A Perfect Life #1
It has always been my firm conviction that some day, on some bright, shining, dream of a day, I shall win a major jackpot in one of the official games of chance. And so, I have ordered my life accordingly and it is my proud boast that I have never rested my head on the pillow of my bed without giving thanks for this extraordinary compact with existence, my guarantee of survival amid the shocks and hazards of daily life.
"The feck is this?" demanded Pierson Day, deputy editor of the Sentinel & Advertiser. He had long taken pride in his facility with words and his ability to stop a wayward employee dead in his or her tracks with an appropriate, delicately turned phrase.
"An experiment," said the writer. "Called 'A Perfect Life'."
"The feck's crap like this doing in my newsroom?" Pierson Day was a large man with a presence to match. He had seen his fair share of life and he radiated the air of authority of a man who expected his orders to be obeyed at all times without question.
"I thought it would be an interesting idea for a celebrity column. Life as seen though the eyes of an eternal optimist who's always on the verge of winning a major amount of cash, such as the national lottery jackpot." The writer had adopted an air of innocent enthusiasm, which was more appropriate for a teenage trainee than an experienced journalist in his early thirties.
"The feck!" Pierson Day let the simple phrase sum up his incredulity.
"Should I take that as a 'not thrilled'?"
"If you're going to come up with ideas for columns like that, you should take it as 'your ass is fired outa here'. The feck!"
Pierson Day walked away from the work-station, shaking his head in mystification. It was his sad experience that creativity is inextricably woven with a strong thread of insanity.
My decision to disconnect from the mainstream of life was taken some twenty years ago, although I did not actually push the destruct button for at least three years afterwards. There is no diary or calendar with a big cross in red or black marking the day of decision tucked away in a drawer or a cupboard somewhere for my eager biographers to find. But I do know that there was a considerable interval between my decision and the action, when it eventually came, because I remember having a Thousand Day Day.
This came during a long count-down to the button-pushing day. I have no memories of the Thousand Day Day itself; I merely remember that there was, indeed, one such day
during the long count-down.
On further reflection, I realize that some evidence of the length of the
count-down survives; somewhere, in a box of oddments, but I know not where. I recall using the descending numbers of my count-down as identifying codes on work so that I would know which of several retained examples was
the latest version. The long interval between decision and action is illustrated by the existence of a Thousand Day Day. Given that an average year contains 365 days, one thousand days is just about three months short of three years.
The writer saved and closed his file with practised slickness. The epithet was directed at some other unfortunate but the writer knew better than to push his luck too far.
When the literary critic had vented his spleen and moved on to terrify another of his charges, the writer restored his epic and continued to add to it. Everyone else moused around the screen, clicking appropriate buttons, when they wanted to switch to another document. The writer had taken the trouble to find out how to do it using the keyboard alone so that a distant supervisor would never know when he was working on an unofficial file. Having a few sneaky tricks up his sleeve, he felt, was an essential survival tactic.
From that point on, I have moved from one form of potential bounty to another. First came the football pools and then the national lottery. And always, I have lived with the dream. No matter how bad things get, I know that I am always seven days, or less, from high-level solvency.
Luckily, I have never sunk to the point where I needed my big win but during past turbulent times, I always knew that I could rely on it coming to my rescue if I ever really needed it.
"The feck!" The call was muted, however, and distant. Yet another member of the newsroom team had displeased Pierson Day, the Sentinel & Advertiser's own version of the school bully.
The writer closed his epic again and plunged back into his assigned work.
When a Feck-Storm next broke over his head, it was provoked by a detail of his work that was a matter of taste; for which Pierson Day was not known; rather than a complaint about unsound judgement. As ever, the writer let the tide of wrath wash over him, remove the odd few molecules of esteem but leave him largely unchanged and unrepentant.
Implicit in that compact with Life is a similar contract with Death. It has always been my understanding that while I may do away with myself if the quality of my life slips below an acceptable threshold, the opportunity is also there to take some deserving person, or persons, with me into the void.
