How Not to Survive

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20

By this point, regardless of whether or not you think I’m basically just on the receiving end of some well-earned karmic retribution, there’s a good chance you’re thinking there’s just nothing left that can go wrong for me – short of contracting terminal crotch rot, or maybe getting kidnapped by a randy cannibal. It’s certainly what I’m thinking. But like the devious bastard he is, God’s got a couple of little tricks left up his sleeve.

The strange thing is, I wake up the next day feeling a lot better about myself, and thinking that from now on I’m going to be a lot better too. The sun is shining in through the window and for once this doesn’t make me want to bury my face in my pillow and heave. There’s even a cute tiny bird sitting on the telephone wire right outside and tweeting away like it’s heralding the new age of Jaz’s life. It’s not like I’ve had some visitation during the night and gone and like, spontaneously transformed into this beautiful soul or anything. It’s just that basically I’ve done nothing but go over and over the way everything’s turned out and what I could have and should done to prevent it, and I’ve sort of reached the logical conclusion that maybe I need to start making a bit more of an effort. Like, an effort be decent kind of human being.

I guess I can’t really blame you if you’re basically thinking Yeah right and that it’s all fine and well to decide you’re going to be a good person after you’ve gone and been a total selfish cunt, but actually it doesn’t work quite like that. Maybe you’re even right. But, as the How to Help Others and Help Yourself, the book I took to bed with me last night, helpfully points out, once you’ve hit rock bottom, at least you’ve got something to push off of.

So anyway, I go downstairs to find Mum’s already been awake since like, the crack of dawn, has cooked a massive breakfast for me and is drawing up big plans for the future. She insists I get dressed and go to school, even though I’m not so sure it’s a good idea since I’m dreading what Jackson’s going to say about the days I’ve missed.

We bloody well paid your tuition fees, she points out, So the least you can do is bloody well attend!

She’s trying to be a bit ironic about it but I know that in reality she wants the house to herself so I figure Fuck it, and start getting my shit together. She spent all yesterday evening cleaning and then at about nine o clock broke down somewhere between the guest room and the upstairs toilet. I went to like, try and comfort her and ended up being choke-held in yet another WWF-style embrace while she bawled and went on about how sorry she was for being such a terrible mother. I think she was a bit disappointed I didn’t start crying as well, and going about what a terrible son I was, but that’s not really my style, and anyway I was far too busy concentrating on staying alive.

Make sure you’re back by nine thirty, she says as I’m leaving, with this menacing smile to let me know she’s going to be keeping tabs on me for the rest of my days.

I get to college half an hour late because there’s delays on the central line, and also because instead of heading straight for the rehearsal studio I head for the fire escape for a quick fag to steady my nerves. Even from here I can already hear The Jerk barking at people, not even giving them a chance to finish their scenes before he cuts them off and starts laying into them about how crap they are. I suck up the last of cigarette and stub it out, then walk towards the sound, which is a bit like heading towards Godzilla and feels like a totally stupid thing to be doing. I take a last gulp of oxygen and push open the door.

Come! Jessica is wailing from a chair she’s precariously balanced on top of, Thou mortal wretch – !

NO, NO, NO! screams Jackson, holding up both hands as if to shield his eyes from the horror taking place before him, You’re a queen, not a strumpet! Say it with some pride – even if you don’t have any!

Amazingly Jerk Jackson is so caught up with how awful Jessica is he doesn’t notice me, and I quickly try to turn this to my advance and press myself against the wall, creeping towards an empty chair at the corner of the studio. Meanwhile Jessica looks like she might be about to explode in fountains, but at the last possible millisecond she swallows and gets it together.

Come... thou mortal wretch – she quavers.

OH MY GOD WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? ARE YOU ACTUALLY STUPID? Jackson erupts before dropping his voice to a dangerously level and confidential tone, You can tell me if you are, you know. It might help me not to murder someone.

A tear streaks its way down Jessica’s face and she bites down on her lower lip furiously. Jackson’s obviously about to finish her off with some devastating final comment that she’ll remember to the day she dies when his eye suddenly falls on me.

