Sunday, September 05, 2010

Year Zero, And Then One

I was supposed to be going to Poland with Alan for new year’s, but his Christmas bonus hadn’t come through like he hoped it would. He told me this on the phone when I was at home, and half an hour later, Casey phoned me. I hadn’t heard from her in a month, thought I never would again, and wouldn’t have minded one way or the other. ‘You need more sustenance,’ she offers, as way of explanation for her silence. But we arrange to go away together, for we both want to be out of London for the millennium. At first it’s Poland, then Naples, Oslo, Copenhagen, Portugal, in fact just about every European country until we have to settle on Dublin; the cheapest fare, and hopefully a cheap stay, for Casey’s dad has a house in Dublin with spare bedrooms. She’d been meaning to see him for the past year (!). I’m none too enthusiastic about Dublin but Casey has promised me visions of children bareback on horses riding through town (as seen in The Commitments), Black Velvet, which is Guinness and Champagne, oysters and James Joyce. It sounds good enough.

I don’t hear from Casey for the next week, until she phones me on the Friday before the Saturday we’re going, and tells me, matter-of-factly, that she’s just going to meet her dad in London. So matter-of-factly in fact, that I don’t catch its full implication straight away. Then my brain puts the two and two together. ‘Your dad’s in London?’
‘Which means we’re not staying with him in Dublin?’
It also transpires that even if her dad wasn’t in London, he doesn’t actually live in Dublin, but thirty miles away from it.

And so, the following night we arrive in Dublin just like how it should be; late, dark, foggy and freezing, and eventually, after back and forwards between two stationary buses, we find ourselves with a lone lost Pakistani man waiting for a bus which should take us into town.

Said said he didn’t like the food, he didn’t like the weather, his stomach was bad, he had no idea what the food was, he’d been in the airport for three days and three nights, he’d never seen a multiplex cinema before, he wore a cheap tight leather jacket which made him look stiff and vaguely comical, his English was bad and he’d be the only person in this country that I’d find vaguely sympathetic and almost likable.

It had never occurred to me (I mean it was something I’d never thought about) that someone from the developing world would find the west such a culture shock. Secretly, very secretly, this was my revenge and I took a little bit of pleasure in it. Yes. This was payback time for all the stomach upsets I’d got, for all the five-hour late buses and trains, for the all the times stranded in the middle of nowhere. For dengue fever. Of course I felt sorry for him, but I was also secretly smiling. He got off the bus to find a mosque. We got off to find a hotel. We find one in a pub on the south side (everything is north or south).

We went out drinking and it didn’t really stop for three days. We went to all the wrong places, as usual. Just looking for a place with atmosphere. A good cup of coffee. A good pizza, yes, but with the right atmosphere. The atmosphere needed to be right. Atmosphere was everything. I mean, atmosphere is everything. It’s everything. All we’re looking for is things with an atmosphere. A party, yes, but also a city, a coffee shop, a house, a pub, a room, a restaurant. Romance. Like love, you can’t buy it, you can’t sell it, it just happens. I can’t find it in London, or if I can, it’s all wrong, contrived, stupid. And so with Dublin.*

Everyone has a great time in Dublin. But not us. Finally, along Temple Bar area, packed, a vaguely nice looking pizza-ish restaurant, with warmth (on a cold night in a strange city warmth can easily be swapped with atmosphere). I told Casey I’d read her emails (I'd guessed her password). I was racked with guilt. Maybe I was strange, weird. She took it well, with a smile. I paid for the meal. Even though most emails are automatically boring, just because of the notion of them (spontaneous, quick, etc), I was rather intrigued with Casey’s. But I was feeling Catholic guilt. I wanted to atone for my sins. She just looked at me and asked me my password and I told her.

Later, a biker pub downstairs where thrash metal is blasted out (in the next room a Beatles room where young beatniks in suede jackets sing harmonies then make a face at me – what have I done?) and everyone looks like circa. 1987. It is funny. Casey says humans are just a vessel for love. It goes through us, it’s not of our choosing and it’s nothing to do with us. It goes through us from outside. And choices and fate. Two feelings. It’s always the right choice. Casey says you find out the meaning of life with love. And I say no, with death. She smiles.

