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THE WARM DARK TUNNEL

Freddie Hudson was cursed with a great memory. He could remember everything that ever happened to him. Every slight, every cruel comment disguised as humour, every kiss that led to heartache, every promise not kept, every humiliation, every betrayal by a friend, every stumble and fall in a life lived in search of meaning.

There were also bad memories too.

He remembered coming out of that warm dark tunnel of darkness and gazing up at the doctor painfully dragging him into a cold and clinical world. He had tried with all his might to scramble back but it was no use as the uncaring determined doctor gripped his little head harder and forced him into a place he wasn’t sure about. He always thought perhaps that was why he had a long neck. Some told him, much later, that it was the sign of good breeding but it never convinced him enough to give up his own theory.

On first viewing his parents seemed nice so Freddie decided to hang about and a short time later found himself cradled in his mother’s arms, his grinning dad beside them, in the backseat of a taxi on its way to what would become his boyhood home.

Once settled in his cozy compact blue room he began thinking about the meaning of it all and what all this fuss would eventually come to. He felt awkward imposing on this obviously struggling couple and guilty for the pain he had already caused his mother. This fear of imposing on people would remain with him all his life.

His dad like to drink stout and this miracle brew seemed put the old boy in high spirits – although it clearly had the opposite effect on mum.

“Stout is good for me!” his dad would utter with all the urgency of a serial killer pleading Not Guilty.

“Not when you’ve had ten bottles it isn’t!” Mum would counter in her best Perry Mason voice.

Observing all this sitting on his dad’s lap, Freddie was beginning to suspect he may be a genius. Well, at least in this household. After all, surely the solution to all this was simple. If only mum could just down a few pints herself she could join father and son in singing sea shanties that made absolutely no sense to anyone. And see the fun in it?

She didn’t. And so most nights his parents played another game where they would both reenacted the Battle of the Somme. Freddie very much appreciated the obvious effort they both put into this but it invariably left all three dissipated and feeling defeated.

It wasn’t long before Freddie was up and about and dispatched to school, an institution he loathed with every cell in his body. He thought it truly fraudulent that the teachers spoke gibberish and got paid for it. Yet part of him marvelled at their trickery and on several occasions offered to take over the class with his own form of gibberish which, instead of being rewarded for, got him beaten by the said teachers until he could hardly walk home. Upon completing that long painful journey he’d be greeted at the door by his smiling mum and the words, “How was school today, son?” On one such occasion Freddie found it difficult to speak so his mum cut in with her motivational skills, “Don’t worry, your dad and I were idiots at school too!” Freddie was tempted to ask if he could crawl back into her warm dark tunnel and shimmy up far enough to fall through some trap door and back to whence he came before he was so rudely awakened to this mad place. But refrained in the spirit of good taste and reverence.

Having survived school, Freddie realised he was old enough to be married so he did. He found a girl who seemed to honestly love him so he figured she was a good candidate to try and recreate the joyful association his parents had endured.  And so they took that huge journey down the aisle and thereafter were happy and life was simple and good for a time. Until it wasn’t.

Oneday she said something to him that he couldn’t forget. Or forgive.  So he went on alone trying to forget her and failing.

But as things developed, there was much to do, and shopping lists of things to clutter a life in order to distract a mind that never slept. Freddie’s religion was to stay busy. In a way he thought this would ward off death. For although this life had holes in it, it was all he knew.

He liked to hang out with his friend Jimmy Helle who’d never uttered anything that wasn’t a lie but his choice of words was compelling. Together they whiled away the days, one telling tall tales and the other pretending to buy them for the sake of a friendship. It was a fine relationship because they needed nothing from each other, other than the shared knowledge that they were witnesses to the futility of the passing parade.

Another pal was Alby who had more moves than a snake and was just as quick to disappear when a bar bill was presented. Alby was so dumb he joined ISIS thinking he was working for the CIA.

Around this time, Freddie had the sobering realisation that he had $32.56 to his name so he wrote a bunch of film scripts and hit the jackpot. Suddenly he found that he was irresistible to many women and it wasn’t long before he chose one of them to accompany him down the aisle. Again.

Things went swimmingly for a number of years and he found himself to be on everyone’s lips, especially actresses in need of a job. Or therapy.

