Monday, March 26, 2007

dont analyze this too deeply

you will go insane

just stop now

and yes, get out

from my point of view

it was random

noone has an agenda against you

in Toronto


dont look into this

you will go crazy

and get overly paranoid

That's the message I got yesterday, cut into the skin of a dead dog and dumped on my doorstep

Only joking (and oh ha ha how amusing that was) but it really is the message that three people have independently proffered, almost word for word. Which certainly is of interest and help to me, because it confirms in my mind that there is obviously a conspiracy going on - everyone is telling me to forget about it and move on. What is it that they know which I don't? What are they hiding from me?

I aim to find out.

With the help of my trusty, transparent new sidekick Geefwee the Goblin King*

Apollo 440 - Mad Mountain King

*who'll be guest blogging all next week while I am out fighting damsels and rescuing dragons



I wake at 11am with an aching fuzz in my head and gripping clogged lungs. My apartment stinks of burnt newspaper. I can’t close my door for fear of not being able to get out again.

My landlord calls again, he's coming round to replace the door handles. At 5am he was standing in my apartment telling me what a good tenant I was. He still doesn’t think I should leave and anyway, he needs two months notice. I politely tell him to go fuck himself, in words that leave him in no doubt that I will break the contract and he will not argue. He is lucky I haven't screwed the old door knob into his face. And then my neighbour comes by and confirms it was my mailbox and mine alone that was stuffed with burning paper. So I must conclude that somebody doesn’t like me.

He’s a good guy, my landlord, I appreciate him telling me that I shouldn’t have to worry about anything. He’ll take care of extra security and in the meantime, I shouldn’t be paranoid because it would make no sense for someone to be victimising me. So please, don’t leave good tenant who always pays on time.

But somebody doesn’t like me so much they’re prepared to commit arson. Somebody hates me. Sure, they probably chose the mailbox because it's contained enough to only cause a big nuisance. The building probably was not in any real danger, nor intended to be. But I have no wish to fight this out. It’s a big city and I’d been thinking of moving further downtown anyway. I enjoy the impermanence of my life most days. It's a big change from the stability I craved and perceived to have had before. But what is the virtue in learning to live with the uncertain threat of danger? If you can comfortably leave it behind, then is it wrong just because you're not facing up to your fear?

I haven’t had more than a passing angry word with anyone in the 6 months I’ve been here. Certainly I have done nothing spectacularly wrong to anyone. I don’t buy drugs from anyone, I don’t get outrageously drunk and fight people, I don’t campaign for or against anything.

All the flimsy excuses I can think of don’t add up. My landlord did suggest that being Jewish could be the reason, my full beard and hair growth do make me look a little more Jew-ish than usual. But I am writing this in a café in the Jewish Cultural Centre down the street. There are more Jews in this city than just about any other minority. If someone's got a problem with the Jews, they’re going to be very busy and very arrested very quickly. There is an Israeli-owned coffee shop opening up down the other side and it’s true that they should’ve opened up a year ago or so but have had too much flak from activists determined not to let them. But I have shown no visible signs of oppressing Palestinians and nor will I.

Serious theories from friends and family range from:

-It's something the previous tenant did to someone and they're getting revenge without a forwarding address.
-It's a pissed-off eco-warrior who hates to see someone too lazy to recycle.
-It's a complete coincidence.

All the homeless in the area know me, just as they know all the residents here. I give money and cigarettes to some on occasion – and none to others. I have my own rules and I don’t stop to explain them. I have been more generous of late, even paying a guy who sometimes sits in a nearby doorway ten dollars to help me carry a bit of discarded furniture down the street and up into my apartment.

Is it a disgruntled garbageman, pathologically obsessed with everything in the system having to be done just so or it sends him into a paroxysm of hate? He ought to know I got the message 2 weeks ago and that any further infractions are not from my waste management.

Or is the homeless guy selling newspapers outside the LCBO right? He told me that he was in a similar situation a few years back and now, what he’s learnt from his AA meetings is that sometimes shit like this happens to teach us a lesson we didn’t know we needed until we got it. That’s karma neatly summed up in a sentence and it would accord with the 8 million other lessons I’ve been receiving since just before I booked my ticket.

It's a positive spin on this and one that predominates my attitude for now. Yet I'm still getting suspicious of other people's motives when I already know they're genuine. Now I remember what it’s like to let fear overtake reason. Staring at people, catching a gaze as they walk past me, I am throwing accusatory looks everywhere at everyone without at first knowing it. It's only reflected in their brutally returned expressions and only noticed if I move back into some kind of normal state of awareness.

Now at last I get the paranoid, quick-to-blame culture of people who feel themselves to be hard done by. If you can’t get resolution on someone who’s done you wrong, it can fuck up your relations with everyone else in the world if you let it. You can even become unnecessarily querulous and questioning of those who seek to do you right.

I remember when someone stuck his cock through a hole in the wall and tried to wank onto me in a disabled toilet in Uxbridge many years ago. I walked around for several days wondering if the guy who just walked past me and stared at me was him. No, it was the guy behind him who just stared at me. Or it was the guy walking behind me, following me and staring at me. Why were they all staring? What was it about me that everyone found so fascinating they had to stare straight at me? Did they all know a man had basically tried to shine my shoes with his own-brand polish the previous day? I’d better stare them out. Each and every man in the street. That way nobody will think I’m vulnerable and nobody will dare look at me. It's safe that way. I must've gone through a week like this and even to this day, every time I use a public toilet, something in me still hardens.


