Thursday, March 12, 2009

"London Times - Part Eight B"

My situation in London had radically changed. Instead of having a full-time teaching job and living in one of the classiest neighborhoods in London, I was out of work and living in a hovel.

A “room and kitchen” in a deteriorating building, a shared toilet down the hall, and no bathing facilities whatsoever, meaning I had to clean up at the often crowded and always humiliating Public Baths, a twenty minute walk down the street. Under such conditions, bathing becomes less “on a regular basis” and more “when you just can’t stand yourself anymore.”

Throughout my six-month stay in that building, I only met one other tenant. Tim, who lived in the basement. I’d been introduced to Tim by pub friends in Hampstead. It was through Tim that I’d learned of the availability of the apartment I was now living in.

Tim invited me down for a visit, and I went. His apartment was smaller than mine and, being in the basement, darker. We’re talking under ground basement apartment. No cute little Laverne and Shirley windows looking onto the sidewalk. A bare bulb in the ceiling illuminated the premises. You manipulated it by pulling a string.

There was a unique element in that apartment that you couldn’t help noticing as soon as you walked in. The man kept a falcon. Indoors. In a basement apartment. A large, impressively clawed, fully grown falcon. Like from the Middle Ages. Except it wasn’t the Middle Ages. It was the late 1960’s. And this thing was living in my building.

The falcon, whom Tim had named Cully, sat perched atop a high-backed chair, to which was attached a long, rawhide leash. The other end of the leash was fastened to the leather collar encircling Cully’s neck.

During our conversation, on numerous occasions, Cully would suddenly spread his substantial wings, let loose a blood-curdling screech, take off, and fly around the room, swooping and screeching at will, then return to his perch, where he calmly remained till his next unscheduled “fly around.”

I did not visit for long.

My life in London had turned rather distressing. My “covering” letters home were the best fiction I have ever written. The truth was, I badly needed a turn in my fortunes. Fortunately, I got one.

I have written about getting a job at Harrods Department Store, where I wrapped toys during the ten-week run-up to Christmas. (“London Times – Part Three” – December 18, 2008.) I have written about meeting a princess and leading my workmates out on strike. (“London Times – Part Three B” – December 19, 2008.) If you haven’t read those stories, check them out. They’re pretty good.

The Harrods job filled many needs at the time. A regular income. A place to go every day. Multiple toy wrapping adventures. But one “perk” rose in importance far above the others:

There was a shower in the “Employees’ Lavatory.”

No more Oasis Public Baths for this fellow. From now on, I was showering at work.

For other Harrods workers, the lunch break meant a generously subsidized three-course meal at the “Employees’ Canteen”. For me, it meant a generously subsidized three-course meal at the “Employees’ Canteen”, and getting clean without having to share a bathing facility with chimney sweeps.

Whenever it suited me, I would enjoy my roast beef, chips and peas luncheon, then proceed to the “Employees’ Lavatory” for a full and proper “wash-up.” It was hardly luxurious, but compared to my recent experiences, it was the penthouse at Claridge’s.

Clean. Well lit. Beautifully tiled. And I didn’t have to share. The shower was all mine. For as long as I wanted. (Or at least till my lunch break was over.)

I showered and I sang. I always sing when there are good acoustics. Showers. Tunnels. Underground garages. It’s what I do. No inhibitions. I just open up and I let it fly.





One day, I returned to my workstation, showered, shaved, hair neatly brushed and smelling like Lifebuoy Soap.

That’s when I learned about the “mystery.”

“Where have you been?” cried an excited co-worker.

“I was taking a shower.”

“So you didn’t hear it?”

“Hear what?”

“It was all over the store.”

What was?”

“The place was absolute chaos. Everyone was trying to find out where it was coming from. But they couldn’t figure it out.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The singing.”

“The what?”

“Somebody. It was coming out through the air vents.”

“They were singing?”

“The Impossible Dream.”

“Was it any good?”


“The singing. Was it any good?”


“You really didn’t hear it?”

“I told you. I was taking a shower.”

I believed I had never sung publicly in London. It turns out I was wrong.

I want to thank those who sent along their thoughtful and persuasive comments on “funny numbers.” I will only add – and I’ll speak for all writers though they didn’t ask me to – that when you come up with a “funny number”, there is no planning or premeditation involved whatsoever. The number just pops out. There may be a legitimate explanation as to why that number is “right”, but these are retroactive considerations. The number just happens. And it’s always right. And that's not just for number. Blurt without censoring and you'll always be "on the money."

Questions and comments always gratefully appreciated.


MikeThe Blogger said...

Funny Numbers

Do you think "47" is a funny number? There were a lot of "47's" written into Seinfeld.
George's parents' 47th anniversary
[The Parking Garage]

The Flounder Supreme #47
[The Pothole]

The Cabin built in 1947
[The Bubble Boy, The Cheever Letters]

The Bakery number #47
[The Dinner Party]

8:47 a. m.
[The Hot Tub]

A. Buck Short said...

Hilarious. Leave no embarrassment unmined for mirth. In no particular order, but just because you bring out the worst in me (and btw, thank you):

Related Story #1
Not to reveal too much information, but have you ever been caught talking to yourself, and then quietly segue into song, because singing to yourself is socially acceptable and taken to indicate everything must be going swimmingly, while talking to yourself is borderline psychotic? (Even though you may remain on very good speaking terms with yourself?)

I helped cover graduate school as a dormitory resident assistant. One morning, I had been shaving in the communal bathroom, while singing relatively quietly the Johnny Mathis tune, “Chances are, just because I wear a silly grin….” Dave Denune, another RA, then in Med School walked in and burst into laughter. I looked at him somewhat quizzically. All he said was, “You, of all people, singing that song." David is now a forensic psychiatrist.

#2 Somewhere in the ballpark.
Also while in college during the heyday of folk, I was in a jug band. I played second jug and filled in with shtick between numbers, while the others re-tuned for the next one, because nobody knew how to transpose chords or had a 3rd jug or second washboard or beer keg tuned in the wings and ready to rumble. I remember one outdoor performance, where the response to the choreography accompanying Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag (involving a six foot cross with flaming sparklers at each point – hey we were young and had no real concept of eventual death)was so encouraging that I decided to work the rest of the breaks blue. The following day people who hadn’t even been there began coming up with comments. The stage had been set up in front of a parabolic-shaped building that had picked up everything from the microphone speakers and broadcast our act over the entire campus and into a strip shopping center.

A great thing about keeping one’s falcon in a windowless basement apartment is, as long as you remembered to shut off the light when you left, you probably didn’t have to worry about one of those blindfolds to keep it sedate. Now, about that free-range badger on the roof…. Can’t wait until your next allegory of children’s tales: “Chronicles of Hampstead: The Horse, the Groom, the Princess and the Falcon.” :)

growingupartists said...

So that explains all the green triangles I'm seeing. Yay for the number three. Now about funny colors...