Friday, March 28, 2008

Found Myself In A Strange Town

WARNING: THIEVES OPERATE IN THIS AREA --THE MET--
(small plastic table-topper looking thing next to the 'kerb')

I'm walking down Oxford Street in central London back towards the Tavistock Hotel in Bloomsbury about 1:00 am on a Sunday night in March 2000. Since it is past midnight my all-day tube pass has expired and I don't want to pay another pound fifty to get a ride, so that's why I'm walking.

(mind you, it's extremely exceptional and exciting that I'm there. I often jealously thought "How in the hell do YOU get to do that???" if someone happened to mention travels and escapades and such, but I felt hard done by and was also younger and underemployed, lest anyone else think "why'd HE get to go to London?". I ended up changing pretty much my whole life that year: new art, new career, new relationships, and someone had to die first for it to happen, so it's a big deal, and that'll serve to give you just the driest kiss of background information, relatively speaking, if you know me, which maybe you don't)

So I'm walking down Oxford Street, starting to leave the retail area, not sure how much further I have to go. I'm playing a minidisc with headphones on and a man taps me on my shoulder and is gesturing and saying something. I can't really hear him but I wave him off, don't want to talk or give or receive, thank you. I keep walking. I'm approaching an intersection where the Oxford Circus Underground is located. I do not realize I'm crossing a border, "abandon all hope...", etc.

He returns.

Huh? What? I pull off my headphones. He thought I was being rude back there, you see. My solicitation etiquette is sorely lacking and now I'm the jerk and he's asking me for money. I can tell he's from the North, but that's as far as my regional knowledge goes. I want him to go away so I dig out the coins I have in my front pocket where I also keep my wallet like a good little tourist. I give him the coins. He is unsatisfied. "Ye got paper! I know ye got paper! I'm a junkie, man! I need to score bad! Come on, help me!" and he proceeds to try to get his hands into my slash pockets. I'm getting alarmed but also angry and start beating on his forearms, "get off! get off!" I'm able to pull his arms away but then he decides to change tack. "I've got a knife!" At this point I look around. What I said about the border? Yeah, it's suddenly darker on this stretch of the street, dark old buildings with unmarked doors, seems to be an afterhours club enclave or something, I see that table topper on the street, I do not see The Met. I saw them back around Parliament ignoring my attempts to get directions so I've been using my tube map which is at least as detailed as a map of the Magic Kingdom with the streets so I can find a way back if not necessarily the best way. Where's Bloomsbury? According to the map it's down this street that's too dark for me to see much further than a block or two.

Oh he sees me looking around.

"Me mates are around! You can't get away! I'll fookin stab ye, mate! I'll fookin stab ye!". Oh do you think his methods are hackneyed? Predictable? Unconvincing? Scripted? Did he really say "fookin stab ye"? Yes to them all. Know how your mom would say she "didn't feel like going to the emergency room tonight?". I'm seeing no conspicuous "mates", though there are a few people who are not paying any attention to us at all going about their London nightlives, I am seeing NO knife. But what if there are a few mates? What if there is a knife he's suddenly remembered and realized he's gonna have to brandish because doing the sympathetic smack copping routine didn't work well enough? If he has a knife, does he know better than I how to use it? Yes. I'm not even working right now, though I'm going to start temping in a few weeks when I'm back home, but I have no health insurance now, and I don't feel like going to the emergency room in a foreign country where I don't even know if Blue Cross would do anything for me anyway. Keith Coogan only got one stitch but that knife was just in his shoe. Why complicate my trip further?

Dammit.

Yeah, I'm a little scared but I'm pissed too. This guy's a pestering jerk as well as a threatener of violence. There's an envelope in one of my pockets containing a twenty pound note I got out of an ATM earlier that day. I've kept my cash in this envelope instead of my wallet to make robbing me more difficult like a good little tourist. Is this what it's gonna cost me? I pull out the 20. "Alright, look, if I give you this will you leave me alone???" "Yeah, yeah!" "Alright, here!" He's satisfied and I start walking again and put the headphones back on. He's back and taps my shoulder. "WHAT???" "Have ye got boos feh?" "......huh?" "Have ye got boos feh?"

"NO, I gave you all my money!"

He gives me my coins back, thanks me again and is off. Again, I'd have gotten back on the tube if I'd wanted to pay for transit. I don't like buses anyway. Can't just get off and turn around. I walk for about thirty seconds without putting my headphones back on.

"Dya want some company?"

Now this is a valid question. I don't know who's behind me asking it, but....yeah, actually, I kind of would. I was part of a group of transatlantic friends that met up in pockets and coalesced in Liverpool over the weekend, but now I'm back in London and ready to do my own thing for a few days. I like being alone a lot of the time, I like traveling alone at my own pace, but I am feeling slightly lost in space tonight. That's why I was in the EasyEverything internet cafe near Debenham's late on a Sunday night to begin with, wanting to send and receive proof that I wasn't on another planet. I guess international travel can be slightly disorienting the first time. Yeah, I'd kinda like some company at the moment. However, I have an idea what she's talking about.

"Hm?"

"Dya want some company?" "Uhhh......" This London girl is pretty fetching, in that slightly tarty way. "Um....I don't have any money, I gave it all to a guy back there". "You gave him all your money?" "Well....I was accosted." "You mean you were mugged?? Look, I'm not going to mug you, I'm a prostitute", and she waves her arms out to display herself, "do you think I'd try to mug you wearing these shoes?" "No, but....yeah, I don't--" "Don't ya like me?" "Uh...." "Hey, if you don't like me there's a bunch of other girls, we're close by, we don't have a pimp, it's all really nice, you can pick out whoever you like, it'd be 40 pounds for--" and she goes through some of the menu. "Well, I just don't have any money on me". I'm skirting the whole "it's decadently tempting but I know my guilty conscience far too well, sexually and financially" by just pleading poverty.

"Don't you have a bank card?" "Huh?" "A bank card, you can get some more money". ".........not on me." Of course that's a lie, but the quick withdrawals are not working for me tonight. "Look, I just can't". She is disappointed but ultimately lets me go. So I keep walking, put the headphones back on, pass the unmarked doors and head for a lot of darkness. I think I'm getting close by now. Oh the map says there's Bloomsbury Park up here before I reach the hotel. Yes, I see it now, there's a big patch of woody utter blackness between me and the hotel, past 1 am on a Sunday night. Perfect.

5 comments:

Boo said...

Damn. It took me about an HOUR to figure out what "boos feh" was.

I am WAY to literal sometimes.

Nice piece, buddy!

TK said...

Though it's taken me some time to get used to, I must admit I love your writing style, Jay.

Alex the Odd said...

As a London native I have to say I'm thoroughly impressed with how well you capture the horror of being stuck in that part of town in the early hours. I know where I'm going and it still freaks me out.

Oh and that part of town? Is where I'm spending my Tuesday night. Hurrah for random gig locations.

Jayne said...

don't lie. how were those "ladies," then?

Jay said...

Thanks, all. The details escape me of precisely what she looked like and what all the prices were, but I do remember she looked pretty nice for what seemed like bargains. Maybe that's the benefit of being indie and having no pimp: pure profit and you can pass the savings on to your audience! Normally it's an oral story so you're missing being confused instead by my attempts at an accent rather than phonetics (though my Glasgow and Harrison Liverpool are okay). All true but I'm glad it sounds right to a local as well. I loved that damn city.