Shhh or shoo. Either word isn’t kind. This is the truth about how it feels when these words are used on us and when it comes from someone who frequently bears the brunt of such words, then maybe you would want to refrain from using them too often. Either word would amply describe me if I were limited to one word to portray the whole of myself. At work or business, what I say usually stands. No one would tell me to shut up or shoo me away like an annoying fly. But, socially or within the comfort of my own castle, the ugly truth is undeniable. Sure, it bugs me that I am in the wrong universe. I feel it. I often feel I am in a place that I don’t belong. People around me do not know the real me. Am I really who they think I am? Am I not more? Much more than the bumbling fool they often snigger at? Why am I only one they poke fun at? The joke is always on me, it seems.
As I sit here deep in my thoughts, I must emphasise that I am not one who likes to lift off drying scabs and relive old wounds. No! This is not who I am. This must not be who I am. It does not matter if they can’t appreciate me. It must not cut me down even if it is true that I am a lot less than the lies I tell myself. For a long time now, the castle in my mind has been carefully built to protect myself. The ego had been my hero. The arrows aimed at my direction had been mostly successfully thwarted. My defence had stood firm, the thick walls impenetrable. Rock-solid and stoic, I let my wit come to the fore and try to be the Perry Mason in my life. So silly is my conclusion, now that I take stock of who I am. We should never have the need to defend ourselves. Who cares what their impression is of us? Why bother if they can’t see our positives? Why feel hurt if they are often dismissive of our input? Does it really matter if they think less of us? Why should we feel we need to be appreciated? Why behave like the entitled? So what if we are misunderstood? Let it be. Let them be. Forgive and forget. Better still, just forget – there is nothing to forgive.
It is easier to go around anointing myself as the annoying one. When I re-connected with my school friends, I announced myself as the idiot in the group. It is self-deprecating. Why do I disparage myself? Without self-respect, why would anyone respect us. I think it was a poor attempt to be like a lotus – to tell them I could rise above the mud, the muck they think I belong to. My friends tell me to be quiet a lot, especially when we are barracking for our football team, the great Manchester United Football Club. “SHHHHH!” “GO TO BED AND LIVE YOUR NIGHTMARES BY YOURSELF!” “SHOO!” “LEAVE NOW!” There is one who is especially unkind. He thinks he is the referee on the field, frenetic with issuing red cards to me. A red card is much more than sending a player to the sin-bin. In Rugby, a yellow card offence means the player is sent off the field for 10 minutes. In soccer, however, a red card means the player is sent off for the remaining duration of the match. So, I know full well what a red card means when this friend flashes it at me. He intends for me to disappear for the rest of the match. How unkind. How unwelcoming. Friends are supposed to be inclusive amongst one another. He talks a lot about the need to avoid negative vibes, but to exclude a friend surely is the most negative act?
When I was a young boy, any man past his 50’s was an old man in my eyes. At 62, I am glad my eyesight is failing. The old man in the mirror looms large. I suspect he is decaying faster with each passing year. Last night was another Chap Goh Meh, the last night of another 15 days of Lunar New Year celebrations. It was a wonderful party although my bubbly mood was somewhat pricked by a casual observation an acquaintance from another table made about me. He pointed to my should-length hair and said I remind him of a person who zhoujianghu. In olden day China, those who “walk the rivers and lakes” travelled far and wide in search of a livelihood. It depicts a vagabond, a shady desperate con-artist whose survival requires street-smart deception. A quack, a charlatan? Did I remind him of Rasputin, I wonder? No, I said to the man. I prefer the word “Thu-fei”, a bandit. But, do you see what I mean? This encounter sums up my life pretty well. A happy occasion, a wonderful party with family and closest friends that ended with an unsought somewhat derogatory comment about me from someone at another table.
