Sport 34: Winter 2006
Fifteen Adventures in the World of People
I lost track of him for a few years, and then ran into him one super-cold winter's day. We were both kind of downtrodden. We didn't really know each other that well, we started up a conversation, a semi-strangers' encounter, two strangers talking about music. He told me to listen to some Blood Necklace. I never did. I told him to listen to some Theoretical Girls. There we were on the corner of Right Street and Williams Road. I liked his consistency, his clarity. He always said he admired the way I kept my spirits up. There was no false sentiment between us. And there he was in Lucy's garden. I arrived after all the food had gone and in the dark he was lying right across the picnic table, his toes folded back under the ice pack. I'm not sure how it happened. The last time I saw him he took a step away from me and said it was so he could tell whether or not I'd changed.
She was in her pink cape—heroic and flappy. You look great in that, I said. You can have it, she said, handing it to me. We were friends, but not what one would call great friends. I like how you believe in the clarity of things, she said to me, though it was only the second time we had met. She lived by her code. Living long—living proper. She classified her various boys as an efficient way to stay awake. Her most famous act, the way she placed her leg at a right angle to her body, any old fence as a prop. Her skirt slipped to where her leg attached to the vertical. On that particular day she existed to satisfy anyone who had begun to mumble in life. Loosen up, she chanted. There we were wandering along Forest Avenue in the heat. She was loud. In a crowd page 144she would have been heard right at the back. In a crowd I might not have minded so much walking next to her.
I've been considering it for quite a while, Alice tells me as soon as I answer. And I think I've cracked it. It's the realisation I've been waiting for, she says. Alice is somewhat cautious. Until recently she wouldn't answer the phone using her real name. Just in case. The last time I saw them both, we were all around at their place, sitting around. Alice was positioned as usual, clutching Simon. Alice was watching everyone. Most people were listening to Simon speak. After that particular occasion (as for the entire duration of our friendship by phone and in person) Alice proclaimed her deep love for Simon. I've always loved him, she says. I've always loved him, but I've finally realised, she says, that I like him as well. I really like him, Alice goes on. I wonder if it has anything to do with that new T-shirt, she wonders. He just looks so good in it. You know the one with hands all over it. The one he said he would never wear again after my father said it made him look 'handsome'. You've got rocks for ears, she put in. You are so wise, she put in, you always said the knots would untangle themselves.
I used to see Joseph all the time. We would do things together. Back then he was very close to his family. He would drive to visit his family every time there was a holiday, or they would drive to visit him. Back then Joseph seemed to be very fond of us all. I'm fond of you, he said, you're a good sort, you remind me of my sister. Once the two of us went for a walk. We should go this way, Joseph said. And we did. It was the long way and it started to rain. We got extremely wet. Look there it is, he said. We were in a swamp. You won't see this growing in any other place in the world, he said. We had come to see a small plant with yellow flowers. Amazing, I said. These days I see Joseph less often. When I do I wonder if maybe something is a little off. My mother brought me a pot plant for my birthday, he says, but now it's page 145dead. Joseph used to give me a lot of advice. Never trust anyone over ten, he would say. Which seemed sensible. Now when I see him he takes off his hat and then puts it back on. He does this over and over again, for no obvious reason. I wonder about him. Live fast and die young, he tells me. But I'm not so sure.
People are always describing Jack behind his back. Once when I was on a bus some big brunette behind me said softly, Jack Jordan what a Burning Man regular, to the big blonde beside her. It's true Jack can be rather distressing. More often than not I run into him in the middle of the night. Once he was so wide awake he thought it was the middle of the morning. What a mish-mash. He was wandering around all done up in fancy dress looking like a pharaoh. He would periodically remove his mask in order to really push a point home. Georgia my dear, he said (which is not my name), you're one diamond that will never lose its sparkle. I felt slightly hampered by his extravagance. I excused myself and went home to bed. Not long after, I was walking along the street. I ran into a mutual acquaintance. Have you heard the news about Jack? he said, everyone's talking about it. He clarified: apparently Jack Jordan's finally done it, he's traded his glitter in for a tie. Wow, I said, I never thought I'd see the day. Last week I saw Jack at a party. He shook my hand and then gave me a bit of a hug. Oh, we don't want nasty rings, he scolded me. I picked up my bottle of beer from the shelf and excused myself.
