KEYS TO THE CITY
I: A New Career In A New Town
II: Dream Life
III: Paintings As Prayers
IV: Late Summer Evening
Rose Crowned Evenings
Moments Of Pure Ashtray
The Personalised Circus
Blind Children On Western Streets
Lucifer Says He Won't See Me
Swans On The Surface
Girl Smoking On Balcony
Stained Glass Window
The Insurance Was WILD
The Sea's Smile
Van Gogh's Lights
The Disappointed Prince
A Night At The Circus
Chekhov In Kreuzberg
A Stolen Dress
Two Contract Killers Get Arrested
My Uncle Dick
Death In The Cafe
Performing To The Curtain
Getting Past The Curtain
Living With Samuel Beckett:
An Anti Essay
PERFORMING TO THE CURTAIN
I am anonymous, I shall not tell you my name, for I have already forgotten yours. You have to live up to your name or kill it off once and for all, and I imagine myself as neither living nor dead. You may wince at such words, only because you fear that if you uttered them yourself they’d ring true for you too.
Consider an introduction: Hello, my name is – No, I can’t do it. There’s always been something wrong with my name, something holding me back, to be an individual and as an individual – perhaps I’ll change it one of these days, my name. Of course, the fact that I hold myself back from saying my name holds me back all the more. Already you’re asking me to stop – there’s a nameless noise coming from somewhere, your security is on the way.
Finally I’m restrained by all of you. I’m made to stop and I do so compliantly, perhaps this was my intention, most probably it wasn’t. This is not the kind of attention one seeks out. The people noted down my cries of ‘what have I done’ and then they saw me cry or laugh, I forget which – it became a real horror show, for that is a sensitive subject, is it not? I haven’t done anything with my life yet, that’s the problem. And what’s worse, you’re not holding me back, and you never have done. In fact, you do nothing but encourage me, knowing full well that encouragement is the one thing I flee from.
But hold on, for this imagined is good. Here now stands an empty stage, not even that, an empty backstage: we stare at it and see a curtain, and in stead of pulling it open, we decide to talk with it, debate with it, make love to it - it’s all quite sickening and pathetic. The things we do, eh? Ah, but listen to me: I feign confidence by saying ‘we’, but in truth, I know not if there is anyone else out there other than me and this here curtain, my first and perhaps last friend. Already I am in a trance, watching myself as I go, imagining you watching me watching myself, the depravity of it, the sordid irrelevance of it all – but no, listen: this is probably some form of investigation, is it not? I am looking for the person who is saying these words, words that have invited themselves onto to a stage and yet still have the cheek to hide behind the curtain – do we persist with them, or is all not just a waste of time?
Already I’m aware that the more I speak, the stronger you become. Soon this will all be yours; all my masks, words and eccentrities are yours for the taking. In fact, I’m not even sure if I am imagining this or whether this is all down to you, and the way you are. No doubt, by the end of this, I’ll be sitting in the front row, listening and like you, uncomfortably waiting for it to be over.
And yet there are positives forming along with the negatives: for better or for worse, a scenario has arisen, a scenario that may well be my ticket out of this mess. Evidently there’s a stage, and soon it seems I shall be bound to walk out on to it, and perform something, or at the very least, introduce myself.
But here come the questions, running in unison, like a never-ending stampede: what will happen, why must it happen, and what are consequences of the above happening? Then there are smaller, though by no means less dangerous questions that tag along for the ride, ruining any sense of optimism: what if it does happen, but doesn’t happen very well, mainly due to the level of my performance? What then for you and I? Then again, what if does happen, and happens unimaginably well, but has nothing to with my level of performance, but rather the level of your interpretation and reaction? For the former does not necessarily justify the latter. Another theory I like is that nothing happens, even though it was supposed to, and yet the performance, albeit admittedly in some form of practice mode, is of a high level – why I like this theory is actually beyond me, and in fact, now that I’ve articulated it, I find it one of the worse, if not the worse. But what has become increasingly obvious to everyone is that, rather than it being all about me, it is actually all down to you and your interpretation of whatever it is I do and will do.
I don’t mean to labour the point, but for instance, I may now speak of the time of the day, or my surroundings, but it is essentially all a canvas: if you want to imagine a spring morning, or a winter’s night, or an autumnal afternoon, or a summer’s day, then feel free to do so. But from where I’m standing, there are none of these; we are inside, internally locked in an imaginary arena with a curtain for company and a stage for a dream.