Erlend Oye covering Lee Hazlewood - No Train to Stockholm


Saturday, March 24, 2007

This could have been goodbye. The last post of the blog. This could have been the
last thing i'd ever write.

40 minutes ago I woke up hearing voices in the corridor outside. By the time I got up to answer my knocked door, I'd smelt the smoke, heard the smoke detector going crazy and made a note to get my shit together and get out of here. Sure enough, my neighbours on one side had heard it and decided it wasn't one of the frequent false alarms we get in this block. I'm impressed. It's 3am and they're some of Toronto's hardest working stoners. We wake our mutual neighbour and discuss the situation. To me it smells like burning paper and it's obviously coming from downstairs, probably a mailbox fire. Such things are started deliberately of course. Our mailboxes are found in the little antechamber between the front door and the street. I turn the corner, go down the stairs to the first floor and just see a wall of dense smoke where the ground floor should be.

I don't panic. I go back upstairs, coughing, and tell my neighbours the most probable explanation. Nobody thinks to call the fire brigade or our landlord. Thankfully someone a bit more switched on in the flat below me does those things while it's dawning on us all that this smoke is getting heavy. My place faces out onto the street and has only one way in. My neighbours' places both face out back and have a second exit. Naturally they bid me to come through theirs, so I go to gather my things - clothes, shoes, wallet, coat, laptop, phone - the essentials, still feeling relaxed and so taking a little bit of time. Then I stick my head out the window to see what's going on down in the street below and I find they're already out there and wondering where I am.
I pick up my back, go out of my door and go to neighbour 1's. It's locked. Fine, I'll just go to neighbour 2's... locked. I go back into my apartment and try to go through the fire door, yes the FIRE DOOR that separates my place from neighbour 2's. And it's locked. Fine, fine. I'm still not panicking, I'll stick my head through the window again and ask them to come back up and open their front doors. Fine, someone heads up and I again pick up my bag, go to my door, turn the knob a....






....it has come off in my hand.

I am now locked into my own apartment

I cannot get through my door, I cannot get through the fire door and I cannot get through the window that would surely result in a splatted me down on the street below. The smoke is coming in nicely now and I'm starting to think about more creative solutions to the problem. Like taking a shower with my clothes on, putting a bag over my head and running down the stairs through the fire. Or holding my breath til the firemen get here.


The firemen arrive, literally booming through the door downstairs, piling in like a kill-crazy commando group and just as I run out of breath, heading for the shower. They'll get me out, I just need to call out to them. 5 frantic minutes of shouting later and they're getting the message that there's someone inside. It's probably a bit of a treat for them, this fire being hardly worth sobering up for. Some classic big burly guy opens the door from the outside with his square jaw and I am free to go through my neighbours' at last. I exaggerate of course, I can't see his jaw because he's wearing an enormous gas mask, shrouded by a cloud of opaque smoke that obscures any other vision. I'm starting to feel very lucky indeed.

A minute later I'm out on the street and we're all wearily laughing about it while. As a huge amount of firemen and cops mill around trying to do something now the emergency is over, the stoner guys next to me start to panic and hope they don't get busted for their big bag of BC weed. Pah, you can't get busted for that. This is Canada. They should worry for me and my kitchen crystal meth factory.

Still, the weather's nice so it's been a pleasant way to take the evening air. Could have been pretty savage 3 weeks ago. Dying of hypothermia to escape immolation. Oh the irony.

So I wasn't in any real danger, at least none that I saw. But it was a touch of bad luck that my cheap heavy door chose to give up working in the one single moment I needed it to perform its doorly duties effectively. It looks like a giant, soundproofed monster of a door when in actual fact it's a cheap piece of crap painted a dull metallic hue to look that way. Who knows if the fire could have spread? There's plenty of old wood in our stairwell, so yes, it's very possible. Then that would have been big trouble but I have my faith in the firemen here, so no, I would not have burned to the ground with the building. I would simply have died of smoke inhalation long before.

Or have I trained my lungs to accept massive doses of toxic fumes over the course of my life? Maybe I should dedicate this post to my good friends Philip Morris and Howard Marks?

So now the question is 'who did it?'. Perhaps it's an anti-junk mail crusader, fighting our corner and upset that someone had put up a large NO JUNK MAIL sign above our mailboxes? Or perhaps it's a pro-junk mail crusader, fighting against us and upset that someone had put up a large NO JUNK MAIL sign above our mailboxes? Or maybe it was the fucking twat who 2 weeks ago ripped from the mailbox wall the notice from the garbage services explaining that some residents had been putting their waste out in the wrong bags and shoved it into my letterbox? Maybe I shouldn't have stuck it back up on the wall the next day with a handwritten note calling him or her 'a fucking twat'? Which of the mailboxes was the one set alight will determine my attitude to living here from now on.

Because I'm thinking of leaving.

Hawksley Workman - Smoke, Baby


Friday, March 23, 2007

..and I tasted the truffle oil on its exit almost as much as on its entrance...

Sticky shit, that stuff.


