THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

Advertisements

A WALK IN THE RAIN

He aged within the silences of our stilted conversation. His eyes were those of a man who’d seen his kingdoms fall and the survival mechanisms of such pain had turned him into a statue. Although he was outwardly pleasant and patient there was no one there. He was a ghost haunted by himself but chained to a place that had been familiar in his real life. I wondered if like other theories of ghostlore he was doomed to act out his past mistakes over and over again until they revealed something he hadn’t known before. And replayed to the incessant drumbeat of “If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only…If only…

The dark circles beneath his eyes told me he didn’t sleep much and that the night was rarely his friend. To him there was no morning, afternoon or evening only awake time and dozing time.

It was those eyes that still haunt me to this day. They told me they knew the secrets of this life and that the knowing of such things begats a penalty far beyond any pain most humans experience.

He said his best writing came to him at 3am which was God’s favourite time to speak through us, when the night is still and the silence is that of eternity. The world at momentary peace with itself and you feel you can hear God’s breath within the comforting embrace of darkness. Such were the fleetingly magic moments when inspiration struck him.

He felt he was no longer a person, but a vessel. He had worn himself out in his search for a lasting kind of love and knew now that it was not written as part of his destiny. Hence he no longer sought it for it only carried disappointment in its train. and such disappointment sometimes took years to wash away. A penalty for those who cared too deeply. Furthermore he now feared he no longer contained the capacity to feel the emotions of normal people, and wondered why God had spared him and taken so many others. Sometimes it crossed his mind that the lucky ones died young, still hopeful with dreams intact. He mused that perhaps that old saying was true, “God calls home first those he loves the most.”

These days he liked to walk in the rain. It made him feel something.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photo by Raija Reissenberger.

THIS PRISON HAS NO BARS

From the mansions of sadness
To the bums on the street
From the highways of loneliness
To the halls of defeat
I’ve watched your ascendance
The road I never took
Girl, you’ve come a long way
On a smile and a look

From the poolside of stardom
To the kids on the run
From the mountains of compassion
To the things never done
I’ve watched your progression
With an assassin’s eye
I could have been there too
But my heart doesn’t lie

There are stars in cars on every corner of this town
You’re gonna need a lot of help
When you finally come down
You’re slept with the Caesars
And you’ve dined with the Czars
But none of them told you why
This prison has no bars

From the towers of power
To a broken man’s plea
From the face on the magazine
To the girl you used to be
I’m waiting for some answers
Beneath the falling stars
Wish I could’ve warned you
This prison has no bars

(C) Frank Howson 2019

MY HOME

My home felt like a home to me. My mum and dad were there. And frequent visits from Uncle Arthur, Auntie Gladys, Uncle jack, Auntie Dagmar, Uncle Alf, Auntie Daf, Uncle Bill, Auntie Mary, Uncle Barney, Auntie Terri, and Uncle Charlie (who wasn’t really an uncle but was an honourary member of our family), who all added colour and laughter to our home at 51 Fawkner Street, St. Kilda.

From my child’s point of view our house was like Graceland and I was very proud of it. Today, I stand outside that same house and see a place so small and modest it resembles a doll’s house for grown-ups. Amazing that so small a space can house so many memories. To those who wander passed it would probably at best be considered “quaint.” To me it is a museum of my youth and I can still hear the distant echoes of laughter from my family, now all long gone.

My personality was formed in that house by those people. Life was simple and there was no need to be afraid of anything because my mum and dad held all the answers to Life.

It was a nicer world. People trusted each other. When we were having a poor week, Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick who owned the corner store would put the cost of groceries down on a piece of paper behind the counter and we’d pay them when we could. In those days to be able to wander up the street and buy an ice cream on the good of your name gave a small kid a lot of pride in who we were.

I learned the meaning of generosity and trust and the value of reputation in those bygone days. Your word was your word and your reward was the warm glow of pride when you were able to settle your meager debts.

