Two friends of ours came to London, and invited us to dinner. I’d known Hubby in college. He, three years my senior, had been the editor of the weekly entertainment supplement of the student newspaper. After months of lacking it, I’d worked up the courage (with the help of a couple of vodka gimlets in the student cocktail lounge) to go in to try to interest him in my reviewing jazz records for him, only to discover that he regarded jazz as a dying genre. I tried to hoodwink him — to make him believe that many of the rock recording artists his section regularly creamed over were either slumming jazz musicians, or else were much more influenced by jazz than he might have realised. I asserted, for instance, that, without Illinois Jacquet, Pearl Jam wouldn’t have been possible. He said the best he could do was let me review rock stuff, and point out the derivations I was alleging. It worked for me because none of my readers had ever heard of the jazz musicians I commonly cited, and because, once having reviewed them, I was able to trade the rock records for jazz at a little record store I’d discovered in Little Israel.
After college, I’d gone on to burning bridges and refusing to suffer fools, with the result that I lived hand to mouth. He, meanwhile, got himself an accreditation in the use of laser tattoo removal, and made a fortune when rebellious kids ran out of room on their epidermises and went back to piercing themselves all over and wearing rings through their ears, nostrils, nipples, and, in some cases, even eyelids. It was embarrassing that he picked up the tab whenever the four of us got together, so I suggested that he and his wife come to our home and let us cook for them, but they had to be at Heathrow barbarically early the following morning for their flight back to Beverly Hills, and that was that.
Their hotel had been built in 2014 on the site of what had traditionally been a car park popular with employees of the nearby American embassy, which has been ringed by heavily armed soldiers since the day after 9/11. My wife was of course delighted that his was apparently in the mood to get a little tipsy, as it gave her licence to get a little tipsy herself. I ordered my traditional sparkling water, and we spoke of my tribulations, and of their two children and Donald J. Trump’s odiousness. Because I am old and weary and a visual blight, I commonly have to (and feel it morally incumbent on me to) excuse myself to use the restroom, as I did when the conversational flame began to flicker a bit.
It turned out to be attended — that is, to have present a guy in a bowtie and gleaming jelled hair whose job it was to hand you an actual fabric towel after you’d finished…eliminating, and, if you assented, to spray you with pleasant-smelling unguents. I grew up believing, at Mom’s urging, that elimination is deeply shameful, and much prefer to do it in solitude, but no such luck. Patting my right front pocket as I headed for the sink, I was horrified to realise I’d left my collection of British coins on my desk when I’d changed from my comfy dad jeans into my chic skinny ones. I wasn’t about to give him a fiver (the smallest-denomination British bill), and was pretty sure he’d sneer at me if, before drying my hands, I asked him to hang on while I dashed out to Reception for some change. Surely many fellows said they were going for change and then never returned. I thought to decline the towel he offered, but there was neither a paper towel dispenser nor one of those hot air blowers that even the most environmentally conscious among us hate. But I had an idea as I accepted a towel. “Listen, mate,” I said, even though I always feel a twat addressing Brits with their own word, “I don’t have any change. But if you can tell me whom you regard as the greatest of the bebop saxophonists, and why, I’ll give you five quid.”
Nowadays, of course, it’s rock that’s the dying genre.