Thank Queue

Savannah Bananas Mascot Split Lounging Around - April 8, 2016 ...

“I’m watching you,” the voice came down the phone.
“Where are you?” I asked, pulling into the car park.
“Drive straight on until you see a yellow Smart Car. I’m just past it on the right.”
“Did you say yellow Smart Car?”
“I know, don’t even…”
“Who in their right mind drives around in a yellow Smart Car?”
“Banana Man.”
“Who’s Banana Man?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe Big Bird’s in town.”
“Big Bird couldn’t drive a Smart Car with those huge toes. They’re the size of fire extinguishers.”
“Maybe it’s an automatic.”
“Again, with feet that size, I’d say: still too dangerous.”
“Yet it’s perfectly okay for a banana to get behind the wheel?” I queried. “I’m appalled and yet intrigued.”
“Ah, well… bananas are good for you.”
“I don’t know what’s real anymore.”
“Good because I need you to shut up anyway.”
“Why?”
“Because our little yellow friend has a bumper sticker.”
“NO!”
“Oh, yes. Would you like to know what it says?”
“More than I need toilet paper.”
“It’s contains an axiom for all of humanity,” I was baited further, “written in glitter.”
I slammed on the brakes.
“I’m ready to learn! Give me the knowledge!”
“Kittens are angels with whiskers.”

smiling kitten pictures | image courtesy of google images | Animal ...

“So are grannies,” I argued, as the vehicle in question came into view. “Jesus, they’re driving a two-door lemon!”
“Dog-hating weirdos,” Laverne muttered, watching me park. “Long time, no see. How are you?”
“Fine,” I started walking over.
“Stop right there or I’ll activate my Social Distancing Alarm!” she stretched out her arm like a traffic cop.
“Sorry, I’m still getting used to all that,” I raised my arms and backed away slowly.
“Luckily, I’ve been practising social distancing since kindergarten,” she scoffed. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

We’d arranged to meet at ASDA because our respective households were running low on essentials, plus, we wanted to catch up with each other in person. Crossing the supermarket car park, we noticed that the queue curled out of the entrance and along the entire storefront before disappearing around a corner.
“Good God!” Laverne stopped dead in her tracks. “They’re lining up the infected and shooting them!”
“More toilet paper for us then.”
“Quite right,” she pressed onward. “Every cloud and all that.”

As we were making our way past countless, evenly-spaced shoppers the Queue Coordinator spotted me. Jean usually worked the cigarette counter but had been commandeered to keep customers orderly outside. We knew one another through her daughter, Tracy, a neighbour.
“John, what are you doing in the queue?” she asked. “You’re an essential worker. You can go straight in. Who’s this?”
“I’m the help,” Laverne winked.
“Not with that ring, you’re not,” Jean laughed. “Go on then, if you’re together.”
“These two are essential workers!” she hollered to a colleague guarding the entrance and, as if pre-rehearsed, the queue burst into spontaneous applause.
“What the-”
“You’re the new Harry & Meghan,” Jean cackled. “Work that red carpet!”

“I was going to be a nurse,” Laverne whispered, before addressing the queue. “Remember, 2m apart! Social distancing means more nurses on the job and fewer ill at home.”
“Would you shut the hell up?” I whispered back.
“Not a chance,” she smiled and waved to her subjects. “Look at how happy they are. Anyway, it could have been worse: your friend could have said we were the new Donald & Melanoma.”
“You mean Melania.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You’d know if you were a nurse.”
“Hey, I’ve got a husband and three teenaged sons which means I’ve been on call since 1978,” Laverne said, blowing a well-wisher a kiss.
“Five minutes ago you were passing yourself off as my housekeeper.”
“And now look at me. John, my mere presence is filling the great void within these peoples’ lives. If there’s one thing I learned in school it’s that nature abhors a vacuum.”
True, indeed, just not as much as my housekeeper.

Party Bigwig

The Rich Heritage of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

After work I thought I’d venture into Manchester to check out the city’s annual Mardi Gras shenanigans. Caught up in the spirit of goodwill, I ditched the 4×4 and opted instead for public transport to help save the Himalayan Poop Bat which, I’ve been reliably informed by my 16 year old niece, is hunted to make Poop Soup. This led to my boarding a bus only recently decommissioned by the Pyong Yang Transit Authority and shipped to Britain by sampan in the dead of night. Now glancing down the aisle at the human roadkill sprawled across each seat, I decided to remain standing and endeavoured to engage the driver in lively banter. This, however, proved a non-starter because life had kicked him in the nuts not once, but several times that shift, reducing him to a series of unintelligible expletives and questionable hand gestures. Backing away slowly, I retreated upstairs where I was immediately overwhelmed by an aroma you won’t find in any Laura Ashley candle.