Monday, March 19, 2007

...And surely there was really no pre-lapsarian paradise of all safe fungi and fugu? Adam ate the apple to see the truth, not to stay within the complicit fiction which up until then God had arranged for him. Being born into a state of Grace is all very well but you have to fall from it to really appreciate what you've lost - and indeed what you strive to regain. It could be a parable for meat-eating, cock-sucking or just the act of peering through the veil of ignorance into the real world glimpsed just dimly beyond . Surely it was a stitch-up, God setting Adam up for the fall as surely as a British tabloid builds some poor sucker up to adoration and then cuts them down again, only to celebrate their fall and eventually their rise again to self-determination. It's a celebration, almost a sanctification of good, honest hard work.

I once knew a wonderful old Frenchman called Gerald, difficult to believe i know but i really did, who maintained that not only were all religions the same but that he could prove it: Founder of Judaism (and by extension, Christianity, Islam and general Monotheism) - Abraham. Top man in Hinduisim: Brahma. Sounds similar enough to my ears. The ExMM always maintained there was a strong parallel between the stories of Krishna and Christ. It's not just linguistic coincidence in both these cases, there really are similarities in both narratives. They were iconoclasts who changed peoples' attitudes, peoples' hearts even - and overhauled orthodoxy in the process (though their most devout followers today are pretty scary, somehow going entirely against the original spirit of their teachings and becoming a new orthodoxy that is sorely in need of another clasm). I accept the comparison though Jesus, to my knowledge, didn't play the flute and wasn't blue (even there though, you could build a tenuous argument based on the special quality of this, the azurest of hues, found almost nowhere in nature and thus venerated in the symbolism of the Pieta)

Plenty of cultural innovations spread far and wide, from West Africa to the Far East and everywhere in between in the crucial period of history where we just started writing things down. In this sense, the real Mavens were the nomads and the traders, which is why there are people from Accra to Kaifeng who proudly proclaim Jewish heritage. We are like a benevolent bacteria upon the earth, spreading ideas and tastes (and not greed, hatred and Satanism [that's Jimmy Page's fault] as some would have it) without ever sticking around long enough to take blame/credit. So it's entirely possible that Jesus came from India, or indeed that his ideas did (just what was he doing between the ages of 13 and 30?). Or indeed that Abraham's teachings evolved back into polytheistic idolatory but with a far more rigourous philosophical structure (and it's entirely up for debate as to whether Hinduism really is polytheistic anyway, all gods being aspects of the one as I misunderstand it).

So the point of this post is that I've finally filled in a missing piece of the puzzle. I was struck by something I heard a while back, which is why so many young men and women in the western world gravitate towards Buddhism of all the non-Christian religions. Think of the life of Buddha:
He was brought up entirely within the confines of his family's world, a palace where everything was available to him and he saw none of the down sides of life. Then one day he broke free, saw the terrible suffering in the world and strove to reconcile these two. After a bunch of adventures, he eventually resolves this by sitting under a tree and refusing to move until he reaches enlightenment. For many young men and women in the West, the thing to do after education (or during if they're very brave) is to go travelling, leaving behind the convenient, comfortable existence of their home life and instead see how others live. They may not know it explicity but they are indeed trying to reconcile their easy lives to that of the more common experience of life on earth: as Mr Hobbes said, it's nasty, brutish and short. What is that if it's not leaving the palace walls for the first time? We all look for the tree, though it can manifest itself through a multitude of more harmful ingestations - it's fitting that he got there under a tree, having finally stopped travelling, or running away as I would call it. No-one gets there while they're actually backpacking through Cambodia or ball-deep in a girlboy for the price of a beer in Koh Samui.

Now compare Adam's experience again, growing up in an actual Paradise where everything is available but for knowledge itself. You'd think he'd be happy with that but he chooses instead to know the truth, with the full understanding that he cannot get away with this transgression since God is watching, and is cast into the wilderness. This is a place where life is hard, people die and the future is uncertain. It's a fundamental human impulse to go beyond ourselves, to seek out the truth no matter how unpleasant and life-altering it may be. Something innate motivates us to sacrifice our epistemic comfort for the far less comforting actual truth. It's practical philosophy in action.

Indeed Eden was not even an earthly province, so that when cast out from there he is said to have taken his first steps on the Earth upon a mountain in Sri Lanka of all places

If you take the view, as I do, that all these stories are allegories for the common human condition of the loss of innocence when leaving childhood (if you're lucky) and the struggle to return to that precious world-view after a lifetime of tainted experience, then it's not hard to believe that the example of Adam and Eve's fall represents a common, highly indentifiable narrative in our own lives. Why else are these fairy tales still so popular? There are 7 basic types of story in the world and I only know of two books which encapsulate them all: Lord of The Rings and the Bible.

It's why Tom Cruise movies have been so successful (and his recent ridiculous behaviour has dashed all our complicit fantasies about the universal, aspirational character he plays). In every single one he starts off as a cocky young guy at the top of his game, not a care in the world until something unexpected but entirely fated happens that shakes his faith, his very being and he is cast into turmoil, doubt and fear. Then through a blatant display of inner resilience and worthy struggle he realises what has happened, rebuilds himself into a real man who has learnt the valuable lessons in humility and fragility and can finally rejoin society as a more responsible, enlightened being. Thanks Tom, you're an example to us all.

Oh no, hang on, that's Buddha.

