There should be nothing here I don’t remember


Every single memory is real, and everything is gone. And kids can no longer buy cigarettes.
Audio of my reading There should be nothing here I don’t remember

I remember as a child trotting out certain phrases I didn’t really understand, but I knew what they meant overall. One was, “20 embassy tipped.” My mother used to smoke Embassy cigarettes and she would send me to the post office with that order. She would tell me exactly what to say and wait for me to recite it back. She had elocution lessons as a girl and I was expected to recite it back, really, not just say it. Only years later, as a smoker myself, did I understand what “tipped” meant. My mother had started smoking when cigarettes were mainly hand-rolled and manufactured cigarettes were filterless. Then technology improved and they sold cigarettes with filter “tips.” All of this makes me wonder now, but back in the early 1970s in England it was just life.

 

Another phrase I trotted out without really understanding what I was saying was, “Betley two one nine.” This was said in the days before long distance dialing codes and I had to call an operator to ask to be connected, to Betley (near Crewe), 219. I just said this and then I would wait and then I’d be talking to Miriam, my grandmother who I never called grandmother or grandma, but Nan Quintin. Mariam had an absurd telephone voice she put on when she answered the phone just in case it was an important person calling. When she heard it was me, she immediately sounded normal, and thrilled. “Oh, hello my little teapot!”

 

I went back to Bentley, near Crewe, a couple of years ago. I stood outside Nan Quinton’s old house and saw how the windows had been replaced and the space above the carriage had been converted. It was the same house but different. Every single memory is real, and everything is gone. And kids can no longer buy cigarettes.

 

And we call this progress,

Who knew?

Horses who stood out in the rain with her and horses who said they would but never did. 
  1. She had horses
  2. Be vast
  3. Things change
  4. The ocean remains blue and peaceful.
  5. Blinding

I heard about his death from a mutual friend. I had been out for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants – great view of the ocean and beach – and I got a text. My friend was on holiday – Greece, I think – and I knew he was having a tough time with the stuff of life and I presumed he wanted to chat about that. About life.

 

When we eventually spoke, he said, “Our friend has died.” I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I can imagine how it went.

 

Our friend had been an alcoholic for years and his death had long been expected. He had been admitted to a hospice, for the elimination of doubt.

 

I had lost touch with him for over 27 years. This happens. The stuff of life. Then with a year left for him to live, we got back in touch. It was wonderful, rolling back time, laughing at all the stupid things we got up to, and all the time we spent smoking cigarettes and drinking beer as if we needed it to survive.

 

In the end, it was wine and morphine he needed to survive. He had a physical dependency on alcohol and it – the thing that was killing him – was also the thing he needed to stop shaking and to function. He seemed happy enough and never sounded terribly drunk – sometimes just a little.

 

We talked about his imminent death, but we did it in a way that allowed us not to dwell on it. We pretended it was someone else.

 

This preparation for the inevitable end was no preparation at all for the bottomless sadness we all experienced and continue to experience. He is missed every day. The fact that we know death is inevitable is no help at all.

 

Who knew?

 

All of us.

Things I am afraid to write about

Horses who stood out in the rain with her and horses who said they would but never did. 
  1. She had horses
  2. Be vast
  3. Things change
  4. The ocean remains blue and peaceful.
  5. Blinding
  1. My opinion that everyone is fooling themselves about most things, most of the time but not everything, all of the time and that all of us occasionally get it just right but we’re not always able to recognize it and rely on other people to tell us because we can’t see truth in ourselves, the same way we can’t see our own eyes – we only ever see them in reflection or images.

 

  1. Love.

 

  1. Truth. The first thing is that I am honestly not even sure I can recognize truth. I have a sense it doesn’t really matter, anyway. Truth changes over time. Also, my dogs are not worried about truth, and they seem to get by just fine.

 

  1. Love.

 

  1. My childhood. I have very clear memories of childhood. Most of them unremarkable but I cherish them. Bicycles and skateboards, football in the park. That kind of stuff. Those are visual memories. It’s the psychological memories I’m afraid to write about, mainly because I cannot be sure they are real memories. They could be inventions, or scars – or just stuff that stuck for no reason. I don’t know. That’s the point. That’s what I’m afraid of.

 

  1. Love. I’ll tell you why – it’s the same as my problem with Truth. I worry it’s essentially no more than an opinion I have sold myself. I’m talking here about Romantic Love. The love I have for Artur, obviously, is the only thing perhaps I know is real.

