I think of my complicity in the age of choice, and my suspicion that there isn’t really any choice. There are usually only two things to choose from, two really big bands, two hefty paperbacks, two women, only one bankrupt ideology (since the others have lost) and yet the illusion persists. The man who leaves work on a warm summer evening and thinks I can do anything, embark on a wonderful love affair with a lollypop lady, retrain as a sumo wrestler, move to Nuneaton and then he goes home and falls asleep in front of the telly.
Last week I went for a meal, either Italian or Indian, in a little hideaway bistro—my hideaway with about a billion others. A cheap dark wood joint with the cashier in a little Bavarian style hut busy counting money and making change and sighing at his family members digging into bowls of olives. I sat down and had my generic chili pasta. I noticed a couple on a nearby table. I relish their rows (yes I’m a connoisseur of other people’s arguments—I’ve had them all too—the commitophobes, the lovers who are really nurses-in waiting, biding their time so they can bring on that last illness and finish you off). The guy in black glasses, polo neck and beatnik goatee could have been me. He had better skin, he was younger but it was me. His girl was dark too, the sort I might choose, alert, a slight overbite pushing her lips outwards like a flower. She was laughing at his carefully delivered anecdotes, fascinated by his menu choices, amused at his bulky modern classic—a sword and sorcery yarn about a Cimmerian Warrior trapped in a Hall of Mirrors, unable to tell shadow from substance. I’d read it too! She went to the loo and when she came back, God’s truth!, she sat at the end of my table instead. Sitting with her head bowed while I mumbled a few remarks, she laughed, played with the petals of the plastic flower in an identical carafe of water and I was almost believing it too when her boyfriend shouted at her. She looked up and in that puzzled smile I read it too: what is the difference? We will go home and make love in one or other of the prescribed positions and afterwards wax lyrical about children’s television from the 1970s, Breville sandwich makers, spacehoppers, Buckaroo and imagine we are growing closer by a shared memory of adverts. Sadly she got up and resumed her flower fiddling on the nearby table.