I’ll Be Your Mirror…

Each day they come to me and stand and stare. Why am I the one on display? What do they think I’m able to offer that they can’t get from inside. The thing is, when you get down to it, I’m not able to really show them what they’re like. Instead it is just a version of them, the opposite in fact. All the bits are there but everything is back-to-front, the wrong way round. Sometimes I wonder if they even think about me at all. Me with my mahogany frame. Me with my oval shape of good intentions. Me and the layer of dust that sits on my head and everybody seems to miss when they dust everything else in the room. They stand before me and pay little attention to anyone but themselves. Sometimes I wish I could fall down and swallow them up. One of my ancestors did that. He was the reflection on the water until a man fell in and drowned. We are all reflections and we never receive any thanks.

I have spots popped before me. I have grubby fingerprints along the bottom of me, which again never seem to be picked up as they go about their weekly cleaning routine. I sit and wait for someone to pay me any kind of attention and when they do, it isn’t for me at all. I’m just a prop to them. I’m a vessel through which they can see a version of themselves. When they don’t like what they see then they find even more delusional ways to present themselves. They’ll take a multitude of pictures using their phones until they find one that hides that extra chin. They’ll add filters and text and emojis until the image they have is nothing like the truth I first offered them. And that’s what they choose to share. Not who they are or what they do but some pimped out, made up, circus of an affair. You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth.

 

I get jealous you know, of the others that get to go out with them. Tiny versions of me which fold in half and fit in suitcases and clutch bags. They get to leave. They get to see the world. They get the adventures. I’m static. I stay here during the days when nobody is around. I’m stuck and I reflect the same wall, the same edge of the sofa. I’m above a beautiful fireplace but do you think I can see it? I only get to see their comings and goings. I might as well be watching paint dry. Ironically when it comes time for them to paint the room I’m taken down so I don’t even get to watch paint dry. The last time they did it I was just propped up against the sofa which had been dragged into the centre of the room. The only company we had was the dust sheet which was left over us. That’s no life for anyone. I’m worse than a prisoner here. At least prisoners get an hour of exercise in the yard. What I would give to be taken down and tossed around the garden like a Frisbee or even just a bit of excitement. To be used to split up lines of cocaine. Lou Reed once said “I’ll be your mirror”. I wish I could tell him there is nothing romantic in the sentiment but I’ve been reliably informed by a candleholder that he popped his clogs last year. Poor misguided Lou. Imagine going to your grave thinking you want to be someone’s mirror. I’d rather be a toilet brush.

 

Oh hang on.

(That pun was intentional)

Someone is home.

It’s not.

It’s not them.

It’s someone else.

Someone else is in my house.

Oh god, they’ve even got tights on their head. What is this cliché nonsense?

Take me.

Take me you fuckers.

Take me back to your lair, pile me up with the doubloons and the pearls. I want to be part of a haul. I can’t hang in there like that abysmal poster with the cat on it.

Not the flat screen.

Actually, take the flat screen. Maybe I’ll get a little more family time if that arsehole isn’t around. They’ll sit staring at that frame for hours sure, but what do I get in comparison, a momentary glance.

Wait.

Don’t go.

You still have room in the van.

Surely.

Are you kidding me?

The jewellery!

What are you going to do with that? You’re both clearly men.

Maybe if I insult them they’ll smash me.

Idiots.

You stupid idiot men.

Call that a disguise.

You look like a sex crime waiting to happen.

Oi.

Smash me.

Smash me.

Smash me.

Seven years bad luck.

Come on.

I can take it.

You’re nothing without me.

Nothing!

#19 – Watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is probably the most famous gap in America after the one between Donald Trump’s ears. It’s the stuff of Wild West legend. It’s so big that in the day I spent on the rim, gazing out at that shotgun blast wound of Earth I only saw ten percent of it. Everything from my toes to the horizon for the duration of the day was just a tenth of what it was even possible to see. Probably less than ten percent considering I have quite bad eyesight at distance.

