Friday, 27 December 2013

The Christmas Concert

According to Ankita Pathak, the ten things most hated by children are parental divorce, homework, vegetables, bed time, hair cuts, vaccination, exams, being picked last for a team, medicine and, in certain cases, their siblings. Missing from this list is Thomas Edison whom my ten-year old stepson regards as much worse than at least a few of the things traditionally despised by children. Ask him about Thomas Edison and he throws his head back, his nostrils flare and he speaks with greater force than is strictly necessary: 'I hate that guy!'

The children in his class have each adopted an historical character upon which to make a presentation. Junior, having picked Nikola Tesla, has discovered that Thomas Edison killed an elephant by electrocution as part of a campaign to discredit the selfsame Tesla. Junior probably likes elephants at least as much as he likes the Serbian American inventor and father of alternating current, and he seems to have taken this unpleasant historical detail personally.

It's the Thursday morning before Christmas. We arrive at the school and head for the classroom wherein Junior is about to channel Nikola Tesla before an audience of his peers. As we shuffle into a line at the back of the class - all four of us - the performance has already begun. One of the other kids wears a tassled jacket and a coonskin cap and is telling us about Davy Crockett. We later discover there to be two Davy Crocketts amongst Junior's classmates, but if it seems an obvious choice, it isn't entirely arbitrary given the significant role of the frontiersman in the history of both the Alamo and San Antonio. The current Davy Crockett is a girl, one of Junior's best friends, and daughter to the Pace family who went into business with the Pace Foods company back in the 1940s. This information is astonishing to me as I've been eating Pace salsa for at least the last decade. It was the only decent salsa I could get my hands on in England when I couldn't be bothered to make my own, and now here I am in Texas watching the fruits of a private education paid for in some small way by my love of Mexican food.

There are now six parents in attendance, all of us lined up at the back of the class, conspicuously outsized and awkward in a room full of small excitable, children. Davy Crockett finishes her address and scurries to where her parents are stood alongside us, and Junior takes the floor. He's been styled by his grandmother, herself a teacher at a school on the southside, and makes for a very convincing Tesla with his suit and toy cat, hair parted just so and a glued-on moustache which seems unusually natural and gives him an uncanny authority, like the Ron Swanson character from NBC's television comedy Parks & Recreation. He speaks well and clearly, introducing himself to his classmates as Nikola Tesla before explaining the details of his fame. I am surprised and impressed that a ten-year old boy is capable of such a performance. He shows no stage fright and delivers his testimony without hesitation. His audience is transfixed.

My wife and I share a raised eyebrow as our boy fancifully describes Tesla inventing a death ray, now supposedly held by the FBI at some secure facility. He leans into the words, emphasising death ray with portentous conviction just to let us know we're through the looking glass now, people. Clearly he's been handed the wrong end of the stick on this particular detail, but the rest of the presentation has been of such moment that it would seem churlish to split one specific hair; and besides, he's moved on, already describing that which Tesla foresaw in his dreams. One of these supposed predictions is understood by Junior to be a bird with laser eyes, which he describes with the same dramatic emphasis as the death ray.

'I want a bird with laser eyes,' one of the children calls out, excited.

'I am a bird with laser eyes!' boasts one of the others, rising wide-eyed from his seat as though about to swoop down on someone.

The presentation ends, and we file out of the room, my wife and I, plus Junior's father and Wendy whom one might regard as stepmother, roughly speaking. Our boy effectively has four parents, lucky kid. Maybe it is this arguably unorthodox arrangement which informs his occasionally peculiar character, choosing an obscure inventor over Davy Crockett, Babe Ruth, or some other more conventionally famous name for his presentation. In any case, for once we are all proud of him at the same time.

The private schooling is paid for by his father's side of the family. It wasn't necessarily our first choice, but we have no objection as we couldn't afford the fees, and it's a good school in so much as Junior is not only learning stuff, but has made friends and is happy. This is not something we take for granted as he spent the previous three years at a different school and didn't get on so well. It was similarly a private school - or public school as is the seemingly contradictory American term. It's in San Antonio and deems itself an academy, and I'll withhold further identification because it is run by and caters to people whose fortunes were not made by playing nice. For some reason, its teaching staff were not required to have any formal teaching qualification, and both my wife and myself feel strongly that this showed in their treatment of our boy. Whilst Junior may be quite fairly described as a handful, his teachers were unable to cope with him, or apparently to teach him anything despite this being their job. My wife would sometimes receive three or four emails a day informing us that Junior had just spent five minutes gazing out of the window whilst failing to do his work, or had spent an unacceptable ten minutes on a toilet break. Somehow these were crimes in which academy staff were ill-equipped to intervene. We tried to imagine what they actually did with their time besides sending out emails, and we wondered what would happen in the event of a pupil doing something that would genuinely warrant a letter to the parents. Teaching, we concluded, was most probably conducted by a sort of psychic osmosis, with pupils merely held in the presence of educational materials in the hope that the information would transfer itself to their thoughts.

