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  • Lying on a sofa somewhere else, surrounded by bodies, smoke and the kind of conversation that could go on forever. Every surface is covered with bottles, glasses, notes, ashtrays, the detritus of the day’s relaxation. Someone notices it’s getting dark, someone else calls a dealer to come round and help people start over again. I have a moment of clarity. I’ve been out for three days. I could probably use some sleep. Plus, I have to work the next day.

    Fighting off entreaties to stay, exchanging insults, I hand out loose hugs and get back sloppy kisses. And then I’m walking home, as beguiling and peculiar images dance in and out of the corner of my vision. There is a glow coming off street signs, and cars leave light trails as they chug past. My mind whirrs.

    People pass me and their speech sounds like music or water. Snatches of noise that fade in and out with the rhythm of my feet. I walk behind a couple and realize I can’t understand anything they’re saying. Can’t tell if it’s the drugs or just that no one speaks the same language anymore.

    For so many people in this city, its language is not their first, and so you get the basics, a functional simplicity that gets the job done in a lopsided way that soon seems normal, so you forget that anything like a proper version exists.

    Even the people who speak the same language, who grew up learning the city’s words from birth don’t speak it the same as others. In a kind of reverse flow, as the number of global languages shrinks to a handful, those that remain distort and fragment, contradicting any dreams of universal comprehension.

    The fifteen year old kids who prowl and scare. I have no idea what most of them are saying when they hurl loose curses or smart comebacks as I walk past. The girls on one block have a completely different intonation and pitch to those a few hundred meters away. It’s not just the kids. Professional jargon accelerates as professions become more specific.

    The sports fans, the artists, the techhies and workers and fighters, all trying to put as much verbal distance between themselves and those who are not as they. The compressed text of online chat, of knowing bios, of in-jokes and out-takes. The hand gestures, the stickers and logos, all resonating with a select few. It’s all gangs now. The vocabulary, accents, dialects and rhymes have become personal, tribal, each one known intimately by only a few.

    Of course, people have to communicate. You can’t stay locked in your own made-up world, however much you want to. But our shared language has shrunk to what is required to get by. A flatter lexicon, made up of catchphrases and lyrics, end-lines and one-liners, going round and round, the edges and meaning diminished and dulled through repetition. An automatic language that requires no thought.

    The creativity is elsewhere, in the production of an organic, personal lingo that won’t be defined, that can’t be written down.

    Another reason to love the city. Most of the time people are just noise. I stop to buy coffee and I’m in the midst of a dozen dreary conversations, chattering on without resolution. Nothing makes sense. I leave their words behind and make it back to my apartment. My vision’s still spotty and when I close my eyes a light show begins. I drink whisky and munch sleeping pills until I pass out.

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