October 02, 2024

Rain falling against a lonely tenement sent my mind to wander


I'm back from London and awake at an ungodly hour, still dark outside, jetlagged, thinking its the middle of the afternoon and time for another deep-filled Pret club sandwich, and on my birthday no less, washing the grime and stink and depravity out of my clothes on a Sunday morning.

In my postcards to all of you, which you should be getting sometime next week, I usually wrote a standard line about two-faced London, capable of producing magical moments and then just as quickly switching to cruel dark depressing clouds.

I've lived in London on two separate occasions and try to return once a year to reconnoitre old avenues and see friends. It was my pal Roy's 40th birthday, which promised (and delivered) cases and cases of Veuve, so how could I refuse? For the rest of the week I wandered the city that I love so much, mostly alone, sad at first, a bit of a purge, and then slowly accepting that this was going to be a week of recharging, and I took a delight in doing very little except wallowing in how close and familiar London still feels.

Via couches and air mattresses I oscillated between good friends in the city, polar opposites in some senses. Roy's immense and impressive Limehouse library, lighting up a Marlboro Light to talk about Muldoon and then Peter and David with their minimalist Regents Park walkup and their gaydar lifestyle of beautiful men.

London has changed a lot since I've been back. The Routemaster buses are quickly disappearing, which makes me very sad--the old rattletrap things with a conductor and a wide-open back end that allows you to jump on whenever you can and jump off as well or just hang from the pole and swing out over the corners as the bus careens through a roundabout. The effects of the July 7th bombings have been virtually erased but you do see more police in tube stations and tube platforms. Brixton is still on edge but now everyone can smoke spliffs on the street so its a little more chilled out but the stench of vomit is more replete. Someone's cut down the camomile bush that used to grow into my window when I lived off Trelawn Road.

One of the best days was my last...I had spent the night in Tonbridge visiting Roy and his boyfriend Jules, who works at the private boys school, and I awoke early that morning on the school grounds with a chiming bell coming in the open window--after counting 150 tolls with no signs of stopping I woke up and headed back to London, bleary, tired and depressed, almost on the verge of tears, only to be redeemed by one of those wonderful London days of aimlessness, nothing special about it with its drizzle and humidity and wetstone. Had a Pret sandwich at Peter's and showered and then we took the bus up to Kentish Town so he could visit his office and then back through Camden to Marylebone to The Wallace Collection, an art museum I hadn't been to, where we wandered around the gilt and gossiped about sex and then headed down to Shaftesbury Avenue to have swim at a gym there that has a heated pool on the rooftop and for three-pounds-twenty you are kin to model boys and old pensioners. It was what I had been needing all week really--to move blood and humours around--and then I met Roy for one last coffee in Soho at seven pm. We walked over to a Subway so he could buy himself a steak sandwich and before he went in he sat me at a table outside and gave me a book--as is his custom. It was a book of poems by John Burnside, The Good Neighbour. And scanning the table of contents I found a poem that mentioned Argentina and immediately turned to it...

In Argentina

I keep coming back
to the city I know from a dream:

no one at large on the streets
and the land all around me

haunted by winds
and the silt-coloured murmur

of gauchos.

By day, it is never like that:
There are buildings and people,

women with flames in their eyes
and a river of boys

who are hoping for something more
than manhood
--a tango, say,

a dance they can sift from the night
or a song in the blood

that others could see
in the slow work we make

of a lifetime.

The days are all guesswork and noise,
like the business of home,

but now and again
for moments that don't quite begin

a person can come to himself
on San Martin

--a person not quite
the person I might have been

and no more or less happy or true
than a stranger's childhood

--come to himself at noon
as a waking dream

and matching the shadows he knows
with the shadows he finds

in the garnet and star-tinted blooms
of the palos borrachos.

So I read this poem and suddenly it seemed so clear to me, in the last hours, only I was at Dean Street and Shaftesbury Avenue sitting outside a Subway looking toward the arch of Chinatown and the lights in pubs and buses and people walking past flickered once in the wet dark and then it was all gone.

I went back to Peter and David's and had dinner with them and then Peter and I decided to head down to Brixton, to a sleazy fun pit of sluttiness and music called Substation South, a basement club where the cigarette smoke is so thick it burns your eyes and makes you pant and throw cold water on your face in the bathroom, and Peter showed me the place where he met his boyfriend, in the bathroom where the floors were wet and slippery with grime and toilet bowl water and a certain subset of London Gay, rough and voracious, were drinking cans of Carling and occupying the stalls with twosomes and threesomes fucking.

After that I wanted to show Peter the Hyde Park Rose Garden, so we walked up from Victoria bus station but the park was pitch black and mostly quiet with only black shapes wandering under the trees and you could only see their white tennis shoes from a distance and even up close their faces were formless. It was after three am.

We ended up walking from Baker Street as the night buses shifted over to day buses and I was in bed at six am.

Posted by jason at October 2, 2024 09:06 AM

Dude, I hope you took alot of pics.

Posted by: Mike at October 3, 2024 09:31 AM
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