Junior presented a solitary figure at the school, and with hindsight we have come to realise how he must have been fairly unhappy there, at least in comparison to how obviously happy he is now. Eventually a meeting was called regarding what was to be done about our boy. This was conducted in the presence of five members of staff and a child psychologist whose most profound insight seemed to be that each and every event of a child's upbringing must be considered a source of potential trauma. The group sat frowning as they focused their expertise and solemn authority not upon a child who had stabbed anyone, robbed a bank, or set buildings on fire, but a small boy whose grades could have been better and who was bored in class, a small boy who occasionally sat looking out of the window. The absurdity of the situation, that it could even be regarded as a situation, seemed to me typical of a certain stratum of American society - specifically the stratum with too much money - which imagines its every word to constitute an announcement issued forth whilst stood between Ionic columns, with no issue so trivial that it cannot be taken far too seriously. We have the same deal in England, but in England it's more widely acknowledged as bullshit.

I myself was not invited to this meeting, and my dealings with the school were limited to headachey Christmas concerts in which we would file into the gymnasium and find ourselves subjected to a simpering speech from a principal who no doubt imagined himself a great orator, but generally oozed all the sincerity of a television evangelist. This would be followed by songs hampered with hokey linking material that parents probably enjoyed more than the children. Four of the boys would stand at the front delivering lines that would have been rejected from Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, effortfully seguing into this sort of thing:

'You know, I've always wanted to sail the seas!'

'Well, maybe you can. Maybe we could all sail the seas... in a Yellow Submarine!,' and hopefully all you readers are blessed with imagination of sufficient magnitude to allow for an extrapolation of what came next.

This would go on for an hour or so to the delight of the most over-moneyed facelifty group of parents with whom I have ever shared a gymnasium. These were people labouring under an illusory impression of themselves as an elite, an elite inevitably defined by the size of its collective bank balance - differentiated from the upper echelons of the English class system by the way in which they seem to regard amoral, carnivorous greed as a sign of character - and by their utter vulgarity, whilst I'm sneering. These parents in turn explained much that had initially confused me about the school which was not so much a seat of education as a place one sends a child so you can tell everyone you have a boy at the academy, which apparently impresses a certain kind of person.

The new school is less expensive and there are girls - which seems an altogether healthier situation to me. The teachers are required to have teaching qualifications, and seem entirely capable of doing their jobs to a high standard.

Having watched Junior's performance, we head to the chapel for the Christmas concert - a modern church building, but one that's been done well, observing tradition without sliding into kitsch. Each class performs a couple of traditional carols, and clearly they are enjoying themselves. There is no Yellow Submarine, no corny routines and no obsequious speech from a used-car salesmen masquerading as a school principal, no empty catechizing of an unintentionally ironic school motto about being the best you can be. Of course it's not perfect, and I wonder why the music is pre-recorded, lifted from a CD complete with incongruous drum breaks, which seems strange when we're sat within ten feet of an impressive church organ with no-one at the keyboard; but this is a minor detail which falls to insignificance because the concert is genuinely a pleasure to witness, and very different to the chore of its academy equivalent this time last year. Junior is happy here, and he has friends, and the curriculum is sufficiently broad to allow for all those quirks that emerge when a kid develops a working personality, even quirks like a pathological hatred of Thomas Edison.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Ten Thousand Miles

October 2009

In October 2009 I moved from London to my mother's house in Coventry having packed in the job I'd been doing for twenty-one years. I had big plans, making a huge leap in the dark, which began with my selling off a ton of the stuff I'd accumulated over the years - books, comics, and fanzines - all off in the direction of eBay in order to raise funds for the overseas shipping of all the crap that I wasn't selling. I had worked as a postman for Royal Mail since the late 1980s. It had been a physically demanding job, and one that I assumed had kept me roughly in shape - physically if not mentally - so I was conscious of the possibility of becoming somewhat rounder in my new sedentary existence. My Dad had recently taken up cycling, and now had a couple of bikes that he maintained having always been mechanically minded, so he lent me one of these.