11 April 2018 was a happy day for me. When in New York, the two places not to be missed are the Metropolitan Museum and Tarisio, a respectable auction house that deals in fine instruments and bows. I was turning 60 that year. The concept of retirement was already growing in my head. For much of my life, retirement meant one thing. The freedom and time to pick up my violin again. But, as I accelerate towards this inevitability, I decided I wanted to reward myself with a really good violin. Second Son was in New York at the time – he was my reason to be there. America is not my idea of a good holiday, if the truth be told. It was my second visit to the Big Apple, but those officers at the airport were as unwelcome and arrogant as the ones in LA. They did not treat visitors to their land as paying guests but rather saw us as potential enemies. Or, maybe it was just the way I looked. The hair and my scowl won’t hide the Rasputin image I sub-consciously project? “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” the officer bellowed whilst scrutinising my passport. “WHERE WILL YOU BE STAYING?” his cold eyes piercing. “HAVE YOU BROUGHT ENOUGH MONEY?” He behaved like a real prick, a bully in a bad mood. He knew I couldn’t retaliate, not even with acidic words to teach him some manners.
Second Son met me and his mum in our hotel room the next day. America by then had become a nicer place to hang out. We were in the centre of the world. After all, isn’t that what the Americans believe? They are the most powerful nation on Earth, the wealthiest and New York, the city that never sleeps, that has a street named after a wall, in 2008 crushed all the economies of the world with pure greed and not grit. Second Son enthusiastically took me to the 55th Street where the famous Tarisio store is located. Tarisio featured regularly in The Strad, a magazine I subscribed to for over a decade. So, that feeling was special. To finally arrive at a place we only read about for a big part of our lives felt like a big achievement, ridiculous as it may sound. The chap at Tarisio made me feel special for I was able to tour their premises and even occupy a room for as long as I liked. He was ostensibly lively, switched on like a string of 10,000 light bulbs – clearly at work to shine and impress his clients. Ordinary people who walk in from the street aren’t accorded such special courtesy, of course. I felt special because Second Son was there with me. The chap obviously knew Second Son – they were on first names basis, even though Second Son was a Londoner. I felt so happy for my son. He was well-known, not in a small pond, but on the biggest stage too. The chap, after a chirpy conversation with Second Son, arranged for a few fine instruments to be brought into the room. No, no Strads, no Del Gesus of course. We settled for makers that were within my small budget. The chap was surprisingly nice, for an American. To accord us so much time, knowing my budget was minuscule was un-American, right? He couldn’t be a true New Yorker, I decided.
After admiring the instruments for a long time, I thought it best to start playing them. After all, what good is a beautiful violin if the sound is crap? I picked up the violin that had enthralled me with its beauty and brandished a modern-looking bow like it was a Samurai sword. I was horrified. The sound was dead ugly. I grimaced at the violin. “What a shit of a shovel,” I thought – that’s an old Aussie parlance for something so shitty it should be immediately discarded. There I was sitting on a chair below a display of framed photographs. Legends in the business looked down at me, literally. Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals were both heroes of mine. I think I wiped off their smiles with just one swipe of the bow. The violin sounded crappy, not because it was made in some East European sweat-shop. It was me. I looked into the wall mirror across from me. I recoiled as if I had seen Joe Blake in the garden. Joe Blake, the snake – in case you do not understand this old Aussie slang. I looked the part, with my long hair. My bow hold looked perfect, the sound from it ought not to sound tight. But, it sounded awful. I thought I could simply put bow to strings and produce a flurry of notes from Vivaldi’s A Minor violin concerto. Vivaldi’s concerto is popular due to its vibrancy, it makes you eager to get up and dance. But, the first note I produced was cruel to Vivaldi – it was a delivery that was dead on arrival. “SHHH!” The Mrs was quick to caution me. I quickly handed the beautiful violin to Second Son. “Here, take it off my hands before they shoo me away,” I said. For the record, I did not bid for the violin. Their estimate price was USD50,000. The chap never followed up with me about bidding. I think he knew the truth about me when he heard the “shhhh” and the “shoo” in the room. Or, maybe he was annoyed I broke the G string.