REMEMBERING

It was one of those days neither here nor there in the life of Felix Appleton. He had experienced the dizzying heights and the devastating plummets of a life lived in the circus ring of the performing arts. He was often praised as a born performer but wasn’t sure of the truth in that. He hadn’t sprung from the womb singing and uttering funny one-liners. Perhaps his screaming was in tune? He didn’t know and was not about to reinvent his life for the joy of some hungry reporter. If he had a talent to amuse, it had come from pain and the ability to live with it. He used to say, “Show me an artist who hasn’t suffered, and I’ll show you a phoney.”

He was born in a public hospital and taken home in a taxi to a single-fronted weatherboard house in a street not many people walked down. It was in this small modest home that he got to know his parents, both workers who had struggled for their existence and carried the scars of their battles and defeats on their faces as proudly as old soldiers displayed their medals. They smiled with sad faces.and their eyes brimmed with the waters of a joy that’d rarely found the opportunity to flow. Felix instantly fell in love with them and knew he’d found the right home. His parents were that dying breed called good people. Yes, they were tremendously flawed if one was to appoint a critic to write a cold and detached review of their lives, but that critic would’ve missed the value entirely. Like the first critics to review “Citizen Kane” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they would’ve been dismissed as “irrelevant,” “a misstep,” a disaster of epic proportions.” But what do critics know? Because of deadlines they have to rush to judgement and, more times than not, in their haste they miss the point. The true worth of something is judged in time and weighed by the impact it leaves behind in all those changed by having experienced it.

Thus Felix was nurtured through his first steps into this world by two unsung national treasures. He inherited from them the gifts to love with all the loyalty of the poor; the joy in giving away his last coin, cigarette or piece of advice to someone in greater need; the strength to stand by your friend through their mistakes, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For who among us is not flawed when day is done. As long as there is no meanness in it, all is forgiven. Like the Irish mantra, “No fear, no spite, no envy.”

Oh, and never show your enemies you’re hurting. No one should be
rewarded for their dark actions.

So it was from this environment that Felix went forth into the world. His parents had taken him to Luna Park, and the circus, and to Hollywood movies many times. He had grown to love the lights and the laughter and the collective tears of a reinvented world so much so that he joined it. “Hi diddle-ee dee an actor’s life for me.” He became an actor and acted out all the emotions he had experienced in his little childhood home – all the anger, the heartache, and the humour that can be found in any awkward situation that Life can throw at one.

Felix was praised for his talent to wring insight from any character he portrayed. Was he born with this gift? No, he was born into it. And how could it be called a gift when it comes at such a cost?

He never developed an arrogant ego, for his parents had clothed him in humility. He never cut down a rival due to envy, for he was sure that person’s journey had been as difficult as his. And he never said goodbye to any friend (whether it be man, woman or child) without tagging it with the words “I love you” for he had learnt that in this life we are never guaranteed of seeing that person again.

Felix was now an old man who kept to himself. He hated few things in Life but moving was one of them. It always signalled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. And as such he not only found it physically exhausting but emotionally draining. He was hoping this last move would be his last. Not that he was morbid. Far from it. He saw a joke in everything, and put that down to the Irish blood from his mother’s side. The ability to get through even the darkest defeat with a funny line. He thought one shouldn’t take this life too seriously, after all, it’s just a long elongated dream. And dreams come and go. He was just about through this dream and hoped he’d performed as well as he could, given the extraordinary circumstances that had occasionally rained on him. And that he’d given more than he’d taken from this world, for he understood that there was a delicate balance to everything and most of the problems in this world are caused by man’s ego arrogantly tampering with that balance. He’d learnt to let it be. To leave affairs of the heart well enough alone. To respect what you don’t understand. And to do no one any purposeful harm.

When he looked back at his life he was now able to smile at not only the good parts but also the bad. For out of every disaster he had learned a huge lesson. And from great lessons learned comes great wisdom. Yes, if there is a God, he thought, he’s a very clever bastard.

Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. It didn’t much matter because he’d be dead. And so would all those whose opinions meant something to him. Anyway, who wants a whole bunch of strangers talking about you and dissecting you after you’re gone, and getting it all wrong?

Still, he hoped, if there was another dimension or heaven or universe one goes to, he’d still be able to remember his parents. They were good people. They had given him valuable parts of themselves. And they were worth remembering.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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THE SEX LIVES OF MONKEYS

I wish you could’ve caught me in my prime. I cared. If you’d known me then you may have stayed. But I ripped my heart out and gave it to others. And they never returned it. Proving they didn’t have one of their own.

Like many young male idiots I was driven by sex to destinations unknown. Then one day I grew up to realise that a lot of energy is expended on so little in return. Kings have abdicated their kingdoms, presidents have lost their power, and mere mortals have squandered their wealth, their homes, their families, their reputations, their sanity – for what? Sexual relief in the arms of someone you will lose along with everything else you held so dear. It’s a funny little game isn’t it? But if it grants you a brief solace in a mad world I won’t be throwing the first stone. Or the last.

There are those who gain power by being desired. For a time, until gravity ends their reign. I no longer play the game so I can objectively appreciate their performance for what it is.

“It done been beaten outta me, masta, and you can have your heavyweight crown back while I lay on this canvas and block the sun from my eyes.”

It seems the path to God is through defeat and humility. So having all our childish dreams killed one by one is ultimately good for us. Is that how it works?

There are those of us who evolve, painfully, past this. But all wisdom comes at a cost. Those who resist it are forevermore locked in a futile dance finding comfort in the all too familiar steps but haunted by the sad drum beat realisation that it all means nothing and nobody really cares anymore.

In fact you may as well be speaking about the sex lives of monkeys for all anybody cares.

I was reluctantly and violently thrust into this world. Welcomed into this cold unfriendly place with huffs and puffs and blood and screaming. I didn’t ask for all this fuss and, if the truth be known, have spent most of this life looking for an exit door. At parties or events I never say goodbye. I like to just slip away. Like my mother before me. No prolonged goodbyes or grand farewells. No fuss.

When my time comes and the lights dim on whatever this was, I may look around with the excited expectancy of a child on Christmas morn, to see if you’re there. Of course, you won’t be. But it’s okay as you have hardened my heart to disappointment. I guess that was the lesson you brought me. All is forgiven. All is forgiven. For it was hard to be wise and in love at the same time, wasn’t it? Let’s just say we played our parts well in this fucked scenario written and conceived by a higher power when they were drunk. The plot had its holes and we fell through most of them and landed, arguably, as better people. Broken, but better. Maybe we will meet again on another stage and realise that everything that went before was just a rehearsal and that this time we’ll get it right, performing without masks or baggage or ego or all those things that got in the way of who we really were.

“What if you could have any woman in the world but you only wanted one and without her Life wasn’t much good anymore?”

Well buddy, to put it bluntly, you’re fucked. Humbled, but fucked. But come on in the water’s fine and you’ll find most of us here. Trapped in the stilted delusional conversations about something and someone that wasn’t real. You’ll find that your mind has worked overtime adapting what really happened to something you can vaguely live with. Repairing the stab wounds to your heart, and back, and ensuring that you only remember the good parts from a movie that at the time proved to be unsatisfactory and a time waster, but has grown in stature through repeated viewing. If you allow your mind to rewrite too much you will eventually cross over into insanity from whence there is no return. So forget your troubles come on get happy and join all the sad old men at the far end of the alley. We have no families anymore other than the family of man. No one seeks anything in our eyes and in return we search for nothing in theirs. Accept the truth and you are free of the chains that bind us to this groundhog existence. Being alone will not kill you. Being lonely will. And all that uncashed joy you held in reserve for that mirror partner that never came, try and spend it finding small joys in the simplest of things. A cup of coffee, a conversation with an old loyal friend, the smile from a child, an act of kindness, a sunny day, and a pretty young woman that you want nothing from other than her faith that are one of the good guys.

