NOOB

Theme from ‘642 Things To Write About’ :

Your first time in a foreign country

toilet images“British toilets!” I gasped as I stepped into the public restroom at Heathrow International.

The words had scarcely left my lips when the stranger at the urinal turned and with more withering scorn than a drag queen who’s spotted someone else wearing the same wig, he asked “First time, is it?”

I was 25 when I took my first trip to a foreign country. I should have known it would have kicked off with abject embarrassment because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making a fool of myself. Sometimes, even intentionally.

As a child, any object that came from overseas was cause for major curious examination. Why were their things so different to ours? Of course they were far better, more modern and infinitely more expensive. That’s because I grew up thinking South Africa was an evil outcast, which for much of my youth, it was. So anyone lucky enough to travel to the free world and bring something back was, in my eyes, a spirited adventurer, bringing back amazing treasures that only the very luckiest of the evil muckraking citizens of South Africa, like myself, would get to see and touch: a can of coke; a bus pass or toy – these were all holy relics to me, when they originated overseas.

So when I found myself on British soil for the first time, what else could I be but overwhelmed by the very first things I saw after stepping off the plane: the bogs in the bathrooms at Heathrow,

I was like a kid in a candy store, those ten days in England. When I returned, my book of memoirs contained everything I considered to be a valuable prize from my tour, as if some holy man had blessed them for all eternity, to cure the sick and the miserable and to bring wonderment and envy to those I showed them to, in a series of retellings of my British sojourn, aptly titled “OH MY GOD! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? ENGLAND!”  These holy holiday relics included bus tickets; tube passes; receipts for cheese, and even the cheese rind; crisp packets; old toothpaste tubes and the dark ring left on a page when I spilled some proper English tea.

I am much more genteel these days. I can enter a public restroom anywhere in the world without registering much amazement, even though I may well still be feeling it inside.

And THAT makes every overseas trip just a little bit less special…because isn’t it amazing, to have made a trip in a great big metal flying tube, to experience a whole different culture’s    …er…culture? Shouldn’t you be all excited and overwhelmed at the wonder of it all, each and every time you take that trip?

© Dave Luis 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Man/Child

At that moment, I knew...
At that moment, I knew…

(Theme ‘The moment I knew I was no longer a child’ from ‘642 Things To Write About’ by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto)

It was in 1987, on a cloudy December day spent indoors, that he and I were playing in his room, upstairs. He was a few months older than I, but had all the command and authority of one much older. Suddenly, the game became more than a game, and I felt things I hadn’t known existed, in my thirteen years. I gave up my innocence and the world changed forever.

Still, I was a child.

A few weeks later, my father died.  I cried for a few minutes, then went for a long ride on my bike. I knew the world had changed, and crying wouldn’t change it for the better, that crying would never solve anything, and I resolved to never cry again.

Still, I was a child.

In 1991, the world changed again when she kissed me and was the first girl I did more than kiss. It was in the shadow of Oom Paul, on Church Square, the night before my 17th birthday.

Still, I was a child.

When I was 21 I fell in love, first with Tom, and then far more passionately, with drugs. The first night I took ecstacy, I watched, felt and heard the world change, and knew that I was walking a thin line between heaven and hell.

Still, I was a child.

Soon after, in a passion-free, drunken fumble that romantics call a ménage-à-trois, Tom’s friend raped me, and the world changed.

Still, I was a child.

In a hot tub, in Cape Town, the man I’d loved for years offered up his body, and sealed my emotional fate as we spent hours in carnal embrace. Dreams – and nightmares – do come true. That night, the world changed.

Still, I was a child.

When I was 37 and three quarters, I tried to kill myself, because I feared the world would never change again.

Still, I was a child.

Later, after the world changed, my mentor stepped away, and my demon came back: two very different men they were – one to admire and respect, the other to lust after, and to fear. That night, I sat in the bath and I cried; I cried for my mentor – what would he do, now that he wasn’t guiding me. I cried for my demon, who thought I still bowed down to him. Mostly, I cried for myself because I hadn’t wanted the world to change.

Was I still a child?

I sent my mentor a message, wishing him well, and offering him thanks; I let him go into the world, for I no longer needed him. I sent my demon a message, wishing him well, and offering him forgiveness, for I was as much his demon, as he was mine. I let him go into the world, for I no longer needed him.

