“He keeps a baby alligator in the fridge. It’s in a glass jar of formaldehyde, right next to the milk.”
My housemate Susie was gossiping. We were sat at the breakfast bar of our flat, though it was already late morning, dunking digestives into half-filled mugs of coffee. The day before she had split up with her boyfriend she had bought a cafeteria for one. “Can you imagine, each time you opened the door, the light would kick on and its little goggle eyes would be staring right at you.”
“Jesus, where did she meet him?”
“Oh, well, she spent almost a year taking all these workshops and classes: law of attraction, embracing the divine feminine power, connect to goddesses within, that kind of shit. She wrote a list of all the qualities she wanted her ideal man to have, set fire to it on the full moon at some ritualized ceremony, then boom, the next week, she falls over on the street, right in front of him!”
“No, seriously hon.” Susie calls everyone hon. “He lifted her up and their eyes met. She said he is perfect, I mean, he’s fucking hot. The only thing she forgot to put on the list was a stable mental condition.”
“Hence the alligator”.
“Well, I guess he’s a work in progress.”
These were the type of conversations I had now. Since getting sober, divorcing my past and embracing the way of the universe I sometimes had to put my hand to my chest and check that my rock and roll heart was still beating. I actually found it fun to sit up and shut up for an hour a day. My meditation pillow was in the living room propped on top of a sheepskin, in front of a make shift altar. There was incense, fresh flowers, Susie’s rose quartz crystals and a photo of my mother. I had some mother issues. They were a work in progress too.
She flicked at one of my Hollywood glossies. Ryan Gosling paraded himself across the front cover.
“He’s quite ideal,” she said, picking up the biro next to her.
“Don’t draw on my magazine!”
As she illustrated him a bowler hat and a curly moustache her train of thought continued, “I mean, he’s definitely sexy but also attainable. I like that.”
“You think Ryan Gosling is attainable?”
“Sure.” She covered up his Adonis torso with her palm, her thumb highlighting his face, to demonstrate. “Incredible body, ordinary face.” Susie had higher self-esteem than me.
“He dates Eva Mendes,” I replied, giggling.
“Well, I don’t know who Eva Mendes is.”
The doorbell rang. Susie said shit, and ran out to her bedroom to put some clothes on. It was my friend Jack, calling round to report on the interview he’d taken. She wouldn’t normally hide her modesty but her red knickers looked slightly washed out and possibly unappealing. She fancied him, so this was an issue. I had at least showered and dressed, pinning my wet hair on top of my head.
“Hey,” he said as I unlocked the door, which had three catches on account of Susie being paranoid, “I got the job!”
He was wearing a pristine white shirt with crumpled dark linen trousers, and a purple tie that was pulled loosely from his neck. The tie was stolen. I knew this because I was with him when he stole it. His thefts started at a contemporary art opening. There was a piece of work that displayed a goldfish, swimming in a dinner bowl, on a rectangular plinth. He thought the bowl was too small and as a liberating statement, whilst everyone else felt distracted by the free champagne, poured it into a doubled-up carrier bag and bought it home. He had found stealing surprisingly easy, like being a natural to a new hobby. Last week was a spatula from a designer lifestyle store (“What were you even doing in a shop like that?” I had enquired when I declined it as a gift). The tie was removed from a smart tailors on Savile Row. It was silk cotton and luxurious. I repeatedly saw an attractive man on my commute and had found out that he worked there. I had found that out by following him.
“Great! If you can get a job, it gives hope to the rest of the unemployable world.” He punched my shoulder brotherly.
“Well, it’s not a real job, more a set of menial tasks to be repeated in order.” He had been allocated the weekend shift at a sophisticated wine merchants. “On Sundays, they host tastings. I can choose, within reason, any bottles for sampling.”
I was on step eight.
Step 8: Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them. Jack hadn’t found the 12 steps yet. He was convinced I’d turned happy-clappy Christian and flinch whenever I mentioned the word God.
Susie came back into the room in a floor length paisley halter neck dress. She looked seventies femme and sultry, if not completely overdressed. Her hair was wildly frizzy and her face was wearing no make up. “Hi,” she said coyly, flouncing down onto the sofa.
“Jack, I think you’ve met my new housemate Susie?” I said, exaggerating the introduction. I thought I’d be supportive in her efforts of seduction as she invited him to “come over here sit down next to me hon.” I put on my parka and said I was just popping out.
I skipped down the three flights of stairs. There was a lift but it was small and claustrophobic. Out on the street the city hit me, people busying around in cars stacked up like dominos.
There was a Chinese grocers on the corner of our block. I bought a bag of lemons, a couple of bok choy and a £2 win £5,000 scratch card. “This is £4.20,” said the cashier as she bagged it up. She was aggressive and direct. I’d learn not to initiate with her any conversation.
The lemons were to detox, you put half in hot water in the morning, to gently wake you up, not the scream of caffeine I had long been used to. The bok choy were impulsive as I didn’t really know how to cook them. The scratch card bought me a twinge of regret. I still fantasized about winning money on the lottery. My spiritual teachers did not approve of this. They encouraged me to chant Sat Nam, or pray, if I felt overwhelmed with addictive urges.
On the community notice board there was a neatly placed ad. 15-litre can of methanol. Can be used for chemical processes. £13. Tel-
I remembered old dealer friends who’d cook this within a batch, cocktailing Sudafed, iodine and matchbook phosphorous. There would be an intimate party. It had been a long time since I had taken meth, though I still had a lot of lemons in hot water to drink to realign that chemical process.
I sat down on a street bench. The air was cool and the rain was drizzly. I’d only been out twenty minutes max. Jack was a lothario but I doubt even he could work so quickly. How long does it take to get laid? An hour, I figured at least. An hour would be civilized. It’d give enough time for a customary blowjob and clit rub before he slipped it in.
My plans were loose for the day. It was only Monday, I had the whole week to get stuff done. Laundry, cleaning, paying the bills. I worked Wednesdays to Sundays as a general manager of a trendy tea bar. We didn’t wear uniforms, just jeans and black T’s. It was almost six months since I had taken the job and it had grown comfortably repetitive. I remembered the orders of the regular customers, by force of habit than affection, and they took this to mean that I liked them personally. Which meant tips. I would flirt. Consistency was key.
A fat old man sat down next to me. He wore a horizontal striped shirt, rounds of navy and red, which weren’t doing anything to minimize his bulge. He lay down a hooked wooden walking stick between us.
“Do you have a penny I can borrow?” I showed him the scratch card as an explanation.
He pulled out a bronzed two-piece from a collection of change in his trouser pocket.
“What will you buy if you win my dear?” His tone was grandfatherly, warm and familiar.
I considered. “A laptop would be nice. A five star sunny holiday,” I hesitated. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, I thought. This was some pseudo-gangster mantra that played through my mind often, “well, that or, I kinda owe a few people some money.”
On my eighth step, I totaled up that I owed various friends and acquaintances hundreds if not thousands of pounds. That was a lot of borrowing, £50 here and there. When drugs aren’t free they are expensive.
Returning my attention to rubbing off of the bitty grey film, it revealed a clover, a gift box, a clover, a diamond, a dollar sign, a smiling face and what appeared to be a pirate ship. There needed to be three matching symbols to win. I sighed and he sensed my disappointment, as I handed back the 2p.
“Don’t you worry my dear,” he said, patting my hand, “The whole country is in debt. It’s a world of negative economy!”
“Well, I guess so. I guess I am getting there,” I looked at him and smiled, using my fingers to make speech marks, “I am a work in progress.”
“Aren’t we all,” he laughed, leaning out and patting my hand. “Life, my dear, is a work in progress.”