Yes, all is forgiven. But take the time to forgive yourself too. You owe it to your mind and your spirit to do that.

And as for that delusional movie that you keep replaying in your mind? In reality it wasn’t that good. Tape over it.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

painting by Frank Howson

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO FRANK

The following is my recollection of my past life through deep sleep therapy, hypnosis and past life regression techniques. The disclaimer is that some people believe this is unreliable and that there is a difference between real life and dreams. But I, and several alcoholic scientists, are not convinced. Most of what follows is true.

I was brought up in a region called Galilee which included such towns as Capernaum, Magdala, and Chorazin. I remember it having a lot of Greek influence thanks to Alexander The Poof who had conquered Judea 361 years previously. In exchange for killing our army and a large dose of innocent people the Greeks gave us their language, as well as radically different ideas (which only served to confuse us all) about religion, architecture, government, philosophy and mortality. Oh, but they gave us the souvlaki so all else is forgiven.

The Romans took over Judea in 63 BC and during my youth the Romans humoured us by granting us Jews a local puppet leader, King Herod The Lunatic, who was allowed to rule on some things such as do five aces top a straight in poker, close finishes in a camel race, and the Miss Galilee beauty contest. The strain of all that eventually proved too much and Herod The Horrendous later gave up some of the region to his half brother, Phillip Herod, due to his full schedule of getting pissed and rooting anything with 2 legs. Some rumours later circulated that this opened up to 4 legs but I have no first hand proof of that and refuse to engage in idle gossip. Although some of our livestock did go missing.

I first bumped into Jesus (literally) at a wedding reception in Capernaun, located on the shore of Galilee. Like most of the invited guests I was already shit faced on the bloody awful cheap wine they were serving. That’s when I discovered Jesus was a part time magician. He winked at me and said, “Lay off the cheap piss, I’m going to do one of my tricks and turn it into a wine of the highest quality.” Well when you’re tanked you’ll listen to anyone, so, I goodheartedly went along with what I thought was a fellow drunk’s delusion. But sure enough, an hour later he was the hit of the party with everyone proclaiming him to be the Messiah! When I could grab his ear I asked how he did it but he just gave me a look with those loveable puppy dog eyes and that enigmatic smile of his that I grew to hate. God, he could frustrate you.

After that night Jesus and I hung out quite a bit together. Well, you never knew when he was going to turn on the good piss again. He went on and on and on about his childhood and his lost years. Trouble is, the latter part I can’t remember as I was usually legless by then, but suspected his “lost” period may have been due to a battle with alcohol. Like mine.

He said he’d had a knockabout youth. His step father had been a carpenter and made a modest living due to his tables always being a bit lopsided. I asked about his real dad and, giving me that bloody irritating smile again, he replied, “Oh, he’s in heaven.” So, I deduced that the poor bastard died young. Jesus years later would get into a shitload of trouble not elaborating on things.

According to Jesus his mother was a madonna. The greatest mom ever. He then told me, confidentially, that she’d remained a virgin after his birth so, again, I deduced that she’d had one of those new fangled Cesarean procedures. You see, when you asked him for details on anything all you got was that bloody knowing smile like he was talking to a child or a retard. You had to deduce a lot when you called this guy your friend. But all in all he was a good bloke and meant well. And was worth it. To this day I won’t have a word said against him. Although initially I was only hanging with him for the free booze he did grow on me and didn’t deserve the horrible things people said and did to him. No one does. Okay, so he could be delusional at times. Who isn’t?!

At his trial I spoke as a character witness. I was put in a tricky situation when asked if he was the Son of God. Now I don’t mind telling a white lie for a friend to get him out of trouble with a suspicious wife or a bookie, but…I just stared them down and said, “Listen, and mark my words. You kill this poor simple bloke and you will be hated for all time. I’ll have you know, he is one of the greatest wine makers in the world and that’s no lie!”

But what good did it do? The trial was fixed. The poor bastard was given no legal representation. The jury was an angry mob who’d been sponsored by George Soros. The high priests were feeling threatened because they couldn’t make wine. All Jesus’ witnesses were well meaning drunks and free loaders, me included. And King Herod The Turd was spitting fire and brimstone because Jesus had refused his advances.

