20 slides are each projected for 20 seconds and spoken to for the same period, no more, no less. The script for one of these precision-based presentations is found below.
Season 2: PC#6
Previously on Peachy Coochy: as a result of visiting Birmingham with the intention of shagging power ballad singer Bonnie Tyler I had succeeded in transforming from a packing crate into the singer Barry Manilow. For a while it was good to be Barry. The Las Vegas Hilton stocked many fine wines and gourmet repasts while the ensuite facilities were beyond reproach.
I made many friends and took part in complicated sexual experiences. In the street I frequently encountered people who were anxious to talk with me and touch me. I met several people who wanted to be me and a few who said that they were me. I asked a man who said he was me if he was happy – hoping to gain some insight into my condition. He replied that he was unsure of himself.
But I had everything – how could I be so unsure? My new album ‘Beautiful Ballads and Love Songs’ had gone double platinum and I had enjoyed capacity attendances at London’s O2 Arena last December. Yes, my nose was unusually big but this could not account for my abiding sense that I was not the same as other people. Something was missing.
When I spoke with my friends they were at a loss. They kept saying that I was at the pinnacle of my career and could want for nothing. I introduced them to the man who said he was me to see if he had some other perspective to offer. His name was Barry, of course, but when pressed he said it was Frank. This, in turn, he told me, was short for Francium.
It transpired that Francium is among the rarest elements listed in the periodic table. It is estimated that at any one time there are no more than twenty atoms of it present in the world. As a first name it is being taken up increasingly in the countries of the west, where, one might hypothesize, the attrition of identity has acquired such momentum that the subject does not feel unique so much as invisible.
Frank explained that Francium has a half-life of only twentytwo minutes, after which it decays into the halogen Astatine, of which, it is estimated, less than one ounce exists in the Earth’s crust. This was also the name of his sister, an ethereal creature who warned us that, in eight and a half hours, she too would be gone.
“Are you not sad, Frank and Astatine, that you share with the Mayfly the briefest of lives, in which you are constantly flying, never eating, then dying? Frank et Astatine, est-ce-que vous n’etes pas tristes?” Astatine spoke softly, stroking my sleeve with her cold, translucent hand, “Non, Barry. We are not sad.”
“It is not widely realised that the mayfly spends up to two years as a larva, during which period it eats algae and other microscopic animals. By the time the mayfly transforms into an adult, it has already lived a full life, by insect standards.” Frank interrupted Astatine. “Barry, I have only a few seconds left. Promise me that I can be you.”
“Even Astatine,” said Frank, “cannot comprehend what it is to never land, to be in constant decay, to turn inexorably into one’s sister every few minutes. That is why I chose you, I wanted to live outside time, as you do, Barry. If I cannot be you I will be a brick. At least it has constancy.” I heard myself screaming: “No, Frank!”
“Do not choose a brick! Understand that while I am Barry Manilow now, I was once a packing case! You may even have put things in me! No, Frank, that is not the way to go.” “But Barry,” Frank cried, “what can we do? What is constant? Are we doomed to endless wandering?” Suddenly I knew what I must do. All the imagery with which I had sustained myself fell away. In that same moment Frank vanished.
Johnny Depp was staying a few doors down from my suite in the Hilton. “Barry, yo! Come on in!” he said warmly. “Johnny, I am not Barry Manilow, my real name is David Gale and I am on a quest.” “Hey, whatever,” Johnny said, “I’m not really Willy Wonka! Do you love wine? I have some from France here. Claret. Goes well with cheese.”
The truth that Johnny then told me was shocking, as I had expected. “You know why you’re not happy? Why you feel different than everybody?” I shook my head, “No. No, I don’t.” Johnny gazed at me piercingly. I realised that his eyes were brown, like mine. We were, in fact, almost lookalikes. Perhaps… “Don’t go there!” Johnny said. “It’s a dead end. You know it is.”
“It’s because you have never killed anybody.” I almost dropped my glass. “What? What do you mean?” “Did you see that movie? ‘The Truman Show’?” “Yes, I did. Why?” “The way that whole thing was going on and he knew nothing about it?” “Yeah…” “Okay. It’s the same. Everybody has killed somebody. That’s how they do it. That’s their secret.”
I felt sick. The room swirled and melted around me. “Does it have to be someone you like?” I stuttered. “No,” said Johnny. “That’s not important. It should be a mindless act, firing into the crowd.” “Does there have to be a crowd?” I asked. “That’s just a detail – could be anywhere.”
I entered the Maghreb at Tangier and started out along the coast. I came across two men in their pants and one in a suit. They said they were, from left to right, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. “I’m not gay,” I said. “Relax!” Burroughs said. “This is an international zone. You’re free to do what you want or not do what you don’t want.”
“I’m looking for lonely people,” I explained. “Are there any here?” Kerouac said “You’d be better off further down in Algeria. People walk alone on the beach there. You can hitch-hike. You can kill people.” I was taken aback, “How did you know?” Jack said “It’s just something you have to do. Their death fills you up.”
I walked to Tetouan, crossed the border at Bab el Assa to Ghazaouet and approached Oran. My gun was hot in my pocket. I wondered if the man I would shoot had shot a man. I supposed he had because everyone knew – I was the only one who didn’t. I hadn’t realised. Now I understood. You are born empty. You must fill yourself with life. Life is trapped in the other person’s body.
I took his credit cards and his passport. He was just some guy. Connolly. Not anybody I knew. I left him there. It didn’t happen immediately, the feeling. I met a beautiful woman. I saw a chocolate cake. I found a lot of money on the ground by a bush. I was awarded an international prize. My passport photo was sharper and clearer.
I was asked advice. A car was outside my house. The car was red. I had a suit. I was groomed. I spoke calmly. I went through the gears. Warmth came to me from people. I went to the meadows and the commons and walked about. Children. Animals and birds. The sky.
Now the river. Now the pond. On the other side of the water I saw Celine Dion, Jennifer Rush and Bonnie Tyler. They were wearing white singing dresses. They were waving. I no longer wanted to shag them. They were my friends. I valued them. I went over to them. Astatine held my hand.