After: a nightclub (Aquarium?) where we sit down and can’t help but be mesmerised by the dance floor full of the saddest people we have ever seen in our lives. Casey sports black leather motorbike trousers with a red stripe going down the side, white boots and a faded, dirty denim jacket. I wear a fisherman’s coat. On the dance floor is a topless man with long straight hair going down to his arse. It’s head-banging night. He swings his hair around more vainly than a shampoo commercial. Casey says she reckons his hair is long just so he can dance in this nightclub. He adores himself. He adores his hair. People love him. I want to tell him he looks ridiculous. I so badly want to tell him he looks a dickhead.

Almost as bad is the retard. Well, I call him a retard to Casey and she hits me and goes moody. But he is. He must be all of eighteen. And he’s huge. Tall too. With a bad haircut and bad glasses and an eighties sense of fashion. In fact, no sense of fashion. It’s fair to say he was a geek, a nerd. Which is fine. But here he is dancing really intensely, shouting out lyrics, head-banging (avec shortish hair). Basically, he just looks out of place.

It’s rock metal night but everyone, well almost everyone (retard excluded) is dressed like a goth. It’s also goth night. Casey and I sit and laugh and watch the goth couples who sit together and don’t say a word to each other and look absolutely miserable. I think to myself: this is how a relationship should be: light and fun and just like friends. But what comes first: the friendship or the sex? Or both, or neither? And Casey says to me: she’s glad she’s here with me and not her (new) boyfriend. Having a partner is boring. It does involve sitting around, holding hands, not saying very much. I like Casey because we talk about everything, things you couldn’t talk about with a girlfriend. If I don’t get Casey as a girlfriend, I never want one, I say to myself. Shouldn’t it just naturally evolve from this? The goths are so funny, it’s a joke. And a little scary. And then I see someone who’s really scary.

A man with a bald head apart from a long ponytail. A long black coat. And his eyes. All black! I impulsively grab Casey’s arm. She’s like, oh yeah, black contacts, seen them before. I’m like, Jesus, he looks like an alien.

We meet Kyle and Frank who seem relatively normal, i.e. they could be in London and not be laughed at in public. Casey had been trying to score some dope in every establishment we went in. Which had been a lot. She’d go up to likely looking candidates and ask them if they knew where she could get some. Mostly, in fact totally, she’d been met by ignorance, at best, and shock and disdain at worst. But everyone seemed to concur that it was impossible to get marijuana in Dublin, let alone anything stronger. But Kyle and Frank seem to know where to get some. Hey, they’ve been to London. Casey gets on well with Frank; young, cocky, friendly, a sparkle in his kind eyes, and he likes Casey, and I ignore them both for half an hour, just watching the sad dancing, the shampoo advert and the geek have been dancing non-stop for hours, I’m starting to feel tired and sobering up. Then I’m rude to Frank, but we get to talking, and later he’s like saying to Casey, yeah I like your friend, I really know where he’s coming from, and I’m like to Casey, what’s he talking about, I haven’t told him a thing about myself. He told Casey he was an actor and me he was a milkman. It was time to go. I was bored.

Once back in our room we had a tremendous row. Casey thought I was jealous of Frank. I wasn’t, just trying to explain that he was full of shit and wanted to fuck her. Casey didn’t agree.

What can I say? I’m a selfish bastard and I want her all to myself? No. I can’t stand men hounding women? I’m just so bored of people? I mean, if they were the sort of guy who fancied Casey, I didn’t want to talk to them. If they spoke to her – I didn’t want to speak to them. If they didn’t speak to her – then I wanted to speak to them (!).

The next day we explored Dublin. In the rain, and the fog and the cold. Where the hell was the Dublin of Ryan’s daughter?

Rachel expected Bangkok to be wooden shacks, opium and sex, and Casey promised me Dublin with boys riding horses bareback in the street, oysters and Black Velvet (Guinness and Champagne). The north, where they supposedly drink cider with their Guinness on new year’s eve, is vaguely more interesting than the south. Where the hell was the atmosphere? I remember liking the river Liffey, dividing the city into north and south, just like London. We walked in the rain, then had a cup of coffee in the Habitat coffee shop, exhausted. Went back to bed. Then it was new year’s eve.

