Watching Yellow Brick Road is like being allowed to gaze upon the Mona Lisa while being forced to drink a mug of hot piss.
Somewhere in the depths of Terminal 8 inside JFK international airport is a wall. That wall has a painted mural depicting a multicultural market in Central Park personifying the foundation of America’s diverse history. However observing it imbues a sort of cynicism of any sincerity as the mural is subtly plaster by Coca-cola billboards, bottles and cups. Leading me to assume it’s nothing but a badly drawn advert for the worlds leading monopoly in soft drinks.
The reason I’m talking about this is because unfortunately I lived under it for two days during New Yorks ‘‘Super Storm”. As a native Englishmen I’m quite familiar with the ”we’re all going to die in three inches of snow” phenomenon however I never had the pleasure to be on the other end of it. Upon arriving, penniless, tired and a little sexually frustrated I immediately became aware of our inability to fly. The building was empty, the mood tense and apathetic. The only people left were the staff handing out travel itineraries for flights later in the week. With a 24 hour travel ban we had no escape.
So that’s where I ended up. Cornered in the basement of a makeshift refugee camp. Surrounded by a family who only spoke spanish but decided anyway to build a fortress out of camp beds. This monstrous construction went on throughout the night and before dawn the family had constructed an impenetrable fort that seemed to suck all light away from the sun and leave my humble corner cold and void of all light.
I began to compile a diary of my thoughts, believing that indeed these would be my last hours on this green earth, here is my first entry:
Hour: 1 (47 hours remain)
With no food or water, my body has quickly lost strength and disease runs unchecked throughout the camp. I have not eaten solid food in over an hour. I have yet to have a drink. In fact, swallowing causes such intense agony that I can’t even swallow my own spit without curling up into a ball and crying. To compensate I’ve got a cup that I spit into every minute or so. When the cup is full, I simply pour it on the floor and hope the building river of saliva will wash me away and back home to my comfy british isles.
Hour: 6/6.5 (42 hours remain)
My companion braved the sea of the unwashed to reach the bathroom. I have not seen her since. I tried to convince her instead to rest, but in my weakened state my protests were less than eloquent. She has not returned…
Hour: 11 (38 hours remain)
I’ve recovered substantially thanks to the help of some badly made convenience store sandwiches and the return of my companion. Thankfully she is unscathed apart from a rather awkward social encounter with a clerk who conversed far more than necessary.
Things were looking promising until my mental state deteriorated. I begin murmuring uncontrollable about Earl Gray and pork pies. I decided I would attempt to clean myself to calm my state. I began my trek with nothing but a wet wipe. Hopes were high.
The journey itself is not difficult, except for the sidestepping of sleeping families and lonely travelers. Once inside the restrooms I retreat to the disabled stall, wanting both privacy and space. I stretch, let my T-shirt ride up and reveal my pale stomach. The light here is different. Whiter, purer. It reminds me of looking out of my bedroom window, the sky diffused and grey, the light framed in a square bracket on my wall…
As I continue to stretch I notice something, the perfectly grey floor was marked by a little wet red spot. Then I realise there are more red spots. A few dozen of them of varying sizes. If I wasn’t in the mens I would have assumed it was sanitary related but no. It was blood and it had no reason being here… I leave hoping to find some TSA officer and inform them of this peculiarity, but find none. My conclusion is that a rogue villain is picking off refugees one by one, smothering them to death before cutting them up in the disabled toilets, flushing the evidence down the loo.
It distresses me greatly.
Hour: 18 (30 hours remain)
It’s late, it’s dark. I want to sleep. My companion in their bed has pushed their cot against mine. She whispers to me. ”Be careful”, I was told, ”There are a lot of homeless people around…” I murmur some sort of empty assurance but they promptly close their eyes and fall unconscious leaving me with the task of protecting our wellbeing and luggage.
I do not rest.