Then I gave thanks, for I knew at that very moment, that I was no longer a child.

© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Alpha? Betty! Call!

A challenge is set, to write a short story in twenty-six lines. By starting each sentence with the next letter of the alphabet, starting with the letter ‘A’, the challenge will be met.
Call me arrogant but this should be a walk in the park. Daily blog posts and loving writing as much as I do support that arrogance and make it less of a challenge and more of a work of craft. Even so, it is good to keep a large amount of humility in hand.
For me, freedom of speech is more about having the ability to write, than being allowed to say what I want. Government and politics bore me, so that probably has a lot to do with it. However, that does not mean I don’t hold an opinion on either, or both.
I get side-tracked easily. Just like that. Know what I mean? Like the time that…oh, but wait, I digress!
Most of my missed deadlines are due to being side-tracked. Nowadays I try and minimise that, but it doesn’t always work. Often I end up just staying late at the office.
Priorities! Quite right! Should I ignore these, in the face of an inspirational avalanche? Try as I might, I cannot always overlook creativity in the moment, at the expense of duty, in the main.
Understanding this is key to keeping both monsters fed. Virtually or in reality, I often divert into Alternity. Where else?
X-Files would do good to do an episode on MY mindspace!
Yes, yes I think so!
Zebras would be a lazy way to end this, and so would zygote.
© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Kill Fee

“There’s a little job I need  doing, I hear you’re in the business.”
“Now where’d you hear a little thing like that?’
“Let’s not kid ourselves. We know each other. I know you. You know me – you must do. I know what you do.”
“OK. So let’s say we’ve cut the crap, I do know you, I know your story – I…’ve heard you’re making changes. Big ones. You sure about this?”
“Never been more sure of anything in my life. That’s why I came to you. They say you’re the best.”
“Hmmph.”
“I need someone taken out. Permanently. Silenced. For good.”
“Target’s name?”
“Hahahahaha! I thought you’d know already! You must know!”
“Let’s say I don’t…”
“Oh, but you do! You know him, you know him well – we both do! He’s…very close to us, both, I believe.”
Silence. His eyes meet mine, reflecting what I think show in mine. The moment hangs, then…
“No!” his breath mists up the glass between us.
“But oh yes! The time has come!” I breathe back at him. The words cut, I see him grimace, the identity of the target now confirmed in his horrified stare, the breath that comes in ragged gasps as panic sets in.
“You know what you’re asking, buddy?”
“I know. I know well, and I am ready. Are you? You’re the best – can you prove it? Are you man enough? Or are you just a pretender to the throne, a fake, a Johnny Come Lately? Can you live up to your reputation?” I demand.
Silence. I study his face, a life-worn visage, scarred by drugs and years. His face is my face. His time is my time, now.
“I cannot proceed with the plan, while he’s still around. You need to know your own continuity depends on this job, too. You cannot refuse. Refusal equals death. Acceptance equals absolution. You are free to choose only the latter.”
“Fuck you! Free to choose my own death, you mean! Either way, I die! Fuck that!”
“Granted – either way, you die, but to die with attrition, with the grace of your forced regrets, and in so doing taking out my greatest enemy, that is how you will live on, in memory, a martyr. To choose the former, to not choose, that is death without mercy, that is death with shame, that is your personal hell, and I condemn you to it! Choose!”
A single tear, so clichéd, runs down his cheek – he is not the monster I came to face, he is not the man who reputation as a callous murderer I sculpted over the years. He is a frightened little boy, facing his doom and his consecration and his judgement.
“What choice have I?” his voice, wavering. 
“None. Do it. Do this final act, for me, now, and be free. How can you live with the guilt, anymore? Do this, submit to my will, sacrifice yourself to my mercy, and free yourself from the fires of your own, personal hell.” I whisper.
“What’s the fee?”
“The fee?” I ask, startled.
“Ha! Even you, sir, even YOU must pay the fee, even now, on this my final job!”
Silence. I’m rattled, thoughts racing.
How can there be a fee, for me, when these men are men of my construct? These men are as much part of my world as I am their world in toto. Any fee must come at great personal cost to me.
Silence.
“The fee…” I stop.
“You can’t do it! You cannot pay the fee, I will not be sacrificed for you, now or ever!” he barks.
Silence.
“So…you think you have found the loophole?”
“Hmmph”
“But you haven’t. You see the fee, is a high one. Huge. It is nearly everything. But it is nothing.”
“Whadda you mean?” He’s curt, angry, wants to look away, but keeps his eyes on mine, can’t turn them away.
We stare at each other through the glass.
“The fee, is your existence, and my responsibility for you, my accountability for your actions.”
His eyes grow wide in horror.
“You mean…”
“Yes, that is the fee, you, who are part of me, you, who exists because I say you do; you who looks back me in this mirror, YOU are me, but only a small part of me, and you must die, and take with you that other version of me that feeds off the weakness of others, that fuels their addictions. Today! Today, I sacrifice you both, to the Future, and my new life. You are dead. YOU are the fee, and you are done.” 
The Rise of Dave2.0
© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.

