Amy makes a horror film

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First time I met her was about 1978, in a walk up apartment over a bar on Avenue C. I was dating her brother. The family had no phone so if I wanted to call him I had to call the bar, and the barmaid would go outside and holler up to the open window that he was wanted on the phone. In the beginning she used to sound pissed off, but as I became a regular caller, she softened, and would sometimes even ask me how I was doin, what was the weather like in Queens, as if it were a different country, which it almost was, compared the the Lower East Side.  Back then it was where you lived if you didn’t have much money. Where I lived, it was a combination of enormous houses and small apartments, the latter mainly for airline staff, because it wasn’t too far from the airport. We lived in one of the small apartments, my father, when he lived, which was not for that long,  rented a two bedroom apartment near the end of the E and F train lines. Better than Jamaica, which was the end of the line, but not as nice as Forest Hills. After he was killed we just stayed there. It seemed the least disruptive thing, to not move, after our lives had changed awfully,  quickly, enormously, after he was killed. Because the neighborhood was designed for transients, people catching a plane from one place to another, the only cinema we had was a triple X porno one. So if I wanted to see a movie that let kids in, I had to go to Forest Hills, or beyond.

So first time I met Amy she was on an overpopulated bed, full of other little girls ( she would have been about nine or ten) one who was her true sister, the others, her nabe sisters, kids from the block, the other blocks nearby.  She had five true siblings and about five or six kids who just seemed to live there anyway. The bed was full of little girls, cats and kittens. In an apartment that was overcrowded, not in the best shape, the basslines from the disco jukebox in the bar downstairs throbbing up through the floorboards, there was this little paradise girl’s room, which smelled of talcum powder and some very strong scented shampoo from the 70s, maybe Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, or Herbal Essence, and  cats.  I said hi, and they chorused back a friendly hello, and I just wanted to dive into the bed with all the little girls, and we would brush each other’s hair and play with the cats.  I was 17, new to dating, and I found this familiar girl and cat world far more comfortable than the uncharted waters of dating, of blossoming sexuality, of figuring out the exact point you stopped being just good friends and started being boyfriend and girlfriend. It was desperately exciting, and yet still I craved the familiarity of the girly sleepover. That shit , I knew.

Amy reminded me of my younger self. All flesh and bone, never really finding clothes that didn’t fall off a little. Except she was prettier, as was her sister and all her siblings. They were blessed with photograph friendly bone structure, little grown up faces on wiry bodies.

The Lower East Side was not gentrified in those days. As you walked down the number avenues and got to the letters, it got seedier and seedier. Every doorway had some guy or a group of guys drinking beer or spirits covered in brown paper bags. The garbage men were on strike a lot. There was always more garbage than there should be, rats as big as cats darting over the rubble of the buildings that had burned down or had just been bust up.  So it was nice to go from these mean , scary streets and enter this little girl heaven, kittens and shampoo and lots of laughter. To a girl of  certain age, almost everything is funny, all humour is infectious. One starts to laugh and everyone joins in.

There was so much love in this family. There was  a boy’s room. They would nod politely but they were always busy doing their boy stuff.  There was a dog, with chronically infected ears. There were boys from the block as well, hard to tell who was blood and who was of the hood, but it really didn’t matter. The mom had enough love to go around them all. She worked her socks off, crazy hours, and everything she had , she gave to those kids, her own ones and her sort of own ones.

Within a few months dating, I was falling in love not only with Amy’s brother but his whole family. They were exotic, and there were just so many of them. There was always a child or animal to cuddle.

But despite this happiness, this new love, I was plagued by some unknown terror. It would grip me in the stomach, and it would come on swiftly, and suddenly, and where ever I was,  I would have to leave. Cabs were affordable then, so I always had cab fare, and Valium, should these unknown vapours attack me.  At times, necking my pills, watching the meter of the taxi go up by ten or twenty cents every few minutes, I kind of knew I was in no real danger.  But it didn’t matter. The terror was real, and felt much more scary than walking through bad neighbourhoods at midnight or beyond, depending on how liberal my mother was feeling.

These attacks never happened in Amy’s girl world. Everything there was safe and familiar.

Eventually her brother and I split up. I was bereft, but I could see it coming. The anxiety was getting in the way of everything.  I guess Amy grew up and had to do whatever it was to survive out of the girlworld of sleepovers and kittens. She moved far away, they all did, at some point.  And they all grew up into fine, talented, super smart and kind human beings.  Amy and some of her siblings moved somewhere that looked like paradise when she sent me photos. Long beaches. Blue water. Two little girls of her own, looking quite like her, but also, not her.

Now I keep in touch, mainly with the backbone of this wonderful family, on facebook and the like.  And Amy, I read about, sometimes in magazines, sometimes on newsfeeds. She makes movies. Just today, I found out she’s made a horror film. The kitten girl, making a movie about, who knows, an ax murderer with a old grudge and a sharp ax.  Something that will scare seven shades of shit out of this fraidy cat, I am sure. It’s weird to think this girl , who had many real dangers in her real life, has found solace in making a proper scary movie. Me, I still get the horrors, but I struggle on without the pills, which were bringing their own horrors, eventually.  One day soon, Amy will be walking down a red carpet, waving, smiling, and go into a star studded cinema, and they will roll the horror film, and everyone will be scared in all the right places. Me, I still get scared in all the wrong places. But my love for her, for her family, remains constant. The Lower East Side has been unrecognizable for years.  I don’t miss it. I miss the girls, who have grown up to be women, and the kittens, who grew up to be cats, and now must be dead.

Being trapped in an en suite bathroom in New Jersey during Live Aid

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The day of Live Aid,  even though I didn’t really like telly, it just seemed like one of those things you had to watch, so you could tell people, years later, that you watched the whole thing.  A momentous pop occasion, like Woodstock, without the mud and bad acid.  Actually maybe less like Woodstock, more like Eurovision, without a winner as such, apart from, if it worked, the starving people the concert was meant to save from starvation.It was just one of those things you had to watch with other people, and eat snacks, and at some point, give them some of your fookin money.

