11:59pm Thursday 10 May 2012 On the Eastern Branch of the Northern Line – Bank
Sherlock Holmes could tell that the old man had lost the love of his wife because his felt hat was caked in candle wax. I guess it was woman’s work back then to remove wax from a man’s hat. Ah, the good old days.
I am on my way to a gig in an ill-fitting, over-worn, unintentionally shiny suit. In New York I would never have gone out of the house like this. Here, I think: No one will notice or no one will care. Or I don’t care.
Whom can I blame for my degradation?
Old men don’t seem to care how they look. They shave only parts of our faces – mysteriously missing huge growths around their necks and the hair coming out of their noses. They look like an exotic chickens. That’s not me, yet, I still shave nicely, but I have to watch myself. And I am not old! That comes at 59. I read that yesterday: Old comes at 59.
Can I blame England for my degradation?
When I first moved here I searched for a laundry to starch my shirts the New York-way. Hand ironed shirts would not do anywhere in Manhattan. They can make cotton Oxford cloth shirts as smooth as plastic. I couldn’t find one a laundry in East Dulwich/Nunhead to do it. I have to iron my own shirts.
The English, with their distrust of new money, abhor the flash that comes with new money. Flash, as in a new suit. Prince Charles, his Highness [he does look high with that “How long am I going to have to wait for Mummy to die” look.] wears suits that are 30 years old. One shouldn’t have to buy new anything is the upper class ethos, because one should inherit it. I read that one English politician put down another with the insult “He had to buy his own furniture.”
You can still get points for looking like you don’t care. Take Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. No one is as foppish or as messy as he is without effort. His hair is of unchanging length and color. Robert Redford is the same with his hair, but Redford makes his hair look amazing at 75 plus which is why he’s never won an Academy Award – he refuses to make himself ugly. [Only the beautiful who make them ugly win the awards.] Not that I can throw rocks when my glass house is L’Oreal Creme Gloss Natural Dark Brown.
English school boys are kitted out in ill-fitting polyester suits with sleeves and trouser legs too long or too short – bought three sizes to large to last and kept long after they’ve reached their right size. And their horrendous white plastic shirts with clip on ties that hang either down to their knees or don’t reach their belly buttons. Children are raised here to be comfortable being poorly attired. No wonder top business people here look like low-paid security guards in New York.
The dressing of a three-year-old in an over-sized black suit, tie, clunky black shoes and carrying a briefcase has the additional benefit of confusing perverts into thinking that’s not a child on the way to school but a small businessman on the way to the office.
Italian boys wear smocks and American children their own clothes to school and look at how amazing they look.
Fashion sense is such a problem in England the road agencies have taken to paint every street corner the words “Look Right!” New York comic Moody McCarthy pointed that out to me.
Okay, my shirts aren’t perfectly starched but I’m fighting going native. My not-perfect suit is making me squirm. My audience doesn’t want to see an mess of me, me thinks. They want to see a strong, powerful American man on stage who represents a strong, powerful America – the America that will come to England’s aid when the Germans come again. And the Germans are coming again – only they won’t be called “Germans” but “Europeans”.
And my audience needs to see a successful Lewis Schaffer so they can fling their derision at me without guilt and feel they are battling the giant and not the victim. My show is a form of panto; only the bad guy is in front of them and not behind them. The audience needs to believe that what I am telling them is probably a joke. “He’s doing fine! Don’t worry about him!” But will they think that if I am wearing a four-year-old suit?
So that’s why I’m the best comic in England. Because I’m going to go out a buy a new suit even if I can get away with an old one. And I know how to wear one. And I am going clean the wax from hat and look for a new wife who’ll do it next time. You can’t drive the New York out of me. I’m not English yet.
The English are fond of the very subtle insult masked as a friendly joke – the kind that Reg Hunter says takes you three weeks to realise the guy was really insulting you. That kind of insult is called, in British English, “gervasing”. Ironically, it’s not named after Ricky Gervais but after Gervase, the soft French cream cheese. Bet you didn’t know that!
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