Friday, December 21, 2007
For a moment, the bridge stands undisturbed, bathed in the brilliant serenity of sunshine in the morning. It is nature at its finest, with the white noise of hidden animals and a soft wind sneaking through the brush.
CIARAN, 8-10 years old, with dirty blonde hair, runs to the foot of the bridge. He is dressed in a Catholic school uniform, and carrying schoolbooks, bound together with a rope. When he stops, he leans over, hands on his knees, to catch his breathe. He looks around to see if he’s been followed, and smirks when he realizes that he’s safe and alone.
Ciaran congratulates himself inwardly for his clever get away, and looks around for somewhere to leave his books. He settles on a bush, and obscures the bound volumes from sight. Ciaran then untucks his shirt, and loosens his collar.
Ciaran waits for a moment with nervous glances in any direction, then begins pacing, clearly trying to spot something. He checks his watch at some point as well.
After having looked in all directions, Ciaran takes a seat at the foot of the bridge. He checks his watch again, and looks around, nervous and bored. To occupy the time, he picks at his shoes and throws rocks.
When Ciaran seems to have relinquished all hope and stands up to leave, MAHONEY walks on casually. He is the same age as Ciaran, but taller and lankier, with dark hair and blue eyes. He is also dressed in his school uniform, but wears a cap with a silver cricket pin. He waves to Ciaran.
There ya are! I been waitin’ forever for ya!
Forever? It’s only three after, Ciaran. That’s the shortest I ever heard of forever bein’.
Mahoney looks around.
Don’t know. He hasn’t shown up yet.
Should we wait for him then?
Ciaran and Mahoney both sit down at the foot of the bridge. Mahoney pulls a sling shot out of his back pocket before sitting fully.
You brought your catapult?
Aye. I tightened up the slinger last night. Should be shootin’ a lot harder now. And with better aim.
Mahoney picks a rock up off the ground and loads it into his slingshot. He turns towards Ciaran, with his arm cocked, ready to shoot.
Hey! Knock it off!
Relax. Move your head, it’s gonna drop across the water.
Ciaran moves his head away, and Mahoney shoots a rock out of the slingshot. It plops in the water.
Could still use a little work.
Why’d you bring that thing, anyway?
This? I don’t know. Figured I could blast a bird or two, maybe even once we’re at the Pigeon House. Besides, we need some protection if the Bunsen Burner comes at us for skippin’ out on classes.
You realize we’ll be whipped if Father Bunsen ever catches us.
That’s why I brought the catapult.
Still no sign of Leo, eh?
Nope. Fatty’s either eatin’ up his breakfast still, or else he chickened out. I’ll even bet his sixpence that he did.
What are we gonna do then?
Ciaran walks onto the bridge.
You’re gonna keep his money?
Well it looks like I just won the bet! It’s forfeit now. We’ll buy ourselves a chocolate.
Ciaran turns and continues across the bridge. Mahoney follows.
FADE TO BLACK.
WHITE TEXT ON BLACK SCREEN-“AN ENCOUNTER”
EXT. DUBLIN STREETS - MORNING
Ciaran and Murphy exit from the covered bridge and turn down the first street they find. A sign reading “Vitriol Works” hangs in front of one of the buildings; everything else looks to be storage or unmarked factories. The sound of children playing is heard in the distance. Ciaran looks around in amazement at everything he sees. Mahoney walks along casually.
Ya hear that up ahead? Maybe we should play the Indians.
I’m not sure, I-
Leo would’ve done it. Besides, I’ve got the catapult.
Mahoney beats his palm against his mouth, making stereotypical “Indian” noises. He darts around the corner with his slingshot in his hand.
Mahoney turns the corner, and comes out on Wharf Road; this road has more store fronts than the last, and seems to be more of a Main Street. The streets are mostly vacant, but for several GIRLS playing a game on the sidewalk. They wear ragged dresses, and play with dirty dolls while shop owners open up their shops.
Mahoney runs at the girls, brandishing his slingshot.
Come on, ya filthy white varmints! Ya never seen an Indian brave before?
After chasing the girls for a bit, Mahoney loses them behind an empty fruit and vegetable stand. The girls duck under and behind the stand, and Mahoney is unable to stop his momentum until he passes them.
I don’t think you’re an Indian, Mahoney.
More screams are heard from Mahoney and the girls as Ciaran looks on.
Ya haven’t got the red skin.
One of the girls defends herself, backed up towards a store front, with a few wooden fruit stands between her and Mahoney. They both stutter step, trying to fake the other one out to lead him or her in the opposite direction. Mahoney does his Indian battle cry again.
As Ciaran calls Mahoney’s name, a rock comes from behind and hits Mahoney in the head. He turns around to face his attacker, and the girl escapes.
Two BOYS of about 6 or 7 years of age stand across the street, throwing rocks. Their clothes are like rags, and they wear caps. Still, there is a certain air of confidence and chivalry about them.
Pick on some one your own size, ya Swaddler scum!
Ya jerks! Ya Protestants!
Knock it off, would ya? I wasn’t actually gonna hurt ‘em. Quit throwin’ rocks!
The boys do not listen to Mahoney. He tries to avoid the rocks, but can only do so much.
I’m twice your size, ya brats! I could beat ya both up, at the same time!
Get out of the country! Da says that ya don’t belong here anyway!
We’re doin’ this for Ireland, ya swaddler. And for the girls!
Ciaran, let’s get out of here.
Ciaran and Mahoney run away around a corner.
Ya could have used your catapult!
I didn’t want to hurt ‘em!
Why’d ya bring it, then?
I told you! For the Pigeon House. Or for Father Bunsen. But only if I hafta!
The boys keep moving for a bit. Ciaran notices Mahoney wiping tears out of his face.
What’s the matter?
Grand da was a cricket player. That’s where I got the pin, ya see? Right there on my cap. But it don’t mean I’m a Protestant.
Hey-you want to run a siege? Maybe get ‘em back a bit. Like the Wild West!
Ah, but we can’t. Ya need three people for a siege. Leo only pulls it off because he has his big brother’s help, that’s why it’s only two of ‘em. We could never do it on our own. Besides, I’d feel bad pickin’ on a kid that’s half my size.
Ciaran chuckles softly.
Alright. Let’s keep goin’.
EXT. STREETS OF DUBLIN - DAY
Ciaran and Mahoney walk with fascination through the streets. The entire area is unfamiliar but exciting to them. WE SEE:
--Various store fronts opening, bustling with commerce.
--A homeless man, shaking a cup and asking for change. Mahoney and Ciaran quickly move away, frightened.
--Ciaran reaches into his pocket and looks regretfully at the money that he is hoarding, specifically the sixpence that Leo had given him that is now considered extra. Ciaran separates the money into three piles of sixpence in his hand and looks back at the homeless man.
--Mahoney, meanwhile, spies a cat, and begins to chase it down an alley with his slingshot.
--After a moment of hesitation, Ciaran follows Mahoney down the alley.
--Mahoney loses the cat near the docks, and the boys continue their journey.
--As they walk past the docks, fisherman and cranes load and unload boats full of fish and supplies.
--Mahoney picks a stick up and drags it across a fence, clicking obnoxiously.
--The boys come upon a store front.
EXT. GENERAL STORE FRONT - DAY
Mahoney and Ciaran stop in front of a general store.
Mahoney, how ya holdin’ up?
I’m alright. I heard my belly groan a bit, but I can keep on movin’ if ya’d like.
I’ve a bit of a hunger on me. What say we stop and get some food while we’re here?
INT. GENERAL STORE - DAY
Ciaran and Mahoney cruise the aisles of the store, looking for things to eat. They look through several aisles before quickly settling on a chocolate bars and biscuits.
Do we have enough?
Yeah. And what with Leo’s extra pence, we can stand to get a little more!
Ciaran adds two more biscuits to their pull.
But I wanted more chocolate.
Sorry, but we haven’t got that much extra money.
But you grabbed two more biscuits! I don’t want a biscuit, I want a chocolate.
Reluctantly, Ciaran puts a biscuit back.
Fine, take your chocolate, but let’s get movin’. We have to home by 4:00, or else our Mums will know we’re skippin’ class.
The boys leave the aisle and walk over to the cashier to pay. While Ciaran hands his money over the counter, Mahoney is distracted by the magazine rack nearby.
Ciaran, do ya see this? They’ve got those books here, the one’s that Leo always talks about! The Halfpenny Marvel, and the Union Jack!
