Thursday, 21 March 2019

Visions of the End

A sense of the apocalypse has briefly visited itself upon south Texas, specifically a freezing cold apocalypse. It's March and we should be outside in t-shirts, already gearing up to complain about the heat; and yet we've had weeks of dull grey skies just like you get in England with overnight temperatures dipping to freezing, necessitating my covering the pumpkin and sunflower plants with garden blankets each night. All sorts of things which would ordinarily be gearing up for summer - presumably including pollinating insects - are struggling to make it to Spring. Apparently this is a phenomenon known as an arctic blast which occurs because our planet no longer has ice caps, possibly. It's something along those lines. Thankfully I know it can't be climate change because our president has assured us their's no such thing and he should no because he's the president. If their where anything too worry about he would of told us.

Therefore phew.

It's too fucking cold and yet I force myself out the door to ride twenty miles each day in the name of staying healthy, five days a week without fail. Nevertheless the report from a medical check-up I took about a month ago comes back with sirens awail.

'My blood pressure might be a little high right now,' I told the nurse, 'because I've just cycled twenty miles. It's usually fine when I have it taken at the dentist.'

'How much do you weigh?' she asked, beckoning me onto the scales.

'I was 194lbs yesterday,' I told her.

'Well, you're 201lbs today,' she said.

'Maybe that's because I'm still wearing three layers of clothing and heavy boots,' I offered, but she didn't appear to care. The check-up didn't seem particularly focussed on what it was actually supposed to do, so now I have this letter in the mail telling me that I will probably explode before the year is up, but as the unhealthiest person in the world I may qualify for some kind of award. I'd go to collect the thing but I expect my mobility scooter will run out of juice before I get there owing to my having to make excursions to McDonalds and lard retailers on the way.

Also, the kitchen drawer caused me to have a meltdown. I attempted to open it whilst aggravated, but was prevented from doing so by a family size box of matches stuck at the back, because in the year 2019 we somehow still have a family size box of matches. The drawer has annoyed me ever since it became a sea of loose thumbtacks.

'Do we have thumbtacks?' the boy asked.

'They're in the kitchen drawer,' I said, recalling a mental image of all the thumbtacks in their tidy little plastic box.

The kitchen drawer is adjacent to the sink, of which the tap - or faucet if you prefer - has developed a sudden and unexpected drip. We had the entire assembly replaced a couple of years ago, so it's all pretty new, which is why there was no drip; and then suddenly there was, and enough of one to fill an unwashed mug to the brim in about thirty minutes. I examined the nut around the base of the pipe and wondered if it needed tightening. I opened the kitchen drawer, recalling having seen a wrench in there, but it opened only so far due to the family size box of matches, just enough to reveal thumbtacks everywhere.

I tugged.

I tugged harder.

I slipped in my hand, probing for whatever was stuck - some kind of box which I accordingly pushed down.

I tugged but still nothing.

I tugged with brute force, hoping to break the thing and teach it a lesson. 'Cunt,' I screamed at the drawer, so loud that my throat hurt. As I say, it turned out to be a family size box of matches. I still don't even know why we have a family size box of matches.

A flash of white caught my attention, something in the garden.

I went to see. There were two white doggies running around in our garden, two wuvable white puppy dogs which I'll call Barky and Fido, most likely owned by Shooty the drug dealer who just never quite seems to find the time to secure his fucking fence. I'm not sure what breed Barky and Fido are, but they're of that pedigree generally preferred by those in the narcotics retail trade, the kind you often see in the newspaper when they've broken free and killed an infant. Because we have cats, I am displeased to see Barky and Fido having a woofy, waggy-tailed time of it in my garden, and I'm reluctant to pop down the road and ask whether Shooty might see his way to securing his fucking fence in case he decides it would be simpler to pop a cap in my ass.

Anyway, this evening we are dining out, even though we usually stay in on Tuesday, and would prefer to do so this evening because it's freezing out there, despite being March in Texas. The boy's school has done some deal with an eating establishment called Willie's Grill & Icehouse. The deal is that if we eat there on this particular Tuesday evening then present the school with the receipt, this will somehow count as good work and go towards Junior's final grade in his Latin class. It's some sort of sponsorship deal, something to do with  Willie's Grill & Icehouse donating money allowing Junior's Latin class to take part in state competitions, but it sounds like a bribe from where I'm sat - greasing the wheel, stacking the deck, payola, whatever else you want to call it. Still, although the boy gets by in Latin, his grades suggest a scholastic strategy similar to that which he applies to the task of procuring thumbtacks from a drawer. We are therefore on the road, heading for Willie's Grill & Icehouse, because that's how much we care.

Willie's Grill & Icehouse is unfortunately packed this evening, mostly with other parents attempting to influence what grades their own kids get in Latin this coming semester - whatever the hell a semester is. The queue reaches out the door, out into the freezing hell of the strip mall. It's wall to wall squares, eager beavers, apple polishers, good company men, loyal snitches, do rights, clean cut kids who unfailingly call you sir, sportswear - Go Spurs Go, and not one funny haircut amongst the lot of them. Once inside we are blasted with country and autotune music. Everywhere I look, there is a Bud Lite logo.

