Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hell's Smells

So yesterday was the first full day in Obama’s America, and already I found something to complain about. I expected the day to be perfect, but it wasn’t. It stank of fried chicken.

Like all suburban stay-at-homers, my day largely revolves around grasping for a spare moment to sit down with a book and fall asleep. I thought I’d found a 15-minute window at the Caribou Coffee Shop in between shopping and picking up the kids from school, with David Starkey’s ‘Six Wives’ the necessary vehicle to a brief slumber. I was just at drowsing point somewhere in the middle of the sentence, “Back in January 1526, with the major Household reforms known as the Eltham Ordinances, Wolsey had at last seemed to get full control of the Privy Chamber,” when in came a woman with a can of Coke and a plastic carton containing onion rings and deep fried chicken.

It’s the law of King Sodomy of the sod-happy Sodomites that she would choose to sit right next to me, and without even bothering to buy a coffee, open up her malodorous lunch virtually under my nose. The rank nutrition snapped the moment and the mood to doze. And like all Brits, programmed as we are to complain to anyone except the people who need to hear it (say, the coffee shop staff, or the woman herself), I got up and walked out, muttering foulest oaths that froze and shattered in the east coast winter air. Then I drove early to school, where I spent ten minutes in the car park sipping coffee and listening to Richard H Kirk while marvelling at people who have the shameless face to walk into a coffee shop and eat fried chicken.

I like the Caribou because it has free wi-fi and garrulous, friendly staff, but it seems to attract a weirdly anti-social and obstreperous clientele. A couple of weeks ago I settled down there to work one morning when a bloke behind me fell asleep and snored at a prodigious volume for full two hours, non stop from 8-10am. I bet even the fried chicken chick wouldn’t have raised him. Last week at my table an office worker conducted an hour-long informal performance review of a subordinate that was so vague and jargon-saturated that I couldn’t work out for the life of me what kind of company they could possibly be working for. But they were loud enough that I could understand every word, even if none of it made sense. And in the same seat last year a man speaking what I think was a Slavic language loudly enjoyed, via cell phone, live commentary from a friend several thousand miles away attending what must have been an important basketball game, judging by the frequent and borderline inasane yelps of jubilation he unleashed upon the rest of the innocent, cowering customers.

Well, it’s a small world with lots of people, and I can always stop at home if I’m bothered by people who like to keep a high profile. Alternatively, instead of shutting down Guantanamo Bay, the new president could convert it into a giant fast food outlet, and all the people who like fried chicken could go there and eat it all day. The stench would bring down the Cuban government, meaning an immediate and peaceful triumph for Obama’s foreign policy and, more importantly, I could publicly quaff caffeine-based drinks while reading pompous historians and taking an afternoon nap. It’s been two days now, and this administration has yet to get its priorities straight.