51. High hopes

Billy met a young girl in the early days of May
It was there in her arms he let his cautiousness slip away
In their lovers twilight as the evening sky grew dim
He’d lay back in her arms and laugh at what had happened to him

Springsteen, Cautious man

I loathe flying, partly due to a slight claustrophobia (you know, the whole being sealed inside a flimsy metal tube and then shot into the air at high-speed thing) but also because I can’t sleep on planes – at all – and am absolutely awful in airports. I don’t suppose any but the most frequent of fliers are ever comfortable in these strange and cavernous places, but I think I’m a little more hopeless at navigating them than most.

For one thing, I have a difficult time reading and sometimes even finding the departure boards and I always seem to take the least direct route to any destination within the complex (I’m assuming here that there actually is a most direct route in airport land) .

It doesn’t help that these transport hubs are increasingly taking on the aspect of a suburban shopping mall and yet follow none of the logic one expects to find in such places. In a shopping mall, the design philosophy is all about trying to steer you towards the stores so that you can drop some money in them. In an airport, they are trying to direct you towards your next flight – and the stores. It sets up a weird tension where you perpetually feel like you are losing your focus and all sense of time.

I find it all a little panic inducing, to be honest. Understand, I never thought in a million years that I would ever be back doing the solo traveller thing. I’d thought such days far behind me. And yet, here I am, bouncing around the globe like I have the faintest clue what I’m doing.

By the time I reach Philly and Jersey girl, I’m usually seven kinds of exhausted, dehydrated up the wazoo, and lightly basted in oil from all the ‘food-like substances’ I’ve been forced to consume over the course of the twenty-four-hour trip. Quite a picture, no? To her credit, she’s always ecstatic to see me anyway but, just once, I’d like to show up fresh and with the appearance of something vaguely human.

Something tells me, however, that is not an accurate description of the state I’m going to be in a few days from now.

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Words and image are my own.

©2016

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50. Deliver me from nowhere

 

Well, at five a.m., oil pressure’s sinkin’ fast
I make a pit stop, wipe the windshield, check the gas
Gotta call my baby on the telephone
Let her know that her daddy’s comin’ on home
Sit tight, little mama, I’m comin’ ’round I got three more hours, but I’m coverin’ ground

Springsteen, Open all night.

 

I was not always a patient man, patience is a skill I have acquired over a life littered with setbacks and disappointments. And before Jersey girl came along, there was an unusually large number of those. I can’t regret them, though, because ultimately they made me the man she fell for.

She’d just spent thirteen years married to a boy in a man’s body – the worst sort of imposter to my mind – a narcissist who thought piling on muscle was what made you a man. She had lived all that time a prisoner of his childish behaviours and petty demands until the strain had become intolerable. For her, it was a case of get out or go insane.

Tonight we’ll blow off the doors and honey we won’t look back
We held it in our hearts in the pourin’ rain
We made it through the heart of a hurricane
We tore it apart and put it together again

Springsteen, Don’t look back

The one thing she knew was that she needed an adult; someone mature, reliable and patient. Sounds a bit dull, I know. If you’re under a certain age and reading this I’m sure you’re thinking that sounds about as sexy as cancer. If you’ve been around the block a few times, you probably get it.

For my part, it was important she too was a parent. I’d tried being with people with no kids but they just don’t get parents at all. My son’s an adult now but I remain a father first and everything else second, that’s not a problem for Jersey girl. She gets that and admires it, as I admire the incredible sacrifices she’s made for her kids since taking on life as basically a single mother.

Yes, we really are that boring – from the outside. From within the bubble, however, it is quite a different story. When we are together and all skins are shed, things become less… patient. Despite our apparent cautiousness, we are two people who cannot contain our passions. Within our private universe, there are no rules there is only the maelstrom. And like the characters in many a Springsteen song, we always drive towards the storm.

There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground

Springsteen, Promised land

In my case, I will soon be flying towards it. I don’t sleep on planes; I stare pensively ahead and imagine the coming fire. It’s good to be a patient man; an adult but the time for patience will soon be over. The bonfire waits for the first lick of flame.