Ciaran does not respond, as he is in the midst of a transaction.
Ciaran, did ya hear me, Ciaran? They’ve got the Wild West ones!
Ciaran takes his change and the food from the cashier and joins Mahoney at the magazine rack.
I heard ya, Mahoney. C’mon.
Well, we should get some, don’t ya think? Bring it back for Leo, you know, so he don’t forfeit his sixpence entirely.
But I already spent the money, to get your stupid chocolate. Besides...
Ciaran notices copies of Black Mask, Boys of New York, New York Weekly, the Fireside Companion and Ten Cent Irish Novels. He goes over to the rack, picks up a copy of Black Mask, and starts to skim through it.
...these are where the real stories are.
The Black Mask? Never heard of ‘em.
Yeah, ya wouldn’t have. There aren’t Indians in these ones.
Then what do all the cowboys do?
There ain’t cowboys, either. Now come on, let’s find a place to eat.
Ciaran leads the way out of the store, with Mahoney following, confused by the exchange.
EXT. DUBLIN DOCKS - DAY
After exiting the store, Ciaran and Mahoney walk down to the docks. They find a quiet pier, and sit down to eat their biscuits and chocolate. They have barely begun to eat their food when the rest of the laborers on the docks take their lunch breaks as well and invade in the pier on which they sit. Ciaran and Mahoney are clearly nervous and uncertain about this. A few sailors sit down next to them, puzzled by the presence of the children in day time.
Whatcha got there?
Chocolate and biscuits.
Chocolate and biscuits? That’s not a fittin’ breakfast for a boy like ya. Did yer mother pack it?
She did, did she? And then she sent ya out to the docks to eat it, huh?
The Sailors laugh together. Ciaran and Mahoney shift with discomfort and silently continue eating their food.
It’s alright, boys. We won’t tell yer mothers that yer skippin’ school.
The Sailors laugh again, and then continue with their regularly lunch time conversation (ad lib).
A glance is exchanged between Ciaran and Mahoney as they finish up their lunches. Following a large bite of his biscuit, Mahoney suddenly looks up, eyes wide, and chews his food faster in an attempt to get it down.
What is it?
Mahoney mumbles an unintelligible response with his mouth shut, still chewing. Ciaran laughs. Beat. Mahoney swallows his food hard, and finally answers.
It’s that cat, from before!
The cat that Mahoney had chased earlier can be seen in the grass on the side of the road just off the pier.
How do you know it’s the same one?
Mahoney throws the rest of his biscuit down on the pier, and jumps up to chase after the cat.
Ciaran scrambles to jump up and chase after Mahoney; he pauses for a moment to take one last bite of his biscuit, however, and then runs after his friend.
A SERIES OF SHOTS:
--Ciaran running after Mahoney down the pier.
--The cat perking up and noticing the approaching boys.
--Mahoney leaping towards the cat, onto the grass from the pier.
--The cat running away, with Mahoney’s feet landing where the cat stood a moment ago.
--Various shots of Ciaran chasing Mahoney chasing the Cat through the streets of Dublin, eventually running into the woods.
EXT. LARGE OPEN PASTURE - DAY
Mahoney runs into a large open field and stops in his tracks, trying to locate the cat. Ciaran turns the corner and runs into Mahoney, almost knocking him over into the grass. The two boys lie on the ground laughing together for a moment before standing up, out of breathe.
Did ya see where it went?
Nope. Did you?
I was six meters behind ya!
Ciaran and Mahoney walk out into the middle of the field.
It’s a real nice day.
You know what time it is?
How should I know? You’re the one in charge here.
I guess so.
Ciaran sits down in the grass and leans back, looking up at the sky.
What are ya doin’?
Takin’ a rest. It’s been a long day, and I just chased a cat for half a kilometer.
A soft whistling can be heard in the distance, gradually getting louder. The boys pay little attention to it at first.
Aye, that’s a good idea. But what about the Pigeon House?
I’ll be honest with ya-I don’t really care about the Pigeon House right now. We got to be home for four o’clock anyway, so let’s just rest a while here, yeah?
Mahoney sits down in the grass next to Ciaran. Mahoney pulls a blade of grass and chews on it.
The whistling grows louder, as the boys take in a moment of serenity.
Do ya hear that?
Ciaran looks behind him, towards the source of the sound. Mahoney turns his head a moment later.
Walking towards them, they see A MAN in his mid-40s with an Ashen-grey moustache, dressed in a shabby greenish-black suit and a tall hat. He walks with one hand on his hip; in his other hand, he holds a stick with which he lightly taps the grass as he walks.
Man walks up to Ciaran and Mahoney and stops for a second, looking down at them, before continuing on his way.
Ciaran and Mahoney exchange concerned looks.
Do ya think that Leo’s gonna snitch us or-
The Man turns around and walks back towards Ciaran and Mahoney; they silently anticipate his approach.
The Man dips his hat in greeting to the boys and sits down beside Ciaran. Ciaran and Mahoney mumble quiet, unintelligible responses.
Gorgeous day, ain’t it? Haven’t seen a day this nice in, oh, quite a while. It’s like the weather in every childhood memory. But I bet you boys haven’t much of those yet, have ya? ‘Course not! You’re still in yer childhood!
Ciaran and Mahoney shift uncomfortably.
Don’t suppose you boys have names?
Ciaran nudges Mahoney.
Hello Sean. Hello Leo. What are you boys doin’ out here? Shouldn’t ya be in school right about now?
We’re just enjoying the day.
It’s a holiday.
A holiday? I didn’t know today was a special one. That’s too bad, really. When I was your age, I loved goin’ to school. Every schoolboy’s fondest memories are forged while he’s in school. Ah, what I would give to be a boy again. Pretty days like this, runnin’ ‘round in uniform shorts. It just makes a life a simpler thing, ya know? How old are you boys, anyhow?
Ciaran and Mahoney exchange nervous glances, realizing that they have been caught in a lie. The Man just looks ahead and keeps talking, running his fingers through the grass and massaging the stick in his hand.
Well, when I was about your age, maybe a little older, I loved books. I loved to read-ya don’t get the chance to read as much when you’re my age. Do ya boys like books?
Yeah, they’re alright.
Well I bet your a bookworm just like me. What kind of books do ya like?
The Halfpenny Marvel and The Union Jack!
He means to say the Wild West. I like the detectives more, and their mysteries.
Ah. So he goes more in for games, I see. Have ya ever read a poem, my boy?
Aye, a few.
I love the poems. Have ya read Thomas Moore, perhaps or Sir Walter Scott?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Mahoney looks at Ciaran with confusion. Ciaran shrugs.
I’ve all the works of Sir Walter Scott back at home. And Lord Lytton! He’s the favorite. I never tire of readin’ ‘em.
Of course, there are some of Lytton’s works which boys like you should never read. At least, they’d never let ya.
The Man smiles creepily, revealing broken, yellowed teeth.
So, tell me. Do ya boys have sweethearts?
Oh, yeah. I’ve got three totties back at school. They’re waitin’ for me.
And what about you, young man?
I got none.
But you’re a handsome boy, I’m sure you’ve got at least one.
Well, how many have you got, mister?
The Man smiles again.
When I was your age, I had plenty of sweethearts. Every boy has a little sweetheart.
Those little girls, they have such-such soft hair, and the glowin’ lit’le eyes. Have ya touched a girl’s skin? It’s like silk, it is. Nothin’ that I like so much as lookin’ at a pretty little girl, with her nice hands, or her long, flowin’ hair, maybe tied back in a black velvet band.
At this point, the boys mostly stop listening to him, but they let him ramble on for a bit.
Gentle skin, reflectin’ off the sun, and the shimmerin’ hair. Ya ever get ‘em close-get ‘em real close, and smell a pretty girl like that? She smells as if a warm spring day had blossomed from her neck. A day like this will make you long for the warm touch of skin.
Ciaran and Mahoney are visibly creeped out by this.
Of course, a girl is not as good as she would let ya to believe.
There is a short pause, as the Man’s last words linger, and echo off the slope of a hill in the pasture.
You’ll excuse me for a minute, won’t ya? I’ve a thing to do.
The Man gets up and walks away towards the end of the field, and disappears from sight amongst the foliage. An awkward moment of silence passes between Ciaran and Mahoney.
When Ciaran finally begins to break the silence, Mahoney’s eyes widen.
Well, he’s a queer ol’ josser, ain’t he?
Look! Do ya see what he’s doin’? Look!
