I visited Simon yesterday. He opened the front door of his small second floor apartment wearing pyjama pants and a stained I heart NY t-shirt.
The apartment reeked of cigarette smoke and all the blinds were closed.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Nothing much, ” I replied, “Just checking in to make sure you haven’t killed yourself. How are you doing?”
Empty pizza boxes covered almost every inch of countertop and the sink was full of dishes. Little flies hovered above them. On a couch seat, next to a pillow and blanket, a pile of pizza crusts and cigarette butts had overflowed to the point where the ashtray had become a foundation rather than a container.
“Are you sleeping on the couch?” I asked.
“I’m not sleeping in that bed,” Simon replied, sneering towards the bedroom he had shared with Cathy, “It smells like her.”
I read the results of a poll once that showed 85% of married women have had an affair while holidaying without their partners. I’m sure it's a common occurrence, people being people, but you have to question how they come by these stats. I could ask a fisherman if he has gutted a fish lately and then state, “100% of all men polled say they have gutted a fish lately.” The statement may be factual, but it is also construed.
I didn’t know the whole story but, according to office gossip, Simon’s partner Cathy slept with a white-water rafting instructor while holidaying with her sister. I’ve never been white-water rafting. Hurtling down a river in an inflatable boat with several other idiots - high-fiving each other the whole time and saying things like ‘woo’ - is on my reverse bucket-list of stupid things to avoid along with marathons, musical theatre and lip piercings.
“Let’s spend the day getting splashed and possibly being thrown onto rocks or into churning water. We get to wear helmets.”
“Awesome, what kind of helmets?”
“I'm not sure, I think they’re like bicycle helmets.”
“Sign me up then, that’s my favourite type of helmet. How much will it cost?”
“$180 but that includes sex with the instructor afterwards.”
I know a guy named Roger who got his bottom lip pierced because my friend Bill told him he looked like the lead singer from Blink 182. When he showed us afterwards, Bill said, “Oh, I meant the lead singer from Phish.”
Roger’s lip became infected and, despite a course of antibiotics, turned into what looked like mango puree. Eventually he had to have a chunk removed and the two sections of bottom lip sewn together. The reduced width pulled the top lips in at the sides and now he permanently looks like he is about to say something.
“And, if you look at the next slide, you’ll see we have... yes Roger?”
“What? I didn’t say anything.”
“Sorry, I thought you were about t... yes Roger?”
When I was ten, my best friend Michael and I built a raft by duct-taping pool noodles to a wooden pallet. Assuming the small river at the end of our street led to the ocean, we planned to ride the raft to the beach and make a day of it. Upon discovering the raft was only buoyant enough for one, Michael waited onboard while I went home to get more pool noodles. When I got back, Michael wasn't there. I figured he'd gone on without me so I went home slightly cross. Around 7pm that evening, Michael’s mother rang my house asking as to his whereabouts. Around 9pm, the police had me show them where we'd launched our vessel.
Apparently, while waiting for my return, Michael tested the raft by crossing the creek gondola-style with a long stick. Reaching the middle, he found the stick wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom and the raft drifted downstream in the current. A few miles down, the river opened out into marshy flatlands. Finding himself bogged in reeds, Michael decided to evacuate the raft and wade back. When the police discovered him, he was stuck in mud up to his chest, approximately ten feet from the raft. The next day’s newspaper had a photo of him being pulled out with a strap, titled, Boy Builds Raft, Found After Search. I was a bit annoyed about this as he didn’t build the raft by himself and it had been my idea in the first place.
“Have they replaced me yet?” asked Simon, moving a pile of pizza boxes off a seat so I could sit down.
“We’re doing a second round of interviews this week,” I told him, “Not for a senior designer though, we’re interviewing juniors. I’m fairly sure if you apologised to Mike though he would understand and...”
“I’m not apologising to anyone,” Simon interrupted, “I’d rather be stabbed than ever have to design another business card or logo again.”
“What are you going to do instead?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet,” said Simon thoughtfully, “I might turn bowls.”
“Wooden bowls. When my grandfather died, I got his wood-turning lathe. There’s a market for wooden bowls.”
“I’m sure there is. Do you know how to use a lathe?” I asked doubtfully.
“How hard can it be? You throw on a big piece of wood, press the button, and cut off all the bits that don’t look like a bowl. People like bowls. Especially those really wide shallow ones you put on a table. For fruit. Or keys and lighters and sunglasses.”
“Where are you going to sell them? Are you going to set up a booth at county fairs?”
