Strange Loop


Drawing hands The moment I invented him I knew he had independent life. He wasn't one of these spineless characters that just quietly or noisily get on with acting out my ideas, illustrating my themes and expressing the prejudices of Robert Stanford. He had voice.

I first called him Tarsin, which seemed exotic and vague enough to suit the unusual, undefined foreigner that my hero, Gunter, was to meet in Athens. Tarsin presented himself as a travelling businessman, but I immediately sensed he had other, more pressing interests. His most essential feature was his mobility. This is just before he came in:

Gunter was bored. He had no wish to return to the hotel. His wife was writing postcards. Not that Athens bored him, but that he bored himself. He strolled towards Monstiraki Station. He was more interested now in the furniture shops than in the tourist ones he had visited so thoroughly.

If only Alana could be here, he yearned. "Maybe I'll find her a wacky present at the flea market?" It was pleasant to have something concrete here to link to her. He entered. The shop was shabby, like a stage-set for an anarchist play. Gunter examined some freshly-made but battered candlesticks. Brass is good, he thought. Gradually, the sound of rapid argument entered his awareness. Sounded like Greek to Gunter. That is it felt completely foreign. Like Hungarian, it was a language he could never acquire an ear for. The voices did not rise but remained on a vehement plateau. Gunter noted that each of the voices seemed to allow the other to reply at short intervals. It was more usual for one person to out-tirade the other. He speculated that they knew each other well.

Gunter unconsciously approached the two men. As though he would understand what they were saying if he heard them better. They ignored him. Suddenly, one of them vanished into further depths of the shop. The after-image of the argument sat in Gunter's mind. The remaining man noticed Gunter. "Can I help you?" This in smooth, undefinably accented English. "Do you have anything unusual?" Gunter asked for fun, in Teutonic English. The other spread his arms wide. "Everything here is unusual. It is a matter of knowing how to look at it."

Gunter pretended interest in a deteriorating hardback on the counter. "That is not for sale," the man Gunter now took to be the shop's owner informed him. "Surely we could settle on a price," Gunter jested in a serious voice. "I am always willing to negotiate, however, I doubt it." "Well, where is the value of this book to you?" Gunter parried, lifting up the volume. "Here," the shopkeeper pointed to his temple. "I think you might need my help later," he added, handing him a small card with "F. Tarsin" and a phone number on it. Gunter pocketed the card without looking at it. "How much do you charge?" he asked, wondering whether the other man knew he wasn't serious. "That depends on the problem." Gunter thanked him insincerely and left.

He passed a poster announcing the opening of a squash court. This caused Gunter to think about the intransitivity of the sport: Tom beats Dick, who beats Harry. Yet there is nothing to stop Harry from beating Tom. It had happened to him once.

Back in their room, he saw that Joyce was changing into a blue sequined gown for the concert. "You're going to great lengths to impress the locals," he chided her. "I just feel like doing it for myself. Not much point doing it for you, is there?" "No," he agreed. Soon she was gone. Gunter began reading his airport novel. After sitting with it for ten minutes, he lost interest, tossed the garish object across the bed.

He picked through their souvenirs in bronze, marble and silver. Though these were interesting, he soon looked for other amusement. Joyce would be another two hours at the concert. Bloody Mahler! Who could sit through two of his symphonies?

He looked inside the enormous white cupboard. Nothing but theft-proof coat-hangers and a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Not even an International Herald. Maybe something more interesting got forgotten under the bed? Or in a drawer? Nothing under the bed. First drawer empty, also the second. The bottom drawer seemed heavier as he pulled it out. A diary. Probably the wall street wanker's appointments, thought Gunter.

The first page read:

14.4.93
Well, here I begin. The rest of my life. It's daunting to start a blank book like this. How does one begin? My own private world that no-one else will see. I don't feel as free as I expected after 12 years of Bert hanging around my neck. Why can't I just feel relief, free as a bird? Why don't I feel Athens is here for my pleasure? Instead I feel I need to live up to what is expected of a reasonably cultured visitor to this cradle of western civ. I'm only here two days and I already feel at a loss. Is this what 12 years with that egocentric wimp has done to me? Did he core me like an apple? Well, no use getting into self-pity. After all, the weather's great, I've seen the Acropolis, ate great food. Pity I felt like a sitting duck, waiting to be picked up by some Athenian adonis specialising in over-weight brunettes freshly divorced. Thank god they left me alone. Though the porcine waiter did too. Maybe I should have set the menu alight like they advise in the woman's travel books.