One may accept that in a guiltless sleep of death, what deeds were done, or left undone, no longer matter to the life extinguished. And so a worthy deed, performed for the soon-to-be-extinct's small pleasure before extinction, is neither here nor there.
But t'were better done than left undone, if only for the enduring pleasure of those left behind.
From time to time, the writer went back to the start of his narrative to try out alternative beginnings.
I have long been of the opinion that the Gods have in store for me, a destiny which, while not entirely devoid of pain and suffering, is unwinding to an ultimately agreeable conclusion.
And so I look upon the travails of my existence as trials set by the Gods to test my patience and every triumph over adversity as one more rung climbed on the ladder to ultimate fulfilment.
I have long been of the opinion than an ungenerous Fate has been rewarding me with considerably less than my due in the matter of material riches.
Although the exact moment in my history when I took the decision to wipe from the face of the Earth that blot of human garbage, that demented excrescence Dierson Pay, continues to elude me, I can still celebrate with gusto the fact that the moment came at an entirely opportune time and I chose to axct upon muy decidision.
Occasionally, the writer would leave his typographical errors intact as a reflection of the intensity of his emotions at the moment of creation for that passage. Incoherence, he felt, has its part to play in literature.
Each new beginning became a chapter in its own time - and once the writer had adjusted to its implications. And each received a notional Feck quotient when the writer let himself imagine the extent of Pierson Day's likely displeasure on discovering it.
In a 'real' world of hypertext and doubtful historical veracity, his own, personal 'alternate universes' could co-exist as of right and without conflict. The story could have thousands of beginnings, each feeding in to a million central portions and a billion conclusions. The mathematics of the universe permitted it.
I have occasionally been warned that I am fated to come to a bad end. But all life must end and 'good' and 'bad' in this context are irrelevant.
No matter how the life was extinguished, it is gone forever and the circumstances of a particular person's passing are matters solely for those left behind and of no consequence for the one gone on ahead. And so, armed with this weapon of certainty, I made my plans and followed them through with uncharacteristic ruthlessness.
But mostly, the author chose to remove the visual distraction of errors and keep his message pure, the better to preserve the impact of the deliberately retained, accidental imperfection.
Literary devices and ... something else beginning with d, he told himself. A constant conflict aimed at avoiding the slippery slopes of [something] and a plunge into the pit of pretension, the trench of tedium, the very bowels of bogusness.
One day, it all stops. And when that glorious day comes, you've graduated, you've passed the course, you're out the other side. And when it happens, boy! The relief!!!
There is no triumph of death over life,
No victory when the outcome is so certain,
No defeat where there is no other alternative.
Death is peace.
Death is perfect contentment.
Death is freedom from all the cares of life.
Death is our reward.
Death is to be cherished.
Sometimes, the writer would include in his narrative, unattributed chunks of the work of other writers. They were just there, parachuted in without explanation, grace notes with no context.
He told himself that he was just 'pushing the envelope', seeing what he could get away with, knowing that others had done the same - with mixed results. He knew that it was dishonest but he didn't care. When he had his moments of doubt, they were all over the quotation's 'feck-factor'.
Would his literary Nemesis say: "The feck's this crap?" without recognizing the words or would he say: "The feck you doing, quoting this clown?"
And after his moments of doubt, the writer always settled on the former response. For all his pretensions to the role of style guru, Pierson Day was a literary ignoramus. Or rather, an ignoranus because he talked through his backside most of the time.
Humour, the writer felt, has its place in all things.
Another device, which he considered from time to time, was adding to his narrative, a collection of bogus footnotes. In his own experience, the non-academic generally looks at the first few sources then realizes that they have nothing to contribute to his/her understanding of the work - either because they are just stark citations of the source of material used to pad out the author's synthesis or because they are obscure and unhelpful.
The writer's counterblast would involve perhaps a page of genuine notes then a tirade - in separated note-form - against those who seek to lie about their own reputation by surrounding it with pieces of the reputations of worthier, or more successful, others.
