Issue #81 July 2nd - 15th, 2004
In defence of the summer #1
Walking In The Silence
The man without a face
As the flying metal disaster my husband and I have boarded is about to crash into the blue blanket of the world, I ponder all the statistical improbabilities of this moment, although how predictable it was, knowing what I know about me.
When my 25 year-old cousin had died in his sleep three days before my wedding, I asked my dad for an explanation I knew he didn't have. All he said was that Cherokee tears run deep. Until I had really had enough time to think, I did not fully understand what he meant. After the emotional turmoil that week contained I figured that maybe he'd just temporarily lost it. The funeral was three days later.
That meant that Memphis, Tennessee, the honeymoon destination for this Elvis fan and her greencard-toting husband would have to be postponed. So, he went with his family and I stayed with mine.
We ended up going for our first anniversary. But we wanted more, a really adventurous honeymoon that most people go for. Our choice was Africa. We wanted something unique, not Europe, everyone does that. We wanted to see the bestial nature of nature to inspire us to be our animal selves. Now that we finally have the greencard we waited so long for, we could go for it. For me the reality of getting on a plane after being tearfully terrified of them since childhood, was an all-too-life-confirming situation.
I almost cancelled the trip out of the stupid fear that grips us when we know there's not reasonable answer to it. But my husband convinced me that if we truly wanted to go that I would do it. I said if I could pack a carry-on with a parachute, I would. Strangely enough, he humored me, went to an army surplus store and bought two parachutes, possibly pre-owned, and packed away.
Oh the tears, the hand-squeezing, the panicky breathing, the twelve excruciating hours of the snores of other passengers while I stay awake clawing the handrests. The adrenaline forcing me to resist the mitochondria-igniting scream that gurgles in my throat. I don't like my feet being off the ground.
But I admit, when I met him, that was the only time floating felt absolutely great. I went straight to my spirit animal. The chimp. He told me thanks to my being a scratch paper Nazi and compulsive banana-eater that I must have been either a chimp or a tree in my past life. I'm not afraid of heights, only of falling. Ever heard that myth that if you have a dream that you're falling, it's residue from when our ancestors were tree-dwellers? It all adds up.
And, as it seemed I was soon to expire, I began to think of what my future life might bring. Did I do enough in this life to maintain my spot in the food chain? Or would I be demoted?
Anyway, at this point I felt oddly calm, as our primitive rocket flip-flopped and forth than I had the rest of the smooth flight. It was a feeling of 'I told you so, I told you there was a reason to be scared' to all the people in my life who had ever given me crap about my phobia. It was my turn to have a freak accident.
Afterall, my family was prone to them. It seemed we were frequently on the wrong side of statistics. For example, my great-uncle, Reg, up in Oklahoma instead of getting mauled by a tornado as one might expect, was struck by lighting. He lived.
My brother fell 52 feet down an elevator shaft and landed on his feet, and lived, much to his own disappoinment.
My grandmother, despite surviving a cocktail of seven heart attacks and strokes, succumbed to a flesh-eating bacteria she'd caught while in a 'sterile' nursing home environment.
Me, well, nothing too terrible had happened quite yet. I had started to wonder if I just didn't fit in the family tree. I was all my polio-stricken grandmother's left shoes. Her feet were different sizes so the left one was always tossed in the closet. She couldn't bear to toss them, so they just stayed, keeping each other company and basking in their new-shoe smell.
Then, surprise, surprise, fate had deemed it my turn. The only thing that came close was that I narrowly escaped a jail sentence for fraud. This one is kinda funny. While working my way through college, I scammed a bowlful of yuppies out of about 20K that I used to fund my tuition. How else would a poor white kid like me make it through a private university education?
A lonely rich kid and I came up with an idea for an organization called S.E.X.Y. (Stop EXploitation of Yuppies). We were to fight for the rights of the rich to be fashionable at fair prices. Membership dues were $100 annually. No promises were made. In a few months, we had collected about twenty-something soccer moms.
Eventually they noticed we didn't do a damned thing for them and quit renewing their memberships. All the "Tracy's" and "Donna's" attempted a class-action lawsuit against us, but my partner's father was a reknown lawyer. He stepped up. Even if he hadn't, I had nothing so it really wouldn't have gotten them anywhere to prosecute me. It had all gone to finance my education and what a sore spot it would have been to go after the university to get it back. All it did was humiliate my family when they saw it on the news.
I was about to be disowned when my father shockingly passed away. He was a lefty. In Spanish, he would be "zurdo." Sounds a bit like, absurdo, doesn't it. Pretty much details the predicament of left-handers everywhere. Life was being shat on the right-handedness of the world. Remember when Flanders on the Simpsons opened a store for left-handed people? It was a really good idea. My dad might have lived if he had shopped there.