For at least the last five years Simon has been spending a great deal of time and money and all his manpower on what he calls his Project for the Suppression of Sadness. Sure it takes a lot to plant a forest, he says, but I've got to watch some kind of future—mine's not growing anywhere. How are your weeds? I ask Simon, when I see him. It's not that uncommon, he says. He gives me half a smile. You're the only person I know who wants to kill themself when they wake up in the morning, I say. Simon has always had an unflinchingly slow reaction page 146to life. He pays for his love of detail by not getting anything done. He stops halfway through lifting the glass of every sip in order for an inspection. He stops halfway through everything. Recently Simon has become noticeably more precise. Every time he sits down it is as bad as ironed socks. Simon often speculates on the origins of himself. How do you like it here? he asks me. But before I answer he asks again, How do you like it here in this shit dump? I desperately need to retire, Simon used to say all the time. Simon—the man with no job. Recently Simon told me that he had a plan. I'm going to take a trip back to '66, he said. He said it softly like his voice had got stuck under his tongue. I was worried that maybe this time it was more than the search for the birthplace of introspection and first edition psychedelic posters. Last Sunday I made a point of calling Simon before the morning was through. You're right, I said. Sunday is the worst of the worst. I think I'll call you next week as well, I said. Just to be sure, I said. Thank you, said Simon.
The first time he walked in, we had been standing in the kitchen for some time, he had been in his room. He had been sleeping in his room. I've never been so happy, he said. The two of them, the boys, talked about his new regime. Sleeping for as long as possible. It makes me happier than I've ever been, going to bed in the middle of the afternoon. Not waking up till after twelve. He seems, I thought, a little crazed. I'm only up for water, he said. He tipped most of a glass down his front. He gurgled. Then there was the time I had been standing in the kitchen, he had been in his room. He had been hiding in his room. Don't look at me, he said, moving through the kitchen to the bathroom. Don't look at my face, he said. I can't really remember in exactly what way the reaction to the mango had made his face swell, but I remember how his hands shielded me. I remember how I felt like a bright light. I remember he didn't come out for days. I was standing in amongst the cactus when I had the revelation. It made me feel swollen. I felt like a flying carpet when I remembered the times he had walked in. And the times that I hoped he had walked in.
Graham doesn't speak loudly. He doesn't speak as often as I speak. But when he does say—say—Hello, it means more to me than anybody else's Hello means. When we talk he talks about small things, the weather, dinner, lunch, but they're a lot to him, the flavour of things, the look of things. To him they are beautiful, and so they seem epic to me. He always seems to be there with a good idea, when a good idea is needed. He is always wondering how he might help out, and then he does help out. I know someone, he says, who you might like to meet. He arranges for us to meet at the train stop. I begin to worry. This seems like a shady place. Where is the man with the impenetrable smile? And here we are, says a man. He is shaking my hand. Graham helped me when I most needed it, he says, as if by way of introduction. And as we walked towards lunch, I felt light, I felt like a gondola unloading my snow, I felt the sun.
When we first met, I was just young, I thought I could come and go without a thought. I considered everything just part of The Big Gig. Love and music on the lawn. All around me people just seemed to be enjoying life going by. But when Phil decided he was going to become a stranger it gave me my first clue. When I first met Phil he reminded me of a For Sale sign, his smile a straight-across thick line. Behind it he was sparse and beautiful. Today I am carefully shaped and arranged, but he is as blunt as ever. We paused by the pond, and the sweat started to flow together above his eyes. I remembered his glaziness how it had become too much. How is it you don't get hit by a car? I used to ask him. He used to pretend he couldn't hear. I think about how it used to feel talking to his remote head. I look away from him. I look at the ducks. Before the whole thing, this re-meeting, sinks towards an enormous deflation, there is his untidy proclamation, and afterwards, I'm glad it's now and now we live in different cities.
