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London Was Never Like This 

-The status quo of the earth shifted rapidly todayÖ

So said the news, and the news is always right otherwise it would cease being news and become nothing but chatter immediately. Shot down in corrected flames.

I stood in my hallway and listened to myself think. I did it very carefully because most people donít do it at all, so if I was going to bother, I may as well do it right.

London was never like this, I thought. I reflected on that. I had never been to London. Iíve seen pictures. Iíve used it in sentences, paragraphs, essays, and short stories. I have never made an oath to protect it, cheated it out of its poker winnings, or made a drunken pass towards its daughter.

A professional relationship.

For now.

Everything is shifting rapidly, the news whispers in my ear, first the status quo, and then everything. Itís a domino effect. Remember Vietnam?

I didnít but I didnít admit it so the news carried on like I did. I drifted in and out. Rapidly, as was the style at the time.

Who was Walter Cronkite? How do you spell da-nang? The armies sound like TV stations. What about Woodstock? Which brigade did Marx lead? Agent Orange makes a better chemical than a man. The horror.

My thoughts latch onto the word like a tick, sucking all the meaning out. Horror movie. Horror show. Horror-ble.

Thatís all I got. A paltry meal for the mind. The hallway is a desert. I need to brainfuck a bookcase so I wonít be forced to think thoughts like brainfuck a bookcase ever again.

London. Where was London in Vietnam? Would it throw itself onto a grenade to save its country? Would it make the ultimate sacrifice? I close my eyes and force a dream.

Sgt. London is on the Tet offensive with the ARVN while Cronkite reports the scores in the background. Two entities at the top of their game. Suddenly there is a grenade attack. Marx screams for mercy as he squeezes the trigger of his gun and aims at the dense foliage in front of them. Death is everywhere as Agent Orange reigns over the land. Cronkite calls it horror as he sees it from the chopper that is taking him away from the asshole of the world. The spinning blades drown out every other sound, but as Cronkite feels his superiorís hand on his shoulder, he can hear the manís thoughts with breathtaking clarity: You did good today, kid. Go hit the showers.

I open my eyes and find that they are wet. I am wet. All of me. Standing in the shower, thinking. My dream has taken me into the bathroom, removed my clothes, turned on the faucet and had me step inside.

My dream is an idiot.

A child with a loaded gun.

I showered when I got up, but it would never know that because my dream doesnít talk to my memories on a regular basis. Nothing ever adds up. My dream is a drunken scavenger stumbling through the landfill of my thoughts, hastily cobbling together pictures and pains of report cards and ski goggles into dramatic scenes knee deep in mushroom ergot.

I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off, wondering about the news. I put my clothes back on.

London was never like this.

I was back in the hall but cleaner. The news was out of earshot and for a moment I enjoyed the peace. It could not tear itself from the other room and crawl along the floorboards. Late at night it cries over this fact with static bleating. I sleep with bits of paper in my ears. Better that way.

I tried to stand my ground and keep my eyes open and waiting for the world but boredom was coming on quickly. Hallway is awful for any sort of stimulation. Ití just a way to get from point A to B if A and B are under the same roof. I was caught between A and B. Between two worlds. Between the kitchen and the den. In the long thin staging area where we all hastily prepare our entrances. Fixing the tie and hiking up the skirt and welding on a smile.

The bathroom is point C, a rest stop, which was even more perfect when I remembered what a rest stop was. It fit like a glove. Everything comes together like a television show. Even life. Dying is the credits and production logo. I want a catchphrase. And then I want handjobs because I am witty. Cronkite can watch for a dollar. Suddenly I was glad I was in the hallway. Perhaps everything was finally shifting rapidly in my favour.

Favours for favours.

The way of the world.

Everything shifting rapidly in my favour made me hungry. I walked into the kitchen and stopped, trying to gauge the brightness. My eyes closed as the sunlight attacked and a dream came over me before I could tell my brain to cut it out. I fell helplessly away from reality into a pitch black space that stretched for eons. A hallway without a floor.