We last ten minutes in the queue which hasn't moved in all of that time. Fuck this, we declare, and leave. We'll go to eat elsewhere, then come back later and pick up a burger on the way home once the crowds have diminished. So long as we get a receipt from the place, it will still count.

We eat at the Longhorn Steakhouse because it's near. Also, there are places to sit and their country and western is at least the genuine article. The food, when it comes, is delicious.

It's approaching eight in the evening as we return to Willie's Grill & Icehouse. Bess goes in to procure a burger which we can take home to the kid. I briefly nod off in the car, cold and tired, then after an indeterminate length of time, go into the restaurant to find my wife. The queues have vanished, but the place is still busy. Bess waits for her order to be processed. We talk to other parents who had the same idea as us. One of them has a boy called Aniston in our kid's Latin group. I don't ask. Maybe she was a big fan of Friends.

Servers scurry back and forth from the hatch running along the front of the kitchen, all young, all wearing Willie's Grill & Icehouse t-shirts bearing the slogan, more food, more fun. I can feel my soul beginning to die around the edges. Food, if it's any good, no more needs to be fun than architecture needs to be educational, and - excepting the mighty Cocina Jibarazo - anyone who serves their food on anything other than a plate is a scoundrel, and so as to be clear on this, no - paper plates don't count either. If I'm sitting down to dine, I do not wish to eat from a punnet, a bag, a bit of cardboard, a piece of slate, a plank, or a bright red plastic basket with the food contained within a nest of greasy paper.

All around us are tables of teenagers and eager beavers and squares, all peeling shrimp and dumping the shells into blue buckets with Bud Lite printed on the side. These are actual diners rather than the kitchen staff which their labours imply, so I suppose peeling your own shrimp constitutes the fun promised by the t-shirt. I can tell I haven't strayed into the picture space of anything painted by Heironymous Bosch because I don't recall his art featuring a million flat screens tuned to knucklehead sports channels.

Eventually we have waited forty-five minutes, and still no sign of our order. 'Can I at least pay?' Bess asks, having finally caught someone's attention.

We pay and leave, because the receipt is all we really came for. We drive around the block, then return to pick up the burger, feeling awkward about just leaving something for which we paid. We drive home, feed the burger to the kid, watch Wheel of Fortune, then go to bed.

Next day is sunny and bright, even a little warm. I take in all of the blankets from where they've been draped to protect plants from the frost. I wedge canes into the earth at the points where Barky and Fido have been getting in under the fence. I take the kitchen drawer to pieces, pull out the old nails, then glue it all back together. Finally I get on my bike and ride, knowing it will be a better day.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Mr. Avery

Mr. Avery just turned up one morning. In addition to our own gang, I also serve breakfast to three or four feral cats who've taken to hanging around in our back garden. Curiously, the feral cat population tends to remain stable, with the number remaining at three or four. Gary from down the road had recently departed to the great alley in the sky, which I imagine resembling the one in the Top Cat cartoons, and it seemed that pussycat central control had sent Mr. Avery as his replacement.

He was huge and a buff ginger colour, with a tiny little face set at the centre of a big round head giving him the appearance of a feline Oliver Hardy. At the time, Bess and I had been watching the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer which details the plight of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man currently serving life for crimes he almost certainly didn't commit; and because Steven Avery might also be described as rounded and ginger, we named the new cat after him.

Mr. Avery looked as though he'd been inflated with a bicycle pump, a series of sullen orange balloons forever sat waiting to be fed outside our back door. He seemed too groomed and well fed to have grown up feral and so we assumed he was probably lost. He wasn't particularly friendly, always keeping a distance whilst being too big to be truly intimidated by any of the other cats. He had the demeanour of a cat who had probably lived inside for most of his life and was accustomed to luxury.

Assuming Mr. Avery had probably been someone's cat, I posted on Nextdoor, our online neighbourhood forum, in the hope of tracking down his owner. I received two replies. One described a missing cat named Sunny, who couldn't have been our boy unless his nuts had grown back in accordance with the laws of only Mexican biology. The other was from a woman called Millicent who explained that her neighbour was missing a ginger cat, and specifically one with a bit of a red nose due to allergies.

I went outside, found Mr. Avery, and inspected his nose. Sure enough, it seemed kind of red.

I sent Millicent a photograph of Mr. Avery along with my phone number. She said she would show the photograph to her neighbour.

Two days later there was still no reply. I sent a second message asking if she had yet shown the photograph to her neighbour.

I have not seen her, she explained. Let me go knock.

Three days passed without further response, so I asked again.

No, she said, she still hadn't had a chance to talk to her neighbour, but it was probably a different cat - even though Millicent herself somehow had no idea what the missing cat looked like, and anyway, she was in Alamo Heights, some two miles from us, so - you know - it seemed a bit unlikely. Maybe I should pop along to my local vet and ask if anyone had reported a missing cat.

