underground music

At 6pm I was sitting on my sofa in my poky flat, hot and bothered, bored and glum.  At 4am I was in a stranger’s basement flat assembling Spotify playlists for a horrendously handsome Californian and three French females.

I decided to take a chance on another of those social group meetings, thinking I could opt out and find somewhere else to view the USA match if I wasn’t feeling the company.  I found the bar, ordered a beer, found the group, stood back, watched the first half over the shoulders of the group and made judgements about them.

Would it be hard work?  Could I be bothered to be all genial, cheerful and open?  Did they look odd?

Yes no and yes.  A bit.

The half time whistle blew, Ghana a surprising 1-0 up, and I left.  I didn’t know where for exactly, but I paced the vague direction of the tube-line back, eyes out for an open looking bar in one of those transient West London communities.  They’re often easier places to fall into chat.

A squat, bald man sat on a stool next to me at the bar.  I rested on a pillar, facing the large screen, before which sat an assortment of fans, many of them travellers.  USA deservedly equalised and I exchanged comment with my neighbour.  A discernible West Country accent opened the door for further chat.

It’s a disappointing fact that I tend to be more comfortable in the company of males than females.  There’s no threat and no pretention, no ‘signals’ to be wary of; I’m seldom trying hard, if at all to curry favour.  In a way I wish I found men physically attractive – perhaps everything would be easier then.  Sadly I don’t.

This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a handsome man.  Their effect on me, however, is at best a grudging respect, at worst an outright envy-led disgust at how on earth they had the fortune to be blessed like that.  What gave them the right?

It was with a combination of the two that I turned to the guy along the bar, a handsome chap standing the other side of the older chap, to whom we’d both exchanged comments about the game.  He didn’t look unlike USA player, Carlos Bocanegra, who is no Wayne Rooney in the looks department, but also wore a modest, mildly embarrassed look.  A weathered, stubbled face and arrowing jawline made him appear to be in his mid-thirties, so I was equally appalled to later learn that he was a handful of years younger than me.

He looked American and every inch Los Angeles, not least in the vaguely confused way he watched the football match, as if tentatively trying to consume something people told him was good.   He had only been in London a month, having been transferred on a short-term contract.

Ghana found a new gear and greater strength in extra time, scoring another and comfortably fending off a fatigued American threat.  At its conclusion, my new older friend was disappointed to have lost a bet, and the American shrugged, essentially unfussed.  I was quietly pleased Ghana had won.

We fell into further sporting and political discussions, offering and accepting further drinks, each growing drunk, our older member the most rapidly.  He blamed his age on forgetfulness and losing track of his points, rather than the alcohol.  He called it quits as closing time neared, hopped down from his stool and wobbled away.

Myself and Bocanegra eyed each other anew, or adrunk, still with thirst and nowhere else to go.

“You wanna see if we can get another round here, or..?” I broached.

“Sure, there’s a place I know down the block.  Need the rest room first.  Wait there.”

He took me to a nightclub, where we were rubberstamped like cattle before descending steps into a dark, low-ceilinged basement venue.  Not my natural habitat, but I went with it.  He’d mentioned a complicated relationship setup back home, an arrangement the other party had placed more stock in than him.

I wondered if this would now go like those now rare occasions with friends back home, one of whom is absurdly good looking, quite a buffoon, has no morals whatsoever but is enormously entertaining.  We always used to lose him within minutes of being inside a nightclub.

We bought drinks, took a stroll and I felt that sporadic kinship to Emile Heskey kick back in.  It’s not his fault.

We breezed past a lone female sitting at a table; I half paused, then bottled it.  My smooth companion didn’t.  She was French, upbeat and happy, pretty enough in an understated way; another national descent in there somewhere.  Her friends soon returned from the bar.  We all chatted and it was quickly detectable that they were nonplussed by me.  I left my friend to dance and canoodle with his new femme while I went to the bar and wondered what would happen now, whether I should just leave.

No, roll with everything tonight.  Why not?  Let yourself be guided for once.

I didn’t leave and continued chatting with the other French girls in an entirely innocent, rather bland fashion.  We each asked polite questions without caring about the answers.  Laughs were few.  I agreed to join them outside for cooler air and want of anything better to do.  They smoked.

The club came to close and I chatted again to Bocanegra.  Before entering the club he’d said that he lived really close and I was welcome to sleep on his couch.  We all piled up and out of the club onto the warm street, the French gabbling amongst themselves in French, us mumbling uncertainly.  We’d only walked a minute before he said, “my flat’s actually down this road, now I don’t know if..”

The French twittered in French again.  One, not his femme, expressed her reservations in English, which I said I accepted and understood, partly to make us look regular and unthreatening.  His femme swung them round and we found ourselves walking down his road, stopping at a large anonymous building with multiple buzzers.  I could have forgiven a new sense of foreboding as he led us down the building and through a maze of glass-panelled corridors to his front door.  A newly renovated basement apartment belied his length of time there: nothing on the walls or in the cupboards, which I raided.  Water was literally all he had.  I divided it up into a handful of never before-used glasses.

We sat chatting and listening to music for a time, stretched out across two sofas and two on the floor, either end of a central coffee table.  Discussions on music and hobbies were more interesting and we grew more relaxed.  If anything untoward would have happened, it would have happened by then.

It grew later and lighter still at 4am, dawn approaching.  The two French girls wanted to leave, one who lived nearby and another, incidentally the most attractive, who lived not far from me.  She preferred to sleep at her friend’s rather than share a cab.  I conceded and watched them leave first so they wouldn’t think I was following them.

Bocanegra again offered the couch, but I knew it would inevitably come with authentic audio of sex from the next room.  We enjoyed a frat boy parting clinch and a shared knowing smile about convincing the females we were longer acquainted than a few hours, which was ultimately quite pointless.  Then I left.


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