Unexpectedly offloaded at the corner of Kidnap and Tetanus, I happened upon an old timer in a doorway balancing a few coins in his outstretched hand. Well, behind every face there’s a story so I asked him to start from the beginning. What unravelled was a sorry yarn indeed and at its end my raconteur summed up his lot, “I have a wooden crate for a seat, I have to beg to use the toilet, people brush past me as if I’m invisible, I can’t afford to buy myself a hot drink because a brew around here costs £5 and, worst of all, I have no idea where I’ll end up tomorrow. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”

“Yes,” I commiserated, “I’ve flown Ryanair.”

25 Funny And Clever Homeless Signs

I then cut through the Gay Village where I had a deep and meaningful conversation with a 7ft woman. Thelma Mahogany Jr initially stopped me to ask for a light and yes, I will admit that for a brief moment I was outside of my comfort zone, however I would like to state for the record that it had nothing to do with her station in life and everything to do with the knife down each leg-warmer. I’ll talk to anyone and, as luck would have it, it turned out Thelma just happened to be going wherever I was.

As we strolled through The Village I marvelled at the outrageously extravagant decor adorning every building and asked her to pass on my compliments to the Mardi Gras Committee.

“Oh, those aren’t Mardi Gras decorations,” Thelma corrected me.

“They’re not?” I queried, taking a closer look. “Then what are they?”

“Isn’t your neighbourhood decorated all year round?”

“Nope.”

“Then what’s your street like?” she looked puzzled. “Is it just blank space everywhere?”

“Uh, I guess so,” I murmured, now giving it some thought.

“That’s a bit of a waste, don’t you think? Why not jazz it up? Honey, you gotta live a little!”

The lady had a point. And while I might not have gone in for the winged butt-plugs, I was starting to come around to the idea of a themed neighbourhood, in principle.

And our Thelma has dreams. She informed me that she is, among other things, an artiste who will soon be appearing at The Manhole in her one-woman show, a tribute to women of colour, past and present, entitled From Motown To Ho-Town. The production sounds very edgy because in the opening number she appears onstage as a black Elizabeth I, head-butting Pilgrims while twirling fire batons pre-soaked in poppers the night before. Other members of the cast include three Shih Tzus on hoverboards, an ABBA tribute act from Korea and Thelma’s own mother who will be throwing Bibles at the audience during the interval. As for the big finale, a final homage to those who went before her, Miss Mahogany Jr will lip-sync to her self-penned, glitch-hop track Ain’t No Hairdo High Enough.

You’re all invited.

Note From Management: All performances will be matinees only until Thelma’s tag comes off

Emotional Baggage

Several years ago while travelling around Ukraine I entered the only shop in a remote village to buy a couple of cold drinks. Placing my purchases on the counter, the elderly shopkeeper tallied my bill on an abacus then pushed it toward me. Not entirely up to speed on ancient counting tools which predate our own numeral system, I played it safe and handed him the equivalent of $5 in Ukrainian money. This, apparently, posed a problem and he asked if I had anything smaller. I replied, regrettably, that I did not. Thinking on it, he disappeared into the back before returning with a duckling which he duly handed over as my change.

The problem with holiday brochures is that they rarely cover an abacus/duck scenario. The pictures in them are enticing but the language is, at best, euphemistic and at worst, a flat out lie. And while it’s true that every situation can’t be covered, a bit of a heads-up regarding waterfowl as legal tender would go a long way for novices like moi.

