SUNDAY 19th SEPTEMBER
As usual the local café was fairly crowded when I pushed open its rickety glass door earlier this morning. The owner depends almost entirely on weekend custom, whereas during the week things simmer down to a virtual standstill. Apart from the odd occasion, I am his only customer between . There isn't even an assistant on the premises; the owner manages to take care of everything himself, which is to say, he manages to look at the pictures in his tabloid, listen to the radio, smoke several cigarettes, and do whatever else is necessary to prevent himself from falling asleep. Whenever I have a few words with him, I get the distinct impression that I am talking to a somnambulist. Admittedly, he never entirely loses consciousness; but, all the same, he never entirely comes to grips with such consciousness as he has, either! Like a lot of other people here, he drifts about in a sort of tepid limbo.
If it wasn't for the fact that he's a Cypriot (Greek, so far as I can tell), I might be able to strike up the rudiments of a decent conversation with him. Unfortunately, however, his knowledge of English is somewhat too rudimentary, being confined to words like 'coffee', 'tea', 'burger', 'egg', 'milk', and 'chips' (which he pronounces 'cheeps'), so that anything beyond the rather narrow confines of his business needs would hardly be accessible to conversation, even supposing you could overcome his thick accent and faulty pronunciation which, when combined, render him virtually unintelligible. I still haven't got around to finding out his name, though I suppose that is neither here nor there, so far as our worldly relations are concerned. To him, I am just a regular customer who happens to order the same food every morning and, to me, he is just the anonymous old guy who happens to fry it. In the interests of efficiency and inter-ethnic harmony, things are better left as they are.
Anyway, to return to what I was first saying, whenever I drift in here during the week he is usually looking at his paper or smoking a cigarette and gazing through his plate-glass window out onto the street, gazing with semi-hypnotized eyes at a milk float, a parked car, a dog cocking its hind leg against the nearest lamppost, an overcast sky, a mother dutifully wheeling her pram past, the few shops across the road, etc., and, after offering him a friendly glance, I am compelled to bury my rebellious head in one of the pop stations blaring from his radio at the rear of the premises. But all this changes at the weekend, especially on Sunday mornings. For he looks like a man run off his feet, the sweat glistens on his deeply furrowed brow, and his assistants - either his two daughters or his eldest daughter and somebody else (usually a dark-complexioned young man or, occasionally, a rather plump and sad-eyed fellow with a limp) - look pretty much as run off their feet as him.
Today the eldest daughter is assisted by the dark-complexioned young man. There are only twelve tables for them to wait on but, to judge from the noise and general hustle-and-bustle, you'd think there were at least fifty. One of the reasons for this is that the owner, who also happens to be the chief cook, can only attend to one customer at a time on his small stove, so that he is always obliged to limit his service to methodically working through each of the twelve or more other customers, which, fortunately for us, he does as quickly as possible, albeit occasionally dropping or smashing something in the rush. Instead of looking forward to Sunday as a day of rest, this man must condition himself to working doubly hard! Only after he has closed the café and switched off its neon lights at can he begin to look forward to a week of comparative ease, of vacuous gazing and somnambulistic reverie.
Fortunately, there are only a couple of customers ahead of me in the frying queue today, so I won't have to wait too long. Since I am sitting near the rear of the premises I can see most of what goes on in here, though, naturally, there isn't much worth seeing. Things come and go more or less according to plan.
That daughter of his worries me slightly; she looks so sad most of the time. In actual fact, I'm a bit uncertain whether there isn't something wrong or whether that is her natural appearance, though it wouldn't surprise me if there was more to it than met the eye ... like she lacked access to a regular lay or something. Even so, working flat-out in a steamy café all Sunday isn't exactly a thing to be overjoyed about, is it? A girl of her age ought to be released from such obligations now and then. She can't have anything much to look forward to at the weekends.
Yes, but there is something more to it as well. I think she suffers a lot on account of her face, which is tarnished by a mass of sores, spots, and boils. Every time she serves me I notice the same thing, and it appears to be getting worse. It would be enough to give me an insuperable inferiority complex, having to contend with a burden like that every day! Yet for an adolescent female it must be especially burdensome, what with so many young men to wait on all day. If I were in her shoes, I don't think I'd have the nerve to appear in public, let alone work in a café!
