|“Aaaaarrggghhh!!” a war cry, quickly followed by the thump of hand on plastic. The alarm clock silences. This is the Dawn of Man. I lift up my head open my bleary eyes and cough deeply. My ears stop ringing and I’m left with a feeling of my brain collapsing in on itself … another hang-over, I presume.
I grimace and my head returns to the pillow. I close my eyes and my body fills with relief. I breathe easy.
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“Aaaaaa – aaaaa – aaaaa – aaaaa – aaarghh!” the neo- and monolithic man used this energy to spear fish or club cattle in order to eat heartily. My vengeance is saved for a plastic demon. ‘Snooze’ thou art a false idol.
The room spins and the clock, the plastic idolater, lands on the floor with a crash. Man is now standing upright. Homo-erectus.
I wander to the curtains and draw them open. Light does not break through. “Sodding July” I grunt to myself. Until my morning grimace is replaced sneakily by a wry smile. Why should I bare a wry smile? Because it is summer everywhere but under the dirty halogen light which, sets my routine for 41.6% of my day, for 71.4% of the rest of my life. But today, at least today, as I miss yet another summers’ day so does the rest of this darkened and drizzly city. There is my wry smile.
The rage which encompassed me as I woke has dissipated. As I shovel cornflakes and gulp tea I am no longer pleased I am no longer sad, now I am on my way to work. It is an emotion free journey as is the rest of my cynical day, the rest of my cynical life.
I was not always this way. I’m punch-drunk from booze, caffeine, computer games, TV, popular music, a dull job, disposable relationships and a diet of fast and microwaveable food.
I take my tea with two sugars and I take my coffee black … Do I need to be more alert for a fast paced and hectic lifestyle? No.
Do I need help in staying awake because of an over active physical lifestyle? No.
Do I even need to be awake for the job that I do? Honestly, No. A monkey could do my job, not even a particularly bright monkey at that. In fact in all probability a high-school drop-out monkey could probably do my job … bastard.
Styling my hair in the mirror I see a fresh bruise on the side of my face. As it throbs, reminding me of its existence, my memory returns to my like some sort of biological snooze.
“FIX YOUR GOD DAMNED LIFE!” the words echo in my ear as a vision of me returns, staggering, swaying, mumbling to myself, on my knees in the street literally throwing my brains all over the pavement. I fail to remember who was dispensing such tender advice last night, girlfriend, best friend, family member, bartender, it scarcely matters. They express concern because it is difficult to watch, but I fear that any true empathy they possessed has worn away, I have worn away.
So I’m living in a hangover. I’m hung-over, punch-drunk, tired, exhausted, sedated … sedated, that’s how I feel. I’m in the prime of life and I feel tired.
As I walk out of the three bedroom terraced house that I share with a co-worker and a lodger I neither like nor trust, I am confronted with a big wide world, and essentially I don’t like it.
The world is a magical place, full of movie stars, singers, rocks stars, footballers, comedians, famous people, intelligent people, athletic people, aesthetic people, people who can change the world.
The thing is I became an adult and quickly realised I wasn’t one of them.
Let me tell you, after a childhood of being raised by TV and movies this was a big, big surprise. Am I not intelligent, not aesthetic enough? Maybe. I’m not unfit, I play football, I’m about average height medium build, I’ve got a degree and I’m smart enough to read the newspaper from cover to cover and know what’s going on. I’m not Brad Pitt but I’m not ugly.
The question is though, am I ambitious enough to actually have a dream? Am I passionate enough to follow it through? Am I determined enough to never give up, no matter how tough it becomes? I don’t even have a dream … I’m ambivalent unimpressed, unimpressive … I’m tired, no, I’m not tired, I’m asleep.
I am actually still asleep when I get to the newsagents. I pick up two cans of coke, to help recuperate from last night. I hand over the change, stare down at the headline on the newspaper on the counter, then I go. I say nothing.
I walk down the street, and finish the first coke within thirty seconds. I pass the Goths sitting on the wall swinging their legs outside of McDonalds, endorsing or glorifying a race of people they couldn’t possibly understand. Rapists and murderers, the Goths pillaged and burned all they saw and yet these ‘sprogs’ ignorantly affiliate themselves with the identity willingly, zealously, disturbingly.
I am disturbed, then the sugar finally reaches my brain and fools it into thinking everything is ok, that my body isn’t in fact the train wreck I have driven it to be. I smile with relief as I pass a congregation of teens in baggy pants and baseball caps importing guns, gangs and gaudy violence through their headphones.
