I just tripped over my dog. As he's seen plenty of insurance company tv adverts, he barked and ran straight to the treat jar for compensation. However, he was partly to blame for this incident, so I'm now faced with the difficult task of explaining to him the concept of contributory negligence, which is a bit of a nuisance because I already have a ton of stuff I need to get done today. Sigh.
Recently, I met a friend for breakfast and managed to eat in a manner that might have suggested to the casual onlooker that I’d never before encountered cutlery.
On leaving the restaurant, I, in my usual sharply perceptive and observant way, completely failed to notice a rather large and otherwise obvious downward step, which meant I fell to the ground in much the same manner as the whale in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but without the grace. Oddly enough, one of the things that went through my mind before I landed was “Oh no, not again”, but this has less to do with me wanting to identify as a bowl of petunias and more to do with the fact that I did the exact same thing three years ago.
Anyway, then I had to drive on the I5, which completely lived up to my expectations. Of course, my expectations were that it would be a miserable nightmare. Then I had to do it again, but in the other direction, which was equally as bad. But I survived, so all things considered, it was a pretty good day.
A play in one act by Paul Johnson Rogers.
Jim: A grumpy, middle-aged middle manager who mistakenly thinks he’s clever because he earns good money and has a nice house and a big car.
Ken: A highly intelligent, underpaid teacher who rents a small, crappy apartment and drives a small, crappy car, and is so happy and content with his frugal life that it drives Jim crazy.
Scene: Jim is showing Ken round his new house. They’re in the kitchen.
Ken: “Nice house! What’s behind that door?”
Jim: “That’s where I keep my guns.”
(Jim opens the door)
Ken: “Awesome. Wow! You have loads of guns! Why do you need so many?”
Jim (defensively): “It’s my God given right to have as many guns as I want.”
Ken: “That’s interesting. Although probably a bit stupid. Which particular God is this? There are plenty of them...”
Jim: “THE God. You know? He’s the one true God.”
Ken: “Ok. So how did he give you the right to own guns. Is there a document or something? Perhaps a stone tablet?”
Jim: “It’s in the US constitution, dumbass.”
Ken: “Well, that’s not true. So if there’s no documentary evidence of your God given right, perhaps you could get your God to come along and just confirm the situation?”
Jim: “Shut up. It’s just a fact. Everyone knows that God wants us to have lots of guns.”
Ken: “Well, Jim, your God doesn’t sound that great, to be honest. As you know, I’m a devout Christian, and I don’t think the Christian God would like your God very much.”
Jim: “Shut up.”
A guy in the supermarket just asked me if I was a doordasher, which I at first thought was someone who filled their cart and fled the store without paying, until he patiently explained that it was a food delivery person, so I replied that I hadn’t yet had that pleasure, but what with the exigencies of the economy, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the uncertainty of royalty payments over the next decade or two and so on and so forth it would be foolish to rule anything out in the future, and he nodded, smiled a rictus smile and slowly but determinedly backed away, clearly regretting initiating our interaction, whilst I walked away invigorated and energized, almost to the point where I was tempted to leave without paying just to see what would happen, but of course my cursed morals wouldn’t let me, so that was another missed adventure, although I did, at least, get a long sentence out of it, albeit thankfully not in a prison.
So, by and large, we stopped that nonsense and thereby took another small step towards civilization. Let’s hope we can take a few more.
Suddenly, they all started demanding tea and and a wide assortment of sandwiches. (The triplets wanted a 'nut-free guarantee'. They didn't have allergies or anything, they were just being assholes). I was getting quite stressed trying to come up with thirty different sandwich recipes using only the ingredients I had to hand when the 'meaning' of the dream became clear.
Well-meaning people sometimes suggest to me that I should write stuff like Keith Urban or Tom Petty, to which I always respond "Why on Earth would I do that?! It's been done. It's a bit like advising aspiring authors to write stories about schoolboy wizards or magic wardrobes". So I suppose the lesson of the dream, if there really is one, is that songwriting is a bit like making sandwiches. Creatives will knock themselves out trying to come up with new recipes, but most of the time, the public only wants more cheese.
I recently went for a job that I really, really wanted. I got down to the last two candidates, but ultimately came the (very nicely worded) rejection email. For a couple of hours, I was absolutely gutted. Even the dog could sense that something was up, and came over to offer sympathy and cuddles (but not biscuits, I couldn’t help but notice). Unusually for me, I started to think that I was sick of this industry, the feast or famine, the ups and downs that inevitably take their toll on your self-esteem. But years of this yo-yo crap must’ve toughened me up a tad; by this morning I was back to my usual irrepressible, optimistic (and hopefully not irredeemably deluded) self.
So, onwards and upwards as they say.
This was also very cool.
