BRANDO and the BLACK SPONGE

The crow is Godzilla and I am Tokyo.

Yet another monster movie, but have you seen the performance from the lead protagonist?  Blood surges in my ears, sounding like a drum roll, and on stage, an old but legendary movie star fumbles open an envelope. “…And the award for Best Actor goes to…”

…Yan Baskets, and Julia Brown, and Johnny Lester and Fernando Cortez, and the millions of others struggling to conceal a mental illness from the world.

Years ago, battling to hold down my job at a paint factory, I was greeted every morning by the same friendly work colleague.  “Morning, Yan,” he would say, and I would smile and ask if he’d had a good evening. There would be plenty of nodding and laughing on the outside, but inside I was throwing up splinters.

The work floor would be noisy, an ugly rumination around every hissing corner – vampires on panpipes, and as the crow attacked, the continuous whir of the machines, the clanking and the banging, made the factory floor feel like a state at war.  There be injuns inside, and gun-toting cowboys, Mexican bandits shooting pistols into the sky. Gun fight at the Not-so-Ok Coral. The fear I had in the morning would multiply into a thirty foot monster by the time I clocked out. So yes, the crow is Godzilla and I am Tokyo – but most of the time the city falls in silence, with maybe a tinkling of a piano in the background, like from a scene in a black and white movie from the twenties.

“You’re a cheerful chap, Yan,” my colleague once said as, unbeknownst to him, Tokyo tower crumbled into my lap.  I don’t regret not telling him. He had his own problems – everyone does. Tokyo would still fall. I’d cycle home after my shift, appreciating the quiet, struggling to make sense of all those malicious thoughts on the battlefield, distorted shapes dancing through the gun smoke.

“Good day at work?”  The voice of my mum, dad, girlfriend or brother.  It wouldn’t matter, my answer was always a lie.

“Yeah, not bad thanks/I’m just gonna take a shower/Dinner smells good/We still going out tonight?”  Fear bubbling in my stomach but my face stretched into a rictus grin – Marlon Brando on the outside, but inside, my mind absorbing all the fears of the world like a black sponge.

I regret not telling certain friends and family.  In the early days it wasn’t an option because I feared I was a lunatic, but when my OCD was diagnosed, I think I should have led a handful more through the gates of my secret world.  Certainly explained in more detail to those that I did tell. I guess I was unjustly embarrassed; it was easier to play a part in a mainstream movie than stand out in an avant-garde independent feature.  In this sense I believe that I’m a good actor, because so many of my friends and acquaintances would have bet a month’s wages that I was the furthest someone could be from suffering from a mental illness.  And it goes the other way – I wonder how many of my friends are writhing in silence in the shadows of their own demons, whether its depression, or addiction, or caught in a loop of fear and loathing. How good an actor are they? And it’s not just on an epic-movie scale, once in a while it’s a twenty second scene as a walk-on extra in a play – a simple smile and nod to the shop assistant, or a thank-you to the bar-tender, when inside, the world is falling apart.

Yan Baskets isn’t my real name, so I’m doing it now too.

Ironic that on my trip to India, I was approached on the streets of Mumbai and offered to work as an extra in a Bollywood film.  I also did an advert and a trailer for a TV show with the same agency. I loved the experience, but in those days the Crow was a sledgehammer – it had taken all my effort just to get on the plane over there, and on the film set, when they asked me to come back the next day, I’d been under such ferocious attacks, was so tired and battle scarred, that I declined and went to Goa to stick my head in the sand.  I clearly remember the sickness in my belly as the busy world of Bollywood moved in a blur around me. I spoke with the director, the actors and actresses, but Crow banged on a drum in my head, ruining the experience like stirring a glass of wine with a liquorice stick. Physically I was in the Bollywood studios in Mumbai; mentally I was shivering on the wet floor of a concrete cell. Crow battered me with a cricket bat during those three days, and I regrettably walked away, travelling down to the western state with a young Dutch couple, and pretended to be OK as the crow ate me from the inside out. I should have stayed on the film set and at least continued getting paid to pretend to be someone else.

So polish that Oscar, I’ve already written my speech.  I’d like to thank my mum and dad, and of course Crow, whose absence would mean I wouldn’t have had to take up acting in the f**king first place.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s