Self-portrait by Otto Dix

Ideas for actions
2004-06-22 - 3:04 p.m.

What follows is a story I just wrote inspired by THIS, which is a list of random situationist-inspired things you might do to brighten up your life. There are about 45 of these ideas incorporated in the following narrative.

Catriona woke up at 5 am. Her alarm clock had stopped. The stillness was unnerving, the lack of tick, the absence of the infinitessimal breeze from the revolving minute hand. She felt oddly awake: she'd been working till midnight most nights, and didn't have any concept of when she was allowed to sleep. On an impulse she made breakfast, which she never normally ate, but she couldn't find any sugar. She saw on the fridge a little treasure map that she didn't remember doing, but nobody else lived there. Three paces left, two paces back, ten paces to the right, and beneath a cushion on the floor was a little stack of twenty or thirty envelopes of crystal sweetener stolen from fast-food restaurants. She made cornflakes.

Jake staggered blurrily out of his house. He worked at a department store taking in deliveries and had to start at 6 o'clock in the morning. He could always tell when it was Saturday on his way to work by all the traces left from Friday night people. Paradise Resort nightclub had been rebranded Parasite Sore. Heading along the pedestrianised shopping street, a security light from a rooftop picked him out briefly in a circle of illumination. He spun round a lamppost in acknowledgement. Outside the shop, the protesters were there already, marching in circles. Previously that week they had complained about fur coats, Israeli fruit, and arms companies who also manufactured toasters. Today their billboards were blank. Jake didn't know if that meant that they didn't want anything else, or if they were willing to be flexible.

Catriona moved the spoon to her mouth very slowly and carefully, preserving the meniscus of the milk. She chewed every mouthful a hundred times, chomping along with the jingles on television, even for toilet cleaner. The phone rang and she picked it up. A voice on the other end of the line asked her, "How many Swedish Kronas can I get for a pound?" Catriona replied, "13.80," and put the phone down. She went for a shower, bringing her karaoke machine and taping a fractured, downbeat version of "Angel of the Morning".

Jake was in the cloakroom at work, where as usual things were all screwy. Someone had replaced the lightbulbs with UV bulbs so everything white blinded him, and things which definitely should not glow were all too visible. He realised he'd slipped his work trousers on over his pyjama bottoms without taking the latter off first, so he stuffed them extra-hiddenly into the back of his locker. Stephen the baker came into the cloakroom at the end of his shift and walked into the showers fully dressed. A thick paste of flour and water formed on the floor. With all the steam a picture condensed on the mirror: the food hall manager was depicted being trampled by huge fish. Jake asked if fish, being footless, could trample anything, but Stephen only said something obscene about the cleaners. Jake went downstairs to the office and found someone had covered a wall with Post-Its. Most of them said, "Jake didn't stick me here". One at the bottom said "Mostly."

Catriona wandered back into the lounge, when she heard the doorbell. She picked up the intercom and a voice sang "But maybe someday when my ship comes i-i-in she'll understand what kind of guy I've been and then I'll win". Catriona smiled and thought, "I'm much better than he is." She opened the door and the postman gave her a parcel. Inside she found a little dictation tape recorder and pressed play. There were a few voices on it; "Hi, I'd like to send this first class. Sure, one pound twenty eight. ... Edinburgh, Edinburgh, where the fuck? ... Hey, don't kick that. ... Soon as we clock off I'm gonnae go out that door, roll the biggest joint you ever seen and blow smoke up at the window. If you suck in deep enough, you'll get some ae it." It finished with "Uptown Girl" again. She put her tape of "Angel of the Morning" in the box, crossed out her address and wrote the sender's.

Jake pushed up the shutters and looked out into the alleyway back of the store. Up by Superdrug, somebody had written in chalk, "I will not tell him which way the fox ran". He could see another line scrawled round the corner, "Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?". Jake started sweeping and nearly crushed a paper airplane lying in the loading bay. He opened it up and saw that somebody had written inside, "I'm really high up. And you're not." His boss told him that if he was bored, he could clean out the photo booth on the ground floor. It was full of wigs and fake beards again, and there was mustache glue on the seat.

Catriona, inside, wondered why her street was so quiet; outside she saw. There was a row of bright orange traffic cones at each end, and three men were sitting in their sofa in the middle of the road watching the cricket from India on a portable TV. They had an icebox full of beers, and offered her one, but she declined. She wondered if they were the same people who one night last month covered the roofs of all the houses in grass. That night she had gone to sleep terrified that a cow would fall through her ceiling.

