Pigeons fly in parallel formation down Old Compton Street, like Messerschmitts on a bombing raid. Just miss me as I stop at Patisserie Valerie's window display to admire cakes topped with fine white chocolate flakes and waves and swirls of cream and glazed fruit. Scan global headlines along the paper racks outside Capital News then wade in through piles of thick and glossy fashion magazines to buy cigarettes and Vanity Fair. Step back out onto the pavement and into a very tall girl with long brown hair and quite mean eyes and suede boots that stop at her lovely knees. Apologise and cross the road to admire mannequins decked in lace and silk lingerie and leather and PVC kinky kit. The macabre reek of Mr. Wu's "Chinese" buffet drifts along a breeze as I dive over to the Algerian Coffee House for freshly ground Jamaica Blend and new paper filters. Back over to Camisa's for mascarpone and goose salami and a bottle of olive oil and then on to Bar Bruno's for a ham roll and Coke. In the queue a girl clicks her tongue and purses sparkling bubblegum pink lips and shuffles her denim mini-skirt and rattles plastic hoop earrings. Then via Little Amsterdam and Madame Jo Jo's, Raymond Revue and Tabu Videos, hit Berwick Street market. Fish heads and rotting vegetables line the curb. On wooden carts cardboard boxes overflow with oranges, apples, artichokes, and cabbages. Asparagus stalks tied up in elastic sit alongside bags of grapes and nuts and chocolate. Then: a table lined with pirate DVDs and CDs and bursts of flower beneath canvas. By the fish stall a child plays with a feral pigeon as it hobbles around on maimed stumps. Walk to the silent end of Soho with its empty brick alleys and elegant iron lamps and new boutiques and restaurants (nouveau Indian cuisine served on the site of Blake's birthplace). Then back to work past Mezzo's where I once attended a £350 dinner party with some pretty girls and a charming, and very funny, but quite camp, investment banker. Past chubby chaps in shiny grey suits devouring mobile phones. A silver Mercedes blocks Wardour Street. Past Diadem Court always in the shade, and sun slats over Soho square.
Thus out of season, threading dark-eyed night.
"Marli," says Lucy, "why are you talking like that?"
Marli had been exposed to Marinetti and that was my fault.
"We know your world's ending, Marl, because it always is. But don't drag us down too!" says Jackie, a layer of vintage chiffon smoothing out her stomach and tits. (Or did I imagine that?)
She's straight, like the edge of a blade, as ever. She has superstitions in all arrays from magpies to mirrors to moons. Her kind of chiffon plunge is like the skin of an exquisite snake that is close to extinction. She parades the streets of Soho as if dangerous and almost dead. We analyse her make-up and admire her earrings and bracelets and necklaces and silver and topaz and sniff her perfume as it dissipates on a stiff breeze. A round of applause for Jackie from all quarters. I feel propositions gumming up my mouth and cheeks like gob-stoppers.
"Bhlkjuomnjjnd," I say, meaning, "hello."
"Hello," she purrs, offering me her hard little hand. She uses eyelashes to obscure the fact that her eyes contain no mystery. This does not lessen their effect, or even their mystery. I could eat her up like a light pie filling.
"Gahhh!!!" goes Marli, with signature flourish, launching at Jackie's eyes, nails-first.
"Dog!" "Slag!" "Mule!" "Kite!" "Flax-wench!" "uh...Cow!" "Arrghh!...Acorn!"
"Spleen!" slurs a rum-numb Ashley. Speakers behind the bar pump pneumatic pop and floppy-fringed boys flip bottles. Meanwhile, Lucy and I drool over drinks and plan our next move. "Let's go somewhere else," suggests Lucy, "it's rubbish here."
"Yes, it is," I say, "let's."
"But where?" says Lucy.
"Let's decide when we get there," I suggest. From here, we act with firm resolve. I grab Jackie by the legs as she tries to kick me in the face and Lucy pacifies Marli by applying thumbs to significant pressure points on her scalp. We will only win by the dexterity of our moves and the quality of our vers libre.
We all go somewhere else. Except for Ashley, who is left sulking by the bar, the mutton-lipped milk-sucker. He will either catch up with us, or stay and drink vodka and lime until closing time. He started Marli off and that started Lucy off and that prompted Jackie to start Marli off, but worse. So the night began exactly like that though the details go askew.
