Wedding knells

I am struck by the feeling, for the second time in my life, that everyone around me is getting married. I’ve been through this wave once before, several years ago, when I was with The American — the only woman to whom I’d ever seriously considered proposing. Well, I’m single, so you know how that relationship turned out; I appear to be in a bit less danger this time.

My friend MDS called from Florida the other day. MDS — which is not some writerly pseudonym; that’s actually what we call him — is one of the few geniuses I’ve ever met, a mad poet with wild, intense eyes, unruly and sprawling long black hair and a mind that never met a problem it couldn’t deconstruct, dissolve and destroy within 10 to 15 seconds.

He was also crazed; he once, after a particularly late evening of both legal and illegal revelry, began speaking what seemed like fluent Spanish to me, even though he, in fact, didn’t actually speak anything but English.

MDS always had a beautifully different take on everything I mindlessly watched pass by. I’d hoped I would chronicle his doings for many years, because if I couldn’t be like MDS, I’d be more than honoured to tell others about him. He was a true original, and I always figured he’d either become president or die a glorious, romantically gruesome death by the age of 30. Thankfully, neither happened.

After the split, my trips across the Atlantic became less frequent but MDS and I stayed in relatively close touch, and anytime I travelled over, I made sure to visit. It was amazing, really; everyone who had met him since I left treated him as the same strange type of god I always had. He’s the type of guy you’d storm a bunker for, blindfolded and naked, with no weapons. He was born to be a leader of men.

Then he met a lovely lady named Sarah, a pillar of the community who spent her after-work hours as a volunteer working with children suffering from Down’s Syndrome. I met her once, and she was as advertised: sweet, wholesome, almost preposterously nice. I liked her instantly, but I couldn’t help wonder about the long-term prospects. Not that MDS was some kind of arsehole. It’s just, well, it seemed the man would be too busy scaling mountains, writing cosmic manifestos and inspiring the masses out of their complacent sloth and into planning a revolution to have time to get too serious.

That said, MDS and Sarah eventually moved to Florida where they both worked as teachers. I still talked with MDS, but I had plenty going on myself, so correspondence dwindled a little.

And then he called last week. Usually, we’ll chat about… ahem… “soccer”, mock people we used to hang out with for a while, shoot the proverbial shit. But there was no messing around this time.

“Hey man, I got married.” Sarah and MDS had headed cross-country to a Vegas chapel, where they tied the knot amidst countless couples in various stages of gestation (which they were not, I hasten to add). Stunned, I congratulated him and then stumbled through various conversation topics, including our amusement at the fact that the mystic MDS was now somebody’s uncle. Then we hung up, and, as I am wont to do, I got to thinking and freaking out.

You see, dear readers, something has happened to me recently that I haven’t let you in on, and I apologise.

No, no, no, I’m not getting married; heavens no. The idea of someone spending the rest of their life with me were recently summed up by a girl who gave me the old “You’re a really great guy and I do like you, but you deserve better than me, blah, blah, blah…” spiel. I’ve got that a lot, post-American. It’s a bit like saying, nice place to visit; wouldn’t want to live there.

Anyway, last week, I, on a particularly odd whim, ripped off a brief and mundane e-mail to the American ex, with whom I hadn’t had any sort of contact for about four years. It was quite flaccid, actually; it was just a “hey there, how are you, what’s up, hey, hey, hope you’re not dead or anything.” No big deal.

Then she wrote back. Because I’m an insolent prick, I’ll reprint the main part (I’ll edit it a bit because she never was a very good writer):

I have some news. I’m getting married. I’ve been seeing X (I figure if I’m not printing her name, it’s not exactly fair to print his) for a couple years, the first guy I’ve dated since you. We’ve known each other since the seventh grade. Basically I’m marrying my best friend. I’m very excited. And believe me, this is the right decision. I’ve thought of you and I and everything we went through on occasion lately – well, actually, a lot lately. Very good memories – I hope the same is for you.

Ahem, cough, gasp, chortle, ack (in that order).

It was a stunning e-mail to receive while otherwise innocently preoccupied with cricket scores, Kelly Brook pictures and chocolates. Upon reading it, I printed it out, grabbed the Jack Daniels, went out to the garden and read it again and again.

Getting married? The American?

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally… (I’ve always hated having to put the ellipses in that title, by the way) when Meg Ryan calls Billy Crystal in tears because she has learned that her former fiancé has got married? She says, (I’m paraphrasing because the bloody IMDB doesn’t have the quote) “It’s not that he didn’t want to get married… it’s that he didn’t want to get married to me.”

