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Catharsis

Life In The Friend Zone & Other Happy Stories

So needless to say it’s been a couple of months since my last post.

The long silence hasn’t been intentional – I’ve certainly wanted to post, actually meant to post – but sometimes these things happen. Part of the reason, as with most of these annoying dry spells, has a lot to do with my university schedule and the particular classes I’m taking. In this case Algebra. Which I’ve got absolutely no understanding of at all, as the three of you know from previous entries. The other part of it has to do with a loads of personal issues. And though I do not tend to shy away from airing them here on occasion, I do sometimes feel as though they aren’t terribly interesting and that I’m simply talking to myself when I write about them.

Of course I feel like I’m talking to myself most of the time anyway, so there’s that.

In my last post, just down below a bit, I went on a bit of whinging regarding my fascination with a woman at work called Miranda. Since that post we, Miranda and I, have had a date (of sorts) and a very weighty conversation, the bottom line of which is that I am ‘so not’ her type but we can still go out, we just can’t ‘go out.’

I was gutted, obviously, because every indication I’d got off her prior to that time was that there may possibly be some mutual interest despite our age difference. But no.

In the meantime, another woman I work with – although not as often – had begun showing what I thought to be an interest in me. I’m not sure if it came about because of my constant talking about Miranda or if I’d just not previously noticed it because Miranda was so much of a distraction to me. Regardless, she – the other one, Rebecca – was quite keen to point out with great frequency that she, in fact, had a boyfriend. This was a regular part of casual conversation, almost used like a warning of sorts. As such I never encouraged or initiated anything (because cheating is something I cannot abide). The one exception to that was when she met me, somewhat surprisingly, for drinks after work one evening. I say it was a surprise because though we’d often talked about drinking after work (as disgruntled employees often do) it was something which I’d never really expected to happen. People constantly talk about things they want to do and never do them.

She’d begun texting frequently, and at all hours, after that night and I began to find myself getting rather uncomfortable with the situation. Not because I had no interest in her – because I did have – but because of her relationship status. Coming between two people was not at all something I wanted to do. Then, two weeks later, she came to work in a miserable state and explained that her boyfriend had walked out on her. Apparently she’d discussed her post-graduate plans with him and he wanted no part of them.

I told her I felt terrible for her and that if she wanted to talk, I was available.

And that was virtually the last time she’s spoken to me. Now she avoids almost any contact with me unless it’s absolutely required by the mandate of our job.

That’s where things stand at the moment. Miranda has cast me to the dark pit of The Friend Zone, Rebecca won’t speak to me for whatever ridiculous reason unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’m struggling with maths, and I’m still avoiding Food Network like the plague.

Long-time readers who may recall my previous on-line dating experience ending in a Nigerian money scam will be happy to note that, despite having deleted my account with that service, I received an email off them a few days ago begging for me to reactivate my account because they’d evidently scoured the globe and found a nice girl for me called Mathew.

Some days I just don’t understand anything…

 

Abysm of Time

somewhere-in-time
I came across this image recently during a random search for something else; something entirely unrelated to the subject matter of the photo. But that’s they way the internet is, though. And for a fair while I stopped to consider it. The image, not the internet.

Novelist and screenwriter, Richard Matheson passed away on 23 June 2013 at age 87. Somehow I’d missed that announcement. June was rather a hectic month and seems to have flitted past in mere moments. Nevertheless, I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing. To say I was influenced by his works – often without knowing it – from an early age is quite an understatement. Fans of the original Twilight Zone would likely recognise his classic episode Nightmare at 20,ooo Feet, starring a young and much less annoying William Shatner. My first introduction to Matheson’s work, however, was the classic 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man which, as a child, I saw on late night television many years later, and then, sometime after that, The Omega Man. These films were based on Matheson’s 1956 novel The Shrinking Man and 1954’s I Am Legend, respectively.

Matheson also wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-television film called Duel. Although, if I’m honest, I’d actually only seen Duel ages after Jaws was released and only because many critics of Jaws felt it was simply a remake of Duel. It is also worth noting – as you roll your eyes and sigh – that one of my all-time favourite films, 1987’s Three O’Clock High, was written by Matheson’s son, Richard Christian Matheson, and was the theatrical directorial debut of a Spielberg protégé called Phil Joanou.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a film history lesson. You’re welcome. But it is meant to be something of a reflection on irony. Matheson wrote a novel in 1975 called Bid Time Return which was, in 1980, adapted for the screen as Somewhere In Time starring Jane Seymour and the late Christopher Reeve. The title of the book is taken from William Shakespeare’s Richard II in case you’re interested, but Somewhere In Time sold more tickets, apparently.

