Issue #26 - April 11th - 17th 2003
Sister Janice and the Big White Boot
How I fell in love with April Rains
Summer Nights in April and Queen Jane
A Summer As Imaginary Local Heroes (part two)
Birthdays, Thursdays and the reason why
The winners never quit, Stefano said a while ago.
'Ahh, good!' I thought, not so much because I think it is a good thing to think (though I think that too) but more because I thought it would be nice if it was really like that. Not so much because there have been things I've won because I kept trying for them (even though that has happened, too). More so because I want to think that I will win something for not giving up.
Or rather, that we will win something for not giving up.
Tomorrow (as in Saturday, the 22nd of March) is a Friends of the Heroes birthday of sorts. It is a year since that lazy and magical day when me and Rachel first talked about this - and look at us! We're 23 issues old! Who would have thought it a year ago... at the time, it was just another idea.
It's strange, what happens to an idea once you decide to stick with it. At least what happened with this one was strange: it got a life of its own. Once we started, there was no going back. We had to be there every week and we had to get everything done on time for our own deadline, which didn't feel like our own deadline at all. There was no question of breaking it, ever.
"You could have given up any time", people sometimes say. They don't understand.
Things got done even if they were done on the last minute. They were done even if it meant I had to fight with my brother over who gets to use the computer on a Thursday evening and why. Even if it meant Rachel had to go straight to her computer instead of straight to her bed after having travelled for hours on said Thursday. Even if it meant Paul had 20 minutes to write an about page. Even if we panicked, even when we argued, even when we couldn't think of anything to write about.
Somehow, it's always all fine in the end. There has been no Thursday night when I went to bed with regrets. Instead, I go to bed happy and smiling, proud of myself and everyone else, and feeling like a weight has been lifted off me. It's the same every Thursday and it only gets better.
When something means that much to you, keeping going is a lot easier than giving up. Giving up is not really alternative. As Paul said, there's nowhere I would rather be.
Sister Janice and the Big White Boot
Sister Janice the space travelling ex-nun (I'm never going to understand these humans) is unavailable due to a nasty accident involving a misplaced bone at a retrospective dance class.
She will be back to travel through the galaxies in a converted garden sheds and answer your problems very soon. You can continue to write to her care of the friends of the heroes and she is sure to offer you some sort of advice.
It is a proud day for me. I would not in my wildest dreams would have thought that I would be promoted to such an honoured position. Such a shame about Sister Janice though. She was such a nice lady. I'll never forget the day that the evil black and white cat from next door was sitting on top of her shed just as she was about to take off. You should have seen the look on its face as the shed got higher and higher in the air. It gave a startled yelp and then dived off the shed and into the hedge from where it emerged minutes later covered in twigs and leaves looking so uncharacteristically shaken that even I felt rather sorry for it. I gave it a few more minutes and then ran after it shouting at it to get out of my garden. I didn't feel that sorry for it.
Sister Janice has moved houses for a while. Her new home is a large, clean-smelling building. I went to visit her the other day and found that she was wearing a brand new white boot on her right leg. I have to say she was looking very stylish.
She didn't look altogether pleased when I went to visit though and started shouting about how irresponsible it was to leave a bone lying in the middle of a hall full of dancing people in need of salvation. She said that it was just asking for trouble. I really wasn't though because I hate being in trouble.
She looked quite funny in her big white boot waving her hands in the air. I wagged my tail and then started to help her get rid of her grapes. I'll tell you a little secret about grapes. You know how you put them in you mouth and think they taste a bit horrible so you spit them out again and try to hide them from you people? If you remember to chew the grape they actually taste nice. When I got onto the 4th of Sister Janice's grapes I started to remember that.
A lady looking a little flustered rushed in and told me that no dogs were allowed and that I was causing the patient some distress and should probably leave. That made me laugh even more because sister Janice is never patient!
To cut a long story short because Janice now lives there and not her shed she won't be able to answer your problems this weekÖ and I've been promoted to an agony dog!