I rang my best buddy first thing I woke up. She was living in New Jersey with her boyfriend. I was living in Brooklyn, having just finished a pretty awful year as an assistant schoolteacher in a progressive school. This meant this kids progressed at their own rate. So some, by the end of the year, were still playing with He men action men, and building perilous towers of wooden bricks, and others were starting to form alphabet letters. They were only six. Sometimes I google their names now. They are children of big telly stars, or magazine editors. I worry myself when I do this. It’s a bit serial killerish, a bit stalkerish. I am just pathologically curious, if this so called education did them any good, or harm.

I called my bud and said, “Can I watch Live Aid with you? My telly has bad reception. I can stop off at West Fourth Street and get deli stuff. We can have a picnic in the bedroom.” It didn’t occur to me that as we were tucking into cream cheese bagels and coleslaw, across the screen there would be scenes of emaciated and dying children in long queues. Too tired and dehydrated to swot flies from their eyelids. Cut to sunburnt girl in Philly, on boyfriends shoulders, singing along to a pop star and raising her arms in the universal gesture of girls on boyfriends shoulders at arena gigs.

I got on the train at Carroll Gardens and stopped off at West Fourth, and found a deli that wrapped everything in about three lots of paper and containers, so my t shirt would not get oily.

I got on the Path to New Jersey, the smell of my heavily mayonaised feast cutting through the great unwashed smell of the subway.

When I got to the house, my friends were sitting on top of the bed, half reading the papers, half watching huge crowds of fans and then huge crowds of starving people. Everything felt enormously wrong. I felt as if I had invited myself, because I had. I laid out the greasy feast in the living room and then joined them on the bed. We all had coffee from their Mr. Coffee filter machine, and watched in awe and horror, the well fed crowds at the gigs, the starving crowds who were meant to benefit from the gigs.

None of us felt hungry enough to tuck into the deli feast.  We just kept drinking more coffee. When nature called, I could see the bathroom was off their bedroom, and there was no way to get in or out of the bathroom except to walk through the bedroom. I hopped off the bed and went into the bathroom. I had a pee and looked in the medicine cabinet for interesting drugs, knowing it would be a very long shot if they had any. Apart from the odd joint and cans of beer, they were pretty clean living.

I had been in there five minutes when I heard ruffled, muffled sounds coming from the bedroom. I knew these sounds. They were the sounds of a couple about to make love.

What to do. I said, “Um, it doesn’t feel right to come out of the bathroom right now, unless I close my eyes and run past.”

They both uttered with urgency, “No, not now.”

I thought, maybe I should ask them to turn the tv up. In a way, how life affirming, to make love in front of footage of starving and sick children. Or how wrong. I could not decide.  There again, maybe they turned the tv off, or the volume down, as I heard the sounds of building passion rise , then fall, as if one had his or her hand over the other one’s mouth.

I will say this. They did not hurry things up in order for me to leave the bathroom. I ran the taps and flushed the loo a few times, to pretend that I was still there for a reason other than not butting in to their love making. When I heard the final stifled cries of pleasure, I decided to wait for about a three minute cooling off period. I found floss on the sink ,and flossed each tooth with the utmost care.

When I felt it was safe to go back into the room, they were both propped up again, drinking cold coffee and watching Live Aid again. I noticed my gal pal had a red rash going from her clavicle right up her neck. I know that rash, it is post coital. It signifies pleasure was had.

There was not much to say after that. There was a lot of shouting from Bob Geldof. I got his point, but it was irritating. I don’t recall him saying fucking money, but the tone was , hectoring  Fair play, if you are going to hector people for money, this is a good cause.  I wasn’t even sure I had enough  subway fare to get back to Brooklyn. But I did, and I got back on the PATH, back on the F, with the cleanest teeth I had had all summer.

Cookery lessons, with Shingles

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It’s hard to get interested in the methods of making white stock when you are recovering too slowly from Shingles. Shingles is a Christmas-y jolly name for a horrible Biblical plague type of illness, with sores or blisters all down one neural pathway of your body, in theory, confined to one side, but in my case, bi-lateral. Pain and itching are your main symptoms, with lethargy, bouts of light- headedness and a profound loss of appetite, bordering on nausea, ever present, even after the bit when you look like a Dickensian poverty stricken orphan, in a hoodie and trainers and joggers baggy enough to stick your hand down and have a mighty scratch. If you were sat next to me on a train, you’d move your seat.

So I’ve already winged a cookery in the community lesson, mainly by standing still as much as I could, smiling wanly and offering to do the least arduous tasks, such as washing up.

Today, I had to go to cooking school, or I would get an incomplete. Yesterday my doctor asked me how I was feeling, and instead of saying I want to scratch myself til I draw serious blood, I said, oh, ok, I guess, I have my moments of “mercy me, I am well, I am cured” swiftly followed by moments of “I need to take to my bed, lest I perish” So he wrote me this sort of part time fit to work note,” and this morning I got up very early, slathered myself in anti itch cream, took the last dose of anti virals and lined up my knives and chef whites.

I got on the overground, got on the tube and made it there 15 minutes early, enough time to change into my whites and get a good scratch in beforehand. Chef saw me standing at my locker, confused in the general “I’ve been mainly in bed for six days, now I am confronting a locker in Victoria and don’t know what I do next, do I put my stuff in first, or the lock on, or what?” He is the jolly, rotund German ( favourite food, he tells us rather regularly, is chopped raw beef with a raw egg in it, which makes you think, why COOK? Why cook if raw is your thing?) who calls everyone banana , those who are late , or cut their vegetable dice in uneven pieces. I like him. He’s on our side.

Today we are making stocks. Chicken stock, fish stock and Dasheen, generic Chinese-y stock that involves the nicest smelling stuff, like lemongrass, dried  kafir limes and coriander, as well as less nice smelling stuff, Bonito, which smells like fish food.  The key to a good stock, he keeps saying, is to watch it and don’t let it boil and skim off the scum. Scum. Is there not a better word? And I’m like all wow, that’s like a metaphor for life, don’t get all boiled off, and skim off the scum at regular intervals. The ordering people “Bananas!” have not ordered enough fish, so we don’t actually each have to gut and fillet a fish, as he showed us, leaving the head on, but pinging out the eyeballs, the roe sac, the beardy bits, the skin, the collagen, which we can sell to beauty colleges to inject into people’s lips ( not really). We stand there, watching him surgically remove all these disgusting things, and I think don’t let me faint, it’s only a dead fish, it’s only Shingles, you will survive.

