Wednesday, July 16, 2014

it's a rave

A boy walked down the street in front of me, trailing a parka upon which was scrawled Nothing Changes, writing askew.

Inside the flat, I saw on the front page of the Guardian website a photograph of the following graffito: Change Is The Only Constant.

As I prepared for bed, waylaid by online digressions, I came across the pianist Reinbert de Leeuw. He plays Satie's Gymnopédies very slowly. The sound falls between the notes, or the meaning of the sound does, anyway. The anticipation is drawn out, almost excruciating, almost comical; familiarity is disrupted by a pulley of tension and relief.

I left Reinbert de Leeuw playing and went to sleep. Some hours later I woke to the sound of someone on the street blaring descending scales on trumpet. There was jovial, encouraging banter as if the player was being taught by a friend. It was so loud, the brass finding a cathedral-like clarity as it bounced off the brick walls of these buildings. The acoustics through this estate are something else. You never quite know where the yelling is coming from. Then I heard my downstairs neighbour, the large woman with the small dog, shout out the window: Get lost. And take your trumpet with ya. I was shocked someone would blast trumpet in the middle of the night near windows inside of which people were sleeping. I thought, trumpet is both a noun and a verb.

On Sunday morning we were in Wivenhoe with Mark Deal. Each of his names is both noun and verb. We talked about slow disco, or "lo-NRG". Mark played "Mutant Man" from Mind Warp by Patrick Cowley as an example. He pointed out the way the snare drum lags like in certain Joy Division songs. The way it segues into the triumphant gospel of the next song is epic: "Goin Home", now that's hi-NRG. We sat enraptured. It was just then that Jamie trotted off upstairs. He missed it! I cried. This song needs to come from the last. You have to deserve it. Mark agreed. You need that slow build. Jamie descended the stairs lightly and proclaimed, I heard it, I heard it, so good! Next we listened to the original version of "West End Girls". It's not as good as the edit, I averred. Jamie liked the cowbell but we had to concede its fundamental awkwardness. It sounds nervous, Mark pointed out. Not the polished ennui of the version that would be released a year later, that would one day be voted the best pop song of the decade, a masterful delivery of archness, a wry investigation of urban traversal, with its laconic citations of T.S. Eliot and Lenin, a song like a train journey, both fettered and free.

Earlier, on a flat walk under a surprising sun in Pin Mill, we'd heard the crazy birdsong of the Sedge Warbler. Mark related how Ella had likened its persistent call to a rave.

Rave. A word that takes flight with its feet on the ground. Raven with out the definitive ending consonant; the bird without the blackness. A summer state of being. Don't you want to dance.

Annie Clark in the most recent issue of Wire: "I can be a little bit like a meth head with a toaster in terms of music. I want to know how it works."

At home: "Lonnie's Lament" by John Coltrane. "I'll Live Yesterdays" by Lee Hazlewood. "Seagull" by Bill Callahan. "She Belongs to Me" by Bob Dylan. "The Apple Stretching" by Grace Jones. "At Sea" by Electrelane.

The light-fingered composers at their pianos in the Chelsea Hotel, as featured in the Arena programme from 1981. It's currently available on BBC iPlayer. You've got to see it. Andy Warhol saying "more more more" to William Burroughs and Viva's daughter watching video footage of herself being birthed and the dancer who adopts the form of a snake by writhing on the floor wrapped in his curtain still hung from the window.

"You Can Have it All" by Yo La Tengo. Repetition, that endless evening. I think of that story: a guy I knew who claimed his first orgasm happened spontaneously in the backseat of a car when "I Feel Love" was on the stereo. Who can blame him.

I put on Miles Davis' score to Ascenseur pour l'échafaud and took out the recycling. Three floors down on the pavement, I could hear its plaintive hornblowing through the balmy air. I thought, that means people can hear it when I play Robyn.