Ciaran and Mahoney shift their eyes in the direction that the man had walked away in. They shift their focus away, and sit again in silence until the Man returns.
Just as the Man is about to sit down again, Mahoney catches the glimpse of the cat that he had been chasing earlier.
There he is!
Mahoney jumps up and chases after the cat as the Man sits down beside Ciaran.
Well. Boys will be boys, eh?
Ciaran and the Man watch Mahoney chase the cat for a bit.
Over the course of the following dialouge, Ciaran grows progressively more uncomfortable, and subtly tries to get Mahoney’s attention; Mahoney, meanwhile, keeps chasing the cat, sometimes throwing rocks or using his slingshot.
He’s a rough boy. Leo, was it? Tell me-is he whipped a lot? At school, I mean.
We’re not-we’re not from the National School.
Well, if I’ve come to know a thing in my life, it’s that every boy deserves a whippin’. They ought to be whipped, and whipped well at that. Boys like him, they’re rough, unruly, and a slap on the hand or a box on the ear is no good. Not compared to a nice, hard whippin’. That’s what he wants, a whippin’, warm and sound.
Ciaran glances up at the Man’s face for a moment, but the man does not notice or stop; he is too engaged in his monologue.
If I ever met a boy who didn’t know a girl was bad for him, I would whip there myself. I would hit him hard enough to teach him not to talk to any girls. And a boy who has a sweetheart and told me any lies about it, I would whip him like nothin’ in the world. Oh, there’s nothin’ I would love so well as that. To bend him over a desk, and take a ruler, or a hand and hit him right on the behind. It wouldn’t be right unless I heard the slap, or seen the cheeks redden and swell with the mark of my hand. Yes, a boy’s got to be punished when he’s takin’ good to a girl. If he’s rough, then he’s to be roughened up. Ya understand, yes? Dear God, it would be better than a thing in the world, if I could teach the boys in such a way, make every one better, and wiser, and strong, by a whip.
The Man, wrapped up in the ecstasy of his monologue, takes a pause, and Ciaran abruptly stands up. He looks around for a moment for a suitable exit before bending back down and pretending to tie his shoe.
It’s been good to meet ya, sir, but I’ve got to get goin’. Got to be home for supper, or my mum’ll be all in a rage. Cheers!
Ciaran turns to leave the pasture, walking quickly. The Man moves his hand around in the grass, near Ciaran’s ankles, grabbing clumps grass and earth and prompting Ciaran to walk faster.
As Ciaran reaches the top of the hill of the pasture where they first entered, he turns around, and blindly calls across the field without looking back to see the Man.
Mahoney hears him after the second time, and gives up his pursuit of the cat to meet Ciaran at the top of the hell. Mahoney runs with a feigned air of bravery, as if he were bringing aid to Mahoney
Ciaran peers back over his shoulder with a look of disdain to make sure that Mahoney is coming.
Go n-ithe cata thu agus go n-ithe an diabhaill an cata.
FINAL FADE OUT
Based on "An Encounter" by James Joyce, from the Dubliners series.
Friday, December 7, 2007
off the greyish noontime clouds:
"I am not tied down to the day."
Moisture still penetrates the air,
the day is right, and I lace up my shoes,
music in my hand; a one-strap
backpack with cloth patches of bands
I haven't listened to for years:
"Feet, don't fail me now."
The inches of green that flutter and wave
goodbye: I'm led somewhere alive.
It buzzes and honks,
creates and destroys,
pollutes me with noise
but it's alive.
My headphones drown
out the passing sounds,
suggesting the soundtrack
to the final scene of
another pretentious art house
film we should have never even written.
Still, content, I march
towards the harbor
towards the sunset
of cliches, of every beautiful metaphor
that she's already fallen for, but still
I'm stepping out:
"Feet, don't fail me now."
She offers me a penny for my thoughts.
"This is it," I say, as I smile, laugh,
and make a wish.
Gives the sense of simpler symbols
A gallery of sculpture, and
of oil and ease.
The rudest draughts of a few
streams of tendency that educate
perceptions of an eye and heart:
Presently, we pass
A poem, or a romance
Under an oak tree-
it never quite repeats itself
It Never Quite Repeats Itself
It fills the eye-not less
Until we fire all the best
the world should give suggestion of
my ear and heart.
A sky full of eternal eyes
but always flowing, capped and based
by Heaven, Earth, and sea:
the stream of tendency, it paints a tune.
The aspiring portrait of fate within
exclude this element,
the indifferency in which
all the passions concentrate
on just this moment.
Mommy had these buoyant lips of
pallid pink, thin but full of life--
just like me, she'd always say.
Somehow, the bones that showed of her
teeth were even darker than the off-white silk
that stretched across her frame. We shared
the same haircut, her and I, a faded sea
of midday sunlight blond. She said
I always had to make sure I was safe
out on the playground, or in games,
and when she did, my Dad would look on
gently, with a sadness in his eyes
that never went away.
He always said he loved us,
and I believed him-I still do-
but I wished that I could save
those eyes from the sunken black
bags beneath that threatened
to swallow them, deep into abyss.
When I'd ask Mommy why, she'd say
I had to find a grown-up
if I ever cut myself; she made me promise
not to touch anyone
if there was ever blood.
Just to be safe, she'd say.
She'd never really tell me why, but
she'd remind me that she loved me.
On the day she died, Lily was chasing me
through the schoolyard, trying desperately
to tag me and to pass her title on.
I quickly spun my head to gauge
the gap that shrank between us,
but I guess it wasn't quick enough.
I tripped on the curb and toppled
towards the sidewalk pavement
inches above my feet; my teeth clenched
tightly, anticipating impact. Time slowed down
-if only for a moment-
as my face approached the ground,
my chin and my knee scraped and gashed
in the vicious pursuit of the game. Lily cleared
the playground with her siren scream, even
before the first drop of blood turned
to crimson from blue.
And the nurse ran outside
just in time to see the sanguine flood
spill across the asphalt, like molten lava
tearing through a small and unsuspecting town.
In a panic, she snapped on rubber gloves
and I watched the powder dissipate.
I heard her yell to someone else to telephone my Dad;
I thought I was in trouble, and in a way, I guess I was.
When he finally arrived, Dad's eyes were sunken
deeper than before, glazed and glowing red,
and he exhaled with a stutter when he told me, "Mommy's dead."
to watch the changing guards
as they dance their canine cares
away, or hide the smoky veil of truth
from pairs of pale men, pockets
lined, to brown bags hiding
closing time's desires. There's a fight
on either side--one with claws, and
one with knives. Across the street
They hide beneath the shade and
gamble lives, but no one on the
other side will stop to bat an eye.
While some may wear a leash of chains,
the other side is held as fast by bars
and by the rain and by the promise of
a supper that He prays is not His last:
Patron Saint of Somewhere Else, please
bring Us greener pastures and better days,
otherwise entitled to those good enough
to pay. So We laugh it off like child's play,
endearing simple-minded pleasures--stay out
of the way, of the teeth They bare and call a game
beneath the watchful Eye of telephone lines.
There is a Man who stares across the street
in silence, and in envy, of another man's best friend:
They will not let You play, and They will not let You in.
that separates the church and hate, but
stained glass symptoms tell the same
old stories that I've known since I was four--
Will he still bear this cross alone?
(Someone turned the fountain off;
the youth have all gone home)
I drink a draft of cleaner air than I have
tasted in two weeks, and you're not here
to share a sip with me. At least I've got
my pen and paper, drinking in the night with me;
At least I don't imbibe the air alone.
(Is this medicine,
or is this me?
forget to breathe.)
Molecules meticulously marching in cohesion
as they slide across her marble curves
to do it all again; Sad to say, the water
can't escape; at least the crickets still sing me to sleep.
Cobblestones, she walks alone
Determined not to fall into the fountain;
Where's she been? Will I see her again?
about eight hundred forty seven days
into my life; though I tried, I could
not hear my mother cry above the sound
of cracking bones colliding with the concrete.
I never meant to martyr, I just thought it was
my time, or I just thought that I could manifest
a set of feathered wings (its not a halo, its a sign)
but it turns out man was never meant to fly.
Now I'm starting a support group that I'm calling Killing
Darwin, because I think it's time that we evolved ourselves
face; they draw no blood, but shred my skin
until I fall awake
inside a doorway, in a city,
under blankets torn and old
I am choked by dirt and worms
but still protected from the cold.
