The Other Side
by Ariel Beller
So you want a report from the other side and I’m saying I’ll give you one. I mean no one else knows about this. And I’m going to tell you because I am here and you are there.
Should we stick to the facts? The undeniable realities? We could start there I suppose. But to be honest the undeniable realities seem pretty goddamn basic to me. So I won’t go into them. I won’t tell you about people or places. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of shit I already know. What a lot of people won’t tell you is, they are just a little man or a little woman sitting alone in a room. Maybe it is winter. Maybe they have their socks draped over the heater and a tiny radio going on the freezing windowsill. The radio plays the music of a dead Russian composer. Etc.
But don’t go thinking there’s a person here. I am just a bunch of words. I have a mother but she’s not a person either. She’s 5,000 miles away and that makes her just an image, a sound. I have a friend named M – who lives in Oregon. Every now and then he sends me a bunch of words telling me about his life, as if he were a person. But M – is just an image, a sound. I have another friend named G – and she has a baby inside her. The baby is an image. The baby is almost a feeling. For G – it’s inevitable. The baby will come out and try to be a person but it will fail. Just like the rest of us.
To be honest there isn’t too much going on over here, on the other side. There are a lot of things I could do if I wanted. I could re-arrange my books. I could relieve myself in the sink which is where I usually go because the bathroom is so cold and I’m always up so late and I don’t want to wake my neighbours with so many trips to the bathroom. I’m drinking beer, you see. That’s one thing that’s going on. I’m also stopping every now and then to roll a cigarette. Stravinsky. Something in B-flat. That’s what the radio is about to play. That’s another thing that’s going on. It’s not really a cause and effect sort of thing, if you believe in that. It’s more just a thing that’s happening right now, something that’s being played out, and I can’t really think of any consequence in that.
Whenever I relieve myself at the sink I let the cold water run, to wash it down, and I look at myself in the mirror. I can tell you right now I don’t like what I see. It’s always a pale face with imploring eyes. A face that has forgotten what it wanted to say. And I never shake it right so there’s a drip down the legs and I feel slightly ashamed about letting that happen. Maybe I was in a hurry. I’m trying to tell you about my impotence, my incapability, and the impossibility really, of me ever being a real person.
I could introduce you to the Pinocchio salesman.
You might say, ‘Who the fuck is the Pinocchio salesman?’
You might use that kind of language.
I might say, ‘He’s this Italian guy down the street who sells Pinocchio dolls.’
But I will know and you will know that the Pinocchio salesman is not a real person either so, why should I bother? In fact he’s not Italian at all but Russian. I went down there the other day and there were no dolls. Only electronics like stereos and cassette tapes and VCR’s. There was an old soiled pink bunny. And some slippers. I had no need of these things.
There was a time I suppose when I was crazy. There was a time. But now I’m just like you. A bunch of words trying to be a person. I don’t think it’s fair really, how we ended up. I’m being a little nostalgic. I just can’t see another way of doing things. I might have a disease. I might be dead in three weeks. You just can’t know. It’s the most important things you just can’t know about. That’s why there are no people left. There are certain and numerous appearances that seem like people. But you never really know. No one really talks to each other. There’s just a bunch of words and images and sounds and sometimes when you’re alone, a rumour. On rare occasions a taste in the mouth. Fear tastes like alkaline, like putting your tongue to a 9-volt battery. I know because I was once hit by a car and attacked by a dog. Not at the same time. They were years apart.
Sometimes you can feel great about things. You can feel great about the person you think you are. You can get off on this, if you want. Most of us do. But it’s a reflex, just so you know. You can hit your knee if you want to. Beautiful feeling. Watch your leg lurch in response. That’s cause and effect I suppose. But that’s not what I’m interested in. What I’m interested in is what happens when we say nothing. Because people who think they’re people, they expect certain responses. And what happens when they don’t receive, oh that’s the funniest shit in the world. To set a person who thinks they’re a person, to set them completely off balance well, it happens every day. People who think they are people are very predictable. They’re like advertisements for their personality. Listen to them speak. You’ll know what I mean. Don’t let them see chaos unless upsetting people is what you really like to do.
I’m afraid I like upsetting people. Perverse enjoyment yes. Deliberate yes. The only thing that bugs me is it’s far too easy. That seems to be the problem with people. As if I fucking mattered. Me. Just a person who thinks he’s a person, with warm socks and a radio. You’d think anyone who expends so much effort forging such a precious identity would have a bit more self-respect. This alone is to me the finest example of how hollow you are. Even non-people can be sincere. If they really want to. If that’s what they feel like doing. Though it often turns out funny. Like a person you thought you loved. For some reason. But it turned out different. More like confusion. You get on with it. You accept it, eventually. Or you don’t. Self-hatred is fine too. Just a bi-product of being a person. Even though you can’t. A cello can’t be a person. But it tries. There is hatred in the cello. Sublime hatred maybe. But hatred all the same. Hatred is nothing but a sound and sometimes a pit between the lungs. A wooden vibration. Nothing more. Nothing to worry about. Just a certain tickling sound. Off-key. Picture everyone you know. Non-people reverberate. They have a certain sound. An undying sound. You cannot drown it out.
Waking up is different here. You don’t rub your head in the morning. You just lie there, thinking what to do. You don’t think what could be worse than now. In the morning, everything is the same. The world is a face is a blanket is a person. Sometimes you get lucky. Brush your teeth. Hum the star spangled banner. Drown out the person you were yesterday. Say yes to vague questions. Take the knives they hand you and go to work. Like a real person. Capable. Full of action. No one knows you. You are, after all, a nothing with a face. A frozen picture of yourself. Happy. Misunderstood. Grateful. Belligerent. Wise. Idiotic. Precious and full of fear. It’s a brand new sun shiny day. And you are alive.
Don’t forget to breathe.