She was sitting on the steps where he wanted to pass – he brushed his legs past a little too close – a warning shot, a don’t-sit-here. He shouted in his mind “Get up!” and turned the stairwell. The sing-song “Eight-four-six-x-y!” burst across his mind like a firework – a little reminder for the code on the door. But the lock had broken weeks ago, and no-one had fixed it. The door leans open. He goes in.
“Ah! It says here that breathing rate has risen in some participants over what would be expected for the situation.”
Oh brother. At least let me sit down first. Coffee cup. Where’s mine? Only that pink one here. Fine. Kitchen – bang elbow on filing cabinet as fat load blocks vestibule. Get-out-the-way! There’s my cup – brown, matches my jacket – in the sink, overflowing with soap scum and upturned spoons. Fuck that. Pour a little hill of coffee, avalanches occurring on its banks, into the cup. Press the tap on the urn and nothing happens – look inside and the lime-lined cave stares back, stalactites from the lid. Top up cup with cold water, swirl with spoon, and neck in one – shudder, stick out tongue, glimpse self in window and notice excess baggage under one eye. Grimacing gargoyle.
“Ey! It can’t be as bad as all that! Easy does it!”
“Morning. How is it going?”
“Aw, can’t complain, can’t complain! Got the sequencer working, the old Illumina back on its feet! Looking forward to seeing what that baby will bang out!”
“Yes. It is quite old, isn’t it?”
He follows up this comment with a few murmurs and tones, a few non-committal sounds that are in a high, friendly register, and moves sideways out, catching his jacket pocket on the filing cabinet, which rips.
That bastard bloke! That bastard cabinet!
“Will synthetic insulin work in their case?” Pile of papers brandished, piercing light flashes halo fog on eyes. Two girls come in laughing, both holding two paper cups. I’m seeing double! Eight cups!
“Err…” I don’t care or know. Look for key words in paper. Its Type I, so yeah.
“Are there any contraindications I should know about?”
Maybe there are, but none that would cause too much trouble. Maybe a nasty case of coma.
“I did the graph like you said, but it comes out like this – ” She points at a chart showing skinny little lines, showing nothing.
“Just do exactly like I did above, in those two columns – ” He was boring himself. Grab mouse and do it yourself.
“There. Quite nice graphs actually.”
“Yeah, they look cool.”
He sits down, stuffs all the papers that are strewn across the desk to make him look busy all into the in-tray in the corner. Mind clean. Let’s get started.
Dear Dr Thurber,
I am writing about your recent findings in your paper “Preliminary Models of Risk and Protective Factors for Nostalgia: Review and Empirical Synthesis.”
You conclusion that the serotonin reuptake cycle can be a controlling factor in the occurrence of pathological longing for an idealised past has personal resonance with me.
I don’t know if you are aware of a British musical artist known as “The Streets,” but in a track “Weak Become Heroes” from his 2001 album he induced a real sense of almost “celebrated loss” in me on my way into work today.
The lyrics refer to an ecstasy user and his first experiences with the drug. The music mimics some of the early works prevalent in the UK in the early days of ecstasy use. The listening experience induced in me some measureable physiological effects that hinted towards the experiences that I personally had when I had experimented with the drug over ten years ago.
I trust that this can remain in confidence between us.
The reason I mention this is because I believe the drug could be used to induce a “nostalgia for today” that could be effective in treating patients that lack affect, that feel like they have no place. To make the everyday a glistening paragon of orange air and water could really help these people invest in the “right now.”
“So are we sending this to you right now?” she interrupted his flow. He puckers is lips forward in the assertive, nods, and clicks a “thumbs-up” sign too. No need for words now. Continue. Lost flow.
I’m not proposing an individualised “therapy” where people just get “high” on ecstasy to forget their troubles, but more to harmonise, to hit that collective note of the hum of the masses, where it is felt, we smile, and it resonates between us, as one voice, one ear. We belong, as we are part of its generation.
Indeed, the drug may have the opposite effect in the long term, so perhaps another approach is needed. In my research inspired by your paper, I came across this work by Johannes Hofer in 1688 where he asserts that in soldiers he studied “Cases of nostalgia, which sometimes occurred as epidemics, were less frequent when the armies were victorious and more frequent when they suffered reverses.”
