The Dancer

December 22, 2008

She is perfect, swallows up the room like oxygen. Her skin, lit by orange and purple, seems impossibly cast in bronze. All that was before and what comes next is forgotten. There is obscenity all around me, but I only see her. She moves like a gazelle among swaying straw, taller than a tower from where I sit, and spins the pole like a whirlwind. She moves so close to me I can smell her sweat, but then moves away again. I tap the floor with a twenty-dollar bill and wait for it to happen. Her neck and back snaps like a snake, moving downward and unfolding again to the unbreakable pounding of music. She kneels to me and I feel her breath on my chin as I close my eyes and take her in. I command her to stretch on the floor and then sketch her on thick white paper, naked and free. Then tied to a pole between twenty caged lions in circus, the ring-leader shouting and whipping. She’s posing on a small pedestal in the midst of the circle, as the orchestra starts into a weeping requiem, the horns and accordions bellowing in minor, in and out of the repeating three-four mechanics of the steel drums. Everyone’s ready and drooling, waiting for the release. As the bell rings and the lions are freed, a hero appears at the crest of the audience, handsome and young, approaching her quickly in a cloud of sawdust. He fights off the lions with his golden saber and then clenching her tight, leap towards the the ceiling, slipping out through the small hole in the roof.

I can touch her too if I want, but something holds me back. My arm weakens when I reach for her, wanting to feel whatever heat drives her. As she spreads her legs and folds them around my neck, the sensuality of her perfect dynamic control is almost too much causing a hint of shame in me, and instead of looking straight into the depth of her, I focus on her eyes and mouth. This unexpected inability to take her with my eyes, a minor rejection, seems to frighten her. She untangles herself and gives me a confused almost hurt look and finishes her act, sliding back to the tail of the stage and then finally disappears behind the black curtain. The girls after her seem only as a vulgar afterthought, strained, trained and anonymous.

There is now a sadness in me so great it fills my presence like cancer. And I don’t know if it is because of what she commands, her excellence or the sensation that it is all there is to it, to her and to this moment.

The rain was ripping up concrete like blunt razors on soft skin, as I walked along; cold, wet and wearing brown leather shoes never made for any kind of muddy of excursion. I had been dropped off half a mile up the road by a handsome young man named Patrick, who thought he knew where I was heading. He had left me at a turnoff where I needed to go straight, so I jumped out the car, waited for a hole in the blistering traffic, crossed the road, continued down and headed for the next highway-bridge. Catching the cars as they came down the off-ramp was not only the best way to get a ride, but also the safest and only legal one on the highway. I held out my arm for the sake of chance, though it soon became tiresome, as there were hardly any gaps in the passing cars. The rain kept its pace, but I ignored it until I finally saw the bridge out in the distance, which sparked both hope and enthusiasm.

It was at this exact moment that I heard the sirens wailing. And then I saw him; riding on a white motorcycle with heavy features, leather boots and a helmet that gleamed like a beady pearl through the downpour. Despite the wild roar of traffic and the screeching wind, I had no trouble hearing the screaming that burst out of the man like little lightnings, slowly escalating as I resistantly approached him. His eyes were thunder and tornado, deep holes of fury and hell that almost struggled to pop out and feast on what had dared to compromise with law. I put down my guitar-case and patiently waited, knowing that his rage would soon wear off. Hopefully he would come to his senses. After a minute or two some of the damp had finally vaporized from his skull, and as he tried to recall what he was supposed to do in this kind of situation, my mind wandered off and I came to remember the first encounter I had with the law.

In the village where I was raised, there was an old german war bunker on top of a steep hill. There is not much to tell about the village, except everyone was somehow involved in the fishing industry, and for those of us housed near the harbor, there was a constant odor of salt, seaweed and fish. My family lived just beneath the bunker, in an old barrack that had been left by the germans in World War II and so the walls were frail and weak, as it was only put up to last for a few years; the insulation poor, if not non-existing. The five apartments that made up the long one-floor house were small, with high ceilings that had once provided space for eighty soldiers, three sergeants and one lieutenant. The soldiers had lived twenty per apartment in tall quadruple bunk beds with shared toilet, shower and kitchen; the officers lived in the eastern most apartment in separate, bigger rooms. It was in this officers-oasis that we now lived and I had one week prior to the incident, behind a board in one of our closets, discovered a wall-painting that had been made, presumably by one of the officers. It wasn’t exactly inspired or original work, as it merely showed the brown german war eagle, holding a ring with the black swastika in its talons. I had seen the swastika before, but had no idea of what it symbolized or represented, only that it was connected to war.