“Maybe,” said Simon, “I only just thought of the idea so I don’t have all the details.”
When I was in my first year of high school, a boy in my class named George lost an eye because of a lathe. To ‘turn’ a piece of wood, you use something called a chuck-key to tighten the jaws of a chuck which holds the wood securely. You then *ensure the chuck-key is removed* and press a big yellow button. This spins the chuck, along with whatever is held in its jaws, at horrendous speeds.
While demonstrating how to operate the lathe, our teacher Mr Williams forgot to remove the chuck key. Afterwards, a few kids swore they had seen a blur as the chuck key left the chuck but I was watching pretty closely and didn’t see anything. George’s head was thrown back as if he had been kicked by a horse. His feet actually left the ground. As we all stared, in horrified shock, George climbed to his feet with a confused look on his face and put his hand up to his eye. Only the chuck-key’s handle was visible. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of blood. Everybody yelled at the same time. Completely unaware of what was happening due to the noise of the lathe, Mr Williams continued his demonstration.
“Keep the chisel edge at a low angle... “
“...otherwise it might grab. We don’t want any accidents. As you can see, by applying pressure to only the areas you want removed, the candlestick begins to take shape.”
Mr Williams was placed on leave and didn’t come back. George eventually returned to school, but left again after his parents received a large settlement and enrolled him in a private school. He actually went on to take up archery and competed in the 2001 Special Olympics World Games, placing second for a silver medal. The person who took home gold only had missing legs which seems a bit unfair. They should probably have given George a chair and made the guy in a wheelchair wear a patch.
I lost sight in my left eye once. It was only for a few minutes after accidently poking myself with a drinking straw while driving, but I know what it’s like to live with a disability.
“Do you want to see a photo of him?” Simon asked.
“The guy she had sex with,” Simon said, grabbing his laptop, “he looks like an absolute dickhead.”
Simon typed furiously then scrolled through the white-water rafting company’s Facebook page. “That’s him, second on the right. His name is Douglas. Who the fuck is named Douglas? Look at what he’s wearing.”
Douglas wore white boardshorts with a blue palm-tree pattern, gold mirror sunglasses like the ones bicyclists wear, and a t-shirt that had ‘F.B.I.’ written in large letters with ‘Female Body Inspector’ smaller below. He had his tongue out and was making the ‘gnarly’ sign with a thumb and little finger.
“He’s with the FBI, ” I said, “Maybe he only slept with Cathy as part of a sting operation.”
“What? No, it’s one of those piss-weak joke t-shirts that douchebags like Douglas think is hilarious.”
“Women do like men in uniform though. And sailors. Perhaps it was the combination that drew Cathy to him in the first place.”
“It’s not a uniform and he’s not a sailor,” Simon spat, “He rides blow-up boats down a river for a living.”
“Which makes him a sailor. People who spend their lives in boats are either fishermen or sailors and he’s not wearing a beanie.”
Simon slammed shut his laptop, “If I go for a paddle in a canoe, it doesn’t make me a sailor, it makes me a canoeist. He’s more of a rafter.”
“Like Tom Sawyer?”
“No, that was Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer was the one who convinced other kids to paint a fence for him. And no, the raft that Huckleberry and Jim lived on was a proper raft. White-water rafters don’t even use a raft, they use a blow-up boat. They should have to call it white-water blow-up boating.”
“Who’s Jim?” I asked.
“He’s the runaway slave that rafts down the river with Huckleberry.”
“I thought his name was Uncle Tom.”
“No, Uncle Tom makes rice. The kind you can microwave in the packet.”
I’ve never been a big fan of ‘the Classics’. I once had to read Alcott’s Little Women for a school assignment and that was enough of the Classics to keep me going for a while. It mainly consisted of girls talking about their feelings and complaining about things. There was also a guy who rode a horse.
“She told me that it was an accident,” Simon said, “that she didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“No doubt,” I agreed, “those inflatable boats are pretty bouncy.They probably went over a big bump in the river and she bounced onto his penis. I’m sure it happens all the time. They probably have you sign a waiver or something.”
“No, that it was a mistake. Everyone got drunk afterwards.”
“Ah, that explains it. It was probably slim pickings that day on the river but after several shots, Douglas thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll do her from behind so I don’t have to look at her face.’”
Simon looked horrified. “What’s that meant to mean?”
“I’m just saying. Ignoring the fact that Douglas dresses and acts like an idiot, he’s fairly fit, tanned and muscular - paddling all day will do that to you - whereas Cathy is more... circular. And gothic.”
