People do cool things on TV. We all know that.
TV action heroes are forever rolling out of cars and pursuing shadowy assailants; they leap across rooftops and dive through window glass – all the while racing against the metaphorical clock. These heroes, these men (for they are often men) are utterly driven. Needles to say they are not bound by caution. Indeed, they are not bound by anything. TV heroes are risk takers – in all areas of life. Whether it be bloody combat or brutal romance the TV adventurer is nothing if not audacious. He makes life changing decisions on a whim. He goes down to the wire on principle. He acts while we simply watch.
Reality is rather less glorious. In the average office worker’s life there are no plucky escapes, no lovely trysts or daredevil antics. It is TV drama without the style or verve, a series with no plot – a pilot with no point. Given this disparity it is a mistake to mimic the stars. I know this from fresh experience. Only last week I shamed myself on a date while trying to reenact a scene from an American sitcom. The aim was to appear bold and humorous (an aim I singularly failed to meet). I wanted to look carefree and cavalier, but instead came across as savagely uncouth. Yet again a date ended in ignominy; yet again I blew it with a perfectly fine lady.
Wendy was cool. She had a way with the culture I had not seen in a while. We had chatted (online) about ’70s cinema, obscure writers, and little known bands. It was all a shallow exercise in middlebrow bragging, but it felt good. All cultural discussions feel good when you have time to google your answers. Name dropping is nothing when you’re online (Wikipedia open in one device while you tap away on another). My goal was to project urbanity. Unfortunately, this led to a great deal of foolishness. Nonetheless, I managed to secure a date, that was the main thing. It might have ended in horror and disgrace, but it was a victory of sorts.
“Oh, I love these things,” Wendy said.
We were in Byron Burger, Covent Garden. And she was talking about a burger. How clever those Byron people were, I thought. We were basically in a fast food joint but it was ok.
“Yes,” I said. “Great, aren’t they?”
The urge to be witty and ironic was overwhelming.
I said, “Funny how it’s ok to eat burgers and chips now. It used to be considered junk food for the proles, but push the prices up and all the Guardian readers come rushing through the door.”
“Oh, and you have to swap processed cheese for blue cheese, that’s the other thing…”
“…Maybe serve the chips in a little metal bucket as well.”
Wendy’s smile faded. I wondered which paper she read. She was vaguely creative, that meant she was a leftie. I could live with that. She was attractive, I was therefore willing to compromise every principle I held dear. No shame there – it was all part of the new kinder politics.
“So sorry,” she said. “But you’ve got something on the side of your cheek.”
Wendy reflexively touched her own cheek. I recalled an episode of the American sitcom ’30 Rock’. Time to reenact an hilarious scene, I thought.
“Where?” I said.
She made a sweeping gesture across her face. “Just there.”
I munched on my burger. “You mean here?” I slipped a finger into some ketchup and smeared it across my face.
Wendy frowned. “No.”
“Oh,” I said, daubing a little sauce on my forehead. “You mean here.”
“No, not there.”
The mirth had not hit her. Perhaps she considered me genuinely clumsy (albeit in a revolting kind of way). Still, a fever had gripped me and I felt compelled to continue.
I said, “Oh, here it is!”
I reached for Wendy’s face with a dollop of mayonnaise.
“Oh, God.” She jerked back in her seat. I craned across the table with my oily fingertips stretched towards her oval face.
“Seriously.” She knocked my hand away. “Get away.”
There was a note of terror in her voice. And it was loud. Alarmingly loud. A man at the next table placed his burger down and sat up, no doubt prepping for battle. He was all sinews and scowls – a White Knight ready to slay the condiment creep.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Wendy said nothing. Her phone lay on the table. She pulled it towards her and glanced around for her handbag.
“Here you are.”
I passed it over, hoping my helpfulness would ease the horror. But I had forgotten my state. I was a man covered in sauce – there would be no ease for me.
On the far side of the restaurant a waiter dropped his tray. Ordinarily, I would have cheered. As it was I wanted to don an apron and lend a hand. There was a meditative quality to his work that appealed. Wendy stared, mouth agape. Presumably, she was trying to work me out. Which was kind of interesting – I was trying to work me out too.