Sometime during the next week I found a canister of red spray paint in our shared garage, and soon felt both inspiration and idea for my first piece. And so, when choosing the motive and canvas for my debut as an artist, it was all so obvious. I climbed the hill, then the bunker and unleashed my creative force in two golden, precious minutes. And behold, there it was; red and drooling, with an obvious lack of craftsmanship, looking over the city from an old german war bunker. It proved to be the perfect canvas in all of it’s dark green, booming from the highest hill. I hadn’t gotten it all right though, as I had somehow done a mirrored version of the original, with the legs of the swastika now turning counter-clockwise, which compared to the original came out somewhat silly, and in hindsight could have been prevented by doing a simple sketch or mental note of the thing.

My mother faced me that evening wearing her mental X-Ray goggles (which all women are given when they become mothers) and asked if I knew anything about the paint on the bunker. Naturally, the interrogation went fast and smooth and I soon started into sobbing and apologizing. I had been through a period of experimentation with the limits of my given boundaries (including fireworks, sudden disappearance and general obedience), and this time it was decided to put and end to it. I was to turn myself in to the local sheriff first thing in the morning before school, and admit to the crime. I used every trick possible to soften her, cried sincerely and begged forgiveness; but it was useless. The hardness in her goodnight-kiss was like a postal stamp to my forehead, and it sparked a fear in me that none of my deeds would be forgotten as I slept.

There was a growing knot the size of my fist, eating away on the little courage left in me, as we entered the police station. The sheriff was sitting at his desk, and as we entered he gave me a short look from above his reading glasses, as if to signal that I had been noticed, but there was going to some nervous waiting before we could get down to business. After a torturous ten minutes he called me up to his desk, and trembling I stuttered what my mother had instructed me to say earlier, with a voice so frail it was barely heard. I remember his steps like little earthquakes as he rose from the brown stool and approached me from behind the office desk. With lowered eyebrows and grave importance he then gave me the lecture of my life in wrong and right, only lifting his right index finger once or twice for dramatic effect. A small-town sheriff didn’t have much to do in those days and the highlights of a week were therefore somewhat sparse. Therefore he had dressed up in his finest black of outfits including hat; pistol; baton; belt; boots and even dusted off his walkie-talkie for the occasion. I was appalled, shaken by his majestic figure, moving my head up and down in slow nods, while my mother kept a firm grip of my shoulders. We all soon came to the agreement that nothing of the like would ever happen again.

The poor man on the motorcycle was of course in no position to be aware of this; that I had already been lessoned; and as he unleashed his long line of mad didactic advisory, the fat mustache on his upper lip seemed to move almost like a unibrow of the mouth, moving with every shifting emotion and outburst. I was admittedly a bit hypnotized by the masculinity and power that it seemed to possess, and the officer soon gave up; he couldn’t figure out if I was either a young man of extreme stubbornness or silent stupidity, and it seemed to befuddle him.

Instead of sending me to the bridge that lay a hundred meters in front of us, I was commanded back to the previous one, five kilometers in backwards direction. Following the highway back was not an option, I was told, so I’d have to fight myself back through knee-high grass, bushes, thorns and cornfields (which would eventually make my appearance as the huddled, dirty and soaked hitchhiker complete). I suppose this was his measured punishment, and there was no point in arguing. He followed this with an assurance that he would come back and check that I was not walking against traffic, and if I did, he would make sure a car be sent to pick me up and take me to station so I could be held responsible for my outrageous behavior.

As he was turning on his engine, I said in my politest, most affected manner; “Thank you, Sir!”; and I just may have spotted a forming bead in his eye as he paused for a second, nodded back, and then drove off. As he checked out from the station later that evening, returned home and climbed into his bed next to his wife, and another night of sleep and denial, he must have thought to himself “Maybe I did get through to this one after all”.