Gasping at eternity as I tumble or am frozen in space but telling which from what is like taking out false teeth with a chisel (would it be worth it to turn on the light?) and I didnít have time to think that simile through before my mind changed like another simile that passed me by because the words are shooting by like rockets (it looks like shit to turn on a light when the sun is shining beautifully) and I can only see what they mean from a galaxy away so it all comes out twisted and pale when I use them but itís better than nothing which is what a great big kindly baby voice says as Iím patted on the back with such force my arm is ripped from itís socket and floats on as if itís being carried away by space ants or a slow moving invisible river (but if I end up using a knife during food prep, the more light, the better) off into the darkness. Yet I am not afraid. That part of me is turned off like a switch.

Click.

Eyes open so I see myself turning on the light.

More light is better. Tell it from the mountaintops.

Breaking news. Stop the presses. Interrupt the shows. Reupload the blog. Throw out the old manual. Upgrade or die. The new triumphing over the old with a sickening thud.

Iíve decided on frozen pork dumplings. No cutting necessary. I could cook them in the dark if need be. I fill a pot with water, hit the gas and wait for the boil.

Waiting.

I stand in the new hallway, complete with oven and fridge. My neck cranes for something to focus on. The blue flames under the pot are behaving splendidly. I control fire with a flick of the wrist. My ancestors would think me possessed with magical powers. What you donít know can kill you or at least make you look antiquated.

With this revelation I am out of point A in a flash and am burning down through the hallway to glorious point B, where the news is waiting for me with open arms and chattering teeth.

Darling.

I donít fawn over it. I am professional. I wonít hurt you I just want some information. What I need. Always on my schedule. A ruthless lover. I have ways of making you talk.

Listening for truth in the air on a partly cloudy afternoon.

Whatís it saying? Speak louder, love. Gnash those teeth. Chew the story to the bone and spit out the shards for all the world to hear.

What would Vietnam do? In times of trouble I always look to other times of trouble, picking at the carcass for clues of what went wrong.

No I donít.

Caught my lie and throttled it.

I rubberneck and point and laugh. I let others clean their messes. I just watch for beeps and bumps in this oh too short life of my own.

Looking good so far. But my brains are full of the potentiality of boiling dumplings. Political theories panting a distant second.

I look down and notice my feet. No credit is given to them. Never enough. The walking enablers. God bless them and their slave like working conditions. They bore me and I move onto ogling the hardwood floor. Fake hardwood. Thin as ice. Tiny nails keep the swelling down. All I could afford and I canít tell the difference if I didnít know the truth about the fake. Having become enlightened I get closer to my ground. What keeps me up. I stare into the dark knots and light lines and I run my fingers along the grooves in the cheap varnish that betrays bumps and divots of an all around mediocre job.

But itís mine and itís good. Ear to the floor. Get a good ocean sound. Miles away from everywhere with a turn of the neck. But I go further. I shut the ocean down drown it in sand dry it up with a trusty red sponge. And I listen again to the ghosts of the sea finally naked their covers torn away and their secrets laid bare.

Clicks and clacks form something more. Ancient tongues stretch out and weave for the first time since there was none of it before. The idiot box is a faded memory a dirty stain of todayís failures. I immerse myself in a past that must be the future and am rewarded with a friendly hiss and chuckle.

Here is a tale of words into woe. Heed please, and heed well.

Countdown. You are in your apartment. Ten. You walk the hallway. Nine. Everything is as it should be. You hear the television in the other room and are soothed by its predictability. Eight. You mop up the blood from the floor and mutter never again to no one in particular. Seven. The girl is dead. You killed her. Youíre going to jail for a thousand years and every day theyíll stick you in a jail cell with the worst offenders who will beat and rape for the rest of your days. Six. Just pulling your leg. Letís go back to eight. You think about making soup. Seven. Falling down the stairs busting up the dishwasher and his family. Six. Six. Six. Six. Six. Sorry I was miles away. What are we doing again?

I want a witness, I deserve a witness. One to speak of my mild mannered-like character. A friend to all living things. Credit due where credit earned. Paid up front good for it sir buddy got change for a quarter?

