I woke after the continental breakfast was closed so I made my own coffee in the room and decided to catch up on some writing while being serenaded by the clacking of jackhammers and cockney shouts from the construction site next door. It was a wobbly day with the same shade of gray sky that presented itself to me for the last two days and I thought to myself, ‘it’s no wonder England produced an extraordinary amount of melancholic artists’. I felt right at home.
Eventually I pulled together the article I was writing, closed my laptop, and staggered to the underground. I had determined that today would be a day for shopping. After tracking down a store I had wanted to take a picture of, I strolled through Soho and the area around Convent Garden peeking in bookstores and clothing stores with a burning desire to part with some of my well-earned money. Unfortunately the ironic thing about shopping is that when you’re all ready to partake in some, with money partitioned out for such a purpose, it seems like nothing is ever good enough; the shirt is too small, or has a weird pocket in the front, or you’re interested in this art book but not for the price it’s offered at, or these pairs of shoes grab your attention but should any human being really be walking around in shoes that contain green, black, blue, and pink? I assure you, in Europe they do. So basically you spend a lot of time messing up the racks while the workers eye you with seething contempt.
After participating in this charade for an hour or two, and while my foot continued to worsen, I decided to have a seat and a bit of lunch to pass the time. I found a Japanese restaurant that specialized in meat on a skewer and plunked myself down at the counter directly in front of the spit so I could drool over the meal as it sizzled on the fire. I ordered my lunch and a pint of Asahi. The beer arrived and I was like a kid on Christmas, guzzling the head off of it before the waitress had even let go. It was cool and refreshing and I instantly forgot about the trouble with my foot.
Then something incredible happened. As much as my manners object, the voyeuristic side of me loves to eavesdrop, and now was no different as a man down the counter from me begin to tell his companion about the Mao Zedong book he was reading. “Absolutely fascinating. Jaw-dropping,” he raved. What’s this? People discussing books? In Public? “Did you know that Mao did not brush his teeth for 27 years?” “No, I didn’t,” his friend replied somewhat shamefully, as if it were some gross oversight of knowledge on his part. His friend breathlessly explained, “deathly afraid of being poisoned.”
I sat there feigning to read my book as they moved on from Mao Zedong to close relatives that had been part of the London evacuation of WW2, wretched childhood experiences. It dawned on me then and there that this is the first city I’ve ever been to that has been bombed, ever. Weird.
It just got better and better from there, though. Their descriptions and stories and choice of words was something out of a play almost, like it was scripted. Can you imagine? No stuttering, no yammering, pregnant pauses, the whole deal. It was a thoughtful and eventful conversation and I had nothing better to do but listen in.
When the subject turned to the death of Bea Arthur I was titillated. (Did I just use titillate and Bea Arthur in the same sentence? Gross. There must be some kind of award for that) By now I had deduced that these men, or at least the one doing most of the talking, was gay. Now I had the proof. He was relating details of his relationship with some other man and began the story by, “we both shared this big Golden Girls thing for awhile.” There’s not a lot to read between the lines there. He went on. “He text me that Bea Arthur had died and I replied that I knew. You see, we both liked this one scene with Rose and Dorothy… so he text me back, ‘No, Rose, it’s a bucket of chicken!’ They were eating pizza around the table and Rose comes in and asks ‘is that pizza?’ and Dorothy replied, ‘No, Rose, it’s a bucket of chicken.’”
I don’t know why I found this conversation so engaging, and that quote in particular, but I did. It was just so simple yet hysterical, like Rodney Dangerfield passing gas in Caddyshack hollering out, “who stepped on a duck?” I think from now on, should I begin to over-think the obvious, I’ll just recite to myself – like some kind of mantra – ‘no, Rose, it’s a bucket of chicken’. I immediately wrote the line down in the little notebook I carry for just this purpose, by now I’m sure they were on to me. Every time something memorable was said, my notebook flipped open and I’d write for ten seconds and then set it to the side. Although I tried to make it seem inconspicuous, I know I would make the world’s worst spy.
I finished my food, swallowed the last of my beer and emerged into the streets a much fatter and happier man then before. My foot even hurt a little less. This conversation had restored my faith that there are educated people out there in the world engaging in personal, interesting, David Mametian conversations. In America, you mostly overhear boring, self-centered, banal conversations. Things like, “Man, I got soooo wasted last night!”and the tedious, “They’re making me work late again! Eh…. I’m going to miss the Dancing With The Stars finale.” or “I should get a manicure. My nails are, like, gross.” Maybe I’m being too harsh on my fellow countrymen, and maybe not.
As I rode the subway, I tried to remember what my friends and I talk about, what highbrow shit we discuss, and unfortunately when I did remember our typical conversations I realized I didn’t cut my own mustard. I’m a rather drab and banal conversationalist too. That kind of self-realization was tiring. I headed home with a hung head. After retiring for a nap (these afternoon slumbers were starting to become a little unsettling and threaten to ruin my fragile reputation as a badass) I constructed a plan to take in Big Ben and Parliament, perhaps a little touring of the city before it got dark.
I felt a little foolish that I hadn’t seen Big Ben yet, I mean, it’s kind of a big deal and all. And I’m glad I did. There’s three sights I’ll always remember seeing for the first time. New York City, coming over the George Washington Bridge on a clear late Summer morning. The Sydney Opera House on a cloud-dappled Anitpodean Spring afternoon. And now Big Ben, on a cold, drizzly, dismal Spring evening.
There’s really not much to write about this leg of the journey, though. I looked at a clock and took pictures. It was a magnificent experience seeing it, sure, but aside from taking the snapshot, what’s left? On the middle of the bridge there was a man cooking sausages and onions and so I indulged in a bit of meat on a bun while watching other tourists doing what I commenced doing, mainly stare at a building and wait for something else to happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous sight, but really, what can you say about it?
I was planning on taking off for Paris in the morrow and so, rather than face stimulation overload watching a second hand go in circles, I figured I’d head back to the room and kill twenty seconds flipping through the five-channels on the telly then call it a day. I’m sure tomorrow will be full of surprises.
There’s your full Big Ben experience…