The Paris Review

December 14, 2008

I’d like to recommend this wonderful collection of interviews from The Paris Review stating back to the 1950’s and including sessions with Ernest Hemingway, Styron, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Henry Miller and to more contemporary writers like Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk. You’ll need the Adobe Reader or a similar appplication for viewing the PDF’s, but that shouldn’t be much to ask for access to this virtual goldmine.

NOTE: All interviews from 1950’s-1980’s are free, the rest purchasable.

The Paris Review

Liquor Store Opening Times

December 2, 2008

12.05 pm – Eight hours and fifty-five minutes to go.
It’s a little past midday as I open my eyes. I feel safe and warm under my covers, made out of a woolen blanket and two unzipped sleeping bags. I always forget exactly where I’m situated until I open my eyes and look into the whiteness that stares at me, half an arms length from my head. In case you’re wondering, it’s not the walls I’m talking about, it’s the table. That’s right; I actually sleep, not under it, but inside the thing. It fills up about fifty percent of my little shack and its quite multi-functional, considering the simplicity of its structure. On it I store my books, clothes, my toothbrush, shaver and specs and a wide selection of glasses, plates, cutlery and bottles. I lay awake for a while and listen to what’s going on around me. An overgrown garden spawns a wide selection of sounds, from whistling birds to thumping possums, but you can always count on it to differ from the previous day.

1.17 pm – Seven hours and forty-three minutes to go.
Johnny Cash is still moaning the same song that woke me up and now it’s stuck in my head. I must have dozed off. This time I’m not letting sleep get to me again though, I crawl out of bed (literally), fold the mattress and covers, and proceed to perform my rituals of waking. Toilet first. Then coffee. Then a slice of bread with peanut butter and some cereals if there’s any milk left. I read for a bit and then head for the shower which I enjoy having medium temperature and long.

2.10 pmSix hours and fifty minutes to go
My head feels heavy. I don’t know if it was last nights adventures or the promise of the day that gets too me. I decide to answer some emails. I have about fifty unanswered ones, that poke away at my guilt like an army of disappointed mothers, every time I open my Inbox.

2.12 pm – Six hours and forty-eight minutes to go
Wait a minute, that looks interesting. A Facebook link, linking to a Youtube video that turns my attention to a music weblog, pointing me to a Wikipedia article that got me thinking of something I had in mind last night.

4.26 pm – Four hours and thirty-four minutes to go
I decided that I was in no mood for communication and instead stared helplessly at the screen for over two hours. I have no idea what I’ve been doing. I’d better get dressed.

5.00 pm – Four hours to go
The decision I made last night about not drinking today seems to have worked well. I feel strong, but my head is still heavy, despite having consumed four cops of Nescafe Gold Instant Coffee. I don’t have any plans. I don’t know what to do. There’s always a concert of course, maybe I should do that. No, it’s a bad idea. You know what’ll happen. You’ll enter the venue with strong will, but as soon as the bartender asks you what you’ll have, you know there’s no option of going for soda or water. It’s just not you. You can’t imagine yourself standing there with a Coca-Cola, which you don’t really like anyway. No, stay at home, work on your new song, get it done.

5.45 pm – Three hours and fifteen minutes to go
I disappeared into the song and forgot time. I like that. But now images of the liquor store keeps popping up, like little animated sequences before my eyes. I see myself wandering past the vast lines of wine, deciding I feel like something fresher I head for the beer that’s being cooled in not less than seven refrigerators, standing long and tall at the end of the shop. Fresh, chilled with the promise of good times. I cut of the nonsense that’s blistering through my head by doing the dishes. The water scolds my hands but it doesn’t seem to bother me.

6.17 pm – Two hours and forty-three minutes to go
I have twenty dollars left, which means I can get a cask of wine and a six pack. Or maybe two casks of wine if I buy the cheap stuff. Or maybe two six-packs. Or a bottle of wine and a small flask of scotch. Or maybe a bottle of wine, a small flask of scotch and two beers for starters. I give myself a good, hard mental slapping and remind myself that I have to take Kelly out for lunch tomorrow. I have a feeling she’ll be disappointed if I decide to show her the virtues and delicious variety of dumpster diving, while explaining I spent my last money on getting drunk. I’ve got to find somewhere cheap to take her though; twenty won’t last me long.