I had grown up riding a bike, and can still remember my first - a metallic blue Moulton Midi complete with training wheels. I recall a few weeks of getting used to it, riding up and down outside the cow shed at the farm on which we lived, and then the training wheels came off. I got good use out of it over the next few years, cycling the miles to the villages of Ilmington or Quinton to see my friends Matt and Sean. I was accustomed to autonomous mobility at an early age, and I have a feeling it may have been something of a family tradition. I have a photograph of my grandfather taken during what I presume must have been the 1930s sat upon his bike, a drop-handled racer of a kind I didn't even realise had been made back then; and my father had always had his motorbikes.

Never having learned to drive, I've ridden a bike for most of my life, and during the years I worked for Royal Mail, it was a postman's bike which came with the job - although it had to be specifically requested - complete with a tough reinforced plastic basket on the front. For many years I had one of these bikes, effectively regarding it as the company car and using it to get around London at weekends, to do my shopping and so on. One of those bikes possibly saved my life at one point.

To briefly digress, I was about to begin delivery and had leaned the bicycle against the wall of 565, Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, a house famously painted by the Impressionist Camille Pissaro. I was stood facing the wall, going through the contents of the basket when a car that had stalled in the middle of the road rolled silently down the hill at my back and onto the pavement. The impact crushed the basket of the bike, which luckily prevented the vehicle from similarly smashing my pelvis like a pretzel. I was injured, but not permanently so, and nothing was broken.

So back in Coventry, my dad lent me a bicycle which he had himself bought cheap from a friend also named Lawrence. He'd cleaned it up and added an odometer by which I would be able to measure my speed and distance travelled. I made a fairly arbitrary decision to try for about fifteen miles a day, this being a nice round number and a mileage which wouldn't use up more than two hours at a time or leave me too exhausted. As my mother lived in Earlsdon on the edge of Coventry, this meant there was a lot of scope for exploring country lanes, and I had soon worked out a regular circuit through Cryfield Grange, Kenilworth and the village of Leek Wooton, then back down the old Coventry Road past the village of Stoneleigh. I missed days when the weather was either too wet, icy, or miserable, and I deviated from the established pattern with some frequency, but this remained my default circuit whilst I was living in Coventry; and by the time I moved out and came to live in Texas, I had cycled a total of 3,180 miles.

Settling down to life in San Antonio, I bought a bike at Walmart, fitted an odometer, and carried on, establishing a roughly daily route along the Tobin Trail, following Salado Creek; and - to get to the point - on Friday the 22nd of November, 2013 as I rode to the end of Morningstar Boardwalk, my most recent odometer registered 3,138 miles, meaning I had logged an aggregate total of 10,000 miles since I first began keeping count back in England in October, 2009.

So, over the course of the last four years I have effectively cycled a distance equivalent of London to San Antonio and back, or about three thousand miles short of the circumference of the Earth. As a number, 10,000 seems significant, sufficiently rotund to justify a sense of achievement, a degree of boasting, and a reflective eye cast back along the route. Months prior to October, 2009 I packed in a job I had begun to dislike intensely, disentangled myself from a relationship which was quite probably killing me, and stepped off the metaphorical train ride to what had for a long time felt like a crushing and inescapable future, the perfunctory existence Philip K. Dick described in A Scanner Darkly:

That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected.

I took a blind leap and it paid off, because since October, 2009, I met my wife, moved to another country, got married, had a novel published, and actually began to truly enjoy life. My world has improved beyond recognition in the past four years.

To flail wildly off in a different direction, I have never liked self-help literature or the kind of person who relies too heavily on courses run along such lines. On occasion such things may prove helpful, but for the most part - at least in my experience - they almost invariably serve as substitute for action, a means of fooling oneself that steps are being taken, because the actual steps that genuinely need to be taken may lead somewhere scary, far outside the established comfort zone. That which one must do in order to go forward should usually be obvious to anyone with a functioning brain, even if that which one must do seems daunting. The cliché would have it that every journey begins with a single step, and this is what I have found to be true, excepting that my own first step was a turn of the pedals.

So yes - 10,000 miles.

I did that.

November 2013

Friday, 13 December 2013

Thank You, Santa!

