MY TROUBLED MIND

confessions are self-serving

Tag: creative nonfiction

Future

An extended stint of unemployment can be good, for some. Men who live in grand houses – grown fat and soft from paper and coin. These kind of men have paid their dues, whatever that means. They’ve toiled in the mud like dogs and can state with conviction, “I’ve done my bit”.

If all you have on your rap sheet is a fictional claim to a number of years spent as retail assistant to a (now) convicted rapist, unemployment is not a wise choice. Alas, these are unavoidable circumstances – show me an employer who is willing to hire a man with little to no prior experience for less than a month, and I’ll show you a fool. Employers are often mean, but they’re rarely stupid. I’m just a rat that missed the boat – the ship is still sailing, and the other rats are getting old and grey, comfortable on a diet of crumbs while I starve on the docks.

Graduate employment is at an all time high since 2008, according to The Times, but competition remains ‘intense’. Many have taken to the graduate job market, but a BA English doesn’t carry much weight with the Big Dogs. It would be wise for me to retreat to the forest and lick my wounds after being spanked out of £22k. Yes…it’s the promise of greener pastures for me, and a one-way ticket to the other side of the world. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to get a job in a weekly as copy-boy… a job in which I would have already had five years experience had I the foresight to start at sixteen. Alternatively I might just sack it in completely and watch myself become brown and tough like a leather belt, picking fruit and seasonally tramping from one farm to the next…

I could forget English altogether, and speak solely Italian. I might even grow a moustache and get a tattoo of a fat woman in a ballgown on my right thigh. When I inevitably get deported from New Zealand I’ll smuggle my way into Monaco in the dank confines of a cargo hold. I’ll marry a mute, and she will seduce me into a uniform silence. We’ll have one son, and name him Mao or something similarly ridiculous, and he’ll grow up to be a transgender Olympic swimmer with purple-dyed chest hair. I’ll die penniless but content at 44, and Mao will write a bestselling memoir about our time together. Due to the critical acclaim of the book, journalists will become more interested in Mao’s private life and it will be found he abuses steroids. His medals will be coldly stripped and, having invested his life to swimming, he has no alternative but to turn to crime. After several minor charges he’ll finally serve for manslaughter, only to be stabbed to death by a fellow inmate in the communal showers a mere two months into his sentence.

Flash Bathroom

These are dangerous and turbulent times. At any point a man could wake up surrounded by empty bottles of Henry Weston’s Vintage Reserve (8.2%), his laptop screen as splintered and smashed as a cyclist’s leg after too close an encounter with an aggressive commuter…

Life is full of gambles, too many for even the most invested bookie to take note of. One such gamble is sending your son to excavate the bowels of an abandoned house armed only with a laptop, eight Heinekens and a handful of cleaning supplies.

You may become concerned when he doesn’t return home the next day, as arranged. You may furrow your brow as he fails to pick up his mobile. You may gasp in dismay as you return home from work to find him sitting in your living room; his hair thick with filth, stubble grown out, the wild bloodshot eyes of a distressed animal unable to meet your gaze…

You don’t ask about the trip. The bag is gone, he says, but doesn’t offer an explanation. He claims to be atheist, yet has developed the particular swagger of a man with a manifest destiny. You are old enough to know that there is nothing more dangerous than a man who truly believes God has got his back…

Falmouth

We stood at a junction wielding golf clubs, our dress mixed and perverse. My self tie-dyed t-shirt was loose fitting and covered in human grease. Sam and Elliot looked like they had just finished a hard 9-5 on minimum wage at SanTander. Smartly dressed – but with something odd about the whole scene that you can’t quite put your finger on until you’re real close…like a monkey in a 3-piece. The driving range was closed, inevitably. We faced the closed doors with the stubbornness akin to Jahova’s witnesses, but eventually were politely asked to leave.

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself a failure, but then fail all the more completely because he drinks.”

