Sleeping with Bo

I was flipping through a magazine the other day, and came across a picture of 80’s actress and pinup Bo Derek. Oh man, what memories did that bring back! You see, Bo Derek was the first woman who ever told me she wanted to have sex with me. Honest!

She was in my room, hanging out on the wall, hair braided with beads, wearing a swimsuit with a plunging neckline that revealed three-quarters breast, which was just enough, perfect really. She had recently been frolicking on the beach, and she had just the right amount of sand sprinkled all over her, strategically placed for maximum impact. She did that for me. She did everything for me. She was perfection, and she was perfection consistently. Every time I came home from school, before dinner but after playing football with Andrew and Colly down the road, she would welcome me home with the same fierce gaze. She wasn’t happy to see me; she was starving to see me. She was always starving to see me.

Her desires were so powerful that sound could not contain them. She could only convey her hunger through a thought balloon sprouting from her ripe lips, in plain English that, fittingly, resembled my own handwriting. “I WANT you, David,” she said. “You are SO sexy!” Occasionally, with a little help from me and my scissors, she would say other things, like “I want to be your girlfriend” and “Let me sleep with you PLEASE.” But she was always just talking to me. And it was always her first, for a while it was her only.

She, Farah Fawcett, and Naomi Campbell, and other conquests had only recently made a habit of hanging out in my room. I hadn’t even noticed them until about a month earlier; it seemed strange they could float around undetected for so long. It was an accident they even showed up in the first place. I was flipping through an old copy of Sports Illustrated, when I turned the page to an advertisement for next week’s issue. And there they were. Different photos, all of them, but all with the same look, as if they had just been tapped on the shoulder in the middle of a deep thought and whipped their heads around to see what the fuss was about.

I hadn’t realised it, as I stared at them, mostly Bo, entirely Bo, actually, that I was feeling fidgety. I was tapping the bed, tapping my knee, tapping a lot of things really. It was difficult to nail down exactly why I was staring, and tapping, and fidgeting, but I was, I was doing them all, and I was doing them all with a precision of purpose that was unfamiliar, and a little frightening. What exactly was it? I tilted my head. Curious. Why would I not turn from this page? There’s a story about Pele on page 59, but still I am stuck here, mesmerised. I began to feel unsettled, and fidgeted even further. Look at her neck. Have I ever noticed a neck before? And the way her suit is slightly unspooled, like I caught her in the midst of something, changing maybe, with the strap hanging aimlessly across her shoulder and brushing her elbow, and her boobies, that’s what they are, why do they seem so monstrous all of a sudden? Is that some sort of deformity? It can’t be; they look so fresh, so full of life and flesh and muscle — is that muscle? —  and they’re just right there and they’re the only thing on the page and where am I really and wasn’t I just reading a magazine a minute ago and my God why am I fidgeting so violently?

And in a rush, in a split second, as if the world spread out before me, as if I had been carrying a large rock on my shoulders for years and years and someone mercifully relieved me of it, as if the earth had suddenly flattened out into a serene and bountiful marsh, as if I was sliding across it at blinding speed on my back, WHOOSH … I realised that something had changed, something had happened, and that it was very possible that what just occurred meant I was going to die.

It took a few moments, and I collected myself, and I realised that I was still alive, and feeling ashamed, yes, but good, good, good, quite good, yes. It was shortly after this point that Bo and her friends started making regular appearances in my room.

A week later, another old Sports Illustrated, and Bo was everywhere. I had to release her from her chains. All it required where a pair of scissors and some notebook paper. I locked the door to my room and went to work. Snip, snip, scratch, scratch, fidget, fidget, and hours later, I shut off the light and went to sleep.

I woke up next morning and Bo and her friends were there on the wall above my bed. They were all over it, like the formulas of a mad scientist, all carved out of their paper prisons and free to be with the boy they loved, who loved them. They were everywhere, every picture traced with scissors to precise, exacting dimensions, all with their own words, speaking only to me. My wall was covered with Bo and her friends, dressed for the occasion, always happy to see me, always hungry.

