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neighbourly

Having recently moved into the leafy suburbs with a couple of young lads, and hearing that the previous tenants were a bit of a nuisance, I was conscious of making a good impression on the neighbours.

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This was dashed somewhat when on a couple of occasions we had left our bins out at the end of the drive after the bin men had been and gone – and on one occasion they were left out for so long that someone returned them. A massive faux pas that makes us seem like teenagers left in a house while the parents are away. It could have been a gesture of good will, but I took it to be a passive aggressive move, a way of saying get your shit together without actually interfacing.

I’ve had bad experiences in the past. When I was 9 years old, my mother and I moved from East London to Surrey. Posh-seeming on the outside but just as subjected to Brazilification as anywhere else, as we landed on the edge of a rough council estate. To celebrate the move, and perhaps distract me from the anxiety of changing schools and friends and having only each other, my mum bought a couple of little fireworks: 10cm rockets on 30cm sticks. As it got dark, we went into our humble garden and set them off – but this was called off when our neighbours protested by throwing rocks over the fence. A charming induction, indicative of the drama that would follow.

I grew up in this house, a semi- detached terrace adjoined to speed freaks who would lift weights until the early hours of the morning. The sinewy witch who was the head of the household would be at the forefront of every confrontation if not pushing her henpecked husband to fight on her behalf. It only came to blows once, consisting of him holding my mothers shoulders, and her slapping my mother in the face. Evidently my council estate lacked the communal spirit that I seem so desperate to find.

Now I’m making every effort to be neighbourly. This morning, despite the miserable weather, I set out on my walk to work and seeing one of my neighbours pull out of her drive, I smiled and waved. I was down the road when she pulled over and asked if I would like a lift into town. This is it! This is what I have been craving. I politely decline, but continue on in the rain reassured by her kindness.

Just now I returned from work walking the same route home. Pitch black now, I see my housemate in his car outside the house – a Mini with a dinner-plate sized speedometer in the centre of the dashboard. Unmistakable. I bend at the waist and look in through the passenger window at the driver, I can barely see him in the darkness, in fact he looks uncannily like an elderly woman. Then the realisation sets in. I don’t quite know what to do and so try this morning’s trick – I smile and wave and keep on walking, past my front door because I’m embarrassed and don’t know what to do, which probably made me seem a lot creepier. I met two neighbours today, kind of, and made one good impression at least.

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Ryuk

It was the little ones birthday pretty recently. My housemate Patryk, having spent much time with him and developed some affinity, wanted to get him something he would like and so opted for something a bit dark. A little cartoonish vinyl of a character from the show Deathnote. The character being a demonic God of Death who oversees the killing of a bunch of kids for his own amusement.

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Just in from work, whilst I was giving the boy his nightly dose of Dahl, Patryk knocked on his door and explained how, as a fan of anime and manga himself, he wanted to give him a gift that would combine their interests. To introduce him to something new, but keep it a bit freakish and weird.

Seeing the black lipped wide smile and the deranged look on it’s face he pulled it close and sat it on his lap whilst I finished our chapter. And as I was turning off the light to wish him goodnight, he stopped me so that he could carefully lay Ryuk under the bed to sleep.

Not checking to make sure there are no monsters, putting one there so that he could be certain.

homelessness

Our tenancy was almost up and so my housemate and I began to look for new accommodation to include another person. We had a good thing going but we could make it better, maybe. My requirements would be a big enough space to stow a child a couple times of week, but other than that – loosey goosey baby, loosey goosey.

That said, as the time pressed closer and we still hadn’t found anything, I start to panic. Usually quite a happy-go-lucky optimist, I became emotionally wobbly at one point, which made me realise that I was afraid of something.

Begin a one week countdown until I’m homeless. I need something, a plan at least. I reach out to people for advice and temporary solutions. My new potential housemate says that he could put me up for as long as needed, and could even take on the boy. A beautifully kind gesture, but I still felt uneasy and anxious.

An unusually robotic personality, driven by logic in the same ways as Dr. Spock and Data, he asks why I am so stressed, what is it specifically that is bothering me so much, considering there is now a fix.

I pause for a moment and then begin to verbalise feelings and thoughts that I didn’t know I had, straight from my subconscious: that if I were to be staying at someones house, with all my belongings in tow or in storage, and I didn’t have a date for when I’d have my shit together, I would feel embarrassed. And then to have to bring a child to this home of someone else, I’d be mortified. I would feel like a failure to those around me, but more importantly, a failure to my son.

He looks at me, nods his head and says ‘Yeah, fair enough’ and walks off.