Oh Orwell, your words echo airily around my empty skull even today… what a curse hindsight can be. Irrespective of George’s fine advice, we hit the off-license in search of liquor. Two cold tinnies please guv’nor, and serve it with a smile. Nothing wrong with three country gents, still with the fresh smell of the green on their shoes, swaggering into their local marché and kindly requesting a few cold beers for the walk home is there? Especially not at the late hour of three, by god. The cashier was lucky we didn’t stechmarsch through the automatic doors roaring “мире, о земле, пиво!, мире, о земле, пиво!, мире, о земле, пиво!”* with all the air in our combined lungs. Thankfully, we received our delicious cold ones with minimum conflict, and the cashier was in fact gently accommodating, which is a lot more than can be said for the golf club. I also purchased a pack of One Direction stickers for my younger sister, which she later threw straight onto the floor with disinterest before my back was even turned.

The plan for the evening was this: a few friendly drinks at home before moving to Toast (a small bar on the high-street) to meet James Massey, a visiting felon. James stands tall and lean, much like root of liquorice, at 6ft1. His neatly trimmed beard is only slightly thrown off by multiple small wounds on his neck, incurred at the hand of Colchester’s finest Cutthroat Turkish Barber. James takes pride in his appearance, but bizarrely trusts all his cosmetic needs to the Turks, who are infamous for the most insane of haircuts. Using several techniques foreign to Western barbering, a Turkish barber may at any point use controlled flames, razors and stencils with little to no direction from the customer.

At 8pm we were sitting at my living room table playing cards, drinking beer and taking swigs out of a bottle of Jack Daniels. Not four hours previously Sam had received the whiskey as a gift, which was flying out of the bottle at a rate of knots. Predictably we became more raucous, and I noticed my mother out of my peripherals, trying to lean towards the television in the hope of drowning out our vile noise. Eventually, like a flock of wild sea birds, we left the house. We flapped our arms and leapt in the air, pointed our beaks at the swirling night sky and screeched as loudly as possible. My mother rocked in her chair, hugged her knees and braced herself for yet another sleepless night. The door slammed behind us with such a sonic boom that the sound of glass violently shuddering against wood followed us halfway down the street.

We were still passing around the end of the whiskey when we encountered the harsh lights of the high-street. I rang James but got no answer. To our dismay, there was a queue outside of Toast that stretched past several neighbouring venues. We made a partition in the crowd, which composed mainly of students, and entered Bayside Grill. Presently we began stuffing our greasy faces with hot cheesy pizza covered in onions, chilli and red meat, which is an excellent appetiser to any social evening if you ask me. We gorged on slice after slice in the embarrassingly well lit Kebab House. The decor gave you the impression that you were being studied for private amusement.

Back on the street, the queue was growing in both length and girth. It had begun to rain, and it lashed down on the idiots relentlessly. I noted that the bouncers were operating a strict 1-in-1-out policy, and no one was leaving. Cursing, we left for 5-below, seeking rum. Naturally 5-below was empty except for a group of hippies that had presumably ventured out of a nearby commune, hunting pot. We took to the bar and ordered three house rums. The barmaid, who I later fell in love with, sprayed us with sticky coke and apologised by giving us the round for nothing. With almost sexual ecstasy we grabbed, snatched and pawed blindly at the drinks. We eyed each other like a colony of vultures round a fresh carcass. We took brief, nervous sips, showcasing the same taut alertness that comes to an animal that knows it is eating out of a trap. Sam wanted to go out for a smoke, and away from prying eyes we had the excellent idea of adding what was left of the whiskey into our drinks, rendering them almost undrinkable. The barmaid came out, probably to check we weren’t trashing the place, and inquired about the empty bottle that had suddenly appeared on the wall next to us. I was about ready to sink to my knees, clutch desperately to her skirts and moan “No no please it wasn’t me, honest officer I never knew what kind of crowd I was getting mixed up in, I’m a good boy I never skipped school…” but the guilt gripped me like a vice, and Elliot simply stated “No, it’s not ours” and she took it away with no fuss.

