Airport Thoughts

I am glad that the airport is two-sided. It does not forces me to wait in an enclosure. There are restaurants and shops on both sides of security.

I sit outside on a concrete bench. The cigarette burns my throat. The discomfort is the cost of soothing my panic at the idea of being unable to smoke on the plane.

This vacation is for showing up, being a father for my daughter. I remove my normal self-indulgence from the agenda. Hopefully my daughter will help me find what is supposed to replace it.

I am too immature to be grandfather.

Who is That Guy in the Photo?

The train leaves the station.

Now there is a clichéd metaphor!

And the train is still in the station. I have just sat and I am waiting for it to leave.

And the metaphor is weak. I am going from downtown to the airport. The real trip will start when the plane leaves.

My mind is still in the Mulholland Drive universe. Betty is the way Diane sees herself. The ending, an identity crisis, a reality too hard to face.

Whoever said that the mirror doesn’t lie forgot the beholder. And I find photos crueller though it is easy to blame the quality of the picture. The problem is when there are no good pictures.

The dude in the photos looks older than the one in the mirror.

Am I in denial? Denying that I am aging, denying that this could be my mid-life crisis.

If this is mid-life, then I will live to be very old.

At my age “what is the good life” is about the present, it is no longer aspirational. Dreams carry less weight in the equation. There are fewer potential outcomes to fantasize about. The imagined life as a professional hockey player is no longer unrealistic; it is impossible.

Same question, different perspective: Working to pay the bills cannot be written-off as a temporary inconvenience, a price to pay to get where I am going. The good-life is no longer something I am working towards, it is something I am working on.

Should I have been more impatient when I was younger? Was playing the long-game the right choice? How much time do I have left? Will it be quality time?

Ironic that at 56 I am writing immaturely.

Where would I be now if I had made different choices? My career trajectory changed after I met my second wife. What if I had not taken personal days to resolve issues at home? What if my confidence had not been shaken by what was said in the heat of the moment? What if I had divorced her earlier? What if I had kept the promise to myself to fail-fast if it wasn’t working out?

There is no answer to the what-ifs. I cannot relate to the person I would have been if  had gotten the next promotion. And there is nothing to say  wouldn’t be in a similar place. Not because I believe in fate but because regardless of who delivered the blow to my confidence I am the man that was vulnerable to an attack on my manliness.

But, what if?

We are attached to our identity and that identity is, in part, built from our experiences. Negating the past is negating who I am.

I chose the long-game. Take care of my obligations, make sure the children get a good start in life and enjoy the good life after. I have no doubt I made the right choices but I imagined myself finishing just as youthful as when I was making the choices.

Now I compare myself to men my age and older. I don’t find the me in the mirror looks young for my age. Never mind comparing them to the dude in the pictures of me. My self-image, my identity is being challenged and the ego is fighting back as hard as it can. I know that reality’s bitchiness will win but the battle is getting ugly.

I like to joke that I am immature because, when it comes to the school of life, I am a slow learner.

As I get older there are fewer options available. This is supposed to lead to greater serenity. Fewer options to miss out on, less anxiety about missing out on them.

But how do I manage the feeling about the options I missed out on? And I resist giving up on options. I am worried that it is giving up too early and that I am creating self-limiting beliefs. And that brings me back to the clash between the fantasy image of myself and reality.

I have J.S. Mill‘s autobiography on my reading list. I hope it is readable. Some philosophers are so busy being precise that their ideas are unreadable.

I like his ideas on liberty. I am hoping that this means his autobiography can help me work out a different view on goals. It is the way he worked a solution to lack of satisfaction of achieving his goals that fascinates me. A dissatisfaction that showed up when he was twenty. Big hairy goals. His turning an  appreciation of Wordsworth into a motivating factor interests me; the addition of a sense of awe into his life that made rest of his work worthwhile. At least that is how I understand it. I am hoping the autobiography can tell me more, teach me.

For now, the way I see it, it is about spending time on things without a particular end goal. The journey, not the arrival. Choosing an agreeable journey, choosing to be a traveller without a destination. A change in perspective. Turning my activities into something that repersents who I am instead of one that is based on who I want to become.

The change in perspective is challenging my identity. Learning that I am who I am today and not the person I might be tomorrow. Which comes back to accepting my past choices. And that I have fewer options for change. And that my future self will be older, more physically diminished until I no longer am. And that final day is getting closer.

And that final day is the inevitable final destination. And becoming a traveler makes life about the journey, not the destination. Because all the other goals are just stops along the way. Regret, missing out, mortality are no longer an issue.

What about the mistakes? I have made some bad decisions that I cannot rationalize away but they don’t bother me that much. Slow to act. That has been the biggest recurring problem. There is time yet. Until there isn’t.

Akrasia is an idea I came across when skimming some texts on Greek philosophy. Self-subversion, acting against one’s better interest. The concept seems to be used most often when talking about addicts though I remember reading someone hypothesizing that Bill Clinton had a self-destructive streak and, every once in a while, someone will bring it up about a star that will blow up there careers after each success.

And then there are the twin fears: success and failure.

Some dress up akrasia as a weakness of will. The word weakness say a lot about the thinking of the speaker. And it doesn’t address fear-based self-sabotage.

I think there is something more to akrasia than its definition. By definition it is not rational.

Hume argued that passions and will could not be overruled by reason. I guess that is true. I have not found a good argument against. If it is true then weakness of will does not exist. It becomes irrational will. I wonder where that would fit in the debate on free will.

Ataraxia, the Greek version of nirvana. I get the feeling that is what I am aiming for. But that feeling comes from my superficial understanding of it; it can mean what I want it to mean.

It is my nebulous goal. Defeat akrasia, attain ataraxia. Sounds intellectual. Pseudo-intellectual, fake profundity.

Ataraxia, my traveler goal. Not the destination with the perpetual where-next problem once you arrive. You’re never as lost as when you get somewhere and don’t know where to go next. The traveler breathes in, breathes out and moves on.

It is easy to underestimate the value of the journey, to see it as a logistics problem. Listen to someone talk of a trip. It is the journey, the things that happened, the people met that are told. Who wants to hear a long list of been-there and done-that. Funny how, if you don’t have the been-theres and the done-thats, people will look at you incredulously and lecture you on having missed the purpose of going where you went. Even while they nod in agreement to the cliché “it’s about the journey.”

You can travel forever but once you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it is done.

I think of Bro. The golden boy with the big stories. He didn’t realize his perceived destiny, got slapped in the face by life and fell off the cliff. He still hasn’t gotten up. He has been down for so long that I wonder if he will ever try. He survives on bitterness and spits out anything that could change the taste in his mouth.

The traveler goes places, does things. Aimless wandering is not a journey, it is restlessness, it becomes the goal. Am I restless? Am I conflating travel with journey? Meaning with meaningful? I guess that is where being in the present moment comes in and my metaphor starts to fall apart.

Being present takes away the need to keep moving. It is also a way to take the focus away from where I am going. It frees me from the goal.

Being in the moment is freedom. Taking notice of where I am is neutral, free of judgement. It is what it is, now. Not before, not after, but now.

Our feelings about the past are not as strong as those for the future. The dread of a future pain is greater than the memories of a past pain, even if the future pain is substantially less than the past pain. The anticipation of a future pleasure can be a great pleasure itself.

Does moving into the now make time more symmetrical? Is it like moving closer to the middle of the see-saw?

Is this part of the aging crisis? Less to look forward to and the memories are unsatisfying? Is bringing it to the now an adjustment of the perspective? Allowing for the awe of the moment?

I am going in circles attempting to philosophise my way out of my age crisis aiming at a stoic version of the serenity prayer hoping for a magical bullet in J.S. Mill’s biography while forgetting Hume’s argument that you can’t apply reason to emotion.  Montaigne has an essay called “That to Philosophise is to learn to Die.”

All this rambling to complain that I am struggling with the fear of having missed out. Yet missing out is inevitable. There are too many choices.

Options are overvalued. Too many options makes choosing difficult.

I started this train of thought thinking about how my age crisis is about adjusting to a new identity, that of an older man; a new part, the fifth age. Then …

The train has arrived at the airport.

Mulholland Driven

Isms and their ists. Ideologies and their labels. I get lost in the definitions and refuse to identify with any single group.

The Contrarian likes his absolutes and I like tearing them apart. It’s easy: absolutes don’t like context and look ridiculous swimming in a sea of conditionals.

We’re both being careful. He’s gone fully vegan and avoided answering why. I say nothing about the sidestepping.

We see a clean-looking Lebanese restaurant. There’s a menu in the window. Mid-range prices, a complete selection including vegan friendly options. Enough people to suggest the food is good. The waitress that greets and seats us looks, to me, Lebanese.

The appetizers, a platter of mezze for two, is quickly chosen. I add a lamb stuffed eggplant for my main and the Contrarian starts his interrogation of the waitress finding every dish with yoghurt or cheese. After a few of these, I ask him how he feels about lentils.

“I like them.”

