Through the Keyhole: The Cuboidal Life of a Quadrilateral Cowboy

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  • There’s a TV set on the floor in front of you, lit by a spotlight. The TV is old, the kind you might have found in a house in the 70s or 80s; its dominant color is brown and its natural state of being is slightly broken – masking tape has been wrapped around the aerial of this one, presumably to re-affix a part of it that had snapped off. Darkness spools off in every direction.

    On the screen is a British TV presenter who will later become a successful newsreader at the BBC.

    “Ahh-ha-ha”, she laughs, exaggerating politely. “I had no idea bank-robbing could be so dangerous. That’s certainly very funny.” She turns to the camera and stops abruptly. “Now we go through the keyhole with our nasal American Loyd Grossman. And remember- Loyd has no idea that it’s a home in Quadrilateral Cowboy that he’s visiting.”

    At some off-screen button press, VT rolls, the presenter vanishes and a giant keyhole appears on the screen in her place. Through it a man in a raincoat with disheveled, receding hair can be seen, pulling up on a hover bike. The keyhole expands towards the edges of the TV until it disappears, while Loyd struggles to clamber off the bike.

    Loyd adjusts his spectacles and begins reading his script: “Well, here we are, back in gloomy Nuevos Aires. It says cuidado along the edge of this platform and cuidado one should be, and not simply because I’d make for a rather pink pancake should I slip off it.

    “This place positively reeks with all the unsettling possibilities of an area that is still waiting to be gentrified. The owner of this particular box in the sky has attempted to alleviate the cyberpunk oppressiveness of all this metal, gloom and solitude with a few potted plants and these garishly uninviting plastic deckchairs.”

    Loyd talks in a peculiar fashion, leaving the same length of space between each of his words. The only sense that one sentence is ending and another beginning comes from the rising cadence with which a random few of them terminate. The presenter was correct. His voice is gratingly nasal. A generation of British schoolchildren will refuse to watch Through the Keyhole because of it.

    The camera follows as Loyd begins a walk around the exterior of the building, a green RV that is braced into place on poles far above any road it might travel on. Loyd says nothing while his shoes ring the metal grid of the platform around it. Other motorhomes, likewise suspended in the air, come into view, close enough to make it clear that other life can persist here but not so close that human society might impinge on life on this particular platform.

    A sign pulsates with light among the dwellings and the murk. “STAY HUNGRY” it orders its readers. “Well, take a look at this sign,” Loyd whistles, still walking. “It really lords it over the neighborhood, doesn’t it? I don’t know what this says about the people who live here – quite probably very little. It’s the kind of desperate motivational statement that says more about any person who would relay it than it does about the people who unfortunately have to read it.”

    Loyd stops next to a wooden door that has been constructed in the metal rear of the RV. “Now. Let’s go inside and see what we find there.”

    He turns to knock on the door, which slides open. The tape cuts roughly to the interior. Loyd is closing the door. He takes off his coat, looks for a place to put it among the clutter of the room and gives up, throwing it onto a mattress on the floor. A wheezing, snoring noise emanates from somewhere in the room. Loyd doesn’t seem to notice.

    “Well. I get the sense from this room that its owner is not a person who tidies away their interests, in any sense of the word tidies. But after the street outside, really it comes as some relief to be exposed to someone who has let things go a little OTT. Personal details abound, and there’s a tremendous visual sense at work amongst this jaunty medley of trophies, photographs, night school diplomas and tools. It’s as if there’s a fantastic jumble sale of all of someone’s possessions and we’re the only customers who have been invited.

    “Of the person beneath these very personal life relics, it is difficult to get much of a sense at first glance. Is it a boy? A girl? What age or nationality are they? The only definite conclusion that one could make about them without prying further is that they are very much a geek.”

    His eyes bounce around in their sockets as he beckons the camera toward two rows of books that run along the walls of the room near the ceiling.