Well, I didn’t feel like that. Because fuck that, I’m not one of those idiots who quotes from When Harry Met Sally… But it did feel a bit strange.

Please, please, friends, don’t have the impression that I am still hung up on the ex. She’s right; if we had managed to last this long or even actually got married (Eek!), she would have murdered me by now. I’m glad it didn’t happen.

It’s just, well, our breakup was pretty much one of the most tragic things that has ever happened to me (which, I recognise, makes me somewhat fortunate); my mum once said that, in terms of relationships, it seemed my life was divided into what happened before that, and what happened after.

But good luck to her. She deserves it. It’s just that there’s a lot of marriage going around. MDS is married, several other friends got married recently and now yet another ex is getting married to the guy she met right after me. And here I am, muddling through the muck, head in my arse, just trying to figure out if I have any matching socks. Am I supposed to be that grown up already? And am I supposed to be such a moronic cliché? And, seriously, do I have any matching socks?

It’s not that I’m opposed to marriage; shit, though, does it have to involve me?

But more power to them. Let them have their happiness, MDS and the ex and all the others. I’ll just sit here, on another journey into the night, tapping my thoughts into a computer that doesn’t smile, but happy to be alone in my own head. It’s not always very comfortable in here, but it certainly is roomy.

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A sad farewell to Amy

Today, we lost one of the most talented young women in the music industry — a girl famed for her amazing contralto vocals and jazz background who created songs that stormed the charts worldwide and were popular to multiple generations.

Amy Winehouse, who has passed away at the tender age of 27, has shocked the nation with her death, as she had with her drug- and drink-fuelled life. To say this is a tragic loss is an understatement. Along with her father Mick and her mum Janis, the public have watched Amy deteriorating for years, hoping and praying that she would finally put herself on the straight and narrow and come back into the limelight a raving success and (more importantly) a healthy young woman.

This has sadly not been the outcome. Her death has been confirmed so far as unexplained, but it is known she was found dead in her Camden home around 1600GMT today. I was in the Camden area just around that time and noticed the commotion but didn’t know what was going on until I got home later and heard the news.

No one knows what really went on so we can only speculate for now, which usually leads to assumptions and lies. All we can take from her death is to learn the lesson she never could — drug abuse is a fool’s game and if you care about your body, health and life in general, you will steer clear of the stuff.

But it is all too easy for us to judge. As a writer, I know only too well the loneliness, inner turmoil, anguish and even self-loathing that can accompany the creative process. Often, it is only through his/her chosen medium that an artist truly finds an outlet for releasing the pressure. I believe this was the case with Amy. Drugs might have given her a false and temporary respite from her inner demons, but she found her wings when she poured her heart and soul into music — and we were enriched by it.

I had the privilege of seeing and hearing her perform back in 2006, I think it was, as she was launching her acclaimed album Back To Black. I’d never even heard of Amy Winehouse before then, but that one concert was enough to make me a fan. She wasn’t the same fresh-faced girl when I saw her in a Camden pub some years later in 2010 — her well-documented problems had taken their toll — but she was sweet, friendly and nothing like the drugged-up raving lunatic often depicted in the press. She even chatted a bit with me and my mates, and I remember observing what lovely eyes she had.

And this is why I don’t wish to dwell on her death, nor on the controversial way she lived her life. I just want to celebrate her at her height, with soulful songs that smashed the top charts and that beehive hairdo that only Amy could rock.

Amy, we will all miss you, and I hope you’re finally at peace.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

Recently, I have been thinking more and more about my wallet.

It’s a relatively new one, but apart from that, no particular reason exists as to why I’d be pondering my wallet. I haven’t been reaching for it often; I assure you, there’s not much money in there. But at the end of the night, when I undress and settle in, I have only four items I set by the bed: a notebook, a pen, my mobile and my wallet. These are the four objects I have with me at all times. I am a human being, somewhat complicated, definitely cluttered; when you boil down my life to its most basic objects, the stuff I really couldn’t live without, you get those four objects. Notebooks, pens and phones aren’t really all that interesting, and they’re certainly self-explanatory, so we’re going to just focus on the wallet.

My wallet, right now, before my trip to the pawn shop this Thursday, has 20 pounds in it. The holding of money is certainly the least noteworthy function of a wallet, so let’s just take that at face value and move on.

For a while, I saved all the ticket stubs from movies I saw and placed them in that little pouch they put on the inside of your wallet. I’m not really certain why I did this; maybe I feared I would be falsely accused of a crime and might need an immediate alibi. Well, officer, I was in fact nowhere near the conservatory with the lead pipe at 8:15 p.m. I was watching Hangover II again. (Perhaps in that case, it would do my reputation well just to plead guilty regardless.)