Last week I stood in the kitchen doing dishes et cetera and the radio was on. I was stopped from all activity by the curious, almost timid sounding strings of what I soon learned was the Emerson Quartet performing the fifteenth and final Shostakovich string quartet, in E flat minor. At the time, the composer was consumed by his own demise. Song is a place where melancholy belongs. You don't need to know much about music to tell that E flat minor is going to be a darker place. I've had these moments of radio-induced serendipity — real, epiphanic ones — a few times. Their rarity makes them special. The live transmission is an intoxicating currency. It's a good message from space to beam into the home. I stood silently and listened to four wooden instruments yield a vibration expressing some kind of regret or sense of loss. I was alone and I felt comfortable in that.

I thought back to the night before. We had attended the private view of the MFA exhibition at Goldsmiths. I had high hopes. A young man in a backpack near the bar began ranting and everyone surrounded him. Performance! People watched obligingly and finally I said to Jamie, let's move on, this is doing nothing for me. He agreed. Maybe it's not even art, I said. Maybe he's having a fit and nobody is helping, said Jamie. Room after room seemed a rushed gallimaufry of art world trends. Pastel shades, airbrush, tiny portraits and plants were all present. There was no signposting of intent and no suggestion of something more subtle. There was a lot of slapdash autobiography, identity politics in neon scrawl like a teenager on her bedroom wall, puerile sexual references, and so on. Camille Henrot seemed to be a reference point and although I find pleasure in her work, it seems she all of a sudden has a lot to answer for — liberating these art students to think their own random collage is worthwhile. Because if it doesn't matter, nothing does, right. The internet nihilism that pervades current discourse is boring. The tutors at Goldsmiths should be ashamed. Their apathy was apparent. (By contrast, the sculpture show at the RCA a few weeks earlier showed elements of surprise and thoughtful refinement; it was a mixed bag but there was a general feeling that these students were being challenged — were becoming, after all, Masters. Importantly, they utilised their space.) On each floor at Goldsmiths, Jamie and I raced to the windows to inspect the strangely remote city views. We glanced increasingly briefly at art that made us turn away with embarrassment. It all felt like so much shouting. I left the show thinking, those Goldsmiths students must really like to drink.

And in the kitchen listening to Shostakovich's fifteenth, I thought about the previous night's disappointment and the revelation come next afternoon, and the fact that you can't predict these things. Of course not.

Like a disco producer, you've got to surprise to keep people on their feet. You've got to build to keep dancers energised. You've got to hold back before you release. Fine, everything is futile, but then the joy is in the lie. "You can have it all," I'm ok with that empty promise. Giving the impression of moving forward is an infinitely engaging game.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

swimming pools and other points in the city

I couldn't believe I was telling myself no pain no gain on the thirty eighth lap. Do people really think in clichés like that? I was at the pool nearest to me, where everyone is a winner. I mean, everyone looks successful and expensive. They must have jobs being creative, which is a corporate word meaning filling things in nicely. When I arrive I see them through the window, gliding elegantly in the silence. In the locker room, the men have their man stuff done very well, such as beards and chests. They have flat stomachs and stern faces. There are small bottles of Kiehl's and Aesop that are put into plastic pouches that are put into bags made for bicycles.

At the lido in Covent Garden, things are very different. The pool feels small and weird and so do the patrons. Either that, or they're huge. In the locker room, they walk around naked and I heard one actually say do you come here often to another, and Jamie swears this other guy was showing everyone his erection. The lockers are wood panelled and the benches are wide. Men stand on the benches to keep their feet dry, so there are naked men posing on high. The last time I was there, a man gestured me into the shower next to him after spotting me shirk away from a cold stream. He put his hand in the running water as if to demonstrate: acceptable temperature. So I crossed into that stream — like, ok, warm water — without realising it was a kind of beckoning. When I got into the pool something invisible stung me. Why do my goggles only fill with water in that pool? Probably my face is grimacing. Swimming in public is always moving through other people's excretions, but these waters are particularly abundant: floating bandages, et cetera. Back in the locker room, an attendant took breaks from mopping the floor to blow his nose on a towel hung outside the showers. I hoped the towel did not belong to some unsuspecting swimmer. Then I'm pretty sure he used that same towel at the end of his mop… He pushed it near my feet. I moved aside. Jamie saw this too and I think there is an unspoken rule that we no longer go to this pool.