After the instance with the bottle my memory gets very hazy. I have horrible jagged flashbacks of Sam and I getting boxed into a corner of the dance floor like trapped rats. I remember staring at a tall fellow with a large bushy beard, who I repeatedly complimented under my breath in a monotonous chant. I also recall speaking to a short red headed girl in a ridiculous hat, who I offended by geographically misjudging her accent by several thousand miles. At midnight or so I received a text from James, who had gone back to his friend’s house. The dream was over. Our only raison d’être had vacated the immediate area. I roared, and stuck my arms out. I began spinning, slowly at first, but with a steady and methodical increase in pace. My knuckles began brushing against my neighbours. Elliot and Sam had already taken a step back, as they are knowledgeable of my rages. I began an inhuman bellow, which started in baritone and rapidly accelerated through tenor, then countertenor, before blasting right off any scale easily identifiable by even the most skilled vocal pedagogist. I tore the shirt from my back and revealed a bloated grey gut, packed to capacity with various liquors, syrups, meats and cheeses. As I began to gain momentum I knocked an unsuspecting girl to the ground, who promptly shattered like a glass statue. Instantly I was seized by the bouncers, who had evidently seen enough, and tossed halfheartedly into the cold night. Our evening ended like any other… I lay, sobbing and dry gagging in the gutter, the freezing rain pounding the back of my head like the drums of some ancient and forgotten war.

*Trans. “Peace, land, beer!”

The Real Story – A Computer Science Mystery: Pt 1

It was never set to be an eventful day. My house-mate and friend, Jack, was already out of the house preparing for a final project show in the computer science department. I believe the entire year were required to attend; an all day marathon of sitting, presenting and talking to potential investors, business associates and the like. Knowing several people who would be there, I planned to attend – show my face, do the rounds. Was it a white collar event? I had no idea, but thought Jack was wearing a suit. I put on my best shirt and tie, paired with unwashed jeans and boots that make me look like some fresh-off-the-boat Scandinavian immigrant. Maybe it wasn’t the best combo, but it was all I could find at such short notice. I grabbed my dictaphone and notepad.

We left the house looking like a trio of Frankenstein’s monsters, outfits thrown together in such a careless fashion that they wouldn’t be out of place on a first time defendant in a juvenile courtroom . It was 3pm, and thus we were subject of the criticising glares harboured by single mothers who patiently awaited their offspring’s release from school. We were late, but made good pace. We walked briskly behind a couple of boys, around age thirteen, who I noticed were both sporting very nice pairs of smart trouser bottoms. I loudly proclaimed that we could perhaps borrow them for the event. This wasn’t received well at all, and Ismail made me stand stock still until the boys had turned the corner, presumably to alleviate their anxieties of being trailed by a small posse of paedophiles.

Nevertheless, we managed to get to University without being charged with harassment of any kind. Eifion and Ismail stopped for a smoke before we went in. I was nervous. The rank stench of Drum tobacco filled my nostrils and made me nauseous. An almost constant stream of young men in suits entered and left the building. It was a bad start; I tripped on the top step of the first stairs we came to, almost ending up face first in the buttocks of someone’s mother. Most people eyed us with appropriate caution. Eifion was dressed most erratically of all and I realise, in hindsight, what a frightening spectre he must have seemed to the general public. A towering giant at 6″1 and close to 200lb… stomping the concrete with size 12 black Doc Martin’s – sporting a mafia-esque trench coat from under which one could just see the head of a bright purple tie that garishly clashed with his burgundy lumberjack shirt. Only an hour previously I had crudely attacked his hair with clippers, displaying all the skill and finesse of a prison-yard barber. What a sight.

