The Furniture of Philosophy
‘Congratulations, young man.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
A first… said as though it were not possible that a first and an eyebrow piercing could ever go hand in hand. But it was true.
Dixon nodded slowly. ‘Yes sir. A first.’
‘Congratulations.’ The Vice-Chancellor said it again, as though hoping his voice would muster a little more enthusiasm second time round. ‘So,’ and here he paused, savouring for a moment the discomfort he expected he was about to inflict, ‘what do you intend to do with it?’
To be honest, Dixon had given it no thought. He had taken his degree for what seemed to him to be the best – the only – possible reason: that he was interested in the subject. For everyone else, it had become apparent, this was the worst possible reason to do something: to be merely interested in it. Further considerations? He’d had none, had none now. So, what would he do with it? As the Vice-Chancellor waited, ideas flitted through Dixon’s head, but none would settle. What would he do with Philosophy? He mulled the word round and round, looking for connections, random associations; something, anything, to grab out of the darkness. Philosophy… philosophy… philosophy… furniture. The word came to him abruptly; for a moment he could not work out why. Then he recalled it: Philosophy of Furniture. A story – no, more an essay – by… who was it? Poe? Yes, Poe. He was sure now. He had never actually read it, of course; or rather, he had read only the first line, long ago – something about the English being supreme – and had on this basis alone held its abbreviated memory in fond regard ever since. So: Philosophy of Furniture. Perfect. Aesthetics: yes, he had excelled particularly in aesthetics.
So, his reply: ‘I was thinking of going into furniture design.’
The Vice-Chancellor stood, speechless, his handshaking-hand still extended. His expression said: well, this is exactly the kind of nonsense, the kind of desperate, unrealistic, detached-from-reality nonsense that we expect from philosophy graduates.
Finally he nodded. ‘Very good. Very good.’ The Vice-Chancellor moved on down the line to the next expectant twenty-one year old right hand.
Dixon stood there feeling… what? Humiliated? No, not even embarrassed. Elated. Inspired. He knew now what his niche would be: the furniture of philosophy. A philosophically aesthetic, aesthetically philosophical approach to design, along the best academic principles of Western Thought – aesthetic in the modern sense, of course, with reference to the idea of beauty in art and nature, following the usage derived from the 18th Century German philosopher A.G. Baumgarten. But that goes without saying.
And it has served him well. He has had his workshop for twenty years now. If Tolstoy was correct that the value of art is based upon “the capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling and experience those feelings himself,” what feelings are experienced through the appreciation of the furniture of Dixon Smith? Existential discomfort and haemorrhoids, most likely. In spite of this, his furniture has won many awards, and he is happy in his own quiet way. But the meaning of life still eludes him.
"Tomo, can I please just stay home?" you asked as you pulled your legs up to rest against your chest as you sat in your living room.
“No, now get up.” your brother said.
You let out a sigh as you let your legs down and made a pouty face.
“Pout all you want, y/n!” Tomo said as he walked back into the living room.
Your pout turned into a little sneer. “I don’t like you.” You got up with a huff and started to make your way towards your room. You love your brother to death, but today you just wanted to stay home and veg out.
After cursing Tomo in your head a little more, you finally grabbed a simple black v-neck and a pair of black leggings. Taming your hair was another story though. The brush and flat iron waged a war with the tangled raven hair. This definitely took up most of your time. Once that was done and out of the way, you started the makeup process.
“What’s taking you so long?” Tomo poked his head in to see if you were ready or if you had managed to escape through your window.
“Five minutes and I’m done!” You said without looking away from the mirror before you. Luckily, you had mastered the craft of putting on a decent face in 10 minutes early on thanks to early morning classes and having an older brother that liked to rush you.
“Come on!” Tomo groaned at you as he walked into your room a little further.
“Ok, I’m done.” You said as you got up and went to put your flats on. “God, I hope you’re not like this with Vicki.”
“Don’t worry about it. Now let’s go.”
"Where are we exactly?" You ask once the car stopped in front of a house in the Hollywood hills.