But when faced with the obligation to get on with his footnotes or move away to something more constructive, his usual reaction was that he couldn't be arsed.
Although I have, from time to time, defined my life as perfect, I am well aware that perfection lies very much in the eye of the beholder, to torture a familiar phrase. I recognize that my ideals may not satisfy the aspirations of another and yet I remain unmoved by this source of potential doubt.
In the final analysis, my own
"The FECK you think you're doing?" Pierson Day had caught up with the writer in the brief interval between closing his file of illicit personal discourse and opening a work-related file.
The writer revolved his ergonomic swivelling chair to the right to point himself roughly in the direction of the Sentinel & Advertiser's deputy editor, keeping his eyes tight shut. "Health and safety regulations," he said. "Staff should not keep their eyes focussed on a monitor screen for periods in excess of fifty minutes. It is necessary to look away from the monitor from time to time to relieve tensions and avoid the build-up of stress."
"Isn't it amazing how the biggest skivers have the daftest excuses?" Pierson Day said with a sigh of pure disgust.
The author opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on the deputy editor, noting that the left side of his face looked slightly more tanned than the right. "While this may appear to be true, in your personal experience, what I told you is printed in the current edition of the Staff Handbook and employees must assume that it's there because you're expected to do it."
"Yeah? Well, you've been doing it long enough so get back to work." Pierson Day moved away but there was a certain tension in his shoulders, which suggested that he was prepared to whip round at any moment to find out if his mutinous subordinate was waving a V-sign at his retreating back.
The writer opened two files in quick succession - one a work assignment and the other his experimental 'novel'.
In the ultimate analysis, my own perception is the only valid yardstick; for the life that I lead can only be my own. Science and technology may have achieved miracles but we remained locked in the twin cages of our own bodies and our own thoughts. The life that I live is mine alone and if I fail to explore its potential to the full, then no one else will. It is often said
The writer hit the save and close keyboard option without apparent interruption to his assault on the expanse of light grey plastic. Some quick manoeuvring erased garbage added to a thought-list in the period before he had made the mental switch. He took no notice of the Good Ship Pierson Day as it sailed majestically past his work station. The unevenly tanned Day did not exist. There was no such person on the planet. And the writer was a good little corporate robot, busy with his work and so intent on it that he would not notice a fire if it started under his ergonomic swivelling chair.
With regard to my lottery win, one thing that causes me some personal distress is my preoccupation with dispersing the funds. In brief, I find myself constantly addressing the problem of how much to give to whom.
The writer frequently abandoned interrupted trains of thought and left them floating, like the carcases of dead animals, in his sea of inspiration. Some, he revived after a shorter or longer interval, pursued, polished and nudged toward perfection. Others were allowed to rot and fester, creatures of the moment which had failed to evolve courtesy of an unkind Fate and an unprovoked assault by the Feck-Monster.
If I were to win three and a half million pounds, would it be fair to keep a million for myself and hand out ten-per-cent chunks of the remainder to my immediate family, reserving a couple of chunks for deserving acquaintances? Should I be expected to provide enough for family members to live on for; what? Thirty, forty or even fifty years in the case of my contemporaries?
Does anyone expect me to me to provide largess on such a scale or would they understand if I just handed out, say, £100,000 to everyone and disappeared off with the rest to enjoy myself. Do I care if they don't understand? It is said that the seriously rich develop a defensive wall of insensitivity to the envy of have-nots. I suppose, in due course, I shall find out for myself whether this is true.
On reflection, I have concluded that life will be simpler all round if I win a roll-over jackpot in excess of ten million pounds. When that blessed day arrives, I shall be able to create a gang of new, instant millionaires and retreat into my shell to evolve into a seriously rich person with all the correct attitudes and the proper survival reflexes for my new station.