They stayed there for another month or so, and then I let them go, once I realised their presence was causing my parents to start talking to me about matters I had no interest in discussing. I tried putting them in a folder at first, but that seemed undignified, so dark it was, so I eventually just took them to school with me and buried them in the trash. I feared I would be discovered, but I was not, and then it was over, and I discovered new Bos, and then I met real, live, talking ones, and they were tougher to crack but better somehow, more complicated but more fun, more exciting. I never mentioned their presence to anyone, and, mercifully, my parents never mentioned them to me either.

It has been many long years since Bo and her cohorts began speaking to me, letting me know that they were waiting. Letting me know that I was not to forget them. I am still listening, Bo. It has never been the same since you showed up. I still haven’t turned the page; you’re still far more fascinating to me than Pele.

Advertisements

Snapshots of a life

What’s heaven like? I know what I want heaven to be. I want heaven to be The Truman Show of my life. Somehow, some way, God had little invisible cameramen following every moment of my life, from birth, and he sat down with his little angel Martin Scorcese and edited the thing together into a real-time, neatly packaged narrative.

That’s what I want. I want to relive my life, except as an observer. I want to see it all like a movie: the great moments, the humiliating ones, the banal day-to-day drudgery. I want to laugh at how silly my friend John looked at 14, how scared my dog was at four weeks old, what exactly that first kiss was like. I want to relive it all. It would be like having a permanent mirror on my bedroom ceiling. (Though I think I may ask Morgan Freeman to edit out bits like the sleeping and masturbation. I think he’d do that for me. He is, after all, God, and he is wise and kind.)

It just all seems so important. I want to make certain I don’t forget any of it.

Oh, and the lessons I would learn! What did I learn from this point to the next one? Did this tragedy make me a wiser person? Did I really tell her I was going to call her that night, or was she right to be mad? Just who was that giving me bunny ears in that class photo anyway? Did my family do anything traumatic to me as a child that I’ve repressed? Just where in the world did I get that haircut? Did I ever improve after my initial, clumsy attempts at cunnilingus? And, at last, I can find out: Do these jeans make my arse look big?

Unfortunately, I have no idea if the afterlife is like this. As far as I know, it’s utter blackness, or, even worse, a television that only plays Channel Five. But my general principle stands: I want to remember it all. I want to see a snapshot of a friend of mine from, say, 10 years ago, remark on how they’ve changed, or how they’re the same clown they were when they peed their pants watching Friday the 13th when we were kids.

So I take pictures. Oh, do I take a lot of pictures. You know that guy who, when you’re out drinking some night, suddenly pops up out of nowhere and flashes a camera in your face? I’m that guy. Before I went digital, I used to go through film like cups of coffee. I was perpetually buying film, waiting for it to be developed, taking pictures, add add add, more more more. I want it all chronicled. I must remember.

I started putting together my first scrapbook/photo album the day after I graduated from college. Since then, I have filled nine huge, fat ones. It’s all there. This is as close to the Jehovah-directed video I’m waiting for as I’m going to get.

It is only special pictures that are included in my albums. They have to remind me of a moment, a night, an experience, something. I have to be able to legitimately describe the circumstances behind a photo in four-to-five sentences; otherwise, it’s in the discard pile.

Well, the other evening, I sat around, alone and forlorn (it was a Tuesday, after all). It was a total country-music day: mah girl left me, mah boss on mah case, mah dawg done died. I was at home, trying to find the right music to fit my mood, when I looked in the corner, and saw my stack of old photo albums. I started flipping through the first one, with the posed, “professionally”-taken shots of an ex-girlfriend and me. And the thought occurred to me… what if I counted every single photo of every single person in my albums – physical, digital, or those ubiquitous Facebook ones – and tallied them? Would I learn anything? Would I come to any kind of realisation about my life, how I got here, where I’m going… stuff like that?

And so I started making a list. Everyone who appears in my albums… they’re all there. This list is my life in outline form. It was an irresistible project.

Maniacally, I started putting it together over about half a bottle of Angostura 1824 rum and a Nirvana playlist. Did I learn anything? No. But I did get drunk, and it was endless fun. I highly suggest you try it.

I even set up some ground rules.

First and last names. A requirement. If I couldn’t remember both names of a person in a photo within a pre-determined 15-minute period, they weren’t included. I was not allowed to call a friend and ask. So my apologies in advance to Melanie Somethingorother, that one guy who lived down the hall in the Mona campus years, and that one chick, you know, the one with the big teeth, total horse face, dated Jeff, you remember her, right? Those guys are in the pictures, but not on the list.