The place was busy and hot. We had no clue where Jack was, but spotted Jon Bailey seated the other side of an ocean of students and lecturers. I screamed “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD”  and charged forward like some animated battering ram. Upon reaching him we began the interrogation. “We wanna know what the real story is” Ismail said. “Yeah,” I reinforced, “We’re looking for the real story…I don’t know if you could ah…what’s going on here?” Jon became stricken with anxiety, “Why are you recording? I didn’t know you were recording”. “You’re doing fine” Ismail said soothingly. But he had a point. Why were we recording? What story was there to get in this oven, cranked to what felt like 220◦, in the bowels of some forgotten department? I glanced at Eifion and noticed that he was sweating profusely. We were both still wearing our overcoats, and his wasn’t even unbuttoned. “I might lose my coat” I interjected. Jon was still talking about his game. It was well made, though I was barely listening. I wiped the sweat from my brow up into my hair and scanned the room, feeling uneasy. “…I’ve had about 3 people come visit me and two of them have been supervisors…so no one’s really said anything” Jon shrugged. “It’s got 4/5 stars from me” I say, in what I hope is a reassuring manner. We turned to leave. “Do you know where Jack is?” Ismail asked. “Declan is in lab 2” he replied. What the hell did this mean? At the time I never clocked it, but listening back to the recording, that was the slip. Thank God for the dictaphone, we had our first lead…

Words

I am currently reading A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud. I’m not particularly sure why, but I believe it has something to do with my recent attempts to grapple, with a deeper level of understanding, vast gaps in my already limited vocabulary. Not unlike an amateur fisherman wresting with a slippery bass that, although he somehow managed to get the beast aboard his vessel, has absolutely no idea how to finish the job.

When you’re in your early twenties and have attended higher education in some form, you get thrown into a slimy barrel with all the other higher education attendees in their early twenties and  are duly presented with a gentleman’s agreement. That is the agreement that any individual is presumed to be proficient in the verse of pop-culture; art, philosophy, gynecology, current affairs, contemporary history etc. at any given time. However, although we all sign off on this agreement, very few people actually are. The general consensus seems to be just wing it until you have a chance to duck out of conversation, hop onto your iphone and google whatever it is that before 3 seconds ago you were entirely ignorant to.

“A freudian slip? Ahh yes haha of course of course….excuse me I must grab myself a drink…”

30 seconds later, returning to conversation

“Yes Mark, my bloody super-ego just won’t stay in check today, I best repress it, that would sort it out!”

*chortle chortle*

Everyone’s a winner. The trouble lies in the fact that in this great technological boom information has become the cheapest currency. A mere generation ago you would have had to hit the books with all the tenacity of Sugar Ray Robinson if you didn’t know the use for a certain fishing hook, for example. Or better still, inquire in places where one may possibly find someone that withheld that precious knowledge. Who knows, maybe you will encounter your future wife/husband/best friend in seeking the most minute morsel of information. Even as I compose these hypothetical situations however, I’m struck by how foreign and incongruous they are. This saddens me. I am also saddened my own intelligence that is, like most people brought into this culture, bumper sticker thick. But at least I’m trying to forge a practical solution. In allusion to Socrates, at least I am aware of my own impenetrable ignorance.

Presentation

I had loaded up on coffee the morning of the big presentation. It turned out to be a drastic miscalculation of the need for adrenaline reserves, as by the time I staggered up to stage in front of that terrible audience my stomach had more knots than Ronnie Wood’s arthritic gristle mittens. The worst part of it was those devils didn’t even register how nervous I had become. Each grey, bored, slab of a face stared through my thick black rimmed glasses right into my dilated and bloodshot eyes, uncovering every lie I’ve ever told, shining a 10000 kilowatt bulb onto my rawest fears and desires for all to see. They all stared, unblinking, as the words came pouring forth; some script rehearsed to such an extreme that I wasn’t even conscious of speaking at all – it was all white noise – a foul exertion of a motor-skill. I realised that even a goddamn talking elephant could have been standing up on stage, anything would have received the same reception. Is this really it? As the “highly accurate” drone slays twenty-five innocent in their slumber, nail bombs purge crimson flesh from ivory, speedboats run amok churning up water-skiers like butter and countless infants perish from cholera – I stand, a pathetic tribute to a facile cause, mediocre to its finest definition. I will receive my 2:1 with honours sir! Tout le pouvoir à l’imagination!

20th birthday: harbour

September 10th. We were at it again. I hadn’t paid any attention to mother’s critique – “all you do is sit in front of your computer and drink beer”. Somehow I don’t think she accepted our excuses. “20th birthday” we grumbled, sullenly, as we cracked bottles. There had already been too many excuses. A real ‘boy who cried wolf’ kind of deal. Elliot and I had spent most of the summer drinking heavily and blasting balls into the ether down at the driving range. It was a glorious summer.