And yet I wonder whether you are really here with me, whether you were ever here with me and if one day you should finally arrive –I’m ultimately concerned: for why bother if it’s day for me and night for you, if one of us is here and the other is there, if we’re on such completely different pages? Perhaps this is indeed a journey in which we try to legitimately imagine something together, as individuals. If at one point I leave you, and imagine myself alone, this will either have been a failure or a success, you having either become an audience or your absence, noted only by the curtain.
How many times will I introduce myself to this curtain? You and I have spent countless evenings together talking about myself, my past, my present, my future, my plans and so forth. For those of you that don’t know me, and let’s not beat about the bush, that’s pretty much all of you, I shall try my best to summarise what I have been doing over the last few years.
I moved to Las Vegas when I was twenty years old, where I promptly began working in a casino, simply called Casino Las Vegas. Initially my job was to clear the tables, make drinks and occasionally count money. I had no friends and worked seven days a week, so at the start it was a very lonely time for me.
Soon I became good friends with an Indian man named Capo, who also worked in the Casino. Our main mutual interest was drinking. I cannot and should speak of Capo’s drinking habits, but I personally would begin the mornings with three flasks of champagne. Lunch was rum with the punters, cigars and what not. During the lunch break all the staff would gather together and have a brief but highly enjoyable party. There would be the manager, whose name I forget, and of course the cleaners, the bar staff, the blackjacks, the electrician, the drivers, chauffeurs, cooks, clerks, receptionists and some of the customers themselves – all of us all would bring drinks into work (using the casino’s supply was understandably prohibited), be it vodka, whiskey, gin, wine – even ale, and we’d mix it all together with a big whisk, and pour them into a huge goblet which we irreverently nicknamed ‘Gombo’, and Ralf, an admitted joker (no more than a mere supervisor, but in a way, our spiritual leader - at least during these proceedings) would blow his whistle , and from that fountain found we salvation, slugging that shit down until it was time to go back to work or back on with our lives. After this I promptly fell in love with a backing singer named Marsha, and we’ve been touring America ever since. We are very happy togeth
…I’ll stop this now actually. There will be no more of this.
This world that I conjured up, perhaps the most irrelevant nonsense ever spoken to a curtain – I won’t stand by it. I told myself I wouldn’t do this sort of thing, at least, at not so an early and important stage of the proceedings. None of the above happened. I’ve never set foot in Las Vegas and don’t intend to. The question that we have to ask ourselves concerning the above is: why? Why do this? Well I have some form of an answer for you: perhaps it is a blatant insecure attempt to sabotage any kind of connection with an audience – this is what happens when you ask me for my name, when you ask me to tell you what it is that I do. The same naturally applies to my brief stints as a whale museum curator in New Zeland and a sightseeing bus driver, also in New Zeland. Did I crash the bus? Of course; Rufus and I got blind drunk and pretended the bus was a whale. Was anyone hurt? Non monsieur, only me, Rufus having never existed, myself only by the skin of my imagination. With regards to what I’m doing now, or rather not, or better still, what I’d fondly like to still think of as the ‘New York Years’, having never been there either, my experience there all street gangs and Chinatown shakedowns (Luis the Rhinoceros, Merk the Triangle and Giueseppi the Dentist – this one’s for you), daytime tourists, closed down catwalks, acts of prostitution and suitcases filled with gold watches, all memos of faraway isolated hysteria – you know, I’ve been a consigliore to an embarrassingly small time organised crime family (all smuggling counterfeit cigarettes in pizza boxes and so forth, like its 1928), a philandering netball teacher, a drug addled salsa nightclub owner (please George – no more drinks – and send the girls home), an American existentialist obsessed with Russian Literature with only a moustache for company, a corrupt private detective with chronic back issues and worse habits (the closest one to the truth, albeit again, completely fictional) and lastly a cable game show television presenter with gold hair and a gold wife – I’ve been all these things, and when I say that, I of course mean I have been none of these things, nothing remotely like them, these gestures, personas, none of them. And what have I got to show for it? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
And now I hear the silence, my brain calms down. They’ve all left. I can smile and relax again. The above was the first of many failures still yet to come. But I like to think and speak of positives, particularly amidst failure, something of which you’ve probably already noticed. And so, the first good thing I can derive from all that mess is that it gives me a chance to think things through and realise what works and what doesn’t. So now I’m thinking…I’m thinking of all these personas and masks, all the binge fantasising…and then a small sweet voice says, just imagine, that would be enough, and another more critical says, has it not always been enough for you, and what even is this the difference between imagination and fantasy, and then I finally say to myself, ah shucks I’m out of breath now and ready for the floor…I’m twenty two years old, that’s it, there’s nothing else, nothing I can say. I need new clothes, new garments for my skin, a grand material for this frame of nerves. A posture in which I can think lucidly, if not too much so. But I’m no big fan of change: I am what I am, and where I am has always been a big part of me, if not necessarily a geographical or existential constant. No Rick, I’m proud of all I’ve done, I tell you. One last one for the road. But then, what have I done? What have I done? I tell you what Rick, I’m not proud at all.
