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
I was right
About all the little things that didn’t matter.
I was wrong about all the big things that did.
But youth is for foolishness and mistakes.
The concept being that you will eventually learn from mistakes and your heart will grow a harder layer of protection. This can be a lifelong education of regrowth if you don’t pay enough attention to details.
One theory is that we keep falling in love with the same person, over and over, like some weird drunkard’s dance in a Groundhog Day scenario. Even if that person was all wrong for us in the first place. So is it familiarity that attracts? The devil we know is better than the saviour we don’t? Perhaps we just tire from the waiting and settle for what we know. Attracted to those who remind us of ourselves? Or marry for money and security even though that brings in its train a lifetime of boredom and unrequited dreams and hopes? But surely that is not a living, but a dying? For money proves to be a cold companion and takes more than it gives. Doomed to buy all the toys and trinkets to impress others whilst your subsequent depression stemming from your inner knowledge that nothing purchased brings any lasting pleasure. You are a compromised person and although you can lie to your conscience your sub-conscious knows the truth, and forces you to spend most of your days sleeping. Hiding from life. Avoiding waking to the horror of who you really are. A prisoner trapped in a cell of your own making. Spending all your approved allowance on the best drugs to dull yourself to the harsh reality that you are already dead.
I took myself to Disneyland today.
I wanted to return to a simpler, safer time when I believed in dreams and heroes.
All around me was the sound of the laughter of children and the look of wonderment in their eyes.
They are years from cynicism and reducing the world to something they can understand.
I had a photo taken with Mickey but my idol Donald Duck was nowhere to be seen.
Disneyland was conceived and built by a sad and lonely man who acted childish at times. Because the truth is he was still a child and needed to build a romanticised version of his childhood town – a place where it was always clean, and wholesome and safe. And contained no tyrannical father. Ironic huh? Was he insane? In most people’s terms, yes. But at least his dreams were safer than those of young Adolf Hitler, a failed painter from Austria. Y’know, if young Adolf had’ve sold three or four landscape paintings the whole Second World War may have been avoided. I always say, “Be careful about pissing off creative people. That creative light force once turned back on itself can become very dark and destructive.”
On the other hand, all of the world’s great accepted visionaries were a little looney tunes. Some, very much so. Fortunately their insanities were focused towards something more publicly palatable than the Third Reich or the NWO. They risked everything thinking outside the box. Their own lives became secondary to their dream. And many died in their footsteps upon that lonely highway. They sacrificed romantic relationships, friendships, their dignity (as many were publicly ridiculed), their personal happiness, and a comfortable safe life. Why? And what for? A higher calling? Immortality? If there is no God and no afterlife why do people do this to themselves? If we’re just here marking time until the long darkness, why not just put the tools down and embrace the fairly interesting train ride to nowhere?
It’s the same with love. If it’s not a God-given gift to share then what exactly is it? Why care so much about it? Or anyone else?
I pondered all these things as I sat in my chair looking out the window that was shaped like Mickey’s head on the Disneyland Express on my train ride back to somewhere.
Some make a livin’ out of shootin’ people down
Some people burn down steeples
Others kill for crown
I was born guilty
For somethin’ I never done
I see my rejection
On the faces of everyone
If you don’t think like others
They’re gonna hunt you down
I hear they’re takin’ names
All over this town
This world’s an angry place
And it’ll kill you in time
And if you preach love
They’ll take you in your prime
So love the ones you love
No matter what the cost
And don’t try to save the world
Or what’s already lost
I’ll see you at the stop sign
You’ll pass me on the street
I’ll be with the nameless men
Discussing the finer points of defeat
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.”
He had no name
Let’s call him Homeless 20146
He was once called something
But it was long ago
There’s a rumour he had a sister and a brother
But they’re missing from our records
So let’s call them nameless
People lose touch
It happens a lot these days
Families can kill you
In so many ways
He was just another victim
Of our coldest winter on record
We keep a note of these things On our records
Important data for something
He seems to have otherwise
Been in good health
So the cause of death seems to be
The lack of a blanket
A pair of gloves
A hot cup of coffee
Which of these should I note
On our records?
Our fucking records
Our arse covering records
That no one ever looks at
No one ever learns from
And you who sit in your homes
By your warm fire
Sipping your hot chocolate
And laughing at TV shows
That aren’t really funny
But make you feel smart
And it takes your mind off
Feeling ashamed that you don’t care
No, you don’t even think
About those with no names
And no faces
The ones you don’t make eye contact with
In case you may feel something
And that feeling could spread like a cancer
And spoil a perfect day
From your perfect life
So you mutter under your breath
“Get a job”
To justify your ill feeling
It saves you asking their name
Or finding out their story
And what bad luck led them to bad things
That led them here
You hate them for making you feel guilty
And wish the police would move them along
But where to?
Just out of the way
Of us good people
Who have somewhere to go
And a schedule
And a plan
And mummy and daddy
With a safety net
Lest you stumble
Well, there’s some good news
There’s one more
But you won’t remember him
Because you never looked at his face
And the deep etched lines
That were a road map of where he’d been What he’d survived
And how far he had fallen
From the life his parents had hoped for
And those haunted eyes of his
That expected nothing
And saw that the world was naked
Perhaps he was Jesus on the make
And you missed him
You are safe now
The nameless man on the corner Of Lonsdale and King
Has ended his journey
Tonight he sleeps warm
In a place where names are not important
Or the cut of your clothes
Or how many figures you make a year
It’s a shame you never got to know Him
He knew things Perhaps you were scared of what he knew?
And his story may have made you weep
It was in fact he who could’ve given something to you
But you were in such a rush
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
We told each other we had a good life full of ginger biscuits and roast dinners. I suppose it reminded me of my youth waking up Sunday mornings to the smell of something cooking and the excited anticipation of a family gathering.
I’m all that exists of that family now. So, in my defence, I will plead guilty to attempting to bring this ritual into our lives in the hope of a shared familiarity or perhaps the conjuring up of ghosts from the past. Futile dreams were our dessert. Big serves to disguise the cold reality that the best in us was gone. All that remains are the broken pieces of empty dishes. And the broken after dinner stories of broken lives that harbour in my memory and things I dream at night.
There were glimpses of great love in my family but thinly wedged between slabs of anger, recriminations, abuse, guilt and tears. Perhaps that’s what makes those glimpses glow so warmly in my heart.
You wanted a feeling of family and so did I but we were loveless refugees on the run and our pantomime of make-believe was a farce that didn’t hold up to intelligent scrutiny. But the first thing to die in such a delusion is intelligence. We played our roles with conviction but were hopelessly miscast, or perhaps just too old for believability.
We had a life of ginger biscuits and roast dinners but that was all. There we were, unarmed, falling where we stood in the small talk and repressed resentment that neither of us got what we had wanted. The past can’t be repeated, excluding the bad bits, by acting out the good. There is no cutting room floor anymore. Gone. All gone. My youth. My dreams of love. My good will to others. My mistakes of the heart. My misplaced loyalty to all the wrong people. Gone. And soon I will be gone, and all that will remain will be words. And people’s rushed and conflicting judgement of who they thought I was.
Fortunately there will be no one to play act the glimpses of my failed Quixotic quests to harness some joy in myself, and in others.