Whether it's wholly attributable to her youth, to blood trouble and pubic upheavals, I don't pretend to know. But, whatever the case, she evidently eats a lot of fried stuff, and that can't help. Why, there is hardly anything on the menu that isn't fried. You have to have chips with everything: egg and chips, bacon and chips, pie and chips, sausage and chips, spam and chips.... Indeed, it is pretty much the same story, or menu, in most cafés; their customers eat nothing which hasn't been liberally soaked in grease! Yet when I consider how circumscribed most people's diets must be in here, I feel like getting up. It seems a plausible enough reason why they always look so washed-out and discontented most of the time.
In a minute the eldest daughter will hand me the menu and I, for my part, will pretend not to notice or be offended by her facial condition. I won't bother to look at the menu either, because I know in advance what to order. Then she will give me two sugar cubes or, more precisely, four sugar cubes wrapped in two pieces of red paper which, because I never take sugar with tea, will remain on the edge of my saucer. It has been going on like this for at least three months now, but, no matter who is serving, I still get the superfluous cubes, even though I occasionally draw attention to my abstemious predilection. Still, there is always the possibility that I will change my mind one day and ... ah! here she comes now.
"Er, egg-bacon-chips-beans and a tea, please."
God, she's so thin! In fact, I was going to mention that earlier but, what with her facial problems, I completely overlooked it. If she gets any thinner she will turn into a living skeleton. Why, her waist is almost as thin as her neck! It must be difficult for her to find skirts that fit tightly enough. How-on-earth she manages to carry such heavy plates all day, I can't even begin to imagine ...
"The way they were playin' yesterday, mate, they don't stand a fuckin' chance of winning the championship. It's a drag to waste yer fuckin' money on that sort of bleedin' game, I can tell yer."
"They 'ad 'alf the fuckin' team injured anyway."
"I don't know what-the-fuck was the matter with 'em, but if I have to watch any more of that sort of crap, I'm going to demand a refund from the fuckin' cunt at the gate."
"Look at this bastard 'ere."
I have neither the courage nor the desire to turn around, since I can hear all I need to without moving my head. The three of them were seated there when I arrived here earlier this morning. They weren't there last week, but they were certainly there the week before! As it happens, the most I can hope for will be a little silence while they stuff their big dirty mouths with chips and cynically browse through the tabloids, where the 'bastard' is evidently to be found. Unfortunately, the more querulous one is highly predictable - he never talks, he shouts, and in the most blatantly expletive sort of way. Of course, I can always take refuge from them in the radio, but I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about what it is playing at the moment. It doesn't sound too ennobling, either.
When I got here yesterday morning, I managed to find a seat behind the fridge over to my right. There are usually a few tabloids lying on top of it and, if the mood takes me, I occasionally fish one of them off and begin wearily and somewhat tentatively to glance through its photo-rich pages. Well, the only offering there yesterday morning was The Sun, and, as I never read that, I couldn't force myself to pick it up. I wanted to escape from the radio at the time but, there you are, I was left pretty defenceless; I couldn't force myself to stretch out a hand and take what is, after all, a relatively harmless item between my fingers, even though there were only about half-a-dozen other customers in the café and they all seemed perfectly unassuming. I was simply trapped in my habits. Indeed, I was almost afraid of feeling uncomfortable about it, afraid that somebody would notice my embarrassment or that the chef would suddenly come to a halt in front of me with his fat mouth hanging open and his dark eyes well-nigh popping out of his somnambulistic head, as though I had just committed a social indiscretion - pulled down my jeans, say, and started to masturbate into a tabloid or something. Now some people might think it snobbish that I should display such intellectual fastidiousness with regard to so trivial an item, but I don't pride myself on being a snob. In fact, I can't see that snobbery really has anything to do with it. On the contrary, it was more a question of taste. For when it comes to matters of taste, I know perfectly well how to differentiate between what strikes me as congenial and what doesn't, and no fool on earth could convince me otherwise! That paper simply wasn't for me. Yet my immobility before it struck me as highly significant at the time; I was made freshly conscious of my limits.