Cut Chemist - The Garden - Some masterful landscaping from a Jurassic park ranger.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

What I did on my other holiday: Part 1

Friday afternoon and I'm in a deeply pleasant cafe in Montreal in the coolest part of town (because I'm there). The decor is very 1972 Romanian hotel lobby and with a live dj playing deep house and broken beats it's quite the place to work and to write. A man has just sat down at the table next to me and he smells strongly of eggs.

And he is now ordering eggs.

It's a rare thing these days. In the 1970's, the decade the world has recently decided to euologise as the best ever (the visible world most of us are plugged into being run largely by people in their late 20's to early 40's, it's conveniently just far away enough to misremember), everybody smelled of food products. Everybody.

All Indians smelled of curry, all Frenchmen smelled of garlic and it was common knowledge to every 5-year old who'd never met one that all black people tasted of chocolate. Part of me still believes the first two ( none of me believes the last one thanks to the distinctly flesh-flavoured lips of Fatima from Angola when I was 15) and the only reason that nobody realises any more is because we all eat curry and garlic so we smell of them too. Therefore none of us do. It's, like, a paradox, maan. Leaving aside questionable distinctions of birthright, back in the apparently good old days what on earth did we, the gor-blimey great British public smell like to foreigners? I can't imagine. Probably jam sandwiches if the diet of most of my childhood friends was the norm.

I remember a boy in my primary school who strongly smelled of eggs, several boys who smelled of various cuts of cheap ham and one boy in my secondary school who famously, unashamedly smelled of baked beans. Curiously, though each on their own exuded a disgusting stink to be avoided under any and all circumstances, if they were stood close together in a sweaty gym class the temptation to lick them for breakfast was almost overwhelming. Thank god we didn't have a boy who smelled of ketchup and mustard or there'd have been a sexuality-challenging feeding frenzy and I can personally guarantee at least one case of hidden cold sores

I've known several women whose hair smells range from lightly toasted sugar to darkly roasted wookie, the former a maddeningly alluring smell but sadly not convincing as a last-minute substitute for creme brulee topping when the Vicar and his disarmingly sexual niece drop round unexpectedly for a plate of cheese gossips and a cup of hot suspicion. The Ex-Marriage Module used to say my armpits sometimes smelled of hamburgers. I was so horrified I never asked if she was referring to just the pure all-beef patty or whether the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickled onions in a sesame seed bun was included in that too. I use deodorant now.

update: he's had his eggs and the smell has gone away! Perhaps it's some eggy deficiency in the blood of these descendants of 17th century French criminals, prostitutes and the mentally ill? I should ask.

I often privately bemoan our species' loss of the instinctive, intuitive part of our lives - at least within certain societies - and nowhere is this more obvious than in our changed eating habits. I'm not even talking about the alarming convenience of intensive agriculture and the frustrating inconvenience of the Chicken that has so far failed to evolve into 12 boneless breaded salty nuggets upon maturity and then box itself up for shipping. I'm just making the point that people don't inspect their food before eating anymore, so that when I do I'm thought eccentric. Many's the time I've eaten a meal in good company and as each course arrives in front of me, I dip down to give it a good sniff yet arise to faces of bemused, haughty disapproval. It's partly out of curiosity, so I get a better impression of what I'm about to eat, yet there's surely something deeper involved too: a practise as old as humans themselves, checking out what it is they're about to consume for reasons of safety as much as of taste. The world has always been full of dangerous foodstuffs so it would make sense for us to have evolved this basic reaction (and as we decrease the genetic and seasonal diversity of those generally accepted safe-to-eat foods, aren't we opening up the chances of all going down with the same bird lurgy or whatever?).

update: shame, he left before I could enquire. There's nothing a Frenchman probably appreciates more than an Englishman in cracked french asking him just why he smells. Never mind. I'll ask that rugby player over there in the corner, chewing his hand.

Many years ago, I suggested someone should make a device that allowed you to smell your own bum, a unwieldy steam-powered Victorian brass whirlygig that comes complete with filters, dials, wheels and a fully-illustrated 200-page manual. My brother wryly claiming that whilst it was a good idea, he would prefer to continue with the manual method - ie. using his fingers. We both were joking but now I think there was some truth buried within both of our suggestion. Maybe it's a need to check, again, your own health? We've all taken a crap and felt like there was something wrong (some of us more recently than others). It could be that just as there is an index of stool health, the gloriously named Bristol Stool Scale (I defy you not to laugh at Type 4), there is in our subconscious a dimly glimpsed understanding of healthy-to-unhealthy poo smells.

Today's post was brought to you by our sponsors "Mr Proust's Organic Madeleines", now with 20% more memories and "Fila Brazilia" who invite you to Spill The Beans.

Happy St Patferrick's Day

And so, in honour of Dexter and the Montreal weather, here's Cat Power trying to satisfy this hungriness: Wild is the Wind

"He really likes you"

- Yes, I like him too. He's been all over me since we met

"It's strange. He normally doesn't like strangers but he really likes you"

-Look at that! Hello, where d'you think you're going?

(he nuzzles into my crotch and then jumps up and tries to hug me)

"Dexter! Leave him alone!"

-What did you call him?


-That's a great name.

"Well, we thought it was appropriate cos he must be more dextrous than the average cat. With his seven toes"


I look round to see Dexter's paws creeping along my shoulder blade, approaching my neck in another attempt at feline embrace. I see he has, indeed, two front paws with two extra, miniature-paws sticking out of the sides like side-cars on motorcycles. There they are in all their 7-toed gory glory....

And I freak.



Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Refugee All-Stars of Sierra Leone: "Living Like A Refugee"


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

There is a hub of Laundromats two blocks south of me, i think 5 within 5 minutes walk of eachother and absolutely none anywhere else for miles*. The one I use to use was near a great cafe that I recently had this conversation in.

"Have you met the Troll yet?"

-excuse me?

"Have you met the Troll? The crazy old man who lives underneath the laundromat... He's an old Italian man, very tall, white haired, comes up from the basement and steals womens' underwear. He's been busted twice but the landlady can't get rid of him"

-no, i haven't. that's nasty.... er, does he only steal womens'?

"Why? Have you lost clothes?"

-every time

"Nice underwear, yes? He takes it. To wear"

So there it is, an old italian pervert walking round a basement sniffing dirty knickers whilst wearing mine.

I hope. The reverse is more frightening.

*Except I've finally found one, only a few minutes' walk away in the heart of Koreatown. I can't decide whether to use "laundrette" or "Laundromat" to use. I think i prefer "Laundromat". It's more American and it's probably more politically correct. "Laundrette" is clearly a feminised noun that implies it's womens' work. I suppose Laundromat is in its own way just as sexist since it sounds so masculine (But it's reverse sexism, you see, so that's alright. Well it is whilst we men continue to be in charge. The more apparent concessions we give to the little ladies, the further we solidify our manly power. Sssh).

Speaking of old Italian perverts, here's one of the greatest tunes ever to come out of that strange land. Adriano Celentano's brilliant pisstake of the English language, Prisencolinensinainciusol and one of the funniest videos ever made on Youtube


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What I did on my Holidays: Part 6

At 9:30 that Saturday, no, Sunday evening the train pulled out of Union at last, bound for New York via Michigan since Indiana had been closed due to snow. Not the just the main station there – the State itself. Or was it because two freight trains colliding earlier that day throwing the entire rail network of the United States into the proverbial chaos? All the track is owned by the freight companies and all the passenger trains are run by separate providers, creating a situation where the freight gets priority and the passenger trains (and by extension the passengers themselves) are treated like freight. Take a look at a map and see the fun route.

Bound for Buffalo where I’m due to ‘hang out’ for half a day before boarding another train to Toronto. The latest estimate is that I’ll reach it some time before the coming Apocalypse. Bearing in mind I haven’t been following the news for a week and last time I looked this fine country and Iran were headed for a big slapping match, that could easily mean I’ll get there in time for my connection.

I’d been advised to check out a famous diner where they do the World’s Best Buffalo Wings. Not a coincidence, it turns out, since the sweet sticky chicky wings originated there. Visions of herds of gigantic wild buffalo swooping over Lake Ontario, frantically flapping tiny feathered wings sticking out of their midsections were created and destroyed in an instant. Apparently they go from Mild to Hot to Dangerous to 911 – so called because on more than one occasion they have had to call the emergency services after someone seriously damaged themselves after trying to actually eat one. I resisted the temptation to make a 9/11 joke, and still do

And so at 7am when I should have been in the ‘Flo, instead I’m in Toledo, Ohio. It's not much like Toledo, Spain. The buildings are gray, the sky is gray, the people who’ve been waiting on the platform all night because their previous train got cancelled 48 hours earlier have a touch of grise to them. I feel sorry for them becau…hang on…they’re coming into my carriage and…

“excuse me, no, it’s that carriage down there with all the empty seats you want. Yup”

Right, sorry, let me just lie down again on my stretched out double seat and get comfortable. Man, there are some weird people coming into my carriage. I have to make them feel uncomfortable and since I haven't washed in three days and now own a terrifyingly adult beard, this won't be difficult.

8am. I enter the Dining Car to grab some breakfast and I get wedged into a booth with a man the size of Bono’s ego. Not fat, not overweight and not a thin man struggling to get out. This guy was born mountainous and then grew. I’ve always had a fear of the morbidly obese – perhaps the clue is in the job description; their unnatural frame hints at a higher probability of imminent death than the smaller, average look; I’m scared of them because I think they’ll be morbid in their outlook on life because they’re all so sad which is why they eat so much of course. If this is true – and I’ve absolutely no idea if it is – then I’m scared of them because they wear their tragedy on their frames for all to see. We’ve all got problems but you can’t see a broken home or a broken heart bulging out of someone’s clothes. It’s like eating with someone who’s got some noticeable degree of physical disfigurement – you want to be able to treat them no differently than anyone else and you want them to act that way. They too want the same things from you but it doesn’t happen so much. Even if we say and do all the right things, it’s still an act and our barely perceived micro-movements give this performance away. These things act as social tells that betray our real intentions – we can’t see them in the normal sense but they are sensed, if not clearly perceived. Tics and twitches are by comparisons huge klaxons denoting personal unease. I try to relax.

I’m also scared because I think they’ll eat me.

But here I am, sat opposite this vast industrial poo factory and im thinking that my primal fear of being eaten by an amoral a-merican greedy guts is only natural but nevertheless he’s a human being, well, two human beings, like everyone else and so maybe with all that bulk in him maybe he’s a thoroughly fascinating guy. And if my vicious descriptions of the overweight are wrong, then so is my assessment of these guy (sic).


