Rosa Lyster

Cape Town, South Africa

Tag: popular dog

Essay 32: The House of Darkness

I have three recurring dreams. One: I am backstage of what I can feel is a very large, very full  theatre. High ceilings, dim lights. Behind the many velvet curtains, the audience is coughing expectantly. The orchestra has finished tuning. Me and the other three cygnets are hopping around in the wings, waiting to go onstage. A woman who is sometimes my mother is adjusting our feathery headbands. We line up together and begin crossing our arms. The orchestra swells. This is the bit, in the dream, where I remember that I don’t know any of the steps, and also that I can’t do ballet at all. Also I can’t even do normal dancing. This information makes itself known to me all at once. It comes to me that it is mere seconds ‘til I am onstage, giving the Cygnet Dance a go, and reducing the second act of Swan Lake to ashes and dust.

Two: Backstage again. An even bigger theatre, and even posher coughing from the audience. I know, without being told, that this is a large RSC production of Richard III. What I do not know, yet, is that the person taking on the titular role is me. It’s me who is the bottled spider, the elvish-marked rooting hog, the loathed issue of thy father’s loins etc. I realise this only when I look down at my feet, and see that I am wearing shiny, gnarled little pointy shoes – the clear shoes of Richard III. I begin to run through my lines. I realise, again with a terrible sickening suddenness, that I don’t know any of them at all. Soon I will lurch onto the stage, doing some kind of inappropriate imitation of a hunchback, and have absolutely nothing to say.

Three: Gala.

All three dreams produce in me great surges of anxiety, so that I must wake up gasping and dry of throat. But only the gala dreams make me actually sit up in bed and claw at my sheets like a Victorian madwoman. They freak me out so badly. The pool is always so long and there is so much toiling to be done. I don’t think I will drown, or that anyone will claw at my legs under the water a la Grade 11 water polo. It’s the stretch of water itself that gives me the fear. It is obvious to my dream self that I don’t have a hope of reaching the other side. Just too long, and the wiggly lines under water reaching on forever.

The gala always takes place at my primary school pool. While my dream self insists that it is many kilometres in length, I know really that it is just the standard 25m. Just normal, even for kids who aren’t great at swimming (the little kids did widths).  Still, it is a special kind of 25 metres in my head – 200 psychic metres at least. Something big and meaningful going on in that highly chlorinated water.

I saw the pool a few years ago, as an adult sized person. You know what’s coming. It was tiny. It felt like a  splash pool, like a centre for ants. I stood on the side and scoffed at it, a giant. Everyone has had this experience, I think, at some point. School halls, athletic tracks, grandparents’ gardens. Junior primary school bathrooms are also good for this. Go in there and check out the little sinks somewhere down by your knees. You will be amazed. The mirrors will just fit your nose in.

This is about growing up, of course, but it’s also about the quality of memory. Memory makes things big, when really they are very wee. Memory also makes things seem nicer than they were. I recall, for instance, the senior primary girls’ bathroom as an extremely glamorous place. Always blasts of Impulse 02 and dithering over the visibility of training bra straps. It was brilliant in there, as I remember.Memory distorts, and that explains a great deal.

I do not believe, however, that it explains the Mitchell Park Zoo. Memory distorts, but it does not just invent out of hand. Mine doesn’t, anyway. Memory doesn’t manufacture many tortoises, and sweet monkeys looking like enchanted men. I didn’t invent a whole squad of heaving crocodiles. They were just there. All kinds of good flamingos and cranes as well. All types of incredible monkeys. When my grandfather was a kid, there was a tethered elephant that would give you rides. There was no elephant when I was small, but there was an evil family of gators.

