Dear Self Confidence

This week I was invited by the lovely nun-mums of Old Trunk to give a reading at another of their Tales & Ales events. The subject was ‘A Letter To…’ and performers had free reign to write a letter to whoever or whatever they saw fit. Here is mine.

Dear Self Confidence,

Hi, it’s me again. I know that’s a stupid way to start a letter but I need you around to even formulate something I could consider to be a good idea so instead you get this lacklustre and self-deprecating opener for which we only have ourselves to blame, like the gun culture in America that spawns another “troubled” high school killer in camo with a WalMart rifle aimed at his classmates.

I had another party and guess what, you were a no show. I had something I needed to get done and I thought we could get in on it together, co-write it, you know, it could have been a duet, like Elton John and Kiki Dee – “don’t go breaking my heart, you couldn’t if you tried.”

So it was just me and the usual subjects; Anxiety, Fear and Depression. How is it that the people who have the most they want to say are the ones struggling with their own personal demons? Or are we just struggling publicly? Or is there something that is supposed to be poetic or beautiful about feeling dead inside, not being able to relate, feeling like the eternal outsider and the butt of jokes. I look at the drunken louts on the train and wonder if I would be happier in my ignorance, if I didn’t try so hard constantly. If I just gave up and read The Sun and campaigned for Clarkson to get his job back after assaulting someone on top of the various other offences he has caused. When I was 14 years old they made us all take this multiple choice quiz that would tell us the jobs we were best suited to. I got fork-lift truck driver. I still think about that sometimes. I would look great in a fork-lift truck.

If I could just find someone to impregnate with my child so the whole miserable business can continue then maybe I would find the happiness everyone around me seems to have imbibed. I’ll slowly spread outwards and lose my hair and tell people how I used to want to do things but as John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Because you weren’t here, I got drunk on whiskey and rapid fired off a series of messages to ex-lovers, with the assistance of the usual suspects and then I sat and waited. For some reason I get the deluded sense that because these women cared for me once, they care for me now. That they understand me better than most because they let me kiss them on their mouths and vaginas. I figure I can coax you, Self Confidence, out to play via them, but it soon becomes apparent this was a bad idea and I’ve been guided into it under false pretences and with Jack Daniels on my breath.

I am trying to think of a time when we were together, some fun memory of the pair of us but it feels like you’ve never really been there, like God or a weekend dad. There’s always some vague promise of you, I’ll see a sunset and think, that’s God that is, but the thought, like the sunset, soon fades. The hole in my chest is entirely proportionate. It’s been there since I started to cry at the age of ten and I couldn’t explain why even when people got cross with me and I was taken to see a specialist. No amount of sugar pills can quell this though. The hole in my chest is entirely proportionate to my physical self.

Everyone else thinks we hang out all the time but I don’t know what leads them to this. “Oh, you and Self Confidence are old friends, you’re always getting up onstage and doing things.”

What they don’t see, these people, is the amount of time I have to spend with the usual suspects before I reach that point. Anxiety, Fear and Depression prancing around the room as I tear my hair out and my breathing shatters and I crawl into bed and I’m shaking and I start to cry and even that I see as forbidden fruit and I feel bad. If I’m crying then there has to be something tangible behind it? Am I thinking about Marley & Me? No, I haven’t seen Marley & Me. Am I crying because I’ve denied myself Marley & Me?

That’s when I worked out how to get you back. I have to get back on the stage. So I’m writing this letter and I’m tying up my black boots and throwing on a light jacket because the weather isn’t all that bad anymore and then I look at myself in the mirror until my shoulders aren’t sloped. They’re rigid and I’m standing to attention and I watch my weak chin get as strong as it can in the reflection and I stare and stare and stare until I’m sure I can accomplish anything and then I rush for the door before I can possibly start to deflate.

I hand delivered this letter Self Confidence. If I have to force interaction with you then that’s just what I’ll continue to do.

Yours.

Paul

 

Contact.

This week I got drunk and decided to send emails. I can’t be held responsible for what I do when I’m drunk. If anything, I consider the moron who occupies my body when I’m drunk to be an entirely different person to myself. I call him Drunk Paul. He’s sort of like my Tyler Durden, although he’s not played by Brad Pitt and he doesn’t blow stuff up, or at least not in the literal sense.