Then there's the grand one in the centre of town, in a hall painted cake blue and white, with a marble bottom and a classical statue. Here I feel Roman but cold. The lanes are wide, making it a free-for-all, and after work it is so crowded it's like a kind of self-imposed urban flood armageddon. Going nowhere. No escape. But that's always the way with these pools with their lanes: a geometry of futility.

Back at my regular, the alpha pool, I took a shower next to a man with such a well proportioned, beautifully crafted member that I wonder if anyone has ever paid him a compliment. Don't worry, I didn't. I had to turn away. In the shallow end of the medium lane, I was bemused when a large lady did an expansive backstroke and her jolly mate swam towards her with the front crawl. It felt like a kind of froggy courtship. In one awkward period, I somehow found myself swimming between their flirtatious positioning.

The pools become my landmarks in the city. We all have our strategic points. Maybe you've registered the location of clean, private toilets. The loos at Liberty, a very poised friend recently confided to me. I used to rely on the restroom near underwear on the first floor of Selfridges. Department stores are useful places. Urban theorists have deemed them a female gendered architecture; they are perhaps a mad, benevolent aunt. People laugh when they hear I have deciphered a network of 'spray points' from which I can I sample the expensive cologne I like. I rotate these visitations as appropriate. My newest one is especially accomplished as it is secreted away and erratically staffed so there's less chance of being recognised. One primary spray point is almost always guarded by the same sweet young perfume expert. I now walk past his counter and if he's not there I do a quick top up; if he's on duty, I move on covertly as if I was just passing through. The other day, I was relieved by his absence, and it was not until I was mid-spray that I noticed the top of his head; he was crouched behind the counter working with stock. I exited swiftly but wouldn't be surprised if he clocked the back of me.

There's a corridor in the Euston Underground station, through which I transfer from the Northern to the Victoria, that always smells like sick. Are the olfactory traces of some batch of vomit this impossible to eradicate? Then I noticed a mop top placed along the edge of the wall at the bottom of the stairwell — covering, in a sad splay of felted tentacles, a kind of orangey milky ooze. Was this a new pile of vomit? But it had been smelling of sick for months. Over many journeys, I saw that the mop top continued to be present day after day. I gradually came to terms with the fact that the wall itself was somehow constantly vomiting. Some bad pipe was unable to digest the angst and dirt of the Underground and was continually spewing its bile. It's as if all the indigestible abjection of this city is slowly leaking through the cracks in this wall. Recently, the makeshift sponge was changed for a pair of smaller mop tops, arranged perhaps a bit more genially, a compliant couple battling the putrid stink together. The sponge is a sad kind of superhero: fighting against evil by absorbing it.

In London, there are certain windows that lure my imagination but have never brought me through the door. That classic umbrella shop is an example; I've pondered its presence dozens, maybe hundreds of times, usually from the upper deck of the 55 bus. But I'm not one for umbrellas, let alone fancy ones that stand tall. There's a corner pub in Soho that always seems to have an old fashioned drag show in mid-flow when we walk past. One recent Tuesday night, Jamie and I were feeling forlorn. It was one of those moments when art brings you down, and we imbibed cheap wines at the French House like Francis Bacon once did. When we passed the pub with the drag show, I said, let's finally go in. That's a great idea, said Jamie, whose caution had been thrown to the wind. We were high on despair. We ordered more wine (large ones this time) and stood in the corner taking in the show and the scene. Passersby peered into the windows, their presence sometimes incorporated into the performer's repartee. That would have been us. Now we were on the inside looking out. An enthusiastic lad in a plunging deep-v immediately placed both hands on my chest. Eventually the drag queen identified me and Jamie as willing victims and we became a part of the show. She said Jamie looked great and bought us tequila shots which we felt obliged to consume. Combined with red wine it felt a nasty, dirty thing. The enthusiastic boy went to kiss me on the face and when I lowered my head he planted one on my nose. It felt as if we'd been subsumed by a display case, become a part of a menagerie. As wonderful as it was, it was time to escape this glass box. We needed to wake up. Good dreams can turn bad. We passed back through the crowd — bye, boys! — emerging into the uncertain city air.