Everywhere I go I find nothing, everything I do results in nothing, and yet, I repeat, there is a positive, (Rick was a well travelled barman by the way, a good listener and good friend, though he’s long gone now) and its staring you and I straight in the face: I’m further away now than from when I first started – all of that in the beginning was far too close, talk of names and so forth – never again shall I go that close - for the idea, an admitted provocative one, was to get as close as possible and try and connect, or start to glide gracefully – wrong verb – up close though I preferred the view, myself with you, slightly further away, and I never looked back, having never finished looking forward, hence where we are now, forever moving, stopping, chopping, changing and rearranging the present with you, which is nothing if but a collection of interpretations scrupulously designed to agree with one another.
But the penny’s dropped now though: this ‘positive’ I speak of is an illusion, and in all honesty, I’ve been buying time, literally from word go, and just ran out of change, just back there during that bit about Vegas – that was the moment I should have declared my bankruptcy. Like whenever in a supermarket, the temptation is there to run out without paying for anything, and yet how embarrassing would that be; me, running in a sweat with copper coins falling to the floor and my hands desperately clutching a can of beans, eventually falling over into the magazine section, onlookers rushing to get me back on my feet, escorting me safely out of the shop and then quite brutally chasing me away, hurling insults, I fumbling in someone’s self sewn pockets on the urban bus, wondering what I managed to take, or whether it was I who was had and took, falling asleep on the train, falling asleep in the butchers, in the bakeries, in the hip cafes, even in the swimming pool or, and perhaps not so disastrously, by the beach, enjoying the climate and food, and ending up with nothing, it’s always nothing, old Sam was right. These days I make inquiries, book trips, see relatives, organise meetings, eat like a pig, drink like a fish, and fuck like a fool, not that you need to know these details, but they’re out there now, so no matter. Alas, I’ll admit it: I’ve lost the heart for this – both the performance and this charade of existence I lead. When a singer messes up a line and it’s not live he can simply ask everyone to start again – and yet I can’t do this, not this time: I must wake up and be the person I was born to be, not the illusionary child who rambles and rumbles along, for I wasn’t born like this, I became like this, seemingly getting sicker and sicker, and so talking to the curtain…well, this could be my cure. Although it could also be my downfall, never ending and yet somehow final.
Again, I say, alas: I’m determined and resilient to come out of this alive and as an individual. And I have plenty of time yet, plenty more resources, memories, personas, failures and potential successes to draw from, should that be necessary. But at least there is still time.
But am I not just a collection of bones, a bucket of blood? The workings of me; revolving eternally like the clocks and wheels outside in the street.
You see, I’ve long realised that my blood is fast, perhaps abnormally fast; when teachers or my mother would use words like ‘abnormal’ I understand now that they were addressing my circulatory system and most likely my mind also. I can feel it now, or them, my body and mind, so to speak, making their systematic revolutions, encoded like a country full of files. I cannot speak of me; what have I got to with their promulgated broadcast, their never ending transmissions of diffusion, their perverted dissemintation, their redness, like wine, like their cousin flesh, like a misfortunate face in the heart of the sun, or a fortunate place deep in the heart of a loved one, the spreading, the movement, the speeding turns, the peaks and valleys it finds in my bones, speeding around my arms, legs, ankles, at times, charging to my penis, at others leaving it all together, preferring my nose, or the odd cut finger; alas circulating, and circulating impressively, becoming normal again, at ease, flowing, moving, always moving no matter what the speed, and I see now that it flows as it should, and I see now that it always has: I stare in wonder at my veins and imagine the splendour of my arteries, very nature sending butterflies to my stomach – blood, this is blood; it’s salty and in good order.
