It’s always midnight in my school boy heart
Only the alleys have known my joy
For sometimes I have experienced a bliss that is so exquisite it can’t be verbalised to anyone
Not even to the few who would care
So I have walked it away
In the dark
Along empty city side streets
It’s a pity Oscar Hammerstein didn’t write the script for our lives.
He would’ve written it just right. It would’ve had its highs and lows, some humour, all the boring bits cut in Philadelphia, and ending, of course, on a note of hope
Instead here we are
What’s it all about, Alfie?
The Winner Takes It All?
A Change Is Gonna Come?
Or just 45s from our youth?
Is this the little boy I carried? We live in a world where everything we’ve been told for the past 50 years
Has been a lie
And those that come forth and tell us the truth
Get removed from this life
New leaders are elected on a platform of change
But usually it’s just a case of
Same car, different driver
Evil does indeed exist
And those who have sold their souls
Worship at the alter of a false God – Money
But all it buys them is emptiness
And if there is an eternity
What a hell it would be spent in that state of regret year in, year out – Arrogance comes before a fall The prophets told us – Yes, Wilhelm Reich was right And the weather report suggests a hard rain
Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.
All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.
When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.
My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.
Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.
My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.
The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.
After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?
Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.
Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.
Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.
I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.
I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.
After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.
All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.
It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.
It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”
It has been thought, up until now, that the 7th. Cavalry were committing a cruel and heartless genocide against the Americans Indians. An evil act. Not true. And we can’t believe that of the good guys, otherwise, where would we be? And good people are never confused about who they are. As anyone who knew him will testify, General George Armstrong Custer was a concerned citizen above all else. It has even been suggested by various world famous psychics that, in a previous life, at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the nameless man in the crowd that started the chant, “Crucify him!…Crucify him!” was indeed the spirit of Custer again, our eternal concerned citizen.
In fact you can trace Custer’s previous lives quite easily through history. He triggered the French Revolution by spreading the lie that Marie Antoinette, when informed that most of the people in the street didn’t have bread to eat, responded with “Well let them eat cake.” Not the first time someone has been misquoted for political agendas, and certainly not the last. But let’s not blame Custer, our spiritual Everyman. He was just a concerned citizen doing what he thought was best for all.
The truth about the demise of the American Red Indians is this, and you’re reading it here for the first time, they were killed by a whole bevy of concerned citizens, concerned that the Indians penchant for sending out smoke signals was harmful to the health of non-smokers. Yep, that incredibly dangerous and toxic second-hand smoke theory. Of course it’s never been proven that anyone has ever died of second-hand smoke inhalation, well not unless they have lived their whole life in the smokers room at Hong Kong Airport, that is. But that’s beside the facts. In fact, facts confirm that concerned citizens throughout history have been more dangerous than second-hand smoke.
I remember when I lived in L. A and I was standing outside a restaurant on Main Street, Santa Monica, having a cigarette on the pavement, when a woman jogger saw me and started coughing about 20 metres away from me and continued to do so right until she passed and in doing so made the effort to put both her hands in front of her nose and mouth in case smoke from my cigarette changed course and veered into her breathing orifices. I watched this pantomime with bemused fascination for sometime before yelling out to her, “You are so concerned about your lungs, yet you choose to live in Los Angeles?…Oh, have a nice day!”
I shouldn’t have been angry at her. She was just a concerned citizen. And the product of a long line of concerned citizens. Just as the Klu Klux Klan will tell you they’re just a gathering of concerned citizens. Being aware of this trait, I am now, myself, very concerned when people around me get concerned. I have mental pictures of me hanging from a tree for the amusement of a mob of concerned citizens, or a judge washing his hands and sealing my fate rather than stand up to a crowd of angry and concerned citizens. Or having the cavalry run me off my land and turning to see my home in flames, and my family killed. Or what is left of them. But hey, the culprits weren’t blood thirsty killers they were concerned men who had families and homes of their own.
I have lived through the Civil Rights liberation (allegedly), Women’s Liberation (allegedly), Gay Rights Liberation (allegedly) etc. So, I’m using this forum to announce that I am starting the Smokers Liberation Movement. And at this stage we have not ruled out using violence to get our message accepted. Especially if we haven’t had a cigarette in a while. No longer will we be shunned as second class citizens. Banished from restaurants (even outdoor restaurants), bars, beaches, within 20 miles of a school, football stadiums (and fuck, do you need a smoke when your team is losing!), and planes. Trust me, if I’m on a plane and we’re going down? I’m lighting up. Fuck the fine.
We are told, in no uncertain terms, to go and stand in the rain if we want a smoke, or go up a dark alley (I once said to a waiter who instructed me to do so, “You must’ve misheard me, I don’t want to shoot up, just want a cigarette.”)
It even screws up personal relationships with people, because you are no longer a person, you are a “smoker” and in most cases that makes you as popular as Donald Trump at Hillary Clinton’a Birthday Party.
Even signs seem to scream at you. WARNING – SMOKING NOT ALLOWED!
