We Went Everywhere Together

It’s true, with my job as restaurant critic for Food World magazine, we went everywhere together. With a mission to cover all fourteen states of the Eastern Seaboard, the last 12 months had seen Jürgen and I move around regularly.
Typically, while I developed an extensive directory of remarkable places to eat, he’d take up casual employment, in whichever conurbation we found ourselves in. I hadn’t heard him complain too much about it. Picking and choosing whatever took his fancy, almost any form of manual work suited him.
Apparent to even the casual observer, Jürgen has a little less height and weight in comparison to me. His toned, athletic physique is impressive. I make comparisons to a competition-winning, middle distance runner … and with the stamina to match. His many attributes are widely recognised by other people too, the kind of folk who need a job done. I’m not sure if he’s altogether aware of it, but he has a social magnetism, drawing people into him. For sure, when out together he’d often get hit on by men and women alike. After a period of adjustment, it became something I’d gotten used to.
I’d guess it’s fair to say Jürgen and I were opposites in many ways. My work tends to be a solitary endeavour. Before we met, most of my acquaintances were involved in projects closely related to my own. You get to recognise the characters, top-end restauranteurs and event organisers, wine merchants and the rich who never cook for themselves. Reasonable-minded people might say the connecting thread for these types is arrogance, plain and simple. Well, nevertheless, I don’t hate them for it, I feel comfortable in their company. In the past I’ve shared time with them all … and occasionally whole weekends.
Next to my New York background, sits a proud Sicilian ancestral heritage; I’m Roman Catholic. Ultimately, I believe in the judgment of God and not that of bigots. In Jürgen, while he holds an immense regard for the architecture, art and atmosphere of churches, I see not a glimmer of faith inside of him.
Politically, my sympathies point towards liberalism, while, as far as I can make out, he holds no truck with any idealogical wing. Jürgen describes himself as apolitical. A person seeking power, he once told me, disqualifies themselves from suitability to hold office, by definition. I see his point, but I am less cynical. Despite our differences, I felt compelled and excited by this man, more than anyone else I’d ever known before. Across the time spent together, I experienced growth and insight from a perspective hitherto unknown to me. It sure as hell hadn’t happened immediately, but gradually, I did indeed fall in love.

Whilst finishing off in Georgia, the penultimate state on the list, I received a call from James, lifestyle editor at the magazine. He’d been instrumental in my successful application as restaurant reviewer. Originally, I’d met him and his husband Todd, at a members-only spa in the Village district on the west side of Manhattan. Over time, the three of us established a friendship featuring regular meet-ups, convivial late nights … occasionally late morning sleep-ins.
Ross, he says, for your next assignment, how does sunny California sound?
It sounded good. I wondered how fast he wanted me there.
How about you speed your way through Florida and get your sweet ass over to Los Angeles by … let’s say … this time next week. I’ll book a table at La Providence for Saturday.
That fast.
No way could I turn him down. Lots of wonderful opportunities had opened up to me since meeting James. I hadn’t had so much fun in years, finding myself generously rewarded for travelling, writing and eating out in fancy restaurants. Looking back, I knew deep-down Jürgen wouldn’t want to go.
How am I going to get to California? he said. He disagreed with air travel, solely on environmental grounds. Well, when I’m finished in Florida, you catch a greyhound bus from Miami, I told him. By road or rail, factoring in stop-overs, that’s the best part of a week’s travel, just to get somewhere I don’t even want to go to, he’d said.
Ultimately, Jürgen caught a greyhound from Miami, but upon arrival at the first stop in Atlanta, from where we’d not long left, he carried on north via Little Rock and back to Omaha, Nebraska, his home state.
Over in LA, I had the time of my life. I loved the climate, the people, the restaurants, bars and cafés. Soon, I hooked up with contacts and made new friends. With their help, I discovered parts of the city tourists often miss, expanding Food World magazine’s directory for the city tenfold, over the course of just a few months.
Jürgen and I kept in touch. He’d found work, some happiness, alternating between Omaha and Gothenburg, a town just a few hours west on the interstate. One time, we met at a convention in San Francisco, six months after last seeing each other. Our lives had diverged, this much had become apparent. I came to recognise the differences between us extended to our entire outlook on life. Unable to understand each other’s point of view, felt like a blindness. Getting the time and distance between us, helped me understand this. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever miss him. Although, something that has just occurred to me, the asshole flew to San Francisco!

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)

Foreigner

Adrift, by myself alone,
In the wintery city,
This alien largely remained,
Cheerful, polite and witty.
Carried atop the crest,
Of a rapid retail crusade,
Onward toward the centre,
And where the profits are made.

Here, the markets are bulging,
With clothing, books and food.
A delightful melange for the senses,
One’s spirit is lifted and wooed.
Watch as transactions are bartered,
In full orchestral grace.
This cooperative demonstration,
By the sapien race.