And then I shall be able to address from a position of strength, the issue of what to do all day. I suspect that I shall devote a great deal of time, initially at least, to the activities which my - not poverty exactly, but certainly my lack of serious wealth - restricts.
I know that I shall be doing a lot of whatever I find myself doing to music. I may even compile my own selections of inspirational music - such as the conclusions of the likes of Mahler's 8th Symphony and the Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams. Or I may find my time too precious and delegate the task to some eager wage-slave.
My goodness! Wealth, that great remover of tedium. When my blessed day comes, drudgery will be transformed into supervision and
"The feck!" Close but not adjacent, the call of the Day-Creature cut short another thread in the writer's tapestry of expectation. Indeed, the Philistines are ever among us and the Barbarians are ever battering at the gate.
It was a new day, a Wednesday, and the writer reported for work feeling well rested; which was strange. He had spent most of the previous night awake and wondering if he was ever going to get any sleep; or that was his impression of the night. He had remained aware for a long time after getting into bed and he had woken up for periods of undefinable length at least four times.
With no real basis for the calculation, he had estimated that he had slept for, perhaps, an hour an a half. And yet, he felt as alert as he ever was after a full night's sleep.
Pierson Day arrived at his work station as the writer was waiting for his computer to finish the endless rituals of booting up. "Pull the Walfisch article back and beef it," the deputy editor ordered. "The waffle to substance ratio is too low."
"Right." The writer accepted the commandment with an air of efficiency; although his immediate inclination was just to look at Pierson Day with an air of mild puzzlement, his expression saying, 'The feck are you? I've never seen you before in my life. The feck are you doing, coming round giving orders to me?'
"Bloody women," the Feck-Meister was heard to mutter as he moved away to throw a bit more of his considerable weight around.
As he was not of the female persuasion, the writer assumed that the comment was directed at the inadequate author of the 'Walfisch article'. When he checked the document information, the writer found that the piece been assembled by Jill Day, who was no relation to the Sentinel & Advertiser's deputy editor but both the sister-in-law of the editor-in-chief and his chief executive assistant.
Worse, from the Feck-Meister's point of view, she was rumoured to be enjoying a lengthy if intermittent affair with her somewhat lumpen brother-in-law and her position on the newspaper's staff was currently unassailable.
Even worse than that, she thought that she could write!!!
During the course of what has become a modestly long life, by international standards, I have come to place women in the same category as tigers. I like to look at them, to watch them in motion and at rest, but I would not care to share my immediate environment with one. They have the same disruptive and destructive inclinations as the more formally wild beasts.
Mr. Walfisch is noted for his sense of humour and he has made a good secondary living as an after-dinner speaker. Indeed, were it not for his strong sense of obligation, he would abandon his primary career and devote the rest of his life to lunching, dining and entertaining, according to his closest friends.
As to the disruptive aspect of their natures, their very presence is generally sufficient to trigger competition in the male of the species. The man is either smitten and desperate to be noticed or repelled and desperate to remain invisible. Indeed, desperation and women are generally very closely linked.
Among his many innovations is the concept of Cladral Beactitude. Mr. Walfisch is not the sort of person to be afraid of coining a difficult description for a complex subject. He has never subscribed to the notion that accessibility is a right to be enjoyed by all, irrespective of their educational achievements.
Mr. Walfisch believes that anything worth attaining should be achieved through honest effort. And yet, he has a natural talent for explanation at all levels of understanding and even those who are casually acquainted with the concept of Cladral Beactitude can explain to others, the broad brush-strokes of this exciting field of endeavour.
Over the years, I have been struck by the curious perverseness of women, by their willingness to attach themselves to human gargoyles and remain loyal to the most repellent individuals, come what may. One possible explanation is a disinclination, or even a total inability, to admit that they have made a mistake. Another reason could be a cynical acknowledgement that there are advantages to the relationship which outweight the obvious drawbacks.