15.4.93
Felt much better this morning. Bit of gold shopping is also bound to lift a woman's mood. Spent all day walking around. I liked the flea market best - guess I don't need to list all the sights and my impressions of them. I'm no travel writer. Nor do I care much to read it later. For some reason I keep thinking of Bert - for god's sake! The bastard has colonised my thoughts.

I guess I'm just not the type of bird happy to fly alone, at least not in a foreign country. And here I am in a nation of free-range macho males. Men. Damn them! Well I'm not giving up or giving in to any of them. It's my well-earned holiday and I'll enjoy it if it kills me. Tomorrow I'll head for the islands. Start with Hydra. Sun, retsina, swimming, Greek salads, evenings with Virago novels. I'll re-dedicate my life to pleasure. Where did I go wrong? This is now one free, pleasure-guzzling, emancipated female. I like this new me. Why can't I

Gunter was intrigued. He held a real woman's life in his hands. What did it feel like to be this person? Suddenly, he rushed to his day-pack. After much rummaging he extracted a biro. Excited, he began writing where the anonymous diarist had broken off:

Why can't I get my orgasms by myself, completely rid myself of this need for men? No more pandering and pampering some hulking male set on his own pleasure.

16.4.93
Well, my arrival in Hydra wasn't all I wanted. Grotty little hotel on the waterfront. Not really so grotty, but not luxurious either. B&B: bare and basic. Spent the day swimming and boozing. Glorious sun, not like the 10 watt weakling back home. Wonderful weather for autumn. Felt carefree and relaxed for the first time since leaving home. Not for a moment did I think of B-, whatever his name was. My suntan has got its undercoat. My pores are opening. Young local men kept staring at my boobs. You'd think Greek women didn't have any.

17.4.93
Lazed all day. Read, slept, ate, wanked, slept.

18.4.93
Went for a long walk along the rocky coast. Cleared my mind nicely. Thought about the novel I began writing 12 years ago and then abandoned. Got an idea. A cut-off sort of male, trying to come to terms with his latent homosexuality. I'll call him Robert E. Stanford, sounds like a confident man's name.

Met some funny Canadian girls at the beach. We swam together and spent the evening chatting. Good fun, much swearing, skilful drinking. They're bumming across Europe till their money runs out. Very street-wise.

19.4.93
Here I am at the beach, itching from the salt. Brilliant sun and not a cloud, but the writing bug has struck me. Nothing to write on except this diary, so here goes Robert - and my very first novel:

I yawned, stretched my full six feet. There was no way I would manage to write another paragraph today. I locked the flat and went out to walk. I felt empty, both of words and feelings. Two beagles barked viciously at me with equal canine fury as I passed the house next door. Presently I was in the city, where bright lights assailed me. The Purple Flamingo Jacuzzi Bar beckoned. Inside it was quite mysteriously dark. After a time I realized that it was one of those gay bars I had heard about. "Might be good for a sub-plot," I thought. I observed the way that the men - there were no women - greeted each other. They showed a familiarity that suggested they were a community, not isolated, alienated urbanites. They wore moustaches but were all spick and span [remove this cliche later] incredibly neat-looking. I heard enough rising inflections to raise the ceiling a foot or two.

"Maybe I'll make Grunter a latent gay," I mused. Hoping this environment might heal my writer's block, I took out my spiral notebook and began writing:

His inspiration flagged. As usual. Gunter put down the diary, eyes closed. He recalled his own visit to Hydra ten years before. The look of the picturesque harbour. Or rather, the look of the picture in his album. Nothing damages memory like photography, he thought. It had been their honeymoon, had felt like it too. Or so he remembered it now. What had happened to the Gunter and Joyce of that time? Was there a trace of them somewhere? Of their long, hand-held walks together? His eyes opened. His fingers resumed writing:

20.4.93
The dogs here prefer tourists to locals. Two big-spirited Hydran hounds adopted me today. I gave them their money's worth - an all-day walk. It was probably enough because they were glad to get back home at sun-down. I focused on a waiter at the taverna. I made him more refined, more northern, to get an image of what Robert looks like. Copied down some mannerisms of tourists too. There is a gypsy selling Russian dolls on the waterfront. Pity my doll phase is long past... Each doll inside the other - what if there were a way of fitting the largest inside the smallest? Sleepy as hell now, going to bed. My eyes are sore and the room light is woefully bad for writing anyway.

21.4.93
It suddenly struck me that the women do all the work here. The men just play dominos or drink coffee at the tavernas. Thank god I'm not Greek. An Englishman is plenty bad enough. Of all the

The door creaked open, Joyce entered. Gunter gave a start, "Back so soon?" "What do you mean soon, it's almost midnight!" she replied in plummy English. He felt unaccountably guilty about the diary - it somehow seemed secret. He closed it and placed it at the bottom of his bag, below all his other books and papers.

