Thursday, 12 March 2009
The Primitive Machine - why we are intrigued by the drunk
At quarter to ten he asked me the time, and I only had to look at the station clock underneath the train times to tell him that it was quarter to ten, not knowing if I should tell him it was in the morning not the night. He was short – up to my shoulder, like a little boy – and he had a long dirty white beard like Father Christmas, and he was mumbling something I couldn’t quite understand, so I said ‘What?’
‘I’m out of it,’ he said – as far as I could guess, that was as close as it got. And I know he was out of it from the numb speech and the glazed dead-look in his eyes I saw when he looked at me to speak. He stunk off piss so bad it was like a baby’s nappy change, or a public toilet with the overwhelming stench of ammonia caught in my nose and mouth. That yellow stink catching at the back of my throat. He swayed on his feet and when he steadied himself he was a step closer to me, shoulder to shoulder.
‘I need something to bring me down,’ he said – again, I’m paraphrasing.
‘You should go get a cup of coffee, then,’ I said. I paraphrase myself, now, because I can’t remember my exact words. But I told to go get some coffee, immediately regretting this in case he wants dome change. But he shakes his head defiantly, No, don’t want.
Yeah, don’t want none of that. I thought of him being in the pub all night – pint after pint. I imagined the first pint yesterday afternoon. I wondered when he pissed himself, or was he doing it as he spoke, maybe that’s why it smelled so strong. I looked down to see if there was a puddle coming to meet my shoes, but there wasn’t.
‘I need a bring down,’ he said, and I almost heard him say Man. I just need a bring down, maaan. I didn’t know what this was.
‘You don’t know what I mean, do you?’ he said. Obviously, I didn’t. What’s a bring down after a piss-up? Whiskey?
‘Drugs,’ he said. Oh yeah.
‘Haven’t got none,’ I said. No money, either.
‘Didn’t ask for any, did I?’ he said. For a second his tone changed and I’m expecting him to bring out a knife and slowly try to stab me, stumbling and eventually giving up, but the situation would be more frightening than it sounds. But he waddles off, with a thick trail of piss air behind him. I can’t help but laugh when he talks to a girl with bright red hair, who clearly ignores him, and he walks again, leaving the girl unable to even breathe a sigh of relief with the stink. He talks to an old woman, about his height, who gets off the Kirby train, and they seem to get in a conversation. She must be too polite to leave him, or a kind Christian who wants to help, but can only offer to listen. I don’t know what he’s saying, but a couple of people stare at him as they pass by, they should at least drop some coins in a hat or something.
He eventually got on the same train as me, and I got on the next carriage down, because he stunk so bad. It was like you could taste the hot liquid through the black felt-like jogging or sweat pants he wore.
He is like a Greek Tragedy, unable to avoid the disaster in front of him, while others – including myself – are just spectators of his life. But why are we fascinated by them? Because we are. We stop and stare, and if we don’t stop, we still stare. Wow, my life could have been like that if I never got a bath. Or, Wow, if I could drink all night, and do drugs in the morning, my life would be just dandy. Or, Dirty bastard, get away from me. It’s funny how close we are to being like that. I think we’re all self-destructive, it’s a primitive machine; what stops us being so primordial is living a non-animalistic life – How clean we are; how well dressed we are; Oh granny, what nice job you have... All the better to keep my life in order and pay for private accommodation away from any riff-raff on the streets.
We are all exposed to danger; we are all animals. What is interesting is how we refuse to know that we are animals. I’m not an animal, I wear pants! Sophocles’ Oedipus and Freud’s Oedipus was an intellectual man who exposed himself to the dangers of reality and has repressed yearnings of patricide and incest. We, as humans, carry the repressed yearnings of death and desire. Those two concepts may or may not intersperse, but both exist side by side; without death there is no life, without desire there is no life. Therefore, Oedipus the Everyman was the animal he fought not to be, and the drunk I saw in the train station was the animal he fought to become.
The desire for anything is in us all – as is death – and the most animalistic action is the desire to kill, as humans we do not want to kill and we don’t want death. What I’m saying is, the desires in life are for the good or the bad, you end up a rich New York stockbroker, or you end up a drunken old man in a train station smelling of piss. We are apart from animals in that we are the human instinctively primitive, with no control over our destiny.