Now when I pushed open the café door, a short while ago, I had just escaped from similar reflections concerning my relationship to the upstairs tenant. That, too, was essentially a question of limits, and one which has added yet another link to the chain of constraints made from a consciousness of how much my freedom as an individual is hemmed-in by limitations either imposed upon me by society or by myself in relation to that which is other than me. In fact, I'm fast beginning to wonder how many more such links I can add to the chain before it begins to weigh too heavily upon me, and I feel morosely imprisoned beneath a crippling weight of these limits. If I'm not completely free, if I choose to impose certain restrictions upon myself, it must be because I have gradually come to the conclusion that, beyond a certain point, freedom isn't good for me; that too great an emphasis on it would only lead to my being exposed to further constraints of a more burdensome or onerous nature. Obviously, I don't want to become the slave of freedom. If I am relatively free, then it must be on my own terms. Thus these limits can be seen as a guideline to that restricted freedom, in which case I shouldn't allow them to become too cumbersome. Yet I can't permit myself to become overly complacent about them either, to treat them matter-of-factly, because they occasionally burst out of their chain and present or represent themselves for trial, obliging me to formulate fresh convictions about them.
That affair with the boot, for example, may have been relatively insignificant in itself, but it somehow threw the entire justification for such a retaliatory procedure into question last night, when the upstairs tenant began to make a lot of additional noise after I had gone to bed. I couldn't have been in bed longer than five minutes when she, and possibly her masochistic boyfriend as well, began dropping things on the floor, shoving their armchair about, opening and slamming cupboard doors, and generally making a hell of a noise. For the life of me, I couldn't understand exactly why this was going on since, as far as I could tell, I had done nothing to particularly arouse their hostility during the evening.
To be sure, I didn't want to get worked-up into a rage just then; for I am only too aware that rages are disagreeable impositions which one is generally much better off without. But after about fifteen minutes of these continual disturbances I felt anything but complacent and perceived, clearly enough, that I was steadily expanding with negative energy: anger, hate, resentment, and the urge to retaliate. Unable to restrain myself any longer, I sprang out of bed, fumbled around in the dark for my monkey boots and, on locating them, flung each one as vehemently as I could against the ceiling, while subconsciously hoping that I wouldn't smash the light bulb or damage them in the process. Unfortunately for me, the boots made more noise when they fell to the floor, sole downwards, but in the moral blindness of my fury it didn't occur to me that the downstairs neighbours would be disturbed. I was infuriated to the point of oblivion, and when, after the first assault on the ceiling, I flung my boots up two, three, four more times, scrambling around for them as before, I was shaking in the agony of my rage. I didn't feel like going upstairs and making a verbal scene as well, because I was in the nude and, under the circumstances, dressing would have proved too difficult. Besides, I was virtually speechless. But it seemed that my aggression had left its mark, for the house quickly fell into a sullen silence.
Switching on the light, however, I discovered, to my utmost dismay, that the ceiling was now scarred by a mass of ugly black streaks where the boot polish had come off, as well as more seriously disfigured by one or two additional indentations. It was evident that I would subsequently have the unenviable task of attempting to scrub it clean and patch-up, as best I could, the more damaging effects of my anger. When I finished the job, early this morning, I realized that the ceiling would henceforth be coated in dull grey patches, as though suffering from the effects of damp rot, and this fact really chastened me. Such 'retaliatory' measures as I had rashly seen fit to indulge in, during the night, are clearly impracticable. I had acquired a new limit.