“Jared’s place.” Tomo said with a little sigh that you were all too familiar with. The sigh he does when he has to do something he really doesn’t want to. This was strange. In the years since Tomo has been with Mars, you’ve not once met Jared or Shannon. You’re a fan of the band, but you weren’t some psycho fangirl. Still Tomo has never brought you along to meet the Leto brothers. I could only assume because I was the little sister here, but did he really expect two of his best friends would try to pull a fast one or something?
You only eyed him then shrugged as you got out of the car. Once he was at your side, we started up the driveway towards the house. Reaching the door, Tomo rang the door bell and waited. He kept his eyes forward. He was nervous about this by the way he chewed on his bottom lip.
The door finally opened and there stood Jared Leto himself. “Hey Tomo!” He reached out and gave Tomo a hug. “And you must be y/n.” Jared smiled as he gave you a quick hug.
“Nice to finally meet you.” You managed to get out.
“It’s nice to finally meet you too! Tomo just keeps you locked away from us doesn’t he?” Jared said as he stepped aside to let Tomo and me into the house.
Tomo went right for the living room, leaving you a little lost. Do you follow him? No sense in not following so you made your way into the living room where your brother sat with Shannon.
“Hey.” Shannon greeted you as he looked over to meet your eyes. He smiled and you nearly had your knees give out from under you.
“Does anyone want anything to eat or something?” Jared asked as he walked into the living room.
“A little.” Shannon said with a shrug.
“Are you cooking?” Tomo asked.
“Yeah.” Jared said with a big smile.
Tomo eyed Jared with suspicion. Even you looked back at Jared with the same look. You’ve know this guy for not even a full five minutes and his cheery behavior had you second guessing him.
“I’ll help you.” Tomo said as he started to get up.
“It’s fine! I’ve got your sister. She’ll help me.” Jared grabbed your upper arm and practically hauled you back into the kitchen. This is definitely not how you expected things to go.
Once in the kitchen, Jared let go of your arm and faced you with that almost scary smile. His eyes were big and you felt the urge to run back into the living room, but these pristine blue eyes had your feet rooted to the ground.
“So, what do you like?” If this were any other situation, you’d be running in the opposite direction.
“Uhh… I-uhh… what?”
“Ohh… umm pasta?”
Jared smiled again then turned to begin looking through the cupboards. You soon joined him in getting the stuff to start cooking. Luckily, Tomo had taught you how to cook a little so you wouldn’t be burning anything here.
“So, y/n, are you seeing anyone right now?” Jared asked as he put the noodles in the boiling water.
You were a little taken aback by the question. “… no, I’m not.” You were afraid to ask why. Tomo would probably be having a fit if he were in the room.
“Really? A pretty little thing like you?” He looked over and smiled. With all this smiling, he has to be up to something.
“Nope. Single pringle.” You said as you stirred the Alfredo sauce.
“Well, uhh… let’s say I know someone…”
“Who?” You were genuinely curious about this.
Jared bit his bottom lip and looked up towards the ceiling. “You know of him.”
“Your brother knows him.”
You stopped stirring and looked at Jared. “Is it you?” You had to ask.
Jared shook his head. “Close.”
Blinking, you tried to think before it finally clicked. A blush creeping up and capturing your cheeks. Was he taking about who you thought? You covered your mouth with your hands. “Shannon?” You asked through your hands.
Jared nodded. “From what Tomo has told us about you, I think the two of you would be perfect.”
You couldn’t help but let out a little laugh at this. You gripped the edge of the counter and doubled over a bit. Is this seriously happening?
“Are you ok?” Jared asked.
You quickly stood up straight again and cleared your throat. “Is that why you’ve been all smiley with me?”
“Maybe…” Jared said with a sly little smile.
Wife (I of V)
A cold dawn in the settlement. Too early for stirring, yet a small dust storm blows up behind the beating feet of a dirty eyed child tearing up the main path. The watchtower guards follow him through their scopes. The boy waves a scrap of parchment at them and they lower their weapons. One guard climbs down to meet him at the gate. The guard takes the parchment and sends the boy off to the longhouse for a fresh canteen. Thank the broken earth they don’t take children, the guard thinks. He reads the note, despair thicker at every word. He makes his way to the campground.