The photo up top, naturally, is a still taken from the film. It was, and probably remains to anyone who remembers the film, one of the most iconic images from it, and fairly indicative of the nature of the plot. Suffice it to say, for now, that in both the novel and the film, the protagonist, Richard Collier, becomes obsessed with a nearly century-old photograph of a young actress called Elise McKenna. He finds himself, as the still frame suggests, often staring endlessly at her portrait with a crushing sense of longing to bridge the vast years between them.

So part of the irony in all this is, when I stumbled across the image, buried amongst numerous other unrelated bits in a Google search, I was struck by the fact that it seemed the perfect metaphor on the state of my personal life at the moment. And I thought, I know exactly how it feels to stare across that abysm of time at something you will never have.

But the irony is two-fold.

First, a little over two years ago I posted about rekindling a relationship with someone from my past. History, of course, has quite a nasty way of repeating itself, and though I still see Ina Morata every once in a while, whatever was there finally died sometime last year when, as our relationship strained under the weight of her stoic indifference to and avoidance of my feelings, I finally walked away. She was, and still is, fairly irritated and confused by my choice, unable, it seems, to fully comprehend why I can’t just live forever in the cold, bitter isolation of The Friend Zone and be content with it.

Second, both at university and in my rather lacklustre position at Big Box DIY I am surrounded by an overwhelming preponderance of people very nearly half my age. And the greater majority of those people, particularly at Big Box DIY where I live some ±45 hours per week, are, of course, women. And whilst I am notoriously poor at ‘acting my age,’ preferring to live by the adage that You Are Only Young Once But You Can Stay Immature Forever, I occasionally tend to forget there is a considerable gap.

As much as it gutted me to walk away from the prison of The Friend Zone with Ina, it has been even worse to find myself working very closely – very nearly every day for over a year – and developing what feels like a very strong connection with an amazing, funny, and beautiful woman – a single mother – quite a bit younger than me. My work wife, Rachel, is constantly reminding me, however, like a little metaphorical cartoon Angel of Conscience on my shoulder, that whatever ridiculous notions of a relationship I could possibly dare to entertain concerning her dear friend, Miranda, have a vanishingly small probability of ever coming to pass, as she doesn’t really know I exist beyond the walls of Big Box DIY and perhaps I simply ought to just consider being gay.

So, like Richard Collier, I frequently find myself these days staring longingly across the years. On the one hand at what might have been with Ina had I not blown the whole thing 20 years before, and on the other at what might have been with Miranda, had cruel time and thoughtless fate not stood squarely in the way like two cruel and thoughtless things. I suppose, too, the other bit of irony is that, when I saw the Somewhere In Time photo and understood just exactly how it feels to look at something and mourn for that which has long passed, yearn for that which you cannot have, and to feel that crushing sense of loss, the words which immediately sprang into my head were from one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare:

   But how is it that this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time?

Deciding ‘abysm of time’ was the appropriate title for this post and wanting to be sure I cited it correctly (as memory does not always serve as well as it ought to do), I looked it up. Carl Jung would have said it was a perfect moment of synchronicity for me to have been reminded that the quote comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and is a line spoken by Prospero to Miranda. Sigh.

Oh well. I suppose it’s nothing a little time travel couldn’t fix.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing — Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

 

Toilet Paper and Aliens

Very much against my better judgement, I finally caved in a few weeks ago and took the constant nagging advice of a long-time friend and turned my fruitless, pathetic, and embarrassing search for unrequited love to the internet. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, mostly because it feels like defeat. Oh yes, I know, all of those precious Match.com, eHarmony, and Zoosk adverts make it all look so perfect and brilliant and the best possible thing you could ever do for yourself, full of smoking hot and inconceivably single women and tanned, well-chiselled, and tousle-haired men resting comfortably on their six-figure incomes, but the truth, is those particular case studies in perfection are, at best, anomalous and, at worst, utterly fantastical. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

It felt like defeat to me because it occurred to me, whilst filling in the little forms and agreeing to various terms of agreement, that I was doing this because no-one I know or have met recently really appears to think of me as anything more than a drinking buddy, presuming, that is, they even think of me at all, and would prefer to keep me at arm’s length and would be especially thrilled  if they could only make their arms grow just a wee bit longer out of sheer convenience.

It felt like defeat because it seemed as if I had exhausted any notion of meeting someone through traditional means and was now turning to a faceless and emotionless intermediary with at best only a superficial understanding of who I was. And I don’t mean my name, age, race, gender, education, occupation, or if I like puppies and long walks on the beach. I do, but that’s irrelevant. And anyway I haven’t been near a beach in more than twenty years. What I mean is all those odd, scattered, random, often contradictory and frequently idiosyncratic bits which make a person who they are and the sorts of things to ultimately connect you to someone else – like do you put the toilet paper over or under and will this be a cause of some distress and potentially lead to an argument if done incorrectly?