Sellers shout and declare,
In a strangely sounding tongue,
Draw out each of their words,
Into a rhythmical song.
Preparing myself to purchase,
Using a new currency,
Decorative discs in my pocket,
I find, mean nothing to me.

With no idea, nor clue,
Of what I can really afford,
Through brief negotiation,
We near a peaceful accord.
Slow down the exchange process,
Stop Earth spinning around.
Until finally sealing the deal,
Then take home, what I have found.

exclusive interview

Utilising the marvels of interweb technology, the following is the transcript of my recent radio show broadcast where I am in interview with Jan Futchinelle, l’enfant terrible investigative reporter creating a name for himself in the modern medieval city of Oxford and well beyond these county lines. For anyone out there who calls living under a stone home, Jan has spent the last few weeks talking up the #roadsituation.
I invited him onto the show, to learn a bit more about both the story and the man. Judging by the several emails received following broadcast, audience feedback suggests public opinion sits firmly behind the journalist.
Without further ado, here!

06:32hrs GMT
“A-nd welcome back after the news, you’re tuned into Brinkinfield’s Fried Breakfast on Radio OX72FM. If you’re travelling into Oxford city today, I have been passed some traffic info for you to take heed of. The lights are out at the Wolverine roundabout, causing some cavalier cavorting by road-users with the area classified as immediately dangerous for  all nearby pedestrians. We’ve also just received news of the Botter’s Road bridge down to one lane, cordoned off by police while frogmen search the canal. This follows the report of a rather large man falling from the bridge during yesterday’s rush hour. Police are appealing for witnesses.
“Right, back to business. As listeners, you may be interested in my next guest on this morning’s show Jan Futchinelle, who’s writings on the road situation has attracted stacks of attention over the last month or so.
“Welcome Jan, I am glad for us to meet.”
“Thank you and thanks for asking me onto your show.”
“It’s a pleasure Jan, I feel we share many of the same ideas. Which is why I’ve asked you to come on and discuss what has become known as, the road situation in Oxford.”
“Yes, well, of course it’s not only effecting Oxford. Towns, villages, hamlets and cities all over the country are suffering in the same way as here.”
“Right, but here in Oxford, this is where you live and what you know and what you see, am I right Jan?”
Exactment.”
“Oh, a little bit of French there Jan!”
“I speak 7 languages, French, Swiss, Italian, German, Austrian, a little Scandinavian.”
“I imagine it must come in handy from time to time.”
“Very occasionally, yes.”
“So Jan, what’s it all about, this road situation you’ve been writing of for the last few weeks?”
“Well, it’s been more like a year now. It breaks down into three inter-linked component parts: potholes, congestion and road-user behaviour.”
“Ok, briefly take me through them.”
“Well, has it occurred to anyone listening the idea of there existing a more suitable product for surfacing roads than the current materials, with all the technology we have at our disposal today?”
“Yes Jan, it has occurred to me before. There’s got to be, surely!”
“It’s an absolute certainty. Look at our present situation, whatever the weather conditions the roads crumble, crack and sink. The surfaces break down, unable to take the extremes of cold, warmth and wetness our seasons produce. The current materials used simply aren’t fit for purpose.”
“Certainly Jan, the road travel in on each day provides a dreadfully bumpy ride, physically lifting me off my seat. I find myself weaving around the road to avoid the worst potholes.”
“And it is unsafe, the potential for accidents doesn’t require much imagination.”
“Agreed, I worry about my suspension and wheel axles too. I don’t believe cars are made to withstand this kind of exposure. What material do you believe would do a better job for surfacing roads?”
“Almost anything, but my favourites are re-cycled rubber from tires and re-cycled plastic.  At a stroke, the inadequacies of the current recycling system we have, would be solved. There’d even be money in dredging the oceans to remove the vast tracts of discarded plastic floating around, which endanger sea life. The technology is here, the raw material is close to being free, it is a no-brainer.”
“Okay, we’re going to take a break for a tune by the Velvet Underground, Sister Ray, picked to help ease your  journey into work this morning. When we come back, I’ll be reading out some recipes you’ve tweeted in, specially themed to this morning’s interview. Then we’ll talk more with Jan, on the subject of Oxford’s road situation.”