It was the run-up to Christmas 1988, a weekday afternoon at the Pentagon shopping centre in not-even-remotely-sunny Chatham, Kent. I didn't want to be there. It was cold and had begun to get dark. I had been working for Royal Mail since summer, and my labours had impressed upon me that afternoons were precious, something to be cherished and not to be wasted on people I didn't really like. I didn't really like Aiden Bibby, but thus far I hadn't had much say in the matter.

Aiden Bibby was a friend of Glenn, at least in so much as he could be considered a medical condition that Glenn had unwittingly passed on to me. I think Glenn had contracted him either from living in the same house, or maybe from knowing the guy in a social context back in the days before he'd become a complete pain in the arse. I met Aiden Bibby whilst visiting Glenn and his wife Jayne when they lived on Meadowbank Road; and because I hadn't actually said leave me alone, you hairy fool out loud, he'd assimilated me into his platonic spider web of association. At the time I had similarly long hair, so he probably saw me as a potentially kindred spirit, somehow failing to notice my general hatred of marijuana, narcotics, psychedelic music, hippies, and the second half of the 1960s.

I had lived in Glencoe Road, Chatham for about a year, a year characterised as my first out and alone in the big wide world. I had finished my degree and was ready to become famous, although that didn't seem to be happening. I was socially awkward and, I suppose, a bit stupid and therefore disposed towards expecting the best of people. This was more than enough for Aiden Bibby, and soon he was regularly dropping around for tea, intruding upon afternoons when I would otherwise either have rested or drawn cartoons that no-one would read.

Knock knock knock.

I'd peer out of the window and there would be his stupid face grinning up at me, a huge pink egg that had been covered in glue and rolled around the floor of a barber's shop, little round John Lennon glasses to complete the effect. He would enter my one room bedsit, hulking and awkward in denim waistcoat, crappy trainers and tattered flares, still grinning for no good reason and always looking like he was trying to find a way to say sorry. He would sit and talk and I would listen, and most of the time it felt like a Cheech and Chong record without the jokes. He told me about a girl he'd seen waiting at the bus stop from time to time. He was fairly certain she had smiled at him and therefore believed he was in with a chance, but wasn't sure how best to proceed. I was hardly qualified to give advice, although even I could tell that his was a lost cause; and of course I said nothing.

One evening he ended up staying the night because he was scared of going back to his flat. He'd had an argument with one of the other tenants and it seemed the other guy had become violent and threatening. I didn't have the full story, but I could easily see how that might have happened.

'I'll just read,' Aiden Bibby told me, still grinning and settling into my armchair, rolling himself a cigarette and reaching for a stack of comics.

'Okay,' I said, wondering how this oaf had become my problem. I pulled the covers over and pretended I was sleeping in a tent so as to put some notional distance between myself and my unwanted guest. I lasted about two hours of him turning pages and chuckling at the antics of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, but it became too irritating and I needed my sleep.

'Do you think you could go home?' It was now three in the morning.

'I'll be quiet.' His face fell. Somehow he hadn't anticipated this.

'I can't sleep with some bloke sat reading comics in my room and I have to be up for work in two hours.' Resentment had built to the strength required for honesty, and my words had become an irresistible force. Incredibly he left, shuffling off into the night, back to the house shared with a person to whom he owed money, or whose refrigerated goods he had eaten, or whatever it was that had inspired the argument.

I had come to understand that Aiden Bibby was a friend in need, a human sponge absorbing energy from those around and forever requiring validation. I have a feeling his father may have beaten him, which is terrible if true, but still wasn't enough to warrant my unconditional sympathy. My heart would sink as I saw him approach, having spotted me from across the street. I would find myself making a mental calculation of how many hours I would have to sacrifice before I could reasonably expect to get away. His eyebrows would wiggle like those of a cartoon character, the kind of facial greeting that also serves for hey man, have you got any - you know...

I recall one occasion when I'd been sat in Gruts, the café frequented by at least a few of my friends and acquaintances, people in various bands and so on.

'Hey man.'

Aiden Bibby was suddenly there, sitting himself at my table, as incongruous as Spiderman turning up in a Charlie Brown comic strip. I remembered that I had excused myself from an afternoon drink in some pub by telling him that I planned to meet other friends in Gruts. I was playing chess, probably either against Prez, Tim Webster, or Alun Jones - one of the usual gang. These people didn't know Aiden Bibby, and I envied them. There was no use pretending that I didn't know him as they had heard him greet me, then watched as he sat at my table and proceeded to roll himself a ciggie, looking all around and grinning.