Jake got off work at 1. On the way out he saw an elderly man, one of the temporary sales staff, sitting in the back stairs. He was wearing a pinstripe suit, and had a razor blade in his hand. Slowly he was cutting along each of the stripes on the suit. It looked like a hundred black leeches were hanging off his flesh. Jake was amazed that the man was not dissolving in a pool of blood, but the man was cutting very very carefully. "Is that your suit?" Jake asked, but ran off before the old man replied.

Catriona came to the Links. There was some kind of festival. Tyre swings were tied to every tree. A kid on a tricycle pedalled around, with chalk strung from the back of his vehicle drawing lines like the smoke behind an aerobatic display. In the middle of the grass, people were playing some kind of blind chasing game. She wondered if it was in aid of the Blind School, or if they were just taking the piss. A woman came up to her, standing with inappropriate closeness. Catriona tried to back away, but before she could say anything this lady had her hands round the back of her head, tying a blindfold, and was saying, "You'd be great if you couldn't see anything".

Jake stuck his hand in his jacket pocket. There was a letter he'd got two days ago but had not yet opened. The letter said, "It's good you want to work, not waste time studying pointless material at college. But if you try hard enough, you'll find there's things you want to learn, no matter where you have to go to learn them. And sooner or later these early mornings are going to drive you insane. A Friend." Jake walked into the park and found his eyes strapped shut. He staggered uphill where Catriona was going downhill. It took an age for them to waddle together, neither of them trusting the ground. Each step was afraid what a dog might have done there before. Catriona could hear that someone was approaching by the loud shuffling of Jake's shoes. Jake found he could smell her shampoo amid the odour of the grass. "Hey, watch out," she shouted. They touched fingers, and the distance between them increased again as they kept walking.

Catriona walked into a tree and fell over. She landed on a park bench which was dedicated "In memory of Norman Smeggitt-Twonk who so loved this park". The bench had been covered in thick carpet and cushions so she hardly bruised any part of her. Next to the bench, she saw that somebody had drawn windows onto the tree, with owls behind the windows pulling the faces of suburban homeowners who didn't like passers-by looking into their houses. Catriona said sorry to the owls.

Jake got home and decided to have a shower. The lightbulb in the bathroom had gone two weeks ago, but Jake liked to shower in the dark. He pretended he was on a ship in the middle of a storm, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and lashed by waves. Because it was an old flat, the toilet was in another room so he didn't piss on the floor. When he finished, he got dried and looked out some paper and envelopes. In a heap of dust and curly hairballs on his bedroom floor, he found his old school yearbook and sitting on his bed began to write a letter. However, soon he got bored and drew an eagle on the back of a Reader's Digest Prize Draw offer. He wrote in big letters, "If you give me a prize, I will disembowel you. Forever. Like Prometheus."

Catriona wandered up the hill into a rich neighbourhood that was all trees, walls, and Jeeps parked on the pavements. She realised she was lost, but using a combination of the direction of the sun and photos of each junction captured on her mobile, she made steady non-circular progress back to a road sign with destinations she recognised. A small boy was handing out flowers to everyone who went past. Catriona thanked him gratefully and sniffed them as she clutched them to her chest. Then she asked where he got them from, and he replied that they were in the skip behind Fleur's Florist. Catriona stacked the blooms by the side of the road, but it looked like someone had died there, so she picked them all back up again and threw them in a bin. She wandered into the cinema, where they were showing some old Katherine Hepburn movie, but the air conditioning was broken and she went home and watched the rest on video.

Jake sank in front of the TV. A few days ago, his flatmates had lost their couch in a bet to the neighbours, and they'd got a nasty unstuffed antique that seemed about eighty years old. Every time he got too excited and leant forwards, he caught a spring up his ass. He was sure that somebody had tidied up while he was at work, but both his flatmates seemed to be in bed. Maybe it was the neighbours feeling guilty about the wires up his backside. He looked suspiciously at his little brother's drawing of their family that he'd stuck on the wall. Unless his brother was in serious need of social workers, somebody had been tampering with it. Faking a drawing by a six year old was nasty even by the moral standards of art-forgers.