But I see too many movies, and eventually the stubs became too obtrusive, even though their inevitable fattening of the wallet did provide delusions of successes I have not attained. After holding onto all those tickets for so long, I couldn’t just throw them away, so they’re saved in a box somewhere while I start a new collection.

I had a similar habit with business cards, but in my field of work you quickly learn that this is a most impractical practice. People in business are obsessed with business cards, and on a weekly basis, I’m usually handed five or six. In the film American Psycho, the murderous lead character is vexed not by chainsaws through flesh, but by his feelings of inadequacy after it’s revealed a work colleague has a more impressive engraving on his cards. I thought this was overwrought satire until I caught two friends of mine stealthily comparing their cards at a party last week. One told the other her cards were “impressive” while failing miserably at hiding his disgust and envy. I just kept quiet — mine are rubbish. Amidst this culture, it is simply unreasonable to attempt to store all the business cards one receives in a wallet. Most now sit on my desk at work; some reside in the same box as the tickets.

So what’s in the wallet then? Well, obvious identification materials. Driver’s license, bank cards, store cards, a Tesco clubcard, an old NYIP press ID that still occasionally works wonders at certain events. And my Oyster card is in there, along with an old bank card from Scotiabank in the Caribbean I never got around to throwing away.

Oooh, musn’t forget my NHS prescription and EHIC cards. Never hurts to have one of those cards lying around if you’re getting regular drugs or travelling a bit.

But where did the rest of this crap come from? Why, I ask with a poorly concealed whiff of alarm, do I still have a hotel key from the Radisson Lexington in New York? Does it still work? Do I even dare to try next time I’m out there? I have a lifetime preferred card from Filter 14, a bar in Manhattan. I have no intention of ever returning to Filter 14, not only because it’s kind of a dumpy bar and the manager was a bit of a prat, but also because it’s several thousand miles out of the way. I don’t visit New York as much as I did some years back so why have I been keeping this card around? It’s oversized, barely fits in the wallet, and its colour is a nasty shade of puke yellow. In the bin it goes.

I have a Blockbuster video card I haven’t used since I lived in NW9, eight years ago. The last time I used that card, they didn’t even have much of a DVD section.

There was a time I would carry a condom in my wallet, but not only did it produce an embarrassing “ring-around-the-condom” effect in the leather, but it was also depressing to realise how long it would sit in there, unused.

Thanks for being a blood donor proclaims yet another card. Did you know that you can give blood every 56 days? I haven’t given for quite a while, mainly because I hate needles. But you should do that. It’s a nice little charitable thing. When a close friend was studying to be a nurse about 10 years ago, I occasionally let her practice new techniques on me. Ah, the things you do for love! She would rehearse finding veins for IVs and blood drives on my wrists and arms. It hurt, and I hated it — and a few people must have starting wondering if I was a heroin addict — and it’s partly why I don’t like needles.

I’ve also got Starbucks and Costa cards. Of the large, corporate chains, Starbucks is my favourite (don’t judge me!) but there isn’t one near where I work or live so the Costa card gets used more now.

And I realise, with a sigh, that the only things in my wallet I’ve acquired in the last couple years is the Costa card and the one for that stupid bar that’s too far away.

What’s in your wallet? The extraneous things we obsessively gather and collect for no apparent reason say more about us than we might like to admit, I suspect. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.

In a dark room, searching desperately for a light switch

We should have stayed 13 forever. If we had stayed 13 forever, everything that happened to us would be this wonderful new experience that we appreciate unconditionally, this thing that we can’t believe is happening to us. We would have no history, no cynicism, no reason to doubt. We would take everything at face value, and it would all be beautiful.

I used to be in love with my pillow when I was 13. It was not a sexual thing, or at least not that I remember. I would just lie alone in bed, late at night, and hold my pillow and kiss it and tell it how important it was to me. My fantasy at 13, when it was late and it was just me, was not of fame and fortune, was not of large-chested women covered in oil, was not even of playing football for Manchester United. My fantasy was having a woman I could hold and tell her how much I loved her.

That’s what I did to my pillow. I would caress its imaginary hair, and rub its imaginary back, and whisper into its imaginary ear. I would kiss its imaginary lips, tenderly, no tongue, just soft light touches, my mouth moving so slightly, like I’d seen people do on the television. Sometimes I would pull my pillow on top of me, and it would nuzzle its imaginary head into my shoulder, purring, content. My pillow was so happy to be with me. I was my pillow’s world, and I never disappointed. I even let the pillow sleep on the same side of the bed every night; I knew it didn’t like to be pressed up against the wall.