The most distinct smell from the campground is bile. These people live off scraps. They’re not “real” settlers so they get the last of the share. Usually they’re reduced to making stews out of picked bones and used bath water. Since the water crisis started, they’ve had little more than pine needles and spit. The campground is never quiet, even in the fragile, dawning hours.
The guard makes his way to the edge of the campground, away to the quiet black tent. He shakes the frame. A woman with a black braid, with the only green eyes he’s seen in years, crawls out. He hands her the parchment. He says, “I’m sorry,” and he means it.
She doesn’t need to read the note, not really. She has felt like a widow since they left the house. She had known that things were rushed. That nothing was ready. The same type of mistakes had led her to these times. The same type of mistakes had caused the initial doom of humanity.
She sees his name before she reads it. “Cher,” she whispers. She sees “ambushed”. She sees “forest tribes”. The details are unnecessary. No matter which tribe it was, if they took them all they would have gutted them first. Lighter to carry. He taught her. He made her learn such things. “For your own good,”. “Yes, of course,”.
She knows this means there will be no water. She pockets the parchment and tells the guard, “I’m sorry,”. And she means it. The last bit of luster has faded from her eyes by the time she’s reached the settlement’s gate. She leaves quickly to avoid too many eyes. It will be chaos in the settlement when they learn.
It is a three mile walk back to her home, but she has a gun, enough water, and just enough bullets. At her wrist is the jungle knife he carved her for their first anniversary. For the worst of times.
The depressed person is standing in the middle of the shopping aisle. He is looking at all the products he could buy and he is thinking – how can I choose anything, how does anyone choose?
He cannot make a decision.
What the fuck am I going to cook for dinner?
At that moment what he is going to cook for dinner seems to be the most important thing in all the world. Not knowing makes him feel depressed. He is sad that just deciding on something to cook is so difficult.
Things should be easy.
But the supermarket is too loud. There are too many people and the music is up too high and he is starting to feel panicked and he worries that he is going to lose it.
I’m going to lose it, he thinks.
There is an image of himself running down the aisle, bashing people out of the way, knocking women and children to the floor, pulling things off the shelves. He sees this clearly. It could happen.
He tells himself to breathe deeply.
Breathe deeply, he whispers to himself. An old women, pushing a trolley, looks at him as though he is crazy and he feels ashamed and alone and as though everything is going wrong.
What did you get for dinner, she asks him.
The depressed person has nothing. The depressed person is empty handed. He is not a good provider, that much is obvious.
I didn’t know what to get, he tells her, I couldn’t decide.
What is wrong with you?
The depressed person shrugs. I don’t know, he tells her. But he does know. He is depressed. He is incapable of doing what comes naturally to others.
This is ridiculous, she says, this is fucked.
I’m sorry, he tells her. The depressed person is always apologizing for something. The depressed person is always doing something wrong. He is always failing her in some way.
Can’t you do anything?
The depressed person doesn’t know how to tell her that he doesn’t know how to do the little things anymore. The little things have become bigger. They tower over him.
I can’t put up with this much longer, she says, just sayin.
The depressed person realizes that he is bringing other people down. His illness gives off a ‘bad vibe’ to the people around him. He infects them with his sickness
Often, he feels like a carrier of the plague or a bug people want to flick of their shoulders real fast. His friends no longer want to be around him. He is a ‘downer’. There were one too many late night calls where he blubbered, drunk, into the mouthpiece about ‘wanting to die’ and how badly he ‘wanted the pain to end’.
His old friends avoid the depressed person.
He was diseased, sick, and his girlfriend hated his guts.
These were things to be depressed about, but the depression had begun well before all that. Now they were just things, parts of his life, his experience that he accepted. For a long time, he’d known this was how it was going to be.
Sometimes he wondered if he was psychic, if he could see the future somehow. Then he realized how stupid he was for thinking like that and he would sit there thinking – stupid, stupid, stupid – and slap his own face out of desperation.
Once his girlfriend found him like this. Slapping his own face.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, she said and went back to whatever room she had originated from.
The depressed person goes to a bar to drink alone because alcohol gives him a false sense of joy. Sometimes, when he is drunk enough, he gets this rosy, warm feeling in his skin and he tells himself that this is what it’s all about.