That doesn’t translate!

I was at a show, in Soho, in London, once, sometime in 2005 or 2006 when this happened. It’s a true story.
I have two friends called Chris, both of whom worked for an arts council called Shape Arts, that promoted the art, craft and music of differently-abled performers – I seem to remember these were predominantly the deaf and hard-of-hearing. It was Chris Davis who organised this outing, to see a deaf comedian.
“See a deaf comedian” is already something you feel uncomfortable with saying, highlighting sight, knowing that hearing is something the artist had had to make do without, in his life. Me? I tend to laugh these things off, I like to think because I know that there’s a human with human sensibilities where others may only see the title ‘deaf’. Sometimes, though, I am not sure if I am not laughing out of embarrassment at myself, for being so rough in delicate situations. But who makes them delicate?
The person with the perceived disability, or those in their presence who are embarrassed to be thankful they do not ‘suffer’ the same deficiencies?
Anyway, this comedian still had, according to him, about thirty percent of his hearing. He was not born deaf, but gradually lost more and more hearing until the age of eighteen, where the rate of his hearing loss seemed to stop, leaving him just enough ability to hear loud things, and to be able to still speak without the instantly recognisable rolling of the tongue a fully-deaf person who tries to speak with, speaks with.
In the hierarchy of the deaf, that meant he was deaf, and not Deaf. Deaf with a capital ‘D’ denotes the condition of being born deaf, and that is one-hundred percent deaf – couldn’t hear a bomb if it blew up behind them. Who knew that such class and caste existed within the context of these communities? Well, that one opened my eyes to the fact I’d long been thinking that all deaf people were just one of two kinds – either staring pleadingly and uncomprehendingly at you, and generally getting in the way, or otherwise muttering incomprehensibly and too loudly and generally being unpleasant. I gave an embarrassed laugh at the realisation I was wrong.
Now, being a deaf comedian, he had a following of similarly-hard-of-hearing groupies, who went to watch…er…no…let’s word that differently (a differently-worded description?) …these people attended many of his shows, in support of ‘one of their own’ who bravely thrust himself in the public eye. (Dammit! Another link to the senses! Insensitivity is large, in this retelling!)
This deaf audience meant that our deaf comedian had to have a sign-language translator, and a pretty young thing she was. I cannot imagine how tough it must be to translate a series of off-the-cuff remarks, jokes and puns in British Sign-Language to a large audience, but there you have it, another gift, as it were. Our comedian was also not one to shy away from risque jokes and sexual innuendo (so I at least, if no one else, really enjoyed the show) and there were times that the translator would falter, blush, and deliver a punchline in all its agonising sign-languaged filth. 
At one point the funnyman broke from the story he was telling to remark on her competence before diving off on a tangent about how he always insisted on a female translator and always pushed to see how far he could go with the dirty jokes, before they either refused to translate or pretended to be too pure or inexperienced to know the words, expletives or sexual situations he was breaking out into, in his act. He generally found that “muff dive” was the limit – and here he stopped, turned, and stared at his companion expectantly. Silence fell on the audience, all eyes on her. She smiled, painfully, blushed crimson and stared back.
“Well…come on!” urged the jokester. We all laughed, and quick as you like, she arched her index fingers and thumbs together as she joined both hands in  a parody of the vaginal subject matter, brought it up to her face and gave the opening created between the two fingers and two thumbs an almost puritanical lick, closed her eyes and dropped her hands to her sides, silently shouting to the main act that this, too, was her limit.
The room erupted into cheers and a loud applause – what a consummate showman! He had elicited the most rousing applause for her, not himself – this was more kudos than she would have received through any effusive thanking at the end of the show: for she was no longer assistant, no longer merely a tool, she was part of the act, part of the show, and exquisite agony she felt as she allowed the joke to carry her to a point beyond her comfort zone connected everyone in that room: we were ALL beyond our comfort zone: the deaf comedian, standing up and telling us how his life changed when he lost his hearing; the audience – long shepherded into a mute, embarrassed world of political correctness now relieved at being able to kick back and enjoy a shared experience with a man not really so different from themselves, and this young girl who was normally too much of a lady to say such things as muff dive. We all connected, hearing-abled and hearing-impaired, through our laughter and shared embarrassment with that lass, we showed our humanity, our frailty and our unity.
Of course the show must go on, and our man stood before us and went on to say, as the laughter died down, that he had been taught his lesson some months back, when the translator turned out to be a lesbian, and it took her thirty minutes to sign “muff dive”!
More laughter, more tears, more aching sides – what a night.
I sit here, six years later, and still I laugh – and out loud, too, though there is no one here to hear me, when I think of that night, and that story.
© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Ransom