I turn to the waitress and ask if they have a meatless lentil dish.

“Oh yes, with wheat and fried eggplant.”

My eyebrows ask the Contrarian if he wants this.

“Sounds good.”

“Drinks?”

“Beer.”

I find it strange when meatless eaters drink. Is it the association with healthy eating?

I hesitate then decide alcohol may knock me out early.

“Tap water for me, please.”

I watch the waitress walk away. The Contrarian asks me what I want to do afterwards. I want to enjoy the moment but reply. “I was thinking of checking out a discount DVD shop. I want to see if I can find a copy of Sunset Boulevard.”

“That sounds very specific.”

“Yes.” He’s expecting a reason to follow. I’m feeling playfully vengeful, wanting payback for his taking me from the present with the future looking question. I let a few seconds pass. He looks ready to ask ‘why’. “And … Le Mépris.”

“A French movie? That’s unusual for you. Is there a theme going on here?”

Mulholland Drive.”

“Hunh?”

“I watched the movie again. And I started wondering if the road was a reference to Chandler or Ellroy novel. I ended up falling into the rabbit hole of interpretations of the movie.”

“And what do Chandler and this other guy…”

James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential.”

Kim Basinger?”

“Yeah, he wrote the book.”

“OK, what do Chandler and the Kim Basinger guy have to do with Sunset Boulevard and Le Mépris?”

“Rabbit holes. They are two of the rabbit holes. Movie references.”

“So you’re on fact-finding mission?”

I think about how to reply. “Sort of. There are at least a couple of obvious references to Sunset Boulevard and it has been forever since I last saw it. I am less sure about the references to Le Mépris. You know, fact-finding may be a good way to describe my obsession with watching all the movies that Mulholland could be referencing. I have already watched three other rabbit hole movies.”

“White rabbit holes? Listening to the dormouse?”

“Feeding my head. And here comes the food for the stomach.”

There are four breads to accompany the appetizers. Plenty to dip with, keep talking, make the food last.

“The hummus is really good and I’ve become a kind of expert. I eat this shit almost every day now! Now tell me about your boner for Mulholland Drive. There’s a couple of really hot scenes but it can’t be that.”

“The baba ghanoush is garlicky. Aphrodisiac levels. Though it has to be one the most frustrating aphrodisiacs around. Get’s you excited but leaves you with a breath that knocks them out before you can do anything about it. The movie doesn’t leave you with bad breath.”

“Funny ha ha. You’re not answering the question.”

“You didn’t ask a question.”

“Aw come on! It’s implied! How did wondering about a couple of authors become an obsession that has you chasing DVDs?”

The question is a good one. It happened without me thinking about it. “It’s Chandler‘s fault.”

“That sounds like a line out of Friends. What’s that white stuff with the olive oil on top?”

“Let’s ask. I think it may be a type of fresh cheese, sort of like sour cream.”

I look to my right and spot the waitress serving a couple. I wait until the man’s plate is placed in front of him and raise my hand. My timing is right, she sees the gesture and comes over. “Labneh, a special Lebanese cheese. Very good.”

The Contrarian reaches for the hummus.“What did Chandler do?”

“He convinced me he had written about a murder on Mulholland Drive and that a car was involved. And the more I searched, the more theories and interpretations of the movie I found. And I did a lot of searching. I was convinced. And he didn’t make it easy because he renamed places in his novels. I ended up with a long list of classic movies to watch. And a need to do something else as an excuse to stop my search.”

“How many interpretations can there be? You spend two hours watching one story then you get twenty minutes were you get the real story and figure out that first two hours are a fantastic dream.  There can’t be that many ways to explain that. I mean, the ending kind of explains it already, right?”

“It’s the internet and it’s David Lynch. It’s people obsessing over little details with pet theories about them and insisting they are right even in the presence of contradictory evidence. There is this uncredited extra that a guy is sure is an actress from Twin Peaks or something. So he emails Lynch and Lynch replies that it isn’t her. And the guy is posting all this on the internet with the conclusion that, despite what Lynch said, he is sure that it is her.”

“So you’re watching a bunch of movies to prove the internet is full of crackpots.”

“More like trying to prove that they are not all crackpots. And making sure I am not one either.”

“You’ve got your own crackpot theories? This I’ve got to hear!”

“If I get started … I have been playing with these ideas all by myself and I’d love to share them and not on the internet. If I open the door, they’re going to come streaming out in one long flow of verbal diarrhea.”

The Contrarian lifts his beer “That’s all right, I’ve got plenty of liquids and I can get more if needed.”

“You asked for it! Do you remember the opening scene?”

“The car drive down Mulholland?”

“Before that. The jitterbug dancers.”

“Vaguely”

“The movie opens with a bunch of dancers doing their thing all over the screen and in the background, unsynchronized, their shadows dancing. The shadows don’t represent what’s happening and I’m thinking Allegory of the Cave.”

Plato‘s? That’s not a movie!”

“Yes, Plato‘s. And I’ll get to the movie reference. So… you have the shadows telling you that what you’re seeing is not reality. It’s imagined, a story created from a distorted and limited point of view. And the foreground is Betty’s story.”

“Which one’s Betty?”

“The Naomi Watts character of the first two hours.”

“The pink sweater one.”

“Yes. Though, I am not hundred percent sure it is her. It could be the Naomi Watts character from the last 20 minutes. I am not sure it makes much of difference to my cave interpretation. Both of their stories fit, which may be the point. The dance ends with Betty arriving in Hollywood, stepping into the light, a little dazzled, which can represent both the movie lights and the fire’s light.” I pause to let the Contrarian catch up. He has two stories, the allegory and the movie, to remember and line up. “And though she is stepping in the forefront, she is transparent, ghost like, which is why I prefer calling her Betty.”

“So far, it’s still Plato.”

“Patience. … I really like how this bit is acted, not a word is said yet I get strong feeling about the story being told and in only a few seconds. The I’m-here smile arrival, dream-come-true sightseeing and, a second stepping into forefront with even brighter lights.”

“The sun.”

“The sun. And this time it is a flashing-bulbs dazzled look that is followed by an acceptance speech. It corresponds nicely to the allegory and it reminds me of Le Mépris. It makes me wonder if Godard and Lynch had the same idea, or was Lynch inspired by the scene from Le Mépris and he used it to create his own version, or is this an homage to Le Mépris.”

“Hunh?”

“There is this scene in Le Mépris Brigitte Bardot where goes to the movies with her husband but instead of a movie they end up in a very surreal scene with Jack Palance and Fritz Lang. There’s a singer on the stage. People walking back and forth, their shadows projected on the wall. And every time one of the characters speaks, the music stops. And when the bit of dialogue is finished, the music picks up where it left off, as-if someone had hit the pause button to speak and then unpaused the music afterwards.”

“Sounds like Lynch got two scenes out of one from Godard, the opening and the cabaret scene.”

“It does. There is another scene where I think people have missed the reference. But is this taking this referencing thing too far? In this scene I am going from Plato to Godard to Lynch. That is a lot of layers. May be the similarities are unintentional, or completely imagined. It feels like I’m spouting another complicated explanation of the movie, layers and layers deep, a conspiracy theorist’s perspective where every detail is significant and has some mysterious meaning that confirms the conspiracy.”

The Contrarian is looking wistfully at the empty hummus bowl. I point out that there’s still some of tabouleh left.

“Yeah. … Are you saying that the movie doesn’t have the answer to who really shot Kennedy?”

“I have a feeling that a lot of the people posting their interpretations of the movie also think they they know the real truth about Kennedy. Half of the theories about the movie ignore that 80% of the movie, the Betty story, was originally a TV pilot. And Lynch changed very little of it when he made it into a feature film. Lynch redefined the story a posteriori.  There must be artifacts of the original idea left, which means not everything is going to fit the revised story, nor does everything have to.”

“And the jitterbug?”

“Was filmed for the movie version and, I like to think, serves the story.” I rip of a piece of bread and scoop up a mouthful of labneh. Impatient to continue my analysis, I regret the size of my serving. “There is, I think, only one undeniable link to anything in the movie, the car from Sunset Boulevard parked at Paramount Studios, and the rest is conjecture. When it doesn’t need too much explanation or complicated apologetics, then, maybe, just for fun, it’s worth talking about. David Lynch is known for not explaining himself, for believing that the story is what the viewer sees and not what he intended it to be. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and he builds stories for beholders.”

“You’re not going to give me a scene by scene run through, are you? It’s a long movie, you’ve just finished describing the opening scene and you’re talking about a bunch theories which you don’t believe. We are almost finished with the starters. At this rate we will still be here for supper.”

“The food is good. And I warned you that once I got started on the movie, you were going to suffer.” I grin at him. “I could probably walk through the whole movie and have something to say about each part of it. That said, I’d rather show off my ideas instead of repeating someone else’s. And you know I don’t like to ridicule other people’s bad ideas and, in this case, I’m not sure I want a quality comparison. You’re right, I have a bunch of ideas that don’t even convince me but they’re my ideas and I can’t seem to let them go.”