From my mother I learned the meaning of kindness and never turning anyone in need away. I would sometimes wake in the morning and toddle down the corridor to find a stranger sleeping on our couch in the living room. When I’d ask my mum who this person was, she’d reply, “Oh that’s Tom, he’s from Hobart and didn’t have anywhere to stay so he’ll be here for a few days until he finds some place of his own.” People did what they could for each other.

From my father I learned that we all battle our own internal demons and that alcohol can sometimes make you say things you don’t mean. Hurt people hurt people. Sometimes in that house a kid got to hear and see things that ruined the dream world of Disneyland and Father Knows Best forever. But I learned forgiveness – knowing that at the heart of it my father didn’t mean what he said. He was not lashing out at us, but at the world. He’d had a much harder childhood than I could imagine and who knows what innermost regrets and sorrows his poor heart held and had to deal with every day. All I know is that he was the nicest man in the world up to 10 drinks. And that’s the man I choose to remember.

From my elder sisters I learned that envy can drive people to be cruel and mean-hearted and after many attempts over the years to forgive their actions towards me I had to cut them out of my life for good.

We were the last house in our street to get a television set and in the end we only got one by an Act of God. One day a delivery man from Steele’s dropped one off to us by mistake. Steele’s department store only realized their mistake two years later and dispatched another delivery man to pick it up. But by then we were seriously addicted to the weekly TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, and there was no way my dad was giving it back. When the delivery man sensed that my dad was willing to fight to the death to protect his family’s entertainment, the man from Steele’s swiftly departed and our ownership of the small mahogany television set was never contested again. My dad was a hero that day.

Before God granted us a television set, a boy had to invent his own entertainment. So each day after school, I’d rush home, change out of my school clothes, get dressed, grab a football and stroll out onto Fawkner Street and start bouncing it up and down on the pavement. It didn’t take long before boys from other houses would hear the familiar sound and start piling out onto the street for a kick to kick football match until night fell and we were all called home for dinner.

I used to try and take skyscraper marks, sometimes climbing up onto the backs of my opponents, like my football idol Big Bill Stephenson of St.Kilda. My mum and dad had taken me to every St.Kilda match from the time I was a baby in their arms, and as a young boy I had marveled at Big Bill’s genius at full forward. Then, one day when the Saints played Essendon, Big Bill had climbed into the stratosphere for a mark and came down landing badly and ruptured his knee. When he collapsed to the ground, he uttered the words, “I’m buggered” to which his opponent Don McKenzie replied, “Thank Christ for that!” So far that year Bill Stephenson had kicked 20 goals in just three and a half games and at that rate would’ve scored 102 goals for the year at a time when the leading full forwards averaged 54. He never played again. To me, it was a tragedy on the scale of the JFK assassination.

It’s funny the things that mean so much to us along the way and shape us as human beings. I still sometimes get teary eyed when I recall the long forgotten football hero Big Bill Stephenson. He passed away in 2010 with hardly a mention in the newspapers. But it meant something deep and profound to me. From Big Bill Stephenson I learned that no matter how high you soar, there is a still a price to be paid.

When I was born my mother wanted to name me Peter. My sisters wanted to name me Michael. And my Irish grandmother demanded I be called Frank. Guess who won out. A short time later we got a dog and he became Peter. Oh my, how I loved that dog. My first best friend. My confidante who never snitched on me if I did something wrong; who continued to smile at me even when I disappointed him and proved I was only human. From Peter, my rock, I learned loyalty.

One day I came home from school to be told the tragic news that Peter had run away from home. What? My best friend had run out on me? Had abandoned me for greener pastures? How could this be? It didn’t make sense. I grieved for many years over this and never got another dog. Perhaps deep down I still grieve in my schoolboy heart. Not that long before my mum passed away she told me the true story. Peter had not run away. The neighbor across the road had thrown chicken bones over our fence thinking the dog would like them. But Peter got one caught in his throat and choked to death. My mum invented the story that the rest of the family stuck by thinking it would be less traumatic for me if I thought he’d run away. I wonder if they still felt that when every evening after school I’d stand at the front gate looking up and down each end of the street for my best friend to come home. To me. It has probably instilled in me abandonment issues I carry to this day. If you love something too much, God takes it away.