Money rolled in but Freddie was too   busy to enjoy himself. Luckily he had a wife who wasn’t so busy so every day she very kindly thought up ways to spend his new found fortune. She was genius when it came to spending money and Freddie thought himself blessed to have her.

Freddie was also surrounded by a team of men who were good with numbers, which was a great relief to him as he’d found math to be as ridiculous as geomatry at school. He was told by these numbers men to just keep on doing what he was doing, whatever that was, and they’d handle the rest.

After Freddie had exhausted himself making 193 films in two years, the numbers men seemed disappointed that the workload hadn’t killed him. So crestfallen were they that they all took holidays at the same time and never returned. Freddie thought it was a little strange that he hadn’t received a postcard or any information on where all his money could be located. This was a major inconvenience as he’d been planning to take his wife (if he could get her out of the shops) and young son on a little holiday of their own.

The kindly men who were good with numbers finally popped up again years later and made a splash in the irrigation business before finally discovering their niche grading horse semen.

Soon Freddie’s name was mud everywhere, including his own home, and it wasn’t long before the Tax Department thought it might be opportune to lend a boot to the situation by charging Freddie with fraud. It wasn’t long before he found himself facing Judge Kafka in the Farce of the Century. Unfortunately Freddie didn’t have Paul Hogan’s millions, or even his own, to make the Laxative Department look like fools, so he had to rely on plain old common sense. Representing himself, Freddie stood and asked the Judge if the definition of fraud was “to financially benefit yourself through deception?” Judge Kafka smiled and affirmed that that was indeed the case. Freddie then stated, “Well I don’t have any money. So I guess I have disadvantaged no one through the deception of myself that the numbers men would take care of business whilst I was making 193 films. No further questions, you Dingbat” and sat.

This sent the court into an uproar. It had been a long while since common sense had been heard in public and the judge toyed with the idea of having him charged with contempt of court. The Lax Department then dropped the charge altogether and wanted to have Freddie retried on the grounds that they couldn’t understand the plot to one of his movies. Freddie stood  and asked them if they were able to follow The Lady From Shanghai to which they replied, “Not on your Nellie, no way” and asked the Judge to have Orson Welles joined in the proceedings. That’s when pandemonium broke out in the courtroom and Freddie was convicted for a parking offence, paid the appropriate fine and walked free. Then caught a tram home.

Urged by his wife (it was a public holiday and the shops were closed) to go to Hollywood and make another fortune for his family, Freddie accepted the challenge. Unfortunately, once he was away his wife, trying her own hand at fiction, told his impressionable son that Daddy had deserted them, leaving them penniless, except for a mansion and everything in it.

Whilst pounding the pavements in Hollywood, Freddie’s wife scored another bargain and moved one of her co-workers into the master bedroom to cope with those long, lonely nights and had Freddie served with divorce papers.

Pretty soon Freddie was seen drinking in bars that even Charles Bukowski would’ve turned his nose up at. He started on white wine and soon hit the harder stuff. One night he had a terrible nightmare and glimpsed hell in all its ugliness and debauchary surrounded by lost souls all screaming for mercy.  But taking a second look he realised he was actually standing on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western at 3am waiting for the lights to change.

Work started to come Freddie’s way and soon he was being invited to all the right parties. Demi Moore wanted him to write a screenplay and Sharon Stone wanted him to take a shower with her.

Every day without fail Freddie sent home, well what was once his home,  gifts, cards, drawings, letters and, when he had it, money,  to his son. But strangely the money never seemed to reach his son and somehow ended up in the bank account of a doctor who shot Botox into women’s faces.

Freddie thought it was about time he wised up, so he married a bipolar movie star in Miami. They returned to L.A and settled in a rented home in Sherman Oaks and there was peace in the Valley. For a time. Some nights her mood swings suited the music and somehow together they stumbled through it. Two against the world. At times Freddie didn’t know if he was coming or going but after four years he found himself between leaving and gone. One particularly hard night, Freddie walked into the darkness and laid down in the road waiting for a bus to run over him.  Unfortunately for him there was a bus strike that night and misfortune followed misfortune until the marriage ended.

