Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Story of Joe

(He’s not really called Joe, just so you know)

Joe was a very happy man, which made me wary of him. He greeted me each morning in the 2 years we worked in the same office with a wide perfect smile and a pat on the shoulder. This continued even after I told him he was a prick.

Joe was younger than me by 5 years. He was married when I was still staggering my way from bar to bra. He was healthy when I was living off of Kentucky Fried Chicken wraps. He smelt of fabric softener when I washed my clothes with dish liquid and my hair with hand soap. His hair had a wave to it, mine was Grade 1 short and, given I wore little round glasses, I looked like Heinrich Himmler. Joe looked like an Aryan poster boy.

Looking like Heinrich Himmler meant I also had a passing resemblance to Ben Elton. I bumped into Ben one night in London. I was on the shocking side of seven pints and had just been ejected from a girls lavatory where I had been doing nothing more than admiring the fact they had 2 sofas in their bathroom whereas the blokes had chipped mirrors and a homeless smell. I wove back through the bar and 3 seconds before I was firmly asked to leave I saw Ben and shouted Oi Ben, I look nothing like you you tw – . This wasn’t the Ben who wrote The Young Ones, this was the Ben who was working on We Will Rock You - the Queen musical.

Joe though, every day there he was wreathed with a smile, punctuating with back slaps and advice about finance management. He was the anti-me and I’m sad to say he made it look good. He had muscles so those back slaps hurt. He had sparkles in his eyes. He had a smile that made waitresses beam. Scowling though I knew each cigarette, each downed Guinness and each weekend lost to chemicals, orange hair and PVC trousers meant me that sooner or later I’d be something whereas he’d be just – just – good looking and fragrant.

One day Joe e mailed me. This was unusual as his part of the office had little to do with mine. I was running an IT system; he was doing filing and stationary orders. I opened the e mail through my hangover

You look down today

I mailed - Nah not really. Hangover. Nothing I can’t cough and coffee my way through.

Another mail - Do you think this is working out for you?

I squinted more than usual. I liked squinting. It’s a spaghetti western thing - What?

This lifestyle? Do you think it is working out for you?

It wasn’t really. But it was fun. I was living in London, single, earning a fortune, and the world was oyster shaped - I’m having fun, works getting done, come tonight I’ll drink another one.

Then he stopped me in my rhyming tracks.

All you do is drink and insult people. You make no one happy. This makes me sad.

I didn’t respond. I hadn't been told that before, though I have since. At the time I was genuinely shocked. My hand kept reaching toward the keyboard but I couldn’t think what to say.

Another mail - Instead of the pub why don’t you come with me tonight? My church would welcome you.

I didn’t write back. I walked down to his office and called him a prick. He smiled at me. I repeated.


A few days later the Twin Towers fell. We watched it live on television; all of us huddled in the cafeteria. Joe frowned and commented quietly that the lord’s plan is often hard to see. Some were crying. Some were praying. Some looked terrified. The print room chap looked quite pleased. The 55 year old man I worked with ran from the room shouting We’re at war. Joe was calm. The lord had chosen for the towers to fall, it was part of the plan.

I guess this is the same as my kids being content when our car broke down just before Christmas. We pulled over and sat them on blankets in grass that likely had a snake or two red bellying its way about. Tankers and holiday makers blew past us as we waited for the tow truck. The car was dead but the kids thought it was all OK because their parents were there and they would somehow make it all OK. They’d have somewhere to sleep, they’d have dinner, and they’d be safe - we would make them safe.

The way Bear and Toes felt about us is the way Joe felt about his God. God had it all planned out, Joe just had to be a good boy and he’d be tucked up and given milk and biscuits in heaven. OK, Bear and Toes just wanted Christmas presents and Toes has never yet gone to bed on time but the correlation works to my mind.

Mother is the name for God on every child’s lips. The movie the line is from has my favourite joke - Jesus Christ walks into a hotel, he hands the innkeeper three nails and asks - Can you put me up for the night?

Joe had bottomless faith. He still has bottomless faith. He Facebook’d me years later and I accepted. I admit I wanted to see he’d gotten fat, become single and taken up drinking cheap wine. He hadn’t. The Lords Plan was working out in his favour. I removed him from friends as soon as I had determined all of that. I had gotten a layer of fat but I wasn’t single and I did have my kids– and I do like cask wine. Before I removed him he sent me a message - Glad you are making someone happy now. God bless.

I know not all of the religious believe in The Plan; some dilute it down to just believing in a benevolent father who leaves it up to you and just waits to give you hugs and cookies when you come home. Others in a tree loving Earth Mother who likes women with hairy armpits. It’s belief itself that leaves me staggered.

There’s a moment I’ve had several times now that makes me think of the Degrassi Junior High theme song –

Wake up in the morning, feeling shy and lonely,
gee, I gotta go to school. 
I don't think I can make it, don't think I can take it,
I wonder what I'm gonna do. 
But when I look around and see,
that someone is smiling right at me,
wait, someone’s talkin' to me, hey, I gotta new friend. 

A new friend is a great moment. It’s akin to falling in love, well just a little bit. In the moments I’m referring to it becomes apparent that the new friend (who I'm planning dinners with, planning play dates with our kids, planning a car key fruit bowl party) believes in God. In these moments I silently scream Noooooooo and fall to my metaphorical knees. I like you, you're smart and cool and you like John Carpenter films and old techno music and you've read Ulysseys - say the Jesus thing ain't so?

Having faith must be fantastic. It has to be. Joe was one of the calmest, happiest folk I ever knew. Nothing fazed him. It was Gods plan that he ask me to his church. It was Gods plan I'd say no, so I guess it was also Gods plan I call Joe a Prick. The faith folk have I don’t understand but I can’t begrudge it. As strongly as Joe believes in The Plan I believe in Bill Hicks – I am in steadfast agreement with him that you, me, we - even my Bear and Toes – we’re a virus with shoes. 

Not Joe though. Even after all this time and wine – to me Joe remains a Prick.

(If you're liking the blog please share, forward, read to folk on the bus, or whisper to loved ones)

No comments:

Post a Comment