Well, well, well, he goes, Look who’s finally decided to grace us with his presence. If it isn’t the great Jarold Jones!

His eyes flicker up and down me and he licks his lips like a serial killer savouring the moment before he flays alive his next victim. Everyone looks at me, waiting for the inevitable carnage.

I’m like, Hi.

How’ve you been Jarold? Jackson asks pleasantly, It’s certainly been a while!

I look at my feet.

A little birdie tells me you’ve been trying out for an agency. An agency called First Class Rep I do believe!

There’s a collective gasp of amazement from my audience, not that someone like me should have the balls to audition outside of college, but rather that an agency like First Class Rep would ever stoop to consider a student from this factory of losers.

That’s right – I have my sources, continues Jackson, still all psycho-ninja gentle, So perhaps you’d like to explain to everyone exactly what you thought you were doing. After all, it is against our ethos, as you know.

I’m like, I had a chance. I thought I’d better take it.

The Origin of Slime lets out a nasty cackle.

So... how did it go? he says.

Once more I opt for silence.

Well? Speak up? Tell the class all about your amazing try out! It must have been pretty good for you not to bother showing up to lowly college rehearsals like the rest of us!

Even though it’s like, the most excruciatingly painful torture ever I give him a look so he knows I’ll never give him the satisfaction of caving in. Then I put on a big smile, which frustrates Jackson no end.

Or could it be they thought you were a complete and utter disaster? he spits out, with more venom than a cobra, Could it be that they thought, Who is this punk who thinks he has what it takes with even having graduated? Could it be that they were embarrassed to be in your talentless presence and couldn’t believe you had the audacity to think you were good enough for them?!

There’s nothing you can say to this kind of subliminal rage, which obviously comes from a deeply unhinged space in Jackson’s head at having never had an opportunity like it himself. It’s like, as if he or anyone else in this room wouldn’t have got to the meeting if it had been offered to them.

You’re a disgrace, Jarold Jones, The Jerk concludes, And you need a serious attitude adjustment. I hope you figure that out soon, before it’s too late for you.

He turns away as if he’s no longer prepared to waste his eyesight on me. I’m about to sit down, but then I notice Jessica quivering away on her chair like the last baby bird that can’t be persuaded to jump out of the nest and something inside snaps. It’s not like I even like Jessica or any of these dweebs, just that I can’t take the shit Jackson and this college spews out anymore. A better person wouldn’t stand for it, I think to myself, and if giving him a dose of his own fucking medicine is what it takes to be this better person, then fine.

You know what? I go, If anyone needs the attitude adjustment it’s you. You’re basically nothing but a sagging old Never Was who likes to pretend that once upon a time he had what it takes, when in reality he never did. So why don’t you use what’s left of the miserable life you’ve got to try and bring out the best in people, instead of putting them down all the time?

There’s a collective gasp. Jackson’s mouth drops open like one of those old fashioned wooden puppets. Meanwhile this fantastic feeling is surging through me, as if I’m finally using my powers for sake of good.

All you do is bully people day in day out, I carry on, the speech pouring out of me like a divine intervention, You pretend you’re being cruel to be kind when really you’re just bitter and twisted because nobody ever wanted to employ you. You should be a bit more respectful of what other people are trying to do here!

Jackon like, blanches. Any second now it looks like he might go up in smoke, or melt, or implode, or whatever it is evil mutants from his planet do when they finally faced with a mirror.

I glance behind me and that’s when I get my first inkling that maybe the whole speech hasn’t been quite as unanimously well received as I hoped. I kind of had this vision of all my fellow students forgetting how much they dislike me and uniting in hatred of Jerk Jackson and everything he stands for, like one of those big end scenes in Hollywood films where everyone ignores their differences and comes together to face off the common enemy. But instead of this fantasy of revolution, everyone’s staring at me like I’m a retarded piece of crap.

Shut the fuck up Jarold Jones! goes Clive, who’s seated in the front row cradling the wand Jackson gave him as a prop for his Oberon, What the hell do you even know? You’re nothing but a sad Never Will Be!