F6. That was the ransom note. One note, held longer than should be humanly possible, and held with all the grace and artistry of the most accomplished sopranos. A note that not even the most experienced and well-trained of singers could pull off.
Well, that’s not true – but they did have to work at it, couldn’t just pull it out the hat as it were and here was this boy, from the farm, stood here before us and belting it out like it was the easiest thing in the world.  This boy called Anton, who could neither write music, nor read it, and here he stood, holding us all to ransom with his clear, perfect pitch.
A shocking arrogance and a mean boy, that was Anton. Beady-eyed and nasty, he’d push you down the stairs as soon as look at you, and he bullied the younger boys with cruelty that you just knew would transpire into some violent streak when he was an adult.
My job as choir master at Boys High had brought me into contact with many boys whose parents believed they were prodigies. Their ‘little angels’ who “had a gift” – had a gift for giving me a headache, more often than not! I can’t tell you how it pained me to smile in agreement. Never counter a parent’s belief, no matter what the evidence suggests otherwise.
But this year’s operetta, ‘Nameless’, needed a boy soprano who pitch a perfect F6 and hold it, sustained without syncopation for breath, for a full thirty seconds. Any less, and the show’s crescendo, its climax, was merely a point in time; any wavering to the soprano’s voice and the sentiment was forcibly contrived. Only thirty seconds’ clear, strong voice would be good enough, only then would the production be a work of craft, only then would the choir be recognised as a fully credible part of the curriculum, and not a time-filler on the weekly roster.
And in a school of over a thousand boys, only one, this boy Anton, could produce that note, and hold it. And when he did I wanted to weep: weep for the beauty in that note, the aching pain in the voice and the deep sense of pointlessness that such a crude and unaware denizen as Anton could produce it. Such a waste, as he himself was only interested in singing this role so that someone else who truly understood the part, who relished breathing life into it, would not be able to. He did it, to keep them out.
But until anyone else could bring their abilities to bear upon the role in a meaningful way there was but Anton, and the production was not mine to change, so on we must, and Anton, for all his rottenness was the only one to bring it to life, and in those thirty seconds, and with bold voice in one pitch-perfect note, he held us to ransom.
© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Perfect Day