Granted I am not going to sit with someone on the first meeting and blurt out that I believe that we as a species have a greater antiquity than mainstream science wants us to know, or that the internal architecture of the Great Pyramid or places like Puma Punkhu and Tiahuanaco raise practical questions about their construction that defy current definitions (and I’m not saying it was aliens… but it was probably aliens) – although I have actually done that, sadly – because most people will sit like animals trapped in car headlamps and start to inch nervously away. Trust me. But at some point those scary bits are going to sneak out, whether it’s toilet paper or aliens, and to the uninitiated who aren’t aware of these curious predilections or to those who don’t know you well enough or to those who don’t share a similar interest, you’re simply going to appear mad. Like some strange person who lives alone with cats. Which I do. And, again, that is irrelevant.

But mostly it felt like defeat because it seemed to solidify the feeling that I’ve become nothing more than some sort of Jay at The Desk to most women: empty as the plot of Twilight and as invisible as the talent of Milli Vanilli.

Considering the fact that my friend hadn’t exactly had rousing success with her short on-line dating experience (before meeting her current boyfriend on a blind date set up by a co-worker), I couldn’t understand why she pushed and pushed so hard for me to do it – or why I was even toying with the idea – but her argument that ‘You haven’t met anyone yet have you? What’s the worst that could happen?’ finally made me give in and try. I opted for a couple of places offering both free profile placement and free browsing of the profiles of others only to find that if you wanted to send a message to someone you found interesting, you had to pay for it. So much for ‘free.’

Probably the worst aspect of it all was the almost daily email alerts of so-called ‘new’ members with whom these sites rather bewilderingly imagined you would be a perfect match…

dating-1

…or the constant bombardment of ‘messages’ from the potentially compatible love interests who’ve investigated the contents of your profile and have, you are told, expressed a desire to learn more…

dating-2

…and absolutely none of whom live even remotely within the vaguest parameters of the geographic location you specified, making the likelihood of a face-to-face meeting with them – barring a windfall in lottery cash or finally getting that novel published – virtually nil.

So on it went, week after week, the relentless flow of email alerts filled with farfetched suggested companions with whom I clearly shared nothing apart from being the same general species; the subtle intimations that if only I would upgrade to the next status level and pay the extortionate monthly or annual fee I would, at last, experience the rich power of the type of deeply committed relationship only money could buy, and a flagrant lack of possible matches in, and thus an inexorable disregard for, my stated terrestrial preference which finally culminated in receiving this:

dating-3

Seriously? I thought. Obviously on the surface it all seemed very innocent and mostly harmless, but I had some issues with it. The glamour shot notwithstanding – because I’d seen plenty of them intermingled amongst ridiculous cartoon graphics and loads of especially bad self-portraits snapped hurriedly in lavatory mirrors – I could see no clear reason why anyone who looked like this would find anything of even the tiniest bit of interest in my profile. Though there are two types of women in this world I am uniquely attracted to – redheads, brunettes, and blondes, in that order – and though I don’t consider myself to be a Quasimodo, this recommended love connection seemed to be almost as fanciful as if Kate Winslet or Anne Hathaway had finally responded to the hundreds of pleading emails I’ve sent them.

Compelled by curiosity, naturally, I logged in, read the ‘I’m intrigued’ notification she had purportedly sent – which stated simply ‘I’m intrigued’ and was the only allowable bit of ‘free’ communication members could have until they paid for the full privilege of unfettered contact – and then followed a link to her profile. There I discovered that she was a 38-year-old single mother, nominally Christian, somewhat apolitical, held a Master’s, and was the owner of a design studio – in California.

Perhaps the oddest thing, however, was that she had quite craftily buried an email address amidst rather a lengthy paragraph of personal information in the About Me section, thereby circumventing the monetary requirements of the site.

After a moment of consideration, I sent Vanessa74 an email wherein I thanked her for being ‘intrigued’ but politely explained that the nearly 2200 miles between us rather tended to undermine the probability of having a nice chat over a pint or few and then apologised for the fact that the doggedly obtuse web site continued to ‘match’ people of widely disparate compatibility and geographic locations. But thank you for playing.

Three hours later I received a reply thanking me for thanking her and yes how silly it was that these impossibly thick sites can’t get anything right but – since you’ve gone out of your way to respond, which most people wouldn’t do – why not tell me a little about yourself? She went on to briefly outline some of the same general information from her profile and added that she’d got her ‘BA in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh and my MA in Interior Designs from University of Central Lancashire’ and that

I am sorry if I misled you with my profile which says I am in Manhattan Beach, Ca. I have someone looking into the area for me. Manhattan Beach is somewhere I would love to have a property when I get back to the States. I will be coming to the States after taking care of a few things that is somewhat personal at this point of our communication, as it concerns my birth father.