The Grand Canyon was the third trek in three years I signed up to do through work. The previous two were across the Sahara desert and over the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. In comparison the Grand Canyon trek did not sound like it was going to be as hard. The reason being that you can fly out of Vegas on a helicopter, loop around the Canyon and be back at the Bellagio in time for a Bellini. What we were doing was trekking through the depths of the canyon and camping out. It still didn’t sound quite as hardcore as Morocco or Peru but there was something about the idea that stirred me in the place I like to get stirred if I’m considering a trek. What really sealed the deal was a BBC documentary by Dan Snow called Operation Grand Canyon where a team rode traditional wooden rowboats down the mighty Colorado river. Seeing the scale of the canyon walls, the power of nature and the plight of ordinary man took me over the edge. The next morning I signed up for the trek.

My favourite thing about trekking, about getting away from it all and setting my Out Of Office email notification, is the change from my life. There’s nothing quite like going without washing for a few days, only working with what you and the team can carry, eating as much as you can and never being full, watching the sun go down and realising you miss this incredible feat every other day. That’s a number of things all under the umbrella of change from life.

When I was in the Sahara I couldn’t believe how excited our guide Saaid got as the sun headed for the horizon each day. He made sure we were out of our tents and with him. We would crouch down on the nearest dune and watch the colour of the sky change from blue to orange to red to blue to black. It was incredible. It was life affirming. It made me realise that it didn’t matter what pacifiers I had in my life, I could strip them away and there were all these amazing things I could spend my time with instead, these awesome people who had been strangers just days before. There was an incredible bond we shared as we watched the sun go down. With nothing manmade in our way the sky was an opera and it happened every day no matter where you were.

Knowing I was heading out on another trek I decided to include watching the sunset on my list. I had got so much from it in the Sahara and the idea of being in an incredible setting like the Grand Canyon and watching something like that filled me with a renewed joy for what I was embarking on.

Of course the reality is never the same as the expectation and the Grand Canyon was no change. It was great. It was grand in fact. It had the most varied wildlife and flowers and fauna. It could go from bizarre Wile E Coyote rock formations to lush greenery in just a couple of miles. I got to climb down dynamite-blown passages in the rock and I got to swim in waterfalls. I captured the kind of moments that would make my social network jealous. I wanted them to know how much fun I was having. Then came the sunset. Now the issue with the sunset in the Grand Canyon is that it comes at about four in the afternoon. It isn’t the same as the sunset on the horizon because you’re several hundred feet below the horizon so the sun just sort of goes and then it’s black. I’m sure from the right position in the Canyon it would be possible to watch the sun descend all the way down between those huge walls but we didn’t get that. We got the sun and then the darkness and there wasn’t a whole lot in between.

What was fantastic was heading back from camp to Havasu Falls to see if we could make out the stars. When we looked up from where we were you could just make out the closer and brighter ones. We knew we needed to be away from the few lights in the camp itself in order to get a clear view. We would have suggested it as a group exercise but when we turned around the others were playing a game where they tried to pick a cardboard box up off the ground with their mouths. They stood around, egging each other on and jeering. It seemed there were two kinds of people in the camp and we were the kind who wanted to watch the stars.12042681_10153662380765349_57783331521966274_n

Somehow we managed to find a spot where the canyon was wider than anywhere else I had seen it. The moon was behind us, giving just enough light for our shadows to be a mixed grey stretching out across the brush. The amphitheatre to the heavens was free and we all had front row seats. The stars were strong so far from artificial light, they wished us well and offered us peace and safety. The longer we looked upon them, the brighter they shone, in the way love works. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you have come from, there’s something incredibly enjoyable and humbling about looking up and wondering about just how big or small we are. Nothing else seems to matter. There’s everything you need in the exact moment you are in. We all felt it, that strange pull from the beyond and that’s why nobody said anything for so long.

We were only interrupted by outside interference, by the flash of others heading our way with a pair of flashlights. We considered hiding, just keeping it between us, not allowing people outside our purposeful group to join. Eventually we allowed them into our secret society with the special handshake of a flash of our own torch and gained another two members with absolute respect for the great beyond above us. The silence resumed, our muted respect for the world above. A prayer and a gift and a wish and a belief. We were together and we were apart.

‘I’d rather be here than playing with a box in the dirt’ said my friend. It remains the most profound thing I heard while in the United States.

#10 – Gamble in Las Vegas.