He’s not only boring, he’s mind-crushingly kill-me-now boring. Whatever happened to the jolly fatman who hung out in the sweetshop with us as kids? He giggled and dribbled at everything and never shared his big bag of booty with us but we loved him for it anyway. And he almost never tried to touch us and we almost always ran away when he almost never did. I must have had 50 conversations in the last few days with all walks and waddles of life but I hadn’t once had to endure half an hour of short monotone statements ranging from “I went to London once” to “Have you seen the Queen?” to “Have you seen The Queen (the film)” to “Are you gonna eat the rest of that egg?”. I sat there and watched him eat a normal sized plate of food faster than I would eat a pea. He was very efficient, his arms presumably having got the measure of his mouth long ago. He knew exactly where to put his fork (I’m not the only one who has trouble always getting his food straight to his mouth, right?) and displayed an impressively skilful method of switching between eating, talking and breathing. Nevertheless, he managed to dribble from his bottom lip a dangling dollop of pure saliva that I saw slither forth, trace it’s way down his chin and into fat air a full ten seconds before he did. He also dropped some food onto his boobs, at which point I looked away but my peripheral awareness and outright prejudice tells me he returned it to his mouth and felt all the better for it.

Now some who have shared a dining experience with me in the past may well say ‘it sounds as if he eats like you’. Yup. That's why I can criticise.

There’s also a man on this train wearing a full length black latex catsuit with yellow stripes down the legs and a built in, massively protruding codpiece. It’s the precise opposite of Uma Thurman’s in Kill Bill but much shinier. He’s way over 6 foot, mid-40's, sensible glasses, short back and sides, wearing black boots and carrying a few regular luggage bags. I think I massively admire the man – he doesn’t blush, he doesn’t give any outward sign that the rest of the world is staring, laughing and making jokes about him. He either doesn’t care or doesn’t know and I hope it’s the former. It’s probably the most comfortable thing for him and I’m sure Chicago and New York treat him well but god help him if he gets stranded at any point in between.

There’s another man, at least 80 years old, who I first saw back at the Court, sitting at a table drinking coffee and slowly jotting down telephone numbers from the cut-out and circled back pages of a local newspaper. As I walk past, I take a quick glance at the pictures of buff young studs ready for some heavy manly action and I can’t help but wonder if he knows exactly what he’s doing. Perhaps he’ll meet Uma on the train and they’ll fall in love? It's Strangers on a Train all over again, with the emphasis on 'strange'.

But for all their nuttiness and willingness to stand up for individual rights whilst denying others' their own, there is a remarkable level of tolerance here. At first I found it very difficult to adjust to so many conversations about politics and religion. People very quickly lay their cards out on the table and I'm not used to that, coming from a country where you never bring those things up if you want to stay friends. But here they just fucking go for it and i really like that. I still kept most of my opinions to myself, since virtually all of them are misanthropic, offensive, pessimistic, atheistic and worst of all highly logical. Im not about to defend that kind of seditious talk to anyone who grew up in a patriotic environment. But it's nice to know that aside from a few words, I can basically say what I like still. It's a freedom we have pockets of the West at rare times but still I forget that sometimes, some places, this can't be done. I hope I continue to honour this fought-for right which has been a long time coming.

So what did I say to the barman in the snack car, stood next to an Amish elder as I fumbled through my wallet for the right notes, dropping coins all over the counter?

“Jesus fucking Christ, you bloody fucking bastard. Oh….. Sorry

He pretended not to have heard. For a man living a 17th century English Puritanical lifestyle that sounds about right.

Final encore from the Jarrett-chives. Over The Rainbow. You'll notice that it's absolutely fucking beautiful and you should be buying some of his music.


Monday, March 05, 2007

What I did on my Holidays: Part 5

After 45 hours, 32 stops, 11 life stories, 6 states and numerous trips outside in the frizzing cold for a smoke, we arrived at Union Station, Chicago only 15 minutes off schedule. A great trip indeed. I put my luggage in a secure locker and walked out into the Chicago snow.

And then the nightmare began…about 5 minutes earlier -

I’d said goodbye to my new friends and made for the lockers. Chucked everything I owned inside, including my laptop, closed the door and walked out. Thank the lord and all his lovely angels that two of my travelling companions were in the locker room at the time.

‘Dude, is this your door?’

and I almost didn’t turn round, thinking they were calling after someone else. Oh I’d closed the door alright. Just failed to lock it. It had swung open for all the world to pillage and I’d walked out. Top blokes.

Meanwhile, outside Union Station my relieved future self entered a bloody blizzard and having failed to walk it, hailed a cab to the Art Institute of Chicago (see Monday’s post) to complete a long-awaited, previously cut-short visit exactly a week ago. Jumped out, ran up the steps and had this conversation with the ladies at the information desk.

-Do I need to buy a ticket today? I think it was a free entry day when I came last

“we’re closing in 15 minutes, honey. It’s really not worth it.”

-b-b-b-but, hang on, youre closing at 5pm on a Saturday?

“it’s Sunday”

-oh shit

And it was. I’d lost track of time entirely – that’s probably what being on holiday is meant to be. Damn, it worked too well.

“is the Museum of Modern Art open?”

-no, honey, that’s already closed

“oh damn (didn’t want to swear again). What IS open around here then?”

-there’s really nothing. Even the shops are all shutting at 5.

-nothing at all?