The first of many red flags which immediately went up was the utterly appalling lack of proper verb tense – ‘a few things that is.’  How does one operate their own business, much less graduate from the University of Edinburgh or hold a Master’s Degree with such abhorrent English skills? Taking the chance that perhaps she was only just typing quickly (because not everyone can be an English major) and with some trepidation, I sent a brief reply which, very vaguely, sketched out why I had joined the dating site and asked her to elaborate, providing she felt comfortable doing so, on just where she was and why she was out of ‘the States.’ Roughly a day after she responded, explaining that

the reason why I registered on the website is to get to know someone I might end up meeting and start a serious relationship with. Presently, I am in Ogun State, Nigeria. I followed a thread from Essex, UK to Budapest,  Hungary on the quest to search for my birth father. You probably wont understand why this is so important to me but I will tell you later, if later ever comes. I gathered he owned a brewery, textile company and a few oil blocs here. I was born Hungarian, lost my mother at birth and my father put me up for adoption. I was raised by another family in Scotland. I lost my (Scottish) parent a few years ago. I have been on the quest to find my real father all my life but I decided to get back to this after loosing the people I cared so much about. I am an only child to both family, so I am all by myself with my son. While here I was contracted to decorate the interior of some govt. hotels and apartments, and quite a number of offices, ahead of the festive season. I have been on a few trips abroad to get the things needed for the job and will be returning to the States after finishing the interior decor job! 🙂

She went on to describe how her husband had been killed in a car crash in Greece a year or so after the birth of their son, Jimmy (also called Billy which, I presumed, was short for ‘Jimmy’) and that she’d finally located her birth father somewhere in a small town in Italy where he, too, was dying of an undisclosed illness. Why she was in Ogun State, Nigeria if the parent she’d searched for all these years was dying in Italy or, on the other hand, what her father was doing in Italy when he had ‘oil blocs’ and other holdings in Nigeria to maintain, was not an issue I necessarily wanted to pursue.

Over a year ago, Professor Sanuse Lamido – or Dr Pat, as he apparently preferred to be called – from Lagos had wanted to wire me $12.4 million from the Federal Republic of Nigeria providing I would submit a vast amount of personal information to him via email and I politely declined. So I was not especially eager to follow this particular thread to its preordained conclusion.

I sent a short response wishing her well and thanking her for her time and thought that would be the end of it. Another day later I received a lengthy message about how she had hoped we could maintain a correspondence, how she felt that we had some sort of connection, giving me an enormous soliloquy on what she wanted in a new relationship and enquiring as to what I was searching for.

My return email cautiously asked if she’d actually read my profile, as most of the questions she had were answered there. Her answer was that she’d been so busy of late trying to wrap up the ‘interior decor job’ that she’d not had an opportunity, plus she had closed her account because she wanted to spend more time getting to know me and was not interested in anyone else.

By this point I was increasingly suspicious and a forest of red flags were now flapping wildly in the wind. The same bit of back and forth lasted a few more days until she sent me an urgent message at 1am EST on a Sunday (or 7am West Africa Time). I was still awake at the time, having only been home from work less than three hours, and I get my Gmail messages in real time on my mobile. She pleaded that I get on Yahoo chat as quickly as possible – sending me her screen name to type in – as something horrid had just happened.

Mm-hm.

I found her on Yahoo in seconds and asked what had happened. It was horrible. Just awful. Jimmybilly had taken ill late the previous evening (or roughly 5pm EST) and, because ‘The Driver’ had taken the night off, Vanessa had been forced to drive herself into town to acquire vital medicines. Here she was robbed at gunpoint and everything was taken from her. A short while later, Billyjimmy was rushed to hospital with a case of gallstones but the mean, wretched doctors refused to do anything for him until she made a substantial down-payment for his life-or-death operation and could I please just wire her a few thousand dollars to help?

Not wanting to sound insensitive, I enquired as to whether it was possible for her to withdraw the money from her savings. Granted the thief had taken her purse and her wallet but surely she had placed the needed telephone calls to her bank to stop her credit cards being used but she could still have them issue a cheque for the required sum. Or perhaps she’d be able to convince the government to pay her for the decor she’d done for them.

No, no, it was all tragically going pear shaped and Jibillimy was going to be the next important person in her life to die and oh can’t you please send me something?

No, dear, I can’t. Firstly, it’s one o’clock in the morning and I’ve no means of doing so. Secondly, had you in fact read the bit of personal information I’d sent you, you would be aware that I’ve got nothing to send to you even if I did have access to means of wiring you cash – at one o’clock in the morning. And have I mentioned yet that it’s one o’clock in the morning here? On a Sunday?

‘OK,’ she wrote. ‘I hope things get better for you. Bye for now.’

And that was the last contact I had with her.

About two weeks later, just a few days ago as of this writing, I received another of the typical daily email alerts regarding the many ‘new members’ who had recently joined one of the the sites and with whom I might take a fancy and, of course, a few of them had visited my profile and been ‘intrigued.’ dating-4Amongst those so smitten was a familiar face with an entirely new name and profile – apart from the now easily recognisable glamour shot.

