This morning is the last day for my black tooth. When I was 16/17 and playing cricket I top edged an attempted hook shot into my own mouth, sending two teeth flying into the air. Someone found them, put them in a glass of milk, and got me to a dentist, where they were reinserted, but this is not what nature expects for its teeth and they haven’t been right since. I have no issue with discolouration – this is just ‘one of those things’ (someone should make a book of ‘those things’) – but it gets infected a lot and the pain has become hard to deal with. So we’re taking it out this afternoon.
This is exciting news, and has given me much cause to ponder the last few years and how things have been, what’s been good, what’s been bad. This morning I was reading Richard Brautigan’s “Sombrero Fallout”. I bought the book when I first got to Dublin in, probably, 2004. To begin with I had no possessions with me and needed to stock up on essentials. I bought two CDs, both by Yo La Tengo, and then went hunting for books. There was a small independent shop on Grafton Street that sold all sorts, and from there I bought a few of Canongate’s Rebel,Inc series (the Brautigan among them) and a couple of Lawrence Block’s crime novels.
I remember writing back emails to friends and family back then. How everything suddenly seemed alive, in technicolor. Before I left it felt like London had swallowed me up: my sense of self, my sense of being able to manage the world, all gone. Now, in Dublin, I felt free. Accordingl, I signed off that first email home:
So there we are. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing this, after years of not much in England I feel really alive, to the extent that I feel I ought to write a really cheesy song about it all or something. Clearly the novelty will soon wear off and it’ll be back to real life again, but perhaps I’ll move to Wales when that happens. I think Dublin’s all I wanted it to be, and I’m absolutely loving it.
Being in a strange country got me back into reading again, and I haven’t stopped. (Dublin was great for a time, but soon I missed home.)
In “Sombrero Fallout”, which I came back to this morning, the introduction refers to another of Brautigan’s short stories in which the main character replaces his house’s plumbing with poetry. I’m not sure how this works but I looked up the collection in question (entitled “Revenge of the Lawn”) to try to find it. Nope.
But I did find a train ticket inside the book. Not a ticket, a “sales voucher”, £15.50, from Balham, on the 17th November 2006. Where was I going that day that cost me £15.50? It was printed at 07:30 in the morning, so may have been work related. Was I going to Brighton for the day? It’s a mystery.
A better mystery was found inside a second hand copy of JP Donleavy’s “The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B”. Here was a real-life bus ticket that someone had left behind, many years ago.
Who was reading this book? Where were they going?
I looked up as much as I could on the internet. The 65 route bus goes from Surbiton to Ealing. LONDON TRANSPORT 22225 is another clue. This, I discovered, is the individual bus, registration UGR 697R, registered in December 1977. I would have been almost two at the time.
So my mystery reader was on this bus, reading Donleavy, some time after 1978. Now, more than 30 years later, I have been reading the same book on various buses and trains around South West London. Were I American I might try to weave some kind of mystical meaning around this. As it stands I shall just imagine someone from the 70s reading Donleavy as the bus crawls around these grumbling London roads.
It is not much of a mystery, I grant you, but nice curiousity, I think. A mystery that can never be solved, and all the better for it. Many of the best things in life happen in our imaginations, floating around beautifully like (as Brautigan wrote in Sombrero Fallout (albeit about a Japanese woman taking off her clothes)) “like a kite takes gently to a warm April wind”… a step away from the real world. (Brautigan, only two lines later, wrote “He was also one of those people who have a lot of trouble drying themselves after a bath. When he was through drying himself, 50 percent of his body was always still wet.”) Indeed.
In “Revenge of the Lawn” Brautigan muses on his childhood:
“there are pieces of distant life that have no form or meaning. They are things that just happened like lint.”
Indeed again. Brautigan may have had issues, may have been bonkers, but he knew.
My tooth will be removed in three and a half hours. The dentist is about half a mile from Twickenham rugby stadium. England and Ireland kick off at about the same time as my operation. There will be thousands of people in the area, having a jolly day in their barbour jackets. I will be having a happy day, too, with my tooth being removed. But it is a worrying day as well. Will we get through the traffic? What if the operation doesn’t work? Why do I feel sick writing this? So sick.
But the world will keep on turning, buses will keep running, and people will be reading to themselves to shut away the world around them, which is the main thing.
(I can’t think of anything original to write about Fulham. Things are just about perfect, aren’t they?)