Monday, May 26, 2008

More Drinking

J tells me he wants to talk to the girl sitting at the next table. I turn around to look, because he keeps staring at her. I get the impression that she remittingly turns to look at him as well, but I cannot tell from where I'm sitting. My back is turned to her. J now penetratingly looks at the person behind me and I can't help but turn to look. I don't see her clearly, because she is fiddling with her phone and her head is bent to it, but I see she has long hair. Not absolutely flowing, lustrous hair or anything of the kind, but fairly long, nice and attractive hair that suits the posture in which her head is bent. She feels mysterious already but I couldn't care very much. Something in me is already jaded and dreadfully turned off by the idea of meeting new people, on random encounters. J and I sit at the bar, far away from school, and random encounters I could avoid.

I haven't exactly understood the motives of the person with me. Not motives regards the person behind, but the more general notion of motives, about life and men and women and school. What does he really want out of it? Or more importantly, is there any such thing as wanting - something specific - from the life he lives? Drifting. Being. Not wanting. They are all so tempting, and are so lovely when they 'happen' to you. I haven't understood what he thinks he's best suited to do. Be fantastically immersed in the rigmarole of school life. Be absolutely, phenomenally socially adept - making as many a part of his regular circle of people-to-amuse-and-spend-time-with as exists the number of people in class. Be reclusive, be patient and be stalwartly in academics or sport. You know, assiduously working your way up the calibrated ladder. It's all a part of school. It builds up, both in practice and in your mind. You work toward something and you work against the rest. But slowly, and very imperceptibly, it begins to fade afterwards. Beyond that part of life, and into another, something stranger happens. You build and you imagine a ladder of your own, a concessional check-list and rules and standards of your own - against the imperceptible ways of which everything else pales. It's becomes a part of the oblivion into which you've pushed everything from the earlier ladders and rules and standards.

People change as well. J and I keep sipping at the rum-and-coke. I insist on the rum and refuse to try any other concoctions. It's ridiculously enervating to do this with J. Because he wants to rant off a list of fancy cocktails he knows and swears by - by what standards, I don't know - and launches into long harangues if met with disagreement. I mean, getting sloshed isn't about the fanciness of it. It's not pretty, it's not about the dough. It's about feeling silly and listless and very out of place in public. It's about the waste of time. The dwindling of energy. The need for more. And the frighteningly blissful journey back. To J, however, it isn't so much about these things. It is about the need to say, well, that these are the names I swotted, these are the prices I find impressive and these are the things we're going to talk about whilst pretending to be drunk: sex, movies, sex, books, sex, teachers-I-find-strange, sex, friends-I-don't-like.

The girl behind is now preparing to leave. I can tell from the look of pure panic on his face. He doesn't even pretend to be discreet. He looks longingly at her and I can tell she's noticed. Maybe he is already drunk, after all. I feel fit as a fiddle. Nothing as premature arousal for me. I cannot tell why he wants to look at her, or catch her eye, which he's now done, so insistently. I mean, she's moving away, she's lifted her bag. Her shirt is tightly pulled against her chest and her trousers are still professionally tapered to the ankles. Her shoes are Converse. Her bag, I can now see, is practically a bag, and not a frilly purse clutched against her side or anything. She looks happy as she walks up to the bartender, at the counter, and pays off. She doesn't want to chat but she looks happy all right. Nothing extraordinary for someone who's obviously being ogled by an under-age toddler at the adjacent table. I could kill J for making us look so desperate for attention. We aren't; but he can make it seem like we are. Good riddance.

Why do you keep staring?

You know what it is about elder girls that is so, so good? They're always responsive, you know? Not like schoolgirls at all? I mean, so people in school can be so dumb-looking? They talk but they never really emote? They just talk with their mouths and their words and everything, but you don't feel like they're saying something from the inside? Now bigger girls, they're something else. They don't even have to say anything. You already know there's something going on between the two of you.

That's bloody presumptious. What if she finds your staring and your stupid, aimless smiling the most annoying thing that could happen to her on an afternoon like this, and wants to really find out how far you'd go. She just lead you on, smiled and pouted back, suggesting she's attentive. Hell, she isn't. All you could be of interest for... I don't know what for. She's just playing on your volunteer service. What a pissing-off shame.

I cannot tell him that bigger girls are not always genuinely interested in you. I cannot describe to him the complicated nature of inter-sexual relations. For example, I could tell him that some girls only look to you for attention. But I couldn't explain why, because in his mind, as was the case with myself (thankfully), human relations assume a pristine kind of being and countenance from the way things work out between people at that (his) age. People look to you for friendship, or to be intimate, because you interest them and they find you attractive. Or they think you're kind or talented and they could make something of your feelings. Or that you could make something of them - use them to realize your ambitions, or what you really feel about life and the way things work around you.

