Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It's supposed to be 60 degrees today, but I say, no way. It's absolutely freezing.

I spent a little time watching BBC Newsnight and Panorama, to catch up on the British point of view a little.

It was amazing to find out that there are less pubs in England today than there were at the time of the Norman Conquest (1066 A.D. for the non-Brits).

There's a lot of hoopla over whether the anti-war people should be allowed anywhere near Buckingham Palace during Bush Jr.'s forthcoming visit. Half of the voices say it should be a "dignified affair". The other half say, why not let Bush know that in the UK the voices against are allowed to speak up. It might be a novel experience for Bush Jr. to see the locals, as opposed to during his recent trip to Australia, where he was waving to empty airports, etc., because the Australian government didn't want him to see how unwelcome he was, and kept the manifesting crowds away, preventing him from seeing how hated this Iraq war is by so many people.

My feeling on all this is: how come Bush Jr. is so scared of the public? Why should he be? After all, HRH the Queen goes shopping at Harrods with very little fuss... Relatively.

So, it looks as if Bush Jr. will probably get to see Buckingham Palace nice and deserted, quiet as the grave, as if he had slipped in when HRH was somewhere else, Sandringham or Windsor perhaps.

I wonder whether Laura Bush has been practicing her deep curtsey for HRH and Prince Philip. I noticed something about her, which I hadn't seen before, when she came down the steps off the plane in Australia, she appeared to have difficulty, she looked almost in pain. I don't mind betting the poor woman has hip problems.

It was fun watching Salam Pax buying booze for his family before Ramadan. Finally, he has a face. Funny, I expected a leaner look.

In the regular BBC news items, there was one to rejoice the cockles of the hearts of all those who go on and on, ad nauseam, about what was done to their forebears, here, there and literally everywhere. Don't ever think for a moment there was ever a place on earth where horrible things were not happening to one group or another. Reparations, reparations, how can you ever make it up to the victims of yesterday, and who do you pay reparations to for the harm done to those of 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 years ago?

Anyway, if you believe in "one life only", which is the official line for the religions of the Book, the Bible, that means you really don't have much of a connection with those suffering ancestors of yours, those deprived and despoiled forebears, whose names you most of the time don't even know, who by now should either all be in heaven or in hell.

Not to mention the fact that with all that rape and pillage, you might actually come from a quite different bloodline than the official one you think you know about. For instance, in many countries throughout the world, little children are still being born with the "sign of the Mongol" on their little behinds, a birthmark peculiar to Mongols, which disappears or fades away after a few months. This is a holdover from the 13th and 14th century invasions of a great deal of the world by the Mongol hordes, who had their way with the wymyn.

Of course, if you are in my pew as a Buddhist, and believe in Karma, and reincarnation according to past Karma, who is to say but that you have been reborn into your victim's family, so as to experience the result of the horrible thing you did, when you didn't know any better?

Anyway, the lovely "retribution" story, the story of a belated apology, is as follows:

One hundred and thirty six years ago, a missionary named Thomas Baker was cooked and eaten by members of the Navatusila tribe in Fiji. They have not had much good luck ever since, and have invited his great, great, great, grandson, Dennis Russel, to Fiji, to present him with an official apology, hoping thereby to retrieve their good luck. This is to be performed according to "customary rites" (I guess they made a habit of eating missionaries), which include the presentation of cows, fine mats and 30 (count 'em!) sperm whale teeth.

I haven't been out today. I'm sticking it out with the no caffeine decision, it's only a few more hours and the headache will be gone. In the meanwhile, I am wise enough not to put temptation in my way. There is plenty of food in the house, I don't have to set out on that all too familiar path to pick up anything.

I did go down to throw out garbage and pick up the mail, however, and so, funnily enough, I got to ride the elevator back up with my ex, who lives in the apartment just below me.

We split up in 1982. Most of the people alive in the world today were not even born yet.

I had just had my first cancer operation and was undergoing radiation. My friends would say: "He could at least have seen you through this!"