I wonder what he was thinking when he hit that storm
Or was he just lost in the flood?

 

 

©2016

Part past part fiction 6

 

There’s where we come from and there’s who we are. The two are inextricably connected.

 

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I call her at the bookshop where she works on weekends.

“Hello, what’s up?”

“You’re having an affair.”

“What? Don’t be…”

“I read what you wrote, there’s no other interpretation.”

“You’re wrong, you’ve misunderstood.”

I pick up the diary she left for me to find and begin to read, “made love with L in the forest for hours”.

No sound, not even breathing from her end.

“I’m curious to know what that line could mean, other than the obvious.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ll talk with you tonight. There’s another explanation, I promise. I’ll come straight home, I won’t go out after work. We’ll talk about it.” A loud click then and I’m alone with the dial tone and the void.

Of course, she doesn’t come straight home, she runs to him. He’s her default setting now. By twelve, that’s apparent even to me. I wait for her, alternating waves of fury and despair breaking over me threatening to drown my straining sanity.

The car finally rumbles into the garage at around three a.m. She walks through the door in a jangle of keys and I see her visibly slump as she spots me sitting in the dark by the dying embers of the fire.

“Oh, you’re still up.”

“We were going to talk. You were going to come straight home.”

“I’m too tired to talk about this now,” she sighs. “I’m not seeing anyone I promise. Now, I’m going to bed. I’m very tired.”

“No, you’re fucking not going to bed! Now sit the hell down and tell me what the fuck’s going on!”

I’m startled – even shocked – by the violence in my voice. I begin to sense how easily this could spin out of control. Then I see the flash of fear in her eyes and feel a surge of triumph wash through me. Reluctantly she comes and sits across from my chair, perching nervously on the very edge of hers.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to tell me what you’re doing.”

She pauses, only for a second, and then it’s out. ‘Yes, alright I’ve met someone, happy?’

It’s funny; I’ve known the truth since I read her diary this morning but the shock I feel at her utterance of these few simple words is like nothing I’ve ever known. All my hopes are scattered like an armada in a hurricane. Abruptly, my sense of self begins to crumble.

“Why?” The word is little more than a lost child’s sob.

“I don’t know, too many reasons.”

“Who is it?” I ask, my face twisted by my efforts to keep control of it.

“You don’t know him” she replies dropping her head so that she doesn’t have to see the affect her bladed words are having upon me.

“How could you do this?”  But her silent avoidance is my only answer.

Strange animal sounds begin to rise from the back of my throat. I try to stifle them but they continue to grow in intensity. I’m horrified and ashamed but ultimately powerless to suppress the tearing birth of my anguish.

“Please don’t do that,” she says in a voice devoid of any recognizable humanity. As she speaks the words she raises her eyes and seems to actually see me for the first time.

“Oh, you’ve cut off your hair.” These are the first words of familiarity she’s spoken.

“So?” I hurl back; a rebellious child. “It’s no concern of yours any longer.”

“No.”

That single word is like the tolling of a funeral bell. It hangs in the air between us and I know without question that everything that was ‘us’ has been consigned to the ground. At some point, she retreats to the bedroom. I’m so lost in the shock I barely notice.

 

631 words.

 

 

 

 

Words and image are my own.

 

©2016

Dancing in the dark

 

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…

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How can you just leave me standing
Alone in a world that’s so cold?
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father; too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

Prince, When doves cry

How Springsteen and Prince took over pop music 30 years ago

Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain were released a mere three weeks apart in 1984 — and they weren’t as different as you might think.

Walter Yetnikoff, the infamously drug-fuelled CBS Records president, prided himself on being able to recognize hits. And in early 1984, when he heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” he felt he had a number one smash on his hands.

“I don’t know if I wet my pants, but I might have,” Yetnikoff recalls in Peter Ames Carlin’s biography, Bruce.