And yet, uttering those words about blood – it becomes all too clear that my blood has nothing to do with any of this – it is in fact, a matter concerning my respiratory system. This ‘system’ I know all too well, and yet, at the same time, I’m just as in the dark about it as you are.
I should explain. I have never been a scientist. Let that state for the record. My friends and I would foolishly smoke splints, pretending we were in the movies, ignoring the ‘bunsen burner’ all together – this is my fondest memory of my ‘school years’, years that are overrated and thankfully, no longer over here (the bill, please). Then again, I’m not particularly proud of this nonchalant behaviour during science lessons – it is this very nonchalance that often costs me valuable time and leaves me all but deserted in all areas scientific, technological, and dare I say it, even practical. Every day existence is problematic and often a chore. Yet despite my scientific ignorance, I am absolutely positive (as always!) that I have some form of ailment with my own respiratory system, however slight, the ailment primarily dwelling in the nostril region, and I have often longed to find out more, to get to the bottom of it, so to speak.
Then again, if you asked me to explain what the respiratory system is, I would say, sorry, I cannot help you – alas, my own guess would be that the problem lies not without, but within the nasal passage (thus in concurrence with the majority of anatomical systems), perhaps the outer skin of my inner nostrils, an illustrious affair, the area itself of that softest of tissue that controls what roughly passes through, be it artificial tissues themselves or mere oxygen, what dries, what is then created as moisture, wet snot, (excuse me), sometimes mere water coming out my nose, oh the water out the nose, thee water out thy nose! And of course it collapses again, but nevertheless, it’s the way I breathe that I’m speaking and concerned about, for it has a direct impact on this performance, impending or contrary to popular belief, now all but present, or at least momentarily imminent, you make no mistake about it. I should stress that I take this all very seriously, again, contrary to popular belief and indifferent to the long riddled tales and myths concerning my psychological and man made make up – indeed, I’m so serious that I become a joke, laughing at myself with you and wondering how to turn the tide into authentic respectability.
The fear of not breathing, and breathing problems – never again shall such rubbish be uttered to a curtain. Of course I breathe! I always do, don’t I? But all too often this all too important activity is all too easily forgotten, or not forgotten, but undervalued, underestimated and dismissed, dismissed like cardboard packaging (I had no intention of getting so bogged down with all this ‘breathing’ talk), like used plastic cups, like pantomime mice, like workshop assistants, having sex on the very desk of work itself.
The question is not, will I remember to breathe, but rather, will I remember to breathe properly. We all know breathing is breathing; if you’re relaxed, its slower, if excited, faster. A sip of water please. In, out shake it all about. Job done. Keep the change. Thanks Lucy. See you later Clive. – The okey kokey, the song of children. Oh yes, we were all children once, were we not, and are we still not, children at heart…? – my worst utterance yet. More water. And ya turn around…that’s better. I’m warming up now, tying up loose ends, bringing things to a close, beginning once and for all, nearly finished. Excuse my coughing, wrong hole. Don’t laugh, it makes it worse. Another moment. That’s better: ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know if you’re out there, but I implore you – wait this out, I will look you in the eye in good time.
And so, after my suffering, my trials and my pointless experiments, I can hear you now, you who once said, “Why say ‘I do this when’, when one has the will and strength to actually just do it?’” Alas, that was misquoted. Shakespeare. But the curtain, made grossly concept, distorts not me, but all before me, leaving me beyond distortion and in dire need of restoration.
O from blood to water, where on earth next?
Up yonder is air, and below is all dust.
All fitting for someone who disguises something
No closer to what it is than a thing is to the moon.
I won’t try anything like that again, the acoustics in the room are off. Emptiness of this place makes even words of my own devoid of a fit face. Now I can’t stop rhyming.