There is a middle-aged couple seated at the table to my right who come in here from time to time and occasionally cast furtive glances in my direction. I can hardly ever make out what they are saying, because they almost invariably speak in Greek. But every ten minutes or so the woman throws a kind of nervous fit which temporarily interrupts their conversation. I don't know whether she has just thrown the fit, because I have been unduly preoccupied with my thoughts. But I am half-expecting it to happen any moment now, since I can see them quite well out of the corner of my right eye. When the woman involuntarily nods her head, says nothing, stops eating, and looks abstracted, you can bet your life it is about to happen. At present, this affliction is welling-up in her, she is entirely defenceless against it, though the man, presumably her long-suffering husband, is still talking away in his usual restless manner. I can feel a kind of restlessness growing in myself too, a distinct feeling of tense expectancy, but I have no wish to appear intrusive or overly curious. Neither do I wish to burst out laughing at the sudden thought of waiting for something pathetic to happen. They ... ah! suddenly her head swivels sharply to the right, her right elbow juts out and wobbles backwards and forwards a few times, her mouth opens into a wide yawn, her neck cranks violently upwards, her torso is thrown forwards against the table, and ... just as suddenly it is all over and she resumes her former posture to both her own and her husband's gratified relief. Even I am released from my pent-up expectancy into a sort of mild catharsis.
"There you are, dear."
"Ah, thanks!" Now I am free to eat my breakfast with a modicum of complacency.
This has proved to be an unusually productive Sunday. When I consider the number of words written yesterday and the no-less impressive number written today, I wonder whether I haven't gone mad or something. And I wonder what kind of cerebral repercussions lie in store for me, if I can manage to produce somewhere in the region of twenty pages a day! If last week was a case of verbal constipation, this week is certainly shaping up to being a classic case of verbal diarrhoea!
But to return to the facts. As it started raining again this afternoon I didn't take my customary Sunday stroll but remained indoors. There wasn't anything of particular interest in the paper and, for once, I decided to abstain from reading literature or philosophy. So with little else to do, I sought refuge in the idea of revising the one-scene playlet I had been working on earlier in the year. Here, then, is the result. It is almost and I have only this minute finished polishing up the last few lines. I have called it "The Latest Cure", though it has little to do with medicine.
Now if someone were to inquire of me why I then had to transcribe it to this journal, I would reply: "Because it ties-up with what has been going on today and prevents me from doing anything worse." I should imagine that that would be a sufficiently cogent answer!
The small surgery of Dr Martin Stanmore, the supreme exponent of 'Emotional Hypnosis', where a young and semi-delirious victim of unrequited love, a Mr James Hamilton, is endeavouring to explain certain aspects of his crisis to both the doctor and the doctor's female assistant, Nurse Pamela Barnes. He is seated in front of Dr Stanmore's paper-strewn desk, while the good doctor himself - a tall, dark-bearded man - is slowly pacing the floor backwards and forwards behind him. Nurse Barnes, who is seated immediately to Mr Hamilton's left, is clasping a large surgical casebook in which she has been taking particulars and recording general impressions with regard to the clinical nature of the patient's psychological condition. The scene opens towards the climax of Mr Hamilton's confessions.
MR HAMILTON: (In a state of nervous excitement) I'll buy five minutes of her time, four minutes, two minutes! Just a glance then, a touch, a word! I'll follow her everywhere, anywhere, what matter! I have only to set eyes on her for a second and my heart beats like a drum, my Adam's apple rises up to choke me, and my concentration goes positively haywire! I can't even eat without thinking about her. I get indigestion every time anyone mentions her goddamned name, that terribly beautiful name which haunts me all through the night. Her gestures, voice, smile, hair, eyes, limbs, buttocks, breasts, clothes, scents, opinions - everything about her completely enslaves me! For two pins I'd get down on my knees and start worshipping her. What else can I do? She has only to appear in my presence for a few seconds and I'm a nervous wreck.
DR STANMORE: (Aside to Nurse Barnes) He needs immediate attention. Grade A. This case is already serious. His state-of-mind may deteriorate still further unless we apply the emergency antidote at once. We'll have to put him under for several hours.
MR HAMILTON: (Jumps to conclusions) You're not intending to interfere with the workings of my brain, are you? I'd rather not experience anything more painful than what I'm already suffering from, if you don't mind. A sedative is all very well, but if it's only the start of a process that ...