And no wonder: on an album full of potential (and eventual) hits, “Dancing in the Dark” cut through like a knife. With a dance beat and a synthesizer riff, it was the first song Springsteen had recorded that actually sounded explicitly of the moment, but still maintained that sense of fight-or-flight desperation and impassioned delivery that had made him one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. Now, he was poised to become a pop star as well. Continue reading

 

 

 

In case anyone needs a reminder of just how great Prince was…

Or how much of an influence on other musicians…

Well I came by your house the other day, your mother said you went away
She said there was nothing that I could have done
There was nothing nobody could say
Me and you we’ve known each other ever since we were sixteen
I wished I would have known I wished I could have called you
Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean

Part past part fiction 5

 

When I was six years old my father walked out of my life for good. Actually, if the truth be told, he’d been absent almost from the beginning. I can draw on maybe three clear memories from that time that involve him, all of them negative.

Memory one

A bright Saturday morning when my kid brother and I climbed into bed with our parents. We’d wriggled in between them and lay soaking up their body warmth like a couple of little lizards. Of course, kids being kids, we were all elbows and knees and barely contained giggles.

Some fathers would’ve told us to settle down or go away. Some might have joined in and tickled us into submission. My father had his own methods.

Without warning, his big hand closed over the front of my pajama top and lifted me bodily from the bed. Plastic buttons were popping in all direction as he swung me out over the edge of the mattress and unceremoniously dumped me onto my arse on the cold floor. My brother soon followed in a similarly undignified manner, bursting into tears as his own backside hit the parquetry.

It was an act so sudden and dispassionate that it left me in a state of shock for hours. I never climbed into my parent’s bed again, and neither did my brother. We were five and three respectively.

Memory two

The time I came crying to my father with a bad toothache. Smiling, he put down his newspaper and patted his knee, bidding me sit. Sobs of self-pity racked my small body as I climbed up onto his lap. Then he told me to open wide and I felt his rough fingers probe my mouth.

“Is it loose,” he asked?

I shook my head solemnly. In the next instant, he’d whipped out a handkerchief from his pocket and, tilting my head well back, gripped the offending molar. Before I’d had time to register what was about to happen he’d yanked it from the gum. A stabbing bolt of agony ripped through my mouth but he neatly stifled my scream with the balled up hanky.

“Keep that there ‘till the bleeding stops,” was his only comment as he plopped me, wailing, back onto my feet and returned to his paper.

Memory three

My sixth Christmas, my brother and I up at the crack of dawn, unable to keep our hands from the bright packages piled beneath the plastic tree for a single moment longer than absolutely necessary.

Mum getting up with us to sit smiling and yawning as we rip through the layers of wrapping paper unmoved by its feeble efforts to keep us from our hearts desire. My father was nowhere to be seen. All the cards on the presents read, Love from mum and dad but only mum was there to hand them to us.

After all the parcels had been dismembered and their contents road tested to our satisfaction, it was time to get ready to go to my Grandparents’ house a few blocks away in Byron Street. The entire family was living around Coogee at that time and they’d all be there today.

Apart from the obvious presents, a happy consequence of having so many Aunts and Uncles, there’d be turkey and roast pork and Nana’s amazing trifle to be eagerly devoured. A lot of the time the best meat mum could afford was rabbit, so Christmas lunch was always a big deal.

Eventually, she got us scrubbed, dressed and combed, no easy task with all those shiny new playthings exerting their influence over our meager attention spans. In the end, though, we were ready to leave. My brother and I were each allowed to bring just one of our new toys with us and, after an agony of indecision, clutched our choices possessively as we waited for mum to lock the door.

At that moment, I looked up to see my father standing, silent, on the other side of our front gate.

“Hello, boys, what d’you have there?”

“Batmobile,” I said holding it out for him to see.

“Hotwheels,” said my little brother doing the same.

“Who’d you get those from?”

“You,” hissed my mother coming up behind us and placing a hand protectively on each of our small shoulders. “You come home some time then, or have you just come by to borrow money?”

