“I am the focal point of the universe,” he wrote in his journal. “Gamma rays from distant quasars have been concentrated on my brain. The molecular structure of my synaptic networks have been rejigged.”
His friends thought it was a passing phase, like the religion he had adopted when 17, or the atheism he wore like a coat of many colours when he approached 30, or the adolescent hedonic lifestyle he launched into when he went through his early mid life crisis, when he was 38. It was then that he discovered sex and the female orgasm. He began to experiment, setting impossible targets and achieving them.
“Tonight, my sweet, you will experience twenty orgasms, each incrementally more intense than the one before, culminating in an orgasm of such insane intensity that your body will become one with the universe, and you and I will meld into a single being.”
Another passing phase,like his jam making when he turned 41.
“Stolen fruit is the secret. Stolen fruit makes the best jam.”
He would go on late night fruit picking expeditions to neighbouring houses and local parks, scrabbling around in the dark, and returning home scratched and bruised at one in the morning with a bagful of quinces or crab apples or apricots or nectarines. He made dozens of pots of jam, rich and sickly sweet, and gave them to friends. He didn’t have what it takes to become a economic baron of the jam world; he wanted to spread the sweet taste of jam…
He wrote a song, plagiarising the sentiments and some of the words of Leonard Cohen…
“And this jam, my loved ones, will pour like honey in the valleys of the lonely,
It will sweeten your breath, it will seduce your taste buds, it will bring joy to your very soul…”
Then there was the era of his psychiatric explorations, when Freud and Jung became twin gods in his spiritual universe, and he ignored Freud’s dictum – “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” – and found deep meaning in the most transitory of superficial comments, and archetypal insights in the most ephemeral of his dreams.
At fifty five he became an obsessive poet, writing a poem a day: sonnets, limericks, villanelles, free verse flow from the dark creases of his brain matter, a sweet liquid flow of poetic lines that coursed their way through the catacombs and tunnels of his memory, following a course that seemed to him to represent truth.
“A poem a day. If I write a poem a day I will be a poet. A poet is one who writes poems; I am a poet.”
For days on end he would speak only in measured lines, forcing himself to create, at the very point of utterance, sentence after sentence cast in the sad rhythm of the iambic pentameter.
His days began and ended with a song,
with words that flowed like honey through his mind,
He held there, for the briefest moment, truth.
He saw the world transfigured to his sight,
the universe within a grain of sand,
eternity confined within a hour,
infinity he clasped within his hands.
But at sixty one he found his life’s purpose in a moment of epiphany. He suddenly saw how limited his life span would be. That he had, at the very best, ten thousand day left.
His obsession had become the writing of his lifework, his autobiographical work, which he entitled: The Encyclopaedia of My Life. His obsession had become the daily writing of this opus. He set himself the goal of writing, at the very least, a thousand words a day. Ten thousand days:
He tried to do the sum in his head, but his normally sharp arithmetical skills betrayed him, and so he wrote down the numbers, and labouriously calculated the answer:
10000 X 1000 = 10,000,000
Ten million words. Simon drew breath. Ten million words! 365000 words a year for twenty odd years.
Then his mind felt a slight shudder of recognition. In the past his left brain, segment A, Arithmetical calculation would have eaten that sum for breakfast. Simon prided himself on the simple enough task of multiplying 10000 by 1000. Perhaps his faculties were beginning to slow down , to crack up, to deteriorate; perhaps one of the great fears of his life – of a gradual sinking into senile dementia, into mental oblivion, into the loneliness of Alzheimers.
A joke twitched at the edge of consciousness. He’d read it just that morning … he scrabbled through his short term memory to find it…
But try as he might, it would not come out of hiding. He heard the echoes of its laughter, but could not for the life of him work out where the laughter was coming from.
That was when he realised he must cease with these obsessions. Obsessions, he now saw with the utmost clarity, were the sad, pathetic, doomed attempts of mortals to hang on to the ephemera of their lives. ‘Life is passing through our fingers like air, and we think we can grasp it!’ It was all pointless. All pointless. Who remembered his jams, still tasted the tart sweetness of his crab apple jelly? Did his lover recall the orgasms that melded them into a single being? And who could be bothered reading his endlessly repeated pentameters? And as for jokes, who would be there to tell his joke to anyway who would want to hear it? Even if he could remember it!
And then it was there, in its entirety. The whole joke. He could remember it. his faculties weren’t totally shot. He took out his notebook and began scribbling furious:
“There were three elderly men in an old people’s hostel. The 70 year old complains: “Ohh, aging is a terrible thing. You know, everything is starting to break down. I’m regular as ever – go and have a piss at 7 am every morning. But slow … it just keeps dribbling out for ten minutes….”
His 80 year old mate says, “I know….”
He paused briefly. Yes, he thought to himself, that’s what I’ll do.
And he stopped, took a new lined notebook from his desk draw, and wrote on the outside:
The Joke of a Lifetime
Encyclopaedia of the life of Simon D.