When the freezing rain is falling, I
am certain I have earned my discontent,
just as I deserve this green oak
park bench as my bed
I could use some conversation;
I could use a warmer heart.
But I sleep with ghosts and needles
in this dead, abandoned park,
mumbling between my failing breathes:
"Excuse me, mister,
can you spare some change?
This city's cold
and these shoes have holes."
I caught you in an eye-to-eye
and still you kept on walking bye,
naked but your three-piece suit
and tie around your neck just like a noose
against your auburn skin;
Oh, to taste the steel,
mahogany, and sweat:
Ivory and ebony inhabiting her ears,
where the stabbing sharps and numbing flats
are natural as far I can hear
and she is ever ringing
with a certain stunning dissonance
that fingers finer harmonies
than I could wish to breathe.
Hers hips that curve in brilliant reds
press hard against my thighs each night,
and her dog-eared lips always
scream at every wall like Seraphim.
My fingers feel the action
As they curl, and as I sweat;
I clench my eyelids tighter
and allow my hands to guide me home
But I only stroke your neck to hear you sing
and I only pull your strings to make you scream
and now I'll try to keep you safe
from the tryant rain of Independence day;
We'll watch the sky explode above the hospital,
and I'll think of all the things that I can say
to you to make this moment perfect, make it
worth it, make it better than it is. But instead, I'll whisper
something dumb, like "I'm just happy here,"
or maybe "I could wrap my arms around you,
stay forever, and I think it'd be alright.
I'll quickly realize that I sound so lame,
so I'll just laugh and look at you as the sounds
sneak past my lips and through the rain. I'll try
to play it off, but then you'll smirk and shake
your head; I hope your windswept hair slides softer
than your planted septum kisses and your girlish
scent consumes the sulfur silhouettes tonight.
And then you'll turn your head to watch
the burning sky above us fall again
(I love the way it sparkles and it fades),
I'll shudder when I feel your olive neck
lean against my chest, and for maybe just a moment
I'll forget about the irony, drip-dripping from my shoulders.
If the sky will split again, then
I'll quick-nibble at your ear--
there's a word for that, I think;
I'm sure I've used it once before,
but you'd still let me repeat it, like
the Angels, Brits, and Willow trees
of which you never bore, or the sweetened
factories with temple guards and green
monkeys you seem to know so well.
At least we'll have your ceiling stars
to wish upon if nothing else goes right.
I know that you get scared of heights,
but baby, this is just how lovers walk.
We always eat our young
We've found a way to sharpen fangs
On our own flesh and blood
We always eat our love
We always eat our love
Swallow heads to (h)our glassy
stomaches when they come
We always eat our God
We always eat our God
We beg, deny, and crucify
and never get enough
We still eat our young
We still eat our young
We chew them up and grind them down
to something that we want
We still eat the ones we love
We still eat the ones we love
Food and sex are all we need,
Survival's all we want
We still eat all our Gods
We still eat all our Gods
Whose bloody chalice posthumously
tells us what we want
Oh, Packer, maybe you were right
but swears he feels the impact. Somehow,
he knows just how it feels to be the hammer,
with just one chance to pound the metal casing
and send a bullet to wherever bullets go.
He lightly sighs and feels the gun become
an extension of his arm: Fire-Arm.
The cold steel texture of what was
once a handle has gone numb,
warmed and smoothed by the flesh
and blood that is pumping through veins
and past the grip before it pours into
the chamber. His heart is swelling steadily,
screaming perseverance (or at least it tries);
but our blood is built to spill before its time.
Ideas are bulletproof, he reminds himself.
A single bullet starts a revolution. Forty-five
revolutions every minute sing a song in
seven inches. If one hundred bullets start
one hundred revolutions, doesn't every
bullet have a tune? He needs to find a harmony.
He counts the bullets in the chamber as
a single bead of sweat falls from where
his hand became the gun, landing on his toe
that he had shot an hour earlier; irony. Only he
could ever salt these wounds. He breathes
in deep, and checks his watch: it's 9:43.
Good time for a revolution.
away, her nimble toes and
stunted heels directing her
across the interstate.
she's headed north with no
delay, and he just waits and
watches as she walks away.
he knows at least a thousand
words, a thousand things to
say to keep to her near, but he
could not speak the syllables
that she had hoped to hear,
so he stumbles home, confident
and cool and well aware that
he will sleep alone, and he turns
around once more to watch her
walk away, but finds her gone.
my right hand twitch as thoughts and lines and
words and signs, like shrapnel, scatter through my skull
until this pulpy flesh is covered black and blue. I
twist the plosives, fuck the adjectives, and maim
the nouns until they come alive:
and then I have a beer.
I'll weigh it on a grey scale
and then I guess we'll talk.
I still speak in tongues and lips and fingertips,
and I keep stuttering semantics, and I always
let you fall for it, making meaning out
of every fated kiss; and I hoped that it
would never come to this (but it always does).
As always, art is open
to the interpretation
of the patron, and while I may
have lost you in translation,
I was found sleeping soundly
in a sea of constellations where
I drowned beneath the comfortable
blankets of abyss, its never-ending
nothingness reminding me
of all that I had missed.
Though I'm hardly a scientist, it seems
to be my density, and not my mass,
that helps me stay afloat; I guess that I've
been lying to myself all along. My heart
has only half the hallowed substance of
the ocean that it swallows (albeit eloquently),
but like drinking too much water, you
can drown your cells and suffocate yourself
until you choke (metaphorically speaking).
My betrayal knows no tragedy, and so
my greatest stories have all spilled
from my own pen, and my authenticity
is never called to question, like the
greatest of the dead white men; it seems
I will not go down in history as the
soft romantic man that I believe myself
to be. Instead, I leave my Juliets' for
dead and carry on, never stopping
long enough to wonder if I'm wrong.
a bed stand in the places that we go when we
get lonely for an hour. The paper-thin parchment
crunches when I turn the page, like autumn leaves
that fell from burning trees too soon;
translucent and impermanent, the noises
keep me company in every bawdy tomb.
I read my favorite stories to a girl that I
won't Mary from the time when you were
thirty-two, and think of all the shit you carried
with you on your back (you never let it weigh
you down) and I am hoping to remember all
the things you taught me back when you were still around.
Dad, I see your diary was written down by
someone else's hand, but I still remember
everything you taught me about how to be
a man. You'll be glad to know your grand
daughter is working overseas where she is
farming in a fertile land and does it all for
free, and how I almost tied your grandson to
a fence the other day, but I just pelted him
with rocks until he bled out all the gay.
See, I'm trying hard to live my life
just the way you told me, or at least
the way I read it in this dusty little
story book where your friends had all
your best intentions written down.
But Father, I have got to ask how you
drank from that bloody glass and split
the fish while we were killing kingdoms
in your name, and how you loved the lonely
lepers and you knew your mother's whore,
when you told me that the wicked
would not be let in your doors. But you're
not around to give me all the answers
I might need, so I am forced to watch
as Mary takes my sixty bucks and leaves.
a window painted blue, and
electric lights that won't reflect
but sound so clearly overdue.
It permeates the smell of sanitation and
of jaundice under skin
that has been peeled away by saline soldiers,
crawling on their knees
across a bridge of gathered lives.
Maybe this time-
she'll sound so much better
in a sweater, than this dress
that leaves her back exposed
so all the coldest
air can make a nest.
All the stabbing, all the dripping,
all the fevers and the cries,
and poorly picked out tiles
on the wall have watched
a million maidens die
(underneath electric lights).
She's so mixed up like metaphors, it's
better for her, but
when all the shallow echoes fall
and settle in her cheeks
she's still demanding all that I can V.
The leather on your couch
feels as nice as it smells
tonight, or is it afternoon?
I'm sorry if I'm boring you.
The chess set on the coffee table
Glimmers like a brand new day-
Oh, I swear that you will get paid anyway.
Is it just me, or is your hair green?
Maybe there's something in my eye,
I think it's been there for a while.
She had blue hair once, you see;
That was before she dyed it green.
That was before she fell in love with me.
Oh, how we fell in love with us;
I always thought that'd be enough.
But anyways, we were driving,
my baby riding shotgun in the car;
don't know where we're going,
but babe, I've never been this far from home,
and oh, I've never been so not alone.
And I was finally hearing
every poem and song I'd heard before.
That's when I realized that
they had all been written just for her.
Then something took control of me,
an evil, screaming voice from deep inside.
And ever since, I still can see her eyes-
they were full of such surprise
as I clawed through skin and
Dug her beating heart out from her chest.