    “If we run our gaze around the room, they quickly alight upon these magnificent embankments of books – of real books – which makes me think this homeowner may actually be something of a reader, rather than someone who simply puts up books for display. Meanwhile the table space in the room is dominated by spanners, old motors and this peculiar motorized camera. The only food one can spot amongst the debris is an occasional box of crackers” – Loyd picks a biscuit out of one of the boxes, throws it into his mouth and crunchily continues his sentence – “so we may assume that the diploma refers to a school of engineering rather than gastronomy.”

    He navigates carefully across the mattress on the floor and picks up a badminton racket that’s dangling on the wall. He swishes it through the air twice before hanging it up again. The wheezing noise becomes a snort before settling down again.

    “This well-used badminton racket has been hung here with a devil-may-care attitude to the institutions of home furnishing that is entirely in keeping with the rest of the decor. Alongside it are two photographs” – Loyd bends over to peer more closely at them – “in which we may presume to encounter the racket’s owner.”

    Loyd looks up at the camera again. “The emphasis on possession in this room speaks of an individual who typically bonds rather more with objects and achievements than with other people. In such a milieu, that these photographs have been hung at all is remarkable, and the glue of friendship on display within them even more so.”

    The camera pans across the photographs in close-up. The first shows three young women dressed in badminton kits; two of them are holding up rackets for the camera. In the other, the three girls stand arm(mostly)-in-arm with an additional male at one end of the chain.

    “One is led to the conclusion that that these women hold unique positions within each other’s lives. It is quite possible they found themselves at a remove from the majority of society and bonded intensely with others in similar situations.” He shrugs. “Or perhaps they simply enjoy playing badminton with each other.”

    The noise in the room drones on in the background. Cartoonish, muffled Zzz’s emerge on camera from under his coat.

    “The solitary male is no less interesting – he appears, from the conflict between his avant-garde and quite fetchingly twirled moustache and the sterility of the rest of his appearance, to be very much ill at ease in his body. He’s searching for a new way of presenting himself to the world but unwilling to commit fully to that, while his companions are more secure, in their appearance at least.”

    Loyd begins to step back from the photographs, pleased with this final psychological sketch. “Well, from these little hints-”

    He trips backwards over the large cuboidal head of the man snoring under his coat and thumps down onto the mattress beside him. Loyd tries to roll casually onto his side and smile as if the fall had been scripted.

    “And there you have it. We may very well have found the male in the photographs – though not, I would surmise, the owner of the room, which seems rather more likely to be one of the ladies.”

    The video pauses for a second as it ends, freezing Loyd’s teeth into a skeletal grin. Then it cuts to black before a large, female, cuboidal head with red glasses, one of the ladies from the photographs, appears on the screen, laughing nervously in the TV studio.

    The presenter from earlier is laughing alongside her. Laughing is obligatory on this program, regardless of the actual comedic content of a given episode. “The owner of that home is of course with us here in the studio today. Well, ‘Very much a geek,’ Loyd says. How do you like that?”

    The TV set in front of you switches off, the image on the screen zeroing to a point at its center before that evaporates to nothing too.

    Only the light above you remains.

    Someone switches that off as well.

    You are alone in the darkness.

    The screen flares up. There’s a new program on it. The screen shows an empty white room with a large computer at its center. Into the room plummets a woman with a large cuboidal head and headphones. She flares out her arms and legs, scrambling desperately against the air to arrest her fall. She stops an inch above the floor, caught by two wires. The spotlight flickers back on and the theme music starts playing.

    Declan Taggart wants to admit that, when he was younger, he didn’t like Through the Keyhole or Loyd Grossman. Maybe we’re just doomed not to like what we don’t understand. Quadrilateral Cowboy he thinks he understands enough that he’d recommend you try it for yourself – you can find it at the official site here. Big Grossman fan-boy? Feel free to explain things to Declan on Twitter @NonsenseThunder.

    Games, TV