“there’s Millenium Park. It’s one block up. Though it might not be fun in this weather”

And it wasn’t, though I was still impressed. A big flat bit of Chicago given over to gigantic sculptures, including the famous chrome bean, I slouched round it for half an hour in the snow and the slush and started to feel my diminutive size in this gigantic city. Getting soggy feet is one of the simplest, most destructive ways to destabilize a grown man. So I went looking for culture, with food and shelter as a back-up plan.

By sheer luck, opposite where I was lost stood the Public Library a.k.a The Chicago Cultural Centre, which had an exhibition of African housing adornments (didn’t know there was so much more to it than shrunken heads and mortar) that was, crucially, open til 6.

I don’t know how I did it but I managed to get lost in a major city famous for giant steaks, hot dogs, stuffed pizzas and god knows what else and managed to find absolutely nowhere to eat. I wish I could blame it on indecisiveness but I didn’t get the choice to even vacillate over it. Panicking that I couldn't find anything at all to eat, I decided to get back to the train station early and find something around there. I walked for 20 minutes in a complete circle and then back on myself just to compound the error, then gave up and took a cab to Union Station, said in my famous 'i know where im going' voice. And so I was dropped off outside a completely unfamiliar building and went inside to investigate. I found only signs for local trains and realised I was at the wrong place entirely. Still nothing to eat. Stepped back outside, walked 5 minutes down the road with no idea where I was going and hailed another cab to Union Station, the Amtrak one please sir.

1 minute later he drove me back to the building i'd just left and around to the front entrance, the very station I was indeed looking for. The meter had barely crept up 20c since i'd got in. He didn't give a fuck so I decided not to either. After all, it was snowing, I had soggy feet and i'm a dollar-rich Englishman.

Earlier that day in a conversation about junk food, I made the probably true statement that I hadn’t had a McDonalds in 4 or 5 years and I don’t plan on having one ever again. Like many people, I went mad for it as a kid but as an adult I was never a habitual user. Turning up at the check-in, I met up with the same two musician kids from Seattle who saved my stuff in the locker from inevitable pillage and before I even had a chance to refuse, they’d stuck a double cheeseburger in my hands and I was so goddamned hungry I nearly pushed it past my teeth and straight down my throat with my fist. I immediately felt better, though slightly ashamed of myself for eating and enjoying such shit. Within a minute, they’d shoved another one in my hand and refused to let me give it back, though I claimed quite truthfully that I wasn’t hungry anymore. They made me keep it for later. I set out in search of real food.

This time, I knew better than to search outside the station where food for sale apparently doesn’t exist. But still I should have known better than to enter an area called the Food Court. The word ‘Court’ in this case is apt since the culinary crimes committed therein deserve an instant trip to the Justice dispensary. After a brief flirtation with the Cajun and Chinese establishments, I turned a forgotten corner and found the raggediest looking McDonalds ever and I just knew I was going to order a Big Mac with medium fries and a large orange juice and I also knew it was going to be disgusting. I didn’t even eat it in the McDonalds itself, so sick did I feel about the whole affair. No, I ate it in the Banqueting Hall deep within the castle walls of the Court of Foode and mighty physic was not mine victuals. All hail McDeth, for thou shalt be the Burger King.

The Big Mac was the worst I’ve ever had – sizzling cold ground cow-dung topped with a slice of melted orange Duplo, a distant relative of the suspicious cream sauce and a dead relative of a lettuce leaf – all in a sesame seed bun. The fries were cold, hard AND soggy, a triple-pronged bumrape up the jacksy of junk food standards. The orange juice tasted like it had already been drunk. (And when I drank my piss later that night, it was no better)

So disgusted was I with myself and the whole situation I found myself in that when I finished eating I self-loathingly dug out the spare double cheeseburger that was cold and squishy and of course I scoffed that badboy down like the motherfucker it was. I guess my imagined hunger took over to the point that I had persuaded myself that it was actually food and I hadn’t eaten in days. All this irrational behaviour overwhelmed me within a matter of minutes, particularly distressing when I reflect on my new found love for myself. Obviously there's still some way to go.

This trip has taught me three truths I hold to be self-evident: Americans are fat fucks; Americans are fat fucks; Americans are fat fucks. I went back to my pre-divorce stomach size in a week, though the rest of me stayed gloriously gaunt and urchine. But by the end of the trip I looked like some of my less successfully rolled spliffs - basically a snake that's swallowed an egg. It’s also taught me that I’m just not set up for cheap meat. I get a stomach ache when I eat it, though since it’s been with cheese this week it could be that instead. (Don’t care to find out. Still not doing it again for good while). How some Americans manage to stay thin I do not know.

I guess you don't need to know that as I chewed the last bite of McEvil I got a serious pain in my stomach just as if inside me there was a baby kicking...its crack habit. I went straight from the Food to the Poo Court, handily placed adjacent and attempted to poo out food that was already having second thoughts about entering my stomach let alone leaving it. I say attempted also because my record with public toilets is not a proud one and the minute i run out of things to blog about in the present, someone remind me and i shall recount the tale of the curious incident of the cock in the daytime (in Uxbride tube station, no less). So i'm tired, ill, flustered, nervous and really just wanting to get on the next train, get a good seat and sleep. In contrast to either of the absurd colonic donations to the porcelain gift basket of my previous Chicago sojourn, this time my poo simply refused to leave its dark lair. Sure, i sat down and pushed out a few plops but nothing else wanted to come, no matter that there was something lumpy sitting 'on the ledge'.