I told Bess, who pointed out that no-one born since 1910 has been named Millicent, and that this in combination with the Alamo Heights location suggested I'd been dealing with a woman who had probably never been in the position of having to wipe her own bottom, and who might therefore be characterised as inherently flaky.

All the same, Millicent had given me her own address, so it seemed like we might as well go over and call at a few of the adjacent dwellings. One of them would be the former residence of Mr. Avery, we reasoned. I would have asked for the specific details, but I found myself unable to phrase the question in a way which didn't approximate to we'll make our own enquiries if you'd be so kind as to forward the address of this person who is missing their cat, seeing as it's apparently too much trouble for you…

We drove over to Alamo Heights - two miles, but not actually that far in terms of the distance cats have been known to venture. I was going to wear my hi-viz jacket so as to effect an illusion of officialdom, the sort of stranger to whom one might safely open the door knowing it would be about the local water supply or something; but Bess pointed out that some guy in a hi-viz jacket asking about a missing cat was arguably weirder than the same thing in regular clothes, so the hi-viz stayed in the car.

The anticipated gun-toting Republicrats foaming at the mouth and bellowing git off mah probertee, bwaaah thankfully failed to materialise. Same with the cat-hating nutters who would be glad to learn of one having gone missing, hope it stayed that way, then ask how come it's okay for cats to roam all over but you see one stray dog and everyone loses their shit? These were the people we expected to meet, having read their incoherent rants on the aforementioned Nextdoor, but thankfully it turns out that the internet can sometimes present an unbalanced, unrepresentative picture of humanity.

Everybody liked cats, everybody had their own stories about a missing cat, but nobody had actually lost one; until we came to a house from which a ginger cat named Cheeto had absconded a few months earlier. This was clearly the cat to whom Millicent had alluded, but Cheeto had been back a while and was presently rubbing his face against my leg whilst purring like a motorboat.

So we went home to Mr. Avery and the others, at least knowing we had tried; which isn't the end of the story, but is probably the end of this episode.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

San Antonio's Intergalactic Visitors

Looking at this photograph, it may take a moment for you to notice anything out of the ordinary, but it is there. This is an ordinary photograph taken by myself on Wednesday the 30th of January, 2019 using my trusty Samsung PL65 digital camera. Excepting that the flash hasn't worked for the last couple of years, the camera is in no way faulty, and the above photograph features no model work or related trickery. Nor was Photoshop used to edit the image.

I was on my daily twenty mile bike ride along San Antonio's Tobin Trail. I had just passed beneath the bridges of both the railway line and Wetmore Road, and I was heading up the hill which is a supposedly natural feature of that stretch of the trail when I noticed an object nestled in the grass. The path upon which I rode followed a winding course, and so I stopped at the outermost point of the curve, which was also the point closest to the object. Looking north I saw what appeared to be a construction resembling a pipe projecting upwards from the grass. I have been riding the Tobin Trail for nearly eight years and am therefore familiar with the landscape, and yet this feature was new to me. I estimate that the construction would have been about thirty feet from where I stood. I did not approach the construction, which appeared artificial in nature, for to do so would have meant leaving my bicycle unguarded, but I was able to take a number of photographs. Let's have a closer look.

There is no doubt in my mind that the photograph shows an artificial construction. It is not a tree stump, and as I have already stated, this is a genuine photograph and not something produced through use of Photoshop or similar.

This section of the Tobin Trail comprises a surfaced path leading up to the top of the hill and then down on the other side, forming what would be a horseshoe shape if seen from above. If we were to draw a line between the two tips of the horseshoe, we have a rough dirt path running along the base of the hill, as can be seen in the first photograph. Viewed from above, the area around the mysterious pipe is laid out like so:


It has been suggested to me that the construction may simply be a certain type of water bottle, perhaps one left behind by a person - either a walker or a cyclist - who opted to take a short cut to the further part of the trail. While this is a nice idea, not only can neither any cyclist nor any walker be seen in my photograph, but I do not recall having seen any such person taking this proposed short cut in a great many weeks. Of course, whilst the object may well be a water bottle left behind by this hypothetical individual, it may equally well be something which fell out of Doctor Who's TARDIS as he flew over on his way to fight the Daleks, but I would rather avoid such flights of fancy as I attempt to deduce the facts of this mystery.

This is a water bottle of the kind proposed by our sceptical friend, as seen on the Amazon website. Unfortunately, as you can see, it is quite different to the construction shown in the second photograph, so we might do better to concentrate on the main issue rather than waste our time with random speculation.

Working on the assumption of the construction being something akin to a chimney or perhaps an exhaust pipe, it seems likely that it must be the single visible extension of a subterranean complex, perhaps housing spacecraft from another world, providing rest and recreation for the alien pilots after their long voyage from the stars. Many researchers have noticed a correlation between UFO sightings and airports or air bases, and it can surely be no coincidence that the telltale exhaust pipe is situated at less than the distance of one mile from San Antonio airport. Indeed, I distinctly recall having seen signs instructing members of the public that in making use of the Tobin Trail, they are upon land which is the property of the aviation authority.