As for the Judge, Pancho Polite, his heart and attention weren’t in the proceedings as he had a skin problem (having shaken Herod’s hand) and had to keep excusing himself every 15 minutes to wash his hands.

I was shocked when my dear friend got the death penalty. But, hey, it could’ve been worse. One night with Herod The Herpie springs to mind.

But at least it was over quickly. Three hours. Most took three days. But that was so typical of my friend. He was always in a hurry on his express train to immortality.

I decided to visit his tomb three days later to pay my respects but was surprised to find the stone had been rolled away and one of the angels was there in his biker gear. I said to him, “What gives, brother?” And he smiled one of those smiles like everyone’s in on the plan except you, and replied, “Haven’t you heard the good news?” To which I, now irritated by the condescending smile and the question answered by a question, responded, “No, fuckhead, I’ve been on the piss for three days due to the loss of my friend, comprehendo? Or do I have to draw a sketch for you?” With that he broke my nose and gave me the lowdown – Jesus had risen, gotten the fuck out of Dodge, and taken off to India!

Still sporting a massive hangover, I pondered this for some time. After awhile I smiled. Another one of his bloody tricks I thought. Then I was laughing. I missed him already.

I finally said, “So he’s not with his father in heaven?”

To which he replied, “Not unless that’s a suburb in India, Retard!”

I told him his tone was not appreciated. To which he kneed me in the balls. I was not able to continue the conversation after that and crawled back down the hill in a fairly undignified manner. When I reached town I was given quite a bit of money from people who thought I was a crippled beggar. On reflection. I could’ve lived comfortably for some time but blew it all on a camel in race six.

Over time I received a few postcards from Jesus informing me he’d taken my advice and married Mary, and was working on a new wine for the Indian market. I was pleased and told him I had an instinct his name would live on forever.

He is buried in India but I didn’t visit his grave as I was a little nervous about who’d be guarding it given my run-in with the angels. I am comforted knowing that he is at last in heaven with his father. I know, first hand, how much he missed him

 

(c) Frank Howson 2018

 

(c) Sketch Frank Howson 2018

OUR HEALTHY LIFE

I have seen it all
But missed so much
What happened to our healthy life?
Did we lose our touch?
There are women out there
That want to thrill ya
There are men who stare
That want to kill ya
I'm living in a two room condo
In Clownsville
I think I may've died but
The stubborn part is living still
Love is not for wimps
Or just a point of view
It waivers in the wind
When it doesn't ring true
I've been to hell
They know me there
Tell 'em Frankie boy says hello
If you dare
Everyone I meet
Is somebody's girl
My dad was Jack
My mother was Pearl
They taught me how
To survive our street
And to see the beauty
That comes with defeat


(c) Frank Howson 2018

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

MEMORIES OF MOONLIGHT

My memory is going
Taking with it the moonlight
I can feel it
That bank of steel
That never let me down
Is letting go of things
Perhaps making room for new
Or maybe God is showing mercy
By finally unloading from me
Some of the painful baggage
I have carried for far too long
I don't know
Not even sure what my PIN number is anymore
But the jokes still come
To cover any situation
And never let me down
I have been using this technique
Since I was a child
Who felt things too deeply
To save face amidst any humiliation
Against any bullying
Or grief
Despair
Loss
Embarrassment 
It's seen me through many falls
And comebacks
And falls again
As I've clung desperately
To the glimpses of joy
While equally frantic to shed
The fatal wounds of misery
Now
All has become one
In a faded echo of some childhood song
Where only the chorus is still remembered
And the detailed verses
Are only hummed
The Tin Pan Alley story forgotten
But the melody memorable enough
To linger in that part of your brain
Reserved for joy and innocence
From a time way before
You knew of war
Or suffering
Or heartbreak
Or selfish love
Or painful longing
And here you find yourself again
And know it from memory muscle that this strange room
Feels like home
Whatever that was...