“Are they worse than the one about the Allegory of the Cave? More deserving of self-inflicted contempt?” Now it is his turn to grin.

“Unfortunately, yes. There are two scenes that made me think of Carnival of Souls.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s a low budget horror movie from 1962 that over the years has picked up the ‘cult classic’ label. It starts with drag race that ends in a car crash.”

“That’s your first reference?”

“Yes. And, like in Mulholland, it’s the start of a dreamed sequence.”

The waitress comes to check on our progress. Seeing the appetizer plates empty, she asks us to confirm we are ready for our mains. While she is stacking the dishes, the Contrarian adds that he is also ready for another beer.

I restart my summary as soon as the pile of dishes are lifted from the table. “Carnival of Souls; Car crash. The car goes into the water and the protagonist emerges not remembering how she survived.”

“Your second reference?”

“Not really, more like a part of the first one. Anyhow, she drives off, goes to Utah and starts a job as a church organist. There are few scenes where she is haunted by a ghoulish figure.”

“Like the homeless person behind the diner? Your second reference?”

“The whole first diner scene reminds me of the movie. As the story moves along, the protagonist starts having moments where she is invisible and inaudible to everyone. She ends up consulting a doctor about it.”

I pause as the eggplant is placed in front of me. “Thank you. … The diner has the guy confessing his fears to a friend. Annnnd, when the friend is paying the bill, you can see him talking but you cannot hear him.”

“Not exactly strong links but not that far-fetched. Why are you feeling guilty about it?”

“Wait. You haven’t heard all of the story yet.”

“You said two scenes.”

“The ending is what gives meaning, context, to the first scene.”

“That’s cheating. The ending counts as a third scene.”

I am not going to admit he is right. “The weirdness escalates, a climatic sequence with, as I remember it, at the climax, a cut-away back to the crash scene from the beginning of the movie. They’re pulling the car out of river. All the passengers, the girl included, are in the car and are dead. It’s not explicitly said, but the whole trip to Utah is a dying dream, a nightmare she has while passing. The escalating weirdness represents her slowly, or not so slowly, losing her grip on life. And of course, you never die in a dream.”

“Instead of explaining why you think it’s a stretch that Lynch is referencing Soul Carnival…

Carnival of Souls.”

Carnival of Souls. Whatever. You made the case for it stronger.”

“Well … The two scenes in Mulholland Drive that remind me of it were shot for the TV pilot, in other words, before Lynch added the ending that turned the pilot into the dream sequence.”

“Oh.”

“And I don’t like that a famous critic said Carnival of Souls reminded him of Lynch‘s Blue Velvet. He speculated, with a strong disclaimer that it was impossible to know for sure, that it was an influence. Now everyone takes it as a fact that Lynch is a fan of Carnival of Souls.

“If it has shown up before then maybe it’s more than a coincidence.”

“I searched, I cannot find a single direct quote with Lynch saying he is a fan of the movie, nevermind that he was influenced by it. And remember, the dream theme didn’t exist when he shot the beginning of the movie. And forgetting that it was turned into close-ended movie a couple of years after the pilot was rejected is a mistake I say many of the Mulholland theorists make. Theorizers? Theorists? Theorizers make.”

“Maybe the dream theme was part of the pilot?”

“It’s a stretch. But maybe. Probably not. Probably not…”

“You can’t say for sure it wasn’t. You said Lynch doesn’t explain himself.”

“He moves in mysterious ways. It’s a shame there isn’t a mystery teapot in one of the scenes.”

“Your eggplant looks delicious.” He has changed the subject. I think he got the reference and did not understand it was an opportunistic joke.

“It is. How are the lentils?”

“Good. Almost good enough for me not to want some of your eggplant.” There is an element of martyrdom in veganism.

I go back to Mulholland Drive. “I like my links to Le Mépris better. And I have a few ideas about  the Rita Hayworth thing that I also like better.”

“You said something about there being another scene that referenced Le Mépris?”

“You’re following.”

“Why do you sound surprised? Do you think I don’t listen to you?”

“I know you do. It’s when I’m spouting bullshit that I get surprised.”

“It’s not complete bullshit.”

“That’s where I get my biggest surprises. Every once in a while someone quotes me back to myself. Sometimes it’s years later. And I’m saying to myself ‘Wow, they were listening and it marked them.’ I guess wear what surprises me is that people take me more seriously than I take myself.” A thought stops me.

It’s a general thing. I really don’t take myself very seriously. It’s why I get confused when people get angry at the stupid things I say or do. I misjudge how serious people are about everything.

“The other scene?”

“Yeah, actually it’s not that straight forward. I should say for me. My mind takes an inaccurate shortcut and I conflate it with the Club Silencio scene. It takes place in the club but it is at the end of the movie, where it has to be if it mirrors Le Mépris. The ghostly apparition of the two dead lovers mirroring the scene of the two dead lovers in Le Mépris, the return to the lady in the club’s balcony mouthing silencio mirroring the return to Fritz Lang calling silencio to cue the start of the shooting.”

“Like the Frnech Silence, on tourne?”

“Yes. I like the irony of ending the movie with the director’s call that the cameras are about to roll but that is more about Le Mépris than Mulholland Drive. There’s one rabbit hole I avoided, the indirect references. Le Mépris is full of symbolism, allegories and references to Greek mythology. That makes Mulholland‘s references to Le Mépris references to references. If I don’t want to tie my mind in knots, I would need to do a deep dive on Le Mépris first and I’m not ready to go there.”

“You make it sound like there are other references.”

“Possibly. Rita putting on the wig to go to Club Silencio mirrors Brigitte Bardot’s putting on a wig to go to the theater. Rita, dark haired, puts on a blonde wig. Bardot, a blonde, puts on a dark hair wig.”

“Always the same scene.”

“Yes. And it’s the multiplication of the possible references to that scene that make me think that maybe Lynch is referencing Le Mépris while making me think that I am looking at that scene with a conspiracy theorist’s magnifying glass and taking every coincidence as another clue.”

“Confirmation bias.”

“Maybe.” I notice the waitress is patiently standing by our table. Our plates are empty.

“Dessert?”

I am full and I am not ready for the meal to end. I can see the Contrarian is also hesitating. It is not obvious if he is wondering if there is a vegan option or if this is because he is also full or if he is waiting to see whether I will take one .

I quickly eliminate the vegan option from the reasons for the hesitation. He bitches enough about the lack of choice in vegan desserts and he believes that a martyr is not a martyr if no one knows of the sacrifice. The bitching is as much a part of his identity these days as is the veganism.

“Yes”

“Me too.” He turns towards me. “I thought you were going to go directly to the coffee.”

“We have a few options without milk products.” I am pleased by the waitress’ memory trick and return her smile. The Contrarian’s “Good.” disturbs me. It is royal, a service due, entitled.

“Let me clear your plates and I will return with the dessert cart.”

Talk is suspended, replaced by the noise of dishes and cutlery coming together in a neat pile. I catch a hint of black lace, force myself to catch the waitress’ eye and smile. I find myself wishing that reality was closer to a porn movie: A wink, a nod, and before you know it the flour is falling off the shelves in the back room.

“Nice” I wait for her to disappear into the kitchen before agreeing.

It takes me a few seconds to climb out of my fantasy world. By the time my mind gets back to the present moment, she is drawing the trolley parallel to the table. I see a type of custard covered in crushed pistachios, learn it is flavoured with orange blossom water and order it.

The Contrarian takes longer than usual to choose. The shared appreciation of the waitress’ physical attributes has raised his testosterone levels. The selection process is accompanied by flirting, some of it embarrassing to watch; the questions about the pistachio filled cigar, accompanied by a pregnant pause while looking her in the eyes. The motivation for the flirting is baffling; it started only after he caught me fantasizing.

The cigar is joined by a walnut filled pastry and a piece of baklava.

“I’ll take the coffee, Turkish, after the dessert. Thanks.”

I turn my attention back to the Contrarian as soon as she steps away. “Rita!”

“Is that her name? When did you get it?”

Any doubts that he sees picking her up as a competition are dispelled. Not that he is in the habit of hiding it. I just cannot be bothered to confirm it each time, especially if I am not playing the game.

“Mulholland Drive.”

“Right. The Rita Hayworth connection.”

“You got me started, encouraged me. Now I have to talk out all my ideas.”

“There’s no mystery to the Rita connection. The poster scene is explicit. So what is special about it? I’m guessing there are a few crazy theories on the internet and you have better ones.”

“Precisely.”

“And…”

“Crazy theories first, actually, ‘crazy’ is not the right word, flimsy, tenuous. I don’t think much of the idea of making a big deal of the real Rita dyeing her hair red and the movie Rita’s wig.”

“And it would interfere with your Le Mépris conspiracy.”

“Not really, there’s nothing ruling out multivalence, things having multiple meanings or interpretations. I don’t see the significance. It’s why I call it flimsy. I think even less of the fact that Rita Hayworth was a stage name.”