The location of the exhaust pipe is indicated by the numeral (1) on the first map, and the same is a detail of this second larger map denoted by the square. The airport runway is to be seen on the left-hand side of the map.

Naturally, I would not wish to take the supposed correlation between UFO sightings and airports or air bases for granted just because what seems to be a subterranean UFO base just happens to be situated near an airport; so it was fortuitous indeed that I was able to witness evidence of the same with my own eyes and also to record it on camera. I was stood at the point indicated by the numeral (3) on the first map when I noticed a mysterious object rising up from the direction of the airport. It was twenty-three minutes past one in the afternoon, Friday the 1st of February, 2019. The sky was overcast and the object moved through the air from west to north-east. The electricity pylon seen on the left of this photograph is the one which is visible in the first photograph. As before, I should stress that this is a genuine photograph and has not been subject to manipulation or enhancement using Photoshop.

As can be seen in the blown up image which follows, the object initially appeared as a sort of cone shape, tipped to one side (most likely simply due to how it was flying) and mounted upon a longer, cigar-shaped base. There seems to be something projecting from the left of the cone, perhaps an aerial, or perhaps even one of the extraterrestrial passengers who has decided to take a look out of the window at this mysterious world some of us like to call Earth!

By the time I was able to take a second photograph, the craft was passing much closer to my vantage point, affording me a better shot, but unfortunately by this point it had already taken on a familiar form resembling that of a light aircraft of terrestrial design - as seen in the photograph below. If unusual, this transformation has been noted as a common type of camouflage adopted by our interplanetary visitors in recent years, and for me it was sufficient proof that I was onto something. Could this be a craft which had only recently taken off from the underground saucer base I had discovered? Was this what I had just seen with my own eyes?

It seems incredible that these beings should have allowed me to witness their activity in this way, and to have allowed me to discover the facts of their existence in the first place; but then perhaps my discovery had been an unintentional one.

I have been cycling the Tobin Trail since 2011, and up until a year or so ago, as I reached the point designated by the numeral (2) on the first map, I usually alighted, pausing my journey so that I might urinate. The point indicated is on the top of the hill in such a position as to allow me to see others approaching from a great distance, whilst being hidden from view by motorists on both Wurzbach Parkway and Wetmore Road by the curvature of the hill (as can be seen from the second map). Therefore, feeling myself blessed with sufficient privacy, I habitually urinated at this point on a daily basis; until recently when I learned that technically this constitutes indecent exposure under United States law, and if successfully convicted of that charge, I would find myself obliged by law to inform all my neighbours of my status as a registered sex offender! I therefore now suspect that the subterraneans were attempting to warn me off or to put me out of the picture by somehow inducing my need to urinate at that specific location, hoping I would then be discovered and prosecuted. Indeed, I already mentioned having seen signs instructing members of the public that in making use of the Tobin Trail, they are upon land which is the property of the aviation authority. It is curious that I am no longer able to find any of these signs anywhere along the Tobin Trail, almost as though they have been removed by someone, or perhaps something! Without such warnings, an innocent walker or cyclist might commit trespass and find themselves inconveniently detained by legal authorities; or perhaps I should say conveniently detained for I'm sure it would prove quite convenient for person, persons, or perhaps even beings who would prefer their activities to remain undetected.

Having shed some light on the mysteries of the land on the western side of San Antonio airport, and the mysterious non-human creatures which shelter beneath it in their technological hideout, we are left only with the question of why now? My own hunch is that we find ourselves presently entering a crucial stage of human history, now that we have an innovative president pushing a bold new type of politics which has already given us the promise of our own Star Trek style Space Force, and so it is only natural that beings from other realms, and even other times, should wish to study this episode of human history. With this thought in mind, I direct readers to the point indicated by the numeral (4) on the second map. This pointer indicates the location of an artificial shelter constructed so as to protect those using the Tobin Trail from chips of rock which may be dislodged as trains pass by on the overhead railway line. It can hardly be a coincidence that this same shelter has been decorated with several stickers promoting the president's forthcoming campaign for re-election in the year 2020; although given all which we now know of this mystery, it wouldn't surprise me if these stickers had actually been bought back from the future after he has already won!

Sceptics will doubtless raise the same sort of objections they always raise, namely that I have been mistaken and what I saw was actually the planet Venus, or they will claim that I have invented most of this story, then tried to support my invention using trick photographs cleverly forged by means of Photoshop. Yet I have the proof, for my photographs, those which I have shared here, are quite genuine and have not been artificially made on Photoshop; and if this is all a fantasy, then what induced me to urinate at the top of the hill nearly every day, year after year; and what is the true nature of the mysterious shape-changing craft I saw that day? I would ask these questions of my critics, but I know that they would be greeted only with silence.

What more proof do I need than that the beings themselves have attempted to curtail my investigations. On Friday the 1st of February, 2019, just after my encounter with the alien craft, I was able to take this photograph.

Compare this with the second photograph and you will see that the pipe, the chimney, the exhaust system or whatever it may be, is of articulated construction and has now been laid flat in the grass so as to conceal it from further scrutiny. They knew that I had detected them, and that their secret presence on our world was no longer quite such a secret. Why else would they have gone to such trouble to elude detection?