The timeshifted town we visited is today called Oak Harbor, but I don’t know what it was called fifty years ago, and I don’t really care to be honest, because the pizza place we found there (called Alfy’s) served us what was possibly the most delicious pizza we’ve ever had. We were also granted access to a ‘salad bar’ that, true to the time period, contained very little actual salad, although there were dried black olives and artificial bacon bits in abundance.
The best bit, though, was the decor. I had no idea that garish pictures of food on laminated menus, bright red plastic seats, faux-wooden tables and the sight of neon signs flickering from the windows of neighboring establishments could evoke such nostalgia. Together with the vacant streets and the dismal feeling of neglect that always accompanies the view of an empty harbor, I needed only flared trousers and a floral shirt to complete my transition to 1971. Ultimately, of course, we got back in the car, the time flux capacitor worked its magic, and we made it safely back to our own timeline, which I suppose is really just as well, being as a) the dog was demanding food, b) there was washing up still to do and c) the seventies was actually a pretty crap decade and I’d rather go forward in time than back.
The preparations included two shopping trips and a substantial capital outlay on fabrics and down. Fortunately, I was banished to the studio for the duration of the actual works, although I was nonetheless still peripherally aware of much bustling and commotion in the local vicinity. At last came the great reveal. Our bed had become a festival of pillows and lace. I’m sure I could hear choirs of angels singing in celebration, possibly something by Bruckner. I went through my usual five stages of consciousness: affable bewilderment, existential anxiety, slow comprehension, cautious acceptance and quiet relief. I then entered the rare sixth stage: ebullient enthusiasm.
For me, the word ‘boudoir’ has now become a verb; ‘boudoiring’ is my new favorite activity. “Where’s Paul?”, you might inquire. “Boudoiring”, will come the inevitable reply. Or it might be contracted: “He’s upstairs having a boud”.
So, you might ask, how exactly does one engage in the activity of ‘boudoiring’? It’s really quite simple. You approach the bed as an altar, with reverence and awe. Having paid your respects to the goddess, you sit gingerly on the edge of the mattress and then, using either hand - or both, if it seems appropriate - you pick up the pillows and launch them across the room at a high velocity, making little explosion noises - peeow, peeow, peeow! - aiming at any target that takes your fancy: hideous Victorian prints, imaginary possums, even those monstrous ornaments your children manifested in pottery class that pollute every surface in the house. And then, when the bed is free from encumbrance, you lay down, get comfortable, shut your eyes and relax, serene and happy that you have gained facility in the art of boudoiring. I thoroughly recommend it.
Hummingbirds are fantastical creatures. I was sitting outside on a sweltering and humid Missouri afternoon, listening to the wall of sound that is the chorus of a multitude lovelorn cicadas when, out of thin air, a hummingbird materialized just in front of me, gave me a look that suggested I was a scandalous waste of space, then dematerialized again. Honestly, they're like something out of Star Trek, popping in and out of empty space, sometimes with a slight blur and a whirr, usually with just a beady eye. Sometimes, in the manner of Carroll's Cheshire Cat, the beady eye seems to remain for a moment when the rest of the bird has gone.
Then later, still outside, in the sultry night, I sat watching the fireflies against the stars, listening to the cicadas and frogs. Sure, it was hot and humid, but it was also magical and mysterious and very, very beautiful.
Our plane landed at Chicago. It was lunchtime and it was hot; we disembarked, slowly cleared customs, eventually found our luggage, collected the car, picked up the dog and then started to drive. We'd intended to follow Route 66, but we were tired and running late so headed for the I55. After an hour or so of M25-at-its-worst type traffic, we stopped at a Wendy's to buy some salt with a meal attached. Interesting place! The server immediately and confidently identified me as a Frenchman. The single cubicle in the gents' restroom was occupied by two men having an intense and angry whispered conversation. Meanwhile, in the car park, a number of briskly discreet transactions were taking place that, I'm sure, had nothing to do with the management of that esteemed establishment. It suddenly occurred to us that our big, bright, shiny, new, expensive hire car loaded with a dozen suitcases was beginning to attract interest so, without much reluctance, we left.
And kept driving.
Eventually, at ten in the evening, we realised that, including the flight, we'd been travelling for twenty-two hours straight, so we stopped at a motel in Springfield, IL, that was trying very, very hard to look respectable. The evening heat was oppressive; oddly, the chirruping cicadas did little to lighten the mood. Outside the main entrance, a heavily tattooed trucker watched her young son dig for worms with his bare hands, the better to assist them in catching fish for next day's lunch, while she conducted a very loud phone conversation explaining why she wasn't allowed to go back to Texas.
Despite appearances, the guy at the counter was a really nice chap, which made up somewhat for the fact that when we entered our room a number of large bugs scurried off the faux-Formica-Melamine-style surfaces into various crevices on the vinyl-substitute-Lino-effect flooring. We didn't care; we slept and, on waking up, found we hadn't been bitten so, all in all, we were happy. After a hurried - and horrid - breakfast at a nearby burger emporium, we began the preparations for another two-hundred mile drive to our new home...