“Stage name, borrowed name. Tenuous. A coincidence.” The flatness in the Contrarian’s voice announcing that he disagrees with me and that he is simply confirming he understands the reason for my opinion.

“Exactly. What surprises me, especially with all the attention paid to the decor, is that I did not see any comments about the poster and the movie’s tag line ‘There never was a woman like Gilda!’ That sounds like a blatant announcement to me.”

“That could explain why she called herself Rita instead of Gilda.”

“I thought that for a moment then ruled it out. Diane, the real world Betty, has a Rita fetish.”

“And what a fetish!”

I ignore the comment. “She’s her role model. The dinner party scene is what made me think of it. Her idea that dancing, winning the jitterbug contest, leads to acting. Not an obvious leap unless you think of Rita Hayworth being a dancer before becoming an actor.”

“Another original theory of yours?”

“I haven’t seen anyone else comment on it. Nor anyone try to make a connection with Rita marrying Orson Welles, a director. Not that I give it much weight but it seems more obvious than some of the other stuff mentioned.”

“She did become a short haired blond for him.”

“True and you could probably make a lot of connections to that movie if you tried. There’s the hall of mirrors, a theatre scene, a love triangle but, like a lot of the other crap, it seems to take things a bit too far. It is hard to see how those links serve the movie.”

“But with Lynch you never know.”

“Again true. But I’d rather spend time analyzing that dinner scene than speculating on what could be random coincidences.”

The Contrarian laughs. “You had no problem listing off the possible connections.”

“Guilty. I did spend some time thinking of reasons why the blonde Lady From Shanghai was a better parallel than the red-headed Rita. That was helped by watching a few Orson Welles movies. It’s what I like most about turning Mulholland into a project, the rabbit holes, following tunnels just for the fun of the adventure, even when I know I am way off track. That particular adventure started with Gilda, because of the poster, then the Lady,and then F for Fake.”

“Rosebud?”

“Amost, or maybe that should be ‘not yet.’ Time will tell.”

“I can see it is easy to take you off track when talking about the other movies orbiting around Mulholland.”

“Here comes my coffee.”

“Are you going to spit it out on to the napkin if it is no good?”

“No! But if I am not careful when I get to the bottom of the cup, I may end up spitting out a mouthful grinds.”

“The art of drinking Turkish coffee. Either you know it or you end up creating napkin art.”

“You know about the drop of cold water?”

The Contrarian’s face lights up as if he has the answer to the $64,000 question. “That goes for any good coffee. A mouthful before to rinse and a mouthful after to bring out the after-taste.”

The game show metaphor is still in my head and the wrong-answer buzzer goes off in my head. Its harshness makes me take a second before answering. “I was thinking of the drop that goes into the coffee. It is supposed to settle the grinds to the bottom and it is supposed to be physics but I can’t figure out which principle.”

The coffee is now in front of me. I ask for a glass of water and the Contrarian for his third, or is it his fourth, beer.

Waiting for the water, I frame the cup with my hands.

“What the fuck? I can go for the drop of water bit but what is this waving your hands around like that supposed to do? ‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’ Are you casting spells now?”

“Yeah. It turns the coffee into a superpower elixir, like Obelix‘s.”

“Don’t you mean Asterix?”

“I do. And there goes my smooth segue back to Mulholland Drive. The coffee sitting on the white table cloth in front of me reminded me of the hazy transition at the end of the supper. The call backs that follow. It is a great scene.”

“Which means you have another” he does scare quotes “original” and he does another set of scare quotes “theory.”

“Of course I do.”

Le MéprisSunset Boulevard, or a Rita movie?”

“Sunset Boulevard. Adam’s comment about his ex getting the pool man made me think of the opening scene. And the whole sequence is a commentary on the Hollywood system.”

“How?”

“The sequence starts with the coffee seen from Diane’s perspective which tells you whose view you are getting. Then there is the comment about the pool man, the idea that Adam should have rewarded the judge, an admission that the ruling was not fair. She then spots the coffee-spitter just before Adam delivers what I call the clincher ‘Sometimes good things happen’ which comes from a Helen Miren quote where she says that she doesn’t believe that good things happen to good people, that it’s all luck, that sometimes good things happen to bad people, but it’s better, more worthwhile, to do good.”

Naomi Watts certainly ignores the conclusion.”

“She’s only concerned with the single line. It’s what sets up the revenge. She has just spent the meal eating crow, confessing her failures to Adam’s mother while her table-neighbour listens in, adding salt by filling in details. Then there is the smoky transition to her picking up the cup of coffee. The scene is shot from her point of view, a signal that the series of allusions to the Hollywood machine, corruption and the conclusion ‘sometimes good things happen to bad people’ are her explanation of why she busted in Hollywood.”

I take a sip of my coffee. “And I like how Lynch lines up three straight coffee transitions for the ending of the Diane story. I’m tempted to rewatch the movie just for the transitions. Lynch makes them add to the story. They are not just mood setters, or clever ways to join two scenes. They work like commentary, silent narration.”

“I’m ready to watch it again. I get the feeling I missed half of what is going on.”

“I said ‘tempted.’ I am getting close to overdosing on it. Maybe after Le Mépris or the original pool man movie, Sunset Boulevard.

I pick up my napkin, wipe away the grinds that have gathered at the sides of my mouth, and drop it next to the cup.

I tip the cup, seeing if there is enough liquid for another sip. The grind patterns from the playing with the cup remind me of my first trip to Mexico City. The fortune telling was supposed to be part of the Zona Rosa experience.

I was not impressed, when after a first look at my cup, I was told that I would soon go on a long trip. I stayed quiet and let the unimpressive predictions continue. My girlfriend was unimpressed with my lack of participation in the game.

Years later I would learn that the obvious stuff was meant to start a conversation which would give clues for creating a reading. My silence had killed the show.

The memory has me wondering how much the Zona Rosa has changed. I remember hearing it had been severely damaged in the 1985 earthquake.

I put the cup down. “Ready?”

The Contrarian swallow the last of his beer. “Yes.”

We head towards the cash register.

Paths Chosen

I question my choice. The borrowed outline is telling me that my favourite plot line is dead. What will I do with that story now?

Rob Goodroll became Daniel Jacmar after a drug deal gone bad. Alone with his mind, paranoia took over. He went to friend that was good with potato-art and left for Africa, a place where he could answer questions about his papers with money.

I worry that I am borrowing the plot. Writing as I read has me unprepared for where the story is going; for which characters get one more scene, one more chapter; and for new characters. The names and the places have been changed and any resemblance to the original is probably not a coincidence nor is it intentional.

Today’s chapter of the line for the wagon the Goodroll story is hooked up to. An ending that is the beginning of an existential crisis. Exist, not exist. Hamlet with Cartesian word play. And I am thinking, continue, not continue. I have no idea what to do with this. The original is starting to tire me. The crisis seems oh so melodramatic and it goes on and on and on.

I think the crisis is over. He picks up a newspaper, and the thinking because he exists is replaced by an article on a rape murder. False hope. The rape murder gets thrown in to the soup. I start thinking, prophesying, dreading, that he will end up being the despicable individual. All this going on about wanting to not think is making me think that he is trying to delete the events from his memory and the newspaper article is a trigger for the half-suppressed memory.

The chance that my guess is right feels high. This chapter started with a bit on presence that sounds like some thing I did earlier. And it’s not the first time I have anticipated themes.

It’s understandable. I am reading the book slowly, taking notes, analyzing, distilling and reducing the story down to an outline. And then I start to develop, thinking forward. We’re starting from the same ideas, similar thoughts are expected.

I am not betting on my premonition. Its foundation isn’t logical. And I am hoping that I am wrong. Because if I am wrong, then maybe Goodroll’s counterpart will make a return. Despite the fact that these two things are not codependent. Because that’s how I would prefer the story to turn out.

Christmas day. I am looking for a warm place (outside temperatures below five degrees Centigrade defeat my home’s insulation, an upgrade overdue, an investment avoided) to read the book. I walk past the first open place, a brasserie that looks like it serves a lot of beer breakfasts. Passing a restaurant with its lights on and no visible customers, I head to a coffee shop that I know. I can make it out on the corner of the block. The lights look off, then again it’s a shop that uses a lot of natural lighting. Still hoping that it is open, drifting to the outside of the sidewalk, I keep on advancing. I can clearly see the chairs are stacked. I turn around.

I can see someone behind the bar at the place of the invisible customers, I head toward the doors. Doubt. A few more steps. Chairs on tables. One man cleaning and not dressed for service.

The wind picks up speed. A headwind that speeds me up through its chill factor. I step through the door for the bar section of the brasserie.

I am overwhelmed by the crowd that buries the bar. A barrier at least four people deep. The prospect of elbowing my way through while not spilling anyone’s drink chases me back out.