Filled with a McCarthy sense of paranoia I fiercely glare at the camp’s other inmates to decide whether they were homeless and if they were, would they stab me and steal my stuff? This goes on all night. The only other conscious soul in the camp is an elderly man with a limp. He keeps pacing back and forth from this one spot but he can’t walk right so instead he leans on a trolley for balance. I don’t see him again after this. I guess I’ll never know what he was doing…
Hour: 29 (19 hours remain)
It’s morning… I leave for food and a general stretch returning once more to the top floor. I mournfully glare at the departures board only to see canceled flight after flight. Yet something’s off, my brain doesn’t tick at first but there’s a flight not branded with that depressing red text. ”Holy shit”, I whisper to myself… There’s a flight to my fucking home… Why aren’t I on it? I wonder. I run to the check-in desk. There’s a man, not in uniform but some red shirt. He claims that there’s no staff to talk to me, that all of management is swept up in a flurry of hectic meetings and couldn’t possible asses my situation. I ask him a hundred questions and demand something more, I was so hungry to leave I didn’t mean to be rude so I used by Radio-Four voice. His posture changes but he is still useless.
In this whole airport, a space covering almost 5,000 acres there isn’t one staff member I can talk too…
I return to my companion with the news. There’s a flight, but damn… We ain’t on it.
Hour: 30 (18 hours remain)
We began feverishly searching through our travel documents. Reading fine prints of insurance coverage and googling FAQ’s with inept broadband. Finally we found a number, it was an english line so we made some arrangements and had our domestic families make a case for us. It was tense waiting, longing for good news. It took awhile for someone to get back to us but finally smiles! We were promised a seat ”no problems”. Yet…. There was a catch.
The person who made the call could not actually confirm the seats for us as they didn’t have permission to change our itinerary. We roll our eyes. Our only option is to find the American number, hope to talk to someone and either get the seats ourselves or okay our English compadre.
My companion leaves to make the call…
I stay with the camp beds and our stuff just incase.
Hour: 33 (15 hours remain)
I have still not heard from my companion. She has not returned and I can’t leave our luggage unattended to search for her. I hope things are well but I am increasingly feeling inept and impotent to help in our share catastrophe. I find myself staring at the mural for extended periods of time. It brings me back to our moments in the MOMA. NY’s Museum of Modern Art. I find the term modern and it’s connotation quite confusing. It’s a term that covers a very broad range of subjects but really it describes and incredibly brief period of time. Now we find ourselves folding the future into the past with our post-modern autopsy of the now past present.
The volume of exhibits were overwhelming but there was one Artist I clung to for stability. Mary Weatherford. Her minimalist use of colour and speckled forms invokes the image of a cave painting. Primal and powerful. The light has a way of drawing you into this other world of childlike comprehension. Matched only by sensations of plunging into oils of vastly different colours… Only to have them peel away with your skin to reveal something other, something raw.
She single-handedly justified my visit.
Hour: 38 (10 hours remain)
We’re at a different terminal now. We’ll soon leave this country and be flying across the oceans. My companion achieved their goal, not without flare. My quiet british reserve might not of carried us this far. Thankfully she was willing to get a little vocal about her distress.
After burning through several useless agents she managed to find one willing to grovel for forgiveness and offer us up some premium seats.
We had been ”booked up” to business class. Free leg room here I come. We’re waiting now for the final call. We spend the rest of our time talking about each other in an empty food court. It’s nice and I almost regret leaving now. Not being able to have full and convenient access to a mind I love is frustrating at best.
I can hear the low announcement of the final flight.
Like always, I just keep on staring blankly ahead.
My eyelids a little heavy, I close them for just a moment. I’m holding someones hand but it slips away as they escape in front of me.
I’ll never forget the night that the fierce typhoon passed, I was looking down on the city from the top of the skies horizon. The wind still a little erratic, tearing at the edges of its departure. The lights of the houses nearby shimmered as though searing the air. I’ve never witnessed a scene like it, though I was used to seeing it.
I spoke to myself softly and said ”goodbye”.
More coming soon
Authors Note: Bare with me as I regress into illogical preamble and madding, irrelevant thought.
It was a woozy weekday evening and the light was a hazy autumnal brown. I hadn’t eaten all day and the pit in my stomach began to plunge my work ethic as low as the v-cut on Kelly LeBrock’s dress.
I had been aggregating a collection of Heinz salad cream sachets for months, delicately storing them above a loose fitting roof tile. It was a mischievous form of entertainment that kept me from sustained periods of unbearable boredom. I’d imagine, years after my absence this collection, ripened and rotting with the smells of broken enzymes and bubbling fats.