I know he doesn’t mean anything by this – his aim wasn’t to console me, merely to understand, and now he does, leaving me to sit and stew with this confession. Now I am able to acknowledge and better deal with the problems ahead, realising where my anxieties lie, all thanks to my autistic guru and new housemate.

barber

It would take two people complimenting me on my unshaved face to embrace the fact that I would now be actively trying to grow a beard. Granted these people were also young men with stubble of their own, itchy-backed and seeking reciprocity, and technically my employees so they could just be taking the piss, but this was the excuse I needed.

Self-conscious of the empty space that eats into the growth on my cheeks but mostly the one patch under my chin (bothering me enough to write about it at length), I had been told that to fill in these fleshy voids of masculinity I would simply need to go feral and not shave at all. More piss taking perhaps, but in for a penny in for a pound.

Not very flattering images above, but please remember the words of Orson Welles who said that: “part of the reason for the ugliness of adults, in a child’s eyes, is that the child is usually looking upward, and few faces are at their best when seen from below.” And remember too the words of my 3 Mobile Upgrade Consultant who, when speaking of my Samsung J3 (2016) said “The front camera is 5 megapixels, which means it’s a bad camera”. But enough vanity, and onto this beard that I so keenly need to preen.

I let it grow wild and wiry, poking out in all directions from my face, which is hairy enough as it is. When it gets a bit much I trim away at my neck but leave my cheeks and chin. For some reason it doesn’t look normal. Alas, I am in need of a haircut and so I head to my barbers, whom I now trust deeply. The Turkish chaps here know how to deal with dark hair, trimming below the neck of my t-shirt where others would not, throwing fire at my ears like a fucking exorcism. It feels legit.

When the guy sees my attempt at a beard, he asks what I want done with it. I want to grow it. He gives an avuncular nod and equips himself with a small set of clippers. He hacks away and creates a neckline across my throat, traces it with his finger and says that this is where I need to shave, that it will allow the hair to get some volume and make it less lop-sided on my face. He says all of this in a slightly hushed tone, as though he doesn’t want to embarrass me, which I fully appreciate but it does make the words sting a little. I clearly don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.

Onto my sideburns, he trims them down to the corner of my jaw and then in another bout of barberly advice leans in and says that I need to keep this part from growing too much, that it won’t gather, it’ll crawl out and “look like pubes”. I feel like a teenager, with this surrogate barber giving advice that will stop me from getting bullied at school.

I leave the barbers enlightened, and keep up the practice – trimming a neckline and keeping the pubes from the corners of my face. In a matter of weeks the patch has vanished. I plan to keep it going until my entire face is covered. Teen Wolf Ahoy.

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strip

After another night of exceptional food and Jazz, we find ourselves in the horribly overpopulated strip of tacky bars on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. The group want to head back but I declare that I want to find a dive bar: somewhere out the way, equally disgusting but intimate. A cosy kind of hideous. Unsurprisingly most prefer the alternative of sleep.

My offer is taken up by one but I soon realise that he has his own agenda and one stubby can later, in a quiet bar not nearly dingy enough, we head straight on to a different kind of establishment. This was my first visit to a strip club and I hadn’t anticipated it so after the entrance fee I’m left with a 20 in my wallet. Now this may be my first rodeo but I know I need smaller bills and so I buy us a couple of beers, leaving me with two dollars to play with. Best make em last.

I’m given a little walk-through tutorial, shadowing my friend as he takes me to a chair around one of the raised stages, a black marble island pierced by a golden pole. He throws a dollar out in front of us, I follow suit placing half of my total purse beside it. The woman on stage isn’t so much dancing as working around the spectators and fucking the air in front of them. She is topless, wearing heels and a thong. I’m not so much as turned on as uncomfortable but trying to project otherwise; casual and familiar.

As she arrives at our two dollar ‘pile’ she leans in and asks where we’re from. England. I didn’t know conversation was part of the deal and so I decide to take the lead and return the question. The Czech Republic. Master conversationist in my element, I hold her gaze and shout loud enough as to be heard above the music “…My favourite author’s Czech, have you read any Kafka?” She doesn’t reply, just drifts off into the crowd. Perhaps she’s more of a Čapek kinda girl.

One of the dancers walks up beside us, silently climbs up on the stage and then just keeps climbing. She gets to the top of the pole, about 10 feet off of the ground, and holds for a second before letting herself fall. She lands with her legs split apart, her thick plastic heels smash against the ground with a reverberating crack. If she didn’t have your attention before, she has it now. I’m not so much as turned on as appreciating her athletic ability and showmanship. Now this is I can get behind. I place the last of my cash out in front of me and when she happens upon it, she picks it up, folds a crease lengthways along the bill and drops it back down. She leaves a dramatic pause before dropping over ol George and picking him up betwixt her cheeks.