Somehow he came to be running a restaurant and proved to be so popular with patrons he was voted the unofficial Mayor of Santa Monica. He made some great pals amongst those he worked with like Ben, Gordon, Cathy, Pat, David, Neth and many drinks were consumed after closing time amidst shared laughter and stories. For a time it felt like he was part of a family again.

On the other hand, the two owners he worked for, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, were insane. Dum had the personality of white wallpaper and was the only wealthy Jewish doctor in L.A who couldn’t get laid. If he sat beside an attractive woman at the bar of his own restaurant and struck up a conversation with her, she’d be gone within 10 minutes. Sometimes less. Freddie named the empty bar stool next to Dum as the Seat of Death. His partner, Dee, always had a smile on his face even when you told him your mother had just died. He also spoke at a thousand miles an hour like a man who’d found the secret recipe of how to make speed.

Doctor Dum would sit on his regular bar stool every night after boring off every attractive woman in Hollywood and snarl at how popular Freddy was with people. It wasn’t long before Freddie was given his marching orders and on his way again, into the night with a thousand eyes and no particular place to go.

On one such night he gave all of his remaining possessions away and made his bed on the beach thinking, like the Indians do, that it was a perfect night to die. No sadness. No self-pity. In fact he welcomed the chance to now depart this strange world, leaving it like he came into it, with nothing. He closed his eyes and drifted off expecting to enter that warm dark tunnel again that would hopefully lead to a light. Or something.

But instead, he awakened to a new dawn and the disappointing realisation that a homeless person hadn’t killed him during his sleep. Then he looked around and witnessed a dawn of breathless beauty, and finally heard the voice of God as it said unto him, “Leave your cross here and find the music again.”

Freddie misinterpreted this message to mean go forth and populate so he found a jumpin’ little joint on Pico and exchanged numbers with lots of Black girls, until finally he got the right translation that it was all about the music being played at this club by a band of all stars led by Wadstar and Turk.

One night the doorman Basil Wrathbone sussed that Freddie had nowhere to go so he invited him back to his pad to share another 437 beers until they collapsed on the carpet and awoke a week later.

Sometimes between late at night and early in the morning, the bewitching hours, Freddie would see his new best friend appear giving a perfect impression of Creeping Jesus as he quietly inched in the darkness towards the Venetian blinds and nervously peeked out, whispering “The C.I.A are looking for us!” To which Freddie would reply from his living room sofa bed, “Why?” This question would rattle Basil and he’d give a knowing smile and creep back to his room. Sometimes they’d get so paranoid from this nightly activity that they’d watch endless repeats of Sherlock Holmes on TV in the hope that something, anything, would be resolved.

One day Freddie’s cousin thought he may be useful to him so he paid for his airfare to get him back to his suspicious homeland, Australia, the land of second chances and forked tongues.

Freddie returned and everyone patted him on the back.  Yes, everyone seemed pleased to see him except his old editor, the famous drunk about town Peter McBland who was genius at cutting the plot out of every film he edited.

Freddie was excited to see his son again but found that the young man’s heart and head had been poisoned by a woman who resented that her only achievement had been hitching herself to Freddie’s wagon. One night he invited his son to dinner and excitedly prepared a roast with all the trimmings and waited. And waited. Sometime after midnight Freddie turned the oven off. And something deep inside him too. Possibly the hope that the truth would win out and a happy ending might prevail. But life clearly wasn’t a movie.

An old friend Richard Masters, whom Freddie had once given a big break to, remembered enough to repay the favour. Richard was now running a very successful underground film festival aptly named P.U.S.S.Y and honoured Freddie by presenting a retrospective of 8 of his old movies. It was a roaring success and audiences cried in all the wrong places and the films were now deemed to be classics.

Freddie was hailed as a legend and people thrust awards at him in the hope that they’d weigh him down and he’d become stagnant like good old safe legends are supposed to behave. But it didn’t work and the bastard continued to live and produce new works.

In fact he lived to be 100 and received a telegram from the Queen  which read, “You’re a fucking miracle, Brad.” The fact that the silly old bitch had gotten his name wrong after too many G&Ts didn’t dilute Freddie’s delight in receiving this thoughtful correspondence and so he went on about his life, making mistakes, taking people at their word, searching for meaning in everything, and just being human.