I had a look in her sack of mail and found a particularly interesting letter:
Dear Agony Dog,
I have a very big problem. My girl only feeds me twice a day. She doesn't ever give me any chocolate and I have to beg for hours if I want chicken. She gives all her spare food to the big black bag eating truck who doesn't even sit or rollover when she asks it to. (not that I've ever seen her ask her to if I'm honest) I don't know what do. I'm at my wits end.
Don't stories like that make you want to cry? I hope that any people reading this who are guilty of this crime will see the error of their ways and start to treat their dogs properly.
Dear Hungry Dog,
I'm afraid to say that you are not really the one with the problem but your girl is. She really should be cooking you a chicken a day and feeding you chocolate in the evening.
There might be nothing that you can do to change your girl's mind but I suggest you try whining a little and hanging your head to highlight how cruel she is being by refusing to feed you more than twice a day. Good behaviour just before you eat can also result in an increase in the amount of food that you get. Try the old sit-lie-rollover-paw routine about 20 times. It can often be quite persuasive.
I hope you manage to coax a little extra food out of your girl.
How I fell in love with spring rains
Thessaloniki, April 9th, 2003
You won't believe it, but a friend I hadn't seen in ages came round on Sunday -just as I had lost hope of seeing him again for at least a few months- and the second or maybe the third thing he said after coming in was "did you know it's snowing?"
I said "no way" and rushed to the window. From there, I rushed into my brother's room, where he was playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, and said "do you know it's snowing?" They said "no way" and made their way to the nearest window too. They didn't rush, mind you. Rushing is too childish for them. Anyhow we then all proceeded to agree that it was going to stop soon and went back to whatever we meant to be doing.
It didn't stop. When I woke up late the next morning it was still snowing, fat white snowflakes were falling from the sky and actually settling on rooftops and cars and trees and balcony railings. Given that this is a country where it doesn't snow too much -once or twice a year and only for a day or two- and that it is April -ie springtime- it was surreal. It made me think I wasn't here but in another place, a stranger, more magical place that lies further north, in a land colder than the south edge of the Balkans. That's not to say this land is not magical, it's just to say it is usually warmer.
At least that's what my memories say. They tell me that April is a month made up of sunshine and rainfall and days that get longer and warmer as they lead up to Easter. My memories don't mention snow. They mention other things instead.
For example, they say that rain wasn't an indispensable April ingredient until last year, when north-eastern greek weather decided to be poetic and presented us with a series of almost perfect days. Most of these days followed a pattern: sunny mornings, cloudy early afternoons, sudden rainfall a bit later, then a bit more of sunshine before sunset. This would have been exciting enough if it had happened once but in our case, it lasted a little over three weeks. I might be exaggerating but anyhow it lasted enough for people to start expecting it. They started talking about 'today's dose of rain' as something that had to come and then go. I liked it so much I thought every day would be the last one; after all for just how long can the weather repeat itself on something so unusually charming?
That's when I fell in love with April rains. This had as much to do with them and the way they were -not quite warm, but certainly not cold, not too hard, but not too soft either- and the way they came -announced, but sudden- and the way they left -rather unannounced and just as sudden- as much as it had to do with the content of my daydreams and the way I spent my days.
My daydreams consisted of Go-Betweens songs (where a boy longs for surprises, just like spring rain) and vague memories of children's books (where a little girl thought that standing underneath the first spring rain would make her taller).
My days consisted of walks under the rain that made the park look shiny and of endless hours indoors spent listening to the same Raining Pleasure album over and over. I was in love with it, and it wasn't just the music. It was also the cover, the name of the band, the fact that they come from the same corner of the world as me, and as if all this wasn't enough, there was a story behind the title too. The album is called Flood: [coming of] a great quantity of water and rumour has it that it was to be called Life As It Comes until the studio flooded.
It all made perfect sense in my head. They were expecting life, they were ready to take it as it comes, and they got a great quantity of water instead. That wasn't bad; it was just funny and sounded rather exciting as it hadn't happened to me. Another reason why it wasn't bad is that water is what spring rains are made of, and, as the Go-Betweens made me believe, they bring surprises. In their turn, surprises for me can only mean sudden changes for the better, or at least chances for those changes to happen.