This is what it is all about, he thinks.
Five minutes later he will be leaning too far forward over the table trying to talk to some stranger about how he has ‘this darkness’ inside him and how this ‘black feeling’ is following him everywhere and about how he can feel it flowing through his veins, like his ‘blood is infected somehow’ and he is worried that he might do ‘something about it soon’.
He will try to open up to someone, usually some plump girl whose friends have left her alone while they go off to dance, and he will try to make himself clear. But all his words will come out wrong and the girl will feel uncomfortable when he starts to cry and she will leave him there, snot running down onto his top lip, and he will want to scream – what is wrong with me – at the whole room, he will want to demand answers from everyone present, but he is breathless from sobbing and the room is closing in on him and all he wants is to be free, for just one fucking second.
#388: Phuket, after the fall
Before I was born my parents fell in love with the island of Phuket in Thailand. They had been married five years before I came along; they had some problems conceiving. They were in the prime of their lives, my mother 26, my father freshly 30.
Every year before I was born, and for twenty years after, too, my parents took regular vacations to Phuket. There was something about that idyllic tropical island paradise that seduced them. Walks along in Karon Beach facing the Andaman Sea. Growing up, my family and I took so many trips to Phuket that for a stretch of nearly a decade we were visiting it twice, three times a year.
I remember it vividly, although in my mind the years, the visits that come to blur together from sheer frequency, have become split to two: Phuket before the fall, and Phuket after.
School was out late 2004 and my family made our customary trip to Phuket late that year, in the second or third week of December.
It was an uneventful trip, boredom starting to seep in the form of familiarity. I remember Solero ice creams every afternoon, back-issue People magazines I borrowed from my mother when I ran out of things to read, signboards adorned with the red-and-white of Coca Cola, except that in the Thai script it looked like EAN to me.
It was December 2004, a year that I don’t credit often enough for shaping me. It was the year I turned fourteen. The year I captained my school’s forensics team for the first time. The year I lost my virginity. The year I learned that love could just be exhilaration married to arousal, leaving a sediment of spite. A year I changed, and the year Phuket changed.
My family came home from a four-night visit, bored and restless — unsettled and slowly losing that enthusiasm for elephants greeting us at open-air hotel lobbies, knock-off Barcelona jerseys sold by men and women who mistook me for one of their own, dinner and dessert at Dino Park Mini Golf, the tackiest place ever, bored even of the rickety white Isuzu four-wheel drive jeep my father would rent every visit just so he could prove to my mother (in playful arguments that sometimes masked bitterness) that he could still drive manual. We came home December 24, 2004.
December 25 came and it was Christmas. Christmas at home meant nothing to us: occasionally a turkey lunch with a devout Christian neighbor, or at my godmother’s where her chef husband would cook. Christmas during the years I grew up was a warning letter, the comma preceding the final full stop — T-minus seven days to the start of a new year.
And then December 26, 2004, came. Boxing Day. I don’t remember much about the day, except that I shared a bizarre little chat with a security guard. (“Do you know why they call December 26 ‘Boxing Day’?” “No, why?” “Because in England lots of people would get really drunk on Christmas and they’d cause a lot of trouble, so it was legal for people to punch each other the next day with no consequences.” “Oh.”) That was the day of the Indian Ocean earthquake, although these precise words do the disaster injustice: even to call it an undersea megathrust earthquake captures little of the destruction it wreaked. Call it the third largest earthquake ever recorded, which it was, and you’d still not be able to come close.
The earthquake caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand. Four and a half thousand people died in Thailand alone, with a similar number recorded as missing. Phuket, my Phuket, was hit hard. Through some scheduling of luck I had missed, by two days, the terror of four-storey-high waves and wreckage. Others were not so lucky. Perhaps 300,000 people perished all over the world.
My family made it a point not to abandon our Phuket, although we saw the photos of tourist spots deserted, high-rise hotels shattered, people forlorn. We came the next year and found a very different island.