 

  1. My mother and the last years of her life. Nothing could be more frightening. Everything went wrong and the train finally ran off the edge of the cliff – just as I had known it would for a good 20 years beforehand. We cannot foretell the future, but this really was a straightforward case of looking at the rail track ahead and seeing where it went. Decades of fear. Yes, I’m afraid to write about that. Who wouldn’t be?

Saved

Horses who stood out in the rain with her and horses who said they would but never did. 
  1. She had horses
  2. Be vast
  3. Things change
  4. The ocean remains blue and peaceful.
  5. Blinding

I woke up at 4:00 AM this morning and tried to not think if I needed to pee. It was still dark but the sky looked back-lit and as I considered how strange that was the issue about peeing or not was resolved and I had to get up, stepping over Phoebe the Golden Retriever and Bo the Beagle, who were not concerned with time and bathroom needs.

I congratulated myself on being able to see well enough in that strange un-dark and that’s when I looked at my watch and saw it was 4:00 AM. I had avoided it up to then as part of some kind of strategy not to cause added anxiety about not sleeping.

In the bathroom it struck me that this was a good time to go for a run on the cycle lane that stretches along the beachfront. It would be cycle-free, and I wouldn’t risk getting maimed or spat on or sworn at. It’s that kind of cycle lane. And anyway, the alternative was to go to bed again and read Twitter feeds about people who had been maimed or spat on or sworn at.

As I hit the street, I started to think about the investment plan I had discussed the day before. It was a good deal. I would have ultra-low risk and a solid non-life-changing return. I’ve lost a lot of money this year and I’d like to stop that from going on.

After three kilometers I realized I was going to do my best run of the year. In practice, this means the best of the last two months. I felt great and just got faster with every kilometer. I had wanted to run eight kilometers but stopped after seven. It was 5-ish and the cycle lane was filling up with cyclists, none of them in the mood to accommodate me. It was better to run again another day than to push on for some arbitrary target and get maimed or spat on or sworn at.

I saved myself and realized that, yes, I would sign the document for the investment. It includes life insurance and reinforces that I am worth so much more dead than alive.

I felt out of this world and then took Bo to the beach, where we examined dead fish. 

Saved

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I woke up at 4:00 AM this morning and tried to not think if I needed to pee. It was still dark but the sky looked back-lit and as I considered how strange that was the issue about peeing or not was resolved and I had to get up, stepping over Phoebe the Golden Retriever and Bo the Beagle, who were not concerned with time and bathroom needs.

I congratulated myself on being able to see well enough in that strange un-dark and that’s when I looked at my watch and saw it was 4:00 AM. I had avoided it up to then as part of some kind of strategy not to cause added anxiety about not sleeping.

 

In the bathroom it struck me that this was a good time to go for a run on the cycle lane that stretches along the beachfront. It would be cycle-free, and I wouldn’t risk getting maimed or spat on or sworn at. It’s that kind of cycle lane. And anyway, the alternative was to go to bed again and read Twitter feeds about people who had been maimed or spat on or sworn at.

 

As I hit the street, I started to think about the investment plan I had discussed the day before. It was a good deal. I would have ultra-low risk and a solid non-life-changing return. I’ve lost a lot of money this year and I’d like to stop that from going on.

  

After three kilometers I realized I was going to do my best run of the year. In practice, this means the best of the last two months. I felt great and just got faster with every kilometer. I had wanted to run eight kilometers but stopped after seven. It was 5-ish and the cycle lane was filling up with cyclists, none of them in the mood to accommodate me. It was better to run again another day than to push on for some arbitrary target and get maimed or spat on or sworn at.

  

I saved myself and realized that, yes, I would sign the document for the investment. It includes life insurance and reinforces that I am worth so much more dead than alive.

 

I felt out of this world and then took Bo to the beach, where we examined dead fish. 

Chopped salad

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I was recently told that I do nothing. It will have taken you zero seconds to realize this was a domestic conversation.

 

It was.

 

It escalated fast and pretty soon I’d been accused of so many things it became funny. I don’t even have time to do the stuff I was accused of. Unless, of course, I do nothing.

 

But if I’m doing nothing, how can I be doing all the other stuff I was accused of?

 

I raised this point in my defense. You will not be surprised to learn it didn’t make things better.

 

The next day, post-row, I resolved to make lunch. It was a quiet demonstration that I had listened, and I was trying.

 

Trying.

 

Yeah. That’s been the word of the year so far.