Famous people. Totally included, as long as I was in the room with the celebrity when the pictures were taken or if I took the picture myself. It amuses me immensely that I have more pictures of David Beckham than the girl whom I took to my college graduation ball.

Maiden names: If I met the person before they were married, her maiden name is used, even if the majority of pictures are from after the name was changed. Essentially, I’m just using the name I know them as. (And for the record, ladies, keep your name. Guys suck. Your name is probably better anyway, unless it’s something ridiculous, like Pitzer or Fullalove.)

The fickle laws of chance and opportunity. This is hardly a ranking of how important people have been to me, in order. Circumstances dictate my photo output. In London, I took more photos than I did in New York. And remember, my first album didn’t begin until after college graduation. School and college friends get short-shrifted. On the other hand, if I went to your wedding, odds are good that your number is pumped up, even though I might not actually even like you all that much.

Prominence. You need not be the centre of a shot to have a photo counted. Even if you’re in the side of the frame, picking your nose, it’s a point for you. But we need to see your face; a foot that looks kind of like yours, except with less mould, doesn’t show up on the scorecard. Also, my list is not indicative of anything, and there won’t be descriptions of anyone on there. It’s just the names. Their relevance in my life is something I’ll keep to myself. To protect their privacy, you see.

Cleavage. Any shot with a woman showing cleavage was counted twice. OK, that’s not true… but how awesome is it that I have cleavage shots in my photo albums? I should make a special album just of those and keep it at my bedside.

This project works on two levels, if and when I finally complete it and publish the list on this blog. First, it allows me to see just how prominent some people have been in my album and let them know just how many photos of them are currently in my closet. Secondly, it will allow my friends to search their names on Google, realise I’ve included them, and then hunt me down and kill me.

Thank you for letting me do this.

Stripper scare!

I like to think my mother raised me the right way. I have the utmost respect for women, certainly more respect than I have for men. Men just have to roll out of bed, slap on that old T-shirt, brush their teeth and, if they’re feeling particularly ambitious, clean their ears.

Women have to apply makeup, deal with all that feminine hygiene stuff I dare not investigate, spend a good hour spraying various freezing substances into their hair, make sure this blouse doesn’t clash with these trousers, shave any undesirable body hair, worry if this skirt overly emphasises those hips, wonder if their eyelashes look long enough. All this so they can go into a workplace where they have to prove to idiots that they’re smart enough to be there in the first place. I’m not particularly proud I was born with a Y chromosome, but, at the risk of sounding smug, I feel quite fortunate.

This said, I have a confession: I have been to a strip club. I recognise it is difficult to be considered a respectable and distinguished man after that admission, but there it is. I’m not one of those guys who has made a habit of it, catches the noon buffet or knows the dancers by name, mind you, but I, sadly, have visited the odd establishment on one or two occasions. Most of these excursions have been suggested by friends, usually old friends I haven’t seen in a while looking to do something “crazy”. If I were the type to try to rationalise my missteps, I would say that I have been merely a follower of more pumped-up, testosterone-enhanced comrades. But the fact remains, I went, so I won’t try to talk my way out of it.

Actually, there is something inherently honest about a strip club. It is a truly logical place of business, an ode to supply and demand. There are men who want to see women’s bare breasts, and there are women who provide the service. Guns and butter, I think they taught us in A Level Economics. Run properly, it’s the rare British establishment that actually adheres to truth in advertising. It’s certainly more honest than places like Hooters in New York, where corporate types can wander in after work, have their drinks, make snide, crude remarks about the waitresses and pretend they’re not doing anything wrong.

There are two types of people who upset the delicate dynamic of strip clubs. One is the obvious hooligan, the drunken bastard with the wandering hands, the one who pounds on the tables and calls the dancers sluts and bitches because he can’t call his wife that. Usually the thick-necked bouncer guys take care of guys like that quickly.

Then there are guys like me, the ones who try to talk to the dancers, try to find out what makes them tick, why they chose this particular vocation. These guys are also the ones most likely to whine to the dancers about their rich fiancées leaving them to hike through the wilderness. These guys don’t need to go to a strip club; they need to go to a shrink. There is a reason I am one of these people.

