All these nights, all these adventures…it’s all one night. A kaleidoscope of moments that merge and fracture and rearrange in new patterns.
Step up to the eye-piece. Yes, come closer. Closer still. Let me show you.
Early European sailors called this the Cape of Storms. Some spoke of the giant monster Adamastor who dwelt off our coast and would hurl violent seas at explorers. Peer into my kaleidoscope and you will see the winter nights heralded by long dusky sunsets; low clouds hang over the city and truncate the mountain. A moody scene dimly-lit. Each incoming storm looms over the peninsula like Adamastor made real. The skies are a mottled blend of indigo and charcoal, veined with lighter shades of grey. Towards the west, the hidden sun casts lurid shades of maroon, like the bleeding flesh of a ripe plum. The sky looks like a fresh bruise. A bruise that precedes the blow.
Let’s shake the kaleidoscope.
The windscreen wipers sweep right, flicking drops into the black. Ahead the rear lights of the other cars curve through the darkness like a string of glowing rubies. Disturbed is blaring from the speakers as I carve through the storm and the traffic.
Tilt the kaleidoscope.
The windscreen wipers sweep left to reveal a city in the midst of a power outage. The cars cut through dark concrete canyons. The clouds part and the stars triumphantly declare themselves over the darkened streets; as if singing: “Don’t switch on your lights just yet, for we would show you a thing!” And they do. Jupiter and Venus share a rare dance.
A rare dance indeed. I’m in a club called Oblivion (let’s not even dwell on the unintended irony of the name). Around me the crowd is heaving like a tumultuous sea racked by currents of hormones, sweat and alcoholic abandon. Raidne seems a siren, with this sea of dancers crashing on the shores of the table she’s dancing on. She keeps rebuffing idiots that get on the table to grind against her. Eventually I join her to discourage the idiots. I ask (well, shout, to be heard over the music) if those are latin dancing steps she’s performing. Her eyes light up. She takes my hands and teaches me a few steps.
At The Shack, by the downstairs pool table. Hemingway is lining up a shot. Jefferson Starship belts out “We built this city on rock’n’roll!” Everyone is singing along. I twirl Alexa, the pool cue in my hand whirling perilously around. I turn to Arbus, grab her hands and for a few seconds she dances, head down so her hair obscures her face.
There’s ink everywhere. Still bleeding words. Words. Worse. Who even writes poems any more? Angsty teenagers. And me. Who reads poetry any more? And this blog. More ink, just spilling over everything. There’s ink on my nights, my friends, my hands. Shall I quote the lady with the stained hands from the Scottish play? Or perhaps paraphrase her doomed husband: waded in a river of ink so far, that to return would be as arduous as to continue across? Internal haemorrhage of ink. With all the ink inside I expect to look at my myself and find black veins and bruises covering my skin, eyes wet with oil, ink instead of saliva. If kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray, then kissing a writer must be like tasting the ink of a thousand yet-to-be-told words and unborn stories.
The arch of a back, like the graceful curve of a ship’s hull cresting a wave. These storms, we ride these storms. Some even chase these storms.
“Be my Babylon”, she said. And his heart bloomed like a roman candle lit.
No, that didn’t happen, nobody said that, but the thought comes to me full-formed at 04h00 as I switch off the light after a long night… and it feels real.
“You should write that into a story”, I tell myself and drift off.
There’s glass strewn across my car seat. Thieves come, like thieves do, in the night. And as thieves often do, gain almost nothing, but cause considerable damage.
The radio is intact – the music remains.
I replace the window before the next rains.
Stoker is in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car. He registers movement in his peripheral vision. He turns his head, as if in slow motion. A car’s grill looms. Breathless moment. Can you feel the blow coming? Anticipate the crushing crunching impact of metal on metal? Let us flinch and -this once- grant ourselves the luxury of looking away. Nobody is badly hurt, that’s all that matters.
Teumessia -wearing a beanie with two tassels that makes her look like Minnie Mouse- smiles her quirky smile and kisses her wife. The smoke hangs thickly across the room. Rain taps softly at the windows. Later she tries valiantly but unsuccessfully to twerk, to everyone’s delight. The dancers in the group proceed to give demonstrations. Things get decidedly rowdy.
We are at The Annex, where the music and the crowd are all plastic-rainbows-and-silver-linings, and we are the dark threatening cloud. The jocks and teenage girls don’t know what to make of us. Stoker drags on his cigarette, with an expression that’s distinctly Italian. I half-expect him to shrug with palms turned upward and say: “What can you do?” The club’s attempt at decoration for the evening consists of randomly strewn glitter, glow-in-the-dark bangles, sparklers, balloons and unused sanitary pads (I kid you not). Indeed, what can you do? Fitzgerald nearly starts a brawl over a balloon.