Commander Tess Birch was awake at the first dawn, as it came speeding around on the most perfect day. She was awake for all the dawns, that day, in fact.
Strapped in to the commander’s console on the Shuttle Phaëton as it hurtled counter-clockwise across Earth’s upper atmosphere at many thousands of miles per hour, on this, her maiden voyage in near-Earth orbit.
Tess eased the tension on the controls, and eyed key vectors for telemetry, relative gravity and exterior hull temperature. There existed set definitions for the maximum values these could be pushed to, set values that defined safe speed and safe temperature. Safety. A whole universe of safe numbers for piloting one of NASA’s shuttles. Beyond these, where Tess now edged the Phaëton, lay what planeteers called, comically, the edge of the envelope, and she pushed it relentlessly, and hard. One day it would push back. One day – but not today!
Today, Tess pushed with a little more care, but also with a little more hunger. Hers was not the only life on the line, today, but she knew that her fellow journeymen, to a man, pushed just as hard. She was confident in the – ha! – beyond safe knowledge that to a man, they were silently egging her on, each one mentally pushing the boundaries, pulling at the controls, increasing Phaëton’s light-speed fractional.
She let out an audible breath – audible to her alone, in that bulbous, gold-visored helmet – and flipped the comms switch to ‘Home’ and in a calm, measured voice, spoke to her puppeteers, at space command:
 “Canaveral, we have optimal values all round on Phaëton. I’m taking this bird by hand for the next seven revolutions. Phaëton crew are bringing home the record. Birch out.
Tess jammed the comms switch back to off before the electronic chatter from home could oppose her statement. It was more a gesture than any form of retaining control – she knew well that if they so wished, the command team back on Earth could wrest control from any commander and their crew, via remote. It had to be so, and had been so since the days of the cold war, and it was a useful legacy. It was born out of political exigency but had technical and safety advantages too.
But Commander Tess Birch also knew that she had her backers on the team back on Earth, too. Men of experience, with many years and frightening amounts of power, who, if she crossed, would not hesitate to hall her ass before a court martial. She believed they all supported what she and the crew of Phaëton were doing, unofficially as much as officially. Officially, this was the first mission since the Daedalus, ten years previously. Unofficially, she was going to break the record the Shuttle Daedalus set, before it tore apart, killing the crew on-board. Six revolutions of the Earth, before the cataclysm, when it dipped into the atmosphere at such a high speed that all that was left to recover were satellite images of the fireball as the ship and its crew glowed brighter than the sun, for just an instant, before winking out of existence.
Phaëton shot on towards the approaching line of night, that came rushing in a darkening arch to swallow Tess and her crew. They dived into that darkness, bathed in the softer light of a billion stars whose magnificent, ethereal luminescence breathed into their souls as the sun was forced into a man-made eclipse for the first time this journey.
Myriad stars, and the brighter Luna – still a grey ghost – whipping past, all ignored, all unimportant, as the crew of Phaëton sped onwards. Silence on board. Concentration from the eight-man, one-woman crew. After a couple of hours, a brilliant yellow-white arc exploded around the lightening rim of the world beneath them, and all at once, dawn broke, for the second time.
At this speed, Phaëton would match Daedelus’ decade-old record of six revolutions in a single, contiguous twenty-four hour period. Tess was still a cadet, when that record fell. No shuttle had flown since. She was prepared to die for this record, knew her own skills well enough to know that the risk of that happening was remote, though a possibility. She was not prepared to kill for it.
 “Crew of Phaëton,” she spoke firmly, flipping her comms switch to CC – closed circuit – meaning only she and the eight men on board could hear what she had to say.
  “We’re not at terminal velocity yet, but we’re also nowhere near the speed we need to be at, to break dawn seven times.” she breathed in, out, once, twice.
 “Team, I’m taking Phaëton past the point of no return, past the edge where Daedalus flew, and fell. But I’ll only take us there if I have your support. Are you with me?
Silence.
 “Are you with me? I will not take your silence as a vote in the affirmative – I need eight affirmations, or I land this bird, with no record. And a possible court martial, in any case.

Affirmative.” That was Nunes.
Affirmative, Commander.” An echo of voices from Erich and Schuyler. Three, so far.
Affirmative.” Ibanez.
You have my vote, Commander. Dickson out.
Five votes, she wanted total agreement on this one, their lives were at stake if she or any one of them made the slightest of errors, if one piece of equipment failed – she’d take no hostages in exchange for this record.

Tess had come to stare down the Sun, that downed her colleagues on Daedalus. she was the first commander to pilot a shuttle since, and she had a score to settle with the Sun.

You have the go-ahead from me, too, Tess.” Mark Ramirez almost whispered his vote, using her first name in deference to his seniority in years and experience, though not in rank. His tone, as always, bore out the respect he felt for Tess, fully twenty-two years his junior, but infinitely capable at the helm of the Phaëton.