Oh, and I still hear it pounding
just for me and in my ears
as I watched her bleed on my upholstery.
And so begins the ride.
I thought we'd get the ring this time,
you know I tried.
I never thought I'd make you cry;
I never thought I'd let you die, but
that's when the doctor said
my time was up.
But why to light
the concrete or the iron pipe?
The halogenic halos holding steady in the night
Coarse and auburn bodies border
A Balcony that stands alone.
Spider webs of cold blue steel swallow and surround her back
And lampposts only break against the rock.
The time is right to make
A wish against the night;
Bird awaits, and calls his mate.
While she waxes romance
And whose leather tongue is rolling ever wisely from her perch,
On adjacent routes.
The air surrounds his shoulders with
a warm, moist shawl. The pavement shimmers,
damp with evening dew
that carries through the air
the scent, the sensation
of still something new:
I look to the ledge whereon
our fateful boot awaits,
and the bird still sings:
I will meet you here, upon
this floating chandelier.
A beckon. A beacon. A black woman
I laugh and walk away.
The man inside the van was never there.
The bird still lies.
The boot is not a pug:
The boot still lies.
Tainted by the salt in sweat
She wants to hold him in
She knows how this begins
By any name, his musk would
still consume her
As it fills her, he inflates her
He drinks her lips instead
He knows just how it ends
and just how it's
she rolls over, finds a rose
left in his wake
She's bleeding as it penetrates.
And he whispers something
But maybe it was nothing
The sweetest little nothing
That she never even heard
And she's feeling something
But he wishes it was nothing
The sweetest little nothing
That he never thought he'd feel
"At the risk of sounding vague
I think we're going to be okay"
Thursday, December 6, 2007
love, I think I
do. I breathe. I learn. I laugh.
I play. I enjoy. I dance, I
Sing. I write. I
Joke, I cry.
I bleed. I observe. I participate. I lead. I
watch. I follow.
I understand. I contemplate. I
sneeze. I cough. I yawn. I sleep. I
Run, I jump.
I shower. I
Listen, I talk.
I learn. I know I hang.
I chill. I enjoy. I relax. I plan.
I eat. I manipulate, I
I save. I serve. I pro-
Tect. I accept. I
exclude. I judge, I agree.
I argue. I respect. I support, I
Drink. I clean. I procrastinate. I
I absorb, I see--
howl as they tear across his face
like sandpaper. The open front of
the glass bus stop walls frame his view
like a diorama, but face straight
into the gusts of unrelenting autumn air.
The screech and squall of downtown rush
hour traffic is quickly overcome by the
abrasive crunching sound of deadened leaves,
crumbling to brownish dust beneath his feet
and tires. He sits in silence, waiting, breathing
slowly, as the repugnant subway steam from down below
billows up through the sewer grates to fill his nose
and consumes the crisp aromas of the fall.
The setting sun casts a brownish-yellow shadow
over everything, covering the world in sepia tone;
even fallen leaves, once glowing with
immediate transcendence, have turned
a grayish-brown and lost all warmth (have lost all life).
and this was your last fall with him (if it ever were at all).
you said you're scared of the colors and the wind,
afraid their whispers may remind you still of him.
Oct. '06/April '07
of a beautiful day
when the robots have all gone home
and the sunlight sneaks in
through the blinds and cracks; your eyelids part to find the calm of her back.
You lick your lips, they split to press against her skin,
as you watch her warm chest
rise and fall.
Rise And Fall
to the side and you can't help but smile and sigh.
And you can feel her goosebumps rise.
Your fingertips draw lines
and pictures on her skin;
you wrap your arms around her
where the hourglass grows thin,
and it fits just like a key
as you fall into her smooth and naked body.
You kiss her neck to taste the sweat
as you watch her warm chest
rise and fall.
Rise and Fall
to the side
And you can't help but smile and sigh,
and every thing's alright.
Her faint lips part to breath your breathe
and you watch her, watch her
Watch her smile.
thrown on the floor
where I pass out every night.
And the polyurethane
that coats the floor
reflects the light from the street.
There's never been a fire
in the fireplace
ever since they came and sealed it up,
and every time I open the door
I've got to give it a kick
'cause it gets stuck.
I hear the thudding pitter-patter
of the kid upstairs;
I've never seen him, but he wakes me up.
And that's the funny thing
about the cross I bear:
I only need it to get me going.
And it's quiet, sometimes
quiet when I'm singing
in the shower all alone;
it's not my home,
but it's a place to rest my head.
I'm never home,
I'm told I'll rest when I am dead
(Sing to me, Jeff Tweedy,
am I listening to you?
Is this how I fight loneliness,
by running somewhere new?
I'm sorry that I'm leaving
but it's something I must do)
of a thousand long dead men
to describe a scene they've never seen
or a feeling never felt.
For how shall I compare thee
to a summer's day, in spring?
And right before my eyes
I see the ducks return from southward flight.
But the words I write will ne'er describe
the beauty of such a sight.
And the golden sun is soon eclipsed
by Boston's golden dome,
and the pinkish dusk surrounding leaves
is not of words I've known.
And so I sigh as I secede
to poets writ of timeless beauty:
Their syllables will some day fade
and render me unable to speak
of the beautiful truth, rage, passion and grace
that will always be of thee.
as we're passing Rye
it reeks of piss and bleach
on this four hour drive.
I hear they've got some real
nice beaches in Kingston.
I'll stand on the shore
with the sand between my toes
as the ocean waves roll:
Oh, I've really been dying to drown,
but every time I think I've settled down
I find it's time to go.
What is a home
when all you own is in a backpack
and you sleep with your guitar
after countless nights of passing out alone.
Where do you go
when you're always told that there's no place like home?
Please state your name and destination:
My name is Jonas and I have none
Call me Ishmael, and I am for the sea.
You can call me Holden Caulfield,
but I'm still not holding on
to any person, place, or thing where I belong.
This martyr needs a party;
this lover needs a quest.
A thousand times I've heard it said
that home is where the heart is kept,
and all the yellow lines I count like bricks
while staring at the sun
just remind me that I'm always on my way, that
I am on my own.
They point and laugh and tell me where to go
but I am always told that there's no place like home.
I will never be your homecoming king.
Calm and collected,
this city never looks quite as relaxed as it does
from fourteen stories above
and tonight, the night has just begun.
Now it's 12:35 and the night's so alive:
Are those ants down below
or just people I've known?
And that war thoughts have left me,
I step off the ledge
as delicate thoughts take their place in my head.
But those sticky white strands would soon fly from my
and I will swing across rooftops
to find someplace to land.
Perhaps your apartment
with the lights turned down low.
I'll quietly creep in through your bedroom window;
You sleep like a beauty,
and I kiss your head
as I take off my mask, and I take my place in your bed.
And you said, "Isn't it time someone saved your life?"
You know that I'd rescue you
if you'll rescue me, too,
and if you call me your "Tiger"
I will always be true.
There will be nights
that I come home real late,
but you know that it's hard
when there's a world to save.
I'm super lame, a super hero
who fell in love with a super model.
I'm dangerous to know
and you'll be threatened by my foes,
but I promise that I'll never let you feel harm
if you promise that I'll have a place in your arms.
I will crawl to you
Up the wall to you
I will swing to you
As I sing
Be my Mary Jane.
Now don’t get me wrong—Jack was a great guy. A little unfaithful, sure, but I wouldn’t hold it against him. And sure, Rock n’ Roll came from the States. We had our Elvis, and Chuck Berry, and all that. But the attitude, the charm, and the raw, awesome power of Rock n’ Roll never made themselves known, never reared their collective head of long, greasy, unkempt hair that covered boyish faces, until the Brits had the balls to make it mean something. Eventually, we produced some great poets: Dylan, Morrison, even Janis Joplin. Of course, those bastard brats in my American Lit section never got into it. But who could blame them? Overseas, they had Morrissey, and Ray Davies, not to mention Shakespeare. We had Buddy Holly; they had Elvis Costello. We gave the world the Beach Boys (along with Brian Wilson’s multitude of eccentricities); England had the Beatles, and while they may be the most overrated band of all time, at least they trumped Mike Love’s falsetto West Coast longings. They gave us Radiohead, and the Cure, and Queen, none of whom are really comparable to anything else at all. And all of them had passed through the exact same gates at Heathrow at some point in their lives that brought me here today.
