As perfunctory platitudes go, ‘Splendiferous Christmas and a Gay New Year’ are the only season’s greetings I will allow myself to be heard to utter.
The other one, the one I didn’t say but which I have subliminally inserted into your mind – if not in the last paragraph then almost certainly now – used to rile me with its mindless and by implication, its meaningless nature. (Also who still says ‘merry’? Hmm, around the same number of people who say ‘splendiferous’, I’d say.) So I coined a new one. I think it rolls off the tongue. Others opinions are varied. I’m not bothered. I refuse to engage in the modern population’s habit of vacuously reciting idioms, of which much of the time they have little to no understanding, simply because it’s what other folk are doing. I’m not like other folk, see?
No, I’m different. I have no problem with that; it’s the way I am. Reckon I’ve been ‘different’ for over ten years now, so it’s not as though it’s a revelation. Probably fair to say that by now I’m at one with my vast differentiation and indeed, I embrace it. After all, it’s my differences that make me not the same as everybody else.
What I do find mildly frustrating about being different though is how most people I encounter still seem to expect some variety of normality from me, as if their eyes aren’t even perceiving the veritable depiction of individuality upon which they’re gazing; meaning that when I do fall back into my classically outlandish or ribald ways these unprepared onlookers, precious souls as they are, become inexplicably shocked, dismayed, or even, heaven forbid, disillusioned. It’s as though these people, these horrendously ‘normal’ folk expect the well-dressed, clean cut rural lad standing before them with the peculiar tone and queer facial hair configuration – the pointy sideburns, the overgrown tickler along with the disastrously high hairline – to be the height of etiquette and to not speak out of turn; as though they expect I should be acting differently…
I recently found myself the subject of relationship advice; the advisor in this case was my 87-year-old grandmother. Typical of the older generation she’s a gregarious soul who believes that everyone should have someone and that no one, under any circumstances, can be happy on their own. Much as I try to impress upon her that I am a currently single male by choice – as I have been for the past all my life – largely because I have yet to encounter that wondrous female accomplice who will put up with my many foibles, who will tolerate my before-my-time bought of terminal eccentricity and/or ultimately, that wondrous female accomplice who will endure my expansively idiosyncratic being. (Thinking of it just now, I am not all that certain that such a woman actually exists but, I guess we’ll see.)
…Here’s the thing, I am acting differently; I’m acting differently to everyone. Here’s another thing, it’s not just an act; it’s actually how I act – despite the active reactions. (Yes, act is a versatile word.) Then after demonstrating to these ‘normal’ folk the mere basis of what it is to be ‘different’, I feel as though it’s then up to me to bring out the metaphorical tub of mental salve to liberally apply to the stretch marks of their frightfully expanded minds…
I am unsure quite how I ever came to be the focus of relationship advice from an octogenarian, but once Grandma started on her rant I realised I was in for the long haul. I could see she had on her impassioned face and had slipped into her adamant tone (this is where any alternatives I might try to edge in alongside her prefabricated conclusions, in fact any contribution I might try to offer at all, is wrong) thus felt that to interject at this point could only end badly, so just let her go with it. This ‘advice’, if I allow to come freely, (passion feeding passion and such) ordinarily, soon turns into more of a telling off than anything, as Grandma brutally points out everything that she believes (therefore that is) wrong with my approach at whatever it is that’s being ‘discussed’.
…It was during my recent stint as a North Canterbury farm labourer that I was introduced to some of the straightest minded people I think I have ever or likely will ever meet (not so much my brother-in-law though, fair to say that after all this time he is starting to get me, and even occasionally reciprocates a bit of my crazy himself), but that’s just farming – seems to be an industry where shenanigans are generally frowned upon. In fact I reckon the only time that farmers do let loose and allow themselves to be depicted (maybe just a little) as idiots is when they’re boozing, although, frequently as that is (the boozing not the idiocy), it’s still too far much normalcy for my liking…
Thinking of it, I had just finished regaling her with the tale of misfortune that occurred while picking up my suit from the drycleaners and finding it in a less than desirable state; I then listened ‘attentively’ as she had regurgitated every piece of dry-cleaning knowledge that she had gleaned from her mother during childhood as well as a couple of glistening pearls (radio talkback, I believe) on stain removal – all of which I have been forced to hear umpteen times already – meaning her next piece of homily, as goes Grandma’s natural conversational shift, of course, was regarding my dress sense. Then as if she had no former knowledge of me at all, she actually told me that I should be looking at what other people my own age are wearing to get an idea of today’s fashion – I looked at her in disbelief and retorted, “What … So I can look the same as them?”
…Posing as the third wheel (technically it’s called a jockey wheel) to the marriage that is my sister and brother-in-law, while at an event mixing with this farming crowd I witnessed a number of terribly ‘stable’ relationships – terribly ‘stable’ men with their similarly ‘stable’ women – which admittedly did start me pondering my own situation. It’s not as though I am unfamiliar with men and women in stable relationships (and like, I’m pretty sure I know how babies are made too), it was just this particular assortment of ‘stable’ men and women and the relationships that they maintained…
”Just to get an idea,” Grandma was saying, as if had no idea, “get an idea of what people are wearing these days.”
“Really? Shit I already know what the cool kids are wearing, Grandma, and quite honestly, I don’t want a bar of it – I tend to do what it takes to go against the grain of convention.”