'This is a pretty cool place.'

Gerald, the proprietor approached our table. 'Yes, mate?'

Aiden Bibby waved a hand in the air. 'Nothing for me. I'm just here to—' he made a vague gesture but could not complete the sentence, suddenly aware he had presumed too much on the hospitality of our host. My head sank into my hands.

'Out!' Gerald pointed to the exit as though addressing a dog he had discovered going through the bins at the back.

Aiden Bibby stood up, protesting, but his defence was vague.

Gerald now held open the door. 'This is a café not a homeless shelter. If you're not buying you can piss off.'

I wanted to laugh because this was the tone of the sort of thing I would have liked to say to Aiden Bibby, but I lacked courage and humour was not the dominant element of this situation. I stood.

'You're all right. You don't have to go.' Gerald seemed a little surprised, even concerned, which came as a relief. He understood that Aiden Bibby was a medical condition, something from which I was suffering, not someone I had deliberately introduced to his café.

I paid my tab and went, offering some vague excuse, then followed after Aiden Bibby. Somehow the relief of his expulsion was not the comfort it should have been. I had no respect for this man and yet still I worried over what he might think of me. I had a paradoxical urge to show some solidarity with this underdog whilst knowing his critics invariably had a point. I could not bare the thought that he might imagine me a traitor, still sat in Gruts laughing and raising a mug of tea to toast the exile of the hated hairy one, which was of course a fairly plausible scenario.

I caught up.

He was angry, ranting to himself.

He had not understood why a man who ran a café would not  happily allow complete strangers to just hang out without buying a cup of tea. He lived in a world of joints passed around the front rooms of complete strangers, listening to Gong or Pink Floyd, everyone united in mutual appreciation of a plant. He whined about the unfairness and the way he had been spoken to, clearly without realising that my sympathies lay entirely with Gerald.

Why do I know this arsehole?, I wondered to myself for the millionth time. Yet my friendship, such as it was, was nevertheless appreciated, I suppose by virtue of my being one of the few people lacking the fortitude to just tell him to piss off. This appreciation was to be expressed in a Christmas gift.

I had been on my way to somewhere else, and Aiden Bibby had seen me before I saw him, and now for some reason we were in the Pentagon shopping centre. I stood outside WHSmiths, waiting for Aiden Bibby to emerge, resenting the delay, and mystified by the fact that I had not simply taken the opportunity to be on my way.

'Do you like the Monkees?' He grinned, as he always did, at last emerging and bustling me away from the door then walking quickly towards the High Street exit.

It was a strange question, completely divorced of context; he may as well have asked whether I liked the Andromeda galaxy for all the sense it made. I didn't actively dislike the Monkees as such, but in the same way that I don't have anything bad to say about Arnulf of Carinthia, King of East Francia from 887 to 899.

'They're okay I suppose.'

'Happy Christmas!' The hand that had been secreted within his jacket emerged to present me with a pre-recorded cassette of The Best of the Monkees.

'Did you just nick that?'

He nodded, and told me of other goods he had managed to pilfer from the store, presents for Glenn and Jayne and others. He was doing his Christmas shoplifting.

You shouldn't have, I would have said had I thought to do so.

I listened to the cassette a few times. It was okay, providing you like the Monkees.

The Christmas after that I had moved to the city of Coventry, a long way from Aiden Bibby, whom I neither saw nor heard from ever again, and that was a better present. I still have the cassette somewhere because I felt sorry for it as I sometimes do for inanimate objects - a mediocre product recorded on a disposable medium, the stolen gift of a loser given to someone who didn't want it; and every time I hear Last Train to Clarksville or Pleasant Valley Sunday, at least now I smile and feel glad, reminded that I am no longer living in Chatham in the late eighties, hounded by a friendless man.

Friday, 6 December 2013

When a Child Is Born

It had been a strange morning. I'd been cycling in the rain and I was dripping wet as I trudged around HEB, the local supermarket named for the initials of its founder Howard Edward Butt, presumably as a pre-emptive measure against the perpetual tittering of school-age children. I had filled my basket with sausages, broccoli, potatoes, and a bottle of Big Blue when I passed a display of Halloween inspired Hot Wheels toy cars. It was the Frankenstein themed vehicle which caught my eye, or specifically the image of the monster glowering on the display card, his square head and bolted neck clearly based on Karloff's depiction from the classic Universal Studios movie. The same likeness was reproduced upon the roof of the tiny die-cast vehicle. Why would Frankenstein's monster require a car, I wondered, and in particular a souped-up hot rod, the sort of thing that would invite all manner of undesired attention in Ingolstadt even without the name Frankenstein painted across each door in a wilfully terrifying font? Given the events of Mary Shelley's novel, a speedboat would have been more practical, surely?