That dawdling uncertainty — permeating the spaces outside of pools, tube carriages, shops, pubs — is the relief a city provides from its containers, the intermittent desert between its forts of resolved identity. There we were, emancipated in the slightly bothered London night. Restaurants were closing. There were other things we could still do. But the reality dawned on both of us that we just wanted to go home. At least that container is somehow ours. This is an illusion, too. The flat is rented; it is borrowed, everything is precarious. I am a guest. This is my city, but the city does not belong to me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

haircut, after the summer rain

A hard and vast and stinging rain hit London in the early evening and left behind that sweet, clean glow which emanates as the leaves are still loosing their captured droplets slowly. I was glad I'd cleaned the windows, so you could look at the trees clearly. You sat near the spot from which you say in the summer it looks like we live in a forest because the treetops are so bushy that one sees no buildings. Ian was cutting your hair. Brown locks landed on red concrete. It was still light at 8:20pm but I lit a candle because you like that. I put out a plate of berries. The treetops through the clean window were light green, darker green, purple. They looked like various cabbages. They held accumulated water. They were pubescent with that wetness. The sky was so fresh it was citrus. The sky was blood oranges, smoke, cum, red tea. I put on Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick and Ian snipped your hairs and you both stopped talking for a bit because, I think, the music and the window seemed kind of sacred. It was so magical it was sort of embarrassing. Ian asked what's her name again and put it into his phone: Julianna two n's.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

red jelly

The first term of Going Back to School, my stomach started hurting. I mean really hurting. Everyone told me it was gluten. Why does it always have to be that. I tried getting gluten-free things. They're just more expensive and taste worse. One night it was very bad and I bled, and the next morning I called NHS Direct and the attendant told me which hospital to go to, and I'd start getting ready now if I were you. The wait was long but the doctor was hot. I knew where he was going which made the situation embarrassing. He said, I'm going to do a digital exploration and I thought what kind of high tech equipment is he going to use. But then he said, don't worry, I've got small fingers, and I realised he meant that kind of digital and in he went and did a kind of circular scoop. This was the first and best experience of many medical professionals looking into my butt over the next few months.

He said, I wish I could be your long-term doctor and I looked at that hairy chest in the v of his scrubs and wanted to say me too. But our love was verboten.

At my regular surgery, the GP was mad at me for going to the hospital. But that's what they told me to do, I reasoned. I was bleeding. She acted like she was put out, annoyed with NHS Direct and suspicious that I was a hypochondriac. I was like, I am in a wrought ball of clenched pain. Everyone had a story of how they could relate. Sometimes it was stress and usually gluten. I kept saying, I don't want to be that person, a gluten-free person. I don't want to be gwyneth paltrow. I asked for a colonoscopy and my doctor thought I was an entitled American and told me that it doesn't work like that here. She felt my stomach and fingered me and sent me away with some literature about IBS and told me to come back in two months. When I did, I was adamant about the colonoscopy. She asked me about my family history of bowel cancer and every time I started answering she'd interrupt and say, that's not that close, grandparents, that's not a strong history. I told her, basically, to stop interrupting me and give me a damn colonoscopy. I believe in the NHS but you are being a gatekeeper and not listening to me, I cried pathetically. She booked me in and I left and went to work and practically wept because I hate myself for being mean to strangers. I think as I left her office I said something like, I'm generally considered a very nice person.

In my consultation for the colonoscopy, the specialist said, you have a strong family history of bowel cancer. I was like I know. She asked if an intern could observe and I was like sure even though I was kind of thinking, really, of all medical scenarios? But of course I wanted to be polite and helpful. And I needed someone on my side. The intern was like a brand new flower and was called Chloe or something. When they got to my butt, Chloe would kind of come over and lean in to see what was going on. They inserted not just the old digits this time but some pretty impressive equipment. When the doctor got out a very long tube with a shorter tube inside, I looked over my shoulder and laughed. Is everything ok?, she asked. I was like, yeah that's just funny. At one point, she told me to push down and I thought, ok, push down but don't fart. Don't fart naked in Chloe's face.