He climbs out of my TV like a noble chimp. Transparent robes and a gloomy visage. Iíve read the books and sat through the plays. Now itís happening to poor wonderful me. I yawn rudely and reach for the remote. It snatches it out of my hands with laser beams. So what?

ĎIím talking nowí, random ghost clichť said, ĎListen now and listen good. I say things, you listen, you learn, then you fuck it all up somehow. As it was in the beginning it shall be to the end, amen, and god bless your country here. Talking cool is what I do, see? Truth time with appropriate orchestral swelling. Feel my knowledge sooth your aching fears as I sayÖas I sayÖhere it goesÖ

Real life is a story. A long one. And only one person will see how it ends, but they will be too busy dying of some horrible cancer on a garbage heap to really notice.

Such was life.í

And the orchestra did swell, and the women did weep, and the police beat themselves silly with their truncheons in the corner, and the masses went on starving, and the dark in the corner of your eyes keep running, and the truth is divided amongst us all weíll cradle it like gold.

London was never like this.

Puppets and strings are at my feet. Sometimes I am god, but sometimes I have to go to the bathroom. Back and forth. Up and down the halls once again.

Back in the door carrying the plates and bam! News right in the eye.  Spill the dishes across the floor in shock and shattering crash doesn't even register. You are sucking in the info like a high-class whore.

But itís not enough. All the water in the world canít fill a pot big enough to fill up this particular appetite. Help me, ghosts! Show me the lines and cracks between everything I see feel and hear. I can't help you but you can help me.

I have nothing to trade but temporary obedience.

The universe scoffs at my gift. It plucks out my heart and places it in a sizzling pan beneath the stars. More spiritually wounded than physically hurt, I meekly offer to man the skillet and am ushered under the twinkling andromeda, over the holy sites of the world. Right through jesus' crucified asshole.

Someone once told me they thought it was truth but then something leaked and it all went to shit before I could pencil in the scores.

Which is kind of how I feel right now, with Vietnam whispering in my ears that it was all for nothing that my chances are little more than go to jails and my community chest hasnít seen a bank error in ages.

Twisted tales coming through the cans and bins in the back of kitchen cupboards. Out of the woodwork once again. It all melts when you were busy watching the television set.

Bigger holes to punch up. Ugly little truth seeping out like worms. And right here, in my kitchen. I put my ear to the void and hear yesterday's radio.

Agent Orange plays todayís biggest hits and the pulsating rhythms shut me out from my mind again and I dream oh how I dream of a place bigger than the room that holds the universe and the speeds it must travel to keep up this pointless ruse that by the time I catch up with it I am winded and out of breath so canít get a word out to either bury Caesar or praise him. Woodstock is a honourable man. Somewhere out there where I happen to be is also my daily comings and goings, being held up with receipts at the gates of the prime intersection. Even the remote control canít get me out this bleak clichťd ending in time. I need a really good kick in the two Christmas front teeth to get my way out this one. I need to wrack my two half brains for an original thought. Something that will bring the house down so I can walk back through the back door with my head held high. Something that will make point A to B look like B to C.

It comes after I float along in the light and then dark for what seems like eons and I feel my friends and family crackle and rust and fade away in my head and I see the dinosaurs make a return and raise up Marx from the dead and create a true communist society made of pleasantries and respect and horrible puns. Another comet hits them Ė what are the odds Ė the ARVN claim responsibility and as I read through the tattered icy telegram I check the serial number and find my true ticket home:

The truth of the matter is a dull whistle and thin white veil rustling lazily in the cool autumn wind.

Which now I clearly remember is exactly what London was like.

And thatís helps a bit. Just a bit. Enough for the moment to get myself back to the kitchen. Not the only kitchen, mind you, but the one that matters most at this particular time. Standing here pretending that no one's around. Pretending again and again. Vicious circles don't look like circles if they're fucking massive.

My water is boiling over.

 

MOST LIKELY THE END

 

'retard' is French for late, and English for a whole bunch of things.