Same night, but now we’re at Alexander Bar, with its low lighting and Victorian splendour. I coax a decorative typewriter into a semblance of life and the 1am-novelist-collective is born, as we take turns to type on the back of a menu.
Same night, but now we’re at the Kimberley Hotel, sitting at a table on the pavement. There’s a pretty gas-burner by our table, that produces a tall flame within a glass enclosure. It looks like the fucking eye of Sauron, but it produces no heat. A homeless man wearing military fatigues (authentic, as far as I can tell) appears and asks in heavily accented English if he can warm himself by our fire. He holds his hands up to the cold flame and says he’s been sleeping on the mountain, but the weather had driven him down into the city tonight to seek better shelter. After a minute he leaves again. A car parks near our table and the driver emerges, looking around as if waiting for someone. After a minute he wanders over to a wine barrel that forms part of Kimberley Hotel’s pavement furniture. He has wayward hair, an unkempt beard, and a stomach bulging over too-tight pants. Leaning his forearms on the wine barrel he proceeds to poke away at a smartphone. Up to this point he could be a minor character in a Woody Allen movie. But then he begins to grind his crotch against the wine barrel. Now it feels more like a Pythonesque skit; obscene and yet comical, because he seems unaware of his own actions, or our intense scrutiny a few steps away.
Back at Alexander Bar, Tantomile picks away at the typewriter: “how you doing? Sexy thamg. Thanks for a great da y”
Upstairs at The Shack. At the pool table I whitewash one of Teumessia’s friends. She’s immediately informed of the pool hall law and gamely starts undressing. Despite her willingness and the enthusiastic encouragement of the others, I convince her to stay clothed. Getting kicked out would spoil the evening. My tonsils are on fire and the cloud of second-hand smoke isn’t helping. But I stay and become engrossed in a long conversation about favourite books and authors with Lucy. Though we don’t speak of honey or church, Iain M Banks and Asimov feature prominently.
Same table, same couches, but a different night and different friends. Hemingway is sucked into a succession of pool games with and against a group of mildly annoying strangers. Arbus drags on a cigarette and jokes about the very odd characters she would be willing to spend one wild night with. Around 01h00 her laughter runs dry mid-sentence and a look of profound sadness flashes across her face. She recomposes swiftly, makes her excuses, and disappears. We all know these moments; the ones that manage to creep up on us and leap unexpected. A stray phrase, a look, a whiff of not-forgotten fragrance… or -perhaps most disturbingly- that wondrous sense of deja vu that precedes the crisp gleaming edge of a memory that cuts like a scalpel. Oh, yes, don’t I know those well. Inkwell. An ink swell. An ocean of ink that swells and breaks across the shores where my life intersects with those of others.
The second spontaneous meeting of the 1am-novelist-collective happens -not incongruously- at 20h00. It involves a set of rejected passport photos of -shall we say- ‘dubious’ provenance. Several dozen strangers and one minor celebrity, whose photos we distribute among ourselves like playing cards. We go around the table several rounds, each laying down a photo, inventing a name and personality and linking them to the previous characters in an elaborate and outrageous story. So outrageous that it could never be published without inciting untold hatred and vitriol. We stop before the story is concluded because Stoker insists that our brains might implode and tentacles grow from our eyes. And thus the inter-dimensional, straight/gay/trans-gendered, multi-racial, pan-religious pantomime involving two sets of triplets, a little person, a mute rapper, a twitchy bodyguard with severe OCD and mild paranoia (and a loaded gun), a minor outbreak of herpes, a Vatican assassin, and a host of characters with names so offensive I cannot mention them here, will remain forever untold.
Sontag seen over the rim of a milkshake glass at Roxy’s; we talk politics, economics and social justice.
“It’s going to sound like I’m crying.”
It’s 01h15 at The Shack. Lucy grabs my forearm and looks deep into my eyes:
Alexa at 04h24 giving the bartender lip because they’re closing shop and kicking us out.
The room is thick with herbal smoke, like the interior of Snoop Dog’s limo. How very capetonian.
Waiting at a traffic light. Hemingway arrives from the other direction. The light turns red for him and green for me. I never said it was a race. Clearly it is. He gears down, floors the accelerator, and hurls his car around the corner. I can hear the anguished wailing of his tyres through the closed windows and over the pounding bass of a John Hopkins track called ‘Collider’… Hemingway thankfully manages not to collide with anything.
Alexa at 20h00, over a plate of lasagne, sitting in the dark -safe for the pool of light cast by an LED lantern- courtesy of another power outage. We talk about astrophysics and addiction, before setting off at 23h00 in search of dessert. Chocolate, mint, caramel decadence.
Arriving home at 04h00.
Arriving home at 05h00.
Arriving home at 10h30.
Descartes may be right about thinking and existing, but let me add a clause: To breathe is to bruise.
This installment’s addition to Ye Stupendous Compendium of Free* Potential Band Names is: Be My Babylon.