In the summer of 2009, I was invited to a friend’s stag do. I was appropriately wary, especially considering my friend was, well… a bit rough around the edges. In addition, he would be the only person I would know at the party, meaning, since I wouldn’t want to monopolise the time of the guest of honour for the majority of the evening, I would be on my own.

Still, I was more than a little intrigued. The big night came, and I headed to my friend’s parents’ home for the festivities, which, truth be told, I found to be somewhat strange. Things were adequately casual at first, a bunch of guys sitting around, smoking and drinking, playing cards, throwing darts, lamenting the state of football, moaning about their girlfriends. For a while, it looked like my stripper apprehension was all for naught; I mean, I had just fleeced my friend’s decrepit grandfather out of 10 quid in a game of darts, and no matter how I tried to get my mind around it, I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which this particular octogenarian would be able to handle a lap dance.

Around 1:30 a.m., I thought it might be time to call it a night. I strolled over — carefully sidestepping the blowup doll my friend had received that evening — to congratulate my friend and tell him I’d see him at the wedding.

Then, from behind me I heard, “She’s here!”

Time for another drink, to be certain. As I silently whispered a prayer, promising God I’d be careful to help small animals if he’d forgive me for this impending transgression, the melodic sounds of AC/DC began to surround me and I turned around as she walked in.

When I first moved to London, back in the late 90s, I worked with this temp — a sweet, quiet girl with thick fisheye glasses, braces and unruly red hair, who always seemed somewhat scared when her cocoon of sanctity was disrupted, which was often. She was painfully shy, but for whatever reason, she chose me for occasional contact with planet Earth, sheepishly asking me for help with a Word document or what control-alt-delete really meant. We’ll call her Annie, because that’s her name.

My inability as a writer to appropriately build suspense has reared its ugly head yet again, so I won’t pretend you’re not fully aware that, of course, when I turned to this new visitor to our testosterone-filled room, it was Annie. She’d changed a bit. No braces, no glasses, no bashfulness, no clothes. The men gathered in a circle around her, and she set up her stereo to the side of the room and went to work. She instinctively went for my friend’s grandfather, rubbing her uncovered groin area in, well, shit… you know what she did. Grandpa appeared enlivened by the experience, and I noticed later he slipped her a £20 note when he thought no one was looking.

She then proceeded to pour some kind of lactose product on her nipples and make her way around the circle, stopping at my friend’s chair to unbuckle his belt and pull down his trousers.

This was too much. Most of this time I’d been pathetically hiding behind the pool table, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with Annie. How exactly had sweet, little Annie, the girl who once left the office in embarrassment after noticing that a male colleague’s fly was open, made the transition to bumping and grinding and the oh-my-that-has-to-hurt Annie I saw before me?

I glanced at her again, but this time, she was looking back. She mouthed, “Hi, David! You’re next!”

That was the end of the show for me. I bolted outside, drank about half the bottle of Jack Daniels I had in my hand, and lamented my lost innocence. After about an hour later, the door opened.

“David! Gosh, how are you? I haven’t seen you in years!” the still-naked Annie said. “What have you been up to?”

I have grown accustomed to this question from long-unseen classmates or old work colleagues I run into at bars or even ex-girlfriends who now have better-looking and smarter guys. I have never grown accustomed to answering this question when the inquisitor is not wearing any clothes, and if my life turns out the way I hope, I suppose I never will. I stammered through some short-winded explanation of IT and writing and hey-I-ran-into-so-and-so-the-other-day. Then, idiotically, I tossed the same question back at her.

“Oh, I’ve been doing different things. And this, of course. Working out real well, the money’s great. Never ran into somebody I knew before, though. Kind of a weird experience, don’t you think?”

I walked her to her car — for fuck sake, couldn’t she have put on a robe or something? — and waved goodbye as she drove off, having finally covered up in her car. Thankfully, I’ve never seen her again!

Superiority Complex

For as much as everyone seems to complain about getting older, it’s amazing how often they seem so proud of themselves for it.

A friend called me the other day. He’s about my age, a little younger, successful, smart, hardly an ugly guy, but — and I speak as someone who’s been there — he’s absolutely helpless with women. In life, he’s a gifted schmoozer who knows all the right people and goes to all the right parties. But put him alone with a girl and he suddenly starts speaking in Klingon. He’s got this nasty habit of completely neutering himself within 30 seconds of meeting a woman he’s interested in. It’s an amusing, if sad, spectacle to observe. You can just watch women wipe him off their mental whiteboard before the ice in his drink has even started to melt.