I don’t faint. We go about the business of making chicken stock, and I stand over it, watching my pot boil, because a watched pot does indeed boil, sometimes boils over.  The kitchen smells briny, salty, fishy, chicken-y, nauseating, the bile coursing up and down my gullet with the frequency of say, the Victoria Line, one of the more reliable tube lines, the one that got me here.

At a certain point, owing to lack of fish, we make one large pot of fish stock, to which jolly chef adds cream , and we line up, Oliver style, with our bowls, and he ladles out the creamy stock over our previously pan fried fillets of Plaice.  As we are in uniform, I keep thinking, this is like Oliver, please sir, can I have some more? Except its please sir, can I have less, in fact , none of it?

It looks high falutin, with its garnish of smoked salmon, and bits of white fish poking out of the velvety soup.  Everybody eats with relish. I take pictures of mine, for the portfolio, and quietly tip it into the bin.

We finish early, and I can’t wait to get out of my whites to get into a ladies’ cubicle and scratch to my heart’s content. Never before has a girl asked for more.

Cookery lessons

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Jing says I can remember his name like this:”Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..” or I can just call him Neil. Neil is Chinese, but not his Chinese name, which is Jing. Jing is  a bit hung up on what he calls passion. He has studied auditing for five years and can be a really good , well paid audit guy. He does not feel a passion for this. He can put people out of business and call it restructuring, but hold his head high cos someone has to be the bad guy.  But he’s also done two years of medical school and has to choose a specialty, and he’s thinking pediatrics but could not stand the thought of being very tired and killing a child by accident. I say, “I think that’s part of the thing, the doctor thing. People will die. Some will be young. It does not mean you killed them, maybe their appendix burst, or cancer spread rapidly, or blood poisoning kicked in with savage swiftness after the menengitis rash came up under the glass.” But he remains unconvinced, it’s a doctor’s job to save lives. So ( we are whispering, we are in the college library, looking up recipes involving boiling bones, there is a circularity here) he is buying some thinking time and added a third skill into the mix, which will be cookery. He likes food. He spent 200 quid at a pop up. He took photographs of a heritge tomato salad he had in a Mark Hix restaurant. I didn’t want to tell him I polished glasses and cutlery in a Mark Hix restaurant for a very long time, because I felt it was all I was fit to do. It’s hard to say that to someone as multi talented as Jing. I go Jing, I wish I had your problems, that I had two things I was really good at and one thing I was getting good at.  He seems unconvinced. He tells me the starting salary for the audit jobs are way better than the starting salaries for NHS. You make more money saving money or getting jobs lost, than saving lives. In this fucked up world, that makes all kind of sense.

We stare at the cookery lesson screen and sigh. Stocks are a long way off. Today we have made beautiful salads, and salad is one of my favourite foods, but we’ve gone and 70s the lot of them by heaping globs of home made mayo over all of them and dotting them with carved heritage tomatoes.  I hate mayo to near phobic proportions.  And yet my first culinarly lesson is a sea of yellowish emulsion, inolving such rapid and frenezied whisking I feel this is task best suited to prositutes or guys who wank a lot.

All my cheffing gear arrived in a box big enough to climb into and send myself parcel post to somewhere warmer and mayo-less.  I have knives and whites galore. A recipe book full of sauces and things suspended in gelatine. Cruise ship cookery.  The first day I have my stuff, I play with all my knives and cut every edible thing in the house into tiny cubes of not entirely even sizes. Even sizes are important so everything cooks at the same time.

Do I have a passion for food? Nah, not really. But I like colour and fresh ingredients but most of all, I really love knives. Which is unfortunate because I am also slightly subclinically dsypraxic and given to lobbing off bits of my hands with stuff that is too sharp, you only feel the pain when you’ve bled all over the beetroot and realize it’s not beetjuice but your Type O.

My world is changing.  But I will julienne my way through bags of fat carrots while I am deciding my next move, or my next move decides it for me.

 

In the days of luncheon vouchers

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When I wrote for a sort of living it was on a freelance basis so I never got luncheon vouchers. But I do remember going with the LV crowd to our favourite Italian family run caff in Holborn.  I was living on next to nothing and so ordered the same thing, which was more or less the cheapest thing, every day. This was an egg and salad sandwich and a frothy coffee, before we knew what cappuccino was  and it was all done by Kenco. The sarnie comprised: two slices of bread ( brown or white, they really didn’t taste any different) spread with marg, a wilted slice of a very floppy lettuce, I can’t remember the type,  maybe Cos, not iceberg or romaine, just something that was on its last green legs, the lettuce version of Greta Garbo in Camille. Half a very cold tomato, two slices of cucumber and some sliced hard cooked egg, the yolk covered in a greyish pallor which put me off egg yolks for life.

The frothy coffee was over-boiled milk whipped up into a frenzy, with a small bit of coffee sort of stuff at the bottom. This filled me up til dinner, which was sometimes nothing at all, sometimes a tin of soup and Jamaican water crackers, the appetite dulled by a ten quid wrap of sulphate, or something purporting to be sulphate but you never knew until your nose felt Vimmed and you weren’t really feeling up to staying up all night.

I write this now firmly on the other side of the caff counter. Firmly on the other side of drugs. I make food , I make lunch, often the high point of the day for  some desk-bound, boss hating, uni grad saddled with bills, both present rents and old uni fees. I haven’t been to work in a while so I forget that anticipatory smile of “Hey, mediocre lookin, whacha got cookin” that sort of gladdens my heart and has me reciting our menu like an Our Father… This is serious shit. Lunch may be the last time this person feels OK until it’s time to clock off.

I think that caff in Holborn is still there. The sandwiches are now American style, way too big to get your gob around without making a mess. And my mind is cast back to one of my series of very shit jobs after a spell in, let’s just call it a facility.  I was at a big restaurant. My main job was washing and polishing glasses which had been full of stuff I could never drink again, but did, still, sometimes anyway.  And then I thought, let me have a go at the kitchen, maybe this is where my talent lies, if I have any left. And I was working with this pregnant lady, and she was jaw droppingly  beautiful. And she had been to a really good catering school. My job, funnily enough, was washing and spin drying all the lettuce. I say funnily enough because I was sent recently, by mistake, eleven heads of lettuce. I like lettuce, but really not that much , not eleven heads of it.