I sat and stared for quite a while until, once again compelled by curiosity, I logged in, read the ‘I’m intrigued’ notification she had purportedly sent, and then followed the link to her profile. There I discovered that she was a 38-year-old single mother, nominally Christian, somewhat apolitical, held a Master’s, and was the owner of a design studio – in Washington DC.

And, just like before, buried amidst a lengthy About Me segment was a craftily-placed email address.

Doing a short internet search for ‘Nigerian money scams’ and cross-referencing both of her email addresses, I quickly learnt that this person had more than 75 identities scattered across the web. I provided a copy of this information in a bemused email to the administrative contact of the site in question and reported her profile as fictitious. After that I closed all my accounts.

But I also sent this email:

My Dearest Vanessa,

I’m so glad to see you are still intrigued by my profile and that you haven’t given up on our special new relationship! Thankfully it seems you’ve managed to get out of Nigeria and move back to the States, but did California not work out after all? Did you finally get paid for your government decorating job? Did Jimmy or Billy finally manage to struggle heroically back to health after his tragic brush with death? Did you finally get all of your financial troubles sorted out?  Are you still called ‘Vanessa’ this time? Oh my god I was so worried!  Please write soon!  

‘If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything,’ Marilyn Monroe once said. I doubt Vanessa is is laughing but, then again, neither is anyone else…

Alia Ratio Absentis

Although I had originally intended to save part of this post for an alluded-to ‘another time,’ it tends to mesh very well with – and runs somewhat parallel to – elements of the recently posted Trilogy of Terror you skipped over because it had nothing to do with Bobby Flay. So I felt that sticking it here as an ‘afterward’ might be appropriate. Part of the reason I chose to do so is that I happened to stumble across an episode of Food Network’s tedious and cut-rate version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares called Restaurant: Impossible starring Robert Irvine as Gordon Ramsay and it struck a bit of a raw nerve, and thus I share it with you.

The episode itself, like most of Restaurant: Impossible, is irrelevant but, just in case you’re interested and feel the need to fact check, it was the episode in which the most intrepid celebrity chef tries to make over a ‘dive bar’ in Wilmington, Delaware called Scrimmages Restaurant & Sporting Pub (ridiculously described as a  ‘Mexican Sports Bar’).

What matters from the episode, what’s relevant here, is that there were four people involved in the business: one person who had the knowledge and experience of years in the restaurant business who ran the day to day operations and three investors – or silent partners – who knew nothing about what was happening, had no concept of how things worked, and who sat in their offices at their day jobs and whined about how the ‘revenue stream’ they’d invested in was drying up and all the while made no tangible effort to amend the situation.

Robert Irvine quite correctly pointed out to them that ‘silent partners’ are pointless because they have no investment in a business apart from cash – and ‘investment’ means your own personal hands-on involvement in and commitment to the success of the business, not just expecting someone else to pour their time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into it and provide you with additional income. The working partner was criticised by the investors for not, in their limited view, understanding the basics of ‘Restaurant 101’ and they, in turn, were told that frequently dining out does not make them particularly knowledgeable of the industry either. In the end, Robert Irvine had the best comment of the programme when he told the investors,‘You guys may be great at what you do at your own business, but you suck at this business.’

The situation depicted at Scrimmages had a similarity – or simularity, if you cannot enunciate correctly – rather eerily reminiscent of the situation I’d eventually found myself in at the coffeehouse; a situation which, along with several other elements, helped precipitate the oft-mentioned spectacular unravelling. I don’t want to travel too far afield of the present subject and detract from the promised Coffeehouse-Only Post (or posts which it could, in all likelihood, be) but a smallish bit of background is in order to put this into the proper context:

orson-cartIn what could be considered a classic It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time move, we (that would be me and my other now former partner) took on, at rather a difficult period, a ‘silent partner’ or investor in the form of Orson Cart. The long details of that decision are not important here. Orson, as we had been lead to understand, had – once upon a time – attended an unnamed hospitality management school in some unnamed area of Switzerland where he had enjoyed being a member of the swim team. I say ‘attended’ because I honestly hadn’t a clue if he’d actually graduated from this place or not. I also hadn’t any idea why it was he attended school in Switzerland, though I believe, after having ‘worked’ with him for a while, I can better understand.

There was a certain air of artifice round Orson – and to a lesser degree round his wife and daughter, all three of whom had been previous customers of our shop – which I’d always found irritating and vaguely suspect but I opted to ignore it at the time because we needed the help. It manifested itself, this artifice, in sort of a wide-eyed, convivial, grandfatherly, doddering old nutty professor affectation which, after some time, I was only capable of stomaching for short periods or, more frequently, not at all.

