The other night I was in the queue at the Co-op, buying some essentials. I was next to be served and was about to make my move to the counter when I glanced sideways, my eye caught by a couple of people having a conversation at the head of an aisle. It was a woman with her kid in tow, chatting to another person who had their back to me. The woman was forty-something, vibrant-looking, smiling as she spoke, wearing jeans and a puffer jacket with a fringe haircut a little bit in disarray. I was looking and wondering at how different we were, this woman and me, when suddenly something about the situation was apprehended on a weirdly strong gut level- namely the ickiness of walking about as a creature of a specific sex, among other-sexed creatures. As I moved towards the counter this dizzy spell continued, or intensified even, but it took on a couple of different aspects; I had an impression of the history of the world as a cacophony, then it felt like I was merely going through motions in this shop, a moving part in some careening dynamic which was absurdly clothed, at this point in time, as ‘the Co-op’.
Barbarian Days- William Finnegan
I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.
The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.
Submission- Michel Houellebecq
I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.
I was in France it seemed, making my way along a city block on foot. It was a faded, local part of the center, where crummy real lives were being lived up above my head. There was traffic passing and cars parked along the roadside, but no-one to be seen on foot at that moment. I had stopped to have a gawk at the only shop-front in the vicinity: A old green awning extending a little crookedly out over the pavement. There were a couple of foldaway tables set up beneath it, bearing nothing at all. The place looked like it had been cleaned out of goods. Even so their door was ajar- business welcome. Further down from this was a tiled entranceway into the block, presumably leading to a stairwell area. I was nervous about something so I ducked into the entranceway for a second.
Then suddenly it was bucketing rain and I had made the decision to go for a drive around the city-center. On a whim I turned down into an underground car park. I took a 360 degree spin round the mini-roundabout down there. This caused the attendant in his glowing booth to stand up and gesture for me to continue on to the next level down. I took the circling ramp down as directed and came off at the bottom into a claustrophobic little area- a cave of sorts- smooth concrete and lit up like a car- park, but too small to be useful for car parking, and tapering off into irregularity and shadow at the end furthest from me. I could have just continued my circling trajectory and aimed the car immediately back up the up-ramp. It was unusually steep however. Also my attention had been caught by something -there was a woman down there in the shadowy, tapering bit, standing facing away from me. I was intrigued so I stopped the car and shut off the engine, bringing total quiet and stillness to this subterranean space. You could have heard a pin drop. The woman was up to something- fixing herself in some way, facing the wall. She was tall and sturdy and blonde. She looked ungraceful: her long hair was frizzy and she was wearing drooping stonewashed jeans with heels. I could tell she was large-chested, even from behind.
As an excuse for remaining there I had begun smoking a cigarette with the window down. The smoke hung thickly in the air around the exterior of the car. Once the cigarette was done I needed a new excuse. There was a sink on the wall near to me, a simple public-toilet style mirror screwed into the concrete above it. I stepped out of the car and went over to wash my hands. When I looked up from my hands the woman was there in the mirror behind me, very close-up, horror-movie style. It gave me a shock. But then she began studying her chest in the reflection, with just that area filling the whole mirror somehow. She was tugging at and rearranging her bra under her thin pullover. This was a little arousing- it was a pretty intimate situation. I rotated on the spot a bit and with a knowing half-smile extended my hand out towards the fixtures, offering to make way for her. Then I straightened up and looked directly at her. She stared right back at me. There was something off about her- she was beastly in some way- her skin was caked in stuff and perhaps her eyebrows weren’t all there. She continued to look at me blankly, and I became very afraid of her. She turned herself then, tottering back to her original spot. Now I saw that her back was slit open in a few places and simply creasing apart like card, revealing that there was nothing within. She was making a show of this to me. She continued over to her spot by the back wall to begin doing again whatever it was she had been doing before. Shitting myself somewhat, I walked all casual towards my car, which was now parked on the very steep up-ramp. I got in and locked it, panicking, trying to get the key in the ignition. There was a thumping on the back window just then. I didn’t dare look round, but I craned round a little to see if she was still over by the back wall. She wasn’t. Just a moment later, while I was still panicking to get the car started, I felt a pair of arms reaching low from behind the driver’s seat and encircling my waist, which was when I woke up with a fright!
Edit, like about 2 years later: This is shite. The dream was a cool neat little package, but the writing is awful. Even I can’t visualise anything from this, and I’m the one had the dream. It’s all stiff and laboured as hell. I was so excited too when I first produced it. Jesus. Lesson: I’m not good at writing descriptively. In fact I’m bad at it. That’s demoralising. It’s fairly clear you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something you can learn. You either have soul or you don’t. Fuck. Some of my other opinion and criticism-type posts are still quite entertaining though, even reading back two years later. So, yeah. Fine.