You know when you're wiping a dripping tap or a snotty nose and no sooner have you wiped away that residue than an equally big deposit had taken its place and you'll wipe it and no sooner that you wiped it than ...etc? Well, if you haven't you should really come wipe my anus some time because that's what it's like and I know you'll love it. The surprising thing was how sticky it was. Did I sit on some glue? Had I just eaten 2 jars of smooth peanut butter? That's what it felt like and was easily the equal in volume. Every wipe would take me one step closer to cleanliness... and one step back. I must have gone through half a big roll of toilet paper and all i got was a smelly hand and the desperate wish to get my trousers back up around my waist and leave this dodgy space. The poo kept coming unabated. The door and walls were incredibly low as it was, presumably so attendants can see homeless guys or addicts in there. Unfortunately, so could any average heighted shitting fetishist. I zipped up still sticky and ran, having also succumbed to the sticky rancid whiff of pure paranoia.

Half an hour later I was back, spooning out more brown butter and trying desperately to stem the flow of this everlasting bumjam. Then as now, I think over what I'm doing and saying and briefly pause to wonder if this is how most men in their mid 30's talk and act - I won't say i'm in the majority, i dont think i have ever been in that apparently hallowed group my whole life, but i also can't believe im the only man of this generation to go through a series of public dietary crises and faithfully report it to the disbelieving, breakfast-ruined world.

And to think I almost went to my friends' wedding in Calcutta, if I hadn't already decided on this trip. I thought it was the safer option but something about the interaction of Chicago and I equals heavy duty, industrial-grade intestinal difficulties. I don't know what it is but I know that as a result I can never, ever, live there, love there, lav there.

And now, even now as I edit this a week later I am very literally doing a poo. It's ok, this time I ate mushroom curry and brown rice with lentils. It comes out better than some curries go in. And it's ok because I'm sitting on the toilet writing this and it's ok because I remembered to take my trousers off this time. And as the last dollop drops plopping into the watery internal rhymes of the u-bend, I have to go because I have a slate to wipe. Clean

Here's yet more from Old Man Jarrett. Entrance from Dark Intervals, 1987. A tiny spontaneous piece so compact and beautiful I've just asked it to marry me. We've got to find a really liberal rabbi and then I'll let you know the date. You're all invited.


Friday, March 02, 2007

What I did on my Holidays: Part 4

Seattle, San Juan, Victoria, Cathedral Grove, Tofino, Cathedral Grove, Victoria, San Juan, Seattle, Jimi Hendrix, Union Station.... The Empire Builder train from Seattle to Chicago, Union Station, the Glacial Mover train to Toronto, Union Station, Spadina, Home, Work, Sleep

Like I said, I've never been much of a story teller. That doesn't apply to my travelling companions aboard the Empire Builder, a train I boarded at 4:45pm Pacific Time in Seattle and de-trained at 3:55pm Central Time, two days later. If you've got the money to reserve a sleeper, you can if you wish avoid speaking to anyone except in the dining car, where you're forcibly sat next to whoever they forcibly sit you next to. But if you're in coach, as I was, you soon get talking to your fellow passengers and you almost as soon decide who's worth talking to again and who's worth leaping into a ravine belly-first from the speeding many-wheeled beast not to be talking to again. I haven't decided which is which and it kills me that I didn't write down their stuff because I can't do it justice to paraphrase it now(but I will give at least one choice phrase from each). I met a 19yr old International Welder from Alabama ("Ah still lurve the Spiiiice Guuurls"), a 15yr old Messianic Jewish extroverted Goth girl who'd run away from home to spite her loving family ("You have beautiful eyes"), an older gentleman -and i have to be careful here- who has had the worst run of luck in modern history and was taking himself away from the very real temptation to hurt someone very seriously ("You don't carry guns in England?! How do you survive?"), an 80yr old man who'd ridden every piece of rail track in North America and most of Australia and New Zealand and yet wasn't a boring old git ("I expect you'll be writing about all the crazies you met on this train"), a lady who could walk easily enough but preferred to use a motorised wheelchair so she could justify her absolute black hatred of the world at anyone passing by ("My son taught himself Japanese so he could play online games 24/7 and become a famous webmaster. Google him"), the 50's-ish Italian chainsaw salesman from Jersey who doesn't believe in paying taxes, economic intervention or dissing George Bush (-so you're a Libertarian? "I ain't no Liberal!" - no, I mean someone who believes in letting the market decide everything and doesn't believe in public services or government intervention. "I'm a conservative who don't feel comfortable with these fancy-schmancy liberals showing off their education. That's why I left Jersey"), the small-town Dakota lady who's writing her memoirs of being the wife of an abusive alcoholic ("I think the world needs to know the pain I went through. Nobody knows what it's like to live with an alcoholic. You know, he used to....")

The list goes on but the accuracy of my memory does not.

And then back in Seattle at a late night bar there was the drunken Belgian-American who just turned 30 and had a past that was more chequered than Chubby Checker on a chessboard: worked in a hotel in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a gas station in Idaho, lived in a cave in Spain, was bike thief in Amsterdam and now sold Polyester scarves as Cashmere in Seattle ("I used to be so punk, so punk"). We got absolutely gedronken together and I heard his life story three times. At least he was consistent.

Here's the encore to Keith Jarrett's most reknowned record, the classic Koln concert. Try buying it.


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