Anyway, that was my first home. Sometimes I stand outside it today and fantasize that one day I’ll knock on the door and offer the people who live there a huge sum of money to give it back to me. I need somewhere to house these memories and am weary of carrying them for so long from one place to another.

And when I have it back, there’ll always be the kettle on for a visitor, a spare couch for someone in need, and if you have a dog with you, a big hug as I close my eyes and imagine Peter has come home.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

 

EMPTY

I woke with an immense feeling of emptiness. Perhaps it’d been brewing for years and things had gnawed me until I was hollow. I got out of bed and summoned the strength to walk to the window and look outside. I saw empty streets, empty freeways, empty bridges, empty buildings and empty skies. I considered the thought that I may be dead. Perhaps there is no heaven, just another dimension filled with familiar surroundings and this was my location in which I could spend eternity trying to make some sense of the life i’d lived. What was most surprising was that I felt nothing. No panic, concern, fear – nothing.

I switched on the TV but all I got was static. After a few moments I started to find it entertaining. Then mesmerizing. No more ads, no more sitcoms with canned laughter of dead people, no more politicians lying for my vote. I’m not sure how long I watched it as the clocks had stopped.

I went for a walk. For the first time in my life I felt safe. I passed many empty parked cars and wondered about the people who had owned them. I walked into a supermarket but there was nothing I wanted anymore. I left empty handed.

I continued to walk and thought about love and how it had robbed me of my best years. I laughed out loud at my foolishness. There was no regret or bitterness, or anger. It now seemed all so clear.  Love was just a dream. And all the best dreams are those that remain dreams. Unrequited. Untarnished. Unsullied by not dragging it down to earth to be played out by two dumb, needy people seeking themselves in the eyes of each other, only to awaken one day to realize they have nothing in common but the rooms they shared.

I walked up the steps to the National Art Gallery. There were no lines or admission to pay. No irritating muzak. No need to utter a comment about the masterpieces that were so exquiisite mere words would only devalue them anyway. But then again, these art pieces were of no monetary value anymore. Their only worth being the joy it brought to gaze upon them.

I walked home again, slowly. There was no need to rush anymore. No one was waiting for me.

I sat in my favourite chair and read from “A Tale of Two Cities”. My concentration was not broken by telephone calls, unexpected visitors, or the nagging feeling that I should be somewhere.

If this wasn’t heaven, it’d do.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2016

 

 

MY FAVOURITE BOOKS LIST

A friend asked me to pick my 10 fave books of all time. The 10 best of anyting is a hard ask but here’s goes. I have chosen those 50 books that moved me the most and had the biggest influence.

1) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.

3) THE DISENCHANTED by Budd Schulberg.

4) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde.

5) NODDY IN TOYLAND by Enid Blyton

6) A LIFE by Elia Kazan.

7) CRAZY SUNDAYS – F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IN HOLLYWOOD by Aaron Latham

8) CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan.

9) THIS IS ORSON WELLES by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich.

10) A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.

11) THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

12) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

13) A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

14) HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

15) WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME by P.F. Sloan

16) DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller

17) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

18) TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

19) POWER WITHOUT GLORY by Frank Hardy

20) PETER PAN by James M. Barrie

21) DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN by Jean Cocteau

22) ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

23) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by Ron Hansen

24) SCOTT & ERNEST by Matthew Bruccoli

25) THE POWER OF MYTH by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers.

26) ERROL FLYNN – A MEMOIR by Earl Conrad

27) ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE by Alan Jay Lerner

28) DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

29) OLIVIER ON ACTING by Laurence Olivier

30) THE MUSIC GOES ROUND MY HEAD by David Johnston

31) FREE ASSOCIATION by Steven Berkoff

32) THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE by Robert Evans

33) MARILYN by Norman Mailer

34) HITCHCOCK BY TRUFFAUT

35) A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

36) JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck

37) PICTURE by Lillian Ross

38) HOME BEFORE DARK by Ruth Park

39) TINSEL by William Goldman

40) PORTRAITS by Helmut Newton

41) THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp

42) THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell

43) TEN GREAT PLAYS by William Shakespeare

44) FINISHING THE HAT by Stephen Sondheim

45) W. C. FIELDS – HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES by Robert L. Taylor

48) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN Volume 1 by Mark Twain

49) IN HIS OWN WRITE by John Lennon

50) THE ENTERTAINER by John Osbourne

REMEMBER

Remember the days before ipods and iphones when we actually took the time to talk to each other? Really talk.

