Something Useful by Justin Maurer

This morning I awoke with my girlfriend Minnie, both of us hung over beyond belief. She was off to Sheffield for work, and I had to drive a bright blue Ford Transit minibus with a broken window on the left sliding door to a place called Snaresbrook, a suburb of East London. I took the tube with Minnie and I disembarked at my transfer point, kissing her goodbye.

Twenty minutes later I was in the southern borough of Lambeth.

“English, Irish, Spanish, Gaul, drive like mad to dear Vauxhall.”

When I came upon our beloved mode of transport parked on Aveline Street across from the Tesco’s supermarket, I grinned, finding the humor in the inscription on the side of the blue bus.
Inscribed in white is “Language for Life,” a positive school slogan of some sort. I turned the ignition eleven times to kickstart the cold and neglected diesel engine. As soon as it was fired up, an orange light appeared indicating the van was out of fuel.

To remedy this problem, I put three pounds towards diesel fuel and one ninety nine towards a chicken and ham pasty that was kept in a warm glass case inside the neon lit petrol station. This left me with three pound coins in my pocket, zero in the bank account, and me romantically pondering, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The orange light irritatingly flashes on again after five minutes of driving. Running on empty, running on fumes.

Traffic in central London is a bitch, as it is in any major city, but traffic coupled with an empty gas tank, can mean high levels of stress for an American driver with an expired drivers license conducting manually a bright blue bus probably originally intended for transporting the mentally retarded on the wrong side of the road through an ancient city constructed by the Romans but now populated by businessmen with smug pointy shoes and no regard for red or green lights, they’ve got to “shift some units,” credit crunch and all, and power walking ruthlessly across the road in front of my van with a broken window that I’m trying to park in a safer place because the Lambeth County parking permit is expired and if the van is impounded or stolen then I can’t sell it, and then I’m left to my three pounds, expired drivers license, and half of a chicken and ham pasty.

When one heads east and passes the neatly dressed businessmen of Liverpool Street and the asymmetrical hairstyles of Shoreditch High Street, then one finally hits the real east London: endless road construction, fried chicken carcasses on the sidewalks, mosques, street vendors selling fruit, Arab women in fully covered traditional garments, Are they called burkhas?, and African men in bootleg designer clothing crossing the road with no regard for their own safety or of the mental well being of a crazed American driver behind the wheel on the right front side of a fourteen seater Ford Transit Hi-Cube minibus with a broken window on the left sliding door and an empty gas tank.

I made it to Snaresbrook at last, and parallel parked the blue steamship in a residential neighborhood that I’m sure will be happy to house my precious eyesore for just ten days or so. I left a cordial note on the dash that reads amicably: “Hello! If there is a problem with parking me here, please contact my owner