We're bonded by our hopeless condition: an incapacity for real contact. Thus, paradoxically, providing a precedent for contact. Lucky to find each other and like each other (just about) in that respect. Or not. A valued haunt which, in fact, edges towards Fitzrovia. On Hanway Sreet, behind Virgin Megastore, nestled in a corner connecting Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, the Spanish Quarter is the tiniest national cluster in the city. It amounts to one beautfiul old bar (Bradley's), two subterranean bars, and a restaurant. Signs are back-lit red and yellow, and smeared with grease and dirt. The street is littered with bin bags and cigarette ends and newspaper pages. Pools of water and dust and oil clog up gutters. Above rooves, a strip of sky that turns, at night, into a channel of grubby stars. We frequent Sevilla Mia (called, with obvious imagination on our part, The Spanish Bar). You go in through a dodgy doorway, walk through a hall, down dirty steps, and enter an inferno, or a bunker. It all depends on the mood of the night. Certainly, and always, a secret cave: bristling and dank. Somewhere to drink and argue. The appeal is: you feel like nobody could ever locate you there. You're right. They wouldn't want to. It's a last resort to which we often resort. We claim a rickety table and light cigarettes and break into battle. Ashley owes Lucy money.
"You owe me money."
"I don't have any."
"When will you have some?"
"I don't know. But I think, in the meantime, you should buy me a drink."
"Why should I buy you a drink?"
"Because you like me when I'm drunk."
"I like you when you're sober. And I want my money back."
"You don't mean that."
"Yes I do."
"I know you don't."
"Because you always say you don't and then you do."
"No I don't."
Very little happens and there is always so much blah to get through. Minute details and mood shifts to dissect. Also: secrect loathings to list or keep secret. If we don't begin soon the hours will slip away. If that happens and we don't notice then the mood will turn morose. Ashely will worry. Ashley is worried. He's decided to learn Arabic so that he can negotiate with Salafi terrorists. So I tell everybody about an incident that happened in Iraq a few weeks ago. An Italian was captured by Mahdi militants who tried to videotape his execution. It backfired because he refused to cooperate with them. He wouldn't kneel down when they said, "kneel down!" He tried to rip off his blindfold while shouting, "I'll show you how an Italian dies!!!" (in Italian). But Lucy's like "Yeah, great, but he still died, didn't he? He still died horribly, didn't he, and on his own" and "Shut up, you shit." And Ashley looks worried, and excited, and Jackie looks lovely. "What makes horse-faced Sarah Jessica Parker fucking famous and not me?" Jackie's been doing nothing all week. She enjoys that luxury. She has money, somewhere. We'd all like to know from where. (Is she somebody's mistress? Are her parents dead?) Which is precisely why she won't tell us. I don't care. In fact, I admire that. In fact, I'm the same. (Minus the money.) I'm just happy that Jackie can afford to buy all those wonderful skirts and dresses and bracelets and earrings and keep her hair in such good condition. "Lux ad?" adds Lucy. "Exactly!" says Jackie. "She looks like a peeled banana with weird lumps in weird places. I don't get it."
I don't want to have to admit anything tonight if that's alright with you. It continues with spirit and other spirits that hit the back of the throat like battery acid. We can't pile on compliments thick or fast because that would just kill us, of course. Pretty soon we're back to what we do best: doing our best to rip at each other's defenses. Soon eyes will be awash and woozy. Another success. Yes. Another success. And it's another one of Jackie's moon things and it's another thing where her teeth are shining in low light. Then she reclines like a lizard and lobs in an Arp curve or two; nice and rotund and lumpy. It's another soft focus thing. Easy to forgive. We're jousting with sticks of dynamite at one point. Interruptions attempt to decode our crackle NOT A CHANCE because even we can't. Ashley has fine brown hair caught in tortoiseshell glasses. Slightly rouge cheeks and anxious eyes and charm and stray nerves and exact intellect. Clutches tan leather file containing poems and essay notes. When I first met Lucy she had henna red hair down to her shoulders held off her face with a skyblue silk scarf and, furthermore, she was wearing a yellow PVC angler's mac. To say I was startled by her would be to say nothing so much as
I was really startled by her.