Image result for cute funny duck

Here then, is a list of terms from holiday brochures with their true meanings:

in-flight meal: UN ration with complimentary poppadom

in-flight entertainment: the sequel to the remake of the original, only this one’s set in the future where everyone can fly and stuff

short transfer to hotel: bring earplugs

car rental: how are you at changing a tire?

bus service: you may be seated next to a goat in labour

local delicacies: if we can catch it, we’ll cook it

chef’s special: cake with a fly on top

all-inclusive resort: venture off the property and odds are you’ll be kidnapped

in-house entertainment: an old man who takes out his artificial eye for the kids

cultural sensitivities: lose the Trump hat

conservative: lose the rainbow flag beach towel

stunning wildlife: pack an anti-venom kit

365 days of sunshine: no redheads

steeped in history: if they ask, tell them you’re Canadian

friendly locals: the waiter has just asked if he can marry your daughter

vibrant nightlife: gunfire

local amenities: you’re sharing a well with two other villages

stunning scenery: ignore the oil refinery

exotic spices: stick to ketchup

unspoiled wilderness: don’t go in unarmed

tranquil setting: abandoned due to an ebola outbreak

health clinic: the vet will see you now

museum exhibits: those artefacts our country forgot to cart off when we left sharpish 150 years ago

Suture Self

Image result for Mary Pat Gleason Friends

Last month I received a letter from my doctor reminding me it was time for my annual health check. The fact it was addressed Dear Sir/Madam did ring a few alarm bells, given he’s taken at least three selfies with my prostate, but with no offence taken I followed doctor’s orders and booked an appointment at my local Code Blue Health Centre.

“That’s quite a number of steps,” I told the receptionist, stooping to catch my breath. “What happened to the ramp?”

“Gone,” I was informed. “Health & Safety.”

“Aren’t ramps for Health & Safety?”

“Too many Four-by-Fours were slamming into cars when they reached the bottom. When I made a claim my car insurance went up because they had to invent a new category.”

Four-by-Fours?” I wasn’t following.

“Wheelchair users.”

“Are we allowed to call them that?”

“I am, you’re not,” her reproval hung in the air, while a bejewelled talon gestured lazily towards a certificate propped up against a pink thermos. “I’ve had training.”

“What do people in wheelchairs do now?”

“They have to go around the back and enter through the…” she stopped texting then casually pulled her hair across her name badge. “Uh, you’re not a reporter, are you?”

“No, I’m checking-in for my appointment with Dr Shapiro.”

“Check-in is by touchscreen on the wall opposite,” I was duly despatched, as if telling me where to find the straws and napkins.

Throughout the check-in process, the Automated National User Service referred to me more than once as a customer without offering any form of cashback facility. This was not only misleading but highly inconvenient as I had an extortion payment due at noon and knew only too well that the Yakuza didn’t accept cheques. Even more worryingly, I was unable to recall exactly when the UK Government had reduced my role from citizen to that of ‘customer’. In my previous school the Head Teacher had once tried referring to the students as customers, explaining that we were delivering a service to them and, if they weren’t satisfied, they could file a complaint.

“There’s only one problem with that,” I spoke up.

“Go ahead, Mr Ormsby,” she readied herself.

“If the customer is always right then why do I have two hours of marking every night?”

“To support learning,” came the stock reply.

“So am I now Customer Support?”

“Well… in a way, yes,” she was on shaky ground and she knew it.

“Which would make you Sales.”

“Uh…”

“I just want to get this straight: Sales sells the dream and Customer Support services the nightmare,” I articulated for her benefit. “And will we be running any kind of customer loyalty scheme because I’ve just thought of one: students could redeem their SAT scores for Pot Noodles and spray paints.”

They were back to being students by lunchtime.

Having successfully checked in, I then retired to The Wellness Hub (that’s a Waiting Room to you and me) where I was faced with that age-old dilemma: where to sit so that no one would disturb or infect me while I tried to guess their affliction. We all play it, if not in a doctor’s office, then certainly in car parks whenever we observe what appear to be able-bodied drivers emerging from vehicles displaying a Disabled Parking Permit. My friend, Laverne, is ace at it.

“What do we think of this one?” she asked me last week.

“COPD?” I ventured.

“No, walking too fast.”

“Arthritis?”

“Carrying too many bags.”

“The Big C?”

“Too much hair.”

“Some disabilities are invisible,” Alison reminded us.

“I wish yours was,” Laverne scowled at her in the rear-view mirror. “Definitely upper respiratory… I’ve got it!” she smacked the dashboard in triumph. ”’Pneumothorax!”

“Oh, I loved her in Pulp Fiction,” Alison brightened, before frowning again. “I didn’t know she was disabled though.”

I negotiated my way towards the far corner of the seating area, avoiding eye contact all the way until I reached a cluster of empty seats. Surprised no one else had retreated to this refuge, I was just about to sit down when I noticed what appeared to be a small turn on one seat. Appalled that a Wellness Hubful of humans had watched me make my way towards an open latrine without so much as a warning left me cold inside.

