Entry 87: All I Did- Twenty years ago, I finished writing and recording enough songs to consider putting them together on a cassette tape- remember those? Even then they were beginning to get a bit old- but, hey, so was I. All I Did was one of those songs. I decided to weave the songs into a little story to celebrate: Want to hear it?
I first heard of the Paraclete Mine when I was a boy of fifteen. Visiting my great-aunt at the Seven Pines nursing home just west of Sydney was a tedious monthly duty and we were sitting on the veranda watching the mist forming over the Blue Mountains. An elderly man was engaged in colloquy with unseen persons (a not unusual feature of the home).
From time to time he would turn our way and include me in his circle of conversation. Pliant by nature, I found it little strain to take on a series of bit-parts in his fantasy. Indeed, it was a welcome diversion, as my aged relative was deep in the coils of dementia and was only playing reluctant host to a number of physiological functions: higher mental processes being, alas, absent.
From what I could glean he was originally from somewhere in Central America (he had a slight accent, I noted). As a member of a paramilitary unit he was involved in reprisals against various outlaw groups. His last sortie (so he called it- I had always assumed it to be a term applied to air-strikes rather than ground action) was an act of vengeance for the ambush of a militia colonel.
He wept as he told me of shooting a young woman in the back of the head- something he had always drawn the line at hitherto. Gradually, he sank into a tangled fugue, berating politicians, calling people dancing mice and imploring the emperor to return. At this point a couple of staff members appeared and led him off. Upon reaching the door he turned and said in a clear, calm voice, “I’ll see you again, young man, at the Paraclete Mine.” I thought no more of it.
Years passed. I got married, had the regulation boy and girl and settled down to a respectable, if dull, life as a minor academic in a small and fusty department of an unnoteworthy tertiary institution in the city. For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary I took my wife to a fashionable motel. As we were walking across the car-park a young lout appeared from nowhere and snatched her handbag. I gave unconvincing chase, then gave up. Have you ever noticed the way that things go wrong in series rather than singly?
Although I had booked a table in advance, we were constrained to wait at the bar until one became available. Perched on a stool next to me was the parts-manager of a small electronics plant which had relocated to our area. It was obvious that he had been there a while and, with the facile camaraderie of the habitual drinker, he chose me as his sympathetic auditor. He was frightened that he would soon be out of a job- what about his family? What was he to do? Hadn’t he had enough misfortune in life? What happened to the glories of youth with fast cars and parties?
My perfunctory responses must have penetrated his alcoholic haze because he soon decided that he could get a better hearing elsewhere. He stumbled from his stool with: “Stuff you, mate- you’ll never find the Paraclete Mine.” And he left. Something stirred in memory but I paid scant notice to his utterance and we were soon at dinner. The local combo, The Moonglow Quintet, had been delayed and the motel had, for some reason, installed a filler act- a young man from Belfast who fancied himself as a bit of a bard.
He regaled us with a bewildering potpourri of self-penned songs and readings from currently fashionable poets which were interspersed with autobiographical snippets in that flat, nasal drone so unlike the mellifluous brogue of, say, Dubliners. He was not a success. The patrons let him know it, ever so subtly, of course, and, as he was leaving, I offered him some advice about how to please an audience.
He listened, smiling all the while, and then said: “I’ll get a better hearing at the Paraclete Mine.” I’ll confess I was shaken at this repetition of the gnomic trope but soon after, my wife grasped my hand and led me onto the dance floor as the resident band were now set up for the evening’s dancing. Then something crashed inside my head- and there was noise and confusion.
All this took place years ago. I am told this exercise is good for me. I am not so sure; I prefer to listen to William Bonney tell me about his exploits in the American southwest. He is an uncommonly amusing person (apart from his predilection for coprophagy, which I do not usually share).
The doctors keep quizzing me about the Paraclete Mine. They think it is the key to my mental state. And yet, there is so much else to tell. There is a whole universe of meaning, however constructed, out there lying.