ALL OVER EACH OTHER AND TELL THE REST OF WORLD TO FUCK OFF! He then looked at us and growled: FUCK OFF! to illustrate his point. He knelt in the aisle and looked through the length of the train, the kind of model which snakes, with linked carriages so that you can view all the way through the interior. Then he stood up and made an announcement: I JUST WANT TO SAY, IF WE GOT HIT, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE. He sat down and played with his sunglasses, glasses and headphones. Then he made another announcement, this time an invitation and not too tempting: EVERYONE CAN COME BACK TO MY HOUSE AND MAKE LOVE. BUT DON'T MAKE TOO MUCH NOISE OR YOU'LL WAKE UP MY MOTHER IN THE NEXT ROOM.

The bit about his mother sounded sad because it was possibly true. He exited the train. Was he a clown? There was some speculation between me and J., and likewise I think between the boy-girl couple. He had a bag, his costume could have been stuffed into it, but he didn't wear big shoes.

After the party, off the last train and back in our neighbourhood, two men walked in front of us, moony and amorous, leaning into and on each other in the sharp midnight air. So cute, whispered J. I was charmed, too, but was busy thinking about breakfast the next morning and gabbing about how I should have gotten some Cooper bread yesterday at Budgens. At the sound of my voice, the small woman with frazzled hair who walked between us and the two loved-up men, turned sharply back, glared at me and growled: IS EVERYBODY FUCKING GAY?

She didn't wait for a response, and parted ways from us huffily. By the time we'd turned the corner, we had separated from the two men. We saw them stop and smooch under a tree across the road. Theirs was the adrenaline of something new. Then they crossed over and walked just behind us. I turned and spoke to them: Did you hear — I could barely speak through the giggles induced by the free wine and the angry lady — what that woman said? I proceeded to tell them the scenario. Yeah, tell her everyone is gay!, said one with cheerful indignation. His partner just smiled handsomely. Have a good night, I called out. Yeah, the chatty one replied: Be well. BE GAY! I think I might have said you too or just laughed, slightly embarrassed, and we scurried on.