Catriona rammed her key in the front door and raced to the phone, flipping the handset up into the air smack into her jawbone. She was sure it was her boss. She already felt guilty. A voice inquired whether she owned or rented her kitchen. Luckily she was always at least half-prepared for this eventuality, and used her musical talents to play a ten-minute version of The Doors' classic "The End" on the telephone keypad. Long before she'd shrieked "Father I want to kill you" down the line, the worksurface-shilling cretin had seen the error of his ways and decided on a restful career as a private security operative in the Middle East.

Jake studied his map: surely this was the place. The airport was very near, and planes zoomed over their heads to set down on the runway. Some of his mates had found an area of wasteground, cleared all the scrap metal and broken glass away, and replaced it with trestle tables from a skip, stacked with bottles of beer. They'd painted over the "no entry - danger" signs in blackboard paint and had written pub-style chalk menus with non-existent delicacies. As he walked in through an archway twisted from garden canes, half a dozen people ran up with notebooks and pens demanding his autograph and thrusting long thin things in his face. They were probably supposed to be microphones, but could have been dildoes. "Thank you, it's great to be in this country, even us famous actors like to come to Scottish wastelands and get drunk. Much better than staying in LA getting blow-jobs from Jennifer Aniston."

Catriona was already at the party. She was wearing low-rider jeans and a T-shirt that said one big word: "YES". Jake wasn't close enough to see what it said below those three letters; probably there was some kind of small print in there. When she saw him, Catriona's mind drifted back to their first meeting, five years ago. They were so close, bunking off school and heading into town, hiding in an alleyway trying to pretend their school uniform was cool cutting-edge couture, their lips pressed together, and then their entire biology class trooped past en route to look at insects in the Royal Museum. The teacher made some joke about biology and they each got a month of detention.

Jake wandered over to her. She didn't say any kind of greeting. He told her, "I wrote you a letter." Catriona pretended she was one of those people who always get given letters at parties. Jake said, "Goodbye. I'm going out to live with my mate Derek in Bavaria for a few months. He says I should get bar-work or some hotel. I know the German for 'beer' and 'lots of'. I might get to wear Lederhosen. Then, maybe in a year, I'll come back and paint birds on trees full time."

Catriona said, "You drew the owls?" Jake nodded. She said, "They looked so ... condemning at me."

Jake said, "Owls don't have facial expressions."

Catriona thought for a moment, and told him, "We both knew it would never work. Not with you working early mornings and me working all the time now." Jake nodded; "We can't even get up at the same time of day." Catriona told him, "When you do get back, I'll keep an eye out for owls."

Jake leant forwards and said, "I hope they're smiling at you." He kissed her cheek. Then he went home because he had got up so early. Catriona didn't feel tired. She danced all night, till some moron started playing on the railway track and the police came.


The list of ideas (not in order) is:

Important Person, Along the Lines, Water closet, Trail of Tears, Le Imposter, Rooftop Parks, Living Room, Street Sign Chalkboard, Finding X, Flowers to Strangers, Shower Singing, Movie Context, Subverted Signage, City Reclamation, Soft Cover, Lo-Fi Serenade, Shower/Laundry, The Sound of Mail, Mystery Aid, Blind Meeting, Couch Swap, Jumper Cable Circuit, Tree Graffiti, Guerilla Swings, Pragmatism, Anonymous Leg Up, Music for Telemarketers, Pretending to Pretend, Guerilla Spotlight, Mirror Mural, Closer-In Conversations, Nonlinear Poetry, Junk Mail Echoes, Post-It Graffiti, Slow-Mo Meal, Hidden Pajamas, Lines into History, Anti-Demonstration, Airplanes Overhead, Photo Booth Put-On, Paper Airplanes, Going Nowhere, Dark Shower, First Kiss Again, Affirmation
Ideas from "Simple Adventures for Everyday Living" by Joseph del Pesco. First published in TENbyTEN's "Spectacle" issue, vol. 2, no. 2. Chicago.

<< back . forwards >>
AOL Instant Messenger: refusaldiary
Email me

Click here to comment - 1 comments so far

Camila - 2004-06-22 20:44:58
I love your surrealism :) 'tis like reading a Magritte but with your special Stuart twist ...

This entry is Ideas for actions
My most recent entries are:

The Rapture Index


Now playing

say anything...

NaNoWriMo 2003
Vending Billy
Sophie's Imaginary Friends
Ideas for actions

Also by me:
My Everything2
Other photos
Impersonal journal
Shit list

Other links:
The Internet is Shit
Everything 2
Portal of Evil
I Bleed For This?
Straight Dope
Off The Telly
Pieces of You
Random me!