I recently read a book called Name The Baby by Mark Cirino. If you haven’t read it then I thoroughly recommend you do. I’ve seen it described as a modern Catcher In The Rye but don’t take that comment to heart, it has a life of its own. The story follows a narrator through a traumatic couple of days in New York City and New Jersey. If you like your protaganists jaded and cynical then step right this way. It’s rare that a book grabs me quite as much as this did and I took it upon myself to do some amateur sleuthing and find some more out about this Cirino fellow. More than anything I wanted to find out if he had written anything else. When I get into an artist, be they writer, director, musician or mime, I tend to gorge. I get good and bloated on what they’ve got out there. It’s hard to do that with Cirino. My research shows he has written two other books, Ernest Hemingway: Thought In Action and Arizona Blues. The former is an analysis of Papa H’s work, the latter I could only find in German. Mark Cirino is now a faculty member at the University of Evansville. This meant, he had an email address listed on their website.

After doing away with half a bottle of whiskey I decided I should contact him. I wanted to thank him for writing something that had connected with me so personally and also to try and track down a copy of Arizona Blues that wasn’t in German. I hammered off an email which I hope reflected those dizzy sentiments and then waited. I didn’t know if I should expect a response or how many people tried stuff like this. It wasn’t something I had ever considered but my friend Steph told me she always takes the time to write to authors when she finishes their books.
Two days later I got an email from the man himself. He thanked me for taking the time to contact him and told me “a prophet is recognized everywhere but in his own country”. I still want to read Arizona Blues and can’t face learning German (I tried and gave up in school) so am open to suggestions.

I guess the lesson here is that if you enjoy something, let the other person know. I don’t care if that’s a book or an album, a performance, a dance, a fuck, whatever. We should all be kinder and more appreciative to one another. There’s something incredible in that. I’m glad I took the time to send Dr Cirino that email and I’m blindsided and chuffed that he took the time to respond. I hope in some way it connected with him like his work has done with me.

#29 – Go to a drive in movie

 “I’m not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your ass”

When I was growing up, there was one clear hero in our house. It didn’t matter that I was into books and my brothers were into motorbikes, cooking, skateboarding, Arsenal, Spiderman, Little Rabbit Foo Foo and Jim the window cleaner at different periods of our joint pre-adolescence. We were in absolute agreement that Danny Zucco, the jive-talking, leather-clad, dimple-endowed fuckboy of Grease was the epitome of cool. Our parents even went as far as taking us to see the musical in the West End which was a huge extravagance displaying how high our passion for the man was. It wasn’t quite the same when Shane Ritchie was doing it but we were enthralled nevertheless.
I mention Danny Zucco because there’s still an element of the desire to be him that follows all three Schiernecker boys into adulthood. We dig chicks man. We dig chicks and we put the pedal to the floor. We dig chicks and we put the pedal to the floor and our chills are electrifying. He shaped us in a way he will never understand because he’s a fictional character.

When I was a teenager, and didn’t know how to deal with talking to women, I prayed for the drive in cinema. I was sure the reason I was so unsuccessful in the love/lust department was I didn’t have the excuse of parking up in the dark with a chick and making a move on her. There were no drive in movies or cinemas in the UK. If you just park up in the dark with a chick and make a move on her, you’re essentially trying to create a local dogging scene. Somehow, having a screen makes it acceptable.
That was how #29 made it onto the list of the 30 things I wanted to do before I was 30.

I was fortunate enough that on the very day I mentioned the fact I had never been to a drive in and wondered if there was any way I could make it happen during my upcoming trip to the States, Steph told me a series of films were being shown at the Ally Pally the following month. Well goodness gracious, great balls of fire, if this wasn’t my T-Birds aligning on the bleachers for a-wella-wella-wella-ooh, I don’t know what is. I had to go. We scanned through the list of available films and discovered Grease was being shown. Unfortunately it was a sing-along version. If there is one thing I can’t stand more than the Flaming Dukes, it’s a sing-along. I noticed Top Gun was an option. I had an awareness of Top Gun but had never watched it. My experiences of Top Gun had only ever come via others. I had only ever been second-hand smoking Top Gun. All I knew was it was a regular costume choice for male students who saw it as being some kind of fantasy for women to get with a Top Gun pilot. More on the sexual persuasion of those aviator-wearing bitches later.