My father didn’t deign to reply, ruefully returning mum’s gaze. They both stood that way for a long moment. Even at this tender age I could sense the lines of resentment tensioning out between them.

Finally, with an exasperated sigh, she reached into her purse and withdrew a ten Dollar note thrusting it towards him.

“That’s all I’ve got. Try not to drink it all. Jesus Jim, it’s Christmas day.”

My father took the bill without comment and tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt. Then he was gone, walking away from us. I watched his broad back disappear down the street feeling the first sharp sting of a rejection that was to stick to me through all the years ahead.

I have no other useful memories of my father from this time. When I was seven my mother took us to live in England and all contact with this mysterious and unsatisfying man was severed.

I saw him just once more. When I was eighteen my brother, who’d reestablished contact with him some years earlier, took me from Canberra, where we were now living, back to Sydney, to spend a weekend at our father’s flat. A much smaller, more faded version of the man I remembered met me at the door and embraced me, calling me son.

Inside he offered me a beer and a place on his couch and, for the rest of the time I was there, acted as though we’d never been estranged. By this I mean he made no attempt to get to know me at all. His girlfriend, the woman he’d eventually left our mother for, showed far more interest and curiosity in me than he seemed able to muster.

When it was all over, the sum total of the fatherly wisdom he’d managed to pass on was this vital piece of advice, when you’re in the shower and the water’s too hot, don’t turn the cold tap up, turn the hot down. It’s cheaper that way, words to live by.

I’ve never seen him again since that weekend and he’s made no attempt to contact me.

49. Two faces

I need you so much closer  I need you so much closer  I need you so much closer

So come on; come on

Death Cab For Cutie, Transatlanticism

 

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I don’t just live a life of long separations; I live two distinct and parallel lives. The vast majority of my time is spent in Melbourne. Here I have an apartment, a job, friends, and family; all the things that make a life – almost. The obvious thing that appears to be missing is a significant other.

I have one of those too, of course, my Jersey girl, but I only spend a fraction of my time in her world of New Jersey; I’m talking here of time physically spent with her, which so far amounts to about four months out of the several years we’ve been a couple. All of this has spawned a strange reality in my mind.

Thanks to Skype, we both get to see each other every single day. We chat about the same things that all couples do; work, friends, the kids, what fresh hell her ex has devised to torment her with today (OK, perhaps that one’s just us).

We laugh and sometimes cry together and often the kids pile on too. I feel very present in her everyday there in Jersey. When she talks about people and places now (as opposed to when this all first started) I am able to visualize perfectly what she experiences despite the fact that it’s all happening thousands of miles away from me.

Even the mundane stuff is intimately familiar to me. When she says she’s been to the store, I know what route she probably took and what local features she passed along the way. I know the aisles she wandered down at the market and what she likely put in her cart. All of this comes immediately to mind as if I’d been there with her; a phantom limb of memory.

It’s that way with everything now. I live in two time zones. In my head, it is always day and night. I also live at two ends of the year in that it is always simultaneously summer and winter or spring and fall. I can be walking down the street on a swelteringly hot day thinking about her having to shovel the snow from her driveway that morning (my night) to go to work. In that instance, the snow is as real as the beating sun above me.

I also find myself slipping into Americanisms when talking to her, though, never in conversations here. Talking with her kids I’ll say your mom instead of your mum as one obvious example. Also, when I’m at the liquor store, I’ll absent-mindedly look for the wrong kind of beer (I do exactly the same thing on the Jersey side).

Sometimes I walk around parts of Jersey – Clinton, Asbury Park, Cape May – on Google Street view, just because I miss it. Within our relationship, this is all uniquely my situation, because Jersey girl has never had the opportunity to visit me here in Melbourne. She gets it, but she doesn’t feel it. It’s pretty much the only aspect of our relationship where our experiential perspectives differ to any significant degree.

It has me wondering how many other people are out there living their lives in this dualistic way.

 

Words and image are my own.

©2016