The thing about significant dates – new year’s eve 1999, 2001 – is they’re a letdown. The best way to spend a special date is to spend it boring, ordinary, and then it becomes more memorable. What did you do new year’s eve 1999? I was sitting in bed in a small, dark, over-priced sweaty B&B room in north Dublin watching cable TV while Casey coughed in her sleep next to me.

It means nothing that we’ve spent these historic dates together. I mean, I spent four Valentine day’s in a row with Rachel. That should have some meaning, no? Well it didn’t. I never find beautiful women sexy anyway. Like a beautiful painting, I don’t want to shag it, just look at it.

At five to midnight we managed to make it downstairs into the pub of our hotel. I had a Bourbon and Casey a Courvoisier. Midnight struck and I forgot to say happy new year to Casey. I was watching all the happy people singing, smiling and dancing. I nearly had a tear in my eye. Then Casey tapped me on my shoulder and wished me happy new year. We chinked glasses, downed them and went back to bed. My eyes were twitching I was so tired. We were insipid on new year's eve. “Her face had pillow marks on them” (her line).

New year’s day and the day after the papers (The Irish Mirror) were full of death. A 16 year-old girl had been killed along the coast, near Dublin. She had been sledging on her homemade toboggan, crashed and been thrown into a tree. Casey said it must have been a good way to go. Like the guy who’d fallen down drunk new year’s eve and been discovered frozen to death the next day.

‘Woman killed by beach landslide’
‘club chief “murdered by British rower”’
‘Nun, 72, killed in church attack horror’
‘Girl, 15, electrocuted crossing railway line’ (just a few minutes before midnight, new year’s eve)

We check into a hotel on the north side, something we should have done in the first place. Near the Temple Bar area, almost trendy. New Year’s day is nice and empty. Raining and cold.

Sometimes her facial features look so soft and round, melting, inviting, but most of the time they’re hard and chiseled, cold and embittered. Like with Rachel, my cigarette smoke was forever chasing Casey, hounding her, annoying her, getting in her eyes, so to speak.

We spent all evening trying to get a Black Velvet – Guinness and Champagne, one night too late. But most of the Off Licences were shut and the ones open didn’t sell champagne. SPAR only sells wine. Only one five-star hotel sells Champagne and it’s too expensive. There’s no oysters in sight either. In fact, it’s impossible to get hold of anything. Like: film for cameras, marijuana, basic stuff like that. In south Dublin they settle for cider and Guinness, and that’s fine for me. Casey won’t hear of such a thing. She buys half a bottle of Champers from the five-star hotel. Then we go back to ours.

At the steps of the Blooms hotel, we see some Scots wearing kilts. Casey, pissed, shouts out (embarrassingly), ‘Are you a punk?’ (Why, I don’t know.) She shouted again, and the Scot turned around, sees Casey, and exclaims, ‘Macey Gray!’ She seems to like this (what I think is a) form of racism. Tired of Casey’s ceaseless cravings for attention, I started walking up the stairs, then turned and saw as Casey bursts out laughing, puts her hand over her mouth and points towards the Scot. I walked into the hotel, Casey joined me and said, ‘Did you see that?’ ‘What?’ ‘Did you see his cock? He pulled up his kilt and showed his cock!’ ‘No, I missed that.’ ‘It was big, considering how cold it is.’

Casey turns on the TV in the hotel room and opens the bottle of champagne. Then, finally, without warning, I see her pink knickers (she’d told me about them; I’d fantasied about them), not actually pink for all that, but see-through black, with a pink lining. She shows them to me, from behind, exposing her behind, the pink fraying at the seams.

Then she takes her knickers off, sitting on the side of the bed, and changes into her black leggings and white top. She sits on the side of the bed, gazing dreamily at herself in the mirror. I don’t know what she sees, but finally maybe realises that guys who tell her she looks nineteen when in fact she is thirty-two tell her for one reason and one reason only, and the men who don’t fancy her actually have the guts to tell her she looks her age, and always has. She looks fucked. Maybe in a drunken state she realises this, and dreamily says, more to herself than to me, ‘Maybe I should have babies with James.’

