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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.

swipe

Account created my curiosity was just so that I would think about it a lot but use it very seldom. It still felt wrong. So casual and flippant, urging you to judge people by the glimpse you were afforded of their appearance or personality.

Unable to help myself I would judge people for their choice of pose or camera-angle, on a small biological quirk, the prominence of their features, on the small details in the background, the untidiness of a bedroom reflected in a mirror, or how intimidating their friends look.

I would cringe for them, and then myself, knowing that someone is making these same judgements about me. Now that my profile was live it could be happening at any given moment. As I wake up someone is repelled by the size of my eyebrows, jumping in the shower someone mocks me to a crowd of peers about how deranged I sound in my description, as I drift through the ennui of my new single life, someone I know dissects my profile, taking screengrabs and sharing it with everyone else I know, laughing together, all of them in unison, all before I’ve even had my fucking breakfast.

In an effort to restore some balance, and wishfully create some karmic reciprocity, I would pay respect to each profile, give each person the time and consideration before swiping them away. But still, swiping. So churlish a gesture. If only I could bow an apology to those I don’t see a connection with – this could only be facilitated by the fingertips of prayer-met hands pressing against the screen, dragged down and over as I dip my head and deliver a compliment about the way they wear the hair or something.

single

I’m new to dating. Every relationship I’d had until now had grown out of friendships or friends of friends. Never set up so much as meeting and talking, and then deciding to keep meeting and talking until we run out of conversation; or feel complete disdain for each other and the people we had become. All healthy character building though ay.

I once asked for a girl’s number at school – written on a scrap of paper which I treated as a medal of my bravery, to be kept as a reminder and never actually called. I once worked up the courage to ask out a stranger but as luck would have it she was busy – an extraordinary turn of bad luck considering that I didn’t specify a date or time.

Since then I’ve stumbled and fallen into a handful of relationships clocking in at a total of around 12 years. Almost half of my life spent attached to someone. Now I’ve reemerged like a prisoner of yesteryear into a world that has changed so much that I’m a little overwhelmed by it’s rules and games.

Related image

I don’t have social media and have been away from it long enough to find it a little alien. The ability to cherrypick ones online identity, what you choose to show, accentuate or completely erase makes me feel very uncomfortable. I cannot take a selfie with any degree of seriousness, or use hashtags without wincecringing. I have gotten as far asusing a handful of emojis, though I most definitely use them incorrectly and have been known to misinterpret them on the other end. Suffice to say I’m a little backwards when it comes to this form of communication, which as it turns out, is the bedrock of online dating.

I can appreciate the idea of online dating but this side of it is hard to overcome.

Since my sudden singledom I have become obsessed and so this seemed like just another cleverly designed distraction. Surrounded by people who use these apps, evangelists to the cause, I was convinced to join, or rather they did it for me.

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.

pataphor

Landing in a job and finding myself at the bottom of a corporate ladder, I made it my drive and focus to scale it, climbing over the course of a couple of years, and just when the top rung seemed to be in reach, a pair of pink pom-pom shoes appeared on them before me. Someone had stepped over latterly from another, slightly higher ladder, leaving me to stay put. But just now, growing complacent and impatient, I reached up and another rung had forged itself. Progress at least, or maybe just a better vantage point to view my options.