The waiting time was a month or so. On the big day, I was prepared in my own little alcove in my own little paper gown and two male nurses came in to get me and wheel me on my metal tray into the theatre. One of the nurses mumbled something I didn't understand. I said, I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying. He mumbled again and I still didn't understand but I just said America because usually if strangers ask me an opening question it's where are you from. Ah, so you know Jeremy Lin, he said, referring I presumed to the famous basketball player who shares my legal name. Yeah, I responded, attempting to be cheerful. I thought maybe it would be him!, the nurse exclaimed. His colleague leaned in and told me, We're all stars. We just need to find our own way to shine. They pulled me into the surgery where everyone seemed businesslike. All that latex in your life and you can't help but be like that. You know, that gesture of pulling the latex glove on. It's so powerful. And the machinery was massive. The second male nurse leaned in to me again. Don't worry, he whispered. You just need to find your own way to shine.

They quickly began the procedure and I didn't feel the painkillers at all. I was happy I got to see inside my body. Am I that narcissistic. I thought this is a good opportunity. Good, good, very clear, the operator was saying, about how I had cleaned out my system over the previous day. I was an empty vessel and proud. When she got high up in there, she said, am I seeing some red jelly. I said yeah. The list of things you could do on the fasting regime included jelly. I suppose they didn't mean red. It really shouldn't say that, said the operator. Does it still say that!, shouted the nurse from across the room, the one who told me I was a potential star. Well here was a famous moment. That's a lot of red jelly. To my delight, her microscopic camera also had a microscopic hose, and so I got to see it blasting away bits of quasi-transparent gelatinous chunks. But, unfortunately, not all. So I should be ok, but we really can't be totally sure. Something was removed from me (the camera/hose also has a tool that can snatch off growths) and it's been tested and benign. But a total view was obscured by all that red jelly. Leave it to me to decide I want something passionately — a colonoscopy like a cashmere sweater — and fight tooth and nail for it, and then self-sabotage. But during the fasting, I had been so dissatisfied drinking only liquids. I thought the jelly was a good idea. What bothers me about the whole thing is, I never eat jelly. Like never, ever. So I feel a sense of shame that the one time someone has actually seen deep into my soul, they didn't get an accurate picture. I'm really a very healthy, leafy eater. And when my grumpy GP got the report, it said (I was cc'ed in) view partially obscured by red jelly. So my grumpy GP thinks not only am I demanding but I can't follow rules and I'm a jellyeater. At least that nurse believed in me. Actually, I think he was just trying to compensate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

watching columbo with you

Or: falling asleep watching columbo with you. After, of course, O'Hara.

I don't object to falling asleep to his knowing glances and wry manner. The trench coat may not be comfortable but it is comforting.

We've been trying to watch this episode in bed. The doberman pincher episode. I think we're still only twenty three minutes in, or so. Two nights in. The last thing I saw last night was a relaxing looking Spanish style house, framed with big leafed foliage. I thought that's a good place to pause.

When weekends, intended to be a pause, feel more like a hesitation.

When earlier on Sunday, Mary wore a raincoat that made everyone feel satisfied. An old Aquascutum trench and its red had faded to a kind of coral. The red was deeper under the collar, and it met the neckline like a colourfield. I know this because we passed Mary's coat around and inspected its well worn detail. We decided it was soft and admired its just-frayed seams, thin ragged shadows of white thread like messy silver linings. It felt in its crumple like a story. It looked on Mary somehow right, like its previous owner was just borrowing. Mary, who was passed a note by a man in the British Library. And I turned bright red, she said. But who wouldn't fall for her — that long neck cranes forward into a book and you are jealous of all literature. The allure of Mary is that you know that how much you vie for her attentions (a note in the British Library, whatever), she will always be leaning into someone else's words instead.

We spoke of reading Proust in 'the wrong translation', something we both did.