Orson had gone pair-shaped in many ways over the years, the Swiss swim team member now lost inside a portly middle aged body. He sported tiny round wire-rimmed glasses, a grey pony-tail which hung down to below his chubby buttocks, a long grey beard, and – perhaps worst of all – a serious funk. And I don’t mean in his mood. Rather it was the deep-down unclean fragrance one might usually associate with the Amish; an old sweat, dry urine ammonia-like, stale corn chip, wet horse stink which made your eyes water if you got too close. And his feigned professorial demeanour would very often drift into an arrogant condescension which was not only an affront to most people on the receiving end but simply incredibly discourteous. I thought it perfectly obvious he suffered delusions of Godhood which did surprisingly little to endear him to others – most especially me. And if you haven’t noticed it just yet after all the years of blog entries on the very subject, I’m not particularly fond of people with entitlement issues.

Orson, like the investors at Scrimmages, not only sucked at the coffee business but often criticised (and, to be fair, not entirely without reason) the management of the  shop – and that would be my other business partner – and complained regularly about the diminishing revenue without actively participating in putting that finely honed Swiss swim team training to use in solving the issues. ‘Polishing the silverware’ as his wife described it – which meant an excessive amount of time fiddling about with utterly counterproductive trivialities – was Orson’s speciality, as was pontificating about how I, personally, wasn’t doing nearly enough to ensure the success of the business.

There came a point (the specifics of which I hope to enlarge upon eventually) when Orson ceased being even a peripheral participant in our business and, for want of a better term, simply vanished. And to clarify: ‘our’ business means the coffeehouse. Orson had, on his own, struck up a deal with a local church to provide a ‘coffee cart’ for them during special events. (They had frequent concerts and a large following for their Open Mic night and, being an all-ages sort of place, had need of such a service). I had provided Orson with my own catering-sized travelling espresso machine for this purpose and he organised arranging the set-up.

As another aside, you must bear in mind that the full rich details are being left on the editing room floor for the moment. The enormity of what was happening at this time was absolutely staggering. It is said that you have to pick your battles and, as I was beginning to sink into a mire of embezzlement, lies, deception, cheating, indifference, loads of passive-aggressive behaviour, and theft – plus the fact that I was managing a Dribble & Whizz store 50+ hours a week and then, shortly thereafter, searching for a new job rather abruptly after 15 years – I had quite foolishly (I will admit) chosen not to take on this small skirmish with Orson over his little ‘coffee cart’ because it seemed, on the face of it, and given the grander scheme of things, to be relatively innocuous. At first.

There were a number of issues which arose, however. One, we – the coffeehouse as a business entity – soon stopped seeing revenue from the coffee cart. Two, a number of very loyal customers (and some very good personal friends of mine privy to much of the ‘inside information’) began calling me or sending me emails to complain about the horrid drinks, ridiculous pricing, and astonishingly poor and profoundly malodorous service they were getting at ‘my’ coffee cart at whatever venue they would encounter it – because it had apparently begun to travel away from the womb of the church and  had suddenly been staffed by people I had never heard of. People, as it turned out, from competitive coffeehouses. Yet another issue for later…

Though I made numerous attempts to contact Orson regarding this situation as the complaints came in, I received silence in reply. And, as I said, one must pick their battles. By October 2008, as the doors of the coffeehouse closed for the final time, I had – apart from two occasions – not seen or spoken to Orson in nearly four months, but not for a lack of trying. It was clear he’d been sneaking about, however, as there were several occasions where we would arrive at the shop to discover product had gone missing or – as we were starting to clear the building for our inevitable closing – that he had come round to fetch whatever might have belonged to him whilst we were away.

And that was the end. By the 2008 holiday season I was officially the Greatly Vilified Honky in Residence at one of the Liqu-O-Rama stores in The Hood – because I had the audacity to have taken away a job that so many of the locals could have had (if they had, you know, only thought about actually applying for it or anything) – standing in a potential shooting gallery behind a cheap, spit-covered Plexiglas (and therefore not bullet-proof) panel and my life was generally falling apart at the seams.

It seems Oolon Colluphid and I have long shared the same burning question: Who is this ‘God’ person anyway? We tend to ask this question because many religions and Paul Simon will gladly tell you that

God only knows

God makes his plan

The information’s unavailable to the mortal man

And, well, frankly, that’s not really a sufficient answer. What sort of benevolent deity sits back, does nothing, and watches with a contented smile as good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people? Either way it seems a bad lot for the good people because they do, after all, finish last, do they not? And apparently ‘the last shall be first’ only after they have provided years of side-splitting amusement by clawing and scratching their way through a thankless existence and are dead. So, sure. That seems fair. Thanks, God. And I mention this because of what comes next…

Flash forwards (oh, yes, you’re most welcome) to early March 2011. If you read the Trilogy of Terror, then you know precisely the state I was in – mentally, emotionally, financially, and physically. One fine cold Tuesday morning around 10am, I got a text off an old friend I’d not heard from in more than a year – Helena Handbasket (a name perhaps familiar to both long-time readers). It said:

So I Took a friend to work and ended up taking kegs and pizzas to C2G1… Orson is there with Dragon’s Keep2 teas and coffees. With the labels right on them!