After looking at her face, she goes to her breasts, propping them up with her hands. They’re saggy. She asks me what I think of them. She stands in the centre of the room, holding them up for me. I don’t even look; I’m watching TV, and I tell her they’re fine. What else can you say to a woman? Especially one who doesn’t fancy you? And loves a fat forty-one year old with no lips (who just happens to run a post-production company in Soho)?

But the night goes well, and we laugh and talk, laugh and talk, exercise and kick box. She touched my foot and told me how soft it was, for a man. She went on to caress it, and I pulled it away.

In bed, later, no idea of the time, but drunk, half asleep, exhausted:
I knew it was happening in real life, but I was only half-conscious, and the other half of me was dreaming this, feeling guilty about it: we were in the Irish countryside, the year was 1865, the nights were long and the days were short. We were in a school in a village. I was a teacher. Casey’s big, brown, shiny, naked body was a precursor to Joyce’s Ulysses. She was in the operating theatre, lifeless and naked on a wooden bench. I was reading her body to a class of students, reeling in guilt while doing it, but not stuttering, but knowing every teacher in Ireland will be reading her body (as part of a travelling exhibition), and feeling sorry for her, and stopping. I can’t remember the text on her body, I pulled away fast, before I got into the flow, and woke fast, hand on a buttock still, sober. Anyway, the text was written in a faded old-style manual typewriter manner.

About ten minutes later, drifting in and out of drunken sleep, I touched her face. She woke suddenly, which surprised me. ‘You just touched my face.’ ‘Sorry,’ I said. I thought it strange that she felt my hand on her face but not anywhere else. Maybe her face was more sensitive.

In the morning I decided not to tell Casey my half-dream. I wasn’t sure if she was conscious when it was happening. I mean, she had to be. I mean, she was responding. I mean, at some point she had kissed me. Kissing. What is kissing? A kiss is just a kiss, a miss, a hiss. I should have kissed the Mexican Mac Operator, the Venezuelan whore, the Cambodian princess... but I didn’t. It didn’t seem worth it. Most of the time it’s just not worth it. It makes things more complicated than they need be.

Finally, empty, on New Year’s day, Dublin has a bit of character. No shops are open. There’s no people. Is it just shops and people that makes every city in the western world identical?

The next day, Tuesday, packed with millions of people, the shops open, it could be any place, like London. It feels like London. People walk fast, and we bump into people, and walk the wrong way, feeling like stupid tourists, which we are.

In the cafe of the museum I told her about the two nights where we’d got, well, physical. I wondered why it hadn’t been laughed off in conversation before. I knew it had happened. But I told her, rather too casual, perhaps, too flippant, and she just stared at me unbelieving, an unbelieving smile on her face. ‘What?’ I knew already I had gone past the point of no return. I shouldn’t have told her, but I went on, wanting to put it all to an end, knowing, stuttering...

‘What are you talking about?’
I half thought she remembered, but half knew she didn’t and wanted to hurt her.
From now on, to say the least, things would be a bit strained between us.

On our last day we took the DART train to Sandycove and Glasthule, where Ulysses begins. A miserable day, except for the sky, on the way back. The sky was blue, a shock of blue, so blue, blue, blue, like an ocean, no one looking up but us two – us two freaks from London just looking up at the sky like we’d never seen a sky before. We hadn’t seen a blue sky in Ireland before.

Like on the DART train – one window with a different tint to the rest – making the sea look blue, green, when in fact it was grey, grey. By this point she was sitting at the other end of the carriage, pretending to be engrossed in The Times. She read Tuesday’s The Time’s from cover to cover.

I thought we were meant to fly kites on a beach in Japan, eat apples naked, dance through tulips, ride horses bareback through the Brecon Beacons, build our own wooden shack on the coast of Nova Scotia, work (design/film/photography/painting/writing) from home, and raise beautiful babies. Of course, it was never written in stone, and it never happened. Those kind of things rarely do. I ran the gauntlet of emotions to her, for nothing. I never had the guts to tell her all this. She would have just laughed.

Nicky (at Auto Trader magazine; a Mac operator, deeply pretentious) said a man doesn’t become interesting until he reaches thirty. She’s twenty three, and I didn’t ask her what age a woman becomes interesting.