We all sat at a table in a conservatory like leaves in the glass-sharpened heat, and laughter was loud and voices clear but surely some things got lost in translation. The phrases that just float about the table uncertain, settling across the tops of pint glasses like doomed insects.

A restlessness came over Jamie and me, and we decided we needed to go dancing. We decided we needed, finally, to make it to Horse Meat Disco, the Sunday night patron saint of bank holidays. There, it was an inch deep in muck. What is that muck; beer and sweat, I suppose. The disco was good. The dancing was crammed. Most everyone in the toilet needed a stall not the urinal. It looked like 1970s San Francisco but wasn't. It just isn't that anymore. I felt uncomfortable in suede shoes, and vaguely unsettled having checked my favourite sweater and jacket. I faked the dance even though the music was good. I had wanted to dance because I had wanted to move, but then I knew I wanted instead to be moving through something, and I wanted to move through the city. And Jamie, good sport, came with me into the night, or I with him, and we walked all the way home. Four miles, we later looked up. He showed me the ring where a Roman amphitheater lay buried underground. Man versus beast, Jamie said, can you believe it? Jamie's into circles. He had stopped on the bridge to look at the Shard, which was comprised of strata of different shaded light. And I loved his romantic nature but a group of young Americans stood talking loudly and I just needed to move forward, I was carried by the grumpy charge of coffee and dark ale, and I sailed ahead several streets. And Jamie phoned me but I blocked his call and instead hid in a doorway and jumped out at him. Boo.

Together, alone, alone together, together, together, together alone.

We fell asleep after rooibus, my favourite red (besides maybe Mary's coat), a red diluted by milk like Mary's coat was washed out by detergent and rain.

Speaking of which, Jamie, I'm sorry I washed your parka on 40 which took the waterproofing away. But when I saw Mary's coat, I felt a sense of relief; it was beautiful but not waterproof anymore. Had it ever been, completely? Nothing is impervious.

Jamie, I'm sorry I slightly ruined your parka, but you don't seem to mind.

Time and mistakes lend themselves to porousness.

You sit all afternoons and evenings reading the thoughts of thinkers past. I suggested one day we discuss the concept of isotropy but we haven't gotten to it yet.

It's been raining so much and it is cleansing supposedly but it's a bother. The misery is kind of reassuring. We receive the day with porousness.

How is he ever going to solve this one!?, texted Jamie. And I thought what is he referring to. And I checked my last sent message and remembered: Columbo.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

intermittence

Gay semiotics.

I've made a new friend with a dark moustache and single hoop earring.

A hoodie can be worn in a gay way.

The flannel shirt.

Intermittence (appearance-as-disappearance).

I have been pressing for the return of the men's half-shirt, or crop-top. Think U.S. football, Virgin Suicides-style. I kept thinking why hasn't American Apparel managed to make this a thing yet? There are so many 'abs' these days. Then I saw the garment's reappearance — on a tall, golden hunk bouncing a basketball down my street. I had just parted from Jamie at the corner shop. My phone beeped and I knew the text would be from him and what it would regard. Crop-top!, Jamie wrote. I know!, I wrote back. Half-shirt!

You couldn't even really see any flesh. You could see the idea of flesh.

Roland Barthes: Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? …it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.

The next day or the day after that, I was texting Jamie to tell him that I'm writing again about the erotics of men's clothes, and right then a male model stepped onto the tube platform. He was too beautiful. He might as well have been a hill or a building. These forms are a part of the cityscape.

It's early summer. Not a crop-top for me, don't worry, but I'm sockless.

Stink.

Take a look at the night and decide what you are going to do. Adventure awaits, in slumber or the nightclub, it doesn't matter. I am taking long walks. The idea of flesh is revealed, there's an eros in the air, and I like the smells of people on the hot train carriages. I know this is an unpopular opinion. In olden days one could take a scented tissue to hold to the nose. But I like those warm body scents. It's disturbing and funny when I think something smells nice and it is a grandfather in a sun hat and gillet.

And sometimes I can smell my own grandfather on myself. Even as the smell of oneself comforts, I detect a malevolent patriarchy.