NURSE BARNES: (Her hand on the patient's nearest arm) Now don't be afraid, James! You won't feel a thing. We've treated literally hundreds of young people, both male and female, since this clinic first opened, and the vast majority of them have profited enormously from our service, as can be verified by the many letters of thanks and acknowledgement in the cabinet to your right. (She vaguely points in the aforesaid direction) We have every confidence that your welfare will be safeguarded with the utmost care, and that you'll be successfully returned to the pre-love condition without experiencing any psychical or physical repercussions whatsoever. Indeed, we even undertake to offer you a six-month's guarantee which ensures you free service, should today's application of hypnotic expertise by one of the world's top emotional hypnotists prove insufficiently therapeutic; though we've had few complaints or rejections, I can assure you. This emotional insanity from which you're currently suffering ... is injurious both to yourself, as victim, and to the community at large, which is to say, to those whom you infect throughout the course of your daily routine - people who inevitably become victimized and, to a certain extent, influenced by your reduced efficiency, intermittent emotional aberrations, intellectual instability, and general melancholia.
MR HAMILTON: (On the defensive) But I didn't mean to fall in love, honest! I couldn't help it. Her continuous presence gradually overwhelmed me, despite the fact that she was attached to somebody else at the time and wouldn't have anything to do with me sexually. By the time I sought to evade her, it was too damned late. I had succumbed to the malady.
DR STANMORE: (Extends a reassuring hand to the patient's right shoulder) Nobody can help falling in love, my friend. It's beyond our control, since ordained by nature. If it happens it happens, and you must suffer the consequences, whether positively or, as in your case, negatively. If she refused you, then she is to blame. You have every right to the woman of your choice. If she was otherwise engaged, I rather doubt that she told you all that much about it, not, at any rate, unless you pressed her to, since the object of this engagement would then have constituted a reason for her excluding you which, regardless of human convention, isn't in accordance with nature's will.
MR HAMILTON: As a matter of fact, she claimed to be engaged with church activities every night.
DR STANMORE: (Raises his brows in surprise) Then you're very unfortunate, my young friend. For the Church is usually in opposition to nature. You've suffered, it seems to me, on account of someone's habitual bigotry. But don't worry! The new administration is seeing to the removal of outmoded institutions and we, for our part, will certainly do what we can to prevent this misfortune from incapacitating you further. It remains to be said, however, that the final solution rests with you personally. So you must be determined!
MR HAMILTON: (Frowns) But even if you do hypnotize me, or put me under, I'll still be in love, won't I? I mean, you can't cold turkey my emotions.
NURSE BARNES: (Slightly irritated, in spite of her show of good humour) We have absolutely no intention of "cold turkeying" you, James. We can only hypnotize you into forgetting her.
DR STANMORE: (Sits at his desk and then leans forward with fingers crossed, his demeanour stern) Some people call it brainwashing. They believe it to be an outrage against nature, another very conspicuous example of the inhumanity of modern science, a ruse they're constantly exploiting as a means to furthering their own ends which, as we've already seen, are more often against nature. Now some individuals even go so far as to assert that the interruption and subsequent termination of this pestiferous ailment actually robs its victim of a meaningful and emotionally enriching experience. As though such a condition as unrequited love were more of a pleasure than a pain, and therefore shouldn't be tampered with in the name of science! They fail to establish the difference between the requited and unrequited kinds of love, thereby regarding them as equal when, as anyone saddled with the latter will know, they're virtually as far apart as heaven and hell! Indeed, I should be most surprised to discover a person whose love had been requited duly applying for immediate hypnotic alleviation. As a rule, such a person is perfectly at one with himself.
MR HAMILTON: (Still feels sceptical) But will I really forget all about my emotional attachment to her? I mean, isn't that a trifle farfetched?
NURSE BARNES: (Unable to
restrain her impatience) Mr Hamilton, you are a difficult man to convince! Anyone would think you didn't want to be
cured, that you'd rather remain in the painful clutches of a disease which has
virtually deranged your mind!
Why-on-earth did you come along here in the first place, if you only
wanted to persist in playing hard to get?
Admittedly, many things appear a trifle farfetched to begin with, but
that's certainly no reason why they should be thought impossible. Whoever would have supposed man capable of
travelling to the moon, let alone flying to
MR HAMILTON: Yes, but what if, in leaving here, I encounter her within the next few days - as I'm almost bound to do - and subsequently run the risk of falling in love with her all over again? Surely I won't be immune from that?