“I tried Tangerine Dew on it but that’s not what they make it for,” one old dear explained, retrieving a bottle of Febreze from her shopping bag. “The one for pets maybe…”

My heart melted.

“No harm done,” I said, taking the seat next to her.

“It was an elderly gentleman,” she explained. “His daughter brought him in. We could all see the back of his trousers when he got up to go see the nurse. I told the receptionist.”

“Which receptionist?” my hackles were now up again.

“The sturdy girl… her, with the wig.”

(I love the way the older generation speaks)

“How do you know it’s a wig?” I suppressed a laugh.

“Because it looks like a bale of hay. I also told her it’s crooked.”

“And what did she say?”

“She told me check-in was behind me on the far wall. I thought it was a cash machine when I came in because I need to buy some stamps. Which doctor are you here to see? I’m here to see Dr Haslam.”

“Dr Shapiro,” I replied.

“Oh, Dr Shapiro’s not in today. It’s another, a Dr Fatwa.”

“Right,” I nodded, trying to guess the man’s actual name.

“I’ve seen him going back and forth. He’ll be better than Dr Raymond; I wouldn’t let him cut my toenails.”

I wanted to play the diagnostic game but I knew it would be a lot more fun talking with-

“-Enid,” she suddenly remembered. “Let me see if I can guess your name. I sometimes get it right… is it John?”

I almost fell off my chair.

“How did you know that?” I was stunned.

“You look like a John,” she patted my hand.

“I had you for a Keith,” a lad to the right of me said. “And I had you as a Lola,” he winked at Enid.

“No, Mary. You look like a Mary,” a woman with two toddlers chimed in. “And you’re probably a Jaden or a Tyler,” she said to him.

“And who are these two?” Enid asked, waving to her children.

“This one’s Thomas and this is little sister, Gracie. We’re here today because her liver’s acting up again.”

Everyone went quiet.

“It’s okay, we’re experts now. She’s missing an enzyme so it needs topping up,” she explained. “Thomas is just along for the ride. I’m Julie, by the way.”

“Robert,” the young man gave a slight wave to everyone. “How is she with it?”

“Sometimes she gets tired which frustrates her to no end. There’s no stopping her though,” Julie gave her daughter a hug. “My father’s a Robert.”

“What are we going to do if a Courteney and a Madison walk in?” I asked.

“Ring Child Services,” Robert replied.

“I went to school with a boy called Enzo and our Science teacher nicknamed him Enzyme,” I suddenly remembered. “And we had another kid called Nigel Sheepwash.”

“No way,” Robert sat up.

“I was at school with a girl called Mary Hammoth and the boys used to call her Hairy Mammoth,” Enid mused.

“I knew a Bobby Bibby,” Julie joined in. “No word of a lie: Bobby Bibby.”

“Did he have a sister Libby?” Robert asked.

“And I once went to the dancing with a boy called Ronald McDonald,” she rolled her eyes at Enid.

“No small feat,” I said.

“Oh my god,” Robert groaned aloud.

“Sorry,” I apologised, but not really.

“No, but funny thing: when I saw him the next week he was with another girl and I knew they were made for each other.”

“Why funny?” Enid asked.

“Because they came straight over and he said, “Meet Patty!”

Call it nervous tension. Call it peer contagion. Call it what you will but I’ll tell you something for nothing: people know a good punchline when they hear it and that one was so corny it was still on the cob. Everyone burst out laughing and when the receptionist told us off we laughed even harder.

After that, I don’t remember much else.

I can’t tell you which doctor I saw or what I told him or what he told me or where I went after that or how I got there because none of that mattered. What did matter was that for a few moments Julie was able to forget about liver enzymes, I forgot I was one year older, Robert forgot about the rod in his left arm and Enid forgot that she now spends most days on her own.

And you can’t get that on prescription.

I Noah Guy…

Image result for hipster nativity

In the spirit of the season, I drove an elderly neighbour to mass this morning after she knocked on my door claiming to need a lift due to the icy weather. The Church of St Mary Magdalene (didn’t get that memo) is a local Catholic landmark conspicuously situated between the Women’s Health Centre and Darth Vaper’s E-Cig Emporium about a mile from where I live. As we pulled up to the entrance Mrs Malarkey gently enquired, “Are you coming in? You can send a calendar back home to your mother. I’m sure she’d love hearing what’s been going in the parish.”