The two of us were sitting on the couch, that blue couch such a long thing that two of us could lie out on it and our toes only just touch in the middle. George, and this shows its limousine length, is a tall tall man. George floods himself in big bright Hawaiian shirts. He wears them whenever he can. He whacks them on the moment he's not working. It makes sense. What's more like being on holiday than being inside a holiday shirt. We were sitting against the infinite blue cushions, George leaning back while he talked, while he broadcast, while he enjoyed whatever he was conveying from hand to mouth, glass to mouth. He stretched the description into the car. He often takes me home or back to where I need to be and as he drove he explained the sandwiches. They are always made the day before the beach. Sandwiches to be eaten with cocktails, still iced, poured from a thermos. Overnight the sandwich juice would break through into the coarse bread, under the weight of three white plates. We drove along past the shops, that shop that sells those dresses I like. Straight in at the waist straight out from there, all in floral. We turned into my street. I believe it was the first time I had ever seen George truly nervous. He'd make the sandwiches tonight, he said. Tomorrow he'd drive me to the beach.
That evening was all between the V of the Valley. There is that Sunday melancholy, and I get it on Saturday night. If you have no place to go, he said, I'll be your back-up plan. We go to the movies, or, he takes me to the movies. I have all the time in the world, and he is taking me to fill it. I run down to the end of the street, and wait. The movie is due to start in the minute he arrives. He arrives with undone shoelaces. He is eating a persimmon. I only enjoy persimmons cooked, I say. I thought you were going to pick me up, I say. We run up the hill, girls in cars drive past us. We arrive as the trailers end. I never see the title on the screen. Like all shifts between before and now, we step out into the rain. We bypass home. There is no milk at home. We walk down to the shops. At the crossing the rain is coming straight down. If I was by myself, he says, I would have crossed by now.page 149
Julian is not as tall as you might imagine. He is influential when it comes to arranging things. We should all get together, he says, and we all end up in some den dancing to his music selection. You look wonderful tonight, I say, in that shirt. Julian is consistently dodging praise, he never goes after a compliment. He lets them follow him around. I admire his intuition, the way things come together around him. He is fond of proclaiming that other people are lonesome cowboys. He is insistent that we don't worry about him. I have my museum, he says, stroking his cufflinks, of obsessions to tend to. There are few people who have the ability to finish your sentence without you knowing what you were about to say. You are so good, I said, as he opened another bottle of wine without breaking the cork. At articulating things succinctly, he said. He was smiling as he chewed where the wine has stained red.
When I arrived Nikki was busy drinking from a cup of tea and taking off her cardy. She put it back on at occasional interludes as we talked about how she felt. And how she felt she'd missed her chance to be a drummer, and a singer, in a teenage basement punk band. I like the way she has no hard edges. She is funny about herself. She can explain herself and make me think she is explaining me. I wonder how I came to feel this way today, she says, and I decide tomorrow I will drink tea not coffee. She strikes impromptu poses. She pretends to be a classic introvert. She edits her speech. All her best gossip, she says, I'm welcome to pass on. Later when I'm at home and she's gone home, I think through all the things she said. And all the things we said to each other. When I see a picture of a beaded dress, I imagine her wearing a beaded dress with a beaded hood over her face. A cascade of pearls sewn onto a veil. Every time she laughs it echoes out, clinking follows her breath.page 150
She was not in the least bit sentimental, he tells me. He spells it out, the whole set of events. There are no leaps or bounds. They had overlapping interests. These became overlapping sets of engagements. Over time she has become elevated in his eyes, to a woman of renown. He describes her like one might describe the ingredients of the dishes on a menu, in detail. She's said to have had a rigorous intellect, a sly, subversive even, sense of humour. A beautiful bum. This is not the first blow-by-blow account he has given me of his failure. This time I don't challenge his received wisdom. I've realised, he says, you've got to let someone know you if they're going to love you. I'm going to let things in that I thought I had to keep out, he says. He really swims in that world of murky rules to live your life by. And who am I to pull him out?
He had a clean style, monochrome, which proclaimed middling achievement. His reactions were predictable given the nature of the exchange. It was a lagging, swivelling discussion; we were both checking if anyone familiar would come our way. It was a humid Wednesday evening; we were guests at the fourth-floor party. A party with halogen and sunset lighting. It was a Sunday morning; I had been there for some time. He came in, by himself. He came over and said hello. Some people, I thought, are always alone. I finished my meal; with particular earnestness he lifted his hand in goodbye. Weeks later, I was driving past, he was standing in a doorway greeting family, or greeting friends. Perhaps his smile was a bit long in the tooth, but with each hug he impressed himself on them with appealing care.