They even give us our ridiculously priced (in Australia anyway) lethal weapon in packets displaying some of the most horrific images of gangrene feet, diseased black lungs. etc., etc., etc. These images are enough to traumatise you into 20 years of therapy. I now order the “Smoking may harm your pregnancy” – thinking at my age getting pregnant might be the lesser of the illustrated horrors.
One night a woman turned to me in a crowd and said, “You smell of cigarettes!” To which I replied, “And you smell of rudeness.”
I shouldn’t have blamed her. She was just a concerned citizen.
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 expressions 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 recent 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, Felix thought, he’s a very clever bastard.
Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. He felt 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.
When I was a small boy, shortly after being pushed into this world through blood and tears, I began to dream. These dreams weren’t like normal ones in my sleep but rather, much to the consternation of my teachers, during my awake hours. Some of these dreams were bigger than me. And a few would turn out to be so big they would eventually run me down. In time I took this to be a sign from God who lets us know, now and again, that there is a price for everything in this world.
I would pay for mine with a broken spirit reflected in a broken voice. A humbling condition that also teaches one that the true road to God is through humility. It seems that you can only reach Him by looking up.
I strolled the dirty, broken streets of my youth looking down at the pavement locked in these dreams. In some of them I was Davy Crockett laying down my life for a noble cause. In others, I was Zorro and my hair was perfect and I always got away unharmed to fight another day. I found that these dreams could actually get you through your life, even on a zero budget. All you had to do was find a park bench, close your eyes, lift your head until you felt the warm comforting rays of the sun, and let your mind go off to exotic locations and scenarios.
It was good to be young in those days. Without TV and the internet and (c)rap and the Kardashians we had no idea what we were missing. Or how good we had it. Each day was all we owned and it was amazing how much we could fit into it.
I dreamed that I would be bigger than my dad in height and temperament and wealth, and I lived to achieve all that and to discover how meaningless it was. Especially the wealth. It is only in the hard wisdom that I fully see how big was father was. In spite of all his flaws, or maybe as a result of them. For no one gets to be perfect on this lonely journey and to attempt the conceit of striving for it will break you and those you love until you all splinter and disappear in different directions. Take it from one who tried.
So many were lost in action by my failed campaign.
Like a war, some dreams can kill you, maim you, or render you insane from shell shock. There is only so much horror one can witness. Some of us are so mad we get up, dust ourselves off and go on, no matter what we have lost. For to look back at what we have sacrificed following our dream may render us rigid with fear from the monstrous wrecks we have left strewn in our wake.
Over the years our dreams, like us, become less complex and more realistic. And, if we have learned anything at all, we have learned to say thanks for each simple one that comes true.
These days I do feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, weary from a very long battle that one can’t run from as there are too many eyes looking our way for direction and an example. But like Davy must’ve learned in those final lonely hours, there is no glory, that comes much later and is spun by the myth makers, there is only blood, sweat and tears. And an intense feeling of loss paid for those fleeting moments of inner warmth that made us feel one with the universe. Perhaps that warmth was hope. A hope that maybe some of it meant something to someone. And if so, maybe we were for a time bigger than ourselves and perhaps, if that’s the case, the dream will go on. And maybe someone much wiser and stronger will one day clench in the palm of their calloused hand the golden ring. I truly hope so.
I saw a crazy man in the heart of the city cursing the people he passed, cursing the buildings, cursing someone long gone, cursing God for this Purgatory.
People reacted in different ways. Some froze and willed themselves to be invisible, some scurried away in the opposite direction, some watched in that detached zombie way people stand transfixed at car crash sites, fascinated by the sight of real disaster and yet non-reacting as though watching a movie play out.
So what does it take to make someone just crack one day? One huge life tragedy too much, or a series of small ones too close together that defy our idea of logic and fairness? Perhaps if we raise our voices above the rumbling wearing down drone sound of the busy city traffic, God will hear us?
Why does our Maker withdraw his grace and allow us to free fall through darkness and scorn so far from home? Or are we meant to always be alone in search of ourselves in others, a perilous journey not for the fainthearted. Or the dreamers.
Maybe the crazy man in the street had been chosen to heed his inner calling to join the wild throng and it is therefore in the madness that lies the ultimate truth?
Was Don Quixote mad because he chose to see the world as it should be? Or were the people who gathered to ridicule and laugh at his expense the mad ones?
John Lennon, during his time, was called mad by many, especially the press and the conservative establishment. But his brutal death at the hands of, ironically, a mad man has now elevated him to the status of martyr and messiah. Today, his human flaws have been sanitised to fit what is acceptable in the gospel of his life. The nobody mad man who shot him for a shot at immortality got a life sentence, while the famous mad man got death. And then in death, rose again.
When you look closely at it, most of our true heroes in history were called mad during their lifetimes because they attempted to do something different. To shine a light into the darkness that most of us are afraid to acknowledge. To take us where we would never have dared go if not for them. To make us think and, more importantly, to make us feel. In achieving this, a great many of them paid with their lives so that we may live.
So next time you see a mad man or woman in the street, spare a few seconds to ponder the forces that shaped them. And perhaps in those seconds we may awaken the humanity in ourselves.