The old clam had me. At 85 she didn’t miss a trick and knew I hadn’t been to mass since my parents’ last visit.

“Of course,” I stated coolly, looking her straight in the eye. “It’s Christmas, isn’t it? Now, are you going to be alright managing those steps while I park the car?”

“I’ll just wait for you here,” she parried, then thrust, “and it’s not Christmas. It’s only the Fourth Sunday of Advent.”

“I know it’s still Advent. Hey, it looks like they’ve put down some salt,” I pressed on. “Try the steps and see how you go.”

“No, I’ll wait for you, then we can go in together.”

Game on.

Entering the church brought back a load of memories. I’d been an altar boy right through high school and was much more sanguine about the role the Church might play in later life. Uncompromising and unafraid to challenge the moral turpitude swirling all about me, from an early age I had developed a low tolerance to riff raff. After all, I’d been named after Pope John XXIII and unlike a lot of 12 year olds, had written my own Encyclical:

  1. When you overhear your parents choosing your high school, ask them to aim higher than one simply called St Richard’s or St Agatha’s, guiding them instead towards spiritual heavyweights like Our Lady of the Blessed Annunciation or St Anthony and the Holy Infant. This will disarm any cynics questioning the fact your parents stopped attending mass years ago.
  2. When adults catch the name of your school across your hockey jacket and ask what a Blessed Annunciation is, let out an audible sigh and look upon their children with pity. As you walk away rolling your eyes, ponder the fact they can read at all.
  3. Wonder why all the nuns at school have names beginning with Mary and ending with a male name, such as Sister Mary Edward. Believe your older sister when she tells you they all used to be men until God changed them into nuns as punishment for a crime only the Pope knows about.
  4. Think it a shame that priests can only wear black because it shows up dandruff and means they can never shop at The Gap.
  5. When a pretty young nun starts teaching at your school, tell your mother that if you were older and she lived next door, you’d become a priest and marry her.
  6. When a cool young priest starts teaching at your school, agree with your friends that if he grew his hair longer and learned how to play the electric guitar he’d be the most famous priest ever.
  7. When your father informs you that he saw your parish priest swimming lengths at his health club, ask yourself if priests are permitted such indulgences, then check if his bathing suit was black.
  8. When your teacher warns that thinking impure thoughts during mass will get you an extra year in purgatory, decide it’s worth it.
  9. Ask your RE teacher if Eve really looked like the woman in the Pantene Shampoo commercial.
  10. Ask if Jonah crawled out of the whale’s spout or got pooped out.
  11. Ask if, after turning water into wine at the wedding in Canaan, Jesus then made chocolate milk for the children.
  12. Ask your parents a million times if you can go to midnight mass this year because you’re now an adult. Reassure them that you no longer believe in Santa, elves and reindeer, explaining that you only wish to fulfill a religious obligation. Don’t tell them your older sister reliably informed you that this is the mass in which God appears.
  13. Tell all your friends you were allowed to go to midnight mass. When you’re sure none of them attended the service, lower your voice and inform them that God appeared. When they inevitably ask you what He looked like, whisper that you’re not allowed to tell.
  14. Turn to your Dad during midnight mass and insist you just heard sleigh bells outside. When he chides you, wonder how he can seriously expect an 8 year old to think about God and not presents on Christmas Eve. Hope that Rudolph drops a big steamy one on his new Ford Bronco.
  15. Point out your neighbours during mass and say out loud, “Hey, Mom… you’re right! The Espositos only DO go to mass at Christmas and Easter!” Then report back each time they sit down when they’re supposed to kneel.

No Room For The Unstable

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Turned on the radio to discover the media have named today Panic Saturday. Spotting an opportunity, I asked a friend recently diagnosed with acute anxiety if she would like to accompany me into town in the hope we might qualify for free parking. Thirty minutes later Cynthia and I were pulling into a reserved space directly opposite The Booze Bucket, her Prozac prescription clearly displayed on the dashboard next to a large crucifix. Experiencing the same rush as when I find any amount of money, I smirked across at my twitchy accomplice while ratcheting up the handbrake, confident our plan would work. So you can imagine our surprise then when, upon our return a mere nine hours later, we found a £70 ticket with a brusque rebuttal: Acute Anxiety? You’ll have to do better than that, Sweetheart issued by an equally dissociative traffic warden. Now Cynthia can’t watch Top Gear and refuses to leave the house without her Dusty Springfield wig, so I think we know the real victims here.