marginal gloss

Here are a few words about me.

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May 31, 2012 at 8:58pm

sponge bag

When I go to the pool what I do is I get a locker first and put my backpack and my jacket in the locker. To get a locker you need a one pound coin and if I don’t already have a one pound coin I will ask for change at the desk which they are always happy to supply. Once my backpack and my jacket are in the locker I take my drawstring bag out of my backpack and go to the changing room to change into my swimming trunks. I used to have these Adidas trunks in what you might call the speedo-brief style but they started wearing out because of the excess chlorine in this pool so now I just wear some blue beach shorts I bought from Fat Face a year ago before I went to Croatia. They drag in the water but they’re okay. 

After changing I go back to the locker to put everything back in the locker before I go to the pool. Yesterday I was doing this when I found my access to the locker blocked by another guy who was putting some stuff back into his locker directly below mine. So I stood there and waited for a moment, holding all my clothes and my drawstring bag and my little oilcloth sponge bag which my girlfriend hand-sewed for me and my swimming goggles and the key to my locker and I’m waiting for him to put his things away. At first I thought he hadn’t noticed me but then just after he closed his locker, just after he got to his feet, just after he began walking towards the men’s changing room, he tilted his head in my direction and said: ‘fag.’

For a moment I really thought he’d said ‘thanks’ which a certain kind of Estuary English can pronounce as something like ‘fanks’, but then he turned his head again towards me, as if to catch me in his periphery, to confirm that I’d heard what he had said so quietly. He went into the changing room. I put my clothes and everything else in my locker and went into the pool. 

There are moments in one’s life – no, that is wrong: moments in my life, I should say – when I feel like I’m living out the events of some absurd short story, one in which some hidden power is constantly leaving banana skins in my path and garden rakes in the long grass. Obstacles to make me hurt enough to feel I matter. At first I thought I must have been mistaken and that maybe I misheard, or he didn’t say anything at all, or he said something but it wasn’t to me, or it was something in another language, or he really was just saying ‘thanks’ because I’d been so patient in waiting for him to put his stuff away and not been all ‘EXCUSE ME’ and tried to lean over him and thrust my crotch in his face while he was still down there which I would guess he’d like even less. But the explanation which required the fewest unreliable assumptions was that he had called me a fag.

While swimming, I thought of all the different ways I could have responded. I could have walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder and been all ‘excuse me sir you dropped something’ POW slamming the hard base of my palm into the tip of his nose, driving fragments of cartilage into his neanderthal brain if I’m lucky, spraying blood and other assorted bodily fluids across the beige tiled flooring. Or, equally confrontational but righteously nonviolent, I could have just dropped all my stuff on the floor then and there and got all Brixton on him and been all ‘EXCUSE ME WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME’ and then if he were like ‘fag, i called you a fag, fag’ I’d be all ‘NO YOU DIDN’T, YOU SAID ‘FANKS’, BECAUSE YOU WERE SAYING THANK YOU BECAUSE I WAS SO PATIENT WITH YOU’ and he’d be all ‘ok sir sorry for the misunderstanding sir’.

The most appealing option to me was public humiliation. I wanted it to go like the second option, except there’d be lots of people around to hear what he said to me – good, right-thinking people, housewives and children and a few tough blokes who used to be in the army – to hear what he said to me and to be so disgusted at him and sympathetic to me and to take my side when I would go to the reception and ask for this awful man to be banned from the leisure centre for life.

And yet even while I was thinking all these things I couldn’t remember what the guy looked like. His face was a shapeless blur to me, a sort of haze of hate and anxiety and deep-rooted daddy issues. He had ceased to be anything except the guy who called me a fag. He was a NPC who had played his part in temporarily undermining the confidence of my avatar. The moment when he called me a fag had been the apogee of his existence. When he went into the changing rooms he had no more reason to exist, had simply blinked out of existence, and now he had never existed in the mind of anyone else except me. Fag.