That said, he’s a sweet guy, and if he ever figures out that, in the grownup world, women don’t think it’s cool that you own Depeche Mode CDs, he’ll make someone out there happy enough. Until then, though, it appears he’s going to get fucked over for a while.

There was this girl he was interested in, and mind you, I’m in no position to talk, but she is completely nuts. I won’t get into the sordid details, because it’s not my story, but let’s just say his courtship of her has been, um, rocky. In the span of one evening, she cancelled an evening with him — whom she considers, all together now, a friend — because (deep breath) she decided to have a brief flirtation with lesbianism at a famous London lady’s hotspot, then brought the girl with her to a party where she was supposed to meet him, made out with the girl in front of all his friends, told him she really wanted to be with him but needed to be with the girl tonight, left with the girl, called him from her mobile, said she was sorry, called him back 15 minutes later, said she put the girl in a cab and wanted to come by, met up with him, said he would do for the evening, then bolted early the next morning. (OK, maybe I did get into the sordid details.)

He hung in through all this chaos, presumably because sex is difficult to come by when you own Depeche Mode CDs, and, inexplicably, later asked her Where They Stood. (The boy will never learn.) Her response was classic: “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’m almost 35 years old. If only you were a few years older…” This is akin to Danny DeVito leaving Rhea Perlman because she’s too short.

We hate the aging process. Our waistlines are already beginning to expand, our breasts are starting to sag, our hairlines are making rapidly for the backs of our necks. Our lives aren’t so carefree anymore, and trying to pick up partners at a bar segues from cool to pathetic and sad. We panic when we see old friends getting married when we can’t even score a second date. Our careers are not where they thought they’d be, and we carefully store our dreams in the back of our underwear drawer while we worry about paying rent, checking every couple of months or so to make sure the rats haven’t ran off with them. We’re depressed that even though we’re growing more ancient each second, we don’t appear to be becoming much smarter. We can all agree that it sucks.

But we have a recourse. We have a way that makes it a little bit better, easier to deal with. There comes a point when we take advantage of getting older, which, after all, is one of the few things we improve at every day.

We look down on everyone else. Anyone fortunate enough to have been born after us is suddenly less world-wise, less intelligent, less… experienced.

We do it on every level. If you’ve just graduated from uni, undergrads don’t know shit. If you’re a few years removed, those recent grads, jeez, they have no idea how The Real World works. As we creep closer to 30 than 20, we mock those who are younger. Shit, you kids can’t even rent a car yet. You have no idea how the world works. Millennials! A friend in his 20s was whingeing to another about how difficult his life was going recently. She told him to buck up. “I went through the same thing when I was your age.” She is exactly 21 months, 10 days older than he is. Whatever happened to her in that period must have been significant.

(Funny story. I was flipping through Reader’s Digest the other day — um, I, er, couldn’t find my copy of New Scientist, you see — and I came across one of those pithy little “This Life” sections. It told the story of a 24-year-old woman justifying her age to her grandfather. “I mean, I’m closer to 20 than I am to 30. I still have six years until I turn 30.” The grandfather presumably flashed the smug grin of the about-to-die and asked her, “And how many years is it, again, until you turn 20?” That’s right, people; this blog has resorted to quoting Reader’s Digest.)

Even though we miss all the fun stuff those younger than us are doing, we pretend we don’t. We devalue the whole experience. Don’t you get it, kids? We’ve been there. We were doing all that before it was cool to do it. Shit, we remember when Maggie Thatcher was prime minister and MTV actually played videos. We’ve seen things you’ll never comprehend.

These kids today, they don’t know how good they got it. If we were their age, we’d appreciate it. We wouldn’t piss away our time like they do. Somehow, to make ourselves feel better, we’ve become the geezers on the porch, threatening to grab our shotgun if those hooligans don’t get off our property.

It’s bollocks, of course. As my Uncle Richard put it in a recent e-mail to me, “you think your sister is a kid, your mom thinks you’re a kid, we think she’s a kid, your grandmother thinks your mom’s a kid, and on, and on, and on.” The fact is, we are just as stupid right now as we were when we were younger; we’ve just been stupid more often now. Maturity is maturity, and just because you had your graduation ball in the 80s doesn’t suddenly mean you have any better idea how life is lived than you ever did. But we say it anyway. ’Cos, shit, what else can we do?