The next obstacle we encountered was that neither Steph or I have a car. We can both drive but as a result of our current circumstances don’t own cars. That’s a whole other line of enquiry. If we were to attend a drive in cinema then it was essential we did so in a car. I learnt an important lesson on rules of this ilk in my teenage years when a friend and I tried to skateboard through the Drive Thru at a McDonalds and were promptly turfed out by a manager who was probably our age. People can get very uppity on rules. If we wanted to go to a drive in, we were going to have to drive in.
We hit up Google, as people are inclined to do whenever they face any kind of barrier. We found Enterprise’s website and looked at the cost of booking a hire car for the day. This was going to be an expensive cinema trip, my most expensive to date.

On the day of the screening, Steph went and collected the car and worked from home, excitedly texting me as it was the first time she had driven in a number of months. She asked what the policy on naming a hire car was. The pair of us had previously had a number of conversations about the naming of things. I assign names to my phones, my guitars, my laptops and historically, to my cars. I told Steph I was sure the same rule applied to hire cars as it did to camels. She, quite understandably, asked what I meant.
When I took part in a hundred kilometre trek of the Sahara desert for charity (and boy do I love to talk about it), we were assigned a support camel. He would carry the water for the group each day. Don’t worry about him, he loved it. We asked our guide if the camel had a name and he looked at us as if we were insane, which I guess is fair. Despite the fact we were sure the camel had previously been given a name by other groups who had walked with him, we wanted to give him a name so it felt like he was part of what we were going through. It would also make it easier for us to refer to him. We called the camel Alan. For the time we were with that camel, he was Alan. Once we left and headed back to our privileged little lives, that camel was still out carrying water around the desert for people. He would cease to be Alan but would continue to be a camel. I decided it was the same with the car. While we had the car we could give it a name but it would then go back to just being a hire car.
When I clocked that the number plate ended with the letters CLO, I decided we could just call her Clo.

Just as I was going to leave work for the day, my friend Jess clocked my outfit.
‘Hang on a second’ she said, ‘tonight is the night you’re going to the drive in, isn’t it?’
‘Yes’ I said.
She started laughing.
‘Is that why you’re dressed like that?’
I looked down at my cool leather jacket, faded blue jeans and trusty Converse.
‘I always dress like this.’
‘You’re dressed like you’re in Grease Paul, and you know it. The jacket, the turn ups. You’re so stupid.’
‘Tell me about it stud.’
‘You shouldn’t say that.’

I got to Ally Pally all by myself which was an act fraught with danger because the train I was on didn’t announce its arrival at each station and I was seated in an awkward submarine on tracks so there were no windows.

Steph explained to me that when she had gone to pick up the car they had asked, in passing, what she was going to be using it for if she was hiring it for just one night. In her panic she said she was going to visit a friend in Essex. I asked why she couldn’t just tell them the truth and then thought about how ridiculous what we were doing actually was and why sometimes it is better to lie.
We loaded up the backseat with blankets and then drove two minutes up the road to the Alexandra Palace. Signs led us round the side of the building and into a clearing where a silver caravan was placed and several cold looking staff were waiting for us. We gave them our ticket and they gave us menus and explained how the evening would work. I had previously wondered how the issue of sound would be resolved. It was March and there was no way we could sit with our windows down while a set of speakers beside the screen blasted out Kenny Loggins. The answer was revealed at the top of the menu. We could tune into 87.9FM, a radio frequency especially set up for the event so you could enjoy the film in the bubble of your own car. It meant that as you walked across the car park area, it was relatively quiet but you knew in each of those cars, people were wrapped up in the experience.
We tuned in and I was pleased to find Grease Lightning was playing. I ran my hand through my hair in the hope it would mostly remain slicked back but a single strand would curl between my eyes and I could be really flippant towards authority and walk like I had pissed myself. It didn’t work.
We looked through the menu and decided we needed to get some hot dogs and maybe later, some popcorn. It was all part of the experience. It also felt like a situation where we should smoke, despite the fact both of us consider ourselves to be non-smokers. It was a condition of the hire of Clo that we didn’t smoke or allow pets inside. We couldn’t smoke even if we wanted to. They didn’t say anything about hot dogs though. Take that authority!

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The hot dogs had some of the most incredible names I’ve ever heard. I had one called Clinton’s Love Child – “you’ll come back for more-nica” I believe was the catchphrase used on the side of the caravan from which they were being sold. It was delicious and didn’t cause me to be on the front page of all the papers despite the fact I did have sexual relations with that hot dog.