...which welcomed us with a few days of utterly gorgeous sunshine, although with the mercury nudging 100°F, we were grateful that the humidity for which Missouri summers are renowned had yet to set in. The wildlife kept us alternately fascinated and horrified; magical fireflies danced to the cicadas' chorus while the body of a long-dead red cardinal bird shuddered and twitched as it erupted with maggots and centipedes like a vision from one of the more pestilential pits of hell. There's a little copse - perhaps half an acre - that adjoins our back garden. It's dark in there, thick and tangled with trees and bushes, but it's heaving with life. I'm sure I could spend an instructive hour or two exploring it with a flashlight, a magnifying glass and perhaps some body armour. Of course, I'm kidding about the body armour - I'd also want a flamethrower and a full bio-hazard suit. Untamed nature can be very intimidating. A new friend mentioned how only that morning he'd ventured into his garage and a King Snake dropped from a shelf near the ceiling and slithered away to a dark corner near the door. Outwardly I smiled but inwardly I was aghast, even more so when he described it as 'a good thing'. (Apparently, the King Snakes eat the Copperhead snakes whose bite can be unpleasantly toxic to humans). By now, my smile had become something of a rictus and, almost appropriately, the sky darkened and a storm scudded in, searing flashes of lightning accompanied by crashing thunder and syncopated hail. Thankfully, despite media warnings, the tornado sirens remained silent. I'm fascinated by tornadoes, but preparing to face the reality suddenly made me realise I'd much rather watch one from a distance than be an active participant.
A week to the day after arriving, the first consignment of all our worldly goods was delivered. This was merely those boxes that had been air-freighted: clothes, linen, towels etc. The thought that the rest of our stuff - especially my precious recording studio - was still bobbing about on a container ship in the mid-Atlantic made me sad and slightly anxious. No point in dwelling on it though; my back-up data drives travelled with me as hand luggage so I knew my recordings were safe and as, generally, all I need for composition purposes is manuscript and a pencil, I didn't really have anything to worry about.
Well, then. We had arrived, safe and sound in our new country, nearly ready to start our new lives. We were just waiting for our boat to come in.
Today, I went to the supermarket and completely forgot to buy one of those bags of salad that you leave unopened at the bottom of the fridge for two months until the contents degenerate into slime but then evolve into an entirely new form of supervirus that would be eager and able to totally destroy the human race if only it could get out of the bag.
But fear not: I’ve made a note so I’ll remember to get one tomorrow.
A little while ago, I went along to meet someone on whom I wanted to make a good impression, not least for future work opportunities.
You might have had an experience when you were young and single, perhaps at a bar, where you met someone smoking hot, and at the very least you wanted them to think you’re a normal human being, but for some reason you sidled up to them, your voice went weird and you said something totally inane, such as ‘I like three different types of mustard’.
And they smiled and nodded and backed away, and you wondered why you did that and wished the Earth would swallow you up.
Well, it was a bit like that.
Sorry M——; if by some miracle you ever read this, I’m not usually such a klutz 😂😂😂
But then I recalled the glorious art form that is the school nativity play. These are supremely brilliant! The stable always contains a non-standard animal e.g. a lobster, one of the sheep usually mutates into a dalek or a T. Rex and attacks the shepherds, Joseph suffers a bout of early-onset-testosterone and decides to defend Mary’s honor against the villainous, cackling innkeeper, and the poor angel, suspended in a harness so tight that she’s turning blue, manages to hurl a wondrous arc of yellow and green bile straight into the baby’s crib, by which time the supervising teacher, who only got the job for upsetting a senior colleague, is fighting back tears and planning to stop off at the liquor store on the way to a hastily-booked therapy appointment. Add into the mix a gaggle of stage mums, two super-intent ‘video dads’ in frosty competition, a snoring grandad and lots of restive babies and you’ll understand why I think it’s the perfect way to spend an hour. 😂😂
Which led me to wonder whether I have any irrational fears. Now obviously, I’m scared of things like losing someone I love, sustaining a life-changing injury or developing a terminal illness etc, but these fears are, of course, perfectly normal. And then it occurred to me, I do have an irrational fear, and it’s quite a biggie.
I’m worried that I’ll be on my deathbed and Kate, my wonderful wife, will be comforting me as I pass and suddenly, somewhere inside my dying brain, a random neuron will misfire so that, with my dying breath, I whisper the name Barbara. Now, I don’t know anyone called Barbara, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone called Barbara. But Kate, the love of my life, will spend the rest of her life upset and angry about this non-existent Barbara woman, and I will spend the rest of my afterlife utterly furious that my stupid brain could do such a stupid thing, to the point that I’d probably start making a lot of ghostly fuss and smashing a few things up, which is not something I ever did when I was alive, but is probably excusable under the circumstances.
Anyway, at least my irrational fear has solved a long-standing mystery. We now know what poltergeists are, how they’re created and that they’re all Barbara’s fault.