I pass the queue for the bus, elderly women, a pregnant woman, a number of young twenty-somethings wearing shirts and ties, and tired eyes. Finally I see an American woman and her son, lost in the middle of the city centre, talking loudly, about the fact that they are lost, either too scared or proud to just ask. I could help, but it’s not my problem, I walk by.
Finally, I go into the station past a beggar in a thick coat, an old woollen jumper and a pair of jeans that look more, green than their intended denim blue. He smells like special brew and urine and asks for change. I ignore him and head inside the station. Before I reach the escalators I pass a man selling magazines for the homeless. Like the beggar his hair is dirty and his stubble unkempt. He wears Nike trainers, a parker, and stonewash, boot cut, wranglers. He smells of cigarette smoke and last nights’ aftershave. In a different way he asks for money, I apologise and he seems offended. I walk by and head underground.
On the platform I blend in, you could loose me in the crowd. Tired eyes, hangovers, a weary caution, a quiet hardness, phones beep, and there are slight mutterings between groups of friends but predominantly there is only silence, a strange nine a.m. silence. We wait, side by side.
I stand next to a man in a suit, he’s black. I smile nervously and nod my head, as if to prove I’m not a racist and that I have rhythm. I don’t.
To my right there is a girl in a wheelchair, I smile nervously, and try to maintain eye contact, just long enough to acknowledge her, but not too long to suggest pity.
Seated to the right of the girl in the wheelchair is an elderly woman. I smile nervously, avoid eye contact and try not to appear threatening or overly young. I am.
I slowly turn my gaze across the tracks and stare at an advertisement of a car that can “change the way we think”. Honestly, it doesn’t.
I try to fool myself that I am no different than any of them, they are no different from me. It’s as if my mind has to convince my body that issues such aging and mortality, disabilities, genetic or accidental and race don’t affect the world we share.
For a moment, I am unintentionally disturbed by a thousand different meaningless politically incorrect words. My body temperature rises slightly, my throat dries, tongue swells and my brow furrows. I am an unwitting bigot, I worry about being seen to be a bigot, and that deadens my mind and encircles my thoughts.
A phone rings.
Simultaneously, the four of us reach into our respective bags, and I smile to myself with relief. Behind the four of us is a man in a tracksuit with a skinhead and a tattoo on the back of his neck. We all turn as he answers and the same apprehension appears on all our faces.
“We can’t judge this man on the basis of a haircut and tattoos, he’s probably just a normal bloke … oh god what if he’s a Nazi … don’t be so judgemental, oh god, what would these people think if they thought that you thought that this guy was a Nazi just because of his tattoo and haircut, what would they think of you? Would the Nazi be so quick to judge?”
Almost in unison, we frown and then calm ourselves. We resume reading about the car that will change the way we think.
I crumple the second coke can to the bin as the tunnelling scent of urine arrives. As the carriages pull to a slow stop, the four of us are reflected in the same pane of glass, we exchange nervous reflected eye contact.
The doors hiss open and we walk in. The four of us trip over each other to let someone else go first until we all just charge for the door, and then sit, one seat apart from each other.
The four of us add ourselves to the already dazzling array of public diversity. It would be silent in the carriage, if it weren’t for two young children, slapping each other, around the head and running off. A desperate nicotine deprived mother, curses and howls in an attempt to stop them. She fails, and sighs. She was embarrassed the first couple of times, but you can see it in her eyes this isn’t the first time, and that these ‘little shits’ as she colourfully describes her over zealous offspring, will continue to cause disturbances until some form of incarceration.
The train stops and the brats and their cursing mother depart, leaving the carriage peaceful. A couple of passengers swap relieved looks, and then go back to their thoughts. Thank god for small miracles.
Kids, children, offspring. My thoughts betray me and I think of the beautiful blonde I won’t move in with. I call her blonde, but in honesty I don’t know. Her hair is actually a light brown confluence of highlights, lowlights and tinting. Giving her the exact same haircut as every other woman who reads ‘Cosmopolitan Magazine’ in the entire world.
I know she wants kids, and I do too, in time. But I’m asleep. I’m subdued. I have been eaten alive by advertising. Now my body craves saturated fats, alcohol, flashing lights and realistic game-play, caffeine, gossip, far-fetched storylines and unbelievable characters, the same old chord progressions with throw away lyrics … or worse, the image of handguns, beatings, prostitution, graffiti, theft and drug abuse, glorified and then attributed to religion or circumstance. “Thank god for the bee-atches” or “kill people because you’re poor.”
