London Next week
Sometimes he gets angry, Kenneth Loudermilk.
It often makes him stop. Just stand somewhere, anywhere - a shop, the Underground, a deserted corridor at work - fingers flexing vigorously, body tense, eyeballs starting to emboss from his head as all coherent thought there was magnetised into a void of impotent rage. His entire essence trying to scream.
Kenneth works in Investments at a Chartered Surveyors - portfolios ranging from Trust Funds through to the Church Of England Commissioners. But, as a vent for his affliction and to fill his spare time, he runs a website called SometimesIGetAngry.com. It's a diary where Kenneth gets back at the things that have caused him to get angry on that particular day.
Now, where we arrive, it's Wednesday lunchtime and Kenneth is standing in Our Price staring at the back of a Tool compact disc. But what he'd read of the tracklisting hadn't sunk in much. He is lost in private thoughts, an anger attack taking grip and germinating. It will seek conclusion it can never find - this he knows. So breathing deeply, he replaced the CD and hurried from the store.
One hour forty three minutes previously, he had been standing by the office drinks machine quaffing absent-mindedly on a cup of sparkling lemon. When he turned around he saw Zoe, the legal PA, bent somewhat, staring at him over a partition, a clutch of casepapers in her arms.
"Hi Zoe," he had said. But she had hurried off.
The strange look on her face was outdone by Robert from Accounts, who was also standing there. "Jesus Christ," Robert glanced Kenneth up and down, twisted ninety degrees and fled off down the office. Kenneth was confused.
"Is everything OK? It's none of my business of course," he popped Zoe an email and got Read Receipt straight away. Response proper took an hour. "Kenneth. You're the one who should be asking if they're alright. Don't you realise people can read that stuff." "What stuff?" But by lunch time, he had received no reply.
And so he had wandered down to Our Price to chew it over. By her response it struck him that Zoe and his other colleagues had been alerted to SometimesIGetAngry.com. He guessed the website was an acquired taste, and a streak of fun. Initially, he would bite his lip with each entry he uploaded. Quickly slip off to run the bath with a kind of arcane embarrassment. Not blushed on the cheeks, piercing right in the centre of his head. But he wondered what he might have put on there that could have made Zoe so upset. He ran through last night's entry:
SOMETIMES I GET ANGRY .COM
21 August 2001. One bunch of people who make me sick to my fucking teeth is marathon runners. One of their champions is Robert I work with. He's a beer-gutted twat but is forever yarning on about the sheer marvellousness of that few hours running back and forth dressed as a tit for char-i-dee and how he and eighteen zillion other microbes have some puffed-up sense of putting something back. His kids probably want to shoot him. I'd like to rip his tedious head off, drop my trousers and put something odorous back into his garrulous trap.
Oops. But when he returned to his desk with his BLT and his macaroon and a kingsize frothy coffee - "All of it Kenneth. All of it. We feel sorry for you."
Kenneth once read an article about successful people, the elite, chiefs-of-industry, presidents, celebrities. Apparently, upon analysis, these winning types were found to have a unique method of mental stacking. Things got neatly boxed in Muji-style containers. Work was in this box, family in that. Leisure moments here, love instincts taken care of there. Sex labelled and slotted somewhere up yonder. The space created between these elements could then be utilised, as required, for personal growth or as a buffer-zone when modern life took a more hectic twist.
Kenneth was never surprised when presidents were caught with their trousers down. When, under the heat of the spotlight, high profile marriages were seen to peel away as a sham. He once took some clients to an wildly expensive and exclusive new restaurant and was not surprised that so many of the customers were businessmen with escort girls.
The tacitly accepted moral boxing that comes in-house to winners was always going to outrage the masses - resolutely muddling things over in one inflexible container. Their outrage was less at what they regarded as misjudgments of behaviour, but a lack of comprehension as a very different moral hierarchy is glimpsed without the pretence of a befuddled (call it 'human' if you wish) interface. Befuddled, human interface is just another stupid box.
Kenneth still got angry, but at least he realised the direction things had to be pushed. He had a lot of unnecessary cross-fertilization of feeling. He was wasting his energies: a luxury too far in the Twenty First Century. More and more people are Muji class these days, thought Kenneth. Basic. Utilitarian, transferable. No bleed or baggage.
Zoe and Kenneth sat in the corner of the pub. He had asked to speak to her and she had agreed to come for one drink only.
"It's just a strange thing to be doing. Why, Kenneth?" Kenneth looked about, "Lots of other people do it."
"I don't know. Just leave us all out of it. And there's other more productive things you could be spending time on. What with all this stuff going on."
Kenneth wondered what this meant. Sometimes he just wrote and wrote in a bit of a dream, he confessed. He suddenly realised how little he knew about Zoe. Zoe Plugger.
"It's my married name," she said, finishing her Vodka and Cranberry and checking the time on her phone.
Kenneth didn't write anything that night. But he went onto the internet and, at one point, put Zoe Plugger into a search engine to see if anything would come up. The closest he got was a link to a London local news page.
"Plugger Goes Down" it began. "Gavin Plugger, Battersea landlord from hell, was today convicted to three years imprisonment for coercing gratification from his tenants."
Next morning Kenneth had to attend a brainstorming session. He felt that everyone in the room was staring at him, or trying hard not to stare at him. The SometimesIGetAngry cat was well out of the bag, he thought. Robert from Accounts snapped a Bourbon in half with his teeth and studied an empty whiteboard. Malcolm from Legal wasn't saying much either, slumped backwards in his chair, chewing a pencil and gazing into and through Kenneth as if he was a bizarre log fire.