She hits us with Tzara and I hit back with Tamara.
The time for big coats is over. The sun is sapped by slight cloud, but the air's still warm and getting humid. "Let's go and eat Lebanese!" says Marli, who has no money. Midweek, in the eye of April, with big storms due. We're free to waste a free day, which we do. (As to our friendship you might say: a good way to waste time; also, a certain absurdity, tension, one dance or two.) Hyde park calm and green and trees are getting greener. Round beds of crimson, pink, vanilla tulips. Past stone arches, police on horseback, little tributaries with tufted ducks, willows, ferns and coots. Trees lined against black and violet sky-patches plus odd sun shafts; a superb display! Also the thunder's been thumping along the horizon like a headache for almost an hour. Walking up to the Albert Memorial, which looks like a plastic model, or an inside joke, three seperate storms converge on us. Thick rain drops strike leaves from trees and dash back off grass, tile, concrete, slate. Then: lightning like hot webs. Lavender sky cut by electric shocks of livid pink: a soft strobe attack. Thump and thud of atmospheric artillery. The whole sky very violent and busy and beautiful. We sprint across Kensington Road to get to a bus shelter as the sky darkens (more like a fresh bruise emerging than the lavender wash previously mentioned) CRAACK it's right above us! The rain hits paving slabs smack smack the tarmac road a river a slick mirror reflecting pink electric bolts and volts. A set of storm clouds recedes West and others arc in over Hyde Park as paramedic sirens swirl past fast BANG "Another hot strike!" Judas blossom covers cars and washes into gutter streams. "Come back you knave!" Too late! Car tyres hiss through flooded roads the sound swollen in thick air and we're soaking wet in seconds and it's my fault but c'mon she's complicit she's up for it grinning like a fool now grinning like fools we roll up our trouser legs and we're running after forked lightning and thunder claps right down Kensington Road until we get to the edge of the High Street by which time we've out run each other and we're still swearing at each other even though we're out of breath and killing ourselves laughing and alive
We go to an Italian cafe to kill a lunch hour. We drink coffee and watch pop videos sitting on fixed bar stools near the back. Onions and garlic and ham and sausages hang from hooks screwed to the ceiling. Framed black and white photos of Rocky Marciano and Italian-American actors and other hustlers adorn walls behind the counter and the bar. The shelves are lined with tins of peaches and biscuits and bottles of liquor and olive oil and fruit juice and various brands of coffee. Along the opposite wall, where we sit, a mirror runs from one end of the cafe to the other. Shadows from whirling ceiling fans flicker over the floor and the red and yellow and white lights of fruit machines flash and pulsate and irritate our retina. The Vines are on the large screen and Marli grimaces at me and I grimace back. I drink latte in a long glass and she drinks mocha in a tiny china cup. Strip lights are on because, outside, a heavy downpour lashes along Frith Street. After watching the new Prince video (we both enjoy the dance routines and clothes) we leave. Too early as the sky still spits rain and we're forced to shelter inside the Prince Edward Theatre stage door. This brittle burst of weather washes over Soho Square; the red bricks of St Patrick's sparkle brielfy. It's warm and humid and wet and she's in a light cotton vest that's just been worn one day too long because the lining is a bit dirty. Her dark hair is damp and there's rain on her skin and a loose eyelash on her cheek and traces of old mascara make her eyes all smoky. She looks magnificent.