I look at all the people on the train—sorry, The Tube. The Underground—and find it shocking that they’re all actually going somewhere today. I can’t believe they haven’t declared this a national state of emergency, or a day of mourning, or something. I guess it would be about a week of mourning at this point, but still, in the wake of what’s happened, I thought at least a few thousand more lives would be affected. That’s just city life, I guess.
Jimmy Page, arguably the greatest guitar shredder of all time, was from England. And how did we respond to Led Zeppelin? With the Ramones, a bunch of longhaired Neanderthals from Queens. The Sex Pistols may have been a marketing scheme, but at least they had the right attitude. One group sang out in support of Reagan—REAGAN—and the other cried, “Anarchy in the UK!” Then came the Clash, another mob of British miscreants.
Now, I hate the Clash. Walking around, pretending to be a punk rock band, and calling themselves “The Only Band That Matters,” when there’s only one band that really matters, and it sure as hell ain’t the Clash. It was the Rolling Stones. Joe Strummer had a few unkind words to say about The Stones, but that’s only because he couldn’t deal with the fact that the Stones were the original Rock n’ Roll rebels. They were the counterculture, the look, the sex, the drugs, posing for photographs with cigarettes and snarls. Mick Jones had nothing on Mick Jagger: The Clash only called themselves “The Only Band That Matters” because the Stones had already been crowned, “The Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World.”
Piccadilly Circus. What a weird name for a station stop.
The Rolling Stones had claimed their crown by 1969, just in time for their American tour that same year. Elvis was the King, or so they said, but the Stones trumped him hard. And with good reason—all he ever did was join the army and shake his hips on public television. Eight years later, he died. Not from drugs, or obesity, like everyone had claimed. There’s not enough symbolism in that. He died from inadequacy: he had realized that The Rolling Stones had usurped his throne, far surpassed his reign, and showed no signs of slowing down. For that, I commend him: Elvis opted to live on as a Rock n’ Roll martyr, rather than allow himself to burn out and fade away. And the Stones kept going strong; I can think of no king, no ruler or tyrant that has held such an unequivocal title, in the history of man. If you’ve no reason, and no chance, to stand up to the Rock n’ Roll Empire that is Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, why bother? Why waste your time?
Nick Drake. Kurt Cobain. Elliott Smith. Darby Crash. The list goes on, of rockers gone suicidal. American rock stars, terminating their own lives, once they realized the futility of their careers. American Rock n’ Roll bands would never last as long, or impact the world as strongly as the British Invasion, and subsequent guitar-laden exports from the UK. This attitude has contributed significantly to the rift between the Rock: American artists inherently knew they’d never be good enough. Some of them gave up all together. Our country is nothing but an offshoot of England anyway—how could we ever escape their shadow?
There is one exception to this, however. And that’s what brings me to Hyde Park right now. The place where, in 1969, shortly after the crowning, and two days before the Stones’ Hyde Park concert, founding member Brian Jones drowned himself in the swimming pool by the Winnie the Pooh statue. Brian Jones. Having very recently been kicked out of the band himself, his misery was mostly understandable. But given the recent situation, I thought that this would be the best place to start.
Mind the Gap, and all that.
On his first day teaching at Randolph High School, Paul Spector entered his third period American Lit class in absolute silence; a full minute after the late bell rang. “Please allow me to introduce myself,” he recited to his students in a droning bass tone. “I’m a man of wealth and taste, but you may call me…Mr. Spector.” He stood in silence for a minute longer, waiting for someone, anyone to get his joke; all he got was twenty-two pairs of blinking bloodshot eyes staring back at him in adolescent agony. After the first year of this, Paul realized that teaching in a public high school was not for him; still, for the sixteen years that followed, he insisted on beginning the academic year the exact same way, and it never went over well. In recent years, he also had to deal with students calling him a “queer,” because he wore earrings. Since when has counter culture become so un-hip? he would ask himself, year after year. Occasionally, he’d have a student who knew that “Beggars Banquet” was the greatest Rock n’ Roll album of all time, or at least one who liked the “The Bends” more than “OK Computer,” but these teacher-student connections never went far in establishing any kind of respect for him.
Still, Paul remained at his job, less out of some noble optimistic drive to educate the disillusioned youth of the land, and more from force of habit, and lack of any other real passion in life: music elitism hardly pays well. He tried to make his English curriculum appeal to his students by allowing them to present their favorite songs as poetry, and although he found Jay-Z’s use of internal rhyme quite fascinating, his students hardly showed any interest in analyzing Dave Matthews’ lyrics, let alone The Smiths’. But still, he trudged through Hawthorne, James, Twain, and the rest, with occasional enthusiasm from his drowsy audience for forty-five minutes a day, one hundred and eighty days a year, for seventeen years.
This is my nineteenth nervous breakdown.
Late January one year, following the annual “Mark Twain is a racist!” class discussion and its usual ambiguous conclusions, Paul offered his students a chance at extra credit. “This Sunday is the Super Bowl,” he reminded them with a smirk. “As some of you may be aware, I’m not the biggest football fan on the planet, but this year, the Rolling Stones are supplying the halftime entertainment. Now, I still don’t know the difference between a field goal and punt and all that, but at least I know when the Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band in the World is going to rock your face off. And again, that would be Sunday during the half-time show. Write me two pages on how the Rolling Stones have changed the world—or why they really are the Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band in the World—and I’ll give you five points on your test next week.”
“…Or, you can write a paper on how the Beatles are far superior to the Stones in every possibly way. You may incur the horrible wrath of Mr. Spector, but at least you’ll maintain your integrity,” called a voice from the doorway. “…How’d you end up with a black door?”
“The janitor let me paint it, Mr. Putney,” Paul said with a sigh. Jim Putney taught in the classroom next door, and mostly shared Paul’s passion for Rock n’ Roll; the only real differences were that Jim had always favored the Beatles, and that Jim had a personality that surpassed musical elitism. “Anyone who writes me a paper about the Beatles receives an F for the year,” Paul joked as the bell rang.
The students stormed towards the checkered marble halls as Paul and Jim continued with their endless debate on British Rock Royalty. One student, Chucky Ellis, in his typical timid manner, humbly interrupted the conversation. “Mr. Spector?” he implored, like a child confessing to his parents. He swallowed hard when Paul acknowledged him. Chucky sat to the left of the front row in class, and barely weighed in at one hundred pounds; he would tremble just the same when he would ask to use the bathroom. “Have you ever heard that joke, um, about how the only things that can survive a nuclear war are cockroaches and that guy from the Rolling Stones?”
Paul laughed. “I’ve heard that joke a million times, Chuck. The real punch line is that Keith Richards is actually God, and you can’t kill God. I don’t know about those cockroaches though.”
“Okay…thanks Mr. Spector,” Chuck sputtered, as he ran out the door and on to his next class.
“ You shouldn’t lie to your kids, man,” Jim scolded. “Everyone knows that John Lennon was the next Christ figure—he even told the world straight up, ‘We’re bigger than Jesus.’ It was a sign, man. He even died for our sins. Besides, if Keith Richards were immortal, he wouldn’t need to go in for those routine oil changes all the time.”
“They’re not oil changes…he just gets a little carried away with the drugs sometimes. Falling out of trees, and all that,” Paul retaliated.
“They drilled a hole through his brain, and he was back on tour and on drugs in less than a month! That’s messed up, man.”
Paul grinned wide with satisfaction. “That’s because he’s God.”
According to legend, Brian Jones had resided in the former home of A.A. Milne, the creator and author of the Winnie the Pooh series of stories. Whether or not this played into Jones’s decision to drown himself in the Pooh bear pool is still up for debate. Clearly, Jones was quite conscious in his decision about when he was going to kill himself, being just two days prior to the Stones’ unveiling of his replacement, but the Pooh bear symbolism has always made me question the why.
Not that it matters at this point. It didn’t even matter that he was buried twelve feet underground instead of six. There was no fucking symbolism, no fucking logic at all. And that’s what I’d missed for the last forty years. There was nothing. There never had been anything. No suicide. No sex. No drugs. No butterflies. No Rock n’ Roll. There was no sympathy for the Devil, and there never would be. I don’t even know if there’s a Devil anymore, if there’s no God to balance it out.
Fucking Pooh Bear.
I head back towards The Underground. It’s the closest thing left to a counter culture, to the Street Fighting Men, to everything Rock n’ Roll had ever stood for, and even then, only in its name and literal function and all that. For God’s sake, it’s a place where trains go.
