LISTEN!

Words: STEPHEN BAXENDALE
February 17, 2013

Listen. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the others. On the way home from work I stopped off at CHICKEN PALACE for one of their £1 snack boxes. The snack box is made of flimsy paper, a few undefinable pieces of deep fried meat are thrown in and then the box is crammed […]


Listen. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the others.

On the way home from work I stopped off at CHICKEN PALACE for one of their £1 snack boxes. The snack box is made of flimsy paper, a few undefinable pieces of deep fried meat are thrown in and then the box is crammed to the brim with fries that have been fried and refried over and over throughout the night.

‘Two pounds,’ the man behind the counter says.

‘Are you out of your mind?!’ I said ‘These have always been a pound, I rely on these cheap calories to survive. I’m a writer, not a banker’.

‘Two pounds. It’s the recession,’ He says.

‘You fucking burglar,’ I mumble, paying the man and taking my greasy box.

I was heading home and into a den of weasels. Listen, when I say Liverpool is full of weasels, hopeless dreamers, fuckups and failures, I’m really not talking about you, I’m talking about everyone else. If you’re reading this and you’re in a band I’m sure that one day soon you’ll get signed and you’ll get a big record deal. I’m sure that if you’re an artist or a photographer soon you’ll get that recognition you deserve and your work will hang in white walled galleries and people holding champagne flutes will pontificate about your work. I’m sure if you run a small business/bar/magazine your hard work will pay off and you won’t have to be a wage slave or live off the benefit system. If you’re a writer you’ll probably finish that novel and your name will decorate the inside of the very prestigious Paris Review. You’ll get that promotion and sit in your leatherette chair hiring and firing the people you used to work with. Your lottery numbers will come up. You’ll…. Whatever. I’m talking about the hangers on, not you, honestly.

As I walked home I knew that the weasels were there for a number of reasons. For one, a biker looking guy with a mohawk walked past me in the street carrying my microwave. I was being burgled for the second time in ten minutes. Another reason was I could hear the baseline of the music they were playing as I came up the road. Then as I came to the front door there was, passed out on my step, an art student with an asymmetrical haircut.

The main reason I knew these people would be there is because Ishmael, my flatmate, and I actively encouraged these parties. We liked having these leeches around because it supposedly reminded us that we were better. I was a psedu-published author and he was a local man of business. No one was quite sure what his business was, but it seemed to make him some legitimate money. He always wore a ragged black suit tucked into knee high lizard skin cowboy boots. He had a long beard and even longer black hair. In his office he had a mounted gun behind his desk, which he claimed to be Chekov’s actual gun; he said you could see where it had gone rusty from where Chekov had pistol-whipped Dostoevsky for stealing Stalin’s dog. By day he stormed around Liverpool at high speed, having meetings and discussions, letting this, borrowing that; Determined to carve a place for himself in this world, determined to not spend his life making money for the already rich. We had first met by mistake, a case of mistaken identity. He had chased me down the street thinking I was a debtor of his. I ran assuming he was one of my lenders. We quickly realised our errors and got to know one another. Moving in together was another mistake entirely. We were sure that we were on the cusp of greatness and that we wouldn’t be looking up at the stars from the gutter for much longer; we’d be flying about the sky like Han Solo and Chewy in no time. We had slummed together for two years and all that had seemed to change was that we’d found some shovels to dig the gutter a little deeper.

Attracting these weasels is not difficult, simply because they have nowhere else to go. No money for bars and pubs so they spend their lives in house parties skimming beer and bumming cigarettes. And there are a lot of them. They are legion. They’re anonymous. But they do forget and they do forgive so that no matter how often you throw them out, they’ll always come back when you need them to. If you live in the city centre, all it takes is a few texts here and there, an update on Facebook, a line on twitter and hundreds of the bastards will storm your house like something from “Zulu”.

I stepped over the potentially dead art student and into my flat. The corridor was tightly crammed with sweating, smoking and drinking bodies and any movement would send a ripple through the crowd. A man with a marker pen drew intricate patterns on the wall. He wept the entire time. Two men pushed each other hopelessly trying to start the world’s smallest mosh pit. A makeshift DJ booth was set up at the end of the corridor. A pale DJ with large black pupils played music so loud that the walls shimmered. He had neon lights set up and they flashed red and blue on his pallid face as he insistently and manically flipped through his CD collection, as if he were looking for some magical song which he could never find.
I started elbowing my way through the crowd, gripping my box of grease, aiming towards the kitchen, where the real action would be taking place.

There were maybe one hundred people in the kitchen. Some strutting around in skinny ill-fitting clothes. Some sitting on work surfaces with dreadlocks, smoking joints and talking utter shit. Some standing, leaning their weight on one leg, talking or waiting for their turn to speak. When I looked a little closer into the throng of people my eyes were gangbanged by sights of depravity. Seeing sights that even Ross Kemp would be unable to fully come to grips with. A man masturbated in the corner of the room as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Young girls made makeshift drinks by going around pouring the dregs of pints into plastic cups, regardless of spit, urine or cigarette butts. A faded pop star sat on a plastic chair with his pants around his ankles injecting something into his thigh while a middle aged woman watched. She shrieked with delight the entire time.