There are murmurs of agreement from around the room. I don’t know why this treacherous lack of solidarity actually surprises me but for some reason it does – I guess because I’ve always assumed everyone else is as tired of being a receptacle for Jackson’s piss as I am.

I’m like, Listen people, you don’t have to take it!

But it’s like trying to rally a bunch of tombstones. My fantastic feeling begins to seep out of me, replaced by growing despair.

We need to stand up for ourselves!

You are sooo full of yourself! goes Sammy from behind me. He’s such a non-presence that I hadn’t even noticed him until now. Like me Jackon’s given him the role of steward/fairy henchman, so you might think he’d know where I’m coming from – but apparently his imagination doesn’t stretch that far, Why don’t you quit embarrassing yourself?

I’m like, Embarrassing myself? You got cast as a piece of furniture, you moron! You do realise you’re paying for this, right?

Oh my god! cries out a high–pitched voice, You’re such a prick! As if any of us here are interested in money!

I whip back round to find queen of the fairies Tania pouting at me like she can’t believe nobody’s called security to escort me of the premises. I burst into a spontaneous snigger at the irony of this from someone who’s probably never so much as missed her weekly pedicure, but before I can point this out I’m stopped by Dean, who jumps up and smacks his fist into his hand.

If you don’t shut your fucking trap you’re asking for it mate!

There’s no call for that Dean, says Jackson gently from behind, suddenly sounding all benevolent and saintly. But people already starting to boo me and besides, Jackson doesn’t exactly place himself between Dean and me to stop him from carrying out his threat.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST LEAVE? screams out Jessica at the top of her lungs all of a sudden, pretty much making the entire building throb and shutting everyone right up. She’s all red and panting, still wobbling away on top of the chair and no doubt venting years of pent up frustration at being looked at as a nothing more than a pair of talking boobs, WHY DON’T YOU JUST DO EVERYONE A FAVOUR AND NOT COME BACK HERE ANYMORE!

There’s a long silence. I look over at The Prince of Jerks, who’s got his arms folded and is doing a miserably job of trying to hide a gleeful smile.

Well Jarold – the people have spoken, he crows, There’s the door!

It’s like, a total triumph for evil and possibly one of the grimmest moments of my entire life, forget my recent stint in a cell. I feel all the blood rushing to my cheeks and it’s as if I’m burning up with scarlet fever or something. There’s nothing I can say or do, only walk the walk of shame while behind me the whole room boos and yells things like, Loser!, Beauty school drop out! and See you in McDs! As soon as the door is closed behind me I hear them erupt into cheers, like they’ve finally gone and dealt this longstanding arsehole his long overdue comeuppance. It’s so obviously the last nail in the coffin for my career as a thespian.

So much for trying to be a decent fucking person, I’m thinking as I leave the building and head down the street with no particular place to go, basically feeling shitter than ever. I try to console myself with the certain knowledge they’re all going to end up having to offer blow jobs for walk on roles and that being decent goes hand in hand with being downtrodden, so therefore maybe my freshly shit feeling inside is kind of a good thing. But I keep seeing everyone’s faces as they booed me out of the room, all just wanting to be rid of me, and Jackson’s smug smile of victory. It hurts.

I take a deep breath and then get out my fags and light up. After a bit of reflective poisoning myself, I figure I’d better try and let it go. There’s this other task I’d sort of planned on doing today, and since my schedules’ just been like, totally cleared, there’s no excuse not to follow through.

I get on a bus and head for Muswell Hill, where I get out and spend a while wandering around while I try to remember which street the Levinsteins live on. After a bit I figure I may as well just follow the trail of inordinately grand mansions, and sure enough pretty soon I find the one with the water spraying out of cupid’s head in the front drive. I ring the doorbell, expecting that once again Esther the family maidservant will answer, and planning how this time I’ll be short and authoritative and demand to see the master and lady of the house, as if I’ve been waited on by staff all my life.