His final words were reported to be, “Awwwfuckyasall!” Or something to that effect as he passed from this earthly world back into that warm dark tunnel of mystery, taking his place in our cherished and grossly rewritten history.

Text (c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting (c) Frank Howson 2017

NO MORE VALENTINES

389289_382657621756211_1022672344_nOh what a life we had when we thought nothing of it. It was fun and sunny and we always got by. There was food to buy and things to do and by dinner time all that mattered was the scent of something delicious cooking. We watched movies and looked for the relevance in our lives. Some made us laugh, others made us cry. Sometimes we didn’t know why. Perhaps they were premonitions of things to come known only by our hearts.

It felt like home to me and I hadn’t had a home in such a long time. I was proud of our quaint apartment and comforted by the books and music that glued our lives together. Now all gone.

I worked hard to get money to keep the wheels moving but in the end you resented that I did. So everything stopped. Including me. Our small world became overcast with your moods and I couldn’t breathe without some light.

You complained that my friends didn’t speak to you enough, so I had to lose them. You couldn’t get any work so you resented mine. Every act of kindness I offered you was rejected because in your words you didn’t wish to feel beholden to me. Then you complained that I hadn’t offered. Please forgive me my confusion as to what to do in such a circumstance.

I had been at peace before you decided to crash into my life, appearing at my door every night around dinner time, with your troubled tales of how a troubadour had treated you badly – had not encouraged you – had not listened to you – had not supported you – had not helped you. I listened every night for hours and melted and let you into my heart.

But as time went by you contradicted your stories about the selfish troubadour and elevated him to a mythical status above me. But where was he when you were hungry? Where was he when you were cold? Where was he when you needed laughter? Where was he when you were offered kindness?

Now it seems, in your mind, I have become the troubled troubadour of bygone days.

You forced me out into the night by your verbal cruelty and ruined my Christmas.

I have wandered since, here and there, thinking too deep and caring too much, in an effort to harden my heart for self-preservation.

Please send no more Valentines my way, dear Lord, I have paid too many times and my heart is too weary to try again.

(C) Frank Howson 2017

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GOODBYE BLACK, HELLO BLUE

The street beneath my feet
Has never let me down
Unlike the people
Who think they own this town
I tried my luck
But the cards were cut
When I complained
I was told to shut up

Goodbye black, hello blue
What happens next depends on you
I miss the world I thought I knew
Goodbye black, hello blue

I gave myself to you
But then you lost your nerve
I was your army
Always ready to serve
You cut me off
And you burned my flag
I surrender
In peace I pack my bag

Goodbye black, hello blue
I'll spend my life forgetting you
I'll miss the dreams that won't come true
Goodbye black, hello blue

So I'll be off
Until who knows when
I'll see you in the stars
Until the broken heal again

Goodbye black, hello blue
What happens now we can't undo
I'll miss the love I never knew
Goodbye black, hello blue

(c) Frank Howson 2017

Title suggested by Chris Thomas.


