Monday, 30 July 2007

America is different

The Americans were getting all bent out of shape last week because a couple of the Space Shuttle crew were apparently drunk while on a mission. My reaction was the same as when I was told, along with the rest of the Toledo Blade staff, that the consumption of liquor at lunchtime was no longer permitted. “You mean they expect us to do this stuff sober?” I cried.
The others thought I was being funny. We know better on this side of the pond.

This has nothing to do with the story below, except it is also set in Toledo, Ohio.

My first evening in Toledo, Ohio, as a newly arrived Blade executive, was interesting. It was November 1989, dark, cold and wet.

The paper had found, at my asking, an apartment within walking distance of the office. As is often the case with newspapers in The States, it was in the heart of Downtown.

My flat was in a smart row of terraced houses, with electric security gates for the garages, and gentrified to the nines, but the surrounding area was well down on its luck.

Still, it was all new to me, and after unpacking, I set out to explore. On the corner of the next block, 50 yards from my door, was a bar. A small neon sign proclaimed The Dooville Lounge. I went in. I like bars.

In a dim light about twenty or so customers were scattered, some at the counter, others at tables. They were not yuppies. A jukebox played “Welcom (sic) to the Jungle, “ a popular dirge of the day, whose significance escaped me at that point. Nobody paid me any obvious heed.

The barmaid was sturdily built, not unlike a Steelers linebacker, and clearly not to be fucked with. I asked for a gin and tonic.
“You Briddish?” she said. Yes, no denying it.
“You know Lady Di?” she followed up. Well, not really, but I had met her once, I ventured modestly. “You met Lady Di! Where?” barked the barmaid, whom I later knew as Joyce. I could not tell a lie. “At a polo match, as a matter of fact,” I said, by now aware that the conversation was taking a surreal turn.

And it was true. While I worked for Hello! Magazine, my royalty-besotted Spanish bosses had sponsored such a contest at Windsor Great Park, and Charles had played. Selected employees were afterwards introduced to the pair, who appeared at that time to be on cordial, even loving terms.

“Holy cow! Lissen, “ Joyce shouted to the patrons. “This Briddish guy met Lady Di at a fuckin’ polo game!” Grinning muggers and hookers surged around, slapping my back, shaking my hand and re-filling my glass.

I now had instant chums in Toledo and bought no more drinks that night. Amid the tumult, an alcoholically challenged patron misheard Joyce, and for a few delirious seconds was under the impression that England’s presumptive Queen and I had met at a poker game.

So, thanks to the People’s Princess my standing in T-Town where Jeeps are built, Art Tatum was born, and the transvestite guy in Mash was so keen to get home to, was assured from the get-go..

Now all I had to do was put out a newspaper every day, Sundays included, for the next fifteen years. Piece of piss.

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