I remember the white Isuzu jeep, looking older and older every year we rented it (“I think they must be giving us the same car every time,” I mused at the rental office) and because a lot of the places we used to visit were closed or undergoing renovations, my family and I went on a spontaneous drive from Kata Beach up north to the tip of the island, following Thepkasattri Road to the causeway bridge that linked Phuket and mainland Thailand.
There we drove until we felt hungry, and in lieu of gaudy Thai dinosaur-themed mini golf diners or seafood fried rice stalls under coconut trees, we stopped at a house that appeared to serve rice and spicy prawn tom yum. A lone woman served us. She spoke no English and we spoke little Thai, but we made out that she was a southern Thai Muslim and she had been serving food out of the veranda of her home for about twenty years. She had children, had being the cruel operative word.
On the drive home, it struck me that the decadence and hedonism that seemed to me to be wildly, deeply, automatically embedded into the island had shifted in flavor to a sort of uneasy reverence. Respect for the dead. Tsunami warning hailers dotted the coast, flags bearing red, yellow or green to warn swimmers on the condition waves. Every place was quiet. It stayed quiet for a few years after, too.
Even Dino Park, that silly little mosquito-ridden knockoff Flintstones joint, fell flat. The lights and the music played loud, but something changed about the place. Or maybe it was I was just getting too old for chicken and pineapple pizza served by a Thai Wilma.
My grandmother always told me to make sure I always looked presentable because a person never really knew who they’d run into while they were going about their daily lives. She must have told me that over a decade ago and it stuck, because today I made sure I had perfect hair before I went to the emergency room for an infected wisdom tooth. That sounds a little ridiculous, but the pain had been so unbearable I was certain I would die and I didn’t want to do so with bad hair.
While in the waiting area an elderly man came over, sat next to me and apologized for staring. His wife was also a redhead he said, beautiful, and had big red waves that would fall over one eye like mine. He would call her cyclops and she’d stick her tongue out at him. His name was then called and he thanked me. He said she’d been gone for so long that sometimes he’d forget the little things and it was nice to remember and be comforted by them. Before he walked off he called me cyclops and I of course stuck my tongue out at him.
The lords are waiting; he can hear them whispering their discontent in rough, hoarse voices. They feign nonchalance while rearranging their shoulder plates, drink wine from tankards held by their squires, tap their fingers on the pommels of their swords. Half a year ago they were clamouring for a new king. Watch them now, waiting for him to fail.
He’s done this so many times that every streak and imperfection of the marble block has become as familiar a sight as the tracing of blue veins on his own hands. He could recognize the sharp sound of metal scraping against stone with his eyes closed.
It suprised them all; not even Ector expected him to draw the sword out of the stone. And when they came to see for themselves- the knights and the earls, the barons and the dukes, closing around him like cloaked birds of prey, staring dumbfounded at the empty marble crevice- he wanted to laugh at their puzzled expressions. They’re no better than dogs, fighting each other for a slice of his birthright. Let them bark and bare their teeth. The very soil they’re standing on will be his in a few hours. No more parading before an audience, no more freakshows. His moment has come.
Sometimes, in the darkness of his tent, he allows himself to panic, to long for the rolling countryside of Wrexham. The world looks frightening then, and he too small to take his stand. But the morning brings him peace and strength, and when he steps out onto the green fields that surround Canterbury, with his father’s troops spread before him, he is Arthur Pendragon once again.
His fingers now wrap themselves around the hilt, holding it tightly. Yes. It fits perfectly into his palm, as if it were made for him. He wants to believe it is so. That it’ll be him, and not Kay, who sits on Uther’s throne when this last ordeal is past. He knows he’ll see his brother when he turns his head, a red blur on the far side of the courtyard. On entering the cathedral he’s heard the lords comment on Kay’s bearing, his elegance, his manners. Ector was beaming, but he’s quickly walked away, painfully aware of his scrawny arms and legs, of the nose he broke hunting two years ago. He can’t remember when it started, this petty rivalry that was never rivalry, a childhood game that turned into something else. Riding, archery, swordplay- all of them would lose their flavour after Kay had bested him and made his father’s eyes shine with the pride Arthur yearned for. Grave, sweet Kay, who took everything away from him and meant no harm. This time he can’t follow, prove himself the abler man; his brother will rule a kingdom and be freed from him at last.