"Zoe doing the minutes?" Kenneth asked.
"Sick," Malcolm said in a far-away voice.
SOMETIMES I GET ANGRY .COM
23 August 2001. One thing gets right on my tits is landlords. I know I hate mine. Sneaky fuck. I swear he comes round when I'm not in and huffs my underpants or something. What does he think I'm up to, eh? I should fucking fill the place with crackpipes, bongs, needles, bomb-making equipment and snuff movies and big sign saying Happy Fuck? In blood. And chicken feathers. I pray to God I'm off work one day when he comes by.
Zoe Plugger's house was situated on a pleasant street in Battersea. A tall, square Georgian building painted cream. She had been off work ill and was preparing for bed. She was re-reading Oliver Twist. She loved Charles Dickens, and had just reached the end of Chapter 34, where the convalescent Oliver is awoken by the apparition of Fagin and Monks at the window, a chapter some critics believe to be a dream sequence.
She coughed and took another spoonful of Actifed. She had a roof terrace and went up there. Looked at the orange glow that tapered radiantly off the sparkling action painting that London became when the sun set. Her friends complained of the temporariness of it all, watching clubs and shops and people you love come and go. But for her it was more a question of scale. London was a flattened, heavy engine, and implacable. How could you ever adequately tell it you loved it? Tell it how much you hated it at times? There were millions of people out there making there own impressions on London, caressing it with ambition, cursing it with crime. London seemed unmoved by them all and probably always would be.
Today was her last day of illness. The day when she really could have gone to work if pushed but decided not to. Subsequently, although coughing occasionally, she felt a little guilty being at home.
She shivered and went indoors.
On Saturday, Kenneth Loudermilk got up early and walked to the Tate Modern. Stacks of bricks and pickled fish, he sighed. But once inside there was always something of interest. He walked past what looked like a primed canvas with some smears overpainted across it and this reminded him of the office whiteboard.
Kenneth was meeting Gareth Nordhorn. "I think we share a common outlook," Nordhorn had once emailed his enthusiasm for Kenneth's website. He also ran an angry website called GodToldMeToDoIt.com and, much as Kenneth was loathe to see himself move in these circles, he enjoyed his occasional meetings with Nordhorn, not least because they helped to remind him that he had not, yet, been completely geeked by his hours of net usage.
"Pervy books?" Nordhorn siddled up to him, spy-like, as Kenneth glanced through a coffeetable art magazine in the bookshop. "How's tricks?"
As they walked to the nearest pub they passed a sculpture - "Exploding douchbag."
"I tell you, Ken - I'm getting so fucking angry these days you wouldn't believe it. Recently it's plants. Sometimes I just want to grab nice hibiscus or washingtona and thrash it into a stupid green stew along a wall."
The conversations with Nordhorn where how Kenneth imagined prison conversations to be, or those on clipper ships or space missions.
"There's no aspirational ideology these days. We just gawp at each others foibles. Is this a Sam Smiths boozer? Shocking piss."
Zoe clutched onto the edge of her desk and closed her eyes. The sunlight cutting through the office created a wealth of shifting blood patterns on the insides of her eyelids. She drew back slightly, feeling the creak of chair plastic at the small of her back as she did so. She gasped and dug both thumbs into the upper face of the desk as her fingers curled bluntly beneath. One foot lifted off the carpet tiles. She turned her head.
The sneeze moved from a tingle on the extremities to attack position at the root of her nostrils. It seemed to grow and diminish following no discernable pattern. Her bronchea readied itself. She tightened her eyes further until.
It took her off guard. Whoosh. Instinctively, as her head recoiled, she coerced it downwards throwing a sweep of microscopic damp through her nose. It sprayed out and up across her desk and into the open plan space. She raised her eyelids again. One hand was there - desperately trying to cup some of the blast. It hung with speckled moisture, a web of which also dappled her notepad.
She gazed up, pupils adjusting to the light. Widening, wet spirals motioned by in the afternoon shine. The minor trails of disturbed dust, initially caught by the sneeze, soon descended from their trajectories.
The office provided an instantaneous, stunted echo for the sneeze. Malcolm turned in his office and said "Bless you" with a slightly theatrical look of shock. Zoe responded her thanks with a similarly theatrical look of self-pity.
Mr Townsend locked his car and walked through the garage toward the lift door. At the same time, Kenneth was passing through the garage with the intention of having his afternoon cigarette in the alleyway behind the office. When he saw Mr Townsend he flinched. Not that he was doing anything illicit. But he always flinched and wanted to turn away when he saw the Chief Executive.
They passed one another without exchanging glances. But, almost straight away, Kenneth could hear Mr Townsend's footsteps slow and stop.
"Excuse me. Kenneth Loudermilk?" It was then Kenneth realised that he had never heard Mr Townsend actually speak before.
SOMETIMES I GET ANGRY .COM
30 August 2001. Today I went fucking ballistic. Just reading websites. Websites make me angry. Ooh, look at me. I can speak. Ooh. Look. Look. I can type. Webcam girls with wishlists as long as John Holmes cock. Look at me revolving in my own little jewellery box. You can look inside the world's heads now and what do we see there? I want a fucking Shrek quilt cover. Jennifer Lopez has tits.