My dad had just found out he was about to be a grandfather for the first time and decided to try his hand at building a wooden rocking horse like the one he had as a child. I teased him, calling it "the Trojan horse." 'Cause if the Trojan condom had worked, he wouldn't be building it. He was using a right-handed saw, why not, what store sells left-handed ones. It was really awkward for him, using all his strength on the wrong side of his body. Ever tried to write a sentence with your left hand? It works, just not well. Same case, he overcompensated his hold on the wood and sliced off his left arm. In his panic, he spun around, slipped in his own blood spilled on the floor and fell right on top of the saw he's dropped. That was it. The end of my youth and belief that life was fair and good and that we were not the only ones cursed with freakish deaths.
Anyway, like I said, it seemed I was next. One minute we sang of Africa "mufre alafiyah ashe ashe," and the next minute we were singing "oh, heavenly father." There we were with engine failure, and you still haven't found the blackbox.
What was going through my head? Well, hmm, we were about to be swallowed by blue and then nothing. Suddenly I saw "the Bab," you know, the heavenly gates of the Taj Mahal. It's the world's greatest monument of love. Maybe it was a halluciation from all the oxygen we were smothered with, I don't know, but we passed through that gate, and somehow landed here in interrogation hell.
How the hell should I know what went wrong? You think my Mexican husband is Pakistani and that he had something to do with it because we brought parachutes and are the only survivors. You can't find his passport or greencard because they're in the ocean and for that reason you don't believe us. I know he has long, pretty eyelashes and a longer nose. I know he's dark-skinned. I figured that out before I married him. When you find the blackbox you'll see, you'll understand and then you'll owe us a grand apology we'll never receive.
Damned right, you'll let me go now. You have nothing. You've only witnessed the miracle of paranoid precautions work to save our lives. It was a miracle.
Big surprise, I could have guessed you don't believe in miracles. Fine, I guarantee we will never fly again. We'll be on the bus back home, where not everyone is on business, Spring Break or their honeymoon. I really don't care if you plan on keeping tabs on us.
If it's alright with you, I'll see my husband now.
In defence of the summer #1
Lately I have discovered I like the summer more than I thought I do. Even the notorious Greek summer - in a way, especially the notorious Greek summer. If you want, I can tell you why.. it's not like we have anything better to talk about... or do we?
40. If it all starts on the first of June, then it starts with a day of dreaming of the seaside and a night of getting drunk in a taverna's yard underneath a tree. The word "holidays" is written all over everything. The moon is almost full and shining down on us between the branches of the tree and the tv aerials on the roofs of the ugly blocks of flats that surround us and the air is not warm and sweet and smells faintly of flowers... and I fall in love with all these things and the way this night feels and I start looking at Greece as a summer fairy tale country - a place where the sun and all the things it brings come first and strange, wonderful things happen.
It just goes to show just how much I live in my own world, I know, but it's not such a bad way to look at a place.
41. Soon afterwards The Hidden Cameras play in Athens, making me doubt the notion nothing I care about ever happens here for a moment. There are new people and half-familiar faces, excitement and smiles and beer and even a support band: my head is spinning. We dance in front of the low stage, so close to the band that we could touch them if we tried, occasionally falling on each other and getting water, beer and glitter thrown on us. The water soon dries away and I wash the rest off my face and my hands and my clothes, but there's glitter in my shoes for a week or two.
42. I stand between the Athenian excuse for a train station and the railtracks in the early summer heat, balancing the discman on my bag while trying to hold on to my stuff and find the song that has been stuck in my head all morning - marvelling at how I can do all these things at once or rather at how I happen to care about a song as I have to do all this - and getting excited despite myself, even though I don't like the fact that I'm leaving, just because I'm not over my childish love of trains. Hopefully I will never be.
When I get on the train and find my sit I manage to find the song too
"I passed one of the hardest exams on my course."
44. I don't care about football -I hardly know what's going on- but it's kind of touching to hear my brother and dad cheer in unison with the neighbours. Still, I am amazed at how important everyone seems to find the fact that "we" have beaten Portugal. Surely it was just luck anyway?
45. Three days later and still don't care about football, but everyone is happy all over again which gets me wondering whether it was something more than just luck after all. 90% luck and 10% being good at football maybe?
46. Studying is the best antidote to boredom. Not because it is interesting, of course not, but because it is so boring, pointless and tedious that it makes everything else shine in comparison. Any other time the approaching of a thunderstorm could pass my by -I would, for example, lie there on my bed thinking of all the things I would like be different, feeling miserable- but all it takes is a book full of useless information on Byzantine emperors open in front of me to make me notice its greatness. (Unfortunately the trick only works when I am actually being forced to memorise the contents of the book.) The air gets cooler by the minute, clouds gather (the sky is two colours, blue in the east, grey in the north-west) and the breeze turns into a wind that makes the sheets we have hanged to dry feel like they are the sails on a boat. I, too, feel like I am on a boat.