Some time ago, I accompanied a friend to see a band fronted by the younger brother of one of her old college mates. The venue was a bar — easily recognisable as a students’ bar by its total lack of personality. Same game machines, dartboards, dirty bathrooms and free-spirited clientele. We did a few meet-and-greets, then headed to the bar. We scoffed, marvelled at the unsophisticated taste buds of the proletariat and ordered a double whiskey on the rocks and a Kopparberg.

The band came on. They were one of those knockoff types, with keyboards and extended “jams” and occasional covers. Not bad, nothing special. But the crowd… it was a hot crowd. While we sat in the corner, nursing our drinks and checking our watches, lest we stay out too late and sleep through Later with Jools Holland, the kids were rolling. It was joyous. Before we knew it, hordes of kids, so happy to be anywhere but home this summer, were doing incredible dances of rapture. They hopped and cavorted and smiled and beamed and were happy happy happy, finding something wonderful that the music couldn’t provide on its own, no way; they saw some kind of wonderful, something reckless, careless, without worry, just prancing around, bopping to the rhythm, not a moment of apprehension even daring to peek its head over the horizon. They damned near floated above the floor. Their heads lolled everywhere, eyes focusing on nothing and everything, dancing, dancing, dancing, dance dance dance motherfucker dance. You watched them let themselves go, forget who they were, and just be. It was something glorious to behold. We saw a couple kiss in the corner, then look at each other, smile, then hit the floor again.

We watched this while nursing our drinks. We took it all in. We enjoyed it. Then, 30 minutes passed, without a single change in the vibe the jig the dope the scene the feel, man, and we, capturing the pure joy of the moment, decided we were tired and needed to go home. We cast one last look at the kids, who wouldn’t have noticed us if we’d been dressed like Screaming Lord Sutch, and said our goodbyes.

On the journey home, I spoke: “Those kids… cute, eh?”

“Yes they are.”

“They have no idea how life’s going to kick them in the arse, do they?”

“Nope.”

I’m right. I know I’m right. But I don’t have to like it. Because whatever it is I might have lost… I want it back.

The Ultimate Alpha-Male (Yes, that’s me…)

It has been brought to my attention that women want confidence, and that’s what I need to hold on to them. Women want a man with his act together, someone who knows what he brings to the table, who isn’t asking a woman to take care of him or fill a void. Someone male. Preferably with big, ripped abs.

I suppose they’re right. They should want those things. They should want a confident alpha male. Who wants a snivelling girly-man who needs constant reassurance? They want men, dammit!

So I am putting together my CV. I will attach this to my back at all times, right next to the “WEIRD” sign. In this day of constant advertising, it just seems natural, like a boxer with a casino ad in temporary tattoo on his back. This will take the form of a list: My alpha-male accomplishments since birth. Think I’m a panty-man, too much of a sensitive pussy? Think I can’t make a relationship work because I don’t feel good enough about myself? Ha! I snort at your short-sightedness. I laugh at your inability to look past my lack of chest hair. I chortle at your continued insistence that you don’t want a man who pees sitting down.

You don’t know me. I’m all man. I am a Samuel L. Jackson, a tall Humphrey Bogart, a black Jack Bauer. And don’t you forget it. Or I’ll do that thing where I clinch my hands together and move my arm toward you really quickly, where it then hits your face! Yeah! Take that! Your pain shall be immense, and incapacitating. Feel my wrath! And then, before you even had a chance to think about attacking me in return, I will be long gone… whoosh!, just like that.

You don’t think I’m enough of a typical male? I’m too self-loathing and feeble? That I’m too sensitive? You just wait, bitch. I’ve got Full-Scale Male Credentials. I can prove it. Because evidently, this is what women want, right?

My CV will look like this:

1972 – Upon exiting my mother’s womb, doctors were stunned to find I had stencilled lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” in the birth canal. Also, they found circumcision near impossible because of my massive, almost elephantine testicles. Overheard in the delivery room: “This kid’s going to be one hell of a baby-maker someday.”