So there I was with beautiful pregnant lady, sticking all this lettuce into a gigantic sink and after that, a gigantic salad spinner. It really took rather a lot of arm power to spin all that lettuce.

I asked the beauty, “How do you know like, what size chunks to rip the lettuce into, what is too small , what is too big, what is clearly, I’m doing this in a big hurry and don’t give a shit?”

She said, imagine you are on a date, and you order a salad ( the salad in this restaurant was just lettuce and dressing, none of your cukes or strange leaves or cabbage or radishes, just lettuce, and dressing) and you are trying to eat the lettuce but still be ladylike, and to be ladylike you don’t want this big piece of lettuce hanging from your mouth. You want to get a forkful in there and chew and swallow without the guy thinking “Oh my God, look at her, with that lettuce hanging out of her mouth.”

And I said to her, you know, I would never have thought of that. But I would have thought, why are we eating here? All they serve is steak and chicken and some strange patty thing for vegetarians, whom they clearly hold in contempt.  And so the chef will hate me, for ordering cheaply, and the date, if I ever have one again ( which I did, and we went on a boat and heard music so lettuce did not come into it) will be thinking, look at this lady with this green stuff hanging out of her mouth. That’s disgusting. And I’d be thinking, look at this guy, eating a bloody steak, served not even on a normal plate but like a wooden board, with all the blood seeping into the wood.

And then maybe I’d stab him. I would say look you bloody meat eating guy with blood drippin out of your mouth, who’s gonna be able to tell if that’s your blood or the cow’s blood. It’s the perfect crime.

Only I don’t believe in violence so that would never happen. We’d probably make small talk and we’d split the bill and I’d never see him again.

I liked the people in that job. I didn’t like the job so much. Now I hardly ever eat out except with my son, who likes Nandos.  At home if I cook for my boyfriend I make five different vegetables and something with protein in it.  I have a very small salad spinner. I buy bottled dressing.  I wish my salad spinner made some sort of musical noise. Then my dining life would be almost perfect.

 

 

 

Learning new things

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Watching an Irish lady giving youtube tutorials on how to play the Anglo concertina, one of which was pulled out from under my sofa. There is all sorts of crap under my sofa, most of it broken, but with the hope or half arsed promise of getting fixed. Truth is, none of this stuff will be fixed, not the turntable, not the stained beyond anyone’s idea of disgusting duvet cover,  not the , wow, I don’t even know what this next thing is, it might be something you use in the kitchen or bedroom. It’s so fucked up and broken I have no idea. It has dead batteries in it.

So nice Irish lady tells you where to put your  fingers to play a D. Most rousing Irish music she tells us is played in key of D. She goes on to play rousing Irish music. I am mildly roused. I put the kettle on and say Irish lady this is too hard, I need you here  in my front room , physically placing my fingers on the buttons so I can play When the Saints Go Marching In , the obligatory starter song for any new instrument. I fucking hate that song. What saints? Aren’t they all dead? Would that not be gruesome, were they to come, zombie like, into my flat. I’d be all like oi saints, take your putrid bodies but pure spirits somewhere else. I’ll carry on going to St Chads, which smells like joss stick and builder’s tea.

And I am trying, trying to understand why the note sounds different when you push the bellows in to when you push em out. There is a metaphor in here but I can’t find it. Story of my life. It always sounds different on the way in than on the way out.

I have been more or less flat bound for most of the summer, due to an operation on a congenital deformity that was causing me great pain and sleepless nights. The operation itself was nothing. Once the drugs wore off, as has often been the case in my life, everything totally sucked. The pain was off the scale, and all I wanted to do was sleep.

Now I am in the halfway house of nearly better but not better enough to work, so I try to teach myself the concertina, and find even this designed for morons lesson rather taxing.  All I seem to do these days is wait. Wait for the council to help me out. Wait for the foot to stop swelling to the size of a very large and ugly foot/cankle by midday. Wait for the agent to read my book. Wait for a burst of energy.  Wait for the saints to come marching in.

 

 

stuff about cleaning I could not write in the article

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It was at a warehouse conversion in East London. Near the Royal London, where the Elephant man lived. The woman was neatly pregnant, a bump on a stick, took every supplement under the sun to ensure that not only would her labour be easy, but also that her kid would be born a genious, eight pounds of Omega three and coconut oil and flaxseed oil. The kid would probably just slither out, a perfect slick of oil in the shape of a baby. The kid would have been listening to Mozart concertos in the womb, and when the doc cried “It’s a girl,” the oily Churchillian face only a mother could love would do the obligatory cry to clear the lungs, ask for a tissue to spit and ,and then request a violin, to compose a free form jazzy thing about childbirth. The parents would expect nothing less. Back they would trek to the high spec, germ and dust free warehouse, a separate mop for every room, and the nanny would already be installed. Mother woud feed on demand, but as she is juicing to lose the baby weight before any of her antentatal friends, the baby would have horrible spinachy nappies, and hand the child over, arms length, to the nanny, declaring Samsara had done ( fake giggle) a bit of a pongy poo. Of course after changing the nappy, she would probably have to get the ebola disinefctant team in, so germ and dirt phobic is the mother.

When I went there for my first and only clean, the house looked like a photospread from any magazine I could never afford to buy. The deal about these gleaming houses is that no matter what you  do, it’s gonna look worse, you will ruin the finish with your streaky products. You can kill fifteen minutes pulling great lumps of long hair out of the power shower plug hole, possibly enough to make a Malibu barbie doll for the baby, but that’s not OK cos this baby is not gender specfic. Samsara may chose to play with AK47s, which  is fine.  You can check for dust under the marital  bed, but there you will find her sex toys. A blindfold, a whip, and a feather sort of thing. Stillettos.  Well, we know how she got knocked up but will she be able to keep the pace, her tits leaking milk every time Samsara cries, her bits still sore , her fatigue not touched by all her yoga appointments, her pilates, her baby massage. He  might lock himself in his doctor’s office ostensibly looking at studies on the latest techniques for gall bladder surgery, but actually he could be looking at Aisan Babes with Nothing On. In three years time he will be deeply embroiled in affairs with at least two nurses. He will get one what she wants from the medicine cabinet. She will fuck him, the way his wife used to, before she beame a slave to Samsara. The other one will be more the mothering type, drug free, but will do pretty much anything in bed. She thinks he will leave the yoga wife and go with her. Perhaps he will and there will be an expensive divorce. She will win everything, but still bitch with her overly worked out friends, at wine o clock, about how could he leave her, for that fat cow?  One day Samsara will come home declaring she wants to be like the other girls and fast for Ramandan. At which point, Mum will sell up to Hipsters and move to Primrose Hill.