Are you crazy? When something goes wrong in your life, the last person you want to have around is someone who would prefer to be with someone else. I just couldn't understand any of my friends' point of view.

"Are you saying it would be good if he remained with me during this time, pretending everything is OK, never mind that if he has another girlfriend he would find it very difficult to hide, and then when the radiation was over, he would say, OK, now everything is over, I'm leaving you? Is that your idea of an ideal scenario?"

I was delighted with the timing: nothing like a clean break. The thing was, within a matter of a few weeks, he was calling me at the little hotel where I was staying, near the radiation center so I could walk there and back without having to take public transportation.

"Could we have dinner? She has thrown me out."

Dinner for me was usually take-out from a charcuterie (this was in Paris, where I had gone for six months for my job). So I told him what I had bought, and suggested he top it up with whatever he wanted to eat, plus a good bottle of wine.

He was very funny, but the story he told was actually quite pathetic. It was also ironic he should be telling it to me, of all people. I was beginning to wonder whether he was aware of how ludicrous the situation was, when he broke off suddenly from the recitation of his woes and said:

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "With everything that you have to go through right now, I shouldn't really be telling you all my problems!"

I just laughed: "Frankly, I'm happy to say I don't have your kind of problems", I said.

After dinner, he didn't know what to do with himself. "I don't know where to stay," he said, "I wonder if I could stay here..."

"Agnes says it's pretty full these days, let me check."

I went downstairs to see Agnes, the owner, who had become a good friend from the moment I had checked in.

The hotel was a small town house that had a past, as a brothel, when brothels were legal in France. Not many rooms had been redecorated since those days, and a number of them had mirrors on the ceilings, that kind of thing. It was quite a funky little place.

I explained the situation to Agnes. There was only one room available for that one night, a tiny one,with a very short fancy French bed with wooden headboard and footboard, not ideal for a 6 ft 4 man.

"It will not be comfortable for your ami", she said, pulling a face, "Maybe just for tonight you could let him have your bed and sleep in this one?"

"Ah, No!" I hotly protested, "Everything but that! I don't care if he sleeps folded up in a yoga position!"

So he stayed. We had breakfast together the next morning, before I was due to go for my treatment.

"Can I come with you?" he asked, "I would like to know what kind of place you go to."

"I don't think it's a good idea", I said, "It's a very sad place. The waiting room would break anyone's heart. Squeamish as you are, I don't think you should come."

"I want to come", he said, "I want to see."

So we set out together. And, of course, I was right. After a few minutes, his eyes were popping out of his head, you could see he was going into shock. He came over to where I was sitting.

"Do you mind if I go? I can't stand this..."

"Not at all. I don't need you..." I smiled.

He left very quickly.

"I'll call you later."

He didn't. That night, she took him back and I didn't see him again for weeks.

It would be fun at this point to continue about the hotel, but this is about my ex. I promise I shall finish the hotel story,maybe tomorrow.

Anyway, after the radiation was over, I came back to New York and my job. My ex went through one, two, three girlfriends after leaving me, plus probably some incidental others I never heard about or met. The one I called Official Number Three introduced him to Official Number Four, and the rest is history as the quaint saying goes.

I met them all. Hard not to, when they live in the apartment underneath mine.

To be honest, I don't have anything against any of them, even the first. I have a fairly philosophical attitude to all kinds of relationships, based on the one single premise: You can't own anybody. This is followed very closely by another one: Nothing is forever.

I do look at couples who have remained together for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or more years, as something absolutely wonderful. Not miraculous, just wonderful. There was a story in Paris Match recently about a handful of old codgers from World War I who are still alive in France. Their wives in many cases are still alive too, some of them have been married seventy five years, and more! What a grand way to live one's life!

So, meeting any of my ex's new loves has never been a problem for me. I am just firm about one thing, when we become friends, and that is that I never, ever tell them how it was between us, no matter how they are talking about their own story. I just become a listening board, my own lips are sealed.

Number Four is twenty years younger than me. At a moment in time, it's a complex story, it's not my story, it's their story, they got married, not because he wanted to get married, he was the kind of man who believed in "commitment without papers", but because she wanted it.