It was a grotesque, evil image that removed me from the mind numbing mundanely of filing. Cardboard boxes towering higher than my own head each held documents that were so important and held so information that one person could absorbed it all. So they just had to be shoved carelessly onto cramped shelves and left forever in a dark room.
I watched a spider dance around a web of shining thread imagining my own life as a Black Widow. I’d sit lazily on the fringes of my Spider friend’s webs, eating their bait and complaining about my bad back. I’d insight hateful comments on twitter over the Spider government and talk about my xenophobic hate against the False Widow Spider and the rising number of Oak Processionary Moth immigrant workers taking good honest English homes and jobs.
I’d click on link bait articles that furthered my preferential beliefs that I am in fact the image and likeness of God and the world does in fact revolve around me. I’d make a Tumblr blog and write about how soft we are on women, calling for harassment on all public displays of progressive thinking while harking on about privilege. I’d write as a white male, militant atheist stuck in the friend-zone and reblog gifs of jiggly boobs and cartoon cats.
I’d copy wistful quotes onto Instagram pictures of sunsets and bastardize Francisco Bulnes with an elite sense of political centrist snobbery. Because anyone with any real political ideals is easy parody but in my almighty grace I’d end up punching down and already demoralized groups.
All dissenting opinions on my own beliefs can and will be ignored because I’ve found myself in a space that encourages preference. The systems that our social media uses focus on our preferences and disenfranchise us from engaging with things outside those circles. Facebook makes you ‘’like’’ things, there’s no wiggle room there. It’s a binary system that enforces binary beliefs. Either its good or not.
It’s become the grammar of the internet, this dichotomy of binary appreciation. Youtube, WordPress, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and almost every freaking blog under the thinning atmosphere of our suffocating planet including this one! There’s been this push for us to strip our preferences down and brazenly wear them like scout badges. Big business has always wanted to aggregate the perfect, marketable profile of you for the sake of specifically targeted ads, and guess what? You’ve been doing that job for them. You’ve aggregated the perfect footprint. The perfect, saleable picture, the white man in his thirties that drives a ford car and watches the Simpsons and likes pictures of dogs and now he’s being sold a Simpsons dog lead and seat covers for his car.
This, rant, this preamble, this concern for the grammar of the internet is all borne from one disturbing comment I read.
”I’m sorry, but your opinion is in the minority’‘
I sat dazed for a moment trying to decipher the meaning behind these words. There must be something. People valued it. It was highly rated and many replied, agreeing with this dismissive statement. At the time I was trying to write about cynicism, specifically my own. I was reading through my own text and comparing it to the horrifically scary online disinhibition effect. A reaction where, because of the internet’s lack of social restrictions and inhibitions that are otherwise present in normal social interaction individuals are able to peruse in and out cynical, hateful behavior without the fear of any kind of meaningful reprisal.
That’s why we get this spiteful brew of cynicism from our web going hours. Like the consequences written by Jean Baudrillard when he discussed hyperreality in Mass culture as a set ”of ritualised signs of information, with no actual content.’’ Just because someone can discuss an issue doesn’t inherently mean they are capable of doing so and more often than not they fail to even frame their argument, causing a growing web of straw-man conclusions to develop along the recesses of more informed debate. This sort of baggage is ultimately more harmful than good and personifies that ‘’disappearance of intensity’’ in dialogue described by Baudrillard.
What’s most disturbing about this statement, ”I’m sorry, but your opinion is in the minority’‘, is that it frames the opinions of those who are not represented by the majority as invalid. It invalidates all discussion that’s separate from the general consensus. Now of course this statement isn’t adhered to in any fashion by the journalistic press, at least those with somewhat reputable standards. Yet it’s still growing and expanding as a more common belief and the scary thing is that people haven’t even noticed.
We now live in tiny preferential realities where we can design our own truths and easily surround ourselves with things that prove those truths. Yet it’s just an aggregated fantasy, like my collection of hidden salad cream in the rafters, a day dream to seep the mundanity of real life away. To distract us from the real issues. The piling boxes and paper work that surrounds us and gobbles up every complex thought we want to explore. It’s a lot easier just to live that fantasy, to hit the like button. To exist in a world without challenge.
Authors Note: I’ve redacted some names and places, mostly for the sake of other’s privacy but also so I don’t lose my job. Anyway thanks for reading.
