'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Blue Radiator

I listened to the speech of the trees in the breeze, and I watched them furiously moving their arms as they spoke. I find trees to be the most convincing of all orators. They have the imposing presence and the wisdom of age. The man down the road who makes lids for ducks' heads is a good public speaker too, but sometimes I wonder if he really has the wisdom he appears to have when he's standing on a stage, making a speech.

My cousin Gary once shared a house with some friends of his. It was an old house. Gary got the master bedroom. There were windows at either end of the room, and a fireplace opposite the bed. Within weeks of Gary moving in, the place was a mess. He wanted to tidy the room, but it had taken weeks of work to create the mess and it seemed as if it would take weeks to clean it up.

He found some blue paint in the shed behind the house and he decided to paint the radiator in his room with it. He thought it would go some way towards alleviating the mess. He often acted on impulses like these and regretted it later, but he liked the radiator. Various hyphenated expressions had been used to describe his room in the past (with the word 'hole' usually to the right of the hyphen), but he thought the radiator added a touch of class to the place. Of course, no one ever said a word about the blue radiator. And 'hole' never left its place next to the hyphen, but its partner on the other side of the hyphen took on a touch more class (it still wasn't marrying beneath itself when it hooked up with 'hole').

He was hoping this aditional class would impress the women he hooked up with. There was one woman in particular he was intent on impressing. Her name was Daphne. When he took her into the room he said, "You can sit down if you want."

She looked around. "No thanks," she said. In her eyes he could see two blank spaces, with her nose acting as a hyphen. They were left blank because they weren't fit for public view.

"Do you like my radiator?" he said.

"It's... blue."

"Yeah. Like the sea. That's why I like it."

But the look on her face didn't change, and she said she just remembered that she had to be somewhere else.

One of Gary's friends knew an interior designer called Rachel. Gary hired her to give his room a make-over. She called around to see him one Saturday morning. She looked as if she'd put a lot of effort into designing her own look. Her hair was blond with red streaks. Hours of work had gone into making it look as if she'd slept in a ditch. To the untrained eye, her clothes would have looked as if they'd been designed by someone untrained who suffers from poor eyesight.

He said he liked her look. She said, "Designing your exterior is a vital part of designing the interior of where you live. It's like a plug going into a socket. Most interior designers just work on the socket. I design the plug as well."

Gary didn't like the sound of that. When he said he liked her look he really meant that other people would like it, and by other people he meant idiots. When he contemplated the thought that something similar could be inflicted on his own exterior he realised that he hated her look. He said, "What do you have in mind for me?"

"I'll have to see the room first. I can't form an opinion on you until I've seen your room. You define where you live and vice versa."

Gary dreaded to think what sort of opinion she was forming as she looked around the room. He said, "You have a free hand here, but I would like to keep the blue radiator."

"It's reassuring to know you don't want to keep the rest of it."

"Do any ideas come to mind?"

"Yes. Ideas come to mind. They always do that. First impressions bring a flood of ideas, and first impressions haven't let me down so far. Bringing those ideas into reality isn't always so easy, but I know the path to take in this case."

She took him shopping for furniture. They bought a coffee table with a glass surface resting on branches that had broken from a tree in a storm. She chose wallpaper that wouldn't have looked out of place in a country house fifty years ago. This could have been said about nearly everything she got for the room. When Gary mentioned this she said, "That's true, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The sum of the parts says an old country house, but the whole will be anything but that. It'll be inescapably modern."

When the room was finished, she took him shopping for clothes. She chose a brown suit and a few different ties to go with it. Most of them were black or dark brown, but he insisted on getting a blue one, like the radiator. She chose a tweed jacket with a matching hat. She also made him buy a pipe.

She said, "Now you need to adapt your lifestyle to suit your look."

"Should I buy a shotgun and go hunting ducks with a dog?"

"No. You've got the wrong context. You'd look completely out of place in the country. You and I could go to a gig together and we'd compliment each other perfectly. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to a gig."

She took him to see a band called 'The Dead Islanders'. She said they were very 'in' right now. The first song the band played was called 'Will he Wonka?' and half of the audience walked out within the first minute of it. They could only guess what the lyrics were because the words that the singer spat out with spit were so indecipherable. The people who walked out obviously guessed that the song was about something they wouldn't approve of. If they'd waited until the end of the song they would have heard him say, "That was about my girlfriend." Half of the remaining half were sure they wouldn't approve of that if they knew what it was, and they walked out too.

But the next song was much slower and they could make out some of the lyrics. It was about a happy polar bear, and it seemed unlikely that the first song would really be objectionable to the people who had walked out. Some people walked out because they objected to anything that the people who had already walked out would approve of. A small group stayed on, and they enjoyed the rest of the gig. The band invited the audience to a party at the end.

Gary and Rachel went along. It was in a house nearby. The place was full of people with interesting looks. They all wore clothes that said something, apart from the ones with no clothes, and that said something too. Rachel told him to put the pipe in his mouth, but he didn't have to smoke it -- it was really just a fashion accessory. He would have said it was strange to use his mouth to hold a pipe he'd never smoke, but fashion accessories and affectations were commonplace amongst the people at the party. Rachel had got his look just right, and he blended in with them. He used old words when he wore his pipe. He looked on and said, "Bawdy. Terribly bawdy."