DR STANMORE: (Exercises his customary aplomb and paternal encouragement) Oh yes you will! For we assure you, during the course of your treatment, that she'll have absolutely no further emotional hold over you until such time as, given a change of circumstances, you may specifically request otherwise. If you shortly encounter her again, there'll be absolutely no possibility of unrequited love. You'll be completely free of her. However, should she subsequently become accessible to your attentions through either a change in her romantic or possibly even ideological circumstances, then you'll be perfectly free to become re-acquainted with her without running any risk of falling in love. You may even decide to return to us in order to be re-hypnotized into falling in love with her again; though such a decision will be entirely up to you, and obviously subject to the precondition that a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached next time.
NURSE BARNES: Unrequited love is a thing of the past, a kind of virulent psychic disease, or insanity of the soul, from which your parents' generation and all the generations prior to them constantly suffered. They had absolutely no protection against it, and consequently succumbed in their millions. Now if venereal disease was the chief physical manifestation of sexual hardship, then unrequited love was its chief psychical manifestation, against which it was extremely difficult to prevail. Clinics for alleviating the directly physical aspects of the problem were established quite some time before medical experts and politicians got round to taking its psychical aspects more seriously, and this traditional disequilibrium of attention - so often resulting in more cases of rape, juvenile delinquency, neurosis, severe depression, chronic perversion, and sexual hatred, i.e. the so-called 'war of the sexes' - was partly a consequence of the political establishment's inability and/or disinclination to link such social transgressions with sexual repressions, and partly a consequence of the prevailing misconception with regard to the nature of a healthy soul, the principal criterion for assessing the health of which should have been its social wellbeing and emotional integrity, rather than the psychological shackles with which the antinatural morality of the state metaphysics chose to enslave it! However, the recent enlightenment schemes and re-education programmes which the new authorities have introduced, including a much wider and more liberal sex-education scheme; the possibility of regular sex in one of the many aesthetically-advanced 'Sex Centres', where one can privately, comfortably, and economically enjoy access to the most advanced films and sex gadgets/dolls; the widespread recognition of manic depression as the punishment inflicted by nature upon those who, whether through force of circumstances or in consequence of arbitrary decisions, have deviated from it to any appreciable extent, and the concomitant acceptance of the organic necessity of some form of regular sex; the systematic elimination of certain superstitions and anachronisms, and the establishment of the league against sexual puritanism, etc., coupled to the remarkable advances in modern technology - about which, incidentally, I need say no more - have entirely revolutionized the situation. And not only by the legitimatization of various theoretical antidotes to the old way of life but, more importantly, by the legitimatization of a variety of practical antidotes to it which are far superior to any old women's formulae or imaginable drugs, and certainly much less harmful. We no longer suffer from so many physical diseases, so why should we suffer from mental or emotional ones instead? What would it gain you to remain perpetually melancholic?
DR STANMORE: (Ironically) You're not a writer, by any chance, are you?
MR HAMILTON: (Without really appreciating the doctor's subtle irony) No, I'm not actually.
DR STANMORE: Well then, what have you got to lose, apart from a humiliating obsession which you're unable to control, a situation which is driving you crazy, a gratuitous attachment? The days of emotional slavery are over! There is absolutely no need for you to follow this young woman, this epitome of physical vanity, around on an imaginary lead, as though you were a craven dog whose very survival depended on it! Renounce this servility! Have done with her! Embrace your independence!
MR HAMILTON: (Smiles for the first time) Maybe I'll be luckier next time, assuming there'll be a next time?
DR STANMORE: (In a conciliatory and overly reassuring tone-of-voice) Of course there'll be a next time! A handsome and smartly-dressed young chap like you? Don't underestimate yourself! Why waste precious time worrying yourself sick over some young prude who foolishly ignores you, when you can walk out of here, later today, and approach the first attractive girl your eyes light upon? Now don't take me literally, but that's the possibility. Too many young men waste months and even years in consequence of unrequited love when, given the right opportunity, plenty of other pretty females would ordinarily attract them.
NURSE BARNES: And that's precisely why we're here, complete with soft lighting.
MR HAMILTON: (Blushes slightly) Then please get to work on me, people. I have to walk out of here a new man!