Here, it's a far more carnivorous jungle of disorganized brigandry. Sometimes, interest is only a matter of 'visible association'. By which I mean, some people deliberately seek out the 'visible' company of another person, so that they could go back to chatter and gossip and conversation and state the inviolable fact of the two of yours deep and powerful bond. Sometimes, it's just to see at first-hand what others have described of you. Like a specimen. In a social laboratory. You need to be observed and the observations of others need to be verified and (in)validated. It's difficult to know the difference, because mixed motives can spur and egg the meeting or the 'visible associating' of two people on. Otherwise, they want you sexually or competetively. They want to know what you have by means of academics/work/relationships. They want uninhibited making-out. The latter eventually never works out - either it's very inhibited and sickeningly unsatisfying, or it's plain impossible.

I cannot tell him these things because he has to discover them for himself. All I can say is:

Let's go back now, we can't be here long.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


J and I walk to the front of the school building and wait for the rest. It is dinner time and I cannot wait to get in. The food is fantastic. The vegetables are fantastic. This is ridiculous. I would never have liked it otherwise. I would never have anticipated a vegetarian dinner otherwise - but the food just makes you want to tuck those safe and healthy things right in.

The rest of them, of course, don't like the food and think walking back and forth for meals is a complete waste of time, and the food is horrendously below par as compensation. The air-conditioning goes on unstopped. The classroom computers stand frigidly on tables, clean, pristine and very decorative. They look better in disuse than they ever would. It serves the purpose, all right. It's difficult to see how far behind the others are. It's almost late and they should be coming along. But they're all on a slothful walk and it's difficult to hurry them up. Promenading is what some people like to specialise in. The walk is purposeful, but slow, very, very deliberate. For a teacher, who out of habit prefers brisk walking, or prefers to walk briskly when in the vicinity of unruly kids, this is intriguing. The speed isn't the problem. It's the unintended creepiness. The dreadful accompaniment - kids with contraband in hand.

J is significantly different. Well, not in that drastic, special kind of way. He is, though, in an understated way. He doesn't believe in very different things or doesn't have a very different way of talking. He'll expound on any of the coolest-things-to-do that qualify you for alpha-male supremacy. He'll tell you any number of sites that contravene the server-surveillance. He'll let you know about all the women who have been purportedly wanting to chat you up in class. He'll do all of that, and in exactly the ersatz American twang you've come to expect. The accent grates, bad American is hard to get accustomed to, but he has a quiet way of doing it. He doesn't let you think he knows it all, but he puts out every statement like a question; as if everything has a question mark at the end: Do you know she thinks she can get you to flirst with her on a daily basis? Do you think you can not tell that guy what an asshole he's been today? Do you even recognise the person you've been talking to all this time? Why do you even bother pretending to like the food?

Yes, the food is fantastic. But there's nothing that will stop the critics' harangue. There's an intemperate dog that barks near the other entrance, the one to our right, on a slight elevation, and we both know he's not permitted here. Someone needs to call the guards and set off the intruder-alert. "It's horrible having dogs ruin the cleanliness of our campus, darling," says the inordinately good-looking matron. Well, that's very unfortunate for someone who could do with an additional pair of puppies herself.

J looks around. He looks bored. I'm tired from a day of classes and an hour of consistent working-out. I ask him what he thinks there is for dinner. 'Who cares, man? You don't have to pretend to like the food, sir?' But I like the food, you spoilt brat. 'You know what?' Yes. 'What?' I don't know, why don't you tell me. 'So we should go out drinking this Sunday? I mean, of course I'm not allowed to be drinking and everything, but if I sneak out and change out of uniform and meet you outside the mall, we could go someplace?' It's not a bad idea, but I'm not willing to take charge of the sabotage of school-rules, and I'm not willing to be taken privy to under-age drinking-fantasies. Or witness juvenile pretend-drunkeness, which is very boring and hardly funny, so, you know, no. 'I love drinking?'

I know.

But the thing is he loves it all: he loves drinking but he hasn't really drunk so much. He has, obviously, meticulously memorized the names of a lot of interesting drinks, several unknown to my unpractised mind. He has the combinations and suitable hors d' oeuvres in mind. He knows all of that, exactly. But theoretically. There is something attractive about the half-baked world he's created in his mind. It's a legitimate, interesting world of names and formulae, tastes and occasions, ideas and impressions he could never possibly testify to having used practically - ever. Not that it upsets the usefullness of it; it's just as useful now as ever. The beauty, though, is in the immutable zeal for wanting to know. The quest for knowledge. For booze.

J waits for the rest to catch up, but they're still sauntering. The path is fairly long. The walking is fairly slow. The eagerness to tell me illicit things is still fairly pretty-much-there. I'm upbeat too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Headmaster

J turned around in class and asked why we were reading Roald Dahl's The Headmaster. I couldn't tell him exactly, not yet, because he had to read it first and try and make something of a deduction himself.

When I was as old as he is now, I had read Matilda's pseudo-serious grotesquery very seriously. I lost all niceties directed at adults. I wanted to be exactly the smart, clever, conniving, remorseless rambunctious kid that could deal with the Trunchbulls in my life.

The beating, antipathetic headmaster in The Headmaster proceeds to become a bishop. The beaten, berated kid is mortified.

How would these kids deal with the information? That the monster needn't necessarily 'fall'.

