Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memories of Rockweld

Ah, Rockweld. I can still see his furrowed brow, poring over ancient Sumerian texts in the study we shared for all those years. Come away, let's relax for an evening, I would say, but he would not budge from those parchments. He was determined to find proof that the Sumerians had a widespread potato crisp industry.

"I know it, and I must have the proof!" he would cry, his hair standing on end and his ears rotating slowly. "It is here somewhere!" I humoured him, but was amazed when he proved his theory and published his monograph. It was utterly ignored by the world, but Rockweld felt vindicated, and was content for a while. He even took up pipe smoking, until instructed not to by a plumber.

Rockweld was, in many ways, my alter ego, my mirror image, and certainly the best friend I could ever have. Today I feel quite wistful, recalling those long days spent in fevered debate and discussion, testing our wits and logic against the keen razor of the other's intellect. How fondly I remember those lengthy, jocular sparring matches, as we argued vehemently back and forth over which was "the weird one" in Shakespear's Sister. Happy days indeed, as we lived off our modest stipends, and imparted wisdom to our students and ourselves.

I remember when his first novel was published, Rockweld came bustling into our rooms, delighted and waving the first copy above his head in triumph. We drank long into the night in celebration, and he was quite red-faced later when I informed him that in his intoxicated state, he had attempted to write a thesis on the prevalence of fennel in aviary kiosk menus. How we laughed, as I showed him the ornamental Japanese bread bin he had worn on his head, while standing by the fireplace and demonstrating a new dance he had just invented called "The Menorah Bop"

Unfortunately, Rockweld's joy had quickly turned to dust as his book was an unmitigated failure. He blamed the reviews, and there is no doubt that certain critics had harmed the commercial prospects of the work when they pointed out that the plot was predicated entirely on the (supposedly) fanciful notion that the lead character was a zebra who had managed to convincingly disguise himself as a wealthy stockbroker with a stapler and some felt. If one did not give credence to this idea, claimed the nitpickers, then the book, as a narrative, made no sense at all. After sales plummeted from their already subterranean levels, Rockweld, fixated upon literary respect, embarked on a much-publicised experiment to prove that a zebra could, in fact, achieve this task. He failed in this attempt, too, becoming bitter and retreating to our study to drink heavily and occasionally snort derisively at my interior decorating skills.

Still, there is no doubt Rockweld had a dizzying intellect, and I will forever think of him as the most admirable academic, indeed the most admirable man, of our times. It was only later in life that his wits were dulled to a certain extent, and where once he would dazzle parties with his rapier wit and best any challenger at chess, checkers, or whist, he now mainly went to the cinema and threw jaffas at Chinese people.

At least, in this phase, he was happy, and I think his seventy-third birthday, around this time, may have been the most joyous of his life, especially considering his early childhood, when every year his parents would pretend to be wheeling in an enormous cake, only to pull off the cover to reveal an assortment of huge, venomous spiders, which they would then exhort young Rockweld to "round up and pacify", or he would get no presents. Once he had performed this task, they would chuckle knowingly and give him an Al Jolson commemorative keyring, engraved with the wrong initials. Rockweld later discovered that they were, in fact, laudanum-addicted psychotherapists who had stolen him in infancy to perform mind-experiments on, but the hurt never fully healed, and all his life he looked for these people's approval.

I do remember that awful day, the beginning of the end. Rockweld had been unpredictable in his moods of late, and on this day, the final straw appeared to be placed on the camel.

We were calmly sitting, reading and enjoying the view of the black smoke from the smelting plant across the road, when I passed an innocent remark to the effect that I considered West Side Story to be too heavily stylised for my tastes.

Rockweld instantly flew into a terrible rage, hurling his brandy glass out the window, striking me sharply with the corkscrew, and accusing me of being a crypto-fascist and in league with Hammerskjold. I tried to placate him with promises of compensation and trips to the zoo, but he kept up his abuse, screaming that I was trying to trick him into voluntary organ donation, and then crawling under the rug, biting his fingers and crying out "I'm a linen press, you mustn't look at me!"

Sadly, I had to call a doctor, who sedated Rockweld and took him for the last time from his beloved study. He didn't last long after that, of course, dying peacefully in his sleep after confiding to me that he had never really loved his wife, and in general preferred Italian cheese. It was a sad end for a great man, but I shall always remember him with fondness, respect, and...yes, I should say, love. 

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