The humid, inhuman heat that existed on every floor of the building became a comforting constant in a universe of perpetual decay. It was as if every brick in the wall, tile on the floor and poorly constructed light fixture existed for the sole purpose of tormenting me in its icy indifference. Over the last few weeks I’ve been acting as an ‘IT consultant’, if I can even call myself that, for a rather large care-home in North West. They have over a hundred and twenty rooms, most of which are full of some of the most deranged and detached dementia patients in the North of England. In short it’s a home for the ill, a home for the dying, and a home for the insane. This might sound like a toxic mixture of differing levels of human frailty and it is. The home is fairly new only two years old and recently they’ve begun installing computers at the nurses’ station. Because apparently Nurses need computers and no one ever told management.
It buffedle me the first time I entered. I have never seen a collection of decadence and incompetence in such close proximity, but this Home managed to surprise me. I have in my fair time, visited a number of homes for the infirm, usually for the sake of friends and family and trust me, it does get easier. Because often the first gut reaction of anyone who ends up visiting one of these godforsaken places is an immediate overpowering sense of wrongness. Not because of what the place is doing but why it’s doing it. You see as younger person who not long ago saw adults as these omnipotent, always competent and in control creatures, a care home is a rather dangerous place. Wherever you go you’ll be watching endless droves of listless and infirm adults.
Suddenly in a sea of catheter bags and medicated war veterans, you’re the responsible one. For me this is a special horror as responsibility is not so much an alien concept as it is an uncomfortable one. Yes you, the often lost, poor, feckless fool you are, the kid who can hardly look after themselves is now in the presence of those whose survival depends on you. There is no other place that will irreversibly shatter your assumption of adults, for these places nakedly display the old, stripped bare of knickknacks and self-sufficiency. They are, and will forever remain in my mind whenever I think of old age, and that’s something that I think has already aged me beyond my years.
This home has apparently had a series of unsuccessful managers, all of whom have suffered from mental breakdowns and hence left the place in a state. The day I arrived the home and just come out of a care embargo and looked as if it was about to slip right back into another one after an alleged abuse case.
Now this isn’t really my field, I deal with machines not people, and I don’t really have authority over what’s going on, and care is a very, very protected field. You just can’t go in with good intentions and make things better. I’m not being one of those sensationalist anti-health and safety nuts, but even helping someone up can be considered assault. It’s silly really because how else are you supposed to help a ninety year old up? Well you just do, even though you’re endangering yourself and your wellbeing. It sucks sure, and it sort of breeds a disenfranchisement with the carers and the rules, which as you can guess, is never good.
I came into this building, my job not really defined by anyone, because absolutely no one there had any clue what the problem was. All they could do was vaguely point and trail off about emails, repeating the same phrase ”it’s not working” as if it was some biblical chant. The first computer I tackled was in the lobby, set up for the guests and residents to use, (presumably to Skype distant friends or family members). Now this computer could not be in a more uncomfortable place. I swear this computer defined space and time. It was both out in the open with no privacy, yet tucked away in the least appealing corner of the room that no one would ever want to visit. So I squeezed between the structural pillar and the wall it was located next to and began work.
”Toolbars” I muttered between dry heaves and gritted teeth, not a big deal of course, but annoying.
Looks like someone had been torrenting from it. Yes a UTorrent client and the installer was right there on the desktop.
Whoever was behind this didn’t even bother to hide it. I started working immediately and it became obvious by what they meant when it ‘didn’t work’. Toolbars, adware, keyloggers, millions of them. This always surprises me, that people have the aptitude and knowledge to torrent yet fail when it comes to avoiding the toolbars.
This wasn’t even the really infuriating thing. You see this computer was also being used to run CRB checks.
Now if you’re not in the know, in order to work with possibly damaged or sensitive people in any legitimate capacity you need to get a criminal record check . Basically before nurses or carers can get paid they need to be stamped off as safe. Otherwise our precious care homes could get swamped by Nan stabbers. Works well in theory and makes sense, but it isn’t really ”enforced”, at least not in my experience.
This boggled my mind, that management would use a computer open to everyone to handle people’s sensitive information and hold employee records! Confused at this fact, hoping myself to be wrong, I spoke with the manager, (who I’ll call Jeff). He said, ”It’s in the lobby so we can see who’s on it”. Which would have been fine logic if that was true. Yet it wasn’t obviously, otherwise how did the torrent client end up on there?