If you can think of a reason, I'd sure like to hear it.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Thirty-One Chickens

'That lady has thirty-one chickens!' the cashier tells me. She points and I look towards the exit, to where the automatic doors slide apart to release a woman pushing a trolley laden with planks. 'She's building a coop for them.'

'I thought that was illegal.'

'Anyone can build a coop for their chickens,' she tells me. 'I have chickens too.'

'I mean I thought it was illegal to have so many.' I try to remember how many chickens Byron has in his own back garden. 'I thought there was some city law preventing anyone keeping more than eight.'

'There is,' she says. 'That lady lives outside of the city, so she has thirty-one.'

'Wow,' I say, submitting my purchases to the cashier's scanner - a new air filter for the lawnmower and a bottle of oil for the chainsaw.

The farm on which I grew up, the one upon which they eventually built the set for Teletubbies, was next to a chicken farm, and Paul, who lived on that chicken farm was my best friend at school. There were seventy-five thousand chickens on his farm, and I recall the figure because he reminded us of it from time to time; and apparently he reminded Tom Mahon of the statistic with such frequency that Tom often referred to him as Seventy-Five Thousand Chickens by way of a nickname.

'Do you live on Corinne?' I ask the cashier. I notice that she's actually sort of foxy, an older Latina with beautiful grey hair, and I realise that my question probably sounds like a come on.

Maybe I could stop by a little later…

'I always used to go past this house with chickens out in the back garden,' I tell her with increased urgency. 'I just meant that I wondered if that was you, as you have chickens.'

'I know that house,' she tells me with some caution, although maybe it's my imagination. 'I live over that way. Is it Sumner? On the corner?'

'Yes, on the corner. I think it's the last one before you get to Eisenhauer. Anyway, the chickens haven't been there recently,' I add, now wondering why the hell I mentioned it in the first place.

'I know the house you mean. That will be $17.82.'

I try to remember whether I insert my card into the slot or slide it down the thing at the side. Whichever one I do, the display always seems to tell me I should have done the other one.

'A lot of people keep chickens,' the cashier adds. 'My neighbour - he had chickens too.'

Do I want cash, yes or no…

'Well, they were all males so they weren't chickens. They were roosters.'

'Ouch,' I say. 'I hope he enjoyed getting up early in the morning.'

'Isn't that funny,' the woman says thoughtfully.

'I guess he didn't need the eggs,' I say, noticing how I now remind myself of some old boy, one lame observation after another.

'Only one reason a man keeps just roosters,' the woman says. She scowls lightly.

'Ewww,' I say as the penny drops.

I leave with my air filter and my oil in a grey polythene bag. I think of the dead bull terrier I once found in a cardboard box on the Holbrook Road. I called animal control. They said it was probably the collateral from some illegal dog fight, probably dumped.

So that turned dark pretty quickly, as the saying goes.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Don't Eat Here

On Saturday the 21st of September, 2002, I wrote the following in my diary.

I'm thinking of cashing in on this TV chef fad. I had an idea for my own show, all done on shaky camcorder with me in my own kitchen cooking up my version of Mexican food - lots of close ups of the bin as I mutter I don't believe in food hygiene - it's all bollocks in the background. It's all bollocks, would become my catchphrase just like Jamie Oliver's Dick Van Dykisms. My face would be on tins of Sainsbury's produce captioned go ahead, eat it; what's the fucking worst that could happen? A second idea along these lines would be my book Don't Eat Here, a guide to all the misleading eateries into which I have stumbled.

Seventeen years later, it seems like my cookery show isn't going to happen; and Don't Eat Here is probably a bit of a non-starter given that I try to avoid eating at crap restaurants and diners, so the list is thus far hardly of length sufficient to justify an entire book; nevertheless and for what it may be worth, should you, gentle reader, happen to find yourself in San Antonio, I'd recommend giving the following a wide berth. A couple of these have actually shut up shop, but the advice should still be heeded if you're a time traveller.

Chili's Grill & Bar. Someone described this sort of joint as Chuck-E-Cheese for adults, although it wasn't Wikipedia because they describe it as a casual dining restaurant chain. There are a fucking million of these places dotted along every single highway, each parking lot heaving with trucks spilling gurgling knuckleheads out across the asphalt. Once inside you will find a lively environment, as I'm sure they call it, with a thousand flat screens just above head height and every single one showing a ball game of some description. The deafening soundtrack will comprise either football commentary and associated amiable horseshit or hair metal hits of the eighties. The food is brightly coloured and highly reflective due to some weird glaze, even the burger buns. Everything drips with a bright yellow goop approximating cheese, and if you so choose, it's actually possible to order a side of fries with your burger and fries burger, which comes with fries; and coke; or children's fizzy beer if your name is Josh or Greg or Hunter or one of those.