A dull, heavy silence has replaced the lords’ banter. Try as he might, he can’t shake off the feeling that something’ll go awry, that the future Merlin augured him might yet slip off his fingers. But it is too late to harbour doubts. Fortune favours the bold. He places his legs slightly apart, takes a deep breath, and pulls. There’s a screeching sound, like fingernails on an iron plank. And the sword stays in its place.
Don’t ever be nice to someone, she said. You’ll only regret it.
I disagreed with her. I thought she was wrong, but mostly it was because I was a nice guy. That’s pretty much the only thing I had to hold on to; my only redeeming quality. ‘You’re really nice.’ ‘That was really nice of you.’ ‘There aren’t nice guys like you anymore.’ These are things people say to me. But she was right, sort of. It wasn’t that nice guys, or gals, finish last. It’s that they don’t finish at all.
She said those words to me on the day she left for Spain, and when she returned two weeks later, she didn’t remember saying any such thing. Because she had met a guy. She flew thousands of miles, and met a guy. He was a nice guy, she told me.
The world in which the table standing between them existed was not learned nor scientifically sophisticated. But its ignorance of geologic terminology did not save it from the fact of the volcanic avalanche triggered by the seismic influence of Brinda’s stolid hip knocking firmly into it as she stood.
Coffee, so cooked, heavily sugared and creamed it was nearly as thick as lava, spilled it’s steamy contents in a river that did not so much pour as ooze over the heap of blizzardish white bone slightly-yellowed chunks of china that was once a wide-mouthed diner mug. Now a pile of toppled porcelain that refused to melt despite it’s molten coating, it shivered with tremors in the wake of Brinda’s continued progress out from behind the table.
Being on a train, the surface of said table was no stranger to vibrations and messes, but the proportions of the current disturbance tipped it off that there was new cause for instability, beyond the usual side-to-side swaying and forward movement of steam locomotion. The table was right. This was no ordinary night and no typical disruption in the course of westward progress.
In this case, it was Brinda’s marked movement backward, toward the caboose and away from both the cafe car and the engine, that was the source of the offending commotion. For it was there, in the farthest reaches of the train, on the backward most plank, hanging out past the railing, off the very rear of the caboose, that Muriel had flung herself out from under the caboose porch roof into the driving rain of the valley storm that was upon them.
She hung on with just her right hand gripping the iron rail tight as the gauzy white of her knee-length skirt flapped wildly, soaked in the wicked wind. Her left arm was flung out beyond her shoulder and over her head as if beseeching the ground not to retreat beneath her. Her neck was arched, chin raised, mouth open wide and wailing. She was, this Muriel, it turns out, not all that different from the cup Brinda had upset in her rush to reach the girl. She was a heap of shattering pale-skinned rubble. Howling into the night and making a wet mess of herself.
The night, a competition of sounds between the thundering forces of nature and the metal mechanical technology of the driving train, remained oblivious.
The tender, the throttle, the pump, the blower, the giant steam pipes and the smokebox. The pistons, the steel wheels, the cog upon cog of systems interlocked with systems of rods. The coupling rods, the main connecting rods, the piston rods, and the reach rods, turning and churning and pushing and shoving round and round and round, screwed down on giant swinging nuts and bolts. Metal circles on endless rails. Metal against metal against mettle.
The sky above the vale crashing and bashing and clacking and axing a metal hammer head against the sides of mountains climbing on either side. Flashes of light to intensify the sound and the beating waterlog of deluge pouring and pouring and flooding down upon it all. Until the fir tree boughs bowed and swayed sagging low and then whipped up and around in sporadic skirt wagging. Until all the air shimmered in the mix of lightening and livid downpour. Until even the black of this stormiest night could not hide the silver-white of drenched muddy ground below it all - streaked in black where rivuletting streams ran like the bulging veins of forearms.
In between, was Muriel, howling to give them a run for their money, her throat spilling out a vibration louder than the screech of scalding coffee across a tender bone-white chest or tabletop.
She screamed her need to get enough voice out before Brinda could reach her. She screamed as if her very existence depended on it.
continued with bearded, here.