Before the end of the party, the band had decided that they wanted Gary to be their manager. "You have just the right look to manage a band," the lead singer said to him.

"I know nothing about being a manager."

"We've already gone down the route of hiring managers based on experience and ability, but it's never worked out. They have the scars to prove it. It's time to put style over substance and hire someone based on looks. I have a good feeling about this."

"I do work in a radio station," Gary said. "That's something, I suppose."

"That's more than something. That's a firm confirmation of style over substance. That says we were right to do what we did to the other managers."

Gary agreed to be their manager. He spent many hours travelling with the band in a van. They spent the time arguing or writing songs like 'I'm full of goo and it needs to escape'. He thought it was too sentimental. He was happier when they argued. He'd say things like 'Gentlemen, please. We haven't been living in the trees for some time now'. It was a recurring argument about who came up with the album title 'Some like it hurt'. Occasionally the argument erupted into a fight. Gary's image confined him to remaining cool and calm, which amounted to standing by and watching them fight.

At a music festival, the band got into a fight with a heavy metal band called 'The Little Bee Pies'. The Dead Islanders claimed that The Little Bee Pies weren't really heavy metal at all -- that they were really just art students adopting a pose and the pose was the only thing separating them from the animals. The ease with which The Dead Islanders won the fight would suggest there was some truth in this. The Little Bee Pies saw it as proof that The Dead Islanders were much closer to the animals than they were.

The band started a fight at one of their gigs, and it descended into a riot. They had to leave in a hurry. They were chased through narrow country roads by a van containing the irate owner of the venue and some of his friends and relatives who were always in a state of perfect contentment when hunting quarry in a van. Gary's new exterior concealed his fears. They managed to evade capture when they took a wrong turn and ended up in a hay shed. Their pursuers drove all around the shed but they never thought of looking inside.

Daphne was very impressed with the new look he'd acquired for himself and his room, and with his new role as a band manager. She didn't like listening to the band, and none of her friends liked them either, but they all knew that they were the sort of band they should like. Daphne loved reminding her friends that she knew the manager. She often went with him to gigs.

The band had to take a break from performing when their drummer, who called himself Long Jong Sullivan, injured his arm while trying to see how many people he could fit into the van. This gave Gary time to reflect. He had tried to convince himself that his new lifestyle was exactly what he wanted, but he wasn't happy with the person he'd become. He knew it wasn't really him. He had never felt that he wasn't being himself before, when he was happy being the person defined by his room, which led him to the unpleasant conclusion that he was just a blank space before a hyphen and then a 'hole', and all he can ever achieve in life is to fill in the blank.

But the blue radiator was part of him too. He considered it to be the most important part of his room. He went to see Rachel and he told her that he had to abandon his new image. "I can look back on my old self with some objectivity now," he said. "The radiator was an important part of the socket, so what does that say about the plug?"

"That he's blind."

"It suggests there's a warm side to the plug."

"Did you ever turn the radiator on?"

"No. But a radiator is synonymous with heat."

"Not if they're never turned on. And you made a big deal out of the fact that it was blue. Look at any taps. The hot one is red and the cold one is blue."

"You're just nitpicking."

"There's nothing colder than a cold radiator. When you put your hands on it you expect heat, and you're left disappointed when it's cold. It's defined by its lack of warmth. And the fireplace in your room hasn't been used in years."

"You're looking at these things negatively. A fireplace and a radiator exist to provide warmth. That's how they're defined. And this need for something warm is a reaction against the cold, cynical, style-obsessed world I've been immersed in recently."

"My aunt Sylvia is warm. She knits Aran sweaters for her dogs."

"I'd rather be warm than cool."

"As warm as a cold blue radiator."

"It'll be warm in winter."

"Right. And how are you going to express this in the way you look?"

"I could wear an Aran sweater. A blue one."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you. You should think carefully before discarding the suit."

"It's just a pose. I'm not going to collapse into a barely sentient heap if I remove the clothes I wear."

"Clothes are what separates us from the animals. Wear an Aran sweater if you want to show how close you are to sheep."

"I'll wear the pipe as well."

He bought an Aran sweater, and he felt comfortable in it, even though it was too hot. He showed the band his new look. They stared at him in silence, and then the singer smiled and said, "I like it. We've just been talking about a new direction, and you're new look is telling me what direction we should be going in."

The Dead Islanders became a heavy metal band, partly because metal suited their name and partly because their manager with the Aran sweater and the pipe provided the perfect contrast to the band. Gary was happy because it represented his room -- he was the blue radiator and they were the mess. This change of musical direction didn't alienate any of their fans because it wasn't genuine heavy metal. It was just a new pose they wore, a new set of clothes. All of their fans appreciated the need for a new set of clothes.

The moose's head over the fireplace is a very effective orator, even though he never says anything. His distinguished expression as he looks down on us says it all. Words would only get in the way of his message. He's often convinced me of a certain point of view. It was he who talked me out of performing a song I wrote about curtains. Of course, 'talked' would be an overstatement, but he presented a very convincing case.