Short Story: On the breeze with a cigarette

It was nearly the weekend. Dan and I stood in the usual spot, in an alleyway just down the road where the building was almost, but not entirely, out of sight. Between an industrial bin and a parking garage. Dan leaned against the wall smoking.

“Smell that. Doesn’t that remind you of last year?”

Dan didn’t even sniff the air. Instead he gave a short laugh and raised an eyebrow. “That’s just cigarettes and filth. And I didn’t even know you last year. What were you doing for a smell like that to bring you back there?” Dan nudged me with his elbow, then pulled his phone out of his suit pocket. “Eight minutes left. Better make the most of it.” We fell into silence, puffing on our second cigarettes, getting them in before the break ended.

I thought back to the end of last year, when I’d started this crazy experiment: I hadn’t worn a watch for three weeks, hoping that maybe this could help me get the better of time somehow. Delay it, or scare it off, or get it out of my head. It hadn’t really worked. How could it when smells and sounds moved time around so easily? I’d thought about time a lot. I don’t really feel like my life is rushing by, but I suspect that sometime soon it might. At least that’s what the movies say. The movies. Always messing things up. Nothing had ever really bothered me until I’d started watching the movies. I’d been content to fake my way through life, in a white shirt and a black suit. But the movies, they’re dreams turned to liquid and spewed onto the streets like gas.

Sometimes I thought I’d run away. Or maybe just live in a tree somewhere, one of those crazy big trees on St Kilda Road. I’d make a dash one morning at the exact moment my train would be leaving for work. I could go earlier, but I’d wait for the train… For poetic justice or whatever they called it. I’d sell my car and rent an old bomb, maybe even steal one, not too dilapidated, but one with that antique charm about it. One that would be difficult to find parts for if it broke down. Maybe with those draw-blinds on the back window. I’d drive across the country and write a book about my escapades. Half-drunk and with borrowed pens, of course. I’d keep the pages of it in an old shoebox under the empty passenger’s seat. I’d get deliberately lost until the car ran out of gas. This would happen in the desert, or up in the mountains, or in some little backwater town that had a bar and a jazz singer but no band. They’d packed up and left. And I’d leave soon too, when I’d figured something out with the car. I’d call my book On the Breeze or something like that. Because that’s how I’d feel, on the breeze, on the way. That’s how I liked to be. On the way where didn’t really matter. I’d be like this guy I saw in America, years ago, on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. This man that had been wearing this beautifully cut wine-red suit, with a white shirt and a black tie, and a cigarette in his hand. The suit had obviously been tailored just for him and the guy was as handsome as they come, with a carefully managed Beatles haircut that made him look like he’d just walked out of the movies. The goddam movies. He’d had this look on his face as he stood there, this melancholy as hell look as if something wasn’t up to scratch with the world and soon he was going to have to do something about it. How was that fair? To look that good and stare so sad? The bastard had even had a fountain pen sticking out of his pocket, as if he were a playwright or a novelist, and was deep in the middle of some big project.

Well it wasn’t fair, but that could be me, maybe in a less impressive suit and maybe not looking so melancholy. Maybe someone would walk past me and think to themselves, what a good-looking bastard, what’s he doing looking so bored? Surely he drives a Cadillac or something, to be so well-fitted in that suit?

On the way home from work I sat on the train between an elderly woman knitting and a young boy nodding off to the music in his headphones. I stared out of the window and studied the parked cars with envious eyes. How hard could it be to open one?

They did it with coat-hangers in the movies.




1963 Caddilac advertisement

“Where one burns books, there eventually one eventually burns people”

The title of today’s post is a quote by German poet Heinrich Heine and I have chosen it to mark what is about the middle of Banned Books Week. In the spirit of keeping track of what we might have missed out on, I thought it worth sharing some of my favourites that have over the years, made the list.

Commemorative plaque Nazi book burning 1933 on ground of Römerberg square in front of Frankfurt city hall, Hesse, Germany. Courtesy of Creative Commons, click on image for source.


Some of the books that have made the list over the years. Share your favourites below!

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

catcher cover

The story of teenager Holden Caulfield’s struggle to come to terms with the confusing world around him remains both hugely popular and highly controversial. Under the swearing and angst-ridden prose that has offended so many there is a tone of genuine sincerity that has led many others to save a soft spot in their hearts for Holden Caulfield, however unreliable his narration might be.

The book carries a certain mystique, partly due to the reclusive nature of author J.D. Salinger, and the fact that it was linked to at least three historical assassinations. Mark David Chapman was holding it when he shot John Lennon, Robert John Bardo also had the book in his possession when he shot actress Rebecca Schaeffer, and rumours abound of it being lined to other high-profile shootings, such as Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy. This has made some people see Catcher as a negative influence, but I would argue (vehemently and probably in a long and rambling blog post) that the book has overall had a far more positive influence in society than negative, and has been a valuable lifeline for many young people. Also, Holden is genuinely entertaining;

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.

And for anyone else who has a soft spot for Holden Caulfield, check out John Green’s video analysis here.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus , by Mary Shelley    

frankenstein cover

Popular culture has done a great disservice to Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic classic about a young scientists’ misguided attempt to defeat death by creating a living creature out of used corpses. Unfortunately there is little resemblance between Frankenstein’s monster as he appears in Shelley’s novel, and the two-dimensional monster that is often reproduced on screen:

frankenstein film

But for anyone who needs a tragic character to fall in love with, I recommend reading the original, for the monster turns out to be the wisest creature, and one that speaks with a beautiful voice:

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.


Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence.

chatterley cover

I first read this book for an English subject at uni, and was gratefully surprised for how much real depth there is to the story. Unfortunately the emphasis given to the explicit scenes within the book which have contributed to its censorship has meant that the actual substance of the book is overlooked. The book is often caricatured into a two-dimensional story about an explicit love affair, but it is deeply philosophical and also beautifully written, dealing with the themes central to existence, such as where to find meaning amongst the pressures of social expectations. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in absurdist writing, such as that of Albert Camus.

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

She followed the track and the hammerings grew near, in the silence of the windy wood, for trees make a silence even in their noise of wind’.

And of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

harry potter cover

Well what can I say that hasn’t been said about Harry Potter? Harry Potter is epic. Whoever bans it is a fool. And probably working for Voldemort.

Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

Feel free to share your favourite banned books below!