A new therapy could be the reversal of everything we hold as valid now. People seem to well up in their creativity, to come together, and are unified in faith in the past, and therefore their future, when times are at their hardest or most hopeless. Look at what happens under blitzkrieg or mass unemployment. At wakes and graduations – things end, things are destroyed – and the human being is strengthened by their past, and march into their future without fear.
If you look at your society, you have achieved its absolute apex, and never have people been more unhappy. Your caseload increases and your patients clamour for more medication. these are people who live in vast houses, walled in, secure, tossing and turning on silk sheets in cool rooms,
“At what temperature does hypothermia occur?”
“Er, probably about thirty, not that low – look it up, I think that’s about it…”
“Alright! What do I have to add to this report?”
“You need to refer to its validity – did it measure what you wanted it to measure? You took the readings immediately after, so yes, its valid.”
the hum of machines their companion, always there to make their life simple – grind their imported coffee, glide them to a local café, push them towards orgasm – they cannot have anything better. And they are lost.
A friend of mine has been working in Ethiopia. He walked down the street one day, and was stared at. His hair had grown longer than the other men’s. He had stepped out of their uniformity, and was mildly ostracised for it.
“Look, it’s essential for life – you need to stick towards the set point to survive. That is your conclusion.”
You see, what he gives up in personal freedom, he gains in joining the unity of being. If he is unwell, someone does his work for him, gets him food and drink. Here, and even more where you are, we divide ourselves off as a symbol of success – behind white picket fences was not enough – huge black wrought iron gates with a little man in a booth are what is preferred now – and we will pay to be with fewer people.
First Class – an extra $2500 to remove a few people from your vicinity.
And then they complain they can’t relate.
My proposal is anti-ecstasy: a national medication that will really make you grateful for the smallest things, like clean water with which to wash it down. A feeling of impending doom will help one live in the present. And the withdrawal symptoms are so pleasant!
If the serotonin reuptake cycle can be reversed, then it turns our society on its head – defeats become victories – they strengthen our resolve. Shortages create gratitude; the worst can only get better. As the songwriter mentioned above said:
“Memories smoulder winters colder /
But that same piano loops over and over and over.”
You’ve got to accentuate the negative. The positive hasn’t worked.
“May create laxative effect. ‘Ere, watch out on these Carol!”
“How does it make you shit if they are all you eat?”
“I dunno. Maybe it just mixes with the water you drink, and comes out like that.”
Jesus God. The mindless chatter that goes on here. And these are meant to be the intellectual elite. And they are paid more than me. For fuck’s sake. They do life just by the book, with their little £8.50 “grazing boxes” of offcut nuts and shrivelled raisins. The cows. I’m off out.
That girl is still on the steps – what do they all do?
“Erm, could you not sit there… this is a busy route… it’s not very safe…” She looks up, half smiling, makes me feel like a petty authoritarian idiot.
“Ok…” She doesn’t move. She looks beautiful with that awry smile.
“There are plenty of seats there.” Points. She stands to move, and I turn and leave, making sure I don’t glance backward, trying to look like I know my word is enough to move people, but really because I know she hovered, then sat down defiant. Even if the step is cold and uncomfortable. She’ll stay.
I now feel a bit bad, and the words above loop in my head as I cross the concrete car park, watching for the cracks and lines. “Nothing but grey concrete and deadbeats.” spools round, with that warming bassline.
I’ve got to find a drug that will do the things I want it to. I mean, it always when I do things that I don’t want to do, things that I feel will be bad and horrible, but do them anyway, I feel better. I wanted to tell that girl to move, thought that exercising my will would make me feel better, but I feel shit now. Anyway, another lesson learned. Live and let live. Let them lay down at my feet.
It would at least orientate us the right way – we would realise that things we put in our body make us feel bad – leave them out and things are better.
“What are those things that we used to take temperature?” Carol has caught up – I was walking faster than those clip-clop shoes I thought.
“Aww, yeah, but I thought the one on the head had a different – ”
“No, the same. Look, Carol, I know you have a late one tonight – shall I take your shift? You could get off to Pilates on time?”