Notice how the blue sky coaxes us out of the house and then calls out clouds. You think that'd defeat us? Clouds like scoops of whipped cream? We love whipped cream! Besides, we're ok just digesting scraps of conversation from last night's junket. A Saturday timetable is in operation as we rattle past Kew Gardens. Of course we would queue but there's an £8 entrance fee to get in and we have another plan. (I think.) ("Do we?") We arrive and abseil off Richmond Bridge and hit the riverbank like commandos. Here people are rowing on the water and there's a lot of flesh and booze along the bank, a less refined scene than we imagined. The river surface is ripped with little wakes and Corporation Island is bursting with willow. But, best of all, huge jets glide down to Heathrow so low that you can almost tickle their underbelly. Marli admires houses and remarks upon Victorian brickwork, "crumbling like lemon cake," lattice ironwork on gates and lamps, white sash windows and velvet curtains, creeping ivy and roses in terracotta pots. I smell grass and water. Gnats bother Marli's (delicious) flesh and clouds curl around sunny spells that dapple the path as they sneak through gaps between branches and leaves. "But why aren't they bothering you, you bastard?" "You're nicer." Alongside Old Deer Park ("I can't see any deer." "Nor can I.") forming rough plans to break into Kew Gardens from the blind side. But, wait! We don't even get past Isleworth because we're thirsty and spot a pub on the other side of the river and need to find a bridge. "Now," I note, "Usher." "Yes." "He speaks to me. I feel his pain." "Of course you do." We get there and settle on a patch of grass by a quay with a couple of boats. It's more civilised here than Richmond Bridge, we notice, which was unexpectedly barbaric. We relax with Kronenburg and ham sandwiches and Walkers crisps and Marlboros and Gauloises. We watch ring-necked parakeets swoop and dart through trees on the other side of the river. We admire their extraordinary long tails and dexterity. "They're like bloody bats...," Marli notes, alarmed, as they skim our scalps soon after 4pm. By the time it gets cold we've done nothing but drink and discuss parakeets, friends, and fear of failure, from which we both suffer.
Jackie, Ashley & I decide to punctuate a Sunday with Solemn Vespers and Benediction at Brompton Oratory. It's The Most Holy Trinity and, although we are instinctive atheists, I promise them one of the best free shows in London, so they agree to go. The programme, as follows:
Iam sol recedit Gregorian chant.
Magnificat Tone 4 Lassus.
O lux beata Trinitas Byrd.
Kyrie Gott heiliger Geist (671) Bach.
"This magnificent freak among English churches" (Victorian Architecture, Dixon and Muthesius) is misty and sweet with incense still lingering from morning Mass. Choir members wander up to raised stalls between the Calvary Alter and the Lady Chapel, dressed in dark scarlet and black gowns. Rows of candles flicker in tiers along the alter and weak sunlight pulses through tiny windows in the dome. Shafts highlight dust and smoke, and this effect intensifies when incense is released again. Rosary beads clink and tickle ears, and shoe soles and shifting limbs send soft echoes cascading up and back down through volumes of empty space and along columns and excessive Baroque paintwork and marble. A sense of dim fatigue overwhelms us and we slip into dumb silence. With one tiny bell toll the music begins (see programme above). A dialogue between clergy and choir, with odd rhythms as the congregation stands and then sits again and then stands again and so on. We don't understand what's going on: it's cryptic theatre, elaborate arcana. Jackie loves it! (I thought she would.) Ashley looks uncomfortable. (I thought he would.) There are women with hairnets draped over their heads, wearing cardigans and fondling beads to contrast others in expensive wide brimmed hats and silk blouses engrossed in private piety. Meanwhile (something odd) this steeps you in Europe's tragedy, the destructive urge that impels power: for some reason I keep thinking of Mussolini, rather than Jesus or Mary or Saint Philip or John Paul II. Which continues over Earl Grey tea and scones with clotted cream and jam at Richoux, a tea room stuffed with faux-Victoriana, as I try to explain the Mitford sisters to an incredulous Jackie and a silent Ashley.
"Who was the Nazi?"
"Why was she called Unity?"
"Because that was her name."
"And she married Oscar Mosley?"
"No, that was Diana. And he was called Oswald."
"Oswald was. Oswald Mosely."
"Was Diana a Nazi?"
"Well, yes. A Fascist. But Unity was the famous Nazi. She couldn't shut up about it. She moved to Germany and tried to bed Hitler. She'd come back to England and sieg heil her dad!"
"Who was the Communist?"
"What did she do?"
"She seduced Churchill's nephew. They ran off to the Spanish Civil War, then went to Miami to open a bar."
"You like her?"
"Yes, I do."
"There's nothing," I say, on a roll, as we wait for the No. 19 bus back to the bars we feel comfortable in, "as courageous as birdsong in Brompton Square," to total mirth from two "friends" and other complete strangers.
Edda dell' Orso sings:
like champagne, cocaine, cunnilingus.