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IN BLOOD AND TEARS

There's nothing more I need in a woman's eyes
It's a lonely, hollow, comforting feeling
Finally knowing that
I am empowered and can no longer be conned
With the promise of something wonderful 
That will ultimately be paid for
In blood and tears
I now appreciate all people without any agenda
Other than to laugh and share some joy while we are still here
And at the heart of it that's all that matters
We hide behind so many veils in our youth
Playing roles that can't be sustained
Even the greatest actors can only summon up King Lear
Once a night
Free at last
I thought
God almighty free at last
All I wanted was peace
And some joy
And someone to share the good times with
But each candidate brought their carriage of problems
Their hurt caused by another
Their suspicions caused by another
Their jealousy caused by another
With no one to take it out on but me
So what should've been joyous times were ruined
Laughter replaced by tears
Kindness viewed with cynicism
Until it was turned into something nasty
That could only be understood by them
And this was called a relationship
Others would deem it a prison
Some, hell
It reduced life to a death
And made fools of those who had craved it
I still believe in some things
But less by the day
I wonder how much of us must whither
Before we pass away?
I am not a killer
And yet the faces of several people who have used me
Flash through my mind every day
I am considered a kind man
By some, a strong man
And yet I could kill a handful of people without a thought
Maybe most of us could
With a clear conscience
As we would write it off
As a public service
Our act would save other good souls
From being exploited and then
Thrown away to be useless
Having given them mansions
So that we could settle down on someone else's couch
While they rewrote history to alienate the ones you loved 
The most
Yet they weren't charged with your murder?
But perhaps justice is yet to be served
And if we took it upon ourselves to render it
Would the government not erect statues to us?
They would've in bygone days
Some people don't deserve to be called human
They don't act it, they don't think it, they don't care
They love to destroy other people's lives and values and then 
leave others to deal with the mess
They are spiritual vampires
Why should they be allowed to get away scott free
Sipping their white wine
Repeating other people's opinions
Only to laugh
And destroy another day
Another life?
I missed my calling
I should've been Wyatt Earp
or Bat Masterson
Riding the range
With the power to take or give life
Where and how I saw it
But instead of a badge and a revolver
I was given a suit and a tie
And an expectation of what I had to achieve
In a gentleman's world
I failed
Because of those I let into my life
with their promises of "This will be fun" and 
"I will always love you" and 
"Thank you so much for your kindness, it won't be forgotten"
But it was by the next day
Which brings me back to the gun
And why I am lost
Between the cracks of right and wrong
Watch your step
Night is falling
I'm considering becoming Jewish
Just so I'll know where my home is



(c) Frank Howson 2017


photograph by Vanessa Allan.

 

Prohibition

From Room Number 8

I hear the trumpet sound

But is it of the sky or ground?

It’s hard to find without a link

When the world’s forgotten how to think

And women dress for Babylon

To glow and bloom and then are gone

The devil moves you like a pawn

You’ve been played like that since you were born

We misunderstood the Judas kiss

And now it’s come to all of this

Where sex is love and hate is fine

And to tell the truth  is to cross the line

Where information is at our fingertips

And yet ignorance springs from our lips

We kneel to say our prayers

And pray to God that someone cares

But just like that tale of Ruth

We get persecuted for the truth

We never found the promised land

It was a myth like the helping hand

So we freeze in our winter of discontent

Where there are no replies to our letters sent

I live in a house of lonely men

Where you relive it again and again

They say when it finally makes sense

We’ll be reimbursed for all our expense

But while Billy and Joey think it’s a crock

I sit staring at the clock

There’s a Pilate waiting to judge us all

And he’ll wash his hands and try to stall

Because it frightens us to the core

To know the roles we’ve been cast for

But maybe one day when I’m through this phase

I’ll call you to talk of old days

And not to take anything you don’t want to give

Or to tell you how to live

But just to rest my head on yours

And tell you I love you because…

 

(c) Frank Howson 2016

 

 

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NAPOLEON IN DEFEAT

I don’t know where I’m going

But I’m starting here

I dueled with my demons

And conquered my fear

I’d reached a place

Where I was at peace with myself

And the joy that that brought

Meant more to me than wealth

To sit in the garden

and feel the sun on my face

Was to reach an unknown destination

And yet to know this place

But you crashed through my door

With your bag of moods

And a bottle of water

That you’d stolen from Lourdes

Escaping from a man

That’d unfriended you

And his songs of misery

That’d all come true

I don’t know where I’m going

But I’m starting here

All the things that I treasured

You smashed them, my dear

 

 

(c) 2015 Frank Howson

 

 

 

 

 

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R.I.P

Killed by the slow moving internet connection.

Killed by the small print.

Killed by the waiting.

Killed by the people who never showed up.

Killed by the opportunities lost.

Killed by never being fully understood.

Killed by the loss of parents.

Killed by the orphanage.

Killed by never finding your way home again. .

Killed by too much false love.

Killed by too many people asking how you are but not wanting the answer.

Killed by being too honest.

Killed by too many battles fought alone.

Killed by reading between the lines.

Killed in your sleep.

Killed by the mediocre.

Killed by finding out too much.

Killed by never finding yourself.

Killed by the dull eyed crowd.

Killed by giving more than you had.

Killed by the slow cooker.

Killed by critics who only enjoy sport.

Killed  by gossip.

Killed by pacifists smelling blood.

Killed by mistake.

(c) 2016 Frank Howson