I sit in the carriage staring out the window, looking outside at my reflection as it flashes by and I think about … well, me. If I’m asleep, if I’m subdued, the beautiful blonde who I won’t move in with, she … well she, she may even be the reason I’m asleep … but she is wide awake. She’s smart and funny and sexy and I found out a long time ago, that out of all the other shit that I had to put up with she was the one most capable of hurting me.
I hated that. I still hate that. I love her. She loves me. It’s a no win situation.
I spend my entire adult life searching for meaning, and when I find it I’m too scared to try to keep it. Therein lies the most dangerous problem of all. I’m scared … of being hurt … I am, in fact so scared of being hurt, that I am willing to throw it all away, to avoid the pain, I am willing to hurt her, the one thing that gives life, my life, meaning, to protect myself.
I am the seething child, the spoilt brat, the leg-swinging Goth, or the baggy pants gangsta. Assuming a meaningless identity and pushing away everything else until eventually it is all I have left. Until it is all we have left, we run, in my case to the pub, in theirs to a two-for-one CD sale or internet café. We are a generation sacrificing meaning for definition and hiding in the shadows.
Born of work-weary wage-slaves, raised by television, fed on frozen or re-hydrated chemicals. Given free-will, and awarded a wealth of security, against famine, disease and persecution, religious or otherwise. Embracing our access to limitless information, and shunning a spiritual culture our parents have grown weary of, we are ungoverned and misguided. Afforded to us by parents of worth, this wealth, with a confidence born from the absence of consequence, we are immune, immoral and immature. We have no right, nor wrong, nor saviour song, and so we are devoid of conscience.
“FIX YOUR GOD DAMNED LIFE!” The carriage shakes from side to side and the memory resonates in my head again. A sedated lifestyle is leading me towards more and more extreme stimulus, so that I can feel something, anything.
I am damned by God … I wish. There isn’t a faith left that wouldn’t bend the rules to get me to pray once a week. I mean look at us, increasingly a world of obese people, watching eight hours of TV per day. Extending overdrafts and visa bills to buy crap we don’t need. Investing millions in the cosmetic, fashion and self help industries. Exposing ourselves to millions of images of beauty and sexuality, in every paper magazine, movie, radio / TV show, or even billboards on the streets. Always wishing for the greener grass that everyone else has, whether it be celebrity or neighbourly, or a world where hooliganism, street violence and gun-crime are so common they no longer make the headlines. Seven deadly sins, shared by the entirety of Christianity and accepted as part of a ‘modern world’ absolving millions, we are irresponsible chickens born from unaccountable eggs.
We don’t necessarily even have to believe anymore all I have to do is live this ‘good life’. I mean I’m not going to kill anyone … and then even if I did, I could still achieve Nirvana if I attributed it to God. If I said that it was in the name of Allah. It's strange that we would find meaning in something so distant and intangible, God or Nirvana or Karma.
Then I see into my eyes in my reflection and remember how entirely petrified I am of the tangible meaning I continually push away.
We argue. Well, to be accurate I argue. She listens, understands and defends herself. I say awful, derogatory sexist things, I try to undermine her, dismiss her and convince myself she’s nothing special. I try to distance myself, but she’s been under my skin for years and when she’s close I get scared. Then when she’s really close and I look in her eyes and see that she’s just as scared as I am, I panic … and that’s when I argue. It was like that for a long time.
Then it got to this point, where there couldn’t be anymore arguments, so we had to quit or move in together … I bought a ‘Play-Station Two’ and never looked back. Nothing changed, and if nothing continues to change she’ll leave, and I know it, and it’ll hurt, and the reason for all of this shit in the first place was to protect myself so I wouldn’t get hurt. Sometimes, when we sleep together I lie wide awake, while she sleeps and think about that for hours. It’s absurd.
I guess she is my big tragedy. You see, everybody in the world, has a personal tragedy. After which they, start going to church, or go to the gym every day, or hit the bottle, or start abusing substances, or start smoking or indulging in something repetitively until it becomes an addiction … these are hiding places.
All of those things that send me to sleep and sedate me, all of those things that I’m addicted to, are just things that take my mind off the actual problems.
I sigh to myself, and look around the carriage. There are about twenty people or so.
- The tired looking grandmother who clutches to her rosary beads.
- The black guy in a suit who got on with me and nods religiously to the headphones he worships.