“A-nd, as we fade that out, you’re listening to Brinkinfield’s Fried Breakfast on Radio OX72FM where I’m in conversation with Jan Futchinelle, journalist, writer and all round good egg.”
“That’s a long track, Sister Ray.”
“Indeed it is Jan. Let-me-see, it comes in at 17 minutes 28 seconds… I hope no one minded me talking over the last 12 seconds as it played out.
“Now Jan, where were we?”
“Christ-alive, I’ve forgotten. Your listeners won’t know this, but during the musical interlude I got a quick trim at the barber shop located underneath the studios here.”
“Just so listeners know, Jan is sporting a clippered haircut – what would that be Jan, a zero on the number?”
“Yes, that’s right, zero.”
“But it looks like Francesco trimmed and conditioned your beard too.”
“Yes, well we could hear the Sister Ray track coming through the ceiling, and both being familiar with the song, we worked out we had enough time.”
“And you brought me back up a latte too, thank you Jan. Right, where were we? Oh, I am getting a voice in my ear saying we have enough time for some listener’s themed recipes and then we’ll go to the news.”
“I could hear that voice in your ear. It sounded like a busy bumble bee inside the flower of a daffodil. Can I just quickly mention about road tax?”
” – Not just yet Jan.”
” – About how less than 25% of the road tax goes on road maintenance?”
” – Later Jan. Okay, with the time now at exactly… six fifty seven, let’s go through some of the recipe ideas our listeners have tweeted in. Right, here’s one from Balthazar, thank you ma’am. Hm, what have we here? It looks like a hotdog from the photo – oh I see, the hotdog has cocktail sticks pinning cherry tomatoes and slices of cucumber into the side of the bread finger roll to look like car wheels. Yes, very good. And the wiggly line of mustard, that could be like a go faster stripe down the centre.”
“Normally, go-faster stripes are displayed along both sides of a vehicle rather than running down the centre.”
“True Jan, yes, but the mustard would just run and look messy I don’t doubt.”
“Depends on the mustard.”
“And what’s this we have from… Ge-ronimo…Cheeks, I think I have that right, okay let’s see, th-is, loo-ks like… oh, okay, it’s a slice of apple, with four grapes. Again, wooden cocktail sticks used as the axles. Right, I can definitely see a car theme developing here – keep them coming in. Okay, here comes the latest news and weather and we’ll be back right after this.”

this song is the mute button

“And that’s the sublime sound of Jason Lytle, formerly of the band Grandaddy, with a tune to melt your heart and make your eyes cry. In case you’ve just joined us, I am here with journalist and campaigner Jan Futchinelle, to talk about the Oxford road situation.
“Jan, we’ve talked about the road surfaces and what can be done about them.”
“Yes we have.”
“And I believe your campaigning initially came to my attention after you wrote an article entitled car ban or carbon? about the city council’s plan to exclude cars from Oxford. I also understand you have something to say about road-users, too.”
“Correct. Drivers of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians sometimes too.”
“So what’s your beef, Jan?”
That’s an unusual verb… but anyway, way back in the 20th century in the very early nineteen thirties, the Ministry of Transport published an 18 page booklet called the Highway Code.”
“And we’re still using it?”
“It’s been revised many times.”
“How many times Jan?”
“Regularly. The point is, the booklet contains guidance and rules about driving. Every learner driver knows that questions about the Highway Code form part of the test to acquire a full driving license.”
“Oh yes, I remember, all that stuff about stopping distances?”
“Yes and much more. Now, some of the rules explained are compulsory, whilst others are recommendations.”
“Like giving way to traffic on the right at roundabouts?”
“Correct, that’ll be a must-do rule. If you are brought to a British courtroom on a traffic violation, the Highway Code may – and probably will be referenced in a case against you.”
“I’m with you. So, what’s your point Jan?”
“My point is, the rules are pretty basic.”
“For example?”
“If you are sat at a junction to a main road, you give way to the traffic both ways, until the road is clear and safe to pull onto.”
“Seems like common sense there Jan.”
“But how many times have your listeners seen car drivers edge out onto main roads, as if they are entitled to some kind of special exemption from the rules?”
“Well, I’ve certainly seen this, whether they are turning left or right, or cutting across traffic to come off the main road. Often people in big four-by-fours, but not exclusively.”
“Indeed. And people blithely wave them on without consideration of possible consequences. Have you seen this happen – when a cyclist or pedestrian is endangered as a car turns? Have you seen the confusion being waved-on creates when there are two or more cars vying to take advantage of a situation? It’s madness. People, I say, just drive by the rules! That’s all I ask. Life would be so much easier.”
“Life would be better.”
“Life would be safer.”
“And that’s what really counts Jan. I am afraid we have run out of time, thank you so much for coming onto the show.”
“My pleasure. Lastly can I just say ‘cyclists, use lights day and night‘ and also mention I am giving a talk later this afternoon at Holywell’s Bookshop, inviting a Q&A session immediately afterwards.”
“Indeed Jan you can, and I believe you just have. We have time for one more themed recipe and okay, let’s see what we have here and from whom…”
“It’s a banana and are those four cherries, run through with a cocktail stick?”
“Yes I think you’re right Jan. Our thanks to justcantgetenuff for tweeting that one in. This next song is regularly requested by listeners of the show, after which we’ll go to the news and weather with Randolph Spencer. But first, here’s the Palace Brothers, with Merida …

Reflection From a Shop Window

Previously,

my tummy got bloated

after a filling meal,

commonly a pasta dish,

a Chinese or a curry.

 

Lately,

my tummy looks engorged

before eating anything.

The result,

of calorific food.

 

I seek not a six pack,

only flatness,

to look less gross,

in the reflection

of a shop window.