There's a place we go to drink and dance. It's called the Italian bar and it's in a Greek Street basement. A man in the corner spins scratchy lover's rock and northern soul 7" singles on a portable record player, except on Saturdays when two mysterious black men swap Dolphy-sworls on saxophones. Transvestites and Crisp-queers cling to the bar. Holiday waitresses chat up seasoned creeps by the toilet door. During daytime, bulky Italo-Soho spivs sit around and drink espresso and play poker. But, at night, the walls glisten with condensation and slick magic. I can pick out Dante, Petrarch, Tintoretto, Mazzini, D'Annunzio, Previati. Not really: just Brando, Sinatra, Dean Martin, John Paul II, Chelsea FC, cheap wood, and winking fruit machines. The light has Cato in it: exorcised with finesse to suit our sense of propriety, somewhat crepuscular. A mirror-ball spins in the centre of the room. It's the de facto haunt.
My life opened up before me, like a trapdoor.
We had dinner at Randall and Aubin's fish bar on Brewer Street to celebrate Christmas and the end of the year. We'd all got through the year and that, in itself, was worth celebrating. We even brought gifts. It turned out that we'd all gone to Jerry's so had bottles of bourbon, gin, cognac and vodka to share out. Jerry's, I suppose, was a sort of unseen pact, which went back to August - sometime, anyway, during the lacklustre summer. On one of those cloudy, lukewarm days, looking at the window display outside the shop, we'd been transfixed by Jerry's range of absinthes, which stopped at 'Extremely Dangerous' (the Green Fairy: Absinthe Hapsburg 89.9% vol - Extra Special Super Strengh Premium Reserve, £40). That day we brought a cheaper, less toxic brand, and learnt how to drink it.
The restaurant was drizzled with multicolour paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. It was humming and brimming and felt like being in Manhattan. We ordered lots of food: salads and sea bass and scallops and swordfish and so on. The chat was a chopsy, chippy rancour, which suited the weather.
"The main problems I had this year," said Jackie, "were my sense of lethargy and indescribable scorn. Without those I wouldn't have ended up hanging out with losers like you."
"I think that applies to all of us, Jackie," said Lucy.
"Sometimes it was fun," said Jackie. "I mean, I do quite like wasting time with you."
"I think that's the nicest thing I've ever heard you say," I said.
"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," said Marli.
"I've said nicer things to you than that!" I said.
I don't know what the deal is, exactly. Hence you lose a year playing the fool, or trying to recover from disaster, or something similar and unfamiliar. But I think I speak for all of us when I say that the deal, at the end of every year, is that the next will be better. Some years promise greater things. Better, greater: it depends on what time of the evening you say it, plus the quality of drink and conversation. We get to greater later.
I said, "I've got so many resolutions ready for the New Year that I've had to prepare a list."
"My New Year's resolution," said Marli, "is to change everything."
"Yes," I said, "but I have a list."
"Alright then, tell us about your list."
"It's divided into four categories: Health and Vigour, Work, Long Term Things, and Miscellaneous. There's really specific stuff, like eating more fish and swimming more often and going to Slovenia and Estonia, and more general stuff, like changing employment and changing district. It's a pretty good list. I feel better just looking at it. I don't know why I've never done this before!"
"So how many resolutions have you got so far?"
"So far, 26. No, wait. 27."
"Isn't that an indictment of your whole life...?"
"No, but the other day I woke up without the will to live. It's only when I made this list that I managed to get out of bed. And it was already dark by then."
Ashley said, "Well I think, if we do anything next year, we should join the Colony Club."
The fish was superb and we spent far too much money on booze: decent booze and too much of it. Outside, collapsing crowds and couples lolled between office parties and bars and pubs, along Brewer Street and into Covent Garden, high heels and loafers sliding and scraping over bitter cold tarmac and paving stone, past porn emporiums and adult cinemas. Lamps and flames lit our teeth: the light low enough to contain and comfort us. What we look for, usually: candlelight, neon, shadows, dark corners.