We got back in the car and cranked up the tunes. When the film started I got the kind of excited buzz that visiting the cinema brings. I like how immersive the experience can be. It’s one of the few occasions when I refuse to be distracted by anything else. You watch a film at home and there’s always something else going on. There’s social media or text messages, there’s something in the oven or someone in your ear. At the cinema I shut off and get completely sucked into the experience of it.

The film was brilliant. It has some of the most terrible clichéd characters and the homoerotic subtext levels were off the chart. The soundtrack was so good we had to listen to it again when we got in. Another great thing about a drive in is that you aren’t bothering anyone else if you decide to laugh at how ridiculous some of the lines in the film are. I also pointed out to Steph each time I was sure Tom Cruise was stood on a box beside another actor.
We turned on the hazard lights which was the accepted signal we wanted someone on rollerskates to bring us some goddamn snacks. When a girl came over we were befuddled at the very idea and wasted her precious time before deciding to get a box of popcorn and a pack of minstrels which kept us going through the rest of the film as well as our ridiculous comments on the film.
Basically, the end of it *spoiler alert* is that Tom Cruise isn’t the Top Gun but is responsible for the death of his best friend who had a great moustache, a kid and Meg Ryan to plough through. Iceman is Top Gun. He deserved to be Top Gun. He knew what it was all about. You can’t expect to ride around town in a little strop with a dead squirrel attached to the collar of your leather jacket and expect to be Top Gun. What did you think would happen? You thought because you were balling one of the instructors you would be Top Gun? You’re just not Top Gun Tom. You’re not. You’re bottom bitch if anything.

Where was I?

Yeah. Funny film. Great soundtrack. Career defining abs on show. Lots of loutish camaraderie. Maverick and Iceman don’t kiss at the end which is the logical conclusion. Would recommend.

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#28 – Drink a Vodka Martini in a posh bar.

 ‘Ahh, Mr Schiernecker, we’ve been expecting you.’
‘Good, we made a reservation.’

I grew up with Pierce Bronsnan as Bond. I went back to investigate the rest but Brosnan will always be on the mark for me. There’s something incredibly dated about the way he spoke to women and the way he threw his puns around, even for such a short time ago. I love Brosnan but in the way you love a parent, you’re still allowed to point out their faults to your friends.

One of my favourite things about Bond when I was a boy was him drinking Vodka Martinis, especially when he asked for them “shaken, not stirred”. Without a degree in mixology I had no idea what the term meant and imagined the drink being constructed in its entirety before a Tupperware lip was slipped over the top and they cautiously shook it rather than stirring it with a swizzle stick. To the credit of my younger self, I wasn’t far wrong.

When I wrote my list I had never had a vodka martini. I appreciate it’s quite a small item but it’s something I always wanted to do and may not have done if I hadn’t forced my hand and written the list. It was also an excellent place to start, a way of easing myself in rather than booking a flight to Iceland.

I met my friend Stephanie through Twitter. I thoroughly recommend it as a means to make friends. It cuts out a lot of the awkward friends of circumstance you accumulate in life. Steph and I get along because we have a lot in common. I suppose that is how we originally started talking but I can’t remember the specifics of it aside from her chastising me for putting ketchup on my scrambled eggs. We both love The Libertines, alcohol and self-analysis. Born in Morocco and having spent time in both Paris and London during her formative years, she’s a bright and brilliant person and I learn a lot from having her in my life.

Having reviewed my finalised list when I first posted it to my blog she asked if she would be able to help me with any of them. I told her I would love that and to let me know which item she fancied the look of.
Within minutes she was back, telling me she wanted to be the one to drink vodka martinis with me. She was shocked I had never had one and went on to tell me about the “dirty” martini her husband had been offered on a recent trip to Copenhagen, this included olive brine as well as the two key ingredients. I wasn’t sure I could get behind such things.

