No 167 - 2002
99 Scenes from Somebody Else’s Life
Pictures by Mike Foreman
1. I’m born with a silver bullet in my mouth.
2. I spit it out soonest.
3. I am born a Scorpio; a star sign of passion and power, perception and intuition. I am a loyal friend and a ruthless enemy. Secretive by nature, I keep my deeper thoughts and feelings to myself. I am a human dynamo and a tortured soul. (Of course it will be some years before I become aware of all this.)
4. I am torn too early from the breast. I am placed on the ground with the dirt and the filth and the women’s shoes. But do you hear me complain?
5. I have a series of nightmares about a sabre-toothed tiger living in my grandfather’s tool shed. My father tries to reassure me by saying that sabre-toothed tigers died out long before I was born. This fails to convince me and perhaps signals the moment when I start to doubt my father’s infallibility.
6. I get a dog called Rex. He’s a good dog, playful, loyal, obedient. But we never quite become best friends.
7. At school I am bullied and do some bullying myself. The pain of the former is not assuaged by the pleasure of the latter.
8. On the streets I experience violence, cruelty, viciousness, casual barbarity. It makes a boy of me.
9. I develop troublesome phobic reactions to certain words: fuselage, nonchalant, epidermis, astrolabe, isogloss.
10. I repress these reactions.
11. I learn that I have been born into the bourgeoisie, and ...
12. ... I learn to despise all things bourgeois.
13. I learn that few things are more bourgeois than a hatred of the bourgeoisie.
14. I develop an appreciation of nudity and language.
15. I discover the mysteries of sex.
16. I believe that I have solved the mysteries of sex.
17. My mother points out that I am 16 years old.
18. I have reason to believe that I am sweet.
19. When I am seventeen – it is a very ordinary year.
20. Unexpectedly I become interested in neuroscience, behavioural genetics, the Darwinian social sciences and artificial intelligence.
21. My patchy knowledge of mathematics holds me back.
22. I learn some dance steps; the pony, the pasa-doble, the jerk, the frug, the military two-step, the twitch, the merenge. I like the pony best.
23. I bop till I drop.
24. I party till I can stand it no more.
25. I learn to enjoy sex with people other than myself.
26. I read the small print in the book of love until I develop eye strain.
27. I swill down dangerous chemicals.
28. I toy with my consciousness.
29. My consciousness toys with me.
30. I hit the wall.
31. I pull my socks up.
32. I grow up, sort of.
33. I complete my re-education.
34. I get a temporary job.
35. My job temporarily gets me.
36. I teach English as a second language.
37. I teach English as a fifth language.
38. I nurture the ambition to teach English as a dead language.
39. I get a real job.
40. My job really gets me.
41. I search for a niche in society, a niche which is clearly and firmly defined and yet which seems to be uniquely made for me.
42. I look for love in many of the wrong places.
43. I find love in quite a few of these wrong places.
44. I develop a personal style; crumpled, informal elegance, earth tones, linen.
45. I decide I am not afraid of change.
46. I feel as though I’m at my peak.
47. I find a good woman but lose her through negligence.
48. I rebound.
49. I marry in haste.
50. I repent in haste.
51. I buy property.
52. I live and let live.
53. I believe that good electric fences make good electric neighbours.
54. My wife and I are blessed with issue.
55. My children fill me with wonder and awe.
56. Then they fill me with disappointment.
57. Then I fill them disappointment.
58. My children and I agree to lead separate lives.
59. I consider what Freud says, that love and work are the only therapy.
60. I say that Freud must have been dreaming.
61. I receive a get well card from someone I don’t even know.
62. I realize I am not even unwell.
63. I start to wonder if I’m past my peak.
64. I learn to enjoy sex with people other than my wife.
65. I experience catharsis and redemption in more or less equal quantities.
66. I develop a taste for early-Byzantine architecture, but I keep this to myself.
67. I understand that I am under no obligation.
68. I understand that no salesman will call.
69. I experience Weltschmertz, nostalgie de la boue, and la dolce vita. Not necessarily in that order.
70. I learn that even on the very clearest of clear days you can’t literally see forever.
71. I buy things: a car, a chainsaw, a pair of Art Deco whippets that evoke an era of sophistication in bonded Carrier marble.
72. I buy quality.
73. I buy enlightenment.
74. I buy a car that has had several careless owners.
75. I slide into debt.
76. I lose self-esteem.
77. War, I ask myself, what is it good for?
78. I conclude that even when you lose control and you’ve got no soul, it’s not really that big a tragedy.
79. I take the bull by the horns.
80. I get with the pogrom.
81. I don’t say yeah, when I want to say nope.
82. I travel. I go to far away places with strange sounding names. I may be deracinated, but I never lose my emotional baggage.
83. I invest wisely in respected, well-managed funds.
84. I enjoy flexibility and a guaranteed cash sum.
85. I want high growth-potential while still retaining underlying security. Doesn’t everybody?
86. I have a near-death experience, and my life flashes in front of my eyes.
87. Then it flashes in front of my mouth.
88. I experience interesting neuroses; narcissism, asocial cravings, night-eating syndrome.
89. I accept that these neuroses are not interesting to everyone.
90. I know with absolute certainty that I’m past my peak.
91. I hear time’s wingèd all-terrain-vehicle.
92. I decide I shall not go gentle into that good old people’s home.
93. I look back.
94. I avert my gaze.
95. I draw lumber from the past to stoke the conflagrations of the future.
96. I use the present as kindling.
97. I develop symptoms: weight loss, frontal headaches, gastroesophageal reflux, a slight maceration of the finger webs, edema about the lachrymal sac, irritability.
98. I survive.
99. So far.
Geoff Nicholson’s most recent novel is Bedlam Burning, now out in paperback from Phoenix. He is currently working on a novel provisionally called The Hollywood Dodo.
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- Modern Poetry in Translation
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