AIDS

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When I as 17 and still a virgin, but considering not being one with my first boyfriend,  one of my best friends, a wonderful dancer with a rapier wit, came over to the apartment where I lived with my mother and ran into our bathroom and threw up. I rapped on the door. “Do you want some Pepto Bismol?”

“Nah, ” he gasped. “I don’t want to throw up pink.”

“What difference does it make. Are you colour coordinating your puke with your outfit? You want some of my scrips? I got valium, I got compazine,  I got something else, it’s not that good , it makes you shake and I don’t even know what it’s for?”

“No, shut the fuck up. Just let me throw up in peace.”

So I did and took the drugs myself, apart from the shakey one. When he finally emerged, pale, long legs shaking, drenched in cold sweat, I gave him some water and asked him what happened.

“I was in the West Village last night, this place called Uncle Pauls. I don’t even know if there is an Uncle Paul.”

“But how did you get in, you’re only 14.”

He looked at me as if to say , oh really, how stupid can you get, that’s exactly why I got in.

“So I had some drinks and then went out and this guy was in this car and he said hey get in, and you know you have a few drinks, anything seems like a good idea.”

Then what happened?

“I don’t really remember, we went to the docks on the Hudson. He parked. He took his dick out. He told me to do something. I did it.”

“Did you want to do it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to throw up again.” So he went to throw up. When he came back, I said,

“I don’t think you like what you did, on account of the throwing up when I asked if you liked it.”

“So what are you saying? Does that mean I’m not gay?”

“I dunno. Are you sure you don’t want the compazine? It really works. I think you might be gay but maybe just don’t like what you did, where you did it and who you did it with.”

“I don’t think you would know about it. You are a virgin. And straight.”

“You could be right, but so could I. Why don’t you try something with a guy you do like and see if you throw up?”

He thumped the table. “It doesn’t work like that. You go to clubs, you go in cars, some shit happens in back rooms, with whips and shit. It’s not your world.”

“Is it your world?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to do it again?”

“Yeah, just to find out.”

So he did it again, and other stuff and he really liked it. I think he had fun, more fun than dancing even.  He wore tiny little shorts with all his bits hanging out.  He thought it was normal. He got lots of different jobs, most of them paid pretty well. He was a make up guy. He did Joan Rivers once and once the wife of the then head of the UN Boutrous Boutrous something. He said she had really bad breath but bought a ton of stuff.

Round about the early 80s we started to hear whispers of this gay cancer thing. By the mid 80s, my friend got tested and it was positive and they put him on AZT, the only drug available at the time. It made him really sick, but it was hard to know what was the illness and what was the AZT, though technically, his T cell count wasn’t low enough to be considered full blown.

Years later, I moved to England and was pregnant with my first child. My friend had settled down with a rich guy but didn’t seem that into him. He came to visit me and though he looked pretty sick by then, he made a beeline for Soho and I didn’t seem him for a few days. When he came back he was sort of exploding from both ends and rattling with drugs. When it all calmed down,  I said, are you proper sick, now, not just the before bit.”

“Yeah, I have AIDS.” He didn’t bat an eyelid. “Don’t fucking cry on me, I hate that shit.”

I gave him pasta and pesto.

“I hate pesto, ” he said, and pushed the dinner aside and took about 40 pills and got into my single bed. I cuddled up to his bony frame.

He sweated and shook and sweated and shook and then took a bath and shat in the bath and I cleaned it up.  The next day he felt better so we went to The Tower of London. He said he loved London. Then we went to Harrods and bought a bunch of stuff on the guy’s credit card, the one he didn’t love. Then they took a trip on the Orient Express.

He went back to New York and got sicker and sicker, even though he was on a new type of drug therapy. He was plagued with parasites. My sister stepped up to the plate and really looked after him as much as she could with her own young family. I was pregnant with my second child and he came to London once more, with a different rich guy. This guy was nicer. We all sat in their hotel lobby drinking coffee and the guy got up and left and said, “I am leaving so you can talk about me.”

Drew said he was nice, but he couldn’t really do the physical side of things anymore, but he was nice.

Maybe six months after that, my mother called to say he was dead. I cried my head off and took a long walk. She said they tried to scatter his ashes in Central Park but the wind changed direction and the ashes blew in their faces. That was him all over.

A few months after that I went to NY and visited his mother, who had once had three sons, and now had none. They had all died.

She cried and said, “I slapped him. He went running round the apartment throwing up and shitting and he just wrecked all my stuff so I slapped him and said goddamnit just do all this stuff in one place, so there is one stain, this is gonna cost me a fuckin fortune to clean.” And she cried her head off for thinking about money when her son was so sick and dying.

And just listening to it, and imagining him running round that apartment, which looked like John and Yoko’s white room, I started to panic. I felt his presence, and he was saying get me the fuck out of here, if I go here, instead of there, I will feel better. And he went everywhere with rich boys and he never felt better in any of those places. And I had to stand out on the balcony and gulp down air. I took a Dial a Ride back to my mother’s. She was minding my daughter. My son was back in England.  Up until that moment, I ran away from death, like Drew tried to. There, I’ve named him. After that I went totally the opposite way and became consumed by it. If I knew someone who died, if I knew them and loved them, even just a little, I would crack up just a little bit more, until my very best friend died and I went totally nuts.

A little over a year ago a really good friend died and he made me promise not to go crazy or take drugs if he died. I have kept my promise.  Because he said if I didn’t he would haunt me.  I am done with being haunted. It’s really much better on Scooby Doo. In real life, you are not really living if you are living haunted. You are living with the dead. Now I live with the living. It’s a lot more fun.

the country singer

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A long time ago I used to write about music and interview up and coming stars. Or perhaps they would not become stars, but I would try to convince the readers that this person or band was the next big thing. It was tricky for women in those days because some assumed you were in the game just to meet the star, a groupie with a steno pad and typewriter. I had a strict policy not to socialise, be overly friendly, or wear tight clothing or short skirts while working.I was kinda cute back then, not extremely, but I suppose some sort of thinking man’s half burnt speed freak  skinny crumpet.

