I found an old folder on my computer, one I was certain I forgot to transfer from my old laptop at the start of the year, and it contains some of the writing I did at the start of my second year of university, when I was starting to realise that very few of the people on my course could actually write and, of those that could, only a percentage of them had any knowledge of why they wanted to write. The following is unsubtle and simple and the narrative voice is one I didn’t enjoy writing, but which I enjoyed having written. So here is Identity, for your perusal.
‘You should have come, it was brilliant!’ The tall, almost skeletal figure, sitting beside you exclaims, leaning back in its seat as it takes a sip of its revolting Australian beer. You nod agreement, barely listening as you reach out for the cool, dark glory of your Guinness, your leg shaking in time with the music coming out of the speaker above your head, the sound of Johnny Cash’s voice like a slow cutting razor in the chill room.
Before you squats a pool table, its green felt scuffed and torn, the wood battered and stained, held level only by a slip of wood beneath one of its worn legs. Upon it sit seven balls, one black, two yellow, four red. The single pool cue lies on another figure’s thumb, held there for a moment as it hammers forward, sending a yellow rolling into one of the black holes of pool oblivion followed by a brief, muted cheer from the long-haired fool in its fluorescent purple hoodie.
‘Ain’t no grave…’ Johnny Cash moans at you, the gravelled voice conjuring images of otherwise silent late night train rides, of walking your dog with the lead wrapped too tightly around your hand, so that its cold chains dig into your flesh, leaving you with bleeding, red raw skin in the winter sun. The fourth member of your party, short-haired and bearded sighs at both the skeleton’s exclamation and the sight of a bright yellow ball disappearing into the darkness.
‘Is gonna hold my…’ You breathe the words, watching your heat cloud the cold glass for a brief, heartening moment that lets you feel alive, even if only for a second, before the chill of the air and the Guinness take its hold. The second figure lines up for another shot, the butt of the pool cue wavering dangerously close to your face, almost as if it had been stealing tastes of the player’s pint of the same foul, piss-coloured liquid at which the skeleton guzzled.
‘… Body Down.’ With a noise like Thor’s hammer against Loki’s brow, or the thud of Keith Moon’s drumbeat, the cue moved again, sending the final piece of the second figure’s puzzle into the beard’s four, scattering them across the field of green. The beard tried to hide its grin, appearing at the long-haired’s shoulder in a flash of ill-fitting jeans, a grey t-shirt emblazoned with a reflected roaring tiger and the two words ‘Ed Hardy’ screaming to the world.
‘It screams conformity,’ you think, chuckling at yourself while you drink, ignoring their conversation around you, ‘it screams ‘rape me’, to every salesman, every designer growing bloated of their profits and every CEO that doesn’t deserve their wealth.’ You smile again, your expression hidden by the glass of poison in your hand. The other two were little better, though they tried. Once, the sight of two six and a half foot figure, long-hair dressed in a purple hoodie, the brightest blue jeans imaginable and a shirt proclaiming ‘KISS’ with four catheads dressed up as the members of said band, and skeleton wearing plainer blue jeans and a black hoodie, its own shirt advertising ‘Korn’, would have been enough to send you into a fit of giggles.
‘Though you are little better,’ you think, shifting your eyes to glare in contempt at the black shirt, black jeans, black shoes, black hoodie beneath a black blazer, ‘at least you aren’t a walking advertisement.’ You’re sick of it. Sick of the inane conversations, sick of the advertisements forced on you every single second you have access to ‘society’, sick of the impossibility of individuality or originality, the loss of identity against the incessant, insipid march of culture. You hear your name, looking up into three pairs of eyes, your self-depreciating smile fading away.
‘Yeah?’ You ask, taking another draught of Guinness to calm your nerves, your sudden knowledge of your own arrogance, your own pretension eating away at you as potently as your lack of identity, your conformity in the grey mass of the crowd.
‘Didn’t you say you needed some new clothes, or something?’ KISS asks, leaning against the table while Ed Hardy moves away to take its shot.
‘Yeah, I could do with it. I only seem to wear the two outfits anymore.’ You say, emptying your pint in one long tidal wave of cream-crested ale. Rising to your feet, you feel your thoughts mellow as the Guinness takes effect, muting your outrage and contempt beneath a veil of faked contentment and forced self-confidence, as if Aldous Huxley had crept in while you contemplated, and drugged it with a dose of Soma.
‘Alright,’ KISS says, taking the cue from Ed Hardy, ‘let us just finish this game and we’ll join you.’
‘Don’t bother, I’ve never like shopping for clothes with people anyway, I’d rather get it on my own.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ Korn proclaims like a prophet before a red sea, his grandiose generosity lifting his enraptured audience with its glory, ‘it’s better than watching this crap anyway.’