And that's how I fell in love with April rains.
Love and kisses,
Summer nights in April and Queen Jane
I think of this as summer, but maybe itís not. There are white spaces in my memory now, and sometimes I catch myself staring through the open rooftop windows, confused as to time and place. Itís a sad way to lose your mind, but interesting. I can see myself someday, writing in Hemingway-fashion, of the year I had my nervous breakdown. The fabric of time has torn, and itís still summer, and itís not, and somewhere someone is playing Dylan. Thereís war on the radio and, no, itís spring, and now I remember reading about tulips and flu and Iraq-was it on the same page? or the same newspaper, perhaps.
The grass where we walk canít decide whether it will be green or brown just yet. There are aged beer cans here and there, and the breeze smells dank and earthy. The clouds near the horizon are blue-grey. And thereís war, but not here-was it Vietnam? And now it is winter still.
I remember reading books, and honeysuckle is of course often described in novels and blank prose, and poetry even, as having a sickly sweet smell. I think this is a cliche. There is nothing sickly about the smell of honeysuckle, and itís not always even sweet. No, itís a bit sharp, and sweet at the same time; it tartly twists the air of summer evenings, and it is divinely, intoxicatingly, its own. There is no honeysuckle here, but I can smell it, as surely as ever was. Why do I have the feeling of summer when itís sleety April?
Oil prices are down again. And the sunset is the color of blood. I am in my room, covering notebooks with William Morris patterns, and paintings by Edward Burne-Jones. There is fabric glue in my hair, my long wild beatnik hair. I know it will take hours to wash out. And my mind is moving slow, weaving in and out of the bass line, accompanied by piano and the last fragments of centuryís end.
ďWhen your mother sends back all your invitations,
And I am smiling now, Ďcos his voice makes me feel absolutely grounded. Never mind the calendar; this is summer, and it grows old too soon.
I donít dream anymore. I used to dream, but then I loved a boy with wild hair and brown eyes, and when I lost him the dreams stopped. I sleep all night now, dead as the Third Reich, and do not wake ever until morning. Only now, things have begun to move in the East, and once again I wake thinking I have been riding in a strange car playing my guitar. These are the vibrations of the war in Bagdad, I know.
Tomorrow I will go walking in my long skirts with hair unbound and shining. I have died and been born a hundred times. The stars are Jewish and silver. It is summer, and itís a long way to Desolation Row.
ďAnd you want somebody you donít have to speak to;
Winning Battles, Losing Wars
"Why won't you eat my ass?" he said.
"Why won't you eat your own?" she said.
"I don't ask for much" he said.
"Oh yes you do" she said.
"Look. It's clean. Free of goo and impurities. All I'm asking is-"
"All your asking" she interrupted "is too much."
"If I could eat my own, I would."
"Well take up fucking yoga. I mean, what IS it with you and your ass?"
"There's nothing between me and my ass...That's the problem."
"When did you ever go down on me?" She demanded.
"I haven't. And I won't. I mean, I can't. It's just...It's physical, a physical thing, I mean, it's the smell, it's not you, it's just- they all smell the same, THAT smell, and...I don't know, it's like some people retch at the thought of semolina, I retch at the thought of....that."
"And you want me to eat your ass?"
She turned on the television. He turned it off.
"Hey! I was wanting to watch that."
"Is it the thought of it?"
"The thought of it" he said, "Is it that which puts you off eating my ass?"
"What IS it with you? When we met, when I met you, it was all flowers and fancy meals, moonlit walks along the promenade, sonnets in my lunch box...and now...now you want me to eat your asshole."
"Look. I do a lot of things for you. Things I don't wanna do."
"Like that party, that stupid fuckin' party with your stupid fuckin' bohemian friends, all sitting around cross-legged, eating raw fish and-"
He ignored her.
"-and babbling on about some fuckin' eastern mystic with a broom up his, her, it's ass, as if you have the answers to everything-"
"What about you?" she sneered.
"What ABOUT me?"
"You, with all your hate, you know, looking down on people, I mean, you didn't even give my friends a chance-"
"A chance? A CHANCE! You saw the way they looked at me, as if I was something they'd stood in, something that dragged along the heel of their pseudo-peasant's sandals."