(c) Frank Howson 2017


 

 

THE DREAM IS OVER

So many battles I've had to fight alone. Betrayed by those I loved
the most, they were also the ones I had been fighting for. The
weariness of this realisation makes you weak at the knees and 
yet you must continue to fight or else the duplicity of their 
motives will win the day. You become hollow inside, not by cancer, 
but by the fact that something deep and magical and life enhancing 
has closed down never again to be reignited. You feel lighter as 
you inch closer to death. All that remains on most days is a shell. 
This is when you are called upon to become an actor and give
'em what they want. A performance. A great performance because it 
is so convincing most people think you still function and have risen 
above the hurt and damage of the shadow people. But then again, your 
life, or what's left of it, hangs on the thread of your ability to 
push on through the small talk and darkness of "What if...?" without 
puking on someone's expensive shoes. So many amongst us are asleep 
at the wheel and do not understand or care about what is at stake. 
Love is a distraction. Pain is the only honest constant and it has 
become your friend. You cannot be hurt anymore, which is 
disappointing to a lot of women. You cannot be brought down any 
further, which is crushing to many men. You cannot be bought, 
because there is nothing you need. You cannot be humiliated 
anymore, which is pleasing to God. For now all layers of bullshit 
and make-believe have been ripped away. You are free now. God 
almighty, free at last! You once had a dream too. But now you 
have awakened to see the game for what it is. Nothing can scare 
you now. You are impenetrable. This makes you frightening to those 
who only operate by spreading fear amongst us. And at the dawn of 
our demise you are noticeably at peace. And powerful again.


(c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

THE RETURNING BIRDS

I sometimes love to sit on my second storey apartment balcony on a sunny day and look up at the sky or below to the people passing by, some I know, some I never will. Closing my eyes and tilting my head so I feel the warmth of the sun on my face. A warm that seems to melt away the years and renews by reminding one of the inner warmth that was felt during those perfect brief moments in your life.

One day I stood after being renewed, and was about to go back inside and resume some work when I heard a bird chirping away. I leaned over the balcony and looked down to the branch of a tree below and saw a bird building a nest. Transfixed I watched for some time as this little bird would fly away and return some moments later with the perfect twig to fit into this complex jigsaw puzzle of what only she could see would eventually be a nest for her forthcoming child. If anyone wants to gaze upon the wonder and effort of love, check out this painstaking ritual if, like me, you get the chance.

I stood there for hours that first day and watched this bird’s tireless solitary vigil. Occasionally she would sense my presence and look up at me, and I would smile back and gave encouragement even though I knew she had no idea what I was saying but hoped that in my tone she sensed my appreciation and respect.

This went on for about a week until the nest was perfection. Utter perfection, so cleverly and intuitively constructed, strong and sturdy, resting safely on a well protected branch. My eyes teared up from the astounding accomplishment of her love.

Sometimes she would fly back to rest in the nest and look up at me and we’d have our one sided conversations.

One sunny morning I went out onto the balcony and looked down to see two faces looking up at me. If there is a feeling of magic it was in that moment. I went back inside and returned with some food I thought was small enough to feed this new hungry family. I softened it in my mouth and then dropped it down to them. And so this ritual went on for some days until one morning they were gone. Leaving only that perfect empty nest. I wish I had gone and retrieved it and taken it somewhere to be bronzed as a keepsake forevermore. A symbol of pure love. But being only human I didn’t get around to it. Or perhaps I had too much respect to touch it with human hands. As a species we tend to destroy or damage the most perfect things in order to own them.

Some time passed, and one day I was sitting on the balcony in the sun, daydreaming, when two birds swooped down and landed on the balcony handrail and calmly stood there looking at me. I smiled at them and said “Hello” and got up to walk into the interior darkness of my rented nest when I had a realisation that stopped me in my tracks. I turned but they were gone never to be seen again. My instinct tells me that it was actually the mother and child returning to say “Thanks and farewell.”  I’d like to believe that. Somehow I need to.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017