I was married, it was not a long marriage, in fact it was a very short one, and not too many months in I was thinking, what the heck  was I thinking about marrying this man? He was funny, always laughing and making others laugh, likeable,kinetic, never stopped moving,  even lovable, but something inside me died very quickly. It wasn’t just his restless leg syndrome. Our attempts at eating out were fatal. Most of the food wound up on the floor, the table juddering ferociously with his restless long legs.  This suited me fine as I took lots of speed and was never hungry.  But  I had lost something. It  was not quite the will to live, but the will to be married.  I can not blame him, though he had his faults, as I had mine.  I think we were married in October, whenever the big storm was, 87, it should have been an omen. Lots of people up North could not make it down for the wedding what with all the fallen trees and stuff. My mother managed to make it over from the States. She asked me if I were sure I was in love and I said yes certainly, but I am not sure it was love, though it might have been, for a while I am certain it was.  Or something near enough.But not for long, for if I were truly in love, I would have not become insanely obsessed with the country singer. I don’t like telling this story because it puts me in a bad light and I was nearly ( but NOT) unfaithful.

A press officer sent me a test pressing of a record which I fell in love with. I played it over and over, rotating it only with Blood and Chocolate, not the bodily fluid and sweet that actually makes me vomit ( hardly anything makes me vomit, I am phobic of vomiting) but the Elvis Costello album. Elvis sounded so horny and depressed,  I wanted someone to want me the way Elvis wanted that girl. Desperate and in despair and anger. This was in direct contrast to the country singer, who sounded upbeat, singing about boats and horsies and a vine call kudzu. I wanted to be in that boat, on that horse,  or on the horse on the boat,I wanted to see the kudzu, I wanted to meet the country singer, who was not good looking by conventional standards, but he had a certain  Southern charm and had a peculiar Southern vernacular, like he’s say We usedta wouldn’t worry bout nothing” which was like a triple negative. I had a feeling that was his songwriting grammar, not his speaking one. I wanted to escape cold and dreary London and go to live in Texas, a state  I knew little of apart from the telly series Dallas, which I didn’t even like. And I know you can’t hold a whole city against the killing of a president,   but my slow witted mind thought Dallas, JFK, grassy knoll, Chanel pink suit splattered with blood, it was wrong on every level, but it was really all I knew, for I did not know nor care who shot JR. JFK, I was only an infant when it happened, but I know it changed the course of history.  I also knew  I just knew I had to meet the country singer, and be professional, not gushing.

The day of the interview came, somewhere in West London. I may have dressed up. I may not have, I can not remember, but chances are, I did. I went into the interview room and he was seated behind a desk. He looked smaller in real life, except his hair, which grew up, vertical and curly, like mine.  I thought crikey we’d have strange looking kids. Maybe even ugly. We’d have to home school them for fear of them being teased. But it would be OK.  I had it all planned out. We’d get them hair straighteners.

 

I wanted the country singer to ride up to New Oxford St on a horse, and he’d be wearing a Stetson, a guitar strapped to his back, and we would somehow find a land passage to Texas, where it seemed he owned a small whole town, passed down from generation to generation, or at least had a large stake in that town. Or we could take the horse on a plane. If I wrote a good enough article and he became rich and famous, the details would sort themselves out. We’d have a porch swing, and fan ourselves and drink mint Julips. We wouldn’t talk much, it would be too hot.  We’d have a mutual best friend who would shuck wood  and chew on a straw and play banjo, but never obvious banjo songs like duelling banjos. He would play When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.  And the country singer and our mutual best friend would sing in, oddly , impossibly, in three part harmonies, even though there were only two of them.  You never knew. Emmylou Harris might swing by and they had to figure out her part, even though she could figure it out herself. The whole house would be made of timber and decorated in a style called New England, which really didn’t fit, it was just my little dream. I would learn how to ride horses, and sew, and make grits.  I would wear off the shoulder gingham dresses and make pies and babies. The babies would be less trouble than the pies. I would be a natural. He would tour but be faithful, and all his songs would be about missing me.

In my dreams. In real life, we were in this room, and I was asking him questions he’d been asked many times before.  I pretended to take steno but actually I taped and wrote in curly handwriting my first name with his last name, like a schoolgirl bored in geography, but with a crush on a bad boy she could never get.  I was asking him about the song writing process while really, in my head, signing the wedding registrar.  At one point he stared at me intently and said, “Why are you sitting all the way over there on the other side. I think you should come here or I should move my chair over to your side” His chair was on wheels so he wheeled it over to my side of the desk and we were sitting so close I thought anything could happen. He could say, “I got me a horse right outside that door, and we can for for a ride in Hyde Park, and then we could eat something English, like fish and chips, and then we could get back on the horse and go to Texas, and cut each other’s hair when it reached the ceiling.”

But he didn’t say that. All he said was the usual interview stuff, and then he said he had nothing to do in London that night, what should he do, I said he should have fish and chips, it’s what you do, and then, and then, he said, would I like to come with him for fish and chips and I didn’t say what about the horse and boat and haircuts and mutual best friend, I said yeah ok.

 

I was transfixed with an excitement not only sexual, but with something that felt life changeing. I hated fish and chips anyway. We’d just need to get that out of the way and find a horse.  He had more interviews to do. I got his number or he got mine, again, I can’t remember, though the former sounds more predatory, the latter just unsafe.

