Friday, February 8, 2013

Chapter 2: The Auld Dubliner


Aldous Huxley, using the anomalously engineered Bernard Marx as a pretext, shared a distinctive observation on friendships: “One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.” And no punishment is more wounding than the excavation and presentation of one’s flaws, that one who is up to speed on all other secrets. For all the hours my girlfriend Yaren spends in front of the mirror trying to look so excessively beautiful that returns begin to diminish, I would be pleasantly surprised if she, even for a fleeting instant, saw herself as the vain subsidized ignoramus that Summers and others lampooned. No amount of narcissism can perforate the veil that guards against self-scrutiny. Why, it in fact thickens it! So could I subject her to my Huxley-punishment without interfering with our prosperous, increasingly blasphemous, almost bonobo-like love making? Psycho-analysis between lovers is suicidal and undarwinian. Why else are our genitalia and brain separated by every other important organ?

Summers once told me that “if your love life can be articulated by just a series of Nickelback songs, you have wasted your time.” Summers was swifter with his punishments, and for some reason that defies my lexicon, I admired him for that. I also hated him for that, in a non-contradictory way, if you know what I mean. No? Precisely!

And keeping with the fuzzy logic of relationships, Yaren is the loveliest creature to have simultaneously won my utmost passionate loathing. All equilibrium is the balancing of competing forces. Its stability, only our unfree will determines.

Summers saw Yaren, justifiably, for what she displayed. She talks so loud as to challenge the reach of small megaphones. She smiles with such a width as to force it on others’ faces, unwilling or willing, out of courtesy or for the possibility of sex.  Respectively. Her limited vocabulary is reminiscent of Orwell’s Newspeak; the same adjective used with integer-like prefixes. Good. So good. Sooo good. Soooooo good. Fucking good. Sure, Turkish is her first language, but that fact only invites my shallowest of sympathies. Why did she choose a Greek with whom she could speak only in the handicap of English? Did she not feel she was forsaking the most integral aspect of development, namely self-expression? Tone deaf. Paint resistant. Obtuse in matters of science. Numb to history. Literature, to be generous, limited to celebrity gossip. Where is the self-expression? Upon the subtraction of language?

My agnosticism irritates Summers. “You’re worse than the clerics because you facilitate them with the benefit of the doubt!” And although I’m sympathetic to some of their doctrines on certain occasions, these are staggeringly outnumbered by their egregious conduct in many others. Yaren was brought up in a house that believed in reinstating the Caliphate. Which is why I take refuge in something my father never told me, but Nick Carraway’s did, in the opening lines of the Great Gatsby: “Whenever you feel like criticizing someone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” Or have had the disadvantages you’ve never had! For Yaren, even if she refuses to pledge her allegiance to the Islamo-fascists, has clearly been hollowed out by her religion, valued, it seems (excuse the grotesque imagery) only for her fertility.

All her life worshipped for her genetically inherited anatomical proportions. Only. Exclusively. Entirely. (Remember Daisy reliving her delivery to Carraway?: “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool - that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.") Flowers from strangers everyday, hoping desperately to sample, in not necessarily dignified ways, that pleasure attainable only from the warmth of the carvings of Nature herself! So it is that my curse carries with it this blessing. We’ve gone steady for two years and have even discussed marriage on two occasions! I could fill her with wisdom and vanquish the vanity society demands of her. I could teach her English, see her breathless under the Northern Lights, amaze her with Bernini, shock her with Kathakali and if Britain rightfully returned the Elgin marbles, take her home to revel in the reconstituted Parthenon! We would be self appointed ambassadors for our countries, showing the world that the inflamed strain between Greece and Turkey belongs to a darker time of the past. We, the moral exemplars of international diplomacy! Look how man has graduated from Crusades and Genocides; surely this lustful relationship has the potential to blossom into a lovely family with lovely children with lovely ambitions. Who is this cosmic debris called Summers to bully me into conducting a moral biopsy of Yaren, this gem that hides behind me from the jealous gaze of Aphrodite herself! He can go on distributing his overpriced cigarettes to the homeless of Los Angeles and snuggling in the cold binding of Plato’s Republic!