There's a guy with a dog who lives in one of the houses at the back of our own. Every once in a while I hear him calling to the dog as I work in the back garden. The dog's name is Bear, and the man has a deep, slow voice. He enunciates each word as though someone has hit him around the side of the head with a baseball bat only a moment before. One evening I heard him calling to his dog, variations on the same sentence over and over. 'Come on, Bear… don't you be a coward now, Bear…'

I have no idea what was going on, but I'll bet he eats at Chili's.

Chili's proves that the free market economy does not work.

Flair. Everybody in Alamo Heights seemed to think Flair was amazing, but then I never cease to be amazed by what people in Alamo Heights consider amazing. Mexican street food, they screeched all across our local bit of internet. The term refers to what is simply known as food in Mexico itself and, practically speaking, means tacos but nothing else typically served on a Mexican street. We therefore ordered tacos. The waitress was of the kind who endeavours to involve herself in the diner's existence by commenting awesome in response to one's order, as though surprised and impressed by our choices, perhaps not having realised that tacos were on the menu at her place of work. There were ten or twelve other members of staff watching, having nothing else to do because we were the only customers. Our tacos came and they were nice enough - although pathetic compared to the standard of those served at the mighty Cocina el Jibarazo on Austin Highway - and they cost about three times what they should have cost, presumably because that's what the dingbats of Alamo Heights expect to pay. As we left, the waitress informed us that we might like to keep Sunday free because they would be having a DJ, meaning we could eat average but grossly overpriced tacos while a young man with a beard tickled the decks with a crucial selection of proper nang tunes. We didn't go back on Sunday, or indeed ever again.

The Granary. Admittedly this was a few years ago, and Bess had told me that lunchtime at the Granary was amazing. Unfortunately we went in the evening which is characterised by a different menu and, seemingly, a different approach to the dining experience. I don't remember what I had, and I don't remember it being bad, but I distinctly recall that the waiter spent at least five minutes telling me what the chef was going to do, and liquid nitrogen may have been involved. This delayed my waiter's return to the kitchen with my order by at least five minutes, which was annoying because I was hungry and didn't really give a shit how the chef was planning to prepare whatever it was that I'd ordered. For all I cared, he could have eaten the ingredients, shat them directly onto the street outside, and then driven a steam roller backwards and forwards over the resulting fecal patty, providing it tasted good. I suspect this gastronomic prologue formed part of an holistic dining experience, at least judging by the drinks being served in fucking jam jars.

J. Alexander's, which I can't quite keep myself from thinking of as J. Arthur's, is another of those casual dining things, but without the million flat screen tellies. The food seems initially promising, providing you're not put off by all the toadying, congratulations on your choice and so on. The main problem is that when the food arrives, it's not great, and worse is that it's almost great yet isn't, presenting a culinary analogy of that truism about androids and how the closer they come to appearing human without actually quite getting there, the weirder and more upsetting they seem. I ate at this place quite a few times due to the preference of a family member, and even food which tasted decent left me feeling as though I'd gorged a bucket of salted lard for the rest of the afternoon. The very last time I ate there I had some pasta thing which was so salty it made my mouth sore as I was trying to eat it.

Jack in the Box. My word probably isn't worth much here as I've only eaten at Jack in the Box once, and it was nearly a decade ago. Jack in the Box is a burger chain in the McDonald's mode distinguished mainly by a greater emphasis on irony in their advertising. I was in one of those moods where you just want to eat something cheap and crappy, and so I ordered what I believe may have been a burrito. I'm not wild about burritos anyway, so it wasn't a great choice, but I only discovered that I wasn't wild about burritos after I ate this one which was essentially a tube of dense, endless meat. It was wrapped in a tortilla and was hot and heavy. It felt like a cosh, something which could be used in a fight, and was additionally so salty that it made me cry. I doubt there's enough irony in the world to get me eating another one of those things, and if it helps illustrate my thesis, I
might draw your attention to the fact of McDonald's having failed to make this list.

Lupe Tortilla. It seemed like a bit of an event when the Lupe Tortilla chain opened a restaurant in San Antonio, but as we realised once we ate there, whilst the place might seem a big deal in Houston, we have actual Mexican food in San Antonio and therefore no real reason to eat what is essentially Mexican food for white people. Fancifying and generally pissing about with what is on the plate doesn't fool anyone. Additionally irritating was being asked whether we had eaten at Lupe Tortilla before as we were shown a table, the implication being that we might need to prepare ourselves for having our collective and figurative gastronomic nuts blown off. This would have been fine had they served us something amazing, but instead we got Mexican food for white people and a waitress zipping back to ask how we were enjoying it every three fucking minutes. Admittedly, the second time we went - invited by a friend to celebrate her daughter's graduation - the food was significantly better but, you know, first impressions and everything...

Olive Garden. This is yet another chain, but a notionally Italian one, Italian here mostly translating into a large garden spade's worth of pasta dripping with cheese sauce; which presents a genuinely mouth-watering prospect when you're in one of those moods where you yearn to be pumped full of the saltiest carbohydrates money can buy, but every decision I've ever made at Olive Garden has inevitably turned to regret somewhere around the third or fourth mouthful. Further regret is encountered when the bill arrives, along with generous helpings of incredulity.