I contemplate going home. The wind points out that I went out to cure my freezing toes, the toes that are my coldness gauge. It’s when they feel cold that I feel the cold, it’s when the cold goes from momentary discomfort to a state of discomfort, it’s a state of discomfort that I fell helpless to change, that makes me grumpy, makes me lash out, swearing at the inanimate objects that refuse to compensate for, adjust themselves to, my cold-driven clumsiness.

I get scientific, hot air rises, so the feet feel the cold first, sweaty feet, wet feet that stay cold. Part of the story I tell people when they catch me in my ugliness, or searching for ways to avoid my feet going cold. Unashamed of sweaty feet but ashamed to include circulation in the explanation, like that would be exposing a frailty, as if feeling the cold when sitting for long periods is a weakness, as if activity isn’t on the list things to do to feel warm.

The laundry is done, the clothes ironed and put away. It’s too early to prepare dinner. I am out of home remedies for my freezing toes. I go to the brasserie’s other entrance, ready myself for a slow swim through the crowd, pull open the door, and get surprised by sparseness, the bar’s zinc counter easily visible.

Searching for a reason for the one-sided filling of the place, I look to my right and see, on a screen on the wall, horses racing. Men lined up before it, betting slips and racing forms the hymn sheets for this altar.

I walk straight to the counter. It’s clean, no beer-sweat stains, no stale beer smells either. A bar with multiple personalities: beer, Calvados and coffee in morning, office workers at lunch and the horse crowd in the afternoon. It’s the cleanliness that says the kitchen has a rush hour.

I check what the other patrons on my side of the bar are drinking and look for the bartender. The place is refusing to conform to the stereotype I have assigned it. I see coffee drinkers, lots of house wine (wine is for sipping, good for a long stay at the lowest cost) and the gamblers drinking beer.

I spot the barman; tall, friendly, full pre-hipster (unstyled but trimmed) beard with a touch of grey at the chin. I order my coffee and it shows up quickly. I pull out the book and look for a foot rest. I see the collection of sugar wrappers, crumpled betting slips and small litter. The disappearance of cigarette butts has not done much to improve the appearance of the floor space next to the bars in France.

I want to read a page-turner next. I read a paragraph, lift my head, watch a customer walk up to the bar, greet the barman by name, and order a glass of red. I read another paragraph and notice a barmaid, small discreet tattoo in the hollow of her clavicle, has joined the barman.

I add coffee sips to the routine: paragraph, sip, the barman is filling a pint glass, paragraph, sip, the barmaid heads into the kitchen, paragraph, sip, my neighbour settles his tab, 1.20€ for a coffee, another customer asks for a refill, paragraph, sip, the barman is wiping glasses. To my right, a man with an African accent is having a lively one-sided conversation, plenty of chuckling. My man-at-the-bar pose has me facing left. I turn my head just enough (I am not interested in seeing the seedy-side of the bar) to see he has a pint and the tip in the bill tray tells me has already paid. Paragraph, sip, the barman is talking, having a conversation, with a regular at the far end of the counter.

Two-thirds of the way through a long paragraph, I hear the barman talking to my neighbour. “Are you all right?” “Yeah, yeah.” “You sure?” “Yeah, yeah.” “You worry me.” He walks back to his friend and my neighbour goes back to his conversation.

I turn my head a little more this time. He’s a few inches shorter than me, wreath-crown baldness, gold rim glasses, well dressed (neither flashy, nor luxurious), mid-fifties (my age, ouch) and a large smile that matches the tone of his conversation.

The barman is back. “Is everything OK?” A yes comes out in between two sentences. The talk is speeding up. “I’m worried about you. You’re talking to yourself.” A laugh to say yes and to say I’m fine. It now sounds like he has three trains of thought going simultaneously, switching between them after a few words. The barman, looking him in the eyes, gives him the intense worried-friend look. From the jumble of words, he picks up that the man hasn’t taken his medication today.“I worry for you.” He goes to serve a customer, I return to the book, my neighbour, slowing down, goes back to his chuckle punctuated conversation. “I’m really worried for you.  Are you going to be OK?”“Yeah, yeah.” “Where you from?” He stops mid-sentence, makes a sound as-if he is about to answer, hesitates, starts again, goes back to what he was saying before, a few words later, the tone of his voice changes, the sign that he has changed subjects. “I’m from Algeria,” the barman. The man responds by speeding up his conversation. “I am not hiding anything.” Subtext: I am also a foreigner, not a xenophobe, just trying to start a conversation, to talk you down back to the real world. “Where you from? Senegal?” He runs away from the questions by creating a new thread to his self-talk.

The barman answers the call of a customer, I take the last sip of my coffee and pull out the change needed to pay for my coffee, stacking it next to my cup. My hand works at getting the stack as neat as possible while head works at catching the barman’s eye. He sweeps the coins up “Schizos make me uncomfortable.” I nod and wish him a good day. I trust his experience. The man seemed harmless, friendly, cheerful, but I’ve read stories about manic episodes turning quickly. Quickly, I rush home, hoping to get there before my toes go cold.

There is an email from the insurance company. A Christmas day response can only mean they have offshored their support, probably North-Africa, for the language. I am expecting an acknowledgment that they had received my letter cancelling the policy for my phone, an acknowledgment I had requested because I had received the rates for next year, ten days after I had cancelled.

“We have received your cancellation request. After studying your file, we regret to inform you that we cannot respect your request because the notice period was not respected.”

What? I sent it seven weeks before the anniversary date! I dive into the binder with my contracts, not there. I force myself to slow down, to register what I am seeing, still not there. Wait, maybe it’s with my receipts, it had come with the phone when I purchased it, some sort of hocus pocus which meant I was saving 20€ by buying it with. Still nothing. I double check the dates to make sure I am looking in the right binder, I go back to he contracts binder, I go to the balcony and smoke half a cigarette.

I am angry at the insurance company. How can I find the terms and conditions of their stupid contract? I sit, open the book, look at the page, and put it back down. I head for my binders, look at them. They probably didn’t give me a copy of the contract. Unlikely.

I visit their website. It looks like it was designed 15 years ago! Figures. It has one modern feature: an absence of a clear path to get support information. Click, click, click. Special offers, price simulations, catalogue of products, contract extensions. I go to the page for extended phone guarantees and I debate going through a simulation to see if it comes up with the terms and conditions. I see a link for a ‘feature,’ automated renewals, click, FAQ, click, two-month’s notice. Assholes! Rip-off artists!

Another visit to the balcony. This shit is not good for my health. I go back to my computer, it is still showing the FAQ. I go make myself a coffee and gulp it down. I close the page. Why are they making it so hard to cancel? Is a  couple hundred Euros worth pissing me off? Stupid, beyond rhetorical,  question. AOL built a successful business on service that was almost impossible to cancel. How much are the bastards going to take me for? 12.95€ per month. Fuck, at those prices I could buy myself a new phone in a year. I head towards the balcony, stop. My throat will hurt if I smoke another one so soon. I should have sent the cancellation notice earlier. It was on my to-do list for a few weeks. That’s a couple hundred Euros worth of procrastination. Isn’t there a way for the government to regulate companies that are out to take advantage of people? Enough! Now I am sounding like one of those professional victims. Save 20€, lose 200. Ha! I am mad at myself.

I remember feeling good the day I sent off the notice, satisfaction at crossing something off the list. Today, I’m feeling extra stupid. They’re still assholes, I’m still angry at them, angry at myself and taking it out on them. And the bastards raised their prices. Oh! They raised their prices. I have an out! They have unilaterally raised their prices and that is a reason I can use to cancel the contract. The government does have some laws to protect consumers. Probably because a minister got burned. I smile at my cynicism.

I pick up the book. This may be a classic but the existential crisis really does go on for too many pages.

The Mediterranean Threesome

Personally, I like everything The Mediterranean Threesome ever recorded. There is one song, In the Shade of the Olive Tree, an early B-Side, that sounds … different. It’s not on any compilation nor has it appeared as a bonus track on a remastered album. It’s only available on the internet as one of those videos where you get to stare at the picture of a 45 for two minutes and 39 seconds. It’s one that I revisit regularly.

At first I thought it was the quality of the recording. I listen to the song again, volume is good, sound clean. I plug in my headphones, it was lovingly ripped from the original vinyl, only one small crackle, barely audible, during the fade out. It is in mono.

I find a tribute site for the underground newspaper The Freeworld Tribune. One of those small publications preaching a modern socialism, started in 1967 and fading into history in 1971. Loved by its readers, a bunch of them got together, gathered copies of every edition ever printed, and put them online. The editor was famous for succeeding in getting the (semi-)famous to drop acid with him. The resulting interviews were interesting. As I work my way through the interviews, I find the key to unlocking the mystery of the Olive Tree. I switch over to the video site.

Among the sponsored content are trending videos, pop songs and video blogs. The landing page doesn’t have a single video that interests me. I must be managing my privacy controls correctly.

I pull up my playlist HIP (Harmonisation, Inebriation, Procreation). My version of the classic threesomes; Wine, Women and Song sounds too tame; Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll got burned out in the 70’s. I once thought it a clever acronym.