Jackson, Doyle – I need your votes. Silence means no confidence, we land this bird.” she barked at the remaining two as yet still silent crew members.

Commander, do you need to ask?

Pretend Earth is listening, Doyle!” Tess smiled in answer to the question.
What about you, Jackson?

You have it. You know you do, Commander!” laughed Jackson.
Doyle and I had a bet on who could hold out longest. Guess I claim the greenbacks when we land, eh, Doyle?” Jackson’s laughter lifted the sombre, tense mood in the cabin.

Pride surged in tandem with the rocket boosters as Commander Tess Birch leaned on the controls. They needed more speed if they were to crack seven Earth revolutions  in one twenty-four hour stretch. More speed, but more care, too. Death would be the only prize if one mistake, one error, one technical hitch crept in. Shame, eternally, would be its companion. Shuttle crew were heroes, but just as easily, they could be seen as arrogant fools, wasting billions if they screwed up. Phaëton sped on towards a third dawn.

A fourth, and fifth dawn passed without comment, silence a warm support of the task at hand for the crew. Tess appreciated the silence – it gave her space to think out the possible futures she was leading the crew towards: glory or ignominy, each dependent on success of failure and death.

As the sixth dawn approached, without any cataclysm to follow, and the alarms remained silent on all the gauges, Tess thought briefly how different this would be if it was a story told be Hollywood, and if theirs was to retold by the film-makers of home, would they be true to the story, or would they sensationalise it? Hype it up with a clattering of alarms and a thousand near misses? Not if she could have her say. True stories don’t need a million alarms, a thousand explosions, a hundred deaths – the stress of knowing what could go wrong, what had gone wrong on previous missions, these were sensational enough.

You don’t need CGI when you’re living the dream!” Ibanez’ words gave her a start, more because he seemed to echo her thoughts, than break the silence.

Damn straight, that man!” she said in answer.

Dawn in T-minus twenty, Commander.” Ibanez informed. He didn’t need to – all nine pairs of eyes were set firmly on the daylight systems. the sun set the curve of the Earth on fire, lit the azure oceans and rose alarmingly in the cabin ports as the crew were swept onwards at a blistering pace.

Nightfall for the sixth time was met by the scream of alarms. So Hollywood gets their sound effects and drama, Tess thought, as she checked the display in front of her, surprised at her calm at this not unexpected intrusion.

Fuel low in main rockets, Commander!” reported Nunes.

Dammit, I can that on my screen, Nunes, keep it together, man!” She didn’t need emotion, and more tension, from her crew – not now.
Team, we’re at the point of no return – we’ve matched Daedalus – but that’s all I want to match Daedalus on, from here on out we write our own history.
She waited for a response. None came.
I can land this bird with no fuel, I need that last punch of speed to take us through the records and through a seventh dawn.
Silence. She didn’t need a response, though she cried out silently for one.

Go, Tess.” Ramirez. Another whisper, though she knew all the men heard it.

She breathed in, leaned back, and yanked the controls, perhaps a little too hard, but felt satisfied and confident as Phaëton shot forwards, almost impossibly, accelerating. Silence, and tension, sank down on her, on the crew.

Ninety minutes later, the alarms screamed as the last of the fuel burned out in the boosters. She held the controls.

Commander, fuel’s out, ease up the controls.” Schuyler almost shouted. She winced, knowing she was uselessly pulling at controls that were so much dead weight, and was possibly damaging their delicate parts doing so.

Nothing to do but glide this bird onwards.” Ramirez added.

Tess eased the throttle back to its position of rest, and took up the pads on either side that controlled the huge ailerons on Phaëton’s wings. She was in complete control, complete silence.

Dawn in T-minus ten seconds. Brace for the record books.” Tess spoke quietly.

Ahead of Phaëton the curve of Mother Earth cracked; a searing, golden light racing outwards from a point directly ahead of Phaëton. It was silent, but in the mind of Commander Tess birch and the crew of Phaëton, it cracked like the whip of God himself and the Sun shot upwards in their view, as they entered dawn for the seventh time, on this, their most perfect day.

© Dave Luis 2012. All Rights Reserved.