I stood there dripping, fascinated by the display, my thoughts rolling on to wonder under what circumstances would the monster have learned to drive. It seems unlikely that he could have been instructed by his creator given how the two of them were never really on the best of terms, so what sort of maniac would have undertaken to provide the hapless creature with driving lessons?

I then noticed that other monsters cinematically popularised by Universal Studios had also been granted their own custom Hot Wheels vehicles - the Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which really is madness when you think it through. The Wolfman on the other hand apparently prefers a van, which I suppose at least gives him somewhere to sleep off those rampages, providing no angry villagers put two and two together regarding recent grisly eviscerations and a parked Volkswagen T1 panel van with Wolfman written on the side across a custom painting of a distinctly lycanthropic character lit by moonlight just in case you're the sort of angry villager whose anger is further exacerbated by never having learned to read.

This gave me a lot to think about.

Minutes later I am waiting at the checkout staring at the magazines on display - National Enquirer, Us Weekly, People, all that sort of thing. Miley Cyrus is on the cover of In Touch. Miley finally admits: I need help!, the headline proclaims. Well, that's good, I think to myself. Miley Cyrus - apparently now just Miley, refined to a Christian name like Madonna or Prince or Jethro - recently caused a commotion by recording a song called Do Me Up the Wrong 'Un, Big Guy which she promoted by controversially and yet lucratively having it off on stage in rubber knickers during some television show. Apparently you could see it going in and everything. This upset a lot of people who had preferred Miley when she was a child star singing songs about puppies and stuff. One of the people she upset was Sinead O'Connor who recorded a highly critical song entitled Shame On You, Miley Cyrus, the crux of which was that Miley should stop showing off and seek psychiatric help; which she is now apparently doing, so that's good.

Having paid for my groceries, I hoist my pack onto my back and cycle off towards the nearest Church's Fried Chicken outlet. I like Church's. They serve proper fried chicken like you find in south-east London, not too fancy and with a slight suggestion of engine oil. Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen is probably better, but their fried chicken is always served in ways that seem too elaborate for my tastes. People whom I dislike might conceivably stoop to eating at Popeye's and declare the fare not too inedible, all things considered, but they probably wouldn't be seen dead in Church's, which is another thing in its favour.

I follow a group of five US Marines into Church's - all in the blue khaki and presumably based at Fort Sam seeing as it's just over the other side of Rittiman Road. They all seem incredibly young, and one of their number is an attractive Mexican woman, another detail that still surprises me even though I've been living in San Antonio for two years. I'm not accustomed to the notion of women serving in the armed forces, and so many of them too. I have no objection to their doing so, it just catches me out is all. I guess it has to be a good thing.

The Marines - if they are Marines - all order their chicken, which takes some time as Church's is not so much a fast-food establishment as a medium-to-slow-paced food establishment; or at least this is true of my local branch. There is some confusion when one young guy notes that he ordered the spicy sandwich and has instead received the original sandwich, which is not spicy. Somehow this isn't surprising.

I turn to watch the television which has been left on the window ledge opposite the counter. There are three seated customers, all eating chicken, and we are all watching the television. It is midday and the programme is one of those courtroom shows. From what I can work out, a young woman has lent her boyfriend twenty dollars which he has failed to return, and so they are settling the matter on national television. I realise I must almost certainly have the details of the misdemeanor wrong, but then I'm no longer a regular television viewer and have no real idea of how far the medium has sunk since I stopped watching. The ident in the corner of the screen tells me that the show is Judge Mathis. The judge himself is a black man, but I'm too far away to determine whether or not he is Johnny Mathis who, having presumably thrown in the towel with his pop career through having never quite managed to duplicate the success of When a Child Is Born, now dispenses televisual justice, settling disputes between people with tattoos. It probably isn't Johnny Mathis I know, but if it were, it wouldn't surprise me. It's been that kind of day.

There are a million stories in the big city, but unfortunately this wasn't one of them.