11.14.2014 Journal Prompt

Photo by Syd Shelton

November 14, 2014: They were different.

4 Replies to “11.14.2014 Journal Prompt”

  1. They were different. Not like chalk and cheese different, but different all the same. Oh they looked like they belonged to the one set. The clothes they wore and the way they cut their hair so short and the earring in one ear. They even smoked cigarettes with the same nip of finger and thumb, sucking with a sharp hissing sound, and pursing their lips to blow out a grey cloud kiss. But for all that they were different.

    Mouse was the short one and he was damaged, you know. There was a kind of spite in him sometimes and he was always wanting to break things. Windows or locks or faces, it didn’t matter. He was in the moment and he said life was short and you had to grab it by the balls before it grabbed you. He was good looking in a way, though he tried not to be. He wore a snarl or a frown that made his face crumpled and torn. Like that he could look mean.

    Carpe was taller. Tall as a door and thin as a crooked rake. For him, I think, it was all just an affectation. All just a suit of clothes that he wore and he could take off again. He got the name out of a book. The way he tells it, he stole it. It was the first part of a latin motto: carpe diem. It means ‘seize the day’ and he supposed that ‘carpe’ meant ‘seize’. His real name’s Steve and his parents were dripping rich. The thing is he looked the part, more than Mouse. His features were a little hard and sharp, like his face had been cut all angles out of wood, and he didn’t have to snarl or frown to look like trouble.

    But you know what, underneath they were just boys. Like all men are. Underneath they were just boys waiting for the world to recognize them.

    My friend Sandra made out with Mouse once. She said he might have been called Mouse for the gentle he could be. She said he kissed so soft it was like he wasn’t really there. Sandra had been around and she knew boys that were rough with their kissing and their hands all smash and grab, and ‘slow down there’ she’d say to them and she had to show them what was what. But not with Mouse. Underneath all that wanting to break things, Mouse was a lover.

    And Carpe, well I think he was something different. He was clumsy with his hands and a little confused. He said once that he didn’t know what it was he should do. I told him, ‘Carpe diem’ but he didn’t really get it. We kissed some and he touched my tits on the outside of my clothes, but that was about as far as we went.

    I think underneath what he pretended to be, Carpe was an artist. He had the sensibility, see. When he was with me he’d point things out so that I saw the world different. He pointed to the wonder in it – the light hitting the underside of clouds near the end of the day; or the way the wind ruffled the leaves, making the sound of dancers in party dresses; or the flight of a swallow or a swift, and the arc that it drew in the air and how it was so perfect and unbroken and beautiful. When he was talking about the birds and the line that they drew, he went off into a story about how artists, years back, were tested in their drawing by how close to right was the circle they could make with their pencils. No compasses and no string with a pin fixing the centre. Just drawing freehand. Carpe could only have known that from a book.

    They were an odd pair, and that’s the truth. It would have hurt them to know it, but I think there was a special feeling between them that they could never admit. Mouse is still Mouse, but he’s gone all respectable these days. He works on the buses and he’s got a lady and two kids and a house up on Marion Drive. Carpe is called Steve again and he lives alone and I see him sometimes and he’s always got a book in his pocket. He always stops and asks how I am; but then he asks after Mouse and when he does I can see a softness in his hard cut face and it’s the only time I see it.

  2. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
    Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be.
    Syd Shelton captures both in this photograph. The attempt to write a narrative such as an essay or short story kept running up against obstacles. Who were these two young men and what really was their story? The graffiti on the wall was unknown: it didn’t look like Detroit or Chicago or even New York City. The jacket worn by the figure with the shaved head, who I’ll call “Sam:” what was that about. Sam wore a pin on the lapel but it is unreadable. He wears baggy pants or jeans. His head is nearly shaved and is reminiscent of the punk era, the neo-Nazis: but where? The young man in the background is darker and longer hair: I’ll call him “Joe.” He is wearing white slacks and has a smile on his face.
    The narrative broke down because I was getting lost in the photo. In desperation born of two days’ writing without solving these problems I checked the answer sheet of the quiz: I checked on Syd Shelton, and the pieces started to come together. Rock Against Racism, 1976. London. Perhaps that was the pin on Sam’s lapel: RAR. Syd said that “racism is a white problem.” The two are different: from different cultures, different music, different neighborhoods. Rather than try to “run over” the white punk rockers Syd and his friends worked through RAR to “win them over. Much like Joe with his smile a lot more can be gained with open arms and a festival than a raised fist and the threat of violence.
    The two unknown young men looking out at me suddenly become very real. Do we have within us the strength to overcome the differences that we see right in front of us. As clear as a black and white photograph. Picturing that the Sam was a punk rocker and that Joe was a reggae performer: imagine the two of them performing on a Woodstock like open stage outside London. Imagine the harshness of punk guitars laid over the easy rhythm of reggae. That is what can happen when two see different as a starting point rather than an ending.
    And so the story can begin. The narrative can take shape, can assume flesh and blood. Sam and Joe have lived in different parts of London, Sam has been raised to hate anyone not white. Those people are here to take our jobs and take away our way of life. You can see it in his face as he has his back to Joe. Joe on the other hand has been brought up knowing that nothing would be handed to him but that a smile and a song would open more doors than if he were fixed on his condition. They were different that way—different neighborhoods, different music, different friends—but in those early days they used their youthful energy to bring these worlds together. Sam and Joe would eventually move from tolerating each other—pictured here—to acceptance and even love of each other and their respective worlds. What a great story this will be.

      1. Thanks so much Patti for your encouragement. There’s a steep learning curve here and will keep at it. Love the photos.

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