Last morning in Black Rock

We ripped out the orange shag pile, a relic of my brother’s generosity when he owned a carpet store and urged us to cover the bare boards for our comfort.

I shall not miss this place. The circular shower rose over the bath, another relic from by gone days, its gas heater overhead. You needed to feed the machine twenty cent coins in a constant stream to ensure enough hot water for every wash.

Always the fear it might explode if you failed to get enough coins inside its greedy mouth. Its long blue pilot flame shone bright whenever you turned the switch and then the roar of ignition. 

Every morning, I stood under the thin stream of water and quaked at the warning in capitals overhead: DO NOT TURN ON GAS UNLESS FLAME IS PRESENT. DO NOT LET GAS RUN WITHOUT COINS OR FLAME.

The invisible gas with its sickly-sweet smell, a trap for the unwary. Left free to coil its way around our bathroom. It might seep under doors and some unwitting person might light a cigarette and blow us all up.

You’d have thought it a pleasure to live over the road from the ocean. It was not. Beach Road ran in front of this place beyond the Clock Tower and roared daily with its surfeit of cars. In summer it was hazardous to cross unless you walked several houses beyond to the traffic lights. Then a long wait for the green man. 

I had imagined living over the road from a beach for years. How it might offer a view of blue ocean and sky but all we were offered in this low-lying shack, ready for demolition, was a clump of tea trees and scrub behind a thin wire fence. You could not enter the beach from the section that fronted our place. 

I cannot say why it bothered me, but we lived in this house over the winter months and in those days Beach Road Black Rock was not inhabited by rich holiday makers. It was merely a down and out suburb for the poor of pocket. 

My life is equally constrained. At night I dreamed of attending to an elderly couple. Friend of a friend’s. An old man who was once a medical doctor who was losing his ability to contain feelings and would at times, and unpredictably, hit out at his wife. And the wife, frail and intelligent, was no longer able to maintain a tidy house. They needed my help. 

Are these reflections of me, of my struggle, or representative of the last boxing class I attended yesterday where I talked of my sense of being the disabled one, not because I could not box, the jab, double cross and hook, but because I lack the power of folks twenty years younger, whose rage you could hear in their thumping on leather.

My rage still sits below my collar bone, behind my rib cage. A bundle of nerves rather like the gas from the heater in Black Rock that needs an offering to show itself.

If you have no coins you shower in the cold. If you run out of coins before you’ve rinsed the soap from your body, you suffer the sticky consequences or the cold.

On the radio the other day when they talked about the human propensity to tell lies, how necessary it is to lie for the harmony of our communities, I relished the idea that lies can come in colours.

A rainbow of colours. The white lies with which we are all familiar. So essential to survival. To be polite and spare people’s feelings. A watering down of the truth to spare ourselves and others some type of discomfort and pain.

Grey lies to cover our mistakes. Blue lies to preserve the interests of a collective or group. Red lies told out of spite and a desire for revenge. Purple lies out of humility and a wish to stay modest and less visible.

So, it seems, we might lie for personal gain, or to avoid punishment, or because we get some pleasure out of deceiving people. All sorts of reasons to lie. 

And if, as the BBC program discusses, Dutch people are less prone to tell lies and also, or so a would-be comedian from Britain reported, less likely to laugh at other people’s jokes, then what does this say about my ancestrally based propensities?

I can lie with the best of them. Say the right things when the situation demands. But I also feel this profound urge much of the time to say what I think. Not in my work, that’s far more thoughtful and constrained, but among friends. Equally, from what people in this BBC program argue, I, like all people, am not even aware of the frequency with which I lie, or keep things to myself. 

One thought on “Last morning in Black Rock”

  1. I struggle to imagine you as a boxer. It’s the lankiness. You don’t tend to think of boxers or wrestlers as beanpoles. At least I don’t. Never had much time for boxing as a sport. As a form of exercise, well, maybe. But two blokes laying into each other round after round? Nah. Wrestling had technique and my house watched the wrestling on World of Sport faithfully; we had to be home by four o’clock on Saturday afternoons to catch it. It came as such a shock to me when, as an adult, I learned it was all staged. I don’t think my dad ever knew and I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to shatter that illusion.

    I also don’t get rage. I’ve been angry in my life but how many times have I raged? Only once comes to mind, a brief explosion that embarrasses me to this day. I don’t get angry that often either. The last psychotherapist I attended was always wanting me to talk about my anger. I insisted it was frustration, pure and simple. I do often get frustrated.

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