Early next morning they walked to the Agora. A darkly bearded tourist asked Gunter to photograph him on top of a large outcrop of gray marble. "Wait till I get on top. I want the Acropolis in the background." Gunter waited. The man disappeared behind the rock. A nearby bark startled Gunter. Turning around, he saw a policeman holding two Alsatians on a leash. "Can I have a look at your camera, please?" he asked politely. "Actually, it's not mine - sure," Gunter replied, handing it over. The policeman examined the machine, shaking it. One of the dogs barked again. It seemed a meaningful bark.

The policeman carefully opened the camera. Instead of film, it contained a white powder. "You are under arrest," Gunter heard him say, as through a fog. Just then Joyce came up to them. "What's the matter?" she asked. "This man has been caught with heroin," the policeman explained gravely. "But it's not my camera - where's that guy who asked me to photograph him?" Gunter burst out. "I didn't see anyone," his wife answered helpfully.

Gunter sat on a hard chair making his statement at the station, his hands in his pockets. An unfamiliar piece of paper met his fingers. Tarsin's card.

Later he was allowed a phone-call. "Can I speak to Tarsin?" "#$##& **%#$%# &765%^^%^%^&," was the reply. "Tarsin. Tarsin. Can I speak to Tarsin?" More Greek without subtitles followed. Then a pause. The pause lengthened. The policeman at Gunter's side eyed him suspiciously. At last he heard another voice: "Hello?" "Is that Tarsin?" "Yes it is." "This is Gunter, to whom you gave your card. I need your help." "Ah yes."

Here I literally lost the plot. How would I get Tarsin into this affair? Had he set up Gunter in the first place? For that matter, the whole thing seemed rather unconvincing. Even Mahler being played in Greece would strain the reader's willingness to believe. I had called him Gunter because of a life-long dislike of 'Grunter' Grass. I imagined he grunts a lot while eating and during sex. But did this make for a story? Writer's block descending again. Just then a slim man with fair hair came over to my table and offered to buy me a drink. Do gays have the same mating conventions as straights? I felt very nervous but I accepted. I didn't want to give him the wrong idea.

I was now far too hungry to keep writing about Robert. I must lunch. I hurried back to my taverna, where I am writing this with my mouth full of souvlaki. I think Robert is equally fascinated and appalled, though he pretends to himself he is researching his wretched novel. Maybe a shock like discovering he's a closet queen will unblock his writing. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy either. He's so urbane and in control. We'll see how long that control lasts!

22.4.93
Dreamt I watched as Escher made an engraving, the one of two hands, where each is drawing the other. Wonder what it means. Perhaps that I'm creating myself from scratch. Am I fleeing from my past or from myself? This question worries me.

I think I'll stay longer in Hydra. I know the place so well it feels like home. I even went to church, mainly to observe the locals. Or am I as bad as Robert? Gee, hope I'm not a closet Greek orthodox. Better gay than pray! Anyway, it seemed more a social affair than any religious D&M. Mainly women too - nice to see them for a change. Though they hardly look cheerful, all decked out as crows. At least they're allowed out to pray to the patriarchal god. Am learning a bit of Greek. It's not as hard as I thought. The locals appreciate it too. They're sick of being tourist commodities. Yet I feel welcome; I like it here. So free.

This was where Gunter stopped writing when he heard the rattle of a big key. At least they had let him keep the diary, not knowing it wasn't rightfully his. He had passed the awful hours in the cell writing his Hydra fantasy. Whenever the flow had halted he had wondered whether the real woman who began the diary actually got to Hydra. What it was like for her if she had. It stopped him from dwelling on his own predicament.

It had taken hours for Tarsin to show up. Now as he was ushered into the cell, Gunter felt he was seeing an old friend. Yet he didn't know this man at all. "Yes, I understand," Tarsin kept saying, as if he met this problem twice weekly. "I'm sure you realize," he said at last, "there is only one easy way out." "I suppose you mean..." Gunter answered. He thought it better not to mention bribery explicitly within earshot of two policemen.

That's all I managed before getting blocked again. Bribery is hardly exciting anyway. I had better make it more complicated. Add a sting within a sting, or something. Anyway, I've had enough of this story for now. Luckily it didn't take that gay guy long to realise I wasn't of his persuasion, so he let me do some more writing.

As for you, who do you think you are - you who read what I have just written? Do you think you are more real than I, Robert E. Stanford - the author of these lines - you, who are only the instrument of their reading?

Tad Boniecki

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