In the pool I wasn’t wearing my glasses and without them the world takes on a whole new vagueness. I looked hard at everyone who approached but of course it was not him. Perhaps I would not have recognised him even if it were. I started to feel stupid. I blamed myself. I had been standing too close to him. I shouldn’t have been looking at him in that way I have of looking at people that makes them feel weird. This has always been a problem for me. Everybody says so. And I am a skinny guy with a floppy haircut and glasses and a sponge bag, all of which might seem to a certain kind of person kind of, well, faggy. When I am thinking all these things in the pool I’m swimming faster, more forcefully than usual; this is also when I imagine my most violent retributions.

After I get out of the pool the first thing I do is go back to my locker and open it up and take out my towel and my sponge bag then I go to one of the shower cubicles with a little door and I shower and I wash with Dove for Men shower gel and a supermarket brand of combined shampoo and conditioner. I wash my hair twice. I used to just wash with water but my girlfriend complained that I still smelled like chlorine when I got home. There are other showers open to everybody where you come in from the pool but I don’t use those anymore, not because I’m shy about it but because it seems antisocial to inflict my toiletries on everybody else. 

In the shower I started to feel like I really had no right to feel stupid or hurt or confused about anything at all. I have had so many things easy in life. I was lucky enough to be born in possession of a certain amount of what they call privilege which I too frequently take for granted. If I had born a little poorer or belonging to a different class or or with skin a different colour or of a different gender or sexuality surely I would have had to take a lot more of this kind of thing. And this was it? This was what was making me sad? I very much wanted to not feel anything at all.

And then what I realised is that I never used to feel anything about being called names. I was called all kinds of things at school and they didn’t say them quietly while they were walking away from me, they said them loudly and to my face, while looking in my eyes, and eventually it became such a frequent occurrence that it ceased to bother me. What I mean is that of course it bothered me but there was only so much bother I could take; it is exhausting, being bothered. My defence was a sort of stoicism. I really believed that all they wanted from me was a violent reaction and so I cultivated a perfectly impassive attitude to whatever humiliations were inflicted. Not that I really had it so bad even then. I never took a comprehensive beating. I did at least reserve the right to shove back if I were pushed. But I played that role for so long and eventually the mask becomes the face. I became my own indifference. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way. But now, quite unexpectedly, here were some feelings.

When you’re a child, you think that people grow up. You really believe in the myth of adulthood, the one spun by adults to keep kids in their place: that when you arrive at a certain point in your life you become changed forever in a way that automatically confers on you special rights and responsibilities. You really think that everyone will be good to one another because we will have all grown out of those bad things that children do because they are children and don’t know any better. All of this is a lie. Here is a secret: nobody ever really grows up.

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April 24, 2012 at 11:02pm

house without a face

A zone of low pressure has settled over south-east England. Cold, wind, rain. I had last week off work on holiday. Not to do much or go anywhere, just to be at home. I thought I might do some writing but I haven’t done very much at all. I bought a new washing machine. I registered at a local GP, which I’ve been meaning to do since I moved here about two years ago but I never did because I never get sick. I went to the library. A man came to fix my girlfriend’s sewing machine. I filled some cracks in the wall and I worried about the leaking roof. I tried to think of somewhere nice to go on holiday. It rained.

When you work in the city you spend so long thinking about what you would do if only you didn’t have to work. And then when you don’t have to work, you do nothing at all. This is not a new observation. I feel paralysed. I can only feel comfortable when absorbed in something – a book, a game, a film – or music. I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Thomas Dolby. He is my new thing. I think I just plugged his name into Spotify, brought up The Golden Age of Wireless, and that was that. I was smitten. I bought everything he has ever recorded and I have listened to virtually nothing else for the past two weeks. Somehow I have been unable to tell anybody about this. It’s been a bit like a love affair.

I have a story. A few days ago I was cleaning the bathroom while listening to one of his songs on my iPod. You can picture me standing sockless in the bath, wiping down the tiles with a bottle of Dettol bathroom spray. (It’s quite important to be sockless while cleaning the bathroom.) My girlfriend hates the smell of this stuff so I’d decided to use as much as possible of it up before she returned home. I was just turning to clean the glass shower screen when I heard a sound in the other room. I put down the spray bottle and pulled out my earbuds and listened but I didn’t hear anything. Probably it was only some little sound effect buried in the mix of the song.

