Mechanically Separated Chicken.

Thursday, January 16, 2003


How would he put it? We just don't see each other any more, he'd probably say. Whereas the real truth of the matter is that he doesn't see me and I still see him plenty.

I don't think he realises how sobriety has changed him. He used to dance, used to make happiness go off inside people like a kernel of popcorn. This one time, he climbed a nine foot wrought iron gate to get into a Louis Prima concert, tore the shirt off his back and danced all night in the arms of a cigarette girl without ever spilling his whisky sour. That's who he used to be back then - a real catch, the kind of guy who could turn his baby blues on you and make a drunken twenty minute dissection of contemporary jazz feel like an eight week summer holiday in Tuscany. He was like time away from yourself. He was a long, cool drink of water. He tasted like butterscotch schnapps and smelt like the clean, acetone page of a brand new Playboy, one advertising bespoke slacks or first class air-travel or hi-fi systems the size of a teacup. In essence, he was a real gentleman, but one who also knew how to do the hot potato.

That's all over now, of course. These days he works to a tight schedule that does not include happy hour, cocktail hour or champagne breakfasts. He changed, he changed - the litany of the jilted, I know, but he truly became the kind of guy we used to make fun of. He started listening to Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. He gave away his Reidel glasses and bought a George Foreman grill. One Christmas someone gave him a copy of The Celestine Prophecy and the fucking idiot actually read it every morning on the can. It was so pathetic I almost couldn't bear to watch.

For a while I was in-between friends and used to visit him sometimes. He'd decided not to see or hear me by then, so I used to just tag along for an afternoon, watching him file stock reports and unwrap soggy alfalfa sandwiches at his desk. I used to give him helpful advice which, to his great disadvantage, he could no longer hear.

My friend Tony, who has a great, though exhausting, job as part-time imaginary friend over at a kindergarten, kept telling me, let it go. But when it was good, nobody understood me like that lovable old drunk did. He treated me with respect, he never made me hop over anything, and he never once offered me a carrot. Not even as a joke. Dear God, I loved him for that.

Anyhow, here's what happened. Last month I was helping a new friend of mine do some Rorschach tests at the doctor's clinic when I got a hankering for a smoke. I slipped outside for a moment and that's when I saw him, pulling out of the car-park in his battered sedan. I hadn't seen him for a couple of years and I'd forgotten that, unlike myself, he'd become old. He was hunched over the wheel, white as cornflour and with a peculiar look on his face.

Thing is, I'd seen that look before, eighteen years ago. The day he told me he was 'getting out' and that he'd never liked me in the first place. He looked sick of himself, I guess that's one way to put it, or like his skin was burning and he'd realised he couldn't just take it off like a jacket. Curious, I went back inside to reception and found his file in the cabinet: liverspots, benign melanoma, a prescription for ear ointment. And then, paper-clipped together, a bunch of test results and referrals. Two of them to oncologists. Funny thing is, it wasn't even his liver; it was his colon. And it looks like they might have to operate, poor guy. Take out a whole section.

Y'know, I've always been interested in medicine. Maybe I'll sit in on it.

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