I remember it as being nicer because indeed it was nicer. Here is what you will find, today, if you go to the Mitchell Park Zoo:

  • An ordinary duck in a cage
  • A possibly dead crocodile, alone
  • Two shaved llamas
  • Several ducks with beak problems in a pond
  • The peacocks are still good
  • Ditto the flamingos
  • A squat, low-slung building called “The House of Darkness”
  • A mural at the entrance to The House of Darkness, depicting an African Weasel dancing under the full moon. Truly.
  • Raccoons. zorillaatnight

Zoos are terrible places, always, but the Mitchell Park Zoo is another kind of thing altogether. It is bottom-line indescribable. It’s more of a place for ducks to sleep than a zoo, now. It is aching to be included in someone’s dream landscape. Not mine, though. I have the gala, the ballet, and the pointy gnarled shoes of Richard III.

Essay 23: A Good Name for This Magazine

If I was going to have a magazine, it would be called “Popular Dog”. At the back of each issue would be a section where my brother profiled a new and upcoming dog he’d seen around town. Likes, dislikes, how funny is it, does it seem embarrassed by its name, what job would it have if it had to go out and earn a living, tail size etc. That would be it, as regards dog-related content. People would tell me to call my magazine something else. Popular Dog isn’t a good name for this magazine, they would say. Especially since this issue seems mostly to be about your neighbour’s cat, Leonard. I would suggest a name change for that issue: Popular Leonard. They would have none of it: Nothing to do with popular animals, please. This magazine is mostly about how scared you are of caterpillars. I wouldn’t listen. Popular Dog is a good name, I would say. Leave me.

If I had a column it would consist of unsolicited advice, and ideas I have for different kinds of inventions. The column would be called RosaTown, or Hotel Rosa, or Rosa Spells It Out. My inventions would not be good. My advice would be useful only as it served to expose me as someone never to take advice from.

If I was going to have a cat, it would be called either Chicken or Spinach or Pepita. If it was a robust boy cat who was grey and not so fluffy, it would be called Rooster. If it was an old lady cat who needed a good home, I would name it Chitters.

This, all of the above, is my idea of a really good joke. Or not a joke, really. This is the kind of thing I find funny. This is not the sum of it, obviously, or even a tiny bit of it. This is just what I thought of when I sat down to write. I can’t explain why any of this makes me laugh, and I definitely can’t explain why it makes me laugh so much. All I can say is that this is my particular sensibility. But humour isn’t really like taste: you can train yourself to like olives or Alban Berg, but you can’t make yourself find something funny when you don’t.  I have persuaded myself that I like black coffee and neat whisky, and that I prefer Wallace Stevens to Robert Hass. I have read Ulysses for fun. Taste can evolve. I can go stand in front of a painting that my 18 year old self would have thought was the shittest thing ever, and love it so much I want to weep. Taste grows up. Taste alters itself in the cause of pretension and aspiration. It can be worked upon. Taste rewards effort, and casts a flattering glow. “Liking Alban Berg” and “Being the kind of person who likes Alban Berg” are the same thing.  But humour doesn’t work this way. It’s harder to control, it responds less well to grooming. What I mean by all this is that there will never be a day when I don’t find Prince Philip funny. He is a terrible person, but he makes me scream with laughter and I cannot help that. Humour lives in the reptile part of the brain. There is no point trying to understand it, but I like to try. I like to make lists.

  1. Christopher Guest as Harlan Pepper.
  2. I went to Cape Point once and heard some of the Park Rangers talking about the baboons under their care. The baboons were huge and cruel-seeming, and threatening to steal our food at any second. I heard the Park Rangers talking about them with great fondness, using their names a lot, like you do when you are talking about someone you are in love with. Their names were: Valentino, Sparkle, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Fingers
  3. My upcoming magazine, Popular Leonard
  4. The word “muscly”
  5. Dogs wearing button-up shirts
  6. My brother, a long time ago, looking in the window of a fabric shop and saying VELLLLLLLLLLVIT in a loud voice.
  7. Alec Baldwin lurching forward in a sudden movement and shouting I’LL MAKE YOU PROUD OF ME YET, COLLEEN at the floor.
  8. “He’s an unfortunate man of some kind.”
  9. The Harvard Dialect Survey
  10. M saying “I feel like with you I’m really coming into my own as a physical comedian.”

That’s my list for today. Partial and incomplete and completely beside the point. There is no point in trying to understand it.