I think I told my pillow I loved it every night for a year. And I did love that pillow. I really did.

********************

An old friend of mine is always telling me how she can’t find any men. She’ll call, and after a few minutes of cursory narrative about the mundane matters of the day, she’ll launch right into it, which is the only reason she called in the first place. She went on a date with this guy, or this one, or this one, but they all have something wrong with them. It’s never anything all that serious; someday she’ll surely tell me the guy she went out with last night was just outed as a serial killer, but it hasn’t happened yet. They just have those little human flaws that we compile as the years mount. One’s too bald, one’s too lacking in ambition, one’s too married. One guy said he was going to the loo and just never came back. Me? I never quite found out why I didn’t make the cut all those years ago, but somehow we still managed to become lifelong friends.

When we first met, this woman was hot, and a real stunner. But, since she had such a variety of choices on the menu, she kept holding out until the perfect guy came around. And, well, he just never did. She is now noticing wrinkles formulating a triangulated crossfire on her face, and her arse, she’s constantly reminding me, is beginning to expand in a way that, all told, reminds her of her mother.

This guy that she left a few years ago, he was alright, she might have been happy with him but she was conflicted because he didn’t fit the image of the guy she felt she was supposed to fall for, and someone better might be just around the corner, and in any case she wasn’t quite ready to settle then, and if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. No reason to force it, right? And now here we are.

Now she’s terribly unhappy. She has regrets. She wears it in her eyes, in her clothes, in her walk. She has the look of someone who just missed a penalty that cost her team the Cup. She knows that I know it. She knows that everybody knows it. I don’t think she cares, either.

********************

A guy I know had a nasty breakup about three years ago. He loved this woman, with abandon. He was loyal and true, and then one day, she had sex with another guy and told him about it. From what I understand, he was calm. He just said OK, it’s over, you’ve made your choice. And then he made his: I will not play this game again.

Since then, he has slept with just about every other woman in London. He’s diligent and disciplined about it; I’m told he even makes up Excel spreadsheets to schedule his trysts without conflict from any corner. He makes no movements whatsoever toward a relationship with any of them. If they imply that they want their current involvement to evolve toward some sort of longer-term commitment, he coolly drops them without a second thought. And he then just finds another one.

This is what he does. He makes no apologies for it. He’s a real cad to a lot of these women, obviously, but at a certain point, you almost have to respect him. He has a plan. He is not flailing around, hoping to stumble across something lasting. He just wants to have sex with a number of different women whenever he feels like it.

I can’t imagine living my life like that. But that might be a failing of myself rather than one of him. Because it’s not like I’ve been successful in sorting out long-term relationships either. I have no plan. I’m just drunk, in a dark room, hands out in front of me, feeling around, tripping over stuff, knocking over valuables, hoping to find something. I could have someone next to me, with a flashlight, so I don’t end up stepping in shit, but I choose not to. Because it’s my journey.

This guy is just avoiding the dark room all together. I might question his methods, but I understand where he’s coming from.

********************

I sometimes look back over some of my past relationships and ask myself how I could be so foolish as to get involved with this particular girl or that one. My usual response is simple: I was so devil-may-care about the whole thing. I was in love, she was in love, of course we were meant to stay together forever. Isn’t that why any of us are doing this anyway?

Years have passed now, and I don’t feel that way anymore. How could I? I have scars now. Everything is in the grey area now; every decision must take into account an infinite amount of variables.

Isn’t it amazing relationships happen at all, considering what must go into each of them? You have to find two people who, first off, have to be attracted to each other in one way or another. Then you have to hope they have the same mindset with regards to the value of relationships. Then you have to have them interact with each other on a day-to-day basis in ways that don’t make them want to kill each other. Then you have to make sure their real-world goals intersect in a way that won’t make one partner more dominant or more satisfied than the other one. Then you have to hope that past experiences haven’t made either partner slow to trust anyone, or at least too slow for the other person to put up with it. Then you have to be certain that both partners actually want to take the step of devoting their life to the other person, usually at the exact same time. And you have to make sure that both people consider themselves equals, lest the insecurity virus infest the whole thing.

Oh, and then you have to make sure that all these factors stay locked in place for x number of years.