Crossing Hyde Park, I can’t help but notice four guys in their twenties, posing for a photograph with somber expressions. I wait a few minutes, just to see what they’re up to. They strive for some kind of perfection—they have a precise image, a precise moment in their minds. They seem pretty serious, but that’s not what they’re going for. They’re re-creating something established, which would explain their precision and re-takes. And then it hits me. They’re trying to be the goddamn Beatles on the cover of “For Sale.” Here I am, the only guy who visits the Christopher Robin statue to mourn, and these kids have the nerve to take a Beatles replica photo not one hundred feet away.
I board the train, heading back for Piccadilly. I transfer to the Jubilee Line at Green Park, and wonder what Jubilee means. Why can’t they just call it the Gray Line? Or Grey Line, respectively. I find nothing celebratory about this train, in this Tube. For the first time, I begin to wonder what it is I’m trying to accomplish on this dumb adventure anyway. I don’t even know why I’m on this goddamn train. Maybe I’m just looking for some shred of hope, an iota or an inkling that Rock n’ Roll ever meant something, to someone, somewhere, if it meant nothing now.
“What can a poor boy do,” they sang, “Except to sing for a Rock n’ Roll band?” But what comes of a poor boy when he’s got no Rock n’ Roll?
I live in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of my block
And I sit at home looking out the window
Imagining the world has stopped
Paul lived alone in a studio apartment at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. He actually approached his apartment hunting with this specific address in mind—he cared less for size, price, or location than he did for obscure Rock n’ Roll references, just so he could laugh himself to sleep; he got more satisfaction out of pop counter culture than he ever did from romance, much to his father’s dismay. On that Super Bowl Sunday, Paul had cleaned his living room and folded up his sleeper sofa, as if anticipating company. Tortilla chips, mild salsa, and a six-pack of Budweiser would get him through the night. Ever since college, Paul had hated the taste of beer, but he would always buy a pack of Bud for special occasions, and the Stones at the Super Bowl certainly qualified.
For the first time in the thirty-five years he’d been watching Super Bowls, Paul noticed that the game began with a coin toss. Such an arbitrary way to begin…He noticed that the clock would stop every four to twelve seconds, for about a minute, making time seem malleable, flowing like a gel. He systematically consumed the chips, and the bubbles from his Pilsner drink left the salsa in his stomach unsettled. So he ate more chips. Fifteen minutes passed in an hour’s time; the next eight minutes passed in the life of a beer. Meanwhile, Budweiser’s annual commercial gimmicks only made him stop drinking for a minute, just to think about a drink. He spent the next “seven-minute” twenty minutes focused more on the crowd than the game—he never knew who to root for anyhow, since the Stones knew no competition. He recalled Jim’s persistent jabs about the Fab Four as the first half of the game came to a close: Sure, McCartney played the Super Bowl alone that year, but the Stones are still kickin’ it strong, after thirty-five years more of touring behind incredible albums. Do they still call them albums?
Three minutes of commercials. MasterCard and Dell. Two more minutes of Budweiser and vague summer movie trailers. Paul refilled his bowl of his chips, and turned up the volume on his surround sound system. One more minute of game re-cap and introductions. He heard the nearly hundred thousand screaming fans—I know they’re only going to play the huge hits, because that’s all these kids know. All I’m asking for is “Get Off of My Cloud,” and please God don’t let this crowd sing along with “Time.” But as soon as he heard those three notes played up and down the scale, he forgot all else.
The camera zoomed in on Keith Richards in his signature bandana and brown coat, muting his mustard colored Telecaster before letting the strings scream like sirens; a wailing ambulance, tearing through the airwave traffic to save Paul’s life. “I can’t get no! No! No! NO!” he yelled, the wrong notes tearing through his vocal cords and grating on his throat. A foot stamped on the ceiling above him and cursed him out, sending ceiling spackle spiraling towards his salsa bowl. He shouted an apology, but was far too smothered in euphoria to hear his neighbor’s response, if any. His glaze was focused on the television; he only hoped that he could somehow control the camera angles, to allow him to see everything he wanted to, precisely when he wanted to.
He watched Mick Jagger, wearing what seemed like a handerkerchief for a shirt, slide down the inflatable tongue that ran between those voluptuous signature lips. Sure, Jagger hardly weighed one hundred pounds, but his charisma, and confidence were unmatched in human history, and this allowed him to command and control the hundreds of thousands of people that were equally fixated on his hip shakes.
The camera shifted to Charlie Watts for a moment; he offered a smile as he pounded and smashed against silver and hide, holding up the backbone of the group. In forty years time, his attention to the skins could not be broken, but still, his drumming seemed so simply, and soft, and casual, almost mechanical. Ron Woods was brought into focus next, relaxed and cool as he strutted away and made room for Keith Richards to once again claim the spotlight. Richards’ head had ticked up twice, and Paul noticed his picking arm snapping up and down, stiff and clumsy; Keith Richards is a machine! His hands work exactly as they should—still perfect after all these years.
The song came to searing stop; Mick Jagger led the crowd in the standard cheer and howl of arena rock. The familiar opening chords of “Start Me Up” shot through Ron Woods’s fingertips, and the reverb on his guitar left a ringing in Paul’s head that resounded like seraphim, calling from above. Mick Jagger curled the upper left corner of his lip and crooned, eyes closed, sauntering sexily with his feet in single file. Right on beat, he would freeze, and snap his head in a new direction towards another section of the crowd, engaging them in thunderous outbursts. Really, they should be fainting. Lucky bastards! At one point, however, Mick Jagger froze mid-turn; the song continued, but it seemed as if his trademarked lips weren’t moving. Theatrics. Man, do they know how to put on a show.
The hum of the guitars faded away, while the echo of the cymbals escaped into the night air. The band sat in silence for a moment, immobile, but this strange lull was interrupted by the funky, familiar buildup of drums. Mick Jagger donned a top hat and a cane—Here it comes…here it comes—and sang, “Please allow me to introduce himself. I’m a mean of wealth and taste…” That’s my line! The entire stadium sang the, “Woot, Woot!” right on cue, and the look on Jagger’s face read, “I am amazing. I am a God.”
And then, it stopped.
Not the song. The song kept going. Jagger’s eyes fell wide as his jaw becoming unhinged on national television, dropping three inches straight down. But he didn’t stop singing; he never stopped singing. And his body still contorted in that strange way that only he can make sexy. Keith Richard’s head began to rapidly twitch to the side, gaining momentum as it swung from left to right; his right arm continued strumming, strictly and perfectly up and down, mechanical-like. His shaking head was gaining speed, until it was a brown blur of his rat’s nest hair, with a single red stripe through the top.
The third chorus began; “Hope you guessed my name!” Fiery horns shot into the sky from the backdrop of the stage just in time, as Keith Richards own head shot straight up off of his shoulders, leaving a trail of sparks behind it like a shooting star flying back into orbit. His body remained unmoved, its posture just as naturally crooked as before, but with flames and wires pouring out the hole where once his head was connected. His arm still snapped to its proper strumming positions; the song played on, and upon its completion, the station clumsily went to a commercial break. The announcers and hosts failed in their attempts to mask their shock and unease. Paul just stared in silence as a single tear escaped beneath his eye. You make a grown man cry…
Chucky Ellis started his day like any other: his alarm went off at 6:20 am. He hit the snooze, got ten more minutes of sleep in, before walking blindly to the shower. He put on the clothes that he laid out the night before, and his mother handed him a buttered English muffin on his way to catch the bus. The bus arrived at 7:06, and always stopped at the opposite corner, even though Chucky himself stood alone across the street. He would get to school at 7:21, and proceed directly to class, which began at 7:31. First period was math; second, gym. Third period was Mr. Spector’s American Literature class, and although Chucky never quite formulated how literature and poetry worked, he still looked forward to it everyday. As soon as he turned the doorknob to enter the class on that Monday, however, something felt off.
Chucky entered the room and found most of my classmates seated in silence, for once, staring at the front of the room. He focused his attention on the whiteboard, which was bare except for the words, “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” Mr. Spector sat upright in his chair, the bags below his eyes hanging nearly to his shoulders. He was silent; save for the deep breaths he would take every five seconds. Chucky took his seat in the front row, just left of the center. The late bell rang, and everyone sat in silence, awaiting Mr. Spector’s response. A full minute had passed before he addressed the class, although he remained seated.
“Did anyone watch the Super Bowl last night?”
“Does anyone know what this saying on the board means?”