7.00 pm – Two hours to go

Feeling itchy and shaky. It’s getting cold in my little shack. The walls are thin as carton and temperature is dropping fast. Still, I have a feeling that bad insulation is not what’s giving me the heeby jeebies. I pet the dogs, walk around, play my guitar, sing some songs, drink some coffee, eat some rice and bread, check my email, put my clothes in the washer, talk to myself, wash my hands, turn around, forget what I was doing. It’s useless. Time is moving slower than ever, in snail pace, swaggering along in slow motion. Time is not on your side. Never has been. It’s always too fast or slow. You have to make it disappear. Perhaps that’s why we drink, play, draw, write, fuck or find other ways of making ourselves oblivious to it.

8 pm – One hour to go
What’s the point anyway? After the store closes there’s always an endless amount of bars that you’ll gladly transport yourself to. Do it. Go down there, you’ll buy just a single bottle of wine, it won’t make you feel sick in the morning anyway. Maybe it’s better to just ease it down a bit, not go for the cold turkey. I give myself a hard kick in the ass and snap out of it. Maybe I should just watch a movie.

8.33 pm – One hour and twenty-seven minutes to go
Can’t focus on the movie, turn it off, walk in circles, pick up the guitar and start strumming.

8.51 pm – Nine minutes to go
Alright old boy, it’s the last chance. You can make it if you really go for it. I rush to the hallway, put on my shoes, tie the laces and proceed out the door. I’m now in a state of total ignorance towards my earlier ambitions as I deliriously speed walk down the road. There’s still some part of me in there, not wanting to actually run for it, but I’m walking as fast as my legs allow me, and I’m sure it looks absolutely ridiculous.

8.59 – One minute to go
I reach the store just as they’re rolling down the fence and yell to the clerk

Just a minute now! Let me in! This is a case of emergency! No! Don’t roll that down just yet! The register can’t be closed! There’s still.. thirty seconds left! I want to see your boss immediately! Oh you are the boss. Let me buy just a bottle of wine, it won’t take more than a minute. Here I’ll give you a ten for the eight dollar bottle. Come on! Aww, you heartless swine. I’ll never shop here again if my life depended on it. There you go, you’ve just lost a customer. I hope you feel good about yourself. Clerk rhymes JERK you know that?“.

9.01 pm – closed
I walk home with a pounding chest, a volcano of fury and agony, enter the shack, wank off and sleep ’till the next morning where everything is just the same.

Except today, I’ll definately make it down there in time.

I wake up in a white room. It looks like a hotel but everything’s so clean-cut that it could be a dentists waiting lounge. I lay awake for a while and things slowly come back. I don’t even have to turn around to figure she’s gone. There’s not a sound in the room. Not even the hissing of a breath. I stand up, take three steps and find myself in a small triangular box of mirrors. There’s a toilet but no shower. No towels either. A small window with yellow curtains is looking out to the street and on the bedside table lays a paper bag of instant coffee and some teas, but no cup and I can’t be bothered to search it out. I put on my clothes, fix myself up, drink all the water I can store in me and stagger down the narrow hallway. It looks and smells like the inside of a ferry I once took to Norway.

On the way out, the receptionist gives me a cold look. I vaguely remember him giving me all sorts of shit for wanting to rent a single room, when we were obviously two. In the end I had to pay for a double room with the last money I had. I’m broke. No money for food, coffee, a newspaper or even a bus ticket. To top things off I see that my right shoe has almost broken in two and as I curse to the God that has clearly abandoned me, rain starts kissing my forehead, dropping from a gang of black, concrete clouds.

I reach into the pocket of my jeans, get out a white piece of chalk, bend over and write on the sidewalk

I AM A NIGHT CLUB SINGER, NOT A BREAKFAST ANNOUNCER.
I AM A NIGHT CLUB SINGER, NOT A BREAKFAST ANNOUNCER.
I AM A NIGHT CLUB SINGER, NOT A BREAKFAST ANNOUNCER.

over and over and over again, as if struck by some kind of gentle, repetitive madness. As my writings reach the the middle of the street like a long crackling manuscript, I look up and see seven or eight cars in line; a polyphonic choir of honky-tonk, country steel automobile singers. I stand up, swagger back to the sidewalk, put out my thumb and hope for the best.

At least now, I have their attention.