The movie Dante’s Peak has been on TV a lot lately. For reasons I don’t understand, I simply cannot get enough of it. I find it hard to tear myself away any time it’s on. It’s strange, because I can’t stomach even five minutes of other disaster movies from that era, like Deep Impact or Armageddon. Everything Pierce Brosnan does in Dante’s Peak is him embodying a particular conception of perfect masculinity and maturity. I liked the idea of trying to subvert that fantasy, using a sequence of events from the first half of the movie. I’ve done it in pairs of paragraphs, with the Dante’s Peak version first, then my version:
Brosnan’s instincts are spot on- the volcano is going to blow; everyone else is wrong.
Brosnan hasn’t been known for having good instincts, and the on the job training he’s received has gone to his head in embarrassing and unforeseen ways. His shallow understanding of volcanos and his arrogance are a big problem in this delicate situation. He’s been fixated on a paper he read which documented a similar previous case where the volcano did erupt. He took the best part of a weekend day over reading and understanding the paper and now he can’t hear anything that contradicts it or provides counter-evidence.
He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is a more conventional mind, unable to fathom Brosnan’s heightened sensitivity, mistaking it for erratic behaviour.
He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is finally taking the action necessary to prevent this puffed-up idiot wasting any more of the team’s time.
The team enter a bustling, cozily lit establishment that evening for a drink. They see Brosnan sitting alone at the bar, contemplative, a bottle of beer in front of him. The old barman turns obediently as Brosnan calls for the ‘same again’. The team leader takes a stool at the bar next to Brosnan and attempts to explain himself, talking about the muddy politics of putting a town on alert, the economic fallout that could result, the feathers that could be ruffled. Brosnan listens patiently, lets him finish, and after a pause looks him square in the eye and says ‘Ok’, before shooting a peanut into his mouth- using his closed fist like a cannon in an interesting and decisive gesture of impatience that concludes the scene.
After being suspended Brosnan buys some booze and heads directly back to his motel room. He cracks open the wine he got and as his laptop boots up he gets half a glass in him, while huffing a cigarette too quickly over by the window. He’s jumping out of his skin at the offense of it all. He’s going to email the team leader and tell him what’s up. The bastard got the best of him in the face to face encounter, he’s no good on the spot. Some time later he’s done. The finished email is good, he’s pleased, even if he did interrupt the writing of it for a wank. He fires it off, tops up his glass and heads over to the window to rake another fag, this one well deserved. His motel is situated in the center of the small town and the sounds of Friday night revelry are filtering in through the window. With the wine nearly gone he makes the sudden decision to head out, emboldened by the booze. At the bar he buys his drink and makes a beeline for a shadowy spot off to the side, by a column. By the time the team walks in several pints later he’s graduated to a chair at the bar and is testing the young bar guy’s patience with his attention-seeking chatter. The team leader somewhat reluctantly invites Brosnan to join the team at their table for a drink. The team are uncomfortable with Brosnan’s brash drunkenness and take the opportunity to leave when he goes to the toilet.
Chicken fried rice
The Marx brothers
Some friendly advice
Close the door on your way out
Tell me where it hurts
Fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two
Swoop down and scoop it up
A gorgeous couple
A chopping motion
Is there anything in a person’s identity that is continuous over the course of a whole life? How can the forty-something woman be said to be the same as the baby in the old photo? An author I was reading suggested a person could have a two-barreled name, with the first part changing according to the stage of life and the second part remaining constant. The age ranges he suggested as constituting different stages of life made me sit up in my seat- 0-5, 5-10, 10-12, 13-17, 17-23, 23-32, 32-46 (him being 40). Sounds right to me. I’m 30 and I really have the feeling of being close to the definitive end of something or other. My young adulthood I suppose, 23 -32. It’s mostly a ‘oh fuck, I’m a bit scared, what’s going to become of me?’. It probably won’t be as bad as all that though.
I love Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. It’s his best IMHO. I caught the movie of it on Netflix this week. The actor playing Kerouac did a great job. Kerouac wasn’t really a poised cool kid. There’s a zaniness that comes across in all his books. But especially in his later years he appears, sadly, to have become a complete clown, something the vicious drinking which ended his life no doubt contributed to (see his writing, accounts of him and footage of him on youtube). In the recent movie adaptation of ‘On The Road’ Sam Riley played Kerouac as thoughtful and vulnerable, but fairly dour. Admittedly it’s Kerouac twenty years before Big Sur but I do think there was something missing. The actor playing Kerouac in Big Sur, Jean-Marc Barr, puts across the silliness. He’s also the same thick-set physical type as Kerouac (who went to Columbia University on a football scholarship), unlike Sam Riley who’s a lankier guy. The locations and sets in Big Sur were uncannily like I had pictured them to be while reading the book. Barr was fifty-three when it was made a couple of years ago, playing a forty-something Kerouac and the entire cast is at least a decade older than in the other film. That automatically makes the whole thing more likable. Maturity. Kirsten Stewart was the headline name in ‘On the Road’; it was her next move after the Twilight movies. I did groan inwardly when I heard that was happening. It’s that kind of thing that gives Kerouac a bad name. But awk, she’s alright actually, I don’t mind her. She’s been redeeming herself since. Plus she’s really sexy. Being sexy is her thing, it’s kind of great. Just that movie was humourless and played to the ‘cool’ thing that I think sells the author short.