Whenever I’ve had difficulties with women before, people often told me, “Well, if you’re having this many problems, you’re probably better off just forgetting about her. When the right person comes along, all that other stuff won’t matter.” This theory seems like bullshit to me. The right person, if this person exists, won’t make all my fears and worries and doubts and guilts and everything else go away. If I were to meet a person who enraptured me so completely that I no longer thought about all my reservations and peculiarities… wouldn’t I want to run away from that person, and fast? I am me, after all, and if someone is theoretically so wonderful and incredible that I throw all and everything out the window just because they are so wonderful and incredible, am I not doing both of us a huge disservice? Because I’m not always going to find them so wonderful and incredible, at least not at such a high level of intensity. And what happens then? Because I’m still me. I can push that aside for a while, in the name of love, but eventually, we cannot hide from who we are.

In my teens and early 20s, I had little idea who I was. Now, I’m all too familiar.

********************

When I was 13, all I needed was that pillow. That pillow had no history, and neither did I. That pillow was whatever I wanted it to be. It could handle that. It was very easy for a pillow to simply be what I wanted. People are not so flexible. And neither am I.

Yet here we are, still in that dark room, wreaking havoc, searching desperately for a light switch.

A drug-fuelled rant

This past week, during which circumstances conspired to deprive me of sleep and turn me into one throbbing stress nerve, I had eight different people — not eight different times; eight different people — offer me some sort of prescription drug for my own relaxation. Let’s see if I can remember them all: Paxil, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Prozac… and some other one, I think it started with a Z and ended with a C, or maybe a Q. I know it had a little “tm” in a circle on the end.

These people were not doctors. Half of them didn’t even have prescriptions for the drugs they were giving me. They would just see that I was tired and weary and a bit on edge, and thought it only natural — logical — that I would want to pop a pill. Take care of that right quick. When I told them, no, I was fine, I’m good, thanks, appreciate it… they were taken aback. David, don’t you understand? These make you feel better. And doctors say they’re OK. Why wouldn’t you want one?

It is amazing to me how many people in London are on some sort of medication. Hell, I’m sure some of you are on them. How did you start? Was there some sort of injury? Maybe you had a fight with your other half and had a friend who suggested you could calm down with these. Maybe your psychiatrist recommended them. Perhaps it was the July 7 bombings. Whatever it was, they’re everywhere. I sometimes wonder if, when I’m speaking to a member of the Prozac nation, anything I’m saying is having an effect whatsoever. If they’re even paying attention. If they’re just trying to find their happy place.

These drugs are self-indulgent anyway. They’re just like the rest of this self-absorbed city; the focus is making yourself feel better. If there’s something wrong in your world, it’s not because of anything you might have done wrong, or decisions you might have made. It’s society. It’s too tough; I’m too sensitive. Here, take this pill.

Now I’m aware that there are people out there — some are friends I love dearly — who genuinely need these antidepressants, and I don’t mean to disparage them. This is medicine, and some people have imbalances or bad genes, and they need these as remedies. Good for them. I’m glad they have something that makes them feel better. But there aren’t that many. And they don’t make up three-quarters of the population of London!

Rules of thumb here. The following things do not give you chemical imbalances that require medication:

Your parents’ divorce.

Joe breaking up with you for that slut from work.

Your boss is an idiot.

Your back hurts when you get home from work.

You need an alternative to weed.

You’re getting older.

You need to lose weight.

Your roommate won’t stop leaving her towels in the bathroom.

Rachel doesn’t love Joey.

You know how you deal with these things? Not to sound insensitive here, and if I do so, I apologise but… shut the fuck up and deal with it. These problems existed long before GlaxoSmithKline set up in Brentford and started making billions. Life is to be faced head-on and dived into with reckless abandon. Living scared, or dulled, solves nothing.

Doesn’t anyone just want to live anymore? The notion of antidepressants revolves around having no highs too high and no lows too low. Just a smooth plateau, everything’s the same, everything’s easier, nothing gets you too excited. Why in the world would anyone want to live like that? It makes people into boring, bland, even-keel people, and I surely didn’t move to London for those.

And let’s not get into the antidepressants that reduce sex drive. I mean, if the goal is reducing stress, that would seem the definition of counterproductive. (Is there any way women who are on antidepressants that reduce their sex drive could wear some sort of ID bracelet, or maybe a dogtag? It would make dating so much easier.)

I just don’t see how life got so difficult that we needed some outside agent to help us control it. People… life is hard. It’s really awful sometimes. Isn’t that the point? Don’t you want to feel, whether it’s euphoria or deep sadness? You’re going to be on this shit for 30 years and then one day realise, dammit, I missed everything. I don’t mind being depressed every so often. It makes the joyous moments that much more exhilarating.

Why would you want to numb that? Why would you want to escape from life? It’s worth staying alert for, you know.

Read my other article — The Beauty Of Sadness — and you’ll see what I’m on about.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I could really use another drink.