There’s a banner across the top informing me that some videos were removed from the list because they had been deleted from the site. I lament the fact that they don’t tell me the names of the disappeared. I could document my playlists but I wont allow myself to be that anal about the music on an internet site. I have already spent too much of my life cataloguing my music collection as I transferred it from medium to another. I have to draw the line somewhere.

I remember my thoughts on absurdity. I don’t understand why the thought scares some people so much, why purpose is so important, why it leads to existential crises. I find the idea very liberating. It allows me to live in the moment, not make sacrifices for some nebulous future. It grounds me, gives me a basis for making choices.

I scroll through my HIP list. I remove the placeholders the site has left for the deleted videos and for videos that are now private. I go back to the top of the list. I start rearranging, moving songs up and down the list. Why am I obsessing over the order of the songs, making sure that an artist doesn’t repeat too soon? Because I keep on hoping, fantasizing someone will see the list, recognize my genius taste, share it with the world, make me an influencer.

I scroll back to the top to see the statistics. 55 views. That’s more than I expected. I check some of my other playlists: four views, 31 views, 11 views. I go back to HIP. Maybe it’s the first song Death of a Single Man by Dick Severin, live in Bakersfield 1970. Nothing special. The concert isn’t famous; the song, one of my favourites, isn’t one of his biggest hits. Maybe it’s the name of the playlist. There’s no accounting for what works. There’s no accounting for the statistics either. I know some are under-reported. But it doesn’t really matter. The ballpark is what matters. Four, 11, 31 views: It’s meaningless compared to the videos that count their views in the billions.

I click on Play All. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the list from the top. Oh the irony of using a video site for listening, a site, that when it comes to music, is dominated by unmoving pictures.

HIP, my list of feel-good songs, songs that I sing along to regardless of the suffering it imposes on those present, songs that make me move.

I tried using the playlist at the gym once. They had renewed their machines. They went modern; individual screens; graphical representations of the programs; direct connection to a tracking application, to the house channel, to the internet, and to the video site.

It’s a new toy, I want to play with it. One and done, see what it’s like. An alternative for when I have listened to my backlog of podcasts. I am not ready to change my habits.

I listen to podcasts when working out. If I change my listening habits, I wont be able to keep up with all the shows I like, I’ll have to unsubscribe from some. It’s difficult enough keeping the subscriptions down to a manageable number.

But I like the idea of watching videos while exercising, queuing up my personalized channel, something to stop my eyes wandering to the images parading on the big screens hanging from the ceiling.

I get on the elliptic. I give it a try. It wants me to sign in. Of course it does, of course I wont. Neither the gym, nor the video site need to know my association which the other. I search for the my playlist. I scroll through a page full of misses. Followed by a second page of misses. Midway through the third, I find it, start listening. It skips a song – strange. I keep going and it continues. Then it skips another song. I slow down, play with the display. Some of the songs are marked unavailable. Available only if I sign in and they know who is watching? Once is enough, I’ll stick to the audio from the phone.

Oh! One of the 55 views on the counter is me.

The music on the list favours the late 60’s and early 70’s. There isn’t an obvious reason. I was too young when the music came out and no older siblings to initiate me. Timeless? Timeless, that’s sort of what I’m going for with the list, songs that I don’t tire of (which really isn’t the definition of timeless). And not obvious, songs that aren’t the biggest of hits, the hidden gems. Songs, I am not expected to know, like when I know the songs of my children’s generation,  which surprises them more, because, as they remind me with their comments, that when I thought of my parent’s generation, it was very difficult to figure out what was contemporary for them in their youth.

It’s The Unlikes turn to fill my ears. I remember, I was in high school, when the album Classified Women was released everyone had an opinion; about the lead single Damsel in Distress, about the album, about the band, about the lead singer John Mountain, or the lead guitarist Ken Beard.

The single was too pop, too funk, too disco. Or, it was a sign the group knew how to stay contemporary, knew how to evolve, knew how to stay relevant. The lyrics were too adolescent, not befitting a group of thirtysomethings, like the transcript of a drunken conversation at 4:00 AM, when everyone else has left. Surrounded by empty beer bottles, potato chip crumbs, pizza crusts and sipping on warming beers. Dreaming of rescuing some pinup from a life of drudgery and sexploitation to sexploit her. Genius was the answer; it takes skill to create a scene like that, to make it real.

The album got the same treatment. A lot of comparisons to their “golden era.” Not experimental enough, too commercial (it’s #1 on the charts); the new guitarist is crap, the old guitarist (found dead in a hotel room on Wilshire Boulevard with a needle in his arm) was way better and played the occasional solo, the new guy only does rhythm guitar and Ken Beard is a crappy lead guitarist. Oh yeah, the new guy knows how to play slide, Ken’s better than you think, it’s the old guy that was screwing things up, improvising unplanned solos while fucked up on H. The critics are saying it’s their best in six years. And it’s #1 on the charts.

John Mountain, the lead singer, had few fans, excepting a handful of girls that would admit to thinking he was sexy, a sentiment that was hard to understand; a voice that sounded like his white-jeans were too tight, fish lips that looked ready to swallow the mic, moves (legs kicking out to the side at impossible angles) that made him look like a marionette handled by a beginner, and a Napoleon complex that came from some sort of optical illusion which made him look six inches shorter than his six feet of true height.

His character is questionable. Suddenly he was for free-speech when The Unlikes made a contractual fulfillment album that made George Carlin sound like Mr. Rogers. He was all for the freedom to do what you want in your own home as long as you’re not hurting anyone when he got busted for cocaine, all for free-love when the pictures of the orgies with groupies got out. He’d never said anything against the war in Vietnam, never taken part in a benefit show and publicly treated his exes like money hungry opportunistic groupies when asked to recognize the children he’s fathering.

Grudgingly, you admit that he has a massive stage presence, that he is a major reason for The Unlikes success, that all the other cool members of the band call him a great friend, and then you find out he is humble about his song writing abilities despite having written a lot of their greatest hits.

His son is a piece of work. An album, full of sentimental drivel, released in the late 80’s. The only semi-successful song, the single, written by a studio hack, sold on the strength of his inherited fish lips and the name. The follow-up, all self-composed, went straight to the discount bins. His calling the Rodney King riots an overreaction might have been forgotten had it not cost him his relationship (while defending his comments, he told his girlfriend that the reason he was with her was because black girls were better in bed; she told E!). He surfaced briefly in Saint Petersburg (Florida), volunteering his opinion on the Tyron Lewis case. His father shipped him off to a private island in Belize where he dreams of his father’s death, a monster inheritance and the freedom to again enjoy luxury in the world’s sin capitals. It is rumoured that every few months, he stops drinking for the morning, goes into the home studio and records a few bars of his magnum opus, his vindication.

General Shelter‘s opening salvo of dissonance brings my attention back to the music, Word-Rock, a masterpiece, the opening track to his second record, the introduction to the concept of his free-jazz inspired album, his last piece of recorded work before, like a bunch of other stars living on the edge of sanity and, not armed for life in the public eye, retreating to hermithood to spill his brain on to canvas. He’d gone on a walkabout to prepare himself for the upcoming tour. The fans waiting for him learned from an intrepid reporter that he’d stopped walking and that he was living with aborigines in the Northern Territories, talking about the earth’s vibrations, wanting to translate it for his next album, declaring it was important to capture the vibe, to share it, the message would save the world, it was his mission, his duty. Playing his old(?) stuff was no longer relevant.

Time moved on. Another decade, another reporter. He’d built himself a shack and the yard was decorated with his“abstract paintings.” He told the reporter he was trying to crack the code, the earth’s vibration’s too difficult to transcribe using traditional musical notation, he was now trying to represent it visually, putting the sensations on wood, on rolls of paper. Soon after, he stopped welcoming visitors.

Occasionally, a lucky reporter, disguised as a lost wanderer would come back with an update. He was still trying to capture the earth’s vibrations. He’d had a breakthrough, he had tried inventing a new type of musical notation and discovered painting was the answer. The flow, the message, could be drawn but it wasn’t meant to be reproduced musically. Everyone had to hear it for himself, get it on their own frequency. If he tried to reproduce it, he would be reproducing what he had heard. Only the Earth was capable of producing individualized vibes. But he could capture it images, because pictures opened the soul, made it receptive, because eyes are the windows to the soul.

Shelter’s Word-Rock becomes Ray Parrott‘s The Doctor. I hesitate. Should I skip the song? When does art become too polluted by who the artist is? Does there need to be a smoking gun? Is there an epochal discount?

I remember the first time, walking down Arbutus towards Kits beach, I heard the song. I was ready for sun fun with a book (probably an A.A. Fair from the used-book store), a towel, my cheap small boombox, and listening to the Fox Rocks’ classic hour. The Doctor comes on, I slow down, I want to know who’s playing, the name of the song. A mild panic: Was I too late? Had they announced it before playing it? The song ends, the deejay comes on “Aaand that was Ray Parrott’s 1968 classic, The Doctorrr.”