She’s so hard to pin down (in London), I love going away with her. I love having her for the duration of the holiday, knowing (well, half-knowing) that she’s never going to leave my side, she’s mine, all mine, for a weekend, a week. I knew this was going to be our last journey together. I wanted the flight to be delayed, fog, then once we took off, why not, a crash, and I save her. We had a final pint of Guinness, and a final argument.

Jesus, I sat and waited forty-five minutes for her. I thought I was never going to see her again. I went to the toilet. The hotel had a burst water pipe and all the rooms were without hot water. I started to get the fear. Jesus. Maybe I did imagine making out with Casey. Christ. Maybe I was going crazy. Jesus Christ. Maybe I drunkenly dreamt it. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy. It had the hallmarks of insanity. I was insane. Weird. A pervert. Jesus Christ. I tried to change the subject and thought about Dublin. Jesus. Jesus was a harpoon.

We both agreed that we both lived 90% of our lives in our minds. Casey said her God, her ideal partner and her life were in her head, and so was mine.

But I don’t know, I don’t know, when I with her, there’s no one else in the whole world, there’s no one else I want to talk to, look at, or be with. Bob Dylan could be sitting at the coffee table next to us, and I’d be like, Bob, could you keep it down a bit. Her body is a Columbian housewife, her mind a little girl and an old spinster, a teenager and mother, all in the space of ten minutes.

But back in London at Heathrow airport, she was a new girl, mobile phone, I wasn’t interested, nor was she, and walked away before she did, to the toilet, a cigarette, a newspaper, change for a ten pound note, a breath of fresh air.

I guess after a few months of Champagne dinners and pizzas without meat or wheat and Woody Allen movies with James, it didn’t matter about the size of his cock or his non-lips or his dull mind or his three children or his... What does it matter? Let it all go.

At least I finally got my books back, slightly tattered.

It took Alan to put things into perspective for me. ‘Look, she’s fucked, flaky and fickle. She’s at the stage in life ... her clock’s ticking ... she needs a man with stability ... she’s been fucked about so much in her life ... she needs someone reliable ... with financial acumen ... okay, so he’s forty-one and ugly ... but he may be a nice guy ... and he does own a post-production company in Soho ... There comes a stage in a woman’s life when she needs stability, not excitement.'

I said to Alan, ‘Man, I’ve got to get rich,’ but it lacked conviction, and he just chuckled. I was never going to be rich.

After a few days back in London I checked my emails in the local cybercafe. My password had been changed, and it took me the next day getting a new one. I had to write to Microsoft twice, and get them to send me a new password to my dad’s email address. At the back of my mind I was thinking, no, it wasn’t Casey, she’s not like that. She’s fickle and fucked, but not vindictive.

When I got my new password, and the Mexican girl at the cafe helped me change the language from German back to English, I realised every email Casey had ever written me had been deleted. I was shocked and shaken, and even got the fear again. Maybe I had never known her. Maybe I dreamt her. This lasted some seconds, then it passed.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I read that Hemingway could never write about a place until he left it, and I knew I’d never be able to write about Casey until she left me.

I liked her because she had standards. A good cup of coffee. A good pizza. The atmosphere needed to be right. Atmosphere was everything. I mean, atmosphere is everything. It’s everything. All we’re looking for is things with an atmosphere. A party, yes, but also a city, a coffee shop, a house, a pub, a room, a restaurant. Romance. Like love, you can’t buy it, you can’t sell it, it just happens. I can’t find it in London – atmosphere or love, or if I can, it’s all wrong, contrived, stupid, self-conscious.*

What makes stereotypes stereotypes? Truth is what. Ireland is backwards. The people are a bit backdated. It’s true. It’s impossible to get hold of anything. Maybe it’s the time of the year. Of course. Maybe it’s just me.

And you know what? I don’t like Guinness.

*Further repetition about atmosphere can also be found here.

(Dublin, Ireland, 2000; you – as well as me – will be pleased to learn that this was the last journey with Casey, and we never got in touch with each other again. Probably for the best. Collectively titled Four Journeys in a Year, here they all are again: The Cherry Tree (a sort of introduction); The Stowaway; Codeine Nights; Still/Rise: The World is Enough; and Year Zero, And Then One (this one). If this blog isn't a form of catharsis, I don't know what is.

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