The bugs and dust in the almost summer air: my throat and eyes are attacked by restless particles that come at the openings in my face like they're black holes.

Molecules expanded in this heat; doesn't the body know more what to do.

The erotics of the locker room.

Don't stare. The sideways glance is intermittence as a way of looking. The locker room is not there to solve the mystery but prolong the tease.

The turpentine smell of Pears soap — sudsing, leaving me, joining the river in the gutter; liquid memory of the washing of me.

I am the waterfall. No, the shower is the waterfall, I am the rocks. Is the waterfall the flow of water or the cliff? The combination of the two. I am symbiotic with the shower stream; we become the waterfall.

Another man's runoff soap swimming through yours. That is as erotic as seeing his dick.

Another man's sweatshirt. Another man's things.

Conference Sartorialism: Part One.

I noticed Beth was wearing a jacket (a 'blazer') and dress and then it dawned: you're meant to wear nice clothes to a conference. Then I saw W.K., the esteemed writer. And he was in a striped blazer and pink shirt and saddle shoes with orange soles. And B.D., the esteemed writer, arrived and I heard him say to W.K, you win. B.D. of course looked elegant in a suit ("I went for three piece") that hangs off his height. Is that navy linen. There are no winners, said W.K. and everyone seemed excited to be present and dressed well. Then Beth sat beside me and I saw it was not a dress but a jumpsuit. And she was carrying three grapes on their stem. I was wearing a faded indigo sweatshirt and chinos in my usual vague attempt at aping Robert Rauschenberg. Is it possible to merely attempt mimesis, or is the act still whole even if the result is failed. I later remembered I recently had to brush bits of dried salsa off this sweatshirt.

Conference Sartorialism: Part Two.

W.K. delivered an essay on smell; it included armpits and stinky feet.

Conference Sartorialism: Part Three.

There was this panel of speakers in the afternoon, the dip in the day, that was like the cool kids panel. I made only a few notes: Heidegger and thingness (although I'm sure she said "thingliness") and minimalism and letter to Benjamin. Although I accidentally wrote Baudelaire. The rest of my notes are a list of the panel's assorted accoutrements — each of which feels like a slight insult to goodwill, like Lucian Freud's untied boots but without the distance of paint on canvas: Electronic cigarette. Leather jacket. Two baseball caps, one backwards. Black shorts. Air quotes. The term vis-à-vis. At which point I left, pretending to storm out. I really only had to pee but people told me later the heard my exit and thought it was that one vis-à-vis too many. The word art was put in air quotes. So, "art".

An after-party.

Then, the night sky was illuminated with almost too many colours, and the fire escape steps were clung to by almost too many smokers and the expensive ale had almost too many hops. I spoke to a boy with freckles and a moustache who studies Montaigne, who himself wrote about scents trapped in moustaches. Or so said W.K. earlier in the day. Dinner was taken at a yellow trattoria in Soho; Jamie called it a date and I called it a last resort. Fatigue made me cruel; I repeated something W.K. said in his keynote, I am a stone. That's alright at a podium not a dinner table. Failed imitation, again. And I fell asleep after that not-great food eaten late, thinking not of men's clothing anymore but of shame, and of the fit of two bodies together and of, as much as possible, nothing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

the street with no name

You know that song "Where the Streets Have No Name." Do you ever think about nameless streets. Not unknown streets, because then the question of name is irrelevant. I am talking about streets you take regularly, streets on your route, in-between streets, not the destination but still important streets, of which you then realise you don't know the name.

The one I have in mind feels like the back of things. It is my almost-daily shortcut. Some buildings on it have been demolished, temporary ruins on which new foundations are already being laid. Some buildings on this street you wouldn't believe haven't come down yet. They don't look purposed to house this area's wanted residents, students and young professionals. They are taking small flats with very small kitchens fitted with square sinks. They don't have time to cook, et cetera. Socialising at home is a regrettable choice in the bedroom on a Friday night, et cetera.