“Wow! I did not expect that! But I couldn’t, no. No.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a few papers to write up, and the sequencer is back online, may test – ”
“OK then! You’ve twisted my arm! A bottle of the sparkling Rose, here I come!”
Good, ya fat sow. Can get some thinking done.
The norepinephrine transport blocker duloxetine can attenuate the effects of MDMA in animal subjects. And as MDMA usage can block the serotonin reuptake cycle, in a mimicry of that nostalgia that occurs naturally, maybe this drug can be my anti-ecstasy. Worse living through chemistry.
Mean duloxetine plasma Cmax values were 22. The chip shop sign flickers, and I can hear it from here, approaching, watching slick pavement, checking for signs of life in the lines, watching the sodium lights slide by, the little electrical pings and fizzes sound like they are coming from my own neurons, not the neon molecules firing around the tubes erratically. The Tube erratically. I’ll go underground. How did I get this saveloy? I don’t even like them. Down down down. Is there anybody there? Yeah! (>140/90 mmHg). Personal or first-grade history of seizures. Cardiac or neurological disorder. Which stop? I’m descending, escalator, rise rise rise – hallelujah! The choir expands and the ad’s small text scrolls along my retina: Similarly, nonsmokers had 43% higher average concentrations than smokers. I’m on the Piccadilly line, the dark blue: venous blood. Rust creeps up the door above the manufacturer’s logo: Metro-Camell. Sounds French. Why the Eurotunnel? And how long did it take to meet itself? I’ll meet myself someday. Which stop? I must be off to Maida Vale – it sounds nice. Is there anybody here? Look up and see – man looking at me. Look back down. Down. The wooden floor with grooves of dust. Those peanut shells are like Madonna. Why? They get into the groove! Ha! A dose of 80-120 mg was effective in suppressing the blood pressure increase due to thyramine. He’s saying something! The old old black man’s eyes crinkle into a smile frown eyebrows knit and spark apart, spittle edges his lips and I want to look away but tractor beam glow from yellow whites says: “drug effect, good effect, bad effect, liking, high, energy level, feelings of closeness to others, mind racing, ability to concentrate, fear, hungry, sedated, talkative, open, and confused.” Goodnight.
“Y’alright Fred? Get all that work done last night?”
Thank fuck that wore off. Yeah. It was alright. Wait, I didn’t say that, now I’ve been standing here too long, looking. I must look a state.
“Yes!” Too loud. “Yes. It was good. Found out what I needed to. I think. How are you?”
“I’m alright, you know me, always one to make the best of things – had a lovely bottle of my favourite, that Friexinet or whatever it’s called, pink wine with fizz! And then Carla got through to the next round!”
“Ha ha! Yeah.”
Oh God, I wish I was like that. So simple. But then she probably doesn’t find much entertainment in looking at flickering neon – the flickering TV is her drug. I enjoyed that industrial estate last night – yeah! yeah! But as to my plan – what could bring us down enough to bring us together? The other day when it snowed, people on my street were “Morning!”-ing me left, right and centre. We need something like that, some minor inconvenience to moan about and overcome in small ways. Scrape the pavement in front of your house alone. Stand back and survey with your arm resting on the shovel, leg at a jaunty angle, looking.
Simple. A snowflake drifts from a clear sky and spirals towards, comes in and out of vision, wildly focussing eyes, and lands on nose – the smallest touch of cold, turning to wetness, imagined perhaps.
Imagine the worst. Imagine that job going on forever, going on as far as the sky, the day as long as winter, and each second of conversation when someone stands in the way of the kettle you desire to fill your cup with water and consume, and –
“Frederic, what time can we go home today?”
“Err… You know, it’s not my favourite either, so, like, we could finish whenever, I mean, it’s not that productive, so… Let’s go now.”
And step out the door, Catherine bustling with bags, the promise of tomorrow being better, and an afternoon, open and yawning, free to do what you want to do – walk. Keep walking. Find one thing that links you to the world, one thing that makes it worth living among the takeaways and broken fridges. Someone waves at me, and I wave back, and feel it.
Then the girl taps me on the shoulder. That same piano loops over.