 

Anyway, I made lunch. Being the radical fascist communist liberal pinko socialist zealot I am, I subscribe to the failing New York Times, one of the most successful newspapers in this still-young century. I don’t read it much, I confess. I’m too busy doing an impression of someone doing nothing. I mainly listen to the Daily podcast and occasionally – when doing nothing – I look idly at the recipes pages and imagine myself being the kind of person who could regularly cook such recipes.

 

A person doing nothing who needs to look like he’s doing something is well advised to cook.

Everyone benefits, even if they don’t immediately want to say so.

 

I made lime-ginger chicken. I wasn’t sure what to put it with, so I did what I always do in such a predicament. I made enough chopped salad to feed 40 wolves.

 

As I sliced and diced, I briefly considered slashing my wrists.

 

It would have been doing something.

The world’s tenth-fastest marathon runner

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What a beautiful failure.

 

I remember this story from the New York marathon not so many years ago. It was, and is, remarkable for a number of reasons and I will tell it from memory, without Googling it*.

 

One of the elite runners in that race got into trouble. This happens to everyone and is not at all surprising when a human is running at over 20 kilometers per hour for just over two hours. If you don’t run, I’ll put that into some kind of perspective. It’s faster than you can sprint for five seconds. For over two hours.

 

The story I half remember is about an athlete who just collapsed on the New York route. Maybe he had over-trained. Maybe he had gone out too fast. But he collapsed.

 

He collapsed in a residential area. Someone watching the race and who lived nearby went home and got a blanket for him. It’s cold.

 

The athlete was taken care of and did fine. I don’t know who this runner was, but I remember he was top ten in the world at the time.

 

He was one of the fastest men in the world in the marathon and this wasn’t even a big story. I don’t remember his name and the guy who gave him the blanket didn’t know who he was helping.

 

Imagine what strength takes to be the world’s tenth-fastest marathon runner. You are a human miracle, and nobody knows who you are.

 

Likewise, us.

 

We are all the world’s tenth-fastest marathon runner.

 

And that makes us special.  

 

*Initially I found no record of this. And then

https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/sports/othersports/07runner.html

Almost 14 years ago, so my memory was sketchy. But then it usually is.

You can’t have it all

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You can’t have it all, but you can have this.

 

You can have a kiss from your five-ear old and a hug followed by, “Feliz dia dos Pais,” a day late but all the more special for that. He said it on the day, too, but seemed to have been considering it since then.

 

You can have a day without pain and honour those who really suffer by not moaning because a client acted like an asshole, again.

 

You can have a life that is privileged because you live by the sea, and who doesn’t want that?

 

You can have water to drink that isn’t toxic.

 

You can have options.

 

You can eat well and regularly.

 

You can sleep in a bed with covers and pillows.

 

You can listen to music in quality that Emperors and Kings not so long ago did not have access to.

 

You can phone a friend anywhere for free or for peanuts (and you don’t).  

 

You can walk around the world and talk to people, but you often forget that simple truth.

 

You can walk the dogs and gawp at the sky, wondering why any of this exists.

 

You can read and write and talk shit and not be judged by anyone, because you are their equal.

 

You can see life as a cosmic jest, and stop taking it so seriously.

 

You can remember that you are here because some kind of magic happened.

 

You can stop and calm down and embrace the fact that the mystery that brought you here will just as surely take you away. It didn’t hurt when you came here, and it won’t hurt when you leave.

 

You can’t have it all, but what kind of lunatic would want it all, anyway?

If they chop open my body

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If they chop open my body, they’ll find an apple orchard with a dappled grey horse tethered to a tree. That’s the horse that startled when I was about eight years old. The rope caught me, and I was dragged through brambles. I remember it well. Who wouldn’t?

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find nightmares of Christmas, with my mother assaulting the period with an impossible mix of chaos and the single minded determination to decorate the house perfectly and have everything just-so, only for the stress of it all to guarantee misery and horrible fights.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find a fear of French classes and mathematics. The sheer horror of sitting through class after class without understanding anything.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find confusion and fear about how things will go for my sister. Where will she end up, and how will she get by?

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find unrealistic dreams and ambitions which really didn’t do me any good.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find this huge sense of not belonging, of being somehow wrong for this world.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find a huge reserve of stubborn determination enough to power 600,000 houses for a year.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find a dozen dogs I have loved more than almost anyone else.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll find this strange sense of self-importance based on nothing at all. It will be found next to the huge stash of lies I told myself first, before anyone else.

 

If they chop open my body, they’ll see things no one ever should about another person. Our secrets and lies are the absolute essence of us and should be left alone.