There's a pub in the elbow of this street which has been reinvented with slightly funny messages on its sandwich board. There is another pub at the top of the street which has been very reinvented, you can imagine the tiles and lamps. There are often pools of sick on this street. Therein lies the manifest turmoil of aspirational advertising executives who in the Friday morning meeting said the wrong thing. They are often fall down drunk before it gets dark Friday night. They were still, in a way, at work when they were beginning to feel queasy. Either them, or tourists: Stag do's and hen parties, et cetera. Commuters and tourits, surely; I'm never imagining the people barfing would actually live in this neighbourhood.

Some people who live in this neighbourhood, however, are capable of murder.

We kept taking this street when Jenny was in town. Each time, we passed a crime scene, a whole section of the pavement blocked off before a ground floor flat on a listless estate. Which always feels like it is facing the wrong direction, this street as it does feeling like the back of things. A police van was parked in front. It looked like the kind of thing that would be equipped inside. With wires and monitors for surveillance and solving. Police officers stood out front and chatted amicably. One smiled at us once. It took me a few days to think, it must be something extraordinary, because the van has not pulled away, and the scene is still blocked off. I was then thinking this is such a bad thing that they need Helen Mirren or Robbie Coltrane or you know Sarah Lund.

So of course then I Googled it. And a man had apparently beheaded his estranged wife and then turned the knife on himself. And she was not that young and she was the mother of two and a care worker and there was a picture of her smiling and I was eating lunch and of course regretting this Google search and had to click out of the window and steady myself a bit. Before I continued eating, which still felt the wrong thing to do after learning of someone being beheaded. Who was, I suppose, was, my neighbour. Did she look kind of familiar? I'm thinking now of someone else now.

With some days passing, the police tape was taken down. The bouquets at the foot of the tree were moved to the base of the building. I remember feeling critical that someone had left the price tag on the plastic and then feeling guilty about noticing that. The windows were shuttered with unrelenting pieces of metal and a florescent orange notice was posted on each.

The tree was just blossoming out front. Pink. Petals all over the ground. This area of the pavement is always so full of bird shit. I am always thinking I haven't been hit yet.

One morning on this street — on my way to my (new, better) swimming pool — I passed two men in front of a small black car and they were putting themselves in plastic: plastic suits, caps and shoe covers. They were obviously the clean-up crew. I remember a phase when the media seemed to have a macabre fascination with crime scene clean-up crews. People like that line somebody's-got-to-do-it, which sounds knowing and but its rhythm lacks empathy. You can't really walk past those plastic shoe covers without thinking about what remnants there are to be cleaned. And of course the face masks.

I was walking down this street, still not knowing its name, and passing the construction site with images of how smart and chic things will be (it's more than accommodation, it's a lifestyle) and the offices for people who come up with internet ideas, the people who make themselves sick. And I was behind a young man and I was wondering just how he poured himself into those tight black jeans. His calves were clearly defined, almost more than visible, actually shaped by the fabric. I was thinking about how he pulls the jeans over his ankles. And he walked towards the building and slowed, and I realised he lived in that building. He took the glass lift to a floor above. He lived above the crime scene. I felt a sense of relief that he didn't live next door, but then of course somebody else does. Would you go out of town? Would you play music louder, keep the lights on later, find yourself attempting a kind of erasure by doing mundane but irrational things?

Who are you. I have used the second person so much in this piece. I am presuming you are the neighbour of someone, something. I am presuming you have at least one street whose name you don't know, several neighbours whose names you don't know. If you're like me, you have things to say about the place you live, but not things you act on by, say, phoning the council or joining a group or whatever. If you're like me, you feel that your observations sustain themselves because you don't get involved. If you're like me, you accept the police officer's smile but you don't ask him what happened, you look it up when you get home. If you're like me, you try not to think about what beheading actually means. If you're like me, you can't help but consider that it must be such a hard thing to do. I live in a city, in an area that is in flux, the kind of place where people "party" and start new businesses and strut down the main streets and tuck away furtively on the back ones. Each of these streets, to someone, has no name.

Today I walked past and the tree was in full, pink bloom.