Now that I’m tapped out, my advising cohort takes the lead once more. Between stages there is a large red carpeted staircase leading up to the balcony – shielded from view and manned by security. The second level. My friend talks to a petite blond, gives her some cash and she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs and through security. She sits me in a walled off vestibule, sets my drink down and introduces herself. Lolita. “I love that novel, have you read any Nabakov?” I’m really getting the hang of this.

Then I get my private dance, I smile politely and awkwardly. Not so much turned on as fulfilling my part of the deal as an audience member. I want to be respectful and encouraging despite my discomfort and so I end up nodding congratulations at each of her moves like a parent asked by their kid to watch as it jumps into the pool in varying ways. My faux-enthusiasm is wearing thin but I don’t think she could give a fuck – not really striking me as the shy and sensitive type as she hits her tits against my face. When we’re done she hands my beer back to me and makes a point of thanking me, for being so polite.

As I walk down the red-carpeted stairs, back into the riff-raff of level 1, the ground dwellers, I think about what Lolita meant. Perhaps there was a sadness beneath her words, that others are abusive or inconsiderate, but her tone just makes me think: I was doing it wrong. Next time I’ll come prepared, or better yet I won’t come at all.

swerve

Just now I was on the motorway, the boy in the back drifting from the drab lullaby that was Disney’s Christopher Robin. That was when the transit van just ahead in the right lane started to swerve.

I notice the back tyre start to wobble and shake and then immediately flatten, the alloy scraping on the floor. The tyre blows out, black smoke pumps out over my windscreen and rubber flies across at my car when the noxious smell makes its way through the vents. I turn on my hazards and hit the brakes as he moves into my lane ahead of me, then across into the left lane, having to coast on three wheels and a haggard rim until the hard shoulder reappears.

I am panicked, pulsing with adrenaline, and as I pass him on my left, I look through the window to see this stubbly bespectacled dude looking as if he was just making his exit. Casual as fuck, this guy either didn’t know what was going on, had experienced it too many times before, or just knew how to react instinctively. His was an infectious calmness that had me immediately adjust and normalise – I check the rear-view and the boy is asleep.

slime

Mortality is a pretty tough nut to crack with a three year old.

It was last year that he picked up on the cat’s sudden absence and since it was our first brush with death we decided not to sugar-coat and instead explain with obvious care and sensitivity. At that point in time however the scope of his curiosity was too large and attention span too small.

In the intervening months he has watched films that deal with the subject in a poetic form that has caught his attention and captured his imagination. Mine too for that matter. The Red Turtle is a notable example that gave him plenty of questions that I would try my best to answer.

Now, add to this the fact that he is open to the darker and more macabre stories. The Nightmare Before Christmas was a fast favourite, a film not watched much anymore, the soundtrack listened to on occasion but the book still read often. Other works of Tim Burton float around but the one dark obsession that has proved itself rather divisive amongst company is The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.

An A-Z compendium, or abecedarian, that describes the bizarre deaths of a bunch of kids accompanied by Gorey’s sometimes graphic illustrations. My boy likes the rhyming couplets (the page above following the demise of April who fell down the stairs), and as it’s a quick read he often pulls it down of a night and has me read the name for him to respond with how they perished. (There is one page that I’m careful to avoid, the illustration at least, which is very graphic: K is for Kate who was struck with an axe.) It might seem like I’m training a sociopath but I don’t believe it to have had any negative affect on him at all.

The sentences are worded carefully and humorously, and none are disturbing save for Kate. He is familiar with all of the words (save for ‘ennui’ maybe, the reason behind ol’ Neville’s passing). We are protective of him in a sense but believe we have a good grip on his understanding and compassion, of what could unsettle or disturb, and it is from certain television shows and films that seem otherwise innocuous that he has picked up certain words and ideas that can appear… worrying?

Fond of creating stories, or: artfully lying, the boy was telling me a few days ago how a torch had gone missing earlier in the day, most definitely covering for the fact that he had taken it and been caught.

“A strange man came in and took the torch from upstairs”

Did you see him?

“No. I was in my bedroom”

How do you know it was him?

“Because he came in and took the torch”

Oh right. Do we have the torch now?

“Yeah I got it from him”

How do you think we should stop it from going missing?

“We hit him with a hammer and kill him”

I am stunned silent.

It seems we had missed the opportunity to talk about Kevin and will have to let the medical professionals take it from here.

That’s when a small semantic flourish restored all hope.

“We hit him in his head. All made of slime”

Oh thank the lord.

Still a bit worrying, but less worrying for sure.