Southside Chinese. It wasn't called Southside Chinese, but it was on the southside and neither Bess nor myself can remember what the place was called. The one thing Bess does remember is being seated upon the lavatory when an elderly gentleman entered the cubicle and already had his pants down with the words, 'I really need to go,' before she was able to fully assess the situation, dress herself, or even finish her own business. It probably wouldn't have mattered quite so much had the food been great, but unfortunately it was mostly a sort of warm, faintly spicy grease to which soft, tasteless matter had been added apparently so we could tell that it wasn't soup. Amazingly, the place has since closed.

Alamo Fish 'n' Chips. There's another fish place more deserving of inclusion in this list, but they're supposedly something to do with the perfectly legitimate business operations of a local group of legitimate Mexican-American businessmen, if you know what I'm saying. The food was lousy, took ages to arrive, and the staff seemed puzzled by our order. Other customers seemed to pay much more for their own orders, and I'm guessing in used notes, but the packages they received in return didn't look a whole lot like anything they were likely to be tucking into once they got back to their trucks. However, I'm absolutely certain that these transactions were all entirely above board and legal, with no suspicious dimension whatsoever, and I don't want any trouble, so Alamo Fish 'n' Chips it is. There's a big old Union Jack painted on the sign outside, and although the crinkle cut chips served are just like those my grandmother used to bring back from Tesco and then fry in her chip pan, the fish is frozen and therefore not really anything special. Furthermore, the ceviche promised by the menu seems to be there only so as to lure my wife, who has thus far always arrived just as some other customer has allegedly scoffed the last dollop; and the guy kept asking me how it was every two bleeding minutes seeing as how I'm from England and all, which was annoying. The invitation on their facebook page reads Please come joy us many items on Specials, fresh & tasty Seafood, lightly on batter, home made tartar sauce and coleslaw you not going disappointed but I'm afraid I prefer Long John Silver's. 

Wing Zone. I still don't understand how it's possible to get fried chicken wrong, but America found a way. The best fried chicken seems to be the cheapest and crappiest, for some reason, usually the kind served with the faintest suggestion that whoever prepared it has spent the morning changing the oil in their car and hasn't bothered to wash their hands. Being situated at over five thousand miles distance from south-east London, amongst my less enticing options are Popeyes which specialises in gradually serving the dryest, least succulent, and most mouth-desiccating meals derived from an egg-laying bird; and Wing Zone which is similar but with a bright orange sauce which tastes like what happens when you hold the terminals of a nine volt battery against your tongue.

Friday, 15 February 2019


We're at La Gloria, down by the river. It's approximately Mexican, but due to the location caters mainly to braying pricks with too much money; so we have bits of farm machinery nailed to the walls for the sake of ambience, bottled beer or five billion varieties of marguerita, and the sort of fare which inevitably draws screeching twats who just love love love that num nummy numptious Mexican street food. Everything above head height is a television screen blasting out the game, the Dallas Cowboys legendary play off against the Dallas Cowboys or something of that general nature. Men in helmets and padding have grunting fights which last two seconds before we cut to five minutes of grinning salesmen discussing what just happened as though it matters.

I am here because my wife is here, and because Zara has just chucked in her job and is moving to Austin. There are a load of folks from the office so why not, I figured. I know some of them. We enter the bar and familiar faces mouth greetings which I don't hear due to the noise of the Dallas Cowboys legendary play off against the Dallas Cowboys, except for Hunter. I hear him fine. I had my fingers crossed in hope of his having stayed home, but no luck.

'Hey buddy!' he bellows like I'm some long lost pal, eyes big and deep like those of a needy hound, the kind which eventually tries to hump your leg. 'It's been a long time!'

That's because we don't actually know each other, which is in turn because we aren't friends due to having nothing in common besides very vaguely mutual friends, but I say, 'Sure.'

He's clearly been hoping I would show, and I don't like to think why. I'm trying to say hello to a few of the others, people I actually sort of know. 'So when we gonna party?'

'Huh?' I'm caught out. It's a truly weird question.

'You and me, we're gonna party!' There's something seriously creepy about the smile on his face. I'm trying not to think about what it could mean.

'No,' I state firmly. 'We're not. You don't know me. I don't party. That's all there is to it.'

'We're gonna party, buddy!'

'No, we aren't. You are mistaken.'

'We're gonna party.'

Maybe it's meth. Maybe it's booze. Maybe it's just

Bess pulls me to a seat at the opposite end of the table, which is thankfully fourteen or fifteen feet in length with others from the office all packed around the circumference. We squeeze in between Bob and Santina. I wave distantly at Rowena.

Rowena arranged our wedding. Bess and I were married within a month of my arriving in America, although obviously we had known each other longer. It was just going to be a registry office, but Rowena said oh hell no, possibly whilst doing that cobra head wiggle made popular by disgruntled female guests on talk shows.

Oh no you di'nt, girlfriend.

Rowena arranged it all, or most of it, or some of it. They all showed up at our house. Edi ordered cupcakes. Rowena made enchiladas, and the preacher was a friend of her husband - and her husband was Hunter; so that's how I know him.