But instead of Esther it’s Ruth, Eli’s younger sister, who unbolts the multiple locks. She takes in the sight of me with big bug-eyes and excitedly breathes, Holy shit, it’s the druggy!

I’m like, Oh hi Ruth. How’s it going?

She just stands there gaping at me.

I’m like, So... are your folks in?

Ruth’s eyes suddenly light up like something’s just occurred to her.

Listen, she goes, Do you think you could get me some blow? I’ve been dying to try it since forever!

Before I can reply Mrs Levinstein appears behind her daughter. She takes in the sight of me apparently selling drugs to her daughter and grabs Ruth and thrusts her behind her like she’s protecting her from sin itself.

Hello Mrs Levinstein – I start to say, but she doesn’t let me get any further, opening her mouth as wide as it will go (pretty wide – Mr Levinstein’s a lucky man) and screaming, SIMON! at the top of her lungs.

By the time Ruth and me have got our senses back Mr Levinstein has arrived on the scene, and his wife pushes him towards me like she thinks I’m going to come at them with a switchblade and whisks Ruth away screeching about calling the police. Another run in with the law is the last thing I need right now, and I’m like, Listen, that’s really not necessary... but she’s already gone.

In her place Mr Levinstein folds his arms and peers down at me.

He’s like, I think you should leave.

I’d forgotten how Eli’s dad has got quite an imposing way about him, and I’m kind of lost for words for a few seconds while I try to think of what to say. I have a go at smiling reassuringly at him, but it obviously comes out the wrong way since he just unfolds his arms and like, squares his shoulders like he’s readying himself for an attack.

It’s about Eli, I go quickly, I just wanted a quick word, that’s all!

Mr Levinstein nods warily, as if this might just be a tack to throw him off guard so I can take him out and go for the silver.

He’s like, Well young man? What is it?

I’m like, The thing is, Eli is a really good guy. He’s not like me and you shouldn’t be disappointed in him just because I’m a total fuck up...

Mr Levinstein frowns.

We don’t appreciate that kind of language, he goes all sternly.

I’m like, Sorry.

Mr Levinstein nods, like he’s giving me permission to carry on.

What I mean to say is... He’s decent and hardworking, and just the sort of kid you should be proud of – and you really absolutely totally should not disown him. He’s probably going to be a doctor or world leader or something one day, and if you do it... you’ll totally regret it.

I pause, not sure how to carry on after this speech that basically lends a whole new attitude to the term retarded. Mr Levinstein is looking at me like he’s trying to work out if I’m on drugs right now.

I’m like, Anyway... you’ll be pleased to know he’s not friends with me anymore. I guess I don’t blame him. He’s been there for me so many times and all I’ve done is let him down.

Mr Levinstein scratches his chin thoughtfully.

I am not disowning my son, he says slowly, as if spelling something out for somebody very very stupid, I might not understand him, but that is not and never has been on the agenda. I don’t know where you got this information from.

I’m like, Eli told me –

But I am not sorry to hear you are out of his life, continues Mr Levinstein, cutting me off, You strike me as a very troubled individual, Mr Jones, and while I’m sure you’re not at heart a bad person, I don’t think you’re good for someone like Eli either.

I’m like, OK. Fair enough, even though this seriously ranks on the spectrum of most hurtful things I’ve ever had said to me.

And I’d appreciate your word that you’ll keep away from him in the future.

He looks at me and waits. I desperately want to tell him to go and lick an explosive or something, but the thing is I’m here for Eli, because of the way I fucked it all up for him. Saying yes is the least I can really do. I bite my tongue.

Yes, I hear myself go.

I’m glad.

Mr Levinstein turns as Mrs Levinstein reappears with a phone stuck to her ear, wailing about how the police are on their way.

That won’t be necessary, he tells her, This young man and I have reached an understanding. He won’t be calling here again.

He gives me a quick nod like he’s dismissing me and closes the door. I stand there for a minute, feeling like I’ve been rejected on every level possible, like I’m not even good enough to breathe the same air as these people in case I dirty it up with my impure thoughts or something. Then I walk out the drive and back up the street.

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