Mr Shimmer smiled his “very sincere shark” smile.

In lamé and velvet. His soul felt too tight, like a badly fitting suit, like a chafing cliché. He couldn’t stop the fat. Moral, of course. Corset and jowls.

He was at a signing session in a fashionable bookshop in the middle of town, but no one wanted his autograph. Then he was in the Caribbean, some island, Marco’s yacht. Memories like jewels. A hole in things, where the youth went.

Mr Shimmer, Mr Shimmer, with the shim-sham-shom. Schmoove Mr Shimmer. Svelte and slender, with glitter and clatter of hard-soled shoes.

Entertainment, these days! God!

Is that what they call it?

Soul too tight. Collar garotting, the hitched crotch of trousers serrating through balls, belt squeezing into his guts, cutting. The feeling that if he moved too sharply, buttons would burst, material rip: goodness fall out.

They were no help. Antoine and Maisie.

It was difficult getting good quality sycophants these days. What had happened to the world? Back in the old days, it was easy getting sycophants. Mr Shimmer himself had been a sycophant, that’s how he’d started out. Mrs Pooh-Pooh, Guardiola, the Dom Twins, all the greats, it was the same, they’d all started out as sycophants before they were famous.

There was no shame in it. The cartel in banality insisted on it, you had no choice, sycophancy was an art form then. Guardiola, Mrs Pooh-Pooh. All the greats. Boy, could they turn a compliment! Flatter, but gracefully. Butter you up so smoothly, place a tribute so casually, but so elegantly, like a diamond pin perfectly sited for the tie, just the right sapphires for the medallion. It would set you off. It wasn’t even a lie. Guardiola, the Dom Twins, they understood servitude, they knew greatness. They recognised the genius of fame, how demanding that genius must be. The Palace of Celebrity was a rickety, glamorous edifice, trembling on foundations of tilted mirrors, floating on a mirage of gossip, in a pool somewhere in the centre, a pure white lotus of skill, and at the heart of the lotus, a dirty little bug of will, while in the gut of the bug, a tiny parasitical worm of ambition. Jack and Jill Dom, Guardiola, they knew.

Antoine? No. Maisie? No. They were hollow people, without awe. Youngsters. They hadn’t suffered like Mr Shimmer. They hadn’t fought their way up, licking and licking. Spittle in the face? Hot spittle from a tortured dolly? Fine! Get on with it. Look up. Smile. Look ahead, to the time when you were doing the spitting, and they the licking. Maisie, Antoine? No. Hollow. Shallow. Too easy. Death was too far away from them. Poverty, just something in a magazine.

But the greats? They understood. They knew what it meant to step into the Palace. They felt awe, serving the stars. How brutal it was, galaxies of flashbulbs popping off all around, taxidermy in light. They knew the bargains, they knew the poison swilled and swilled. Sustained contortion, the injuries, like Snake Johanson, like Billie the Banana Girl, Flying Pete. They knew the gravity pulling you down, you swan, you boy, you girl, how you were out there, exposed to the elements, Hurricane Fickle and Typhoon Whim. They knew, the cruelty of being someone who was made up of others, careless others who liked to peek, liked a snide remark, liked to dream, and then move on, or the damaged, the psychotic others who wouldn’t stop loving and wouldn’t go away, the terrible ones you sometimes found in the Deer In The Headlights Motel, when cavorting with members of the ZigZag Club, hunting the thrills, the thrills, those exquisite filthy thrills, the ones that only genuine pain inflicted or received could give you, ah…

The industry, the system, the whole country. Sometimes it felt as if the journalist was the star. The star! When the world was right, when Mr Shimmer was young, when the nation was young, when the universe dripped with milk and semen and the drugs jumped around the room like baby rabbits, teeming all over the floor and the bed, and the pools had a lucid turquoise hue to their waters, and the cars were big, heavy, redolent of eaten space and conquered plains, sporting the fins of jet planes and rocket ships, journalists knew their place, which was in the common dirt, and they wore their lackey livery before everybody, no platinum blonde or Parisian suits or Mexican stints or ropes of glistening pearls for them, but the sweat and the grovel and the slide, begging for entry to the wonderful Palace, slinking round the gates, clunky cameras like angular yokes hung round their greasy necks, Never let them get close Jill Dom would say, Keep them small and keep them guessing, give them nothing, and they will take nothing away. Aura is precious, Jackie my love: without our aura, what are we?, and the new concrete was so white in the new villas, white as fine cocaine, white as luminous clouds of bright cocaine rushing up into the sensitive spot in the skull where heaven might be found if you only flew faster, faster, faster…

Snake Johanson, Flying Pete, Banana Girl Billie, they’d understood, even then, before their careers turned into shaky, cheap, badly shot scenes in gas stations on the road to Oblivion, Oregon, before the junk and the infections, before the traditional squalor, the classical abandonment by friends: they’d understood, the Palace is no place for weaklings.

Maisie, Antoine? No. Too young. They think their life has only one direction: UP. No respect, not really: no idea. No sense of the death of kings, of beautiful queens who ruled a generation. No idea of the nerves, the precariousness of brilliance, the pressure! No sense how Time, that bastard son of Torture and Misery, slunk around, always haunting the pillars and the pillows, making the Palace a jittery, flickering place. And this country, now? They don’t want you old, or only to torment, or to congratulate themselves they’re better off than you, despising you for your arthritis, flaccid tits and penis, misplacing Idaho, the catheter in the geranium.

Entertainment, these days! My God! Is that what they call it?

Entertainment these days!

Oh, God!

 


from the series superstyler (open-ended, 2012–present)
(this poem, October 2014)