"That's not true! And you know it! Daniel liked you."
"Oh come on! He's NOT queer."
"He is! He tried to cup my balls when I passed him on the stairs."
"You're being stupid. Even I wouldn't try to cup your balls on the stairs."
"Even you wouldn't try to cup my balls anywhere."
"Oh don't start that again" she sighed.
"How am I gonna get you to eat my ass when I can't even get you to cup my balls?"
"You're not- I've told you. I'd cup a million balls before I ate your ass."
"So it IS possible" he said.
He got up, walked over to the window, and saw the moon sink low, sillohetting the battlefield and the wars between the sexes.
"Want a beer?" He asked.
"Ah, shove it up your ass."
A Summer As Imaginary Local Heroes
Can you see me wearing a uniform?
Falling apart, but kept together by glittering sellotape. In the lost wine coloured aspects, in the rust in the junctions and in the broken cymbals it stands triumphantly, in the middle of the room. It was all we needed. A generous gift. From someone's legendary uncle. It might have dated back to the notoriously glorious sixties? It was a complete bunch of crap. And yet it did sound great to us. The neighbourhood, though, didn't necessarily share the same opinion.
And so it was expected. Totally predictable. Someone would call the law and order them to appear at the gate. And ring the bell. It was so expected. They came, in the early afternoon of on one of those days that have pretty much the same taste as many others that summer. Warm. And sweaty. They ring the bell, twice, while we were staying in the basement, worthlessly trying to hide away from the season's heat. It would have been fine for a seaside holiday park. But not for a small town, not for the countryside, not for the dusty memories of a lake resort once fashionable in the nineteenth century or so.
When the bell rang, with that screamy, slightly disturbing, modulated voice, how could have we known who was at the door? But, yes, still, it might well have been them. And there they were. Looking out from the kitchen's window, we spotted the dark blue car, with the white stripe on the side signalling law and order,. A man and a woman, by the gate and by the bell. So trivial and so predictable. We looked at ourselves. Our glances mirrored the little idea we had. No one moved, until they rang again. Twice. They would have rung again and again and again. We just moved towards them, up the stairs and the through garden. Uniforms, more often then not, make people look dull. This wasn't the exception. Can't even think I bothered to apply to join a military school. Filling the forms. Being tested for fitness. Probably for dumbness too. They didn't take me anyway, it wouldn't have been a great idea, I fear.
Rudy, the German Sheppard, was doing his job egregiously. Shouting at them the way we might have wanted to do, but would have never have dared to.
We listened to them in religious silence while they were talking behind the gate. About the noise and the neighbourhood, and the calm in the afternoon and all that amount of bullshit we were expecting to hear. Trying to look like we were actually listening to them, and not just spotting something on the floor, wasn't the easiest thing to do. Not even trying. Trying to compose our faces' and trying not to laugh in their faces' about how ridiculous all this was. Trying. When that brilliant idea travelled through someone's mind. And it wasn't mine. For once.
He mumbled. And there was a strange flickering light in his eyes. A light as strange in ours. But just a second too late. That was not such a brilliant question. Indeed.
They just ignored it, or pretended to ignore it. As they do. And went back to the same old litany. The neighbourhood, and so on, the late noise, and so on, the early noise, and so onÖ and this time they add, they wouldn't tolerate any more complaining. Saying that they assume that well known expression on their faces'. The one you've seen so many times. The one which can be simply translated into ďwhy don't you find a job?Ē
That was the end, of the staying up till late, in the pleasing refreshment of the cellar. Staying in a cellar, itself, would have made it pleasant, anyway. And who would have minded the warm and the heat and whatever in a cellar? Who? Why couldn't he just have kept his bloody mouth shut? He couldn't. I guess he also thought we had a job. It was the right time for another glass of wine. Might be the right time for another couple of glasses. A poor one, as usual. One which had stayed much too long on the shelf, in the cellar. One which goes to head a little bit too fast. But that was what we were looking for. Mainly.
We needed to find a place. The usual trouble.
to be continued...