Jack is an innocent and confused late teenager. When I get a mental block I put him in situations and let his mind unfurl. Sometimes he takes me on a journey and sometimes he just sits and thinks.
Jack sat on a low wall outside the School of Music in Donegal Pass. The sky was salmon pink over the Lower Ormeau. A huge gathering of starlings swung about like a blustering bin bag tethered to the gasworks chimney.
He could hear percussionists practising: spraggetty, spraggetty, rat-a-tat, ting-
He wondered if nurses’ discos were part of the social economy. They got in free on Wednesday nights at the Regency Hotel. He didn’t know any socialists, though he once had a flat mate who drank everybody else’s milk and explained he was a communist so it was OK. Jack didn’t know and would never know an economist.
The starlings belly-danced around the clock tower then drifted off towards the docks and the grain silos for supper. Jack wondered if the shipyard was part of the social economy. It had no orders. All it made was social history and men who were legends. He wondered where the Welders’ Social Club fitted into Marxist dialectic in these circumstances.
He could pick out an oboe meditating. A-om it went, as the string orchestra warmed up in the gym. Jack couldn’t think of any famous oboe players. He had never had sex. This bothered him. Years later he would be married with two kids and still feel he had never had sex. It would continue to bother him. He made up a poem in his head: “violins scribble / horns colour in / piccolos giggle / when the tuba passes wind.”
He wondered briefly what the difference between a poem and a rhyme was and which one his poem really was. Because it was in his head he didn’t have to worry about line breaks or capitals or punctuation. He wondered about all aspects of art. He didn’t know how it did what it did, or why and where it all started. This bothered him, but not as much as not having sex. He wondered where art fitted into Marxist dialectic.
Jack was on the point of declining a French verb to pass the time and test his memory. Amo, amas, amat… he stopped when he realised he was thinking in Latin. I love, you love, he she or it loves. Even it loves he snorted out loud in a doleful sort of way, then disguised it as a cough. Fifteen years later it would take lustral to elevate his growing dolefulness to a modest and socially more palatable sense of personal irony. He would also discover that a side effect of lustral was delayed ejaculation. This would appeal to his future sense of irony and in the meantime would ensure he got remarkably improved value for money at the Shangri-La Massage Parlour in University Street.
In terms of a career, Jack wanted to be divorced and write poetry. His biggest problem was getting a girl-friend. He had gone to the nurses’ disco twice and asked everyone in turn to dance but they had all said no. He wondered in a despondent-tinged-with-anger-and-feelings-of-inadequacy kind of way if being taught how to deal with unwanted erections during a bed bath affected them in some way.
The first time he had gone to the disco he had been mildly surprised that no-one was wearing a uniform. He hadn’t been expecting anyone to as he hadn’t thought about it. It was just one of those assumptions you make and assume everyone shares until you mention it and the whole company falls over laughing. He had also been mildly relieved yet disappointed. Women in uniform were real, if impersonal, but out of uniform were goddesses, and Jack knew in his bones that goddesses didn’t dance with lone males. You had to be in a group, preferably of loud-mouthed disruptive drunken students or of long-haired bandanaed hippies smelling of their respective Brut aftershave and partially fermented sheepskin coat with lingering scent of best moroccan. Jack didn’t like groups. Sitting on the wall he wondered if he could suspend his belief that women were goddesses long enough to get to know one. One day he would and the suspension would become permanent.
Streaks of purple and amethyst mixed with underlit clouds rippling low over the roof-tops. Jack wondered what time it was. The gasworks clock hadn’t worked since it was shattered in a bomb. He walked to the jewellers shop on the corner of Botanic Avenue. It was near the end of October. He examined the display of time-pieces and worked out that the statistically most probable time was ten past six. He wished his fingers would stretch so he could play E flat properly and began pushing them apart with his other hand. He was beginning to get hungry and walked to the bus stop. He was early, it was only ten to six. The jeweller had a weird sense of humour.