I knew there was no point in arguing this both because they wouldn’t understand and it was clear they didn’t have an alternative set up.
For the next eight or so hours I did everything I could, setting up new admin passwords and control settings so no one could install anything without my go ahead. Obviously not a permanent solution as my time with them was short, yet alas it is always important to empower yourself when working as IT. Otherwise you more often than not get taken advantage off.
The day passed rather uneventfully. It wasn’t tough work just uncomfortable work. Long waits between scans, installs and system checks. Eventually after I felt satisfied I headed up two floors to the EMI unit.
EMI stands for Elderly and Mentally Infirm and this is no exaggeration. It’s a ”locked ward”. Every wing fitted with a door with a four digit code to unlock it, then another lock for every room in the wing. The windows were sealed shut after an incident where one resident began screaming death threats to the people in the car park below. A moment even Stella would be jealous of. This meant that over thirty bodies shuffled around inhaling and exhaling the same air all day, and don’t expect AC. This is the north of England for christ sake.
My first visit to EMI was eventful, it included a lady swearing at me to just give her the train times for Manchester and ex-doctor punching a young man in the stomach. These were not unusual occurrences.
The computer on EMI was another victim of rampant torrenting, yet I easily tracked the suspect down. Paul was his name and he had been attempting to crack an illegal copy of Microsoft Office. least to say he failed, yet still managed to riddle the bloody thing with more bugs than NSA headquarters.
I could have cracked it right then and there, the .DLL’s were still solid, just copied into the wrong folder. Seriously it’s not that hard to check the README.txt. Yet I decided against it. Open Office would have to do, I did enquire after the budget they were running for these machines, what antivirus and software deals they had set up but they just shook their heads collectively in what could only be described as disgruntled disappointment. So freeware it was.
Rather confusingly the monitors upstairs were all set at the wrong resolution, and worse they weren’t touch screen. Which isn’t an issue normally unless you bought the whole fucking building Windows 8. Yeah great, now every utility is twice as hard to get to just because of that swipe menu. After dicking around with everything a rudimentary scan discovered over two-thousand threats. I was surprised. I’ve never seen such a number. I opened the browser to see what was going on and found out the most ingenious plug-in I’ve ever seen. This thing opened up four ad banners at the top of every webpage opened. This basically means you have to scroll at least half a page down to get to the real thing. If I had made that thing I could have bought a house after a month.
I cleaned it up and went home, mentally preparing my psyche for the day ahead.
When I awoke the sun was still a halo on the horizon, blazing in iridescent yellows and greys. I drank a coffee and watched the rain through the window, ready to begin what could only be described as my day.
It was less intense then yesterday as I had already done the brunt of the computer work. The PC on the Nursing was in great condition, not through competence, but simply because it hadn’t been turned on since it was installed. This made getting updates quite difficult as it was still on whatever version shipped in the factory, eventually after some troubleshooting and driver installs this was resolved.
At lunch I informed my boss that the computers were basically fixed and I might go out for an hour. They instead offered me a job doing some archiving work as apparently I’m not inept and quite likeable. I accepted as I wasn’t exactly well off and money is money.
This new job still retained my old responsibilities however it never got more advance then fixing printer errors.
The archive room was what could only be described as a cave. It had one large fire door that wouldn’t stay open no matter what amount of weight you heaved behind it. A single mirror that looked out to the chain link fence that protected the neighboring ASDA loading bay and a single, steep, sloping roof. Just low enough to force you to stand as if you were on the bow of an inebriated ship.
However the single worst thing about this room was the light. It was motion sensitive, which meant as you sat on the floor surrounded by file after file of death certificates and unremarkable eulogies the light would fade a little, then all at once. This forced me to wave my hands above my head in a manic motion as if I was some primitive human summoning a sun-god to return to my crops, which it rarely did.
A few days in I had begun to question my existence and as the torment continued I became convinced I was the only sane one left.
I scanned often, taking breaks from productive work to read these files of people now dead. Their likes, dislikes, middle names, diets and even relatives all flashing by me. I wondered if I would ever suffer the same fate. My whole life reduced to an un-archived file, stuffed into a bare unloved room whoes only visitor is an angsty, hateful asshole who can’t even keep the light on.
If only I could be so lucky.