“Why would you want to do that?” she snapped, insinuating her belief that the most important aspect of life is fitting in so seamlessly that nobody can tell you are a separate personality.
“Grandma,” I started with exasperation, “you know that I don’t fit in with your beloved mainstreamers … You know furthermore that I have given up even making an effort to do so.”
“Why?” she demanded.
I shook my head then stared at her expectant face. “I have no desire to be like other people Grandma, because simply, generally,” I lowered my tone, “I don’t like other people.”
“Well that’s not very friendly,” her voice shot up, “how do you expect them to like you if you don’t like them?”
“I don’t expect them to like me,” I said disbelievingly, almost sardonically; at the same time feeling a little like a primary school pupil under a firm telling-off from the principal, “I have no desire to recruit so called ‘friends’, and even less desire to dress the way they do.”
“Well I’m sure they’re not wearing black suits, anyway,” she muttered, ensuring the last word was hers.
I paused, unsure if I should go on. “My God woman, what are you talking about?” I said with a chuckle. “The only time you’ve seen me wearing my black suit was years’ ago and if I recall, on that day you complimented me on my dress sense – for which, incidentally, you then tried to claim credit as if you had been the one to advise me on it, when, if I recall furthermore, you ridiculed my purchase of a totally black suit, said it was ‘foolish’ of me to buy a totally black suit, particularly to wear to my sister’s wedding.”
“Well, you looked like an undertaker.”
“So why..? But you..? I thought..? But you said…” I gave up, understanding that Grandma’s ability to retain information past more than a few words was lost.
“Just get an idea of what people your age are wearing,” she reiterated (said for the first time).
“Hang on,” I said, realising if I wasn’t careful this could go on indefinitely, and in fact if it did Grandma would probably be quite happy. “Look, I know what people my age wear, just as you know what I wear and typically, as you know, I don’t wear a black suit.”
“Really? When do I see you dressed up?”
“Every Wednesday I come by here – today, for example.”
“And you look very nice today.”
“Well, I do at least make an effort to at least look presentable.”
“And you look very nice too … Oh that reminds me, my neighbour’s got a very smart jacket he was throwing out, that I said you might like..?”
I sighed, thinking of how many ‘people my age’ would wear that jacket. Grandma’s neighbour lives in the retirement village with her and is older than she is; besides, and if only for her own sense of self-importance, I had taken an obligatory look at this jacket the first time she had made the suggestion, several months earlier.
…All the seemingly happy couples did make me wonder if perhaps I should be making a bigger effort to conform to the ways and methods of these folk – of ‘normal’ folk. I understand that it would be a terribly dull existence but then I wonder for how much longer I can realistically pull off being ‘different’..? (I have a feeling that after a certain age a man’s abnormalities, their quirks, or ‘differences’ as it were, are perceived less as fun and light-hearted foibles, and after a certain age I think he stops being perceived as simply ‘different’ and starts being seen as ‘that creepy old guy’. I don’t want to be a ‘creepy old guy’. Shit I can’t imagine being an old guy, let alone a creepy old guy. That wouldn’t be any fun. I imagine that would be hurtful.) Would a ‘different’ pensioner even be accepted by his contemporaries or would he be cast off as the invalid pariah? On that, I wonder if the New Zealand Government even recognises ‘different’ pensioners, or if they are treated as foreigners, thus immigrants, and face an impending life of persecution at the hand of Donald J Trump?…
At jiu-jitsu recently, as is frequently the case I found myself rolling with a more experienced, stronger, older, therefore much more able athlete than myself who was, as is frequently the case, pummelling me. At one point during the session (an uncomfortable stint of ‘knee on belly’, as I recall), as is frequently the case, I found myself uttering an assortment of involuntary squeaks and grunts (along with the customary knee–on–belly onomatopoeia which if spoken quickly and in a strangled Japanese voice I do find mightily comical). Then through the good-humour I saw an opening. With a flick of my hips and twist of my pelvis I managed to sweep my assailant, toppling him and regaining the upper hand; this time releasing an (entirely voluntary) squeak of delight/relief. He looked up at me questioningly – perhaps fearful that during all my involuntary grunting and ‘knee-on-belly’ onomatopoeia I had genuinely defecated myself – I nevertheless recomposed and joked, “Sorry about that, just saying a prayer in Hindi.”
He shook his head. “No point praying man,” he said mater-of-factly, “there’s no god.”
“No no,” I recovered once more, “it’s alright, I pray to myself…”
I witnessed a grin cross my opponent’s face as he awaited the punch-line (something for which I just now realise I have become renowned among my jiu-jitsu classmates).
“…The only being in this world in which I do have faith,” I concluded.”
“Good man,” he said, before sweeping, turning, then submitting me with a neck crank (which is no more fun than it sounds), “gotta have faith in something, eh.”
…I’m not going to do it today though. Today I have more important stuff to do – Grandma related stuff – and I scarcely consider improving my outward display of normalcy important…
I do have faith in myself. I believe in me; I won’t lie, I won’t cheat, and I’ll always do what it is that I say I will do.
…Yet until this world starts making a better effort to comply with me and my standard of living, I have little desire to comply with this world.
It’s just that simple.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Norm L Si
Photography by Nick Rank