I pretty much floated back to the office, incapable of speech, only thinking of the night. I went home, changed into something not only clothes wise but personality wise. I was throwing caution , my marriage, and professionalism to the wind. If he asked me to sleep with him, I would. I rifled through my wardrobe, my wedding dress hanging accusingly third dress in.  It had been less than six months that we had been married.  I wore too few clothes and too much make up, is all I remember.  We met up somewhere, outside a West London tube stop. We didn’t have fish and chips. I think we had Cornettos from a van. This next bit is a little hazy. We went back to his modest hotel, and there was a frenzied American girl in the seating area, where you could have drinks and watch telly. She said, Oh my God its _______________ and burst into tears. She said his music changed her life, and she cried and shivered and got his autograph, and he was kind and gentlemanly and patted her hand and gave her a hug and she just nearly died. I knew then that I loved this man, I didn’t care about anything else that happened that night, what I might destroy. This other woman was so happy she could not stop crying, her make up was streaking down her face and I offered her tissues and wet wipes. She asked if I were his manager and I said no, just a friend, which actually was a lie. We had only met that day. A new temporary friend would have been more accurate, but it seemed like more information than she could take in.  She went off somewhere, in hysterics, and we sat in the lounge watching telly and drinking sparkling water. He then said we could watch telly in his room, in fact he was going to be on the telly that night. He said TV of course. I said sure and we went up and sat on the single bed and watched some programme he was on, and he sat closer and closer. We had a kiss and more kissing. Some but not all clothes came off. He said “You’re very skinny” and I said that was because I was unhappy but that was only partially true, because at that moment in time I was ecstatic and I was skinny because I took so much speed. We fumbled about a bit, the sort of fumbling that leads to sex and I suddenly thought of my husband and how hurt we would be, for he too, was a fan of the singer, and I was his new wife, about to cheat, like in a country song. I sat up, for we were lying down at this point, not really watching him on the telly, and I said, I can’t do this, I am married. And he propped himself up on one bony elbow and said “Well, we didn’t do nothing, nothing really bad” and I said yes but we might and he said yes that was probably true and then we lay there on the single bed, two thin bodies with big hair sprouting over the pillow, thinking. And he said, “You should probably go home then, ” and then I felt tearful and wished I had not given the crying girl all my tissues and wet wipes.  And I got up and got dressed and took a taxi home even though I couldn’t afford it. And I crept into the marital bed at 3 or 4 am, which was not unusual back then, what with gigs and parties and deadlines and speed. The next day I was inconsolable, kept bursting into tears and playing the country singer’s record and hoping, just hoping, for the clip clop of a horse and him on it, waving me, saying come away with me. But that never happened.  A few days later it was my birthday, and he was still in London and at four am I crawled out of the marital bed and went to Stoke Newington High St and hailed a taxi to West London, and I went back to the hotel and went to reception and dialed the room and he said come up. And I went up and we made tea in the little kettle and he said he was leaving London but would be at a concert that night. We didn’t even lie down, it felt too dangerous. I was just gonna be another crying girl whose hand he would pat and would awkwardly hug, having seen some but not all of my naked body.  That night, still miserable, I went to the concert. Someone introduced me to him and said it was my birthday, and we pretended we had just met and he said happy birthday and this made me more miserable.

It was a good concert. I blubbed throughout.

A few months later I left the marital home and stayed alone in a cheap hotel in Earls Court.  A few years after that he was a big star and I flew out to Texas to write about him for a big newspaper. I had a new boyfriend. The singer had a very beautiful girlfriend, and then a very beautiful wife, who was different from the very beautiful girlfriend. The wife was later and that was short lived.

He had been hardened by the music business. His manager/friend was no longer his friend. We did the interview in my room. He lay on the sofa, I sat in a chair. That night he played in a club in Dallas with stars all over the ceiling. I think it was called the Caravan of Dreams. He dedicated a song to his friends from London, his press officer and myself. I was no longer obsessed.  He had become slick, with a dry self effacing stage patter I knew he told a different audience every night.

 

Everything in Dallas is a million miles from everywhere else. It was freezing. I took a taxi which I could not afford to a Western outfit shop and couldn’t afford anything but a belt with lots of engraved horses on it. I needed extra holes punched in. I had long since given up speed, but was still very skinny.  I have long since lost the belt and pretty much all my obsessions. Now and then I hear him on the radio and think, that’s a nice song, and then I put on the kettle or do some ironing.  ENDS

 

 

West side story story, or how to get rid of a suitor

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About a billion years ago, when Raquel Welch was still wearing a fur bikini, I had a sort of friend who had a brother who really, really liked me. A crush, I guess.  Well a big time crush. He was young, he was in film school, and there was ever so something slow or backwards about him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It may have been a speech impediment. Well it wasn’t a diagnosable one, like a lisp or that thing where you can’t say the letter R, he just said “like” every other word. “Here, like, is. like,a present, like, I like , got, like, for, like you.”

Drove me nuts. Hippies and surfer dudes said “Like” a lot, but not every other word and it seemed to display a shyness coupled with a lack of vocabulary.  It may have been his ridiculous enthusiasm for things that did not merit a raised eyebrow, even.  He would come to my shared railroad apartment in Brooklyn, which overlooked a sodium street lit basket ball court. He came with an ever increasing supply of strange courtship gifts. Boxes of welfare farina which were out of date, stockpiled in a basement in Detroit in case of nuclear attack.  Lots of things involving fake blood and gore. I’ll get to than in a minute. Dead flowers.  Very dead. I remember this one in particular because I half smiled and said “Wow, dead flowers.That’s a new one. Is it a goth thing or something? I’m not a goth.”

“They, like, are not, like , dead. They are dried. They were like hanging on  a lamp post. There were like, lots. They will never miss them. Like for some guy called Denzil. But like, he never took the other ones, so like he won’t like miss these”

“You’re kidding, right?” No response. Just a big, proud of himself slightly drooling love sick grin. He really didn’t get it.

“No, sorry, they are dead, rotting, even. My guess is that Denzil got stabbed or shot by that lamp post. And the flowers are in memory of him. I know the difference between dead and dried. I’m no botany expert, but these are dead. But it’s the, uh, thought that counts? Um, what was your thinking?”

“Well, like, guys who like girls, like, get them flowers.But you are like a different kind of girl, like, kind of weird, but like good weird, so I got you like a different kind of flowers. Stolen, like dried ones for like Denzil. But like if he’s dead, he’ll never, like,  know.”

“Well how thoughtful of you. Let’s put them in water and see if they come to life, like sea horses you get by mail order in the back of comic books.” I found a vase and , like all his visits, I invited him in for instant coffee (Bustelo, Puerto Rican and cheap and I developed a taste for it) and to play records and practically every record I played, he’d say “Wow, like, my sister has gone out with one , of like, those guys in that like band.”

