Then there are those moments life serves you up: a wry, aged joker digging you in the ribs. I have spoken of this before: the leering of coincidence that seems just a little too leery. Sometimes the digs can be tedious and painful, you wonder why life finds these things so funny. But at other times, well, it might not exactly be worth staying alive for, but does give you a puzzled kind of smile to carry through the day.
There was my own Leopold Bloom moment a while ago, sitting in a Mall clutching an early and distinctly average coffee, still too early for the bus taking me to an unpleasant appointment over a hundred miles away. My bleary attention couldn’t quite shake itself from a couple of girls sitting a few tables away in the otherwise entirely deserted café.
It was Summer, or so the weather briefly thought. Summer produces a bizarre and almost instantaneous effect on certain of the ladies in the town where I live. The streets become populated by bands of what appear to be frustrated nudists: ample bottoms and capacious breasts are gathered precariously into scant tank tops and denim shorts only one final fray away from utter disintegration.
It’s as if there’s a kind of competition to see who can perform the most jaw dropping defiance of physics. Who can walk longest on that tiny precipice between display and embarrassment? It’s a kind of tightrope walk of blowsy sensuality. You wonder are they worried about stuff popping out in supermarkets, or why they’re bothering with clothing substitutes in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. It’s just that it can get a little distracting. I wouldn’t want to be driving a bus or operating a chain saw or conducting some very long division.
Anyway, much as the better part of me wished to avoid contemplating the two, I found myself drifting back again and again, partly because of a question. It was very early in the morning. I’m not the same person at 7.30am as I am by midday, and I’m someone else altogether by the evening. A great many of us are like this, you know. It’s one of the depressing realities of being human.
Even given the prevailing clothes free attitude of certain of the female population towards summer (and understand again that I’m not complaining), it kept striking me that it was awfully early to be quite so scantily clad.
Even in high Summer, it takes a couple of hours for the cold to entirely shake itself out of the day. Wouldn’t these poor young lassies, to paraphrase Great Aunt Agatha, catch their death of the cowld?
Things went on like this for ten or fifteen minutes, the girls chattering away and me trying not to fret about what the cold must be doing to their bare legs and infeasibly long and exposed midriffs, when all of a sudden they got up.
They got up and moved somewhat heavily towards the exit, whence it was impossible not to notice that one of the girls walked, bare-legged, with a pronounced and persistent limp. The dig in the ribs. A leering, lecherous joke from over a century ago, from a dimension undreamt. I wondered if the great man himself was still somewhere, pen and whiskey in hand, guffawing down at me from across the immensity. The notion lightened my step ever so slightly as I made for the bus.
Another day, another shopping mall. As I trundled my way through the daily and ever more wearying consumer orgy, the corporations sucking on the peasantry like sticks of soylent green, I suddenly heard what felt like the sound of six pneumatic drills assaulting the same wall in unison.
So near and so dreadful was the sound that I was convinced some corporate entity had decided to subject one of its walls to some kind of sonic sandblasting, with scant regard for the eardrums or sensitivities of its victims.
Closer and closer to the sound I came, scanning the horizon for the dreaded prop removers, the infernal machines of capitalist realignment. I looked, then looked again…
The entire cacophony was being manufactured inside the throat of a child seated in the cockpit of a supermarket trolley. I don’t even think the child was particularly upset. He was just, you know, probably enjoying the way the noise he was making echoed back to him off the shocked walls. It encouraged him to try again, and again.
The noise finally began to recede as I slowly moved past, but I hadn’t moved more than a few paces when my eye was caught by something: one of those plates people like to hang in their kitchen or garden, bearing some motto which presumably makes their days a little easier to bear.
“Did I just roll my eyes out loud?” it proclaimed. Did I indeed?