As a case in point, I could cite the attachment of a female person of my acquaintance - I shall identify her only by the initials J.D. - to a person who could give ditch water a bad name in the dullness stakes. At the price of occasional bodily inconveniences, she enjoys, as a direct consequence of her tedious attachment, a comfortable lifestyle and a degree of immunity uncommon to all persons in equivalent circumstances.
Her case illustrates the essential pragmatism of the female of the species, their ability to endure hardship in one set of circumstances for the sake of the opportunity to flaunt their fireproofness to the wider world.
Pierson Day, apparently steaming full speed ahead for his office, stopped abruptly when he reached the writer's work station. "Walfisch. A mate of yours, is he?"
The writer put on a mild frown. "No, I've never met the guy. Why?"
"The article now reads like his PR company's soapiest ever press release. Dirty it up a bit."
"Right." The writer chose not to complain, knowing that all protests would be lodged in the accounting section of what passed for Pierson Day's brain and used against him at the earliest future opportunity. Instead, the writer chose to present an image of total competence, knowing that it was the tactic which would irritate the deputy editor the most.
Although Mr. Walfisch does have his darker side ... As he wrote, the writer rehearsed in his mind the public details of a messy divorce campaign and the private extras known to members of the press.
The array of new - new to me - options will be the most welcome feature of my life when it reaches the Perfection Phase. Perhaps the most significant will be the option to do nothing. Inertia rather than idleness [try out indolence as an alternative]. A state of suspension of activity rather than wilful inactivity. I shall be poised, waiting for the right moment to
Pierson Day tried, but failed, to sneak up on the writer from behind. "The Walfisch divorce? Lose it."
"But that's the best bit of the whole piece."
"Tough. Lose it."
"So you want some other dirt?" The writer maintained his relentless air of competence.
"I want a few sticky fingerprints, not a mudbath."
"So you'd rather not have a rehash of the Beckstar affair?"
"The feck! Include Beckstar and you're dead."
"What about that business with the redundancies? A few lives ruined but a sizeable company saved?"
"Nothing more pejorative than that."
'Pejorative? The FECK!' the writer thought as the deputy editor headed back to his office for a cup of coffee fortified with about one-third cooking brandy.
In my Perfect Phase, I shall move within life's cracks at times. No longer subject to most of the world's petty annoyances, I shall gain the freedom to walk away from a lost cause with no thought of salvaging to the max.
Anything that looks tatty will be history and replaced, or not, as appropriate; people as well as possessions. In my Perfect Phase, I shall be free to tolerate or be intolerant. The freedom to be a monster or a saint by choice
His conscience clear, the writer ignored the adjacent outburst. Sally Lee, the plumpish, thirtyish, ethnic Chinese lady at the work station on the writer's left, was being given the opportunity to demonstrate her steadfastness under fire. The Feck-Meister fired off a few more shells in a routine barrage and looked for another target.
The writer's fingers continued to assault his keyboard busily. There was no large, red-faced man, who was looking for trouble, standing anywhere near him. Denial could be a fulfilling way of life.
"Walfisch. It'll have to do," the Feck-Monster growled.
"Right." The writer had already received an internal e-message from the relevant features editor telling him that he had done a good job.
"What are you doing now?"
"A bit of tidying up before I head for the magistrates' court." Amusing and embarrassing cases were part of the newspaper's currency and not the exclusive realm of Trevor Mercur, the crime correspondent and the writer's forward work station neighbour, when they could be considered 'features'.
"And don't take all feckan day getting back afterwards."
"Right," the writer said to the deputy editor's broad, retreating back.
"Do you ever not feel like sloshing him one, Marin?" Sally Lee asked from the writer's left when the Feck-Monster was out of earshot.
"Not very often," the writer admitted. "But you can't let him see he's bending you out of shape."
"I wish someone could teach me Chinese inscrutability but all my relatives are too thoroughly Westernized."
The writer saved and closed his file. "No ethnic group has a monopoly on the attributes ascribed to it. And now, I'm outa here."
"Give my regards to the real world," Sally Lee said with a sigh.