It was the year of the lucky charm, the lucky charm that didn't work. It was swallowed up around April and I apologise for everything after, and I don't, also. It ended brittle and bitter. It ended with a sudden clunk, like a guillotine. Damp's chilled in the marrow. But there was this and it was good. A year and a half ago answers went kaput and cruel freedom kicked in: the wrong kind at the same moment, for all of us. It made for a bitter, frank, funny exchange; it meant we liked, or understood, each other. We had something in common, you know, like nudists do. We left in search of Black Russians. But that didn't really work out. So we went to the Colony Club, but didn't go in. Somewhere, on the edge of Old Compton Street, a whole room was singing hosanna in excelsis. We ended up in the Italian Bar drinking cheap wine and smoking unnecessary cigarettes.
March 15, 2005.
We scattered. It was easy to predict, and we'd predicted it, over our Christmas dinner, scoffing exotic fish and various wines out of the appellation d'origine controlee, which laid us low for a few weeks. You don't expect predictions to come true, however.
Marli went off like a Black Kat rocket. She took a free flight to New York; she had studio time there with this little putz who'd been coming onto her since mid-summer. "Don't bet on that putz," I warned her, late autumn, when she'd been um-ing and ah-ing over her future, and Highgate leaves were shit-brown mulch in Highgate gutters, "he's a dirty fellow."
"If you don't like my songs," she said, with an unnecessary, bitter edge, "you could just say."
He delivered, it seems, and, in early January, I received a breathless, tactless email detailing her good fortune. Another email, about one month later, confirmed my worst suspicions. The little putz was, in fact, "a genius" and, with his producers and his studio time and all his brilliant advice, "everything's AMAZING!!!" And: "he's actually quite nice." "Holy God," I spat in digust. Meanwhile, we lost Ashley to St John's Wort and Gottfried Benn inside the Senate House Library. Lucy says it's for the best, because nobody needs that over dinner.
Meanwhile, Jackie has been active in and around the Notting Hill Gate precinct, schmoozing at exclusive parties, exploiting donated frocks to full effect: a glittering little orphan liberated from habits of hibernation, quaffing large quantities of free wine, red and white, very fast. She's able to mix and guzzle drinks but somehow never look or sound drunk, an ability hard to reconcile with her wan aura, stick-thin frame, and unblemished enamel skin. The hangovers, however, last for months; perhaps her life is a hangover from something else, like spools excised from Fellini films. She gets work (Mango contracts, H&E promotions, various catalogue jobs) when she's out, stealing all she can from yippies and renegade aristocrats, salamander-eyed agents and salivating media execs, sons of novelists and daughters of rock stars. She enjoys it, to the extent that she remains dumb, distant, and uninterested, on a subtle, cynical prowl for scraps to eat and earn. She hunts like an animal so must remain alert and wiley while working out a way to survive.
Then, with her nest padded by cheques and charity, she disappears into her South Ken-West End axis once more. She dines in Polish or Russian restaurants, drinks in Soho bars and basements, and collects scraps of gossip regarding closures, deaths and defections from the old village. "M_____'s closed down. He went back to Italy and that vegan Thai buffet thing moved in - apparently he had HUGE gambling debts." "They're knocking down the block on Cambridge Circus because they want to drive out the Chinese prostitutes." Who does? "The Met police. They wouldn't let anyone renovate it." Hushed tone, full of indignation and delight: "they had it all planned. It's true! They'll drive out the Italians next - say they're all Sicilian mafioso or something. But they're scared of the Triads. It's true!"
I met Lucy for lunch last week. She's working hard on Early Modern Studies at King's College between shifts at Senate House library, and has refined a studious, measured perspective on things.
"Ashley's acting like a little runt, and he's going fucking mad, too."
"Yes, I heard."
"I see him in Senate House all the time, asleep or picking his nose. He's writing about Bismark, you know."
"Not Gottfried Benn?"
"Gottfried Benn and Bismark and Prussia. He's obviously turning into a Nazi."
"He's got snide, and if he's not snide, he's silent. He can't answer a civil question without saying something snide, or not answering."
"Have you heard from Marli?"
"Yes, I got an email."
Lucy, with her milky complexion and slight smile and red hair tied back in a stubby pony tail, can be very brittle and dry and, even, destructive. Her language is robust, which sits oddly with her petite, neat prettiness; in fact she believes in the robust nature of the English language, thinks it important to maintain. She loves Golding, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, and says that Elizabethan English was language at its most supple and experimental and eloquent. Like executing sharp little stabs with a blade she'll slip in a "cunt" or "fuck" as if she's just done something innovative and honourable. She says that Rochester was the true heir of Chaucer and Shakespeare because of the sex and swear words, but I don't think she really means it. Lucy is funny and sane; and, if this needs emphasis, pretty and neat and robust.