We picked a date and I let Steph choose a venue. It would be fair to say she has a much better knowledge of London than me and in some ways, a taste for the finer things. When she called up her choice of bar to ensure they had our chosen tipple they apparently replied ‘of course, madame.’ I suppose most bars have to. It’s only bested by the gin and tonic.
I decided I was going to wear a suit, you know, to do the whole thing right. I told Steph I was going to dress up and she assumed I was joking because it was so out of keeping with how I usually turned up for anything; in Converse, skinny jeans and a t-shirt. The suit I wore was one I had recently bought and was calling my birthday suit based on the fact it had been delivered in the week of my birthday. I decided I was getting to a point where I needed to have some suits in my arsenal for occasions. It was no good anymore to just have the one charcoal number I wore to weddings and funerals. There were times when something finer was needed.
This grey Donegal suit was beautiful. It made me feel like I was in Mad Men, which is, of course, mostly why I bought it. As I was running early for our meet up time of six pm I sat on the steps of the St Martin-in-the-Fields church on the edge of Trafalgar Square and watched the sun go down as I edited my latest manuscript. Steph text me to let me know she had also arrived early and I dashed over to Leicester Square Tube Station to meet her. I have become so used to people being late to meet me, I had presumed I had plenty of time on my hands. I had forgotten Steph was as timely as I was.
She was shocked to see me in a suit and worried she hadn’t dressed up. She’s elegant and continental enough to turn up at a bar in a bin bag and look cool.

We decided to first go for dinner, as we had both just finished work and knew it was a bad idea for either of us to start drinking cocktails on an empty stomach. We had fallen foul before. Despite Steph’s insistence she was now a hardened drinker, I know neither of us can handle our booze. Again, Steph had made the selection of venue. We went to Café Boheme, just around the corner in the hope it would be like dining in Paris. It wasn’t too far off to its credit. We sat chatting until the staff came over for the third time to take our order.
I ate rabbit and Steph had steak tartare as we finished a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon between us and caught up. It was the first time we had hung out since my 28th birthday and her recent trip to Austria with her husband and two sons. I love hearing stories about her boys. They’re at a brilliant age where they are in a position to cleverly answer back to everything they are asked to do or told. They taught me something quite recently. They asked Steph if she knew what a Chinese Whip was. When she told them she hadn’t they whipped out their middle fingers. They have since started doing this in every photo taken of them. To me, that’s brilliant. To her, it must be frustrating but is of course, also hilarious.
Steph insisted on paying as a treat for my birthday and we stood outside smoking amongst the Big Issue sellers before she could Google Map our way to cocktails.

Her choice was the Covent Garden Hotel bar, Brasserie Max. It was the kind of swanky joint where they have a doorman. In the words of the Elephant Man, “I’m not used to being treated so kindly”. I shuffled my way in with a metaphorical hessian sack on my head and we were given a choice of tables. Around us, corporate fat cats in thousand pound suits and with those terrible blue shirts with white collars sat around chortling at how poor the rest of the capital was in comparison. We were going to have to do what we could to block them out. Fortunately, we were sat around a corner with a wide wall blocking us from having to see the restaurant.
Steph and I were given a menu and pretended to give it some consideration and that we hadn’t already decided exactly what we were going to order. I tried not to audibly gulp at the price list. Even with the shallow glasses the martinis were to be served in, I was out of my depth.

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We ordered our first drinks and waited patiently. The bar was stocked with so many different kinds of spirits that a set of stairs had been built into the back wall to accommodate their tiny glass bottoms. They sat patiently waiting attention like the Von Trapp kids saying goodnight. We were brought our drinks. I tried to hide my excitement. I felt like Bond. I was in my finest suit. I was wearing a tie. I was sat with a beautiful woman from somewhere exotic and we had just stopped a nuclear missile from destroying the free world. We raised our glasses and I took a tentative sip, trying to make it seem like I did this sort of shit every single day of my life and that I was packing heat.
It wasn’t too bad. To be honest the first one tasted a lot like alcohol. I thought the magic of cocktails is that they taste fruity and marvellous rather than like petrol. It certainly cost more than £1.10 a litre (the price of unleaded in Southend as I write this). The second one went down a hell of a lot smoother. My favourite bit was the olive. The third one I don’t remember. I don’t know how Bond could fucking shoot straight after a couple of them. They’re more lethal than he is.

When the bill was brought over I felt it was only fair I covered it. Steph had paid for dinner and the cocktails were for my benefit, although the following morning I would struggle to remember what it could have been as I attempted to scoop my brains off my desk and not break down in tears.
We stumbled back out onto the street and tried to hold ourselves together. I hoped not every item on my list would leave me so out of pocket. If so, I would have been £2,340 worse off for the experiences. I suppose it’s true what they say, you can’t take it with you. We stumbled along to the entrance to the train station and said goodbye. I sat on the train and tried to focus on my manuscript. I tried to focus on anything except being that one terrible guy on the train home who looks like he’s ready to vom.