Sport 33: Spring 2005
Down Through the Pines
A postcard from a friend visiting Cedar Rapids, Ohio. It shows Einstein at the beach, a beach somewhere. And Einstein looks exactly like Einstein, Albert, physicist and Nobel laureate, but is wearing shorts and sandals. The Einstein face is graced by an expression of mildly amused braininess or pleasant imbecility, take your pick. The Einstein shorts are unremarkable, not particularly dated to look at, and the legs are OK legs, not too bad at all if somewhat hairless, but oh my God the sandals. They seem to have something of a heel; the peekaboo toes consist of dome-shaped apertures, vents like Turkish domes in silhouette. Onion domes or twirly confectioner's kisses. Yes: the Einstein sandals of 1945 … are almost certainly a woman's.
My friend the postman has travelled to the four corners of the world. Travels every year on his meagre postman's pay to some fresh destination, there to revel in fresh discomforts and inconveniences.
I leave the travelling to others. I stay at home and read and watch a bit of telly. When one's own habitation provides a sufficiency of annoyances, why go abroad? Letterbox and telephone furnish all the alarms I can cope with.
My name is Bruno Swan. Some sixteen years ago, I was coming to an end. The lights were going out all over Bruno. Today, I live a posthumous sort of life, one nonetheless replete with quiet satisfactions.
My friend the postman is beginning to limp like a knackered dromedary. 'Seen anything decent recently?' I ask him.
'I haven't been to a film in months,' says Martin.
'No? My late father used to boast that he'd seen every movie made before the end of World War II.'
'Quite. Some people simply swear off the cinema. Give it up, like smoking.'
'They do. But retreat perhaps to the reeking wasteland of television.'
As well as being a traveller, Martin's an omnivorous reader. His long brown face is handsomely lined, and has about it something of sage Arabian dignity, the wisdom of the oasis. 'Television? I'll tell you who likes television,' the weathered Bedouin says.
'Poor old Johnny Bray. Poor old Johnny Bray has taken to knocking on my door from time to time.'
'It's late in the afternoon and there he is. Can he come in and play the piano? Can he come in and watch Spongebob Squarepants?'
'He's apologetic, but.'
'He laughs so much it's almost a delight. He laughs so hard at Spongebob fucking Squarepants, it's almost a pleasure to have him in the house.'
Neil Young has a heartbreaking voice. Neil Young has a heartbreaking voice.
Somewhere back in the 80s, I stood in a bottle store and watched a video clip of Young performing 'Like a Hurricane'. There he was on the screen above my head, singing and strumming while being blustered silly, stormily mauled by a wind machine, I wanna love you but I'm getting blown away …
The guitar work on 'Hurricane' is astral, titanic. Time and time again, I sit in the dark and let it do its thing, sit in the dark and let it take me apart.
I'm stopped in the street by a bronzed, a blond young man. Levis, T-shirt, designer stubble. 'What's that over there?' he asks.
His accent is English. 'It used to be a museum,' I tell him, 'and to the left you've got your carillon and war memorial.'
'Cool,' he says. 'Thank you.'
I walk along Arthur to the top of Cuba. On the corner is the house in which I spent the first few months of my sobriety, living above an empty shop.
It remains a sooty, dim, Dickensian address. Soon to be stomped by the new, obliterating motorway. In a bedroom at the rear, I finished writing Tartan Revolver, the first of my three published books. I'd bought for the purpose a fat little manual in two tones of grey; when you pushed the plump red lozenge of a certain mysterious key, its carriage would track from right to left with an oily sort of thrum: yoddle-oddle-oddle-oddle-oddle.
Behind that window up there, I completed a vivid, skinny novel, yes. And it might be fun to get a picture, to take a photo of those doomed, disappointed-seeming panes. A Fujicolor disposable would do the trick, but I'd have lots of film left over.
My present address is temporary. No sleek savvy cat dozes on the fire-escape, nor are my neighbours prostitutes and members of Black Power, but I like and use the peace and quiet here. If I duck down through the pines to Wallace Street, I can be in the city in twenty minutes.
I keep the joint uncluttered, low on visual noise. The spines of a hundred books and a Chinese wall-hanging—I confess to finding colour enough in these.
With regard to my worthless Chinese banderole: in search perhaps of balance, centredness, I sometimes contemplate its ghostly torrents, its floaty crags.page 140
The Chinese seem to manage not to rear psychopathic monsters. The Chinese are sane and fill their jeans nicely (I've noticed that the young men tend to have good legs).
The truth of the matter is, I like the Chinese. I like their restaurants and cafés; I like their tanks of goldfish, their glossy black enamel, their lanterns with scarlet tassels. I like the sweet and sour of their temperate, amusable demeanours.
As the coal-burning city steams its way toward nightfall, I picture myself living in some muggy Chinatown, renting a room above a busy kitchen, playing noughts and crosses on a grimy little board of teak and porcelain. Smoking my opium.
'You wouldn't like it,' says Martin. (A dollop of clarification: my friend the postman is not of course my postman. We meet in town, if we meet at all, only when he's completed his route and is making his way home.)
'You're right,' I say. 'Forget the opium.'
'I'm not depriving you of your narcotic. It's just that you'd find the Chinese world too populace and hectic.'
'Probably. What with all that gambling, all those tong vendettas.'
'Quite. So what are you reading, at the moment?'
'Don DeLillo's Underworld. For the fourth time. Underworld is the book for me.'
'The one you take to the desert island?'
'Absolutely. There are more stories in Underworld … than are actually in Underworld. The Don DeLillo of Underworld extends to infinity in all directions.'
'High praise indeed.'
'Indeed. And don't get me started on the prose itself.'
I seem to be forever buying milk. Buying milk or thinking that the blood-vessels in my right leg are collapsing. And yet I've had my picture in the paper, been on the radio.
My dream goes something like this:
Good Friday in a detox ward somewhere. The sweet, metallic smell of Wattie's canned spaghetti.
A pathetically sweaty Greek gangster has the bed next to mine. 'I'm shaking like a jelly over here.'
'Just hang tough,' I tell him.
'When's our next medication due?'
'I can feel some kind of seizure coming on. I've wrought some fucking havoc in me time, but I don't deserve this.'
'What goes up must come down. Or something.'
'Them Nazis out the nursing station—the filph is toffs compared!'
My dead but ageless father appears. Suit and tie, hair parted wetly, familiar gold ring. 'I've always liked this town. Denny Mahon and I were stationed here during the early part of the war. I thought I'd take the bus out to the old aerodrome, have a look around.'
'Do that, Dad.'
'Will I see you at all, you know, when you grow up? Will there be a number I can ring?'
Dr Mephisto is next. Earring, three days' growth, soap-scented hands. (What do they want with me, these attractive young men?) 'Your pancreas is inflamed. Likewise your already fatty liver.'
'Ever had a shot of benzoethylcryptotriplicate?'
'Hurts like hell, believe me. What are your thoughts on Dreiser?'
'I've never read him. The last ten minutes of Carrie were terrific.'
'You're referring to the William Wyler film?'
'With Laurence Olivier, yes. With Laurence Olivier being utterly tragic.'
'I put it to you that Don DeLillo is not the totally groovy, funky and together, hip wizard seer you think he is.'
'He's merely very good. Is what I think.'
'Don DeLillo sucks. Ditto Bruno Swan and Tartan Revolver. I'm tempted to reach for the hurty stuff.'