I stared for a very long time at the screen on my phone.

A very long time indeed.

And then I exploded.

I kicked things over. I threw things. I broke things. I went on a right screaming and considerably violent rampage.

When I was finished, I got on Facebook – because I knew I could not make it through a telephone call with anything even remotely approaching civility – and searched for Orson. (No, odd as it may seem, we were not Facebook friends. My contempt for him and his underhanded methods negated any reason I could have possibly had for being his ‘friend,’ even a pretend one on the internet). Once I located him, I sent a message to him, including in it a copy of Helena’s text message and expressing my outrage at his behaviour and astonishment at his presumption. I fully acknowledged that I had neither been in contact with him since the closing of the shop – but, then again, he’d certainly not bothered to contact me in any way, even in the months leading up to the closing – nor had I given a great deal of thought as to the present whereabouts of my portable espresso maker (certainly a lapse on my part, I admit) but I’d been rather preoccupied with fighting foreclosure on my home, facing bankruptcy, job loss and, generally speaking, far weightier and far more pressing issues.

Honestly, had he even the slightest modicum of integrity he ought to have returned the espresso machine to me of his own volition and not expected me to come fetch it. Additionally, I made it abundantly clear that he had no legal right to sell product or conduct business of any kind under the guise of the former business – especially without my involvement – any more than I had a legal right to sell Starbucks for my own benefit. Finally I wrote that ‘Unless you intend to include me, as the owner of the business, in your current venture, you need to immediately cease operation.’

Two days later I got this response:

Geo,
How surprised I am to hear from you after all this time.
Yes, I still do a concession for C2G for 4 hours once or
twice a month to provide the café atmosphere for the venue.
There’s not really any money in it but it does let me keep
my hand in. I’m sorry to hear of your recent troubles.
I Acknowledge and will address your concerns shortly.

You condescending fucking prick, I thought.  Was this supposed to be some sort of consolation to me that it was just some little thing he was doing a few hours ‘once or twice a month’ as if it was a favour to the church? Needless to say he did not address my concerns, shortly or otherwise. After days of waiting and getting only silence (as usual) I wrote again, essentially reiterating my point and flatly demanding that he respond.

He did not.

As you might recall, I previously mentioned people getting their dream jobs handed to them on silver platters. One of those people – a friend for more than 30 years – just so happened to have landed a posh position at C2G despite having no actual training or expertise in the area for which he was hired, because that’s how things work, isn’t it? Carl Jung’s notion of Synchronicity made breathtakingly manifest. So I called him and explained the situation as succinctly as I could. ‘What I want,’ I told him at the end, ‘is to be let into the church so I can get back my property.’  The inevitable mewling and wringing of the hands on his part came down to this: they really hated Orson – I mean really completely utterly despised him and his foul odour and his snail’s pace – and the public complain incessantly about him and his terrible drinks. But, darn it all, he’s the only option they have at the moment and they just couldn’t ‘change boats in mid-stream’ so if I wanted to get the espresso machine back I would have to talk to Orson sometime when the church was open – for example right before a concert or something when he’s setting up shop. And anyway, they just didn’t want to get involved.

It had already been a bad winter. On top of all the other things, a new coffeehouse was preparing to open in the original location of The Keep – a building I poured my heart and several thousand dollars into only to get totally sodomised over later – two other coffeehouses had recently introduced ‘new’ items which they didn’t even have the decency to thinly veil as being directly stolen from my menu (in one case almost a word for word plagiarism) and this snivelling feckless behaviour from the church and the swaggering arrogance of Orson was just about too much for me to tolerate.

So on a Friday evening, about an hour prior to a concert, I arrived at the church to confront Orson. As I swept past my friend’s office he came toddling after me with a look of horror on his face and begged me not to cause a scene. I assured him that I would not and reminded him as politely as I could that he had rather submissively pissed away his chance to avoid this encounter.

Orson saw me approaching and skittered away like the perfect cockroach into the safety of the Staff Only area. I stood quietly at the serving counter, watching him ‘polish the silverware’ with his back to me for about as long as I could manage in all good conscience – perhaps ten minutes – and then finally, sharply, and yet not too terribly loudly so as not to cause a scene, barked: ‘Orson.

He very nearly leapt from his Birkenstocks and spun round, wide-eyed and confused. ‘Oh!’ he feigned surprise, pushing his glasses back up his nose. ‘Why hello, Geo. I was wondering if you would show up tonight.’

‘Were you? So you have my machine ready to go for me, then?’

‘Well, I’m afraid you can’t have that,’ he said rather darkly. ‘Not until my investment is returned to me.’

And it deteriorated from there.