‘Fair enough.’ You shrug, walking towards the door as Cash falls silent behind you, his last, whispered words greeted with a nameless, faceless, emotionless round of solemn, meaningless words spoken in a reverential tone full of meaning.
You walk in withdrawn silence, despite discussing matters of great importance. Whether the new singer for Nightwish would be as good as the previous woman live, how Dylan’s new album sounded more like Tom Waits than that famous voice of the disenfranchised youth, how Mumford & Sons’ were topping the charts in the U.S, about how it heralded a new purity in music, and following that, culture.
On impulse, you avert your eyes from your feet, glancing up at your destination. The name of the store was barely readable, so many of the oversized letters having been torn or stolen away since it had opened. Through the years’ worth of dust and dirt, there were still a few visible shapes which, rather than declaring the name in bright, bold glory as it must have been intended, seemed to whisper the word in your ear, as if it were a dirty joke. DBEMS.
‘Come on, let’s give Dee-bee-ems a try.’ You joke, though the humour emerged from your thick throat in a monotone, deadpan voice. Puzzled at first, Korn’s gaze follows your out-stretched arm to the sign, emitting a brief chuckle, more to appease your idea of a joke than finding actual humour in the situation, you are sure.
As you approach, another figure shoots you an evil look. The person’s long-blonde hair looks wind-swept, and its eyes glare at you, with the same contempt that you feel for it. It’s puffing on a cigarette, taking huge drags of the small white cylinder as if it were some new kind of warfare or an Olympic sport.
Its eyes remain fixed on the pair of you, until you reach the door, heaving on the long metal pole set into it. As the door swings open silently, the figure’s eyes change quickly, shifting and warping as it realises your adherence to its dogmatic conformity. The warmth of the store is like a reward, a bribe at your entrance to this consumerist paradise… This individualist’s hell. It is unnecessary however, the heat of your guilt and shame filling you, making you feel feverish as you enter DBEMS.
The PA system is playing some simple song, some mass-produced nonsense which seems to repeat the word ‘Baby’ as opposed to writing any actual lyrics. You and Korn both grimace at the song, if it can be called such, shaking your heads in a shared disgust.
Your eyes shift to the t-shirt section, already feeling panic swell within your chest, the selection of wild-eyed, almost manically cheery stares of cartoon characters, the faked grandeur of the New York skyline and the disbelieving self-loathing of so-called ‘inspirational’ quotes from better men than those who wear them, men like Churchill, like Lincoln, like Adorno, Huxley and Gandalf.
‘That one’s pretty cool!’ Korn says to you, pausing in front of a simple black t-shirt with an image of Animal, the drummer from the Muppets, rearing up behind his instrument, with sticks held high in the air and the words ‘Party Animal!’ exploding from his mouth with all the force and vigour of a moth’s scream as it hits the deceptive light outside the door.
‘It’s not really my style though, is it?’ You say, imagining yourself labelled as ‘Party Animal’ and shivering slightly through disgust. ‘Well… what about that one?’ Korn raises its hand, pointing at a simple black shirt with an eye in the centre, made of intersecting shades of blue. ‘You like that ‘literature’ right?’ It asks, putting on an overly posh accent to stress itsmockery. Above the eye squats the name Aldous Huxley, bright and pregnant with threat and judgement, while below the eye lies the three words ‘Brave New World’.
As the song ends, another begins, sounding exactly the same as its predecessor, though with the word ‘Baby’ replaced with a series of nonsensical words followed by ‘Poker-face’. You find yourself smiling broadly, unable to contain your laughter, shaking your head and feeling tears well behind your eyes. Pointing at the ‘Brave New World’ shirt, Korn struggles to hear the words you manage to force through your painful, screaming laughter.
‘Four hours a day, three times a week.’ You chuckle, closer to weeping than to genuine humour. You slowly become aware of the customers in the store staring at you, and the blonde figure who welcomed you beforehand, frowning in your direction once more. Korn’s face is covered with embarrassment and confusion, though it tries to hide it. Surprisingly, you feel guilt worming into your breast at the expression, and you sigh heavily.
‘Ah well,’ you think to yourself, ‘it can’t hurt to try it on surely?’ You ask yourself, reaching out for the shirt, thumbing through the collection for your size, certain you can feel your fingers burning in shame as you touch the ironic garments, each one the product of six thousand years of evolution, genius and effort, until you feel all of humanity pressing down upon you and you are certain you can feel one word, hidden within the lyrics which mutter from the speakers above you, and come trotting out from behind every watcher’s gaze…