I suppose I've always been a little bit clumsy. Affecting a demeanour each day of professional detachment, a manner almost sullen were it not for those moments in which human discourse were necessary, affecting an amiability, an openness, an expression of eager understanding and a willingness to compromise, only to have my belt suffer a sudden and catastrophic malfunction and my trousers fall around my ankles. A hand outstretched for a businesslike greeting, a shoe accidentally scraped against the skirting board, a sudden lurch sideways into a pot plant. Oh, I do apologise! And then later on, noticing the skirting boards around my office marked and scuffed by the numerous other times that I have stumbled. Hey, hey, your flies are undone. Again. And due to my body shape, I concede that my trousers have always been a little bit baggy.
The trill of the alarm clock had interrupted a dream in which I was trying to get a giraffe to go up the stairs of a double decker bus. The giraffe had been stubborn and no amount of tugging or enticing could tempt it up to the first floor, and once underway, it got wedged firmly, its fat buttocks blocking the stairwell, much to the consternation of my fellow passengers. It's the usual recurring anxiety dream. The long neck of the giraffe allowed it to peer up to the top deck, grinning like a bastard, while I pushed and shoved and swore from behind. Buzz buzz buzz buzz! I got up, showered, shaved, made some toast and pondered in the coming day, only to glance at my watch and discover that it was four in the morning. And then I recalled that the trill of the alarm clock had been a part of the dream. For the giraffe and I had been returning from a trip to the shops where we had purchased an alarm clock. I set to work at my desk, organising various work-related files on my laptop and trying not to think about my giraffe dream. I watched as the sun came up and lit the neighbouring houses a brilliant red, secretly resplendent as it rewarding me and others like me for getting up so early. I stopped for a few moments to look out at the sky, feeling if only for a short while the majesty of the planet in its eternal rotation, this celestial dance of time and fate, when the alarm clock sounded, this time for real. Buzz buzz buzz buzz! Had anyone been with me, no doubt, I would have at least given a smirk or acknowledgement of the humour in this, but as I was on my own, the only emotion I felt was one of deep annoyance. I got up from my desk and I switched the alarm clock off. The only comfort came from the fact that the new trousers I was wearing were significantly roomier than had been my previous pair.
I was never The class clown. When I think of this It gets me down. The popular kids Would mess around. But me? I wouldn't Make a sound.
I had a meeting with my boss today. I've written down everything that was said and I've made it into a short theatrical piece, which I call 'Bulbous'.
SANDRA stares at ROBERT from behind her desk.
SANDRA - I suppose you know why I've asked you here. ROBERT - To be honest, no, I don't. SANDRA - I've had an official complaint from one of your colleagues. ROBERT - Oh? SANDRA - It's about the meeting you chaired yesterday, on Effective Time Management. ROBERT - Yes, yes, I'm so sorry that it overran. SANDRA - No, it's not that. ROBERT - What . . what is it? SANDRA - (Sighs). Robert, is everything okay at home? ROBERT - Yes, absolutely. SANDRA - And you're not drinking heavily, or anything? ROBERT - No. In fact, I hardly drink at all. SANDRA - The complaint was actually about your appearance. Did you realise that your flies were undone the whole time? ROBERT - No, I didn't. SANDRA - So the message of the meeting, in which you were meant to instil in your colleagues a certain business-oriented professionalism, would probably have been received unquestioningly had you not got your foot stuck in the waste paper bin. ROBERT - Yes, that was rather unfortunate. SANDRA - And when you tried to pull it off, you sat on a desk, and the desk . . . Collapsed. ROBERT - Again, I apologise. SANDRA - And your nose. You see, Robert, it's becoming awfully red, and bulbous. That's why I asked about the drinking. ROBERT - As I say, I can only apologise. And I shall make an effort to act from now on in a more businesslike manner. SANDRA - Thank you, Robert. Please, for me, see that you do.
ROBERT gets up from his chair, shakes SANDRA's hand, then stumbles sideways through a glass partition wall.
Walking home through the silence of the park, I could hear a soft squeak, squeak, squeak with each footstep.