There’s a scene in the film American History X where someone is told to lie down in the street and place their open mouth on the edge of a curb at which point they are kicked in the back of the head, an act which destroys their mouth and shatters their skull. That scene played out in my head in glorious slow motion Techicolor® wide screen each time he spoke.

I explained to him that, as an investor, he gambled on the success of the business and lost. He lost because he sat on his copious backside and did sweet fuck all no matter how much I pleaded with him for help, no matter how often I reached out to him with  thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. He lost because he knowingly and wilfully chose to perpetrate and maintain a conflict of interest by providing goods and services – for his own personal financial benefit – to several other coffeehouses (under the pretence of what he classified as ‘advertising’) to the overall detriment of the business with which he was, at least in theory, partnered. ‘You forfeited your rights as both an investor and business partner,’ I told him, ‘the very second you disappeared and started fucking us over.’

I had nothing but questions: How are you running what is ostensibly my business with no officially registered DBA3?  Better still, how could you have a proper, legal DBA for Dragon’s Keep Café when that DBA and the attached Corporation were both registered in my name three years before you became a partner – paperwork, I might hasten to add, upon which your name appears nowhere? How are you claiming taxes? Are you claiming taxes? Do you realise that, because you were a ‘silent partner’ whose name is not associated in any legal way with The Keep, that you are creating a liability for me, both personally and legally? Whose Tax ID are you using? Is it the one I paid for and registered with the IRS? Are you really so fucking retarded and so gallingly obtuse to believe that unless you stop what you’re doing right this instant that I’m not going to find a way to grind you out of existence the very second I have the chance?

In short his answer was, ‘I’ve got to get set up, Geo. The doors open in about fifteen minutes and I’m just so far behind because of this. I’ll contact you, though, and we can discuss this at a more apropos time.’

And he turned his back to me and once again set about the pointless task of polishing the silverware, leaving me to stare in disbelief at the back of his large bovine head and watch his metre-long grey pony tail swish from side to side.

And, quite unfortunately, there is no satisfying ending to this tale. It stands now just exactly as it did that day in March. Because, though it may likely come as some shock to discover, Orson has not bothered to pinpoint a ‘more apropos time’ just yet. Apart from two more attempts to get a response from him via messaging, I have opted for a more subversive route – posting a wee tiny bare-bones version of this account to the Facebook groups in which he has some active involvement and requesting that they not continue to advocate and support a fraud. Why? Because I can. And also because I can’t afford an attorney, after my bankruptcy, to fight him through the courts.

I did, however, ensure that my former company – and the DBA – have been dissolved legally (and also the web site and the old MySpace account have been dismantled) and that the original Tax ID is no longer viable. Just in case.

A returning reader recently contacted me and expressed amazement that I can keep fighting after all the shit that’s been piled on me over the last few years. It would be disingenuous to say I don’t really think about it, because I do. A lot. That’s part of the reason this blog exists: it’s my Time Out Chair, my Wailing Wall, my own particular brand of cynical, sarcastic and inescapably dark Primal Scream Therapy whether anyone out there chooses to play along or not – and usually they don’t, as you can often see or, rather, not see as the case may be.

One long-standing axiom of mine, something I’ve mentioned before, something taken from one of my all time favourite film soliloquies is that ‘maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.’  So, for whatever strange and curious reasons, I keep on tilting at those windmills. (Did you need a tissue?)

But humans are, despite what we like to think, just animals. Most animals go happily or indifferently about, busying themselves with the day-to-day business of whatever it is animals keep themselves busy with – foraging for food, building a soft cosy place to live, licking their genitalia – but when they get backed into a corner, even the most docile of animals will hiss and spit and go all feral on your ass. And I’ve been backed into a corner about as much as I’m willing to take these days.

Of course humans aren’t satisfied with merely the survival of the fittest. It’s not good enough for some that the slowest or the weakest get left behind to perish. No, humans are really the only species in which certain members actively seek the best possible ways to make absolutely sure that the slowest or the weakest are not only left behind, but that they are made all the more miserable, exhausted, and destitute for it before they perish. I think Sigourney Weaver sums it up best in the classic James Cameron film Aliens when she says ‘You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.’

 

Notes:

1.  Come 2 Go, more popularly called C2G amongst the ‘in crowd,’ is the somewhat silly name of the church.

2.  Dragon’s Keep – for those just joining the party – was the name of the shop. It was named as such because I have often been called a dragon due to my somewhat short and flaring temper. It was also modelled, after a fashion, after some of my favourite coffeehouses and pubs in Scotland and England (a big shout out to the folks at The London Tavern in Carlisle!) and was combined with my own often obscure brand of humour. The name, I felt, embodied the concept I was after. For various reasons to be explained at another time, the name was later changed to Hill-O-Beans Coffeehouse.

3. Doing Business As, if you weren’t sure.