In the brownish orange dimness and the working class stench of the Auld Dubliner is where I chose to spend my last moments with Summers. I was leaving Los Angeles to begin the New Year with my conscription service of six months and then resume the promise that love is notorious for withdrawing. Yaren was driving me to the airport, on the way to which we stopped to rendezvous with Summers for a last cheers. The Hooligans were not playing their usual Irish cacophony tonight and I was hoping they would, as it would avert any confrontation between Yoko Ono and Non-Lennon, who was unusually well-groomed, his eyes were not sunken, his sweater lint-free, his hair gently curling away from the back of his neck with the luster of some cheap hair gel. We sat around the brightest lit table and ordered two whiskies on ice (Yaren didn't drink), consciously deciding to partake in Summers’ strict choice of beverage in an act of childish solidarity.

And suddenly, breaking through our persiflage, it happened! “I’ve decided to become a teacher Chris,” she suggested as though her coke was hard alcohol in disguise. It would be apt to introduce another stunning fact at this juncture. Yaren was a PhD student in Electrical Engineering at UCLA, something I was desperately ashamed of. More of the academic system than her, in all fairness. Before my jaw could drop to its full anatomical permission, Summers cleared his throat with, “I take it that you’re rallying for Presidency with your newly formed political party as well?”. Snide remarks are laced with just the right amount of humor to distract Yaren from the deep-seated insult, I prayed. “Haha,” she vapidly responded, once again resorting to giggles instead of words. She looked at me like a Ronald Reagan hopelessly gaping at his fellow Republicans upon uttering the word “Nigger”, querying internally, “what’s all the fuss about?”. “Well, I’m happy you’ve made your decision,” I said pretending to take no hit and strengthened her resolve with a peck on the forehead and a tight clasp of her farthest shoulder. “Since when have you been plotting against  young truth seekers,” Summers provoked. And just as a gush of reptilian hatred began to course through his veins, a weak maternal instinct percolated through mine.
“I want to teach in College.”
“And pray tell which subject?”
“Electromagnetic fields.”
“Ha! I’ve seen your head covered more by a hijab than a book.”

This was Summers the Universe's appointed asshole speaking, but I had grown so accustomed to his manners, that the insensitive misogynistic slurs rolled off my exterior as easily as they did off his tongue. Leaving her to defend herself was equivalent to saying “Wait, I’ll get the camera!” while she’s flailing for her life in a pool of piranhas. But it would be interesting to see how she defends herself, I must admit with the guilt of a pervert. The funeral oration of Pericles rang loud in my head, silencing any whimpers of a possible rescue operation: “Having judged that to be happy means to be free , and to be free means to be brave, do not shy away from the risks of war.”
“You don’t have to read so many books to teach. If you understand the material, that’s enough.”
“Indeed. So let me pose to you a puzzle clearly beneath your erudition. If I attached a giant horseshoe magnet to the front of your car parked outside, with its poles facing the front of the car, would it move? Lets assume your car is made up of some ferromagnetic material.”
It was hard to tell if Summers was more confident on the subject or on Yaren’s incompetence. I shared Summers’ passion for science, at least a fraction of it. The principles of free enquiry embodied in the Socratic method stand tall and majestic however prickly they seem to any sentiment. By deploying arbiters on the code of dialogue, we lose sight of the original question and focus counter-productively on intentions. Any self-respecting student of physics can see that the question is a curve ball. It had nothing to do with electricity and magnetism! The car would not move because of Newton’s third law! All internal forces cancel! Only external impressed forces accelerate objects!
“Impossible! The car won’t move,” she answered without a moment’s thought, to my pride.
“And why not?”
“Because the magnetic force needed to move the car is so large. Its impossible to fit such a large magnet to the car.”
My heart sank, under the weight of her goddamn fuckingly miserable unimaginative answer. I gulped down the Glenlivet and landed the ice-filled glass back with a thud, giving away my lost temper.
“What if it were possible to fit the magnet in some fantastical way! Do you think the car would move then?” I thunderously implored.
“Well yeah,” she casually confirmed with an Indian nod, ignoring my seething admonition. What was I expecting? The barman, the musicians, the sweepers, the guards on duty! Even my mother, a retired civil engineer, could be forgiven. But this aspiring Doctor of Philosophy?! She wishes to teach young minds Maxwell by trampling on Newton?! If our institutions were being burnt down by malice upstairs, they were being dismantled by stupidity downstairs.