I am ashamed to say I don’t even remember his name, though his sister was one of the coolest girls on the planet. She had rock star boyfriends, multi coloured hair, she was funny, she had a good job and was also really nice . It was certainly an unfair genetic distribution. She got the looks, the brains, the fire and wit, he got, well, he got into film school and as such, frequently raided the props and make up department and often came to visit me with horrific fake injuries. An arm that dropped off and spurted blood. An ax in his head. Nose and moustache glasses, a pair for both of us. Once he came up the stoop, rang the bell and the instant I opened the door he started bleeding profusely from the mouth.”

“Oh my God, ” I said. “What happened.”

He grinned a bloody grin and gave me a little box. “Blood capsules. You bite on, like one, or a whole bunch, like I just like did, and people will like think you are like , bleeding to death,like.”

“Fucking fuck. Why the fuck would you want someone to think that?”

“Like, to surprise them. Here, like, have one.” I did. I bit. It tasted like a chemical, and I spat it out.

Another time he got me fruit well past its sell by date. “They were like, in a basket on someone’s doorstep for like a week. So I figured, like, Michele really likes, like, fruit. You can like, cut off like the brown bits. But you should eat the white fur cos like I remember in science it could be like, what’s that stuff that cures infections. Penis,like, cillin.” Dear oh dear, he was inserting it into the middle of words.

So I took the farina, the flowers, the comedy nose glasses, but I felt that by accepting these I was somehow giving him hope and encouragement for some sort of courtship. I knew I had to stop the visits.

Now this was a funny time in my life. I was a newly qualified teacher in primary school and I hated it. My salary was poor, I was sharing a railroad flat with two other girls and had very little money left over after I paid my rent for my little shoebox room. The city was dirty and everybody wanted money for drugs all the time. Rents were creeping up. There were lots of people living on the streets, thrusting Dunkin Donut cups under your nose and asking you for a quarter, a dollar, whatever you could spare. It wasn’t like it was in the movies, particularly not West Side Story, though the basketball court looked quite like the court in the final scene of West Side Story. I dunno, maybe all basketball courts look the same under sodium lights at night.  I liked to sit up out on the fire escape with my Bustelo and a cigarette and stare at the court, the way the light hit it, and I imagined all the dancing Jets doing their Jet walk dance, with the arc legs and splayed arms. I loved this image so much that I thought about it most of the time I wasn’t doing anything else, like teaching or trying to figure out what else I could do for a living. I knew my plan for getting rid of this kid would somehow involve the basketball court, and probably West Side Story.

So one night the kid came with some strange present, I think it was  single , broken drumstick, and he said he brought a video over, a horror film. I said I didn’t like horror films, I liked musicals. This was probably the only information I offered about myself to him. I said I just adored West Side Story, and New York , well, wouldn’t it be more fun if we could just sort of live in a musical? Did he like musicals?

“They are a little gay but you know like, I think that one has some fights in it so it’s OK. Sure, I know like every movie ever, but it there are too like many songs and dances I get like bored. It’s better when there’s killing and stuff.”

“Oh, there’s killing. It’s a good game. You will like it. You can even fake bleed if you want to.”

This was too strange, even for him, but he smiled nervously. I led him to the fire escape. I put my hand in the small of his back. I think this drove him wild with excitement, this physical contact. I said look how beautifully the court is lit. I think we should go out there and play.

“What? Like basketball? You have like a basketball?”

“No, we can play West Side Story.”

“You have like a video player you can play outside, not like plugged in?”

“No, we play West Side Story. We pretend we are in the movie.”

This foxed him. He smiled shyly. “Is there like, kissing.”

“Not really, not in the bit I want to do. Well a bit, but you have to pretend you’re dead.”

“Wow, like you are so a goth. That is like awesome. ”

“No, I just really like the lighting of the court and West Side Story.”

We went downstairs and over the court. He was transfixed with excitement. This was new mental turf for him. I was freaking him out and kind of enjoying it.

We stood there, and he moved closer to me and I said , no, you can’t do that. It’s not part of the game.”

“Well how do you play the game?” It was the first time he didn’t say “like” which made me feel a little, but not very, sorry for him.

I said, “Well, in the story, as you know cos you say you’ve seen it, you know in the end Tony gets stabbed and Maria goes and sort of sings and weeps over his body only it’s not Natalie Wood, it’s probably Marnie Nixon but that has nothing to do with it. And then she sort of walks away and the light, man, the lighting is really good and sad.”

“So what do I like have to do, like?”

“Well, you could be Maria but that would be strange, I want to be Maria, and you be Tony. You could use a blood capsule and everything. You lie down on the court and….”

“And I die and then you like kiss me, kiss me , dead.”

“No, as it’s your first take, I think we’ll just hold hands”

“Like a real hand, or my fake arm, you want me to get my fake blood arm?”

“No, this is fine. Your real arm will work.”

“Not if I’m like dead.”

“Look that’s all technical detail. I can lift it. But it has to be lifeless”

He lay on the ground. Even though it was approaching summer, I could feel the tarmac was cold. He shivered and smiled, grinned ear to ear.”

“No, don’t smile, you’ve been stabbed, you are dying. ”

He tried really hard not to smile but sat bolt upright and said “You are like a very strange girl.”

“GET DOWN AND PLAY DEAD.” I barked.

He did as I told him, but still smiled.

I kneeled over him and tried to look tragic. “Tony, Tony, ” I said. “Boohoo, Tony, you are dying”

He sat up again, for fucks sake. “Um, my name is not like Tony.”

“It fucking is in West Side Story. Now get down and die.” I was starting to say fuck as much as he said like. I am sure that was an indicator of some sort.

He did as he was told. Sort of.

“Hold your breath.  I can see you breathing.”

He held his  breath like a little kid learning how to swim. He took a deep breath and his cheeks puffed out. I decided to let it go.

He waited for something to happen. After about 30 seconds he gasped for breath.

“Do it again. Hold your breath again. Lie there and don’t move.”

He did. And I said, now you are dead I am a just all tragic and sad and have to leave.” He still lay there, not moving. I backed away, then took my shoes off and tip toed out of the basketball court and back up the stoop to my apartment. When  I got there he was still lying down on the court, waiting.  I went to bed.

I never heard from him again. ENDS