When I was a kid I watched the Rat Pack version of Ocean’s Eleven. It was pretty much the coolest thing I had ever seen. I soon became obsessed with Sammy Davis Jr who is pretty much the coolest man who ever existed, and got to spend his time with the respective second and third coolest men who ever existed (Steve McQueen is a close fourth). What amazed me about the film is that nobody noticed what was clearly going on around them, that they were able to pull off a heist of that size and that they all understood all of the rules. Knowing I was heading out to Vegas, my head span with possibilities of what I could do there and what it would be like.

Vegas

It was five in the morning and I was sat at a blackjack table. I was drunk, full of Subway and shouting at a dealer. It turned out that none of the four people on our side of the table knew how to play blackjack correctly. Carlos, the poor little croupier was very patient with us. It also turned out you were allowed to smoke at the tables, spilling your ash all over the baize in the process as long as you kept gambling. In addition, if you’re at a table and you’re deep in a game you can order a drink and they won’t charge you. They’re on the house. They want to keep you there. They want you to keep handing over dead presidents in exchange for plastic circles. They get something out of that apparently.

It’s part of the Vegas experience. You have to go there and gamble. Even people who don’t gamble decide to gamble when they are in Vegas. That’s the way it works. They welcome clueless idiots like the comments pages on tabloid newspaper websites.

Somehow I started winning hands. I didn’t fully understand what was happening but ordered another four whiskey and cokes. I kept putting hands down and I kept being given more chips until I realised I had doubled my money. I got up. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity.

‘Where are you going!?’ shouted one of my accomplices, drunk and furious. He seemed to silence every other table in the hall.
‘I know when to quit’ I said, blowing a plume of smoke over my shoulder like I was swishing my tail before going to cash in. By the time I got back to the table two of the guys were screaming at Carlos again. In those precious seconds they had both got about $200 up before losing it all. They walked off in a hump with another whiskey and coke.

Some time later we were at a roulette table with an old, bald entrepreneur from Scotland called Ian. He was covered in tattoos and talked to us like we were his pet dogs. He had a camp delivery that made me wonder if he was looking for a good time. He was very good at gambling. None of us were. We were getting pretty good at drinking.

‘Hey, One Direction’ said a security guard who in the film of my life will be played by a hologram of John Candy. He was talking to us. He was making jibes about how young, handsome and talented we were. I thought about where “Being pissed and broke in a casino” would come in a game of Top Trumps. It would definitely score high on the Excitement category. ‘I’m gonna need to see some ID boys.’ he said We all threw our licenses down on the table for him to examine.
‘Hmm’ he said, obviously annoyed he couldn’t pick any of us up and boot us out the door, ‘enjoy Las Vegas.’ We played on. Losing more money and shouting tactics at each other which would never have helped.

‘Guess what I do?’ said Ian, the Gollum in his character shining.
‘Tattooist?’
‘Artist.’
‘Porn!’
‘Aye, ye ain’t even close’ he said, throwing some more of his cityscape of coloured chips down on as many numbers as he fancied.
‘I own three hairdressers and I sell bags. I’ve got tattoo parlours and I also have a bar.’ I don’t know what Ian’s intentions with us were but the One Direction comment appeared to spur him on. We promptly left.

At six I was in the lift on my own. Walking through the casino one last time had been too much for me. It was still as it had been when we checked in. The air was constant and the music played and the machines rolled. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I propped myself in the corner of the lift and hoped nobody was going to try and get in with me.

My experience of Las Vegas wasn’t the same as any I have heard. There were some high points but there were some moments where I was waiting for a screen to descend, a boom to appear in shot, a prop to fall down and knock the back wall, revealing the fact that everything is fake. There’s nothing shiny and new about Vegas anymore. It’s all a vision of how things were supposed to be in the future from a bizarre viewpoint somewhere in the middle of the last century. It’s actually quite sad to see people sat yanking on the handle of a slot machine like it’s going to answer their dreams. It’s hard to tell if anything you see or feel is real. It’s all the same, all the time. It feels like a setup. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome on Xanax.

It’s somewhere I would recommend visiting, for the spectacle more than anything else. It’s the kind of place where it’s possible to find anything to do at 3 in the morning, as long as it isn’t sleep. I was offered girls, I was offered cocaine and I was offered a cab ride home and a foot long. You can imagine which I went for.