I forget what we were on that particular night. When you perform the same actions so repetitively, and so religiously, it all seems to blur into one magnificent, liquor fuelled dream. Luckily, with the educational system in this country a borderline laughing stock, we had literally months of vacation and nothing better to do other than throw up some zees and knock back some ice cold brews.

September 10th; Carter’s birthday. He also goes by the pseudonym ‘Crab’, and a more fitting alias has never betook a man. Pale, with shifty eyes, dark hair and peach fuzz, he often scuttles around clubs somehow seducing the most dignified of women. He’s a real walking talking caricature of a man. We were due to meet him down-town, in the stinking dump that is J.D.Wetherspoons. An hour later than the agreed meeting time, we were still sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded by an ever-increasing amount of empty bottles. My mother came into the room in her dressing gown, seemingly depressed. “Don’t be late tonight boys” she sighed. She spoke in the tone of voice that could only be produced by someone who had been constantly let down over a period of years. I don’t remember our response, but I’m sure by that point it was sloppy and slurred. Perhaps the disappointment on the face of the woman who had granted me life was so great that we felt compelled to vacate the area. Taking two for the road (we’re not saints, after all), we headed into the mild night with high spirits.

Wetherspoons was surprisingly empty for a Saturday night. Other than clusters of middle-aged rugby fans and their droll female counter-parts, we were the only group in there. Crab was suitably hammered. Catching sight of us, his face exploded with the joy akin to a newborn taking that first long slug of milk from his mother’s teat. The crowd was mixed. Some worthy mentions include Jack, Crab’s cousin; a goliath of a man, 23 years of age, 6ft 3”, cuddly and as cute as a bear, and Bowls; a square-jawed debater, quick-witted, with a pretty-boy’s face. Shots of some clear liquid were passed round, and before we knew it we had integrated into the group with the social ease that comes with copious amount of alcohol.

After bar hopping for a while, dropping sheet after sheet of legal tender, we arrived at the repulsive Waterman’s. Sat outside on a thick wooden bench, I carried an automatic camera that possessed a blinding flash which I proceeded to blast into everyone and anyone’s face for no apparent reason. Things had rapidly deteriorated from casual, publicly acceptable madness into full-blown insanity. Elliot and I left, arms flapping, screaming like banshees and howling at the moon like a pair of damn coyotes. We suspected it was the end of the evening for us. What was left of the birthday group had, with some masochistic relish, succumbed to the god awful Club International; which I don’t have time to properly slander at present.

Staggering up the street like – no, sorry – as a pair of stinking drunk bums, we stopped to urinate on some public property or other. Before I knew what was happening we were hollering and yelling around some private cul-de-sac; modern up-market flats, presumably designed as second homes for rich out-of-county-ers, immaculately clean, innocently undisturbed. After swinging from various railings and trying front door handles, juvenile grins on our stupid faces, we discovered a run-off into the harbour. It was about 2am. The temperature outside couldn’t have been more than a couple of degrees. The night-sky was clear. We crooned at the stars filled with liquor-induced romantic notions, vague grandiose ideals about what it meant to be alive and at one nature. Elliot began to take of his shoes and socks. “We’ll just go up to our ankles” he earnestly vowed. The water felt colder than ice. It was a slap round the face and a kick up the arse. We’d been caught in a thrill. We simply couldn’t stop there. We both stripped off to our boxers and climbed into what may well have been our final resting place.

I find it hard to regurgitate the emotions I felt swimming around in that sub-zero sewage run-off at half-two in the morning. Soon we became accustomed to the cold, and although our bodies turned blue in protest, I began to love every moment. We each began screaming “I’ve never felt so alive!” and other such sayings that; when plucked out of the context, shrivel under the mocking gaze of sobriety, reality, cynicism.

We walked home shoeless as if in a fevered dream; ignoring the shards of broken glass and pools of stinking vomit that we marched through, possessing the fearlessness and assuredness of martyrs.