Ishmael stood on his stool in the middle of the kitchen, the ringleader in this circus of hell. Still wearing his boots, he had replaced his suit with a stained white sheet, wrapped tightly around his body, roman style. He preached to the crowd from his mount, excitedly waving a bottle of green liquid. He spat abuse at the mass of people and they laughed because they assumed that he was joking. Our eyes met and he stepped down and put his arm around my shoulder.

‘This is the only honest man in Liverpool,’ he said to no one in particular and gestured the bottle towards me.

‘Tonight’s crowd seem particularly terrible,’ I said, taking a swig out of the bottle and then gagging at the vile taste.

‘Potent isn’t it?’ He said ‘This is a far superior drink to absinthe. Van Gough would have sawed his damn legs off after one whiff of this. It’s brewed from something called Kratom. It’s authentic, there’s even a little pickled worm at the bottom of the bottle. I don’t know what Kratom is, but in Thailand they execute you on the spot for possession of it’.

‘I imagine you can get executed on the spot in Thailand for a lot of the things happening in this flat.

‘I hope so,’ said Ishmael.

I spotted Munaf drinking a bottle of Perno. He vomited on his own crotch and then continued drinking as if nothing had happened. I heard him grumble a single word to himself. My fridge had been pushed over onto its side and two skateboarder looking kids were ceaselessly beating on it with sticks. People scratched at our tables with knives and pens. People rifled through our cupboards, harvesting precious noodles and tea bags.

‘These people,’ I said taking another swig of the bottle ‘These people are our friends? Who are these fucking people? Where do they come from? What did we do to deserve this? I never knew that if I went off the beaten track it would be like this. All I wanted was an interesting life. I just didn’t want to grow old watching Britain’s Got Talent and getting fat off Tesco ready meals. Kerouac made it sound easy’.

Ishmael had long stopped listening to me. I saw his eyes move rapidly. He had spotted an aging hipster girl, with low self-esteem and drunken eyes. His exact type. ‘You’ll have to excuse me. I’m a man of business, with business to attend to. You can keep that bottle,’ He walked over to the girl, turning to me to say ‘try and enjoy yourself, things will change, we’re on the edge’.

The edge of what though, precisely? Fame? Madness? Incarceration? Nobody knew or cared.

I walked back into the corridor. A couple were having sex against the wall, seven people stood around watching in a spectrum of moods raging from disgust to arousal. The girl dug her painted black nails into his back and the man’s pelvis moved irregularly.

I went to my bedroom door. I’d recently reinforced it with several locks and bolts. It was still secure and safe. I could have gone in and had some peace. I didn’t. I didn’t deserve it.

I moved through the crowd to the doorway of the living room. I was about to open the door with an exploratory hand but thought better of it. The light had long since been broken or stolen and the room had casually drifted into a place for people to have no holds barred sex. The stench of it was incredible. I backed away knowing that if I opened the door I would see sex in every conceivable position, and some positions that shouldn’t even exist. I could be driven mad on the spot by the Lovecraftian horror of it and I’d be found weeks later wanking in a bus stop in Slough.

I went into the spare room and sat down on a sodden mouldy couch, next to a sodden and mouldy human being. I lit myself a cigarette and looked out at the crowd. I poured a little of the green liquid into a dirty paper cup. I looked at the sad little pickled worm at the bottom of the bottle. ‘You got off easy,’ I said to him, I passed the bottle to a member of the blur of socialites, freeloaders and wankers and they took it thanklessly.

I am so sick of these fucking people. Fuck the unpublished poets. Fuck that robbing bastard at CHICKEN PALACE. Fuck the tumblr photographers. Fuck the Facebook philosophers and the twitter event organisers. Don’t even get me started on the Youtube musicians because they make the bloggers look good. Fuck that little worm at the bottom of my drink. Fuck the kids cycling on push bikes to vintage shops with their iPhones in the pocket of their Barbour coats. Fuck Dan Brown and his bookshelves of pre-made formula thrillers. Fuck George Orwell while we’re at it too. Bumming around Paris and London for a few months and now he’s got a Wikipedia page and published novels. Try two years with rats and lizard skin cowboy boots storming around your corridors. Why can’t I have a Wikipedia page? I’m talented, attractive, charming. I’ve swam through the shitty toilet of the lowlife culture. I’d punch Orwell in the fucking face if the lucky bastard wasn’t already dead.
But, listen, I’m really not talking about you or Orwell, you’re like me. You’ll get yourself together. We’re just on the cusp. We’re all on the cusp.

I sat on the couch, smoking my cigarettes and eating my greasy dinner. How did it get to this? I asked myself. This couch? This shitty re-fried food? These shitty re-fried recycled personalities that bounce around in my house? This poisonous green booze? This crowd of fair-weather friends? I had been on a cusp once before and I could have been anything, an accountant, a doctor, even a damn banker. Everything was so planned. Now nothing was certain and anything was possible.
The kid next to me asked if I had a spare cigarette, I lied and told him ‘absolutely not’. I crumpled a couple of Ritalin into my drink to keep me awake until morning, I’ll sleep in work, I thought, where it’s safe.
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