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.

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