“Wicken,” Simon corrected.
“Whatever. They’re all dreadful. And since when do Wickens go white-water rafting? It’s just weird. If I was spending a day by the river, the last thing I would want to see is the chick from The Ring bobbing past me.”
“Her sister wanted to do it,” explained Simon, “What’s your point?”
“My point is, generalising of course, that most people who go white-water rafting are the healthy, attractive, outdoors type. Like Douglas. I can see how Cathy - hundreds of miles away from home and charged with adrenaline after an exciting shared experience - might be susceptible to his advances, but obviously the choices were limited that day for Douglas. He probably had to stay back late to deflate the rafts and by the time he got to the bar, his coworkers had already claimed the good looking ones.”
“How can you say that? She’s beautiful.”
“She’s beautiful to you because you love her. Or think you do. I’ve always thought she was a bit of a bushpig.”
When someone breaks up with his partner, for whatever reason, it's probably best to simply say, “I understand you being upset, she/he had many defining qualities,” and perhaps follow this up by nodding. Nobody will ask, “like what?” even if they want to, so after they nod along for a bit, you can go back to doing whatever it is you’d rather be doing than talking about feelings. You’re not meant to say anything bad about the person they've broken up with because if they get back together, it will be held against you;
“How’s it going with you and your girlfriend Louise?”
"We went through a rough patch and broke up...”
“Well you dodged a bullet. Louise is a fat girl’s name and horrible to say. Its almost as bad as the name Gwyneth. Both names sound like they are being squeezed out of a balloon. Plus, I heard Louise sucked off a dog once.”
“Then we worked through our issues and got back together. She’s just gone to the bathroom and will be back in a minute.”
I went to school with a girl named Louise. She was a huge heifer with tight curly hair and a moustache. Once during a school game of soccer, she ran to the edge of the playing field, dropped her shorts, and did a poo. This is the kind of thing people named Louise do. The gym teacher had to pick it up with a plastic shopping bag.
I also know a Gwyneth. She's bi-polar and stabbed her boyfriend Stuart in the arm with a steak-knife during an argument about electric cars. It was the second worst dinner party I have ever been to. The worst dinner party I've ever been to was when Gwyneth and Stuart held another one six months later and I was the only person who turned up. I made a joke about swapping the cutlery with plastic utensils and Gwyneth cried.
“A bushpig?” Simon asked incredulously, “because she didn’t shave her armpits?”
“No, she just looked like a bushpig. She didn’t shave her armpits?”
“What the fuck is a bushpig?”
“I don’t know. A pig that lives in a bush I guess.”
Simon opened his laptop again and typed ‘bushpig’ into Google. “According to Wikipedia, it’s a member of the pig family that lives in forests, woodland, riverine vegetation and reed beds in East and Southern Africa. It looks like a big hairy rat.”
“That works,” I said, “I wouldn’t usually say such a thing, but she really was dreadful. I’ve always thought you could do a lot better.”
“Really?” asked Simon.
“Of course. You have many defining qualities.”
It’s allowed if you’re asking about yourself and you say it in a kind of sarcastic self-deprecating manner.
“Oh I don’t know, you own your own apartment. Not many people can say that. Plus it looks a lot better now without all the candles and dreamcatchers everywhere. The macramé wall hanging you had above the fireplace didn’t really go with all your mid-century modern furniture.”
Simon rubbed the arm of his chair, “It’s Herman Miller.”
“Yes I know. Very nice. Did she actually own any furniture? I don’t see anything missing.”
“No,” Simon replied, “Not much. She always said possessions end up owning you.”
“That’s just something poor people say to make it look like they have any choice. You know what would look good on the wall above the fireplace? A large framed Rothko print.”
Simon nodded. “What else?”
“Maybe a new rug. There’s candle wax on this one.You might be able to get it out with an iron and brown paper though.”
“No, I meant what else apart from owning my own apartment.”
“Well... you also own a lathe. And you’re a snappy dresser. Not right at this moment obviously, but you scrub up alright.”
“I do own a lot of Diesel and G-Star...”
“And your head isn’t nearly as big as I make it out to be. You kind of look like Dave Matthews.”
“The musician? I like him.”
“Of course you do. He has many defining qualities.”
Simon nodded. “We have the same haircut.”
“That’s true. Any woman would be lucky to have you.”
I glanced around the apartment. “Do you want me to help you clean up in here a bit?”