Fifteen or so years ago, these very good and old friends of my parents bought a flat in Durban. They live in Bristol, the friends, but they’d both grown up in Durban, and gone to university there, and made their lifelong pals there. The plan was they would stay in the flat during their annual visits, and the rest of the time there would be a tenant. This information might seem unnecessary in terms of what follows, but I have held onto it for years in order to flesh out an anecdote that is woefully insufficient in terms of backstory. I don’t even know where the flat was. All I have is this bullshit about how the flat came into existence, and how it was that my brother came to have the experience I am about to describe. This isn’t my fault. People rarely give me the kind of descriptive detail I require, and Liam (brother) can let me down with the best of them in this regard. The other day he told me a quite long story about a weird thing that had happened at work, involving at least three different women, and I asked him to remind me about what one of them looked like, and he went, “You know what she looks like. She looks like a woman. She’s got a sort of haircut.” I am often obliged to make do, details-wise, and this amazing story, one of my top five stories of all time, is no exception.
So, the flat. My parents’ friends find a tenant, from somewhere. I wish I knew where, because I think about this tenant all the time, and I have looked him up often, but he has no online footprint and maybe he is even dead now. Why do I think about him all the time, you ask, desperate for this story to get going? Well, to answer your question, I think about him all the time because his name was Vic Jagger. Vic Jagger. Like being called Keith Michards or Saul McCartney. Ron Lennon. Rob Marley. Jim Norrison. Ahaha.
The friends ask my parents if they wouldn’t mind looking in on Vic Jagger from time to time. Arrange to have windows fixed, or pay for plumbers and so on. They don’t mind doing this, but sometimes they are busy, and so it falls to my brother to answer the inscrutable demands of Vic Jagger. Vic Jagger. One time, Vic Jagger needed something. (I don’t know what, so I’m going to say he broke the mirror when he was doing his karate exercises in front of it; I don’t know if he did karate.) Liam goes over there and helps Vic Jagger out, and then he comes home and I ask him how it was and he sort of shakes his head in amazement. He is powerless at first to accurately convey what it is to be in the presence of Vic Jagger, and so he just describes what Vic Jagger was doing. “He was making toast in this very intense way.” “He was just walking around the flat, and while he was doing it he was definitely not thinking anything except about how he was walking around the flat.” “He was just being a human being, the way a leopard is a leopard.” “He was just himself.” “VIC JAGGER.” Was he charming? No. Was he smart? No. Did he say anything good? Not really. Did he leave an indelible impression? You know it. Utterly unselfconscious, fully inhabiting the flat and the psyche of anyone else in his presence. Vic Jagger Vic Jagger Vic Jagger.
My brother supplies few other details. What does he look like? Like an oldish man who is white. How tall? Of normal height. Why is he so amazing? Liam sort of scrunches up his face and goes, “I didn’t know. He was just, like, an ultra-human.”
In Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood talks about coming across the word marianismo for the first time, and knowing immediately that it was a word meant for her: “It was exact change in the form of a concept, and I knew that I would need it someday.” This is how I feel about the word ultra-human. As soon as I possessed it, I couldn’t imagine how I had ever lived without it. So that’s what you call it, when people are like that. When they have no inner monologue, and therefore no anxiety, and are able to immerse themselves in the Moment, whatever the moment might be. People who can look intently at an old stick on the beach for a really long time. People who can watch a movie without fiddling with their phones or even wondering where else they have seen that one actor.
In case it needs spelling out, I am not an ultra-human, as much as I wish I was. I can’t look at an old stick for more than one minute. I can’t watch a movie without pausing to look up everyone’s IMDb page and then getting helplessly ensnared in the minutiae of when Julia Roberts cancelled her wedding to Kiefer Sutherland. (Her dress was “an $8000 two-piece number with a long jacket that would turn into a mini-skirt after the long skirt and train were pulled off” [?????????????????].) I used to be able to console myself with the lie that ultra-humans were boring. Not true. They are just happy. I also used to tell myself that only men could be ultras, and so there was no point getting upset about my deficiencies in this regard. It was just nature! Nothing I could do! I learned recently that this was also a lie, when our new neighbour turned out to be the biggest ultra-human this world has ever encountered, and also a woman.
She is amazing. She is unhampered. She comes home at like three in the afternoon and plays loud trance music. Her balcony is at right angles to our living room window, which means being able to hear her singing along to the trance music, which I didn’t even know was possible, and also hear her laughing indulgently at herself when she goes out of tune. She sometimes whistles along to the loud, insane-making trance music, and you can bet that she fucks up the whistling often, and that this makes her laugh a lot. She seems so content. A while ago, I came home and she was playing the song “Wonderwall.” Wonderwall! I didn’t even know people could do that. Imagine being so free and easy with yourself that you could think, “You know what I love? The song ‘Wonderwall.’ ” And then you just play it, totally unencumbered by any worries about how maybe it’s lame or funny to love “Wonderwall,” not thinking about any stupid old memes where Julie Andrews is playing an accordion to the children in The Sound of Music, and then the text at the bottom says, “Anyway here’s Wonderwall.” Aaaaugh. After she played “Wonderwall” she played “Lucky Man” by the Verve and absolutely screamed along to it at max vol. After that she played a Vengaboys song. Then “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed. Then a Counting Crows song. Then a Sean Paul song. Then “Hypnotise.” Then “Drops of Jupiter.” Then fucking “FAST CAR.” Then “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz. Then she played “Wonderwall” again. It was like she was listening to a Spotify playlist called “Songs.” “Music that exists.” I am so jealous. She is on her balcony right now, humming lustily along to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack while she waters her plants. She has given herself permission to be a 24-hour legend, and I am learning so much by just sharing a wall with her.