Like Ashley, she's useless: a lot of talent and intelligence poured into old books and nooks in dingey, dusty libraries, with no end or purpose or prospects in sight. Maybe, if they're lucky, they'll teach what they've learnt and impose their obssessions on bored young rakes and pale tartlets. This is the best they can hope for: an endevour of diminishing returns, and a pleasant way to waste time. It eats into life with cruel, invisible appetite; meanwhile, they think they're doing something important.
Marli just wants her songs and face to be recognised. This elevates her above the rest of us, including Jackie, whose indifference is otherwise noble. The suspicion being that Jackie, really, doesn't want anything. I mean, you try extracting something positive or actively engaged from her waylaid existence. She doesn't even desire immortality. It's as if she's insane. Ashley thinks she's insane; but Lucy thinks Ashley's insane, and Marli thinks that Lucy and Ashley and Jackie are insane. I think they're all right. Also, I think I'm sane. But I could be wrong. I'm 27 today.
"Stop lying," said Jackie. "Yes," I said, "alright then. But If I do, I go back to elemental dreams and preconditions, which're all impossible." This said loftily, with certain decorum, a slight edge of wildness, to throw her off scent. It failed. "Wait," Jackie said, "I can't believe you can be such a blithe bastard." So I said, "I can't. Give me a moment, please. I mean, hang on a second. Well, what with all those new waitresses in Little Italy! The seasonal influx!" (Yes, I was drunk, and had a thing for one in particular; a delicious, dark, pretty brunette. I'd wait for her to finish work while reading my books and papers, early evening; she'd collapse onto my bed, limbs tense and sweaty, her whole body conveying one simple message: strip me of this uniform - creased white shirt and crinkled bra, black skirt and nylon tights - and then let's...) "You're not using your skills," she said, "but you haven't lost them and won't lose them, either. You're not mean.You don't give off the required...aura. You're letting the side down." "Jackie," I said, "Jackie..." I got a £2 discount on a bottle of Cabernet Shiraz at the grocers, got very wet in flash showers, under thunder, could not keep lunch down due to a knotted stomach. The newspaper left ink all over my fingers. Mere kids, with chewed chips rotting in braces, slouched, sultry, sulky, on Roman Road. Scraggly pools of neon lit filthy paving stones, pus-coloured gum-blotched tarmac. It's a reeking pit of sin! It's a reeking pit of iniquity and sin! I could almost have said, "sun"; I could have said, inside the night, to you, you, you, "I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk." I had time in sunny climes. So, to continue, with due, dulled radiance, under certain shadows, with or without caution, which changes with the shadows. There's a lovely way of saying this, also; there's certain courage, too, in accepting harsh justice. This is not quite true - it depends on how you accept it. Fortitude is not resignation. Jackie said, "of course, things must change. It seems to me that..." "Stop," I said. And, through a blue door, 57 Greek Street, into a basement. Quaffed a fine table tipple and smoked Stuyvesant and Camels before getting to the grissly details. We should have drunk more water that night because I felt fucking awful the next day. Dull nerves can be hard to take. The wine, in moderation, gives you wicked, wiley dreams. Which you wish would rewind, however crazy or ideal they are at the very moment they stop dead, or you wake up. And sometimes it's simply nostalgia - "nostalgia's not what it used to be" - a trap that can reel out delight and anguish, a rare opening. They remain the same, then and there. A web of roads that contain delight, anguish. Opulent doorways stretch back into blackness, promise depravity, calamity, lost pride, plenty of it. Open doors expose bare staircases and stripped walls with handwritten signs hung on blutac, such as Busty Blonde. and 2nd Floor; Nadia. This Way. Pink curtains and filthy, thinning lace nets that drape limp behind upper floor window panes; neon MODEL signs perched on sills. Brimming Little Italy pavements and rundown national restaurants exude grease, vivid brightness, bad skin, a clammy TV glare. For a moment I thought, well it's alright here. That's the prize.
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