Summers sipped his glass victoriously, his smug demeanor alerted Yaren that something was wrong. She looked back and forth between me and Summers suspiciously. Her lush lips started to hide her tiny pearly whites and revealed a silent ferocity I’d never noticed before. She was perhaps not entirely of Ottoman descent as the irises of her big bright eyes glared of a possible aristocratic Persian past, perhaps that of a princess’. Her cheeks grew red like a patch of blossoming roses in the snow. Light suddenly shot out from the corner of her eye and I could discern, to my horror, the surface of a teardrop. Tears of hers I’ve seen before, from her uniform set of tantrums, as uniform as her adjectives. But this time they spoke of a starkly different melancholy. The girl commanded celebrity indeed, but this degree must have been the only resuscitation she gave her inner self, that last opening for self-exploration and self-adjudication. And here Summers and I were pornographically blocking it shut!

Gandhi save me! I had betrayed tolerance and compassion for simple-minded moral masturbation! The fabric of a civilized society relies on those virtues above all else, and here I was attempting my selfish embroideries. Staining it with the tears of living breathing bipeds made of the same ingredients as me. Why do I let my pendulum sway to such arc-lengths? Some of us cannot fight, some cannot speak and some cannot even stand. But it is precisely those among us who are defenseless, that the law of the land protects. Prejudice should never be cited as a justification for hatred in a truly secular society. Isn't that the same basis for the freedom of expression also, the humble recognition of all truths as perceptions, however compelling to do otherwise? The demand of equipoise in our republics, requires that we surrender our inner constitutions to it first.

Her eyebrows and lips twitched alternatingly, releasing a trickle on either side of her flushed nose. My inner demons retired mischievously as I reached out my arms to comfort her. If she had rejected them then, I never would have been able to explain myself. She submitted and I hugged her tight, as tight as her rib-cage allowed, as tight as my teeth clenched, clenched at the anger I was struggling to overcome, anger at Summers, anger at myself. It is in these moments of tempestuous inner conflict, that the hardest lessons are learned, and that by itself is a worthy lesson to remember. And although I hadn't come any closer to understanding what love was, I realized what it wasn't.

Summers got up seeming almost oblivious to my revelations and unwilling to placate Yaren in any way. With an inscrutable smile, he stuck his arm out, “Well. I’ll leave you two to go. Congratulations on completing your masters in chemical engineering. Good luck for your participation in warfare and complicity in the dissolution of Europe. And stay hungry, but not for everything. I’ve heard Marine dick is the saltiest.” Shrouding his unknown interiors, was this thick emulsion of slimy obscenity. What was Summers afraid to share? Or did he share so much that nothing was his alone? I shook his hand and saw him walk away to the bar to get himself another whisky, taking note of the Yes classic softly playing in the background:

Move yourself 
You always live your life 
Never thinking of the future 
Prove yourself 
You are the move you make 
Take your chances win or loser 

See yourself 
You are the steps you take 
You and you - and that's the only way 

Shake shake yourself 
You're every move you make 
So the story goes 

Yaren opened her mouth to say “bye”, but her strength hadn’t replenished to complete the syllable. We turned around to leave and on our way out, a middle-aged woman with a smart posture and a pleasing disposition intercepted us to ask,” Who’s your adorable friend there at the bar?”

Yaren wiped clean her tears, sniffed deeply and pronounced with defying confidence, ”His name is Nathan Summers. But you won’t be interested. He’s gay.”

Owner of a lonely heart 
Owner of a lonely heart 
Much better than - a 
Owner of a broken heart 
Owner of a lonely heart 

4 comments:

Nikhil Rajagopalan said...

I love this!

Although if I must nitpick, I would object to the protagonist gulping down the Glenlivet. Fine whiskies are meant to be sipped slowly. Also, whiskey with ice? Blasphemy!

R.K said...

hmmm

R.K said...

knock knock!

Seeker of Truth said...

She wishes to teach young minds Maxwell by trampling on Newton?

View Newton and Maxwell in tandem here
.