Only time will tell if an audience will arrive, but to quote myself again, tell time what you think of it and off it goes again, stealing blood, nerves, water and pennies, arriving again, till all that stands is a curtain, the old purple blue red velvet curtain, nothing if not disgusting a vulgar, an eternal if not entirely ‘good’ friend. Ah but friends like these are the truest of friends, for they offer you that addictive mirror in which you longingly gaze and marvel at all your constant changes of pose, your starts and fits that end where they began. But there’s a marvellous neck on it though; enchanting fabric kill me now.
For the curtain soothes me, mark – and Mark, bring me a drink, I’m back in the mood and done foolin’ around; Yes, I brush my head against it’s velvet texture affectionately, let her smudge all my weakness until finally the weakness covers all, all this metaphorical, sighs ringing all the time and promising soft future excitement, desire, lust and invincibility, soft now son, soft now – Only to come away from and it be completely covered in dust. I stand back from the curtain, insulted, sneezing and supremely irritated, and it all, a pathetic collage of observations, dreams, successes and failures, all moments remembered with too much feeling – it all turns to dust.
Despite my laughter, it’s becoming increasingly evident that I am in a lot of trouble and may not in fact make it. Many people have been telling me that I have absolutely no chance, whilst others, a few at best, have remarked that while I do have a chance, the chance is so slight that it almost makes no difference. You see, I speak of all my maladies and disappear into these dreams and sequences to escape, to offer excuses, for it is difficult to rile oneself into being at the optimum level in the present, is it not? Perhaps I’ve worded that wrong. And especially when the present is so indifferent to you: look at it; just a useless curtain.
Yes, I know with complete assurance that the desired performance won’t take place tonight, or this morning, or indeed this afternoon. What time do we have? My blood is fast and I have nostril problems -but you shouldn’t believe that. Not only that, but there is the forever constant fear of dust and certain promiscuous and narcotic and alcoholic tendencies that jeopardise the whole project. With all these faculties conspiring against me, there is absolutely not even the remotest possibility of me being the relaxed, swashbuckling, and imaginary performer I know I can be, and by the time I settle down, everyone else will have settled down too much; I’ll be singing to the candles again, seducing serviettes, interpreting Hamlet to the glass-puding plate, just over there, where the people are, but don’t think about it, it’s not all a dream, it’s real, it’s imagined, surely imagined imagining that dream again though, throughout agains and almost without no chance, Hamlet walking through the fields and talking to himself, lost in the fog, I too, misled by ghosts, I too try to connect with things that aren’t there, to get closer to them, to only eventually run further away, in hope of a biased and personal understanding, the work of a salesman, ideals, illusions, two for a pound, an exchange between low lives, the good people, the dogs, the evil, identify accordingly – if I understand you will you understand me, and so forth, a real nightmare, a one way two way street. To bottle it right now, and give up – the thought is tempting, as always. Fuck it, let’s just drink it, slug that down you, it’s good for you. I’m going for it now – I’ve pushed my luck and need to prove myself – so this is it; behold the boy of no dreams, living in the present and in the actual (someone laughs leeringly, bottles and glasses are broken, smashed, in a bar, somewhere, some time, hence; obstacles – but keep going). But it’s not bad though: let me stress that I like it here, forever ready to start and never quite doing so, in front of the curtain. In fact, I like it here so much that perhaps I’ll stay after all, and let the others perform. Here lies the real theatre, the true audience, myself and co. Yet someone else tells me that it’s all well and good talking like this, but you and I both know that your conscience (god arrives) would never let you simply ignore, refute and disobey the people out there waiting for you, and they are waiting for you, however hypothetical or indeed (I know you like this word) ‘imaginary’ they may be. Oh the fact that I have an audience…you couldn’t imagine it, or you could, or rather just did, hence my falling down now, in slow motion – you’ll see, I’ll fall and be left there, will have to pick up the pieces, ruin all this once and for all. I may even succeed through failure. But as I fall: I am alone and have nothing; no one is there and very few outside of all this really care: when will I get over this setback? But still, what on earth does this audience want? What do I want for that matter? What did I want before? I’ll take to the stage, it’s time: pull the curtains, let the sun in, I’m coming home, I’m here for you now. And I always thought I was too late, I still do! – In fact I’m running late now (it’s starting), and I shall not say anymore, anything other than that the following is what I always imagined it would be, I forget what this is, but still, the curtain must rise, no?
He falls over.