‘I've just had it with clowns’, Josh said. ‘I need a man I can respect’. We'd met online and he suggested we have a date at that new cream flan and custard pie restaurant that had just opened in the middle of the town. It seemed the sort of place where nothing could go wrong. The seating was comfortable and so was the decor, warm and inviting. We sat at a table for two at the rear of the premises. ‘That is very important to me’, Josh continued. ‘Love, yes. Love is up there. And physicality, of course, but respect. Respect is the most important of them all. It seems to me these days that everyone is a comedian, so you get that sense, too? Where's the depth? It's all artifice, isn't it? It's like we've become avatars, covered in layers of glitz and showy nothingness’. ‘You can depend on me’, I told him. ‘I treat each moment with absolute and utter seriousness’. ‘I just don't know why people feel the need to fool around’, he said, ‘in every sense of the word’. ‘I think people just want to be noticed ’, I reply. ‘That's what's happening in this modern age. We all seem to want to get a kick out of making other people uneasy. The nuance of yesteryear is gone. Subtlety is missing from all of our lives. I blame the internet and social media. People can't even be bothered to wait for the punch line, any more. They want immediate gratification, whether it be sexual or comedic’. ‘I can tell’, Josh said, ‘That you are a thinker’. ‘I try to be’. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I could see the small candle on the table between us reflected in his eyes. ‘Do you ever feel tempted’, he asked. ‘To become like all the other men? I mean, brash, and obvious, and only in it just for a laugh?’ ‘No’, I replied. ‘I try to play the long game. Strip away the surface and this world that we live in is a very serious place. And how else might one approach the act of living itself, but through the contemplation of philosophical and existentialist inquiry? In such a way, I forsake the easy option and the expediency of a cheap laugh in order to probe the searing heaviness of our own manifestation’. ‘You know what?’, Josh said, ‘I think I've finally met a man who I can respect’. At that moment the cream flan and custard pie conveyor belt around the serving desk suffered a sudden malfunction, sped up, and propelled its load, one after another, at such an angle and velocity across the room as to connect squarely with my own face, one after another in a perfect rhythm to the accompanying laughter from all the other customers. By the time the eleventh and last cream pie had been delivered with a forceful splat, and I was scooping the filling out from my eyes, Josh had long since gone.
I never realised before how small my bicycle was until I glanced sideways at my reflection in a shop window, my knees out at a crazy angle, dwarfed by the buses, the cars, the lorries.
b. I never realised quite how tatty my old jacket had become, so tatty that I tried to draw attention away from its tastiness by putting a plastic yellow flower in the lapel.
c. And I shouldn't have gone swimming and then dyed my hair. The hair dye had a chemical reaction with the chlorine from the pool and turned my hair bright green. Still, what can you do?
d. And as I filled in the official documentation online to tell my work colleagues my preferred name and pronouns, my computer’s predictive spelling changed my name from Robert to Parsnip.
e. Sandra, my boss, has for some reason pulled me from delivering a seminar on Modern Business Etiquette.
With the power of his intellect and his encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary stand-up comedy, my school friend Hasan could reduce the entire class into fits of laughter. And the laughter would drive him on, and he'd say something else that was funny, and the class would laugh some more. But Hasan was canny, he'd leave his best material for the end of the sequence, leading us up blind alleyways of silliness before delivering his punchline. Boom. As a result, this rather nerdy individual became one of the most popular people in school and I must admit to feeling rather jealous of his command of a room. My teachers would always tell my parents at parents evening that I was always serious, unsmiling, intense. They said that I wouldn't join in with the other kids, and would bury myself in my work. Perhaps they were worried that something would give, that I'd snap one day and have some sort of life-changing episode, go beserk and tell the other kids exactly what I thought of them. Humourless, is the exact word that was used on more than one occasion. But I carried on in much the same manner and took my exams. I left school with average marks. Hasan became a marketing executive for a company that manufactures airline meals.
To be mocked, and come out fighting with humour, is never a position in which I have ever found myself. Steady as she goes has always been my motto. I have rarely left myself open to ridicule by using the simple tactic of blending in to the background. And during those moments in which I have found myself in the limelight, I have adopted the simple strategy of being as intense and as dry as I possibly could. ‘You're too intense’, Steven had said to me, on what was to be the last night we'd spent together. ‘Just because I don't go down the street, laughing hysterically . . .’. ‘It's not that. It's more your tendency to over analyse everything. We can't even watch television comedies because you point out that certain things would never actually happen’. ‘All I was pointing out was that in real life, Tom would simply catch and eat Jerry . . ‘. ‘You see! You're too much of a realist. In all the time that we have been together, I never once heard you laugh. It's all buttoned up inside of you, isn't it? That's where you keep it. It has to be somewhere’. ‘Life itself is the ultimate ridicule’, I pointed out. ‘What does that even mean?’ The two of us are silent for a while. ‘I'd just like to find’, I tell him, ‘A well adjusted and content tarot card reader’. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ ‘A happy medium’. Steven thinks about it for a few seconds. ‘OK. So admittedly, that was quite amusing. But it's too late, Robert. I'm sorry, but it's too late’. Steven bent down and picked up his suitcase, walked through the door, and slammed it shut behind him. The oil painting of a clown on the wall above the sofa wobbled for a bit, then fell off and landed right on top of me, my head tearing through the canvas, the frame of the picture now hanging around my neck.
Emerging from the supermarket on the corner, the busy street glistening with a damp drizzle which fell from the overcast sky, smudged neon into the road surface. I stood there in my jacket, my loose fitting trousers, my green hair, my Parsnip name badge, my squeaky shoes, my lapel flower. I decided that I would give up on trying to understand the world, and how good it felt! I didn't need Steven or Josh or even Sandra, I didn't need any of them. Life is filled with organisms and mechanisms too complex ever to make sense of, A small, battered car screeched to a halt right next to me and a gentleman in baggy, multicoloured clothing jumped out. Then another, then one more, then two more, then six of them, seven, twelve in all, until I was surrounded, and without saying anything I understood that there was a home for me. It didn't even need analysing. Life just becomes obvious, sometimes.