It takes me a while but one day the conditions are perfect. I get the “Coming Up” heads-up, there’s a cassette ready in the box, and I hit the record button at just the right time.

I mentally review his biography. Ray Parrott, born in war time L.A. His father was a studio engineer, an acoustics wizard who’d soundtracked tens of musicals before going away to war. The father returned shell-shocked, started drinking. His parents’ marriage was over before the 40’s were. Ray was known to describe the relationship with his father with “When I saw my father, it was usually in a rundown studio where he was recording shouting blues by day and sleeping it off by night. He had great and was a master at leakage so he always had a place to sleep.”

He enlisted at the age of 17 and was stationed in Europe. After his enlistment, he returned to L.A. and started hanging around the recording studios in Hollywood. Unable to convince anyone he was the next Joe Meek, he gathered a bunch of studio musicians, using a case of whisky for payment, and recorded the novelty hit Frankenstein’s Place! The fact that he could not tour with it because the song was unreproducable live did not bother Parrott. He wanted, and, after a quick tour of the TV shows, got work as a studio engineer. The next time he was on the other side of the mixing board was in 1968 for his seminal hit The Doctor, a song rumoured to be about his dealer. He returned to behind the glass and stayed there until 1978 when he recorded the critically acclaimed Self-Indulgence. 1992 would see him record 50 years as a birthday present to himself. Originally intended for gifting to his friends and acquaintances, he released it officially after the bootlegs started showing up.

There’s so much missing when you look at only his releases. The first tales come from the UK during his service. He was obsessed with John Leyton‘s Johnny Remember Me. The story says he’d monopolized the jukebox and was playing it exclusively. A voice from the crowd shouted: “Enough with that song already!”

“Listen! Listen to how they turned the drums into galloping horses, listen to how they filled in…”

“It’s a death song! Are you trying to curse us?”

Ray should not have laughed in response. Two weeks after the brawl, Ray was on his way back to the US to finish serving his enlistment there.

Unlike other engineers who also found success as artists, producers, promoters, talent managers, and as a label executive, Ray’s passion was engineering sound: playing with acoustics, microphone placement, sound compression, stereo pans, overdubbing. He’d once told a friend, who suggested he psychiatrist about his issues, “Some daddy issues are best left alone. Mine pay the rent.” He already had many lifetimes of rent in the bank but that was not the point.

Even for the music he recorded as the artist, the motive was sound engineering. His first song was a proof-of-concept and his other recordings were the result of a desire to record music that nobody was asking him to produce.

The Doctor was a five year journey. One that took him from using booze of doubtful origins to bribe musicians, to creating soundscapes for pop songs, to searching for new sounds to record.

In a letter to the editor of Tape Recorder, commenting on article describing a recording technique for purposefully introducing a controlled buzz, he said: “I like the inventiveness of American musicians but no one does better audio work than the British.” He thought the British engineers were creative because of lower budgets, forced to invent techniques to get the most of the equipment they had. The Americans with their big budgets and know-how always had the latest equipment which allowed the musicians to get more creative. Or so his theory went.

He was very convincing when explaining his theories. He was very convincing when doing business. He was very convincing when he wanted something. He had the ability to agree with you, help you develop your argument, and, by the time the discussion was finished, you had gone so far down the rabbit holes, that when you back above ground, you were expressing his point of view. The songwriter who’d come in determined to keep his independence, to hold on to his copyright, to control his future would leave with a cheque for $50, having signed a long term exclusivity contract for songs and management.

Experienced artists would come in complaining about the industry and how it always screwed the talent. He would ask questions, encouraging them to talk about every which way they felt cheated. And he would reveal a few tricks they did not know about. And he had them talk about how they would fix things, their solutions to the music industry’s problems. And at the end of the meeting they would sign with him, sure they made a step towards changing the world. And when they would come back suspecting things weren’t quite what they’d thought when signing, he would listen, sympathize, ask questions, and at the end of the evening, they would leave certain that one day David would beat Goliath, would become Goliath. And they would bring their friends over.

And young men, not far removed from their first cigarettes, would find themselves coughing cannabis smoke. And the young women would be introduced to the local music crowd, visits to the Hog Farm, parties at the Psychedelic Temple on Ambrose. And no one ever complained, and no one spoke of the memorable evenings, and, somehow, everyone always ended up feeling a little dirty; the men like they’d sold their souls, the women like they’d also sold themselves. And what little was known came from the others that happened to be there also.

He went to music’s edges to find sounds, hung around in the happening places, went to Lysergic A Go Go, opened his mind, tasted his tongue talking. He fell in love with the sonic delirium of Pow R. Toc H., of Sister Ray. By the time 1968 arrived, he was hungry to go where no one else was going.

He found a drummer and had him slowly pan a microphone from left to right and back. He got two guitarists to play the same lead, a Les Paul for the left channel, a Telecaster for the right. He borrowed a left-handed guitar and played it right-handed. And he wrote a bluesy rock song with a driving beat called The Doctor.

The 70’s saw him cut his hair, move on to cocaine and become part of the music establishment. First he stopped managing talent to take over a label, then he stopped managing the label because it was keeping him away for the mixing board. He celebrated his return to studio work with the album Self-Indulgence.

After an initial burst of production, he settled into a routine of discovering new talent, producing their first albums, managing them for a few years and dropping them when they developed substance abuse problems. There’s something unsettling about the number of artists that, after working with Ray, finished penniless, and, if still alive, in rehab. It’s creepy when you include the stories of the sexual excesses with the female artists who crossed his path. It weighs on the legacy of the artist who had produced from behind the mic, in his 12 minute opus The Doctor, a sound that most engineers could not reproduce in the booth. He is called the Master Enabler; officially because of the success of the acts he produces; disturbingly, you’re left with the feeling he gets the irony of the nickname.

His brother, John Parrott, five years younger, went in to the family business, sort of by default. After graduating from UCLA, he became an A&R man, signing the acts his brother didn’t have the time for. After a few years of consistent, boring success, he was given a label to run, where he continued with his formula of working with his brother’s acts and avoiding mistakes. One of the early a victims of Napster, he retired in 2003.

What to make of the brother act? One playing with fire, the other eating hot food. Some just dismiss him as a parasite. I wonder how clean he is; even if he never rolled in the mud. You are what you eat.

I know the songs on the playlist so well that I listen to them, sing along to them, tap my foot to their beat and realize that I have no memory of what I just heard.

My eyes drift down to the comments section below the video. The site, like a lot of the internet, has a reputation for nasty remarks, name calling, and users using language they would not dare use in public. Music videos are mostly spared the ugliness, or, perhaps, I am blind to them, my vision trained from the hours of practice of ignoring them, of avoiding the outrage trap. I know they exist, I am not ignoring the problem, it’s reading them that is unnecessary. Here I go justifying myself again.

I don’t get why people have to comment when they discover a song via a TV show or a movie or some other cultural reference. I do understand it intellectually, the human desire to form groups, find like-minded people, to be special along with thousands of others, part of the insiders, those in the know and to get validated.

Do they realize how silly they look to those who knew the song from before it appeared in a soundtrack? It’s like showing up at a bar with a hundred of your new best friends and declaring the place the new “in” spot. The previous in-crowd is just going to sneer and may try to chase the newcomers.

The one-song wonders with almost hits attract the extended family. It’s easy to imagine the scenario, like a plot borrowed from a book. The family is gathered for a Christmas dinner, talk goes to the parents’ younger days, Uncle talks about his day in the band. The next day, an internet search, and a comment added “It’s my Uncle on the bass guitar.” Sometimes it’s the Uncle, or an old friend of the band, reminiscing publicly, with, when lucky, an interesting story.

A new set of comments appear as the song changes to In the Shade of the Olive Tree. It has a “I’m 70 now and still rocking to this tune” as its most popular comment. The type that gets a lot of replies, an age competition: 72, 67, 15 (with the attempts of out-nostalging the original fans: it was the best time for music, I wish I was young then, today’s music is crap, those were the days, no plays like this anymore).

The video’s description is a cut and paste of their biography. I know it well.

The Mediterranean Threesome were a Canadian rock trio that formed in Toronto, Ontario in September of 1965, when Jean Bouville (bass guitar), a recent transplant from Trois-Rivières, Quebec, was introduced to Yiannis Laspispoli (guitar) and Nino Fangocitta (drums) by a Sam the Record Man record clerk. Children of immigrants they chose their name based on their shared Mediterranean heritage (Bouville – France, Laspispoli – Greece, Fangocitta – Italy).

They found almost immediate success with their first single, the garage classic Love in the Wheatfields. Originally released on Red Leaf Records b/w In the Shade of the Olive Tree, it became a local hit, was repackaged with a new B-Side and re-released by Elektra Records in the US. The song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1968 and made it to number one in many markets, including Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The band wend on a tour of the Northeast during which they wrote most of their eponymous début album.

The band would end up recording four more studio albums before breaking up when Jean Bouville, tired of the non-stop touring, moved to the south of France where he became a regular of the Antibes, France jazz scene.