- The girl in the wheelchair who buries her head in a book, and has to watch varying reactions of shock or pity as people board the tube.
- The 5”6 guy with muscles who used to weigh two hundred kilos, before joining the gym and swapping fast food for free weights.
- The man with dark eyes and a deep stare, reciting passages from the Koran, and fuming under his Turban.
- The nerdy looking student cowering beside him, clutching a haversack of heavy books, probably bullied at school, just trying to be invisible.
- The forty something lady in a leather jacket scowling at couples and clutching at a half empty bottle of cheap vodka, at nine thirty in the morning.
- The young girl whose insecurity beams through her overly welcoming smile
Then I wonder to myself, how are we any different, young, old, professional, unemployed, Turban, baseball cap, stoner, judge, black, white, oriental, we’re all the same, really. We’re all subject to our vices - booze, drugs, women, men, gambling, smoking, church, gym, video games, daytime TV … whatever …
Really, we’re all looking for something; someplace to hide, someone to love or something that defines ‘you’ as a person. Searching for something that gives life meaning but none of them work, not really. I mean God … look at organised religion. Justifying your existence by doing somebody else’s bidding it’s the end of free will. As if enforced donations or celibacy are synonymous with divinity, personally I couldn’t think of anything further from. Perhaps requiring a donation when lighting a candle of prayer, pay-to-pray or killing people maybe, look at the crusades, slavery, fire and brimstone and all the rest, divinity?
We need to believe in something, we look for answers anywhere we can but seldom find them. Then when we don’t we feel wronged. Everyone’s a Victim. I’m sedated, I’m tired, I’m stuck in a shit job.
So, I sit and I stare, but now, I’m not looking at my reflection or maybe I am, in the faces of everyone around me. And they’ll go on to the gym or the church, or the office, or to Burger King. They take their vices with them wherever they go.
A young couple board the train. I think of my blonde. The nervous student looks up shocked by the station we arrived at. In haste he bolts for the door only just making it, but leaving his bag on the floor where before he had clutched it so tightly. There is a gap of about ten seconds from when I see him let go of the bag, until he vanishes out the door, out of earshot that I have to tell him he forgot his bag. I sit and stare at the bag I feel slightly guilty but, again, it’s not my problem.
The doors close and I tell myself ten seconds is too short a timeframe to catch his attention grab the bag and return it to him, but I’m lying to myself. I just didn’t want to say anything to him. I begin counting backward from ten silently and my mind clears. I stare at the bag. I think about the other passengers, so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see the world around them … six, five … I stare at the bag. I am almost filled with a sense of pride at my first essences of individual thought … three, two … I stare at the bag. This moment feels like an eternity but only takes a moment. I stare at the bag.
As the bag bursts, and the flames tear through my skin and seer my flesh I think about my job and my house and my blonde. I think about the beggars and the homeless magazines and the bus stop and the Goths, and the gangsta’s and the black guy, the grandmother, the girl in the wheelchair and the profound parity we now find ourselves in.
And yes, as I look across from me I see my dark-eyed Turban sporting passenger. My head fills with words like Taliban, Jihad, Bin Laden, Terror, Terror, Terror. Now, I am a small petty man, and I would turn racist and belittle his kind, attack ‘them’ because of what he’d done to me. I would burn and beat and defile, because I am a victim and I have been wronged, and I am angry. I would lash out, I would become wrath and take my vengeance, my divine Christian vengeance … I would, if I hadn’t see him, scream, like me, and bleed, like me, and burn, and choke, and die like me. Then I stop thinking about him.
I think about ‘if I had have bought the newspaper, or something more or less than I did’, or ‘if I’d have stopped and given directions to the American woman and her kid’, or ‘if I’d given the beggar a pound, or something’, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up here.
The truth is there were a million billion different things I could have done to not be here. And there were a million different ways I could have ended up in this same ‘God Damned’ seat.
In a split second, I feel a hard flat surface on my forehead, I realise quickly that it’s the floor. I force my eyelids open, but I see nothing now and I realise exactly how meaningless it all is my hangover and my job and my flat and the beggar, beggars … and my blonde … well, maybe not my blonde.
As my lungs fill there’s a strange black taste. And blood. I wheeze. I think about my blonde. I think about every little chance that I missed … Then I think about every little chance that I took. Every single little moment I spent with her and I weigh up my own little existence. I close my eyes.
Hours and then days later my family and friends will post a rough description and some old pictures of me on the missing boards at King’s Cross, on the internet and in local hospitals asking “have you seen this man?”
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