Be angry and repressed and tortured? Be maudlin and disappointed? Or come to realize that any or all progress only lies in being able to work, very hard, to live through overcome the vitiations of the monster - be not the broken abused, but the burgeoning recovered?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Am In The Staff Room

How difficult it is to withstand the truth of any real thing. I sit here at dinner, waiting to go back to my room. I arrive here from my room, reluctant to leave it, forced to sit at another table where the other occupants are altogether morose. They are teachers. They are older, have seen more years at school and find anything suspicious. I can't discuss this with them. They are already discussing other things amongst themselves. I don't want to get a word in edgeways; I don't want to talk to them because talking to them is so difficult. Talking to anyone can be particularly difficult these days, and I cannot be sure why. Here, the discussion is veered to subjects that only they know about - things of which they are the sole proprietors. Discipline, indiscipline, emotions, attitudes, bad attitudes, the quality of food, the coming in late of boarders, the arrogance, indolence, overexcitement, rudeness, impropriety, the absence of good teachers. I cannot talk about the latter, it's nearly too early/silly to do so. I cannot risk appearing too judgmental. Not at the beginning. They look to me for responses but those responses they will not get. There are things I know I am sure about. About the zealousness of wanting school contraband, the eagerness for food, the craving for media, the bellicose class-hours spent in unmanned recess, all of these things. The impassioned need for some self-affirmation. The need to know that you know some things, are definitely sure of what you think about them, and the possibility, in all humility, of not knowing many others. The need to know that you are real and that there are real creative possibilities open to you. To know that there are things you can read and understand, and not just pretend to browse. To know that the print on that page can make a difference to you. To know that there is someone else around you who is exactly, or nearly exactly, like you. To know that the new teacher, so surreptitiously a part of the woodwork, cares about you and wants to know you better, without making you feel obliged to force your weight about, or to ingratiate yourself, and prostrate yourself, before any conversation you may have with him. There are these things that you get to learn over past incidents and past, prolonged encounters. There are some things you preserve and re-use from the Days Of Yore to make sense of things as they occur presently.

I can't tell them that they are wrong - that the food is, in fact, brilliant; that the air-conditioning is necessary but makes them complacent; that the teachers are emotionally inadequate - that now I am a comparatively better-matured person to know the difference between genuine assertion and ersatz advertised, tele-prompted lectures. That teachers and human beings are not indifferentiable and mutually exclusive. Being one does not exempt an obligation to the other.

I am in the staff common-rooms, and am now privy to their world. How different it was back then. It had seemed so cozy, so comforting, so esoteric. There were cups of coffee and interminable sandwiches, conversations about impressive things ricocheting off the walls and hinges of the room. Now, in the inside, I hear nothing, but the empty talk of bored dissension. There is nothing left to discuss, the room is awkward and silent in snatches. And then someone resumes. Someone else starts off on a harangue - the administration is lousy, the food is lousy, the students are lousy - also bratty and incorrigible - the buses are lousy, the food, oh, the all-so-important food is offensive, again, and the house-staff are witless, self-contented sretins who don't know what's good for their thick, offensive hide. That is all I hear. Suddenly, the effect this has on me is so strange. It's inexplicable and I cannot tell 'real' effect from imagined. It's so creepy but I cannot remember even my rosy, romanticized version of school staff-rooms, I cannot remember the picture of that cushioned interior, I cannot remember the sound of that esoteric talking and discussing and arguing. I am already senile from the onslaught of reality-checks. This is unhealthy.

I cannot tell them at the dinner table, at yet another dinner, on yet another evening, that I do not think that these children are hopeless and unimaginative. Sometimes, the accusers, we, may appear that, but no, not them, not the children. They seem quite capable. Oh, quite. But the next morning I walk around and I feel the penetrating eyes of desperate curiosity. I feel like I'm walking around expectantly in a slow-moving porn movie, though not naked yet. I feel the watching multiply manifold. Sometimes, it feels confrontational, but I cannot flinch, because I feel so overpowered by a sense of self-manufactured adulthood that I cannot but deign to not respond. I remember being them, being rude and confrontational with new people, new teachers I could not figure out or mentally label (as a certain 'kind of person'), gap-students I thought who over-reached their assigned lines. I don't know, being feckless is part of it. Being feckless is also part of college life for so many people, but now in college it just feels looks when I see it.

I am sitting on a bus, driving with them to the city, for a promenade in the shopping places. I sit and respond to the garrulous teacher beside me. I know that my father's purported atheism has nothing to do with my teaching. I'm just being figured-out, that's all.

I walk by the 'administrators' and I cannot but shrink back from their self-conscious incuriosity. I am told occasionally that he is fixated on my hair, but I cannot cut it. I cannot pander now, not now, when I know practically nothing about them. I sit at lunch and I hear the petite, sex-charged matron discuss my whereabouts. I want to tell her to fuck off and mind her own business, but I can't, because propriety hasn't deserted me. And I fear it won't. Leaving all of these feelings unsatisfactorily on the verge of my lips, unwillingly forced back into the recesses of my reluctant throat.

I cannot be a sentinel of our common inadequacy.