It’s Nino’s telling of the origin story in the March 24, 1968 edition of The Freeworld Tribune, just after the pro-Yippie editorial, which gave me the clue as to what made In the Shade different.

NINO: I knew Yan (editor: Yiannis Lespispoli, guitarist for the Mediterranean Threesome) from the local bar scene. We’d both been in a bunch of groups and our last bands broke-up about the same time. One night, after a concert, I think it was the Ugly Ducklings (editor: Canadian band), we were both at, we went out for a couple of beer. We both liked the same type of music and decided we should find a couple more guys who also dug what we were into and get another act together.

Now, Yan is the type of guy who knows everyone and he got things going pretty quick, telling everyone he knew we were on the lookout for members, just getting the word out. So one day this guy Neil from one of the record stores on Yonge Street tells us there’s this new guy in town who’s interested. Jean joined us and it just took off from there.

INTERVIEWER: It went pretty quickly. Most groups have to work at it for years. How did you guys get to record a single so soon after getting together?

NINO: More Yan magic. He had all these hustles happening. Trying to sell songs, jingles. Jean had just joined and we were supposed to rehearse. Yan shows up, yells studio time and tells us to throw our gear in car. He’d done it a couple times to me. He’d find out about some big group that had prepaid and not shown. We’d jump into the car and cut a demo or two. I know he’d already sold a couple of songs in the past. Money’s in royalties he’d say. Anyhow, we recorded Wheatfields and he had Jean lay down some vocals on top of a song demo we had made earlier. He takes it over to Red Leaf and before Jean or I know what’s happening we’re hearing it on CHUM (editor: Toronto radio station). It just took off from there.

INTERVIEWER: Recording and hitting the road like that. You guys didn’t have a lot of time to get used to each other. Was it instant chemistry?

NINO (laughs): We weren’t perfect at first but we’d all played in a lot of bands. Yan switched over …

INTERVIEWER: Switched over?

NINO: Yan is good with anything with strings so we packaged ourselves as rhythm section figuring it was easier to find a guitarist but when Jean came along he went back to the guitar.

And there was the answer to my mystery, the why the track sounds just a little different compared to all the songs they recorded. In the Shade of the Olive Tree is the demo with Jean’s voice laid on top of it. The demo recorded before Jean joined the group, before Yan switched over. The threesome playing as a twosome. There’s no guitar.

I listen closely. Yan could really play anything with strings.

Destinations

Strong winds separating the branches from their trees. My haircut is less than a week old, dishevelproof. No snow, nor rain. A lighthearted day.

I go to my favourite coffee shop for lunch. The barista is not wearing a name-tag. I wont be able to thank her personally.

I pay for my sandwich, the coffee is on the house.

I speak to Future Mother. Everything is going well with the bump.

She’s talking about maybe having a destination wedding. They will decide after they find a house and that is proving to be difficult (will I need to get a hotel room for my visit?). They keep on getting outbid. But they are sticking to their budget and she is being careful not to get attached to the homes she likes. I reassure her. “Taking my time to find the right place at the right price has always worked out well for me.” I launch into a brief history of the places I’ve lived in.

I book my flight. It stops in Amsterdam. I’ll have the time to stop at a coffeeshop to get sleep insurance for the flight. I might also meetup with the Contrarian.

Legacy is Impersonal

The barista knows my name. I am surprised. I shouldn’t be. Name plus order always go together when serving the coffee. It’s part of the order. And it’s part of my after-gym routine.

I hate giving the impression I am a creature of habit. I want to tell her that I have tried the other drinks. They’re too sweet for me.

And somethings are best turned into habits, like brushing your teeth, or going to the gym.

I have seen her name only once or twice, she has face that smiles at rest. I try to read her name-tag to thank her personally. It’s hiding behind the coffee machine.

I choose a spot. I can hear her tell her colleague that they’d had a busy morning. He replies that it ebbs and flows with the weather. The place had been almost empty when the snowy-rain was being blown around.

The place is calm now. There are two high-schoolers sitting side-by-side, ear buds plugged in to expensive phones, typing on expensive laptops and drinking expensive drinks. The cautious one has pink protective covers on the electronics. Children of the privileged.

Student day at the coffee shop? I hear two complaining about an assignment on Sartre’s view of freewill. I understand their pain. I suspect that my view may have something in common with his argument and that I don’t agree with it. If only I could be sure I understood it.

A lack of freewill versus a sense of agency. I am happy living with it as a paradox. Like general relativity and quantum mechanics. Some think they have the answer. I’ll stick to Fitzgerald’s definition of intelligence.

I don’t get the internet philosopher’s argument against the illusion of agency. It’s ironic. He’s spent a lot of time fashioning an argument, making it as convincing as possible. He wants to be an agent for change. He’s working within the illusion. It’s a question begging paradox.

Worse, his going on about how everything is the result of an inevitable chain of reactions going back to the big bang sounds like a non-religious religion, a predetermined destiny. The flipping of the religious apology for freewill in the context of an omniscient god.

Time, fast time, slow time. How slow is time at the event horizon? My intuition tells me that the theory of everything will need to breakup time into components. I have no idea what I am talking about.

I am spending a lot of time playing with philosophy. It’s my escape from outrage. I react quickly and cool down slowly.

All the internet folks have learned that click-bait is better with outrage than straight. A top five list will get users to click, an offensive top five list gets engagement, shares. Stirred and shaken, social-media gold. It takes effort to avoid getting entangled.

I am explaining myself to myself. As if I am preparing my defense. Strange subjects to script.

I don’t (I avoid) attacking the guy in power. I criticize the behaviour. Actions are subject to objective analysis. I admit that sometimes some of the actions make, even if only partial, sense and I am uncomfortable with that.

I’m mincing my words. Give me a generalization and I want to poke a hole in it.

This religion is fundamentally flawed because … . Regardless, it is practices that should be criticized. All the major religions have eliminated stuff that doesn’t fit with modern morals. And extremists come from every set of beliefs. Nihilistic anarchists may no longer be in fashion but they have existed and could make a comeback.

“Some of my best friends are … .” I know there’s a proper logical argument for refuting the some-of-my-friends line. “And my second ex-wife is an Anti-Semite.” My answer packs more punch and it’s fun to see their reaction when they realise why that is relevant. It’s even more fun if I have to explain it to them.

“Pan-Pon.” The kid’s sound effects breaks my reverie. The father laughs. There’s a story-told behind the police siren noises.“Grab me a piece of cake too.” Cross-shop coördination. There’s no way this family’s visit was going to go unnoticed.

Funny how the longer I muse, the more I sink into my chair. I straighten myself and take a sip of my coffee. One of the women behind me notices. She lowers the volume. She suspects me eavesdropping. I decided not to when I was sitting down. Her friend speaks too quietly and her half of the conversation is not interesting.

I spot a third expensive laptop. Fancy computers for fancy coffee. I guess that is what draws me here even if I only have pen and paper.

A couple, matching orders, come sit next to me. Fancy tea and cheesecake. He’s mirroring her. The boring conversationalist is doing another I-agree-but. I had hoped for more. More conversations.

I’m alone with my thoughts. I’d like to have someone, a better informed echo, to have an unpretentious conversation with. A discussion to clarify my thoughts without having to know the exact percentage of grey hairs in my navel.

I miss the talks I had with my xenophobic libertarian friend. His beliefs stopped short of making conversation impossible. I’d switch subjects when the motivated reasoning got tiring. I’d announce it. Our gentlemen’s agreement.

Once he asked me why I enjoyed talking to him when our values are so different. “Because it’s intelligent and not kitchen-talk.” He moved his family back to his home town.

My perfect conversation partner doesn’t exist. Probably.

I like to reduce ideas to simple catch phrases. Kant is a socialist, Hobbes a cynic. Sartre’s answer to life is a search for purpose, Camus thinks it’s all absurd, and, lacking the desire to think about it too deeply, I am happy with it being for genetic survival.

Legacy. I don’t understand the drive. Not emotionally. “I was here” isn’t my thing. My ego runs better on “I am here.” If I am not there to witness, profit from it, what’s the point of making it my purpose. It’s just a way of giving it extra meaning. My ego gets nothing out of it.

The only purpose I see in legacy is what it can bring to help future generations, making the world a better place for the continuation of the genetic pool. The most primal of urges, survival on a grand scale. One way or another, the size of the footprint I leave will be selected for its usefulness to the genetic line that goes all the way back to the first organism. I like how Nagel puts it. What seems so important today will be meaningless in a million years. It doesn’t make it less meaningful in the moment. What is is. Why get attached to finding a grander meaning for it.

I take a sip of milk-foam.

Riddle Me That

Why Rob Goodroll shows up in Africa under an assumed name is still a mystery. Nothing in his story explains how he goes from random musician in an unreleased recording session to producing records under an alias. Draft evasion, the simplest answer, does not fit the timeline. A dramatic event would raise more questions. His biography is incomplete.

Tomorrow I call the future mother.