1973 – I share a nursery with a little nymph named Nicole. By withholding a rattle until just the right moment, refusing to poo while Nicole is in the room, and being generally uncommunicative, I drive young Nicole wild. There are other babies who share their plush toys and do not fling their poo at her, but Nicole finds them dull and too easy. The year ends with Nicole heartbroken when I decide it’s not working out and that I’d rather spend more time drinking my own drool.

1975 – I bite the head off a toy bat. It was an aluminium bat.

1976 – I learn how to read, years earlier than my family expected. I use this newfound power to write letters to girls in my pre-school, telling them they should really lose some weight.

1977 – My family buys me a toy phone for Christmas. I then tell Sharon, the five-year-old next-door neighbour, that I’ll call her, and then I don’t.

1978 – The first of my little sisters is born. I make a vow to be exemplary in every aspect of my schoolwork and social life, so that she will feel inferior and grow up with self-esteem issues.

1981 – My mother, as our family struggles to make ends meet, says she needs to find a job. I tell her that if she were a real mom, she’d stay home and take care of her children.

1982 – Next-door neighbour Sharon comes over to play. I tell her I’m watching the football on telly. And to shut her bloody trap.

1983 – I learn that flatulence not only disgusts people, but, in fact, is quite funny. I commence to fart every time I’m in mixed company. Years later, I will refine this process, adding open flame.

1984 – I start secondary school a week late because I refuse to ask directions to school.

1986 – A new girl moves into the neighbourhood, named Tanya. She makes many friends, but I am her favourite because I am unresponsive and mysterious. One night, with parental approval, I spend the night at her house. She asks me to come over the next night as well, but I refuse, because I’m sleeping with all her friends.

1987 – I score my only goal in youth league football when the goalie is distracted by an asthma attack and I trip on the ball, sending it spiralling toward the goal. In years, this story will be told thus: “Well, I was being chased by wolves, you see, that had been released onto the field by Nazi sympathizers. Meanwhile, a waterboy with Down’s Syndrome was firing an AK-47 at me while I ran. Fortunately, I avoided them all and scored the winning goal, which was huge, since the Libyans had kidnapped my family and had threatened to anally rape our dog had we not won. It was right after this that I stopped the bullet meant for the President.”

1988 – To try out for my school football team, I am required to take a physical. The female doctor asks me how I’m feeling. I look down, grunt, and act like I didn’t hear her. When she asks again, I exclaim, “Forfucksake, I’m fine! Fuck! What’s with all the questions? That’s all I get from you! Nag, nag, nag, nag, NAG!

1989 – While showering after a football game, I see my cousin naked. I beat the shit out of him, because, man, he was looking at me. You know… in that way?

1990 – I drink my first beer. Upon finishing it, I exclaim, “Wow! This really does make ugly chicks less repulsive! This stuff is amazing!”

1991 – My first week of uni, and I attend a freshers party. I hand out then-up-to-date copies of this CV. I am immediately selected as their chief party organiser.

1995 – I buy my first Nirvana record. It, like, really speaks to me, like, on a really deep level.

1997 – I persuade a girlfriend to give me her virginity by explaining that “everyone’s going to think we did it anyway, so we might as well. Besides, um, I, like, love you or something.” I tell her I don’t want to use a condom because “I want to be as close to you as possible.”

1998 – I break up with my girlfriend and sleep with all her friends.

1999 – In August, I have sex with seven females in six days, with a combined age of 125.

2001 – In October, I visit New York, buy a NYFD uniform from a Salvation Army store and wear it to various Manhattan bars while sitting alone in a corner, pretending to weep while looking at an empty pint glass. I break another record by having sex 57 times in a week.

2003 – I get Amy Chen really drunk and bed her, thereby completing my goal of promoting diversity by shagging a girl from every major ethnic group.

2005 – After an unfortunate three-week stretch without sex, I discover roofies, and the sky is the limit.

2007 – I set a personal record in January by waking up in my own piss and/or vomit six times in one month. This record is broken five times by September.

2010 – I am selected as one of London’s “20 Most Eligible Bachelors” by GQ magazine. I am lauded for my “burning mystery,” “quiet sensitivity,” and “virile masculinity.”

*Sigh* OK, ladies… so this really is what you wanted… right? Right?! Good. It is now time to take a number. Step right up. The line, as always, forms in the back…

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.

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.