I put one earbud back in, got out of the bath, and walked around the house several times in my bare feet. Of course I was aiming the Dettol spray like a gun into every corner. (This is one of the less stupid things I do while alone in the house.) After I had checked all the doors and windows were locked and I was satisfied that I was not about to be the victim of a home invasion scenario, I gave up on cleaning the bathroom and lay down on the couch and let the song finish. I closed my eyes and let the shuffle bounce me to the next song – I remember thinking that if it’s one I like, I’ll lie here and listen to it, but if it’s not I’ll get up and go do something productive.

What came on was a little of both: an instrumental version of a song called ‘Evil Twin Brother‘ from Thomas Dolby’s most recent album. (The extended version I downloaded from iTunes came with bonus instrumental versions of all the songs — kind of an odd thing to give away, but not totally unwelcome.) I had never heard this version before so I thought why not. I closed my eyes and listened to the synths bubbling away. Basically the song embodies the contrast between split personalities: one is a guy who is singing about insomnia and loneliness in a noirish New York, accompanied only by a gentle, repetitive electronic pulse; but the other – the evil twin — we don’t actually hear his voice except through the implications of the music, a bubbling house synth beat that thumps away in the background as if overheard from down a distant corridor. The naughty rave room in the back of the mind. I thought that was quite interesting. Formally.

Also I thought about how odd it is that this song doesn’t really end. Even though it’s a fairly traditional bit of storytelling, it gets to the point where the narrator goes off to a club with some Russian waitress he met in a diner (played with admirable flirtiness by Regina Spektor) and he has a drink and a dance with her and then the story just ends. It is made clear he felt really bad about cheating on somebody (presumably a wife or girlfriend) but still, it lacks what the Americans call closure. But then I thought about the bad things I have done equivalent to that kind of betrayal and I realised that they never really had any definite conclusion either. They just sort of stopped after a while. For better or worse, everyone just gets on with their own lives. The music fades out and you have to go back to cleaning the bathroom.

And then I started thinking about that part in the movie ‘127 Hours’. I wasn’t actually trapped and dying of thirst and exposure with my forearm under some huge boulder but as I said, I was feeling paralysed. I really didn’t feel like I could move or go anywhere at that point. At one point in the film the rock guy is hallucinating and he sees his family just sitting there on a couch in front of him. I thought that was quite touching and totally manipulative. I read somewhere that those people are not actors. They’re the actual family of the actual man who was trapped under the rock. What a thing for a filmmaker to do – what commitment to realism, even in the depths of the most intimate subjectivity! Of course it only makes a difference if you have read about it in advance. Otherwise it’s just some other people watching you watching them on TV, which as we all know remains the emotional seat of the modern home. 

I got up from the sofa and walked around some more. I thought about booting up the PS3 but I didn’t. It was very tempting because my girlfriend was out. I knew I could play for hours if I wanted to, but I get to this point with most games where I just want to finish them for the sake of finishing. I’m aware that this is a weird and slightly arbitrary decision since most videogame endings are deeply underwhelming and once again lacking in closure but I like to feel that I have seen pretty much everything the game has to offer before I can put it down. 

So anyway I was standing there with a PS3 controller in my hand when I heard that noise again. But this time I realised I wasn’t wearing my earbuds and I wasn’t listening to any music. A bus passed by the house and I heard it from another room. It was like a growl – no, not quite a growl, a rough, cracking, grinding sort of noise. But very short. The matter of a moment. I got up and walked into the kitchen and then I walked back into the living room. Everything was the same. Then I went upstairs and walked into my bedroom just in time to hear the sound again and see the large bay window in my room that overlooks the street fall off into the street outside with an almighty smashing of glass and shattering of brickwork. 

I stood there in my bedroom with the window and a large part of the far wall missing. Outside it was raining. My laptop cable had somehow become ensnared in the falling debris and so the computer had tumbled out of the window too. I could see it lying face up in the rubble. iTunes looked accusingly back up at me through a shattered screen. A silvery ooze seeped from its twisted flanks onto the pavement. So much for that magsafe adaptor, I thought. My computer is going to get all wet and then it won’t work any more. And what is my girlfriend going to think when she gets home. She wouldn’t want to live in a house without a face.

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