It reminds me that when I finished school I swore I would never get bored and I didn't for one moment think I'd have to try: it was inconceivable that I could ever get bored when I didn't have to be at the same place every day or learn Latin. Needless to say, I broke the promise. It also reminds me of my first e-friend, Michael, as summer rains always do, because he had talked about one during one of conversations -about having to rush to close his windows and wanting to walk underneath it if I remember well; and that was the first time I experienced the thrill of imagining what's happening in a far away corner of the world through some words and someone who cares enough to think them out and type them up to me.
And then it starts to rain, suddenly and unexpectedly even though I had been doing little but waiting for it to happen for the past twenty minutes, and I stop remembering and rush out to save the clothes from getting wet all over again and the doors from banging, and when that's done I go downstairs again and play exciting Saturday Looks Good to Me songs that sound like they have been written exactly for this: to be played in a big empty house as I dance in the almost dark kitchen on my own and the rain falls on the world at my feet - the downstairs' neighbours garden and the parking lot and the houses, the streets and factories on the other side of that, all the way to the sea.
(...to be continued)
Walking In The Silence
I think I'm going to fall in love soon. I think this because I haven't been in love for a while, so long in fact that I have stopped missing the feeling. I also think it will happen because I am happy and my life is under control.
The last time I fell in love I was 17 and working on weekends at a bakery 20minutes from home. I used to like my job because I was able to walk to and from work each day. I'd walk along the side of the road thinking about the things which couldn't be thought about in a chair or a car. Sometimes for a few seconds the noise of the traffic would die away. When this happened it would me just me walking. I could hear the sound of the wind and the birds and my own feet on the pavement. I could breathe in and out and for a few moments it was like I could feel everything around me. It made me feel free.
That is beside the point. I am telling you about falling in love. I fell in love with a tall man with dark green eyes which smiled when he talked. His nose was very straight. (You notice these things when you fall in love). He used to come into the shop every Saturday and order a jam doughnut and a sausage roll. I liked the fact he ordered them in that order. Most people will start of with the savoury food and then move on to the cakes.
He wore his hair like a pop star and his clothes were scruffy and battered but suited him perfectly. I imagined he listened to the smiths and read books by J D Salinger. He probably played the guitar and in his spare time he wrote short stories.
Of course I only ever imagined these things because all I ever managed to say to him was the price of the sausage roll and the jam doughnut. He didn't say much either, just sort of smiled and nodded then stuffed his change into his trouser pocket before leaving.
It was a Tuesday when I found out that he was married. I saw him buying roses with a women in high heels and a short skirt. She did not look like she listened to the smiths, nor did she look like she'd read anything by J D Salinger.
Well after that I couldn't think properly anymore. Even when I was walking along the side of the road and it went all quiet. I didn't sleep at night, and I didn't smile when the sun shone. I just kept wondering when I'd meet someone who wanted to buy roses for me. Probably not until I met someone who liked the same things as me I thought. Which could take forever because most people around here don't like any of the same things as me. Especially when it comes to music.
I'm 18 now though, and it has taken me a long time to stop being in love with the man with the straight nose, but I've done it! It had made me happy because now I can go about listening to music and enjoy it without wondering what he would think. I can sleep at night, and when the cars go quiet for a few seconds when I'm walking I can I can think and feel everything around me. And I'm free.
It's like it is in the movies. The long, drawn-out walk up the winding staircase, the echoes, like ghosts- first of your shoes as they go clunk clunk clunk on every step, and then the clunk recedes or rather, is overwhelmed, by the moans, the groans, the noise; the pleasure of the sin. You wonder why they can't hear you as you put the key in the door. Turning the key, you are convinced, at last, that there are no good people left. Maybe this is how it's supposed to happen. You open the door. You say nothing. You take off your shoes and begin the skulk, the tepid descent into your own personal hell.
But you still have a chance.
You can turn around, put your shoes back on, open the door with the same stealth that you showed when you first entered, crawl back down the stairs, and pretend none of this happened. You can get drunk, fall into the trash at Clapham Central, hammer out the betrayal in a cacophony of beer, then stagger home as the sun comes up, ready now for the row, the where's and whys and wherefores, ready, because all the noise, the words she strings together, are hollow, forever tainted by her betrayal.
You aren't ready for the fight. Not today. What she has done is merely the confirmation of what you always suspected: that most people just aren't worth even a nanosecond of your time. You spend 11 years with someone, and still you can't figure it out, still you get it wrong, and you wonder if all her orgasms were fake after all.
The bar is empty. You like it this way. You take your seat in the corner, glugging on the vodka chasers, laughing at yourself and your Bogart impression. It doesn't matter what she does, what she says from now on, all the feats she accomplishes, all the birthdays when she pulls you away to five star luxury, all the anniversaries she tells you she spends weeks working on; none of this matters. Not because she's bad. Not because she's wrapped up in a cloak of evil. Not even because she's human.
It's because she's ordinary. And, refilling your glass, you realise that's the biggest tragedy of them all.
The man without a face
(Inspired by the movie