Silence, but for the turning of the door handle. Paul swallowed hard as he turned his head to face the door; the class was too afraid to take their focus off of him. The door opened inwards, just enough for Mr. Pitney to stick his head into the room.
“Psst…hey Paulie…get off of my cloud, buddy! Haha! Hey…since when is your door bright red?” he jested.
“Shouldn’t you be teaching, Mr. Pitney?”
“Actually, this is my free period. And I just thought it’d be fun to gloat. Not only did the Pats win the game last night, but it seems the whole world can finally agree on who the real Rock n’ Roll Gods are after all, huh? I guess this pretty much explains that whole falling-out-of-a-tree thing…” Jim Pitney smirked, showing no teeth but oozing with arrogance.
“Could you please maintain some level of professionalism in front of the students, James?” Paul snarled, finally standing up from his desk.
Jim threw his arms in the air and turned back towards the hallway. “Robots, dude. Robots.”
Paul Spector pounded his fists on his desk, clinching in the pain. “Class is dismissed.” Most of the students ran like hell.
“Um…Mr. Spector?” asked Chucky Ellis, trembling in voice and body. “Where should we go…um, until next period?” Chucky looked up at Mr. Spector, his eyes wide and bloodshot with fear. Paul stared back, and breathed in deep only once. Chucky grabbed his things and bolted for the cafeteria.
Everywhere I hear the sounds of marching, charging feet, boy.
Jim cautiously re-entered the classroom; Paul sat back down at his desk, relieving his tension through a deep exhale. “Robots. Fucking robots,” he began. “The greatest Rock n’ Roll band of all time, and they’re fucking robots. The progenitors of sex, drugs, and counterculture!...robots.
Jim corrected his posture and straightened his face. “Maybe now’s the right time, but it could put things into perspective...” He swallowed hard. “This whole…’counterculture’ fascination you have? It’s pop culture, man. The Stones play on national television to billions of viewers. They charge three hundred fucking dollars for concert tickets, and still manage to sell almost a hundred grand, every time. There’s sex and drugs, man. But everything else is just an image.”
“But that’s where you’re wrong. That’s what you’ve been missing this whole time,” Paul said, shaking his head. “They were the first. Sure, they’re old and greedy now. But the Rolling Stones made Rock n’ Roll because they had to. Everyone before that just wanted to dance, just wanted to have a good time and all that, and they got pushed underground, because that kind of thing was unacceptable. The Stones, though? Those guys were already underground; it’s the only place that they belonged. And they made it cool to not fit in. The Beatles just wanted to hold your hand; The Stones wanted to burn your house down. They paved the way for the future—they weren’t afraid to be edgy. Everyone else just followed in suit, trying to live up to that standard they set. But it only ever worked for them, because it was real. Everyone since them has a copycat. And now? Now it’s all bullshit. It’s a lie. And that cheapens everything that came after it. The Sex Pistols would never have been so pissed if they hadn’t gotten it from the Stones, but if what the Stones had wasn’t real…”
“Not quite the uh, best example there,” Jim interrupted. “The Sex Pistols whole anarchy thing was designed as a marketing ploy. And I mean, what about The Doors? Morrison was going to get naked anyway. Woodstock? The New Wave Movement? Okay, maybe not New Wave…”
Paul heard a bug skittering beneath his desk, and pressed his heel against it, slow and forcefully. He heard its exoskeleton crumble and crack under the weight of his foot. “None of it means a goddamn thing. The music’s still there…but the attitude, the essence of what made it Rock n’ Roll…it was never really there to begin with.” The school bell rang, signaling the end of the class period. “Want to cover my classes for the next weeks?”
“Weeks? Why?” asked Jim, his face contorting.
“I’m going to England. I just…I need answers, man. I need to be where they’ve been. Walked where they’ve walked, and all that. I gotta make sense out of this, somehow. And Jersey’s not the place to do it.”
I step onto the platform, off of the train, still with no real understanding of this whole “Jubilee” thing. I follow the crowds as they head above ground; that sounds a lot more proactive than “I stood on an escalator for three minutes and let it carry me to the top.”
This station is called St. John’s Wood, conveniently named after the neighborhood in which it’s located. How clever. Although, I find it odd that it’s “St. John’s Wood,” and not, “St. John’s Woods “ or even “St. John Wood’s.” Instead, we are faced with a singular wood in St. John’s possession, whomever he may be. It’s hard to find wood as a singular thing, unless the station name refers to a literal single piece of wood, though I know of no tourist trap by this name. Then again, in an urban setting, it wouldn’t be that surprising to find only one tree or piece of wood.
I shouldn’t have come here. I’ve been to every Rock club, every bar in London. I even watched the stupid fucking guard change (which was painfully dull). St. John’s Wood, and, more specifically, my presence here, serves as an insult to everything I’ve ever wanted or believed in or stood for. But after all this nonsense, I don’t even know if I ever stood for or believed in anything at all. But here I am. Drawn here, called here, by some force of irony greater than myself.
I walk to the nearest convenience store, and ask the clerk if I can use the “head.” He looks at me funny. I repeat my inquiry for him, this time motioning by my crotch to make it clear that I want to piss. A look of recognition washes over his face; “Oh, the bathroom!” he says with pride. “Down the cereal aisle, take a left. Cheers!” Cheers.
I use the bathroom, not for pissing, but to change into this suit I bought. It’s dark, almost black, with a blue-grey tint to it. I’ve never worn this suit before, but it fits quite well; the threads are smooth and fine and all that, and they allow the suit to adjust to my body while still maintaining its general shape. Like any suit, the shoulders make me look broader, and arguably, manlier. I look at myself in the mirror, but buttoned and unbuttoned, and although I prefer the former option, I settle with the latter; it is far more appropriate. I remove my shoes, and stick them in my bag, ignoring the questionable coating on the bathroom floor. I head back into the store.
I thank the clerk once again for his hospitality, and ask him for a pack of fags. Apparently, he does not find my attempts at adapting to their vernacular to be at all amusing. I ask him for a pack of Everest smokes, and he complies, but not before kicking me out of his store for not wearing shoes. I am laughing inside still.
I round the corner from Acacia Road, and reach my destination far sooner than I had either planned or hoped. The familiar zebra stripe of the pavement hits me hard, and I vomit a bit in my mouth. I look at the street signs, just to make certain that I am in the right place.
A part of me feels dirty right now. But the rest feels as if this is the only viable option; this is the only final destination on this trip that would be appropriate for an aging hipster English teacher like myself. It always bothered me that American Lit was an English class—why could I not have been an American teacher, as opposed to an English teacher? I never understood it; I didn’t have to. I re-focus my attention on the cross walk.
Cars barrel down the road, similar to Nascar, but in more of a Jetsons kind of way. They hardly ever stop, as the law declares they do; but who can blame them? It is a busy road for cars, overwhelmed and consumed by tourists who desire nothing more than to walk across the street. There is no memorabilia; you probably won’t get a very good picture; there are no official tour guides or stops or info or toys. But you do get some exercise after crossing that road enough times, which is somewhat of a benefit that it has over other tourist traps.
The people walk; the cars fly by. Neither one cares for the other. Neither for me. It takes me several minutes, but I finally light a cigarette and drop my bag; I hold the cigarette in my right hand, and unbutton my blazer. I begin to walk. The soles of my feet feel uncomfortable after having lost their calluses over time, their familiarity with rocks or gravel forgotten over time. I take a single drag from the cigarette and cough viciously for another minute or so. So I take another.
I step first on the pavement with my right foot. The texture of the street reminds me of low-gritted sandpaper. I step left. I step right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Finally, I stand precisely in the middle of the left car lane, with zebra stripes below me, and God way above, and automobiles from every other possible direction. I stay in position, with my right foot forward. I take another drag of cigarette, and close my eyes.
I can hear the cars slicing through the malleable, formless wind itself as they careen through the city and just past my person. Car horns blare as they pass, and it startles me from the daze that has grown over me. I try to act surprised; I know that I am not. I lie, and tell myself that it will be an accident, that I will not expect it. But I do, and it is impossible for me to deny or ignore this.
I am overwhelmed, surrounded by the whirring sounds of cars and the bursts of their horns, as well as the cries and pleas and speculations of the people on the sidewalk. My eyes close tighter, and I smile. The car’s shrieks grow louder, and more intense, as it grows closer, closer still, ever rolling forth; its headlights feel warm against my skin. The car shrieks again, banshee-like, but he does not apply his breaks, nor swerve to avoid my flesh.
It’s a strange street to walk down.