At that time, I was very friendly with them as a couple. I went with the future bride shopping for her wedding dress, the lace for the sash. I made her petticoat for her, and her hair piece. I went looking for a church with them, and a space to have the champagne after the ceremony. On the day itself, I was the mother of the bride (invited, but unable to come from Korea), the mother of the groom (invited, but pretending it wasn't happening and didn't attend), I set up the flowers on the altar and tied the little posies at the end of the benches, I was the wedding photographer... I would even have been the bride's witness, except at the last moment, they asked the woman who was lending them her cottage for the honeymoon.

The wedding photos came out great. Of course, there isn't a one of me.

Actually, I thought I would die laughing because my ex had insisted I use one of his rangefinder cameras, an idiot camera, instead of my well-known, well-loved SLR. I accepted, because I am the person who taught him most of what he knows in photography, who actually bought him his first three cameras, so if he wants to play that game with me, it's OK.

When I went to pick up the proofs, it looked as if I had cut off the bridegroom's head in all the shots which included him with short women. I though I was going to strangle myself laughing. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies! How could I have messed up so badly? I knew it was a rangefinder, for heavens sakes! Well, it turned out OK, the negatives had all the heads, no problem. But for a moment, I thought I was going to have to explain to the new Missus: "I just didn't want your mother to find out you had married a bald man..."

Anyway, for a while everything was fine, until I had my major, major surgery in 1995, the one where my surgeon didn't expect me to wake up.

It was at that moment that they started--drifting away? Hard to say what happened at first. There was no falling out, no quarrel, no uneasy moment. Neither of them came to see me in the hospital, I wasn't surprised, and he actually called me on the morning of the day I came home, to let me know he could not come to pick me up because he was waiting for a phone call...

The coming home was another story.

Then, when I was going for my chemotherapy treatments through Central Park, some weeks later, I was attacked and roughed up by three New York City policemen. It was a very frightening moment, but I managed to come out of it without harm, it actually made for what I thought was a rather funny story.

One day that I met my ex and his wife coming out of the building, they asked me how I was, and when I told the cop story, my ex became very angry, started yelling at me like a madman, using rude language, finally screamed: "And stop going to your shitty temple!"

Excuse me, I thought, that's none of your business.

"You're out of line!" I said, very angrily, "That's it! I want nothing more to do with you!"

He kept on screaming, he wanted to wipe the floor with me. His wife was off, she had almost reached the end of the street.

"Stop making a spectacle of yourself" I shouted, "Look, look! Your wife is gone, she's almost crossing over, go after her!"

He wouldn't go. Finally, I turned and went into the building, leaving him screaming outside.

After that, we didn't talk. When we found ourselves all three together in the elevator, I always put on my huge manic grin and called out: "Hulloo! How are you?" Frigid silence, eyes looking into the middle distance, except for a shy smile from the young wife, "Are you OK?" she whispers.

If I met her by herself, it was: "Let's have dinner, some time." But never a dinner, never a date.

Eventually, I would see him coming down the block and watch for the moment when he would spot me, and cross over through traffic to avoid my friendly "Hulloo!"

This went on for years. One day, he hadn't spotted me in time, he got caught on a collision course with me because of the garbage on the side of the street, waiting to be picked up. I went straight up to him and said: "How is S-H? I haven't seen her in so long. Are the two of you still married?"

"She's fine, just fine---Yes, yes---She's just very busy."

I don't know. I suspect he is lying. Nobody has seen his wife in literally months. I suspect there is a rift in the lute, as my father would say.

Today, therefore, we rode up together. I wouldn't give him silence. I insisted on civility. I gave him my huge manic grin and said:

"Do you have a computer?"

"Not yet..."

"Too bad. You could blog, it's a lot of fun."

He laughed: "I've heard about that, I'll do it, one of these days."

"Some of the people out there are absolutely amazing!"

For the first time in I don't know how long, we were actually laughing together.

It's about time.

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