Hunter and I stood out in the garden smoking. I was in a state akin to shellshock. I dislike crowds and it was my wedding day, or at least the day of the ceremony, the stuff you tend to remember. Hunter was simply entertained to meet an English dude.

Tonight it seems that he's back with
Rowena, which is why he's here at La Gloria guzzling bottled beer. It's hard to keep track. She sticks with him because he's good with the kids and takes care of them while she's at work, and because he's so handsome.

Some weekends he disappears, just vanishes without a word and doesn't answer his phone. It's meth and hookers, and specifically pre-operative male to female transexual hookers, although apparently his thing is enemas, so maybe it doesn't quite count as sex, or at least not intercourse. You would probably have to ask Bill Clinton about that.

He usually resurfaces, regretting everything or regretting some of it. Someone told me that the deal with transexual hookers is a surprisingly common pendant to meth abuse, although I don't know if that's true. It's just a thing for
Hunter, but everybody is a little bit curious, right? I mean, we all love to see that shit, don't we? This is usually the case for his defence as he swears never to succumb to temptation ever again, or at least not for another couple of weeks as it usually turns out. Once he came back claiming to have found God, and even made plans to train as a preacher.

We always wondered who
Rowena's facebook posts were for, each time the fucker crawled back, and there he was doing a little dance while firing up the barbecue because baby, you so crazy, filmed on a phone with a string of hearts and hashtags, that man of mine. I guess the posts were for Rowena herself. One of these days she'll change the locks. One of these days she'll come to her senses.

Hunter grins at me from the far end of the table, mouthing something about a party which isn't going to happen because I don't really do parties and no-one is sticking a rubber tube up my bum, no matter how nicely they ask.

The football has changed to golf across the upper half of the room, and somehow it's still deafening.

'Really?' I mutter to Bess. 'Does anyone who isn't a complete wanker really give a shit about golf?'

Bob, who clearly gives a number of shits about golf picks up on the one word, my identification of his favourite sporting pastime. He leans over and begins to tell us about golf, and about playing on courses in Scotland, which is of obvious interest to me because I was born somewhere near there; but it's still a better proposition than the one with the meth and a length of rubber tubing.

Thursday, 7 February 2019


So that wasn't Nico we were protesting outside the church with to stop Viraj Mendez from being deported in Manchester?, you said. Okay, thanks for clearing that up.

I had to read the twisted grammar twice because my first impression was that you were claiming to have protested Nico, formerly of the Velvet Underground. This would have squared fairly well with my initial point:

I usually try to steer clear of general grumbling about Trump and the proposed wall, but today found myself in violent disagreement with the former drummer of the Velvet Underground on the subject. Luckily this requires no reassessment of a much loved back catalogue of work with a peg over my nose because I always thought the Velvet Underground were pure shite; so that's nice.

It was then pointed out to me that the rest of the fuckers had probably  been Republicans anyway, so none of it makes much difference in the great scheme of things; and that was when you blew your top, swooping in to expose our shameful ignorance of Nico protesting outside the church to stop Viraj Mendez from being deported.

That showed us.

I'm a snowflake, you explained. I get emotional when people go after dead friends.

I wish I'd known about your friendship with Nico of the Velvet Underground.

What was she like? What was her favourite food? When you all went to the pub, did she stand her round or was it the case that she always seemed to have mysteriously gone off for a piss when it was her shout?

I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised, given your close personal friendship with Adam Ant. I remember when that guy said something or other about a Nine Inch Nails song.

I will never buy Trent's records until he pays Adam what is owed to him, you boldly proclaimed, standing firm as a mighty sentinel against the injustice of wayward royalties. I'll bet Adam is glad to have someone like you on his side, although I didn't realise you knew Trent Reznor as well.


Who don't you know?

Did you and Adam ever go to the pub with Nico? What I would have given to have overheard that conversation. Did you all get up and walk out when Trent came in for a pint and a packet of salt and vinegar, or was that before Nine Inch Nails covered that old Adam & the Ants song, back when you were all pals together?

You once told me you had been in a punk band back in Blackpool. I asked what they had been called, because I used to read a lot of punk fanzines, and I even know a couple of Blackpool people who played in punk bands. It seemed like there might even be a slim chance I had heard of you. Maybe you know Simon or Stan?

Sadly you didn't have time to tell me the name of the band you had been in because, as you explained, you were just about to start your shift at Whataburger, and had you told me the name of the Blackpool punk band you had been in that I might have heard of, then you might have made yourself late for your shift at Whataburger; so I'm just glad that didn't happen because I would have felt guilty.


It's a shame we didn't get to meet when you were here in San Antonio. I mean, here we are in Texas, both originally from England, both fans of the same stuff - roughly speaking, and it would have been great to meet up and compare notes; and I saw that you were at the museum. You know that's a five minute drive from my front door, right? I guess it was just a little bit too difficult so it didn't happen, but maybe next time you're in town, or maybe Bess and I will be able to visit you if we happen to be over there on your side of the state…

Who fucking knows?