Remember when you could go out to lunch as an escape from the pressures of work and for an hour could unwind and enjoy a meal without being interrupted by a phone call about something that could obviously wait an hour?

Remember when love was something magical and special and people didn’t take each other for granted? Or for a ride. We all rejoiced when there was suddenly free love. Trouble is, like most things, people don’t value things that come too easily.

Remember when music was on vinyl and an album was big and had a beautiful cover that actually looked like a work of art and we carried those albums around with us to friends’ houses as a badge of pride? They had cover notes. They listed what musicians played on what track. What studio each track was recorded at? Who engineered? What time of day or night had it been recorded. Who had written each song? Who arranged it? Who mixed it? The lyrics. It was important to us to know all these things and to respect those who had participated on our beloved recording. It was difficult to skip tracks so it made you listen to every song and appreciate an album as a whole. Now, music has gotten smaller in so many ways. People download things in inferior sound quality and don’t give a damn about who played on it and who else contributed. Now it’s all about beats.

Remember when people used to know their neighbours? And actually care about them?

Remember when a dog was a child’s best friend and there were so many hills to climb and games to play in the open air? It taught us to use our imaginations. Without a computer screen, we could imagine we were Zorro, Davy Crockett, Robin Hood or Geronimo and play in parks for hours having the time of our life. And were safe.

Remember when the smallest gesture was appreciated and treasured?

Remember when we believed that our vote counted for something? This was in the days before the Whitlam sacking (a Prime Minister elected by the public and dismissed by one man), and Kevin Rudd (another man elected by the public but dismissed by his own party).

Remember when our innocence was lost from three bullets fired in Dallas? A reminder that the world was not a safe place for those who dreamed big dreams.

Remember when your parents took the time to read you bedtime stories?

Remember when an ice cream and a trip to the movies made you feel like the richest kid in town?

Remember when Christmas was spent with all those long gone family members and we laughed as if there would be no tomorrow?

Remember when the days seemed so long that you could easily fit into each one everything you had to do?

Remember the first time you heard the Beatles and they sounded like nothing you’d ever heard before? It’s hard for younger people to appreciate their full impact on the way things were. Music, hair, clothing, and attitudes changed overnight. Or so it seemed.

Remember when you were small and played with children with different coloured skin and didn’t even notice?

Remember the excitement of each birthday party shared with your friends?

Remember the smell of your mum’s cooking? It seemed like she was some kind of magician. She always knew what you wanted.

Remember when each day was your friend and another chance for an adventure? Where did we lose that enthusiasm for life? I lost it for a whole decade but have worked hard to regain it. Be thankful for each day no matter what you are going through. Each day is a gift. If you treat it as such it will be.

Remember when radio stations played any and every style of music as long as they thought it was a hit? It was such a weird and exciting mix of Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Anthony Newley, The Shadows, Bob Dylan, The Seekers, Bobby Darin, Paul Mauriat, The Kinks, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey,  Janis Joplin, etc., etc., etc.

Remember when people read books and writers became celebrities?

Remember when Bing Crosby was the voice of Christmas?

Remember romance?

Remember Muhammad Ali in his prime when he glided like a proud eagle in flight?

Remember reading the Old Testament and being scared because God seemed so pissed off all the time? In the New Testament He had, like us all, mellowed by time.

Remember crying over the loss of your first love?

Remember when people took the time to write and post Christmas cards?

Remember Noddy in Toyland?

Remember when the circus came to town?

Remember watching man set foot on the moon and knowing nothing would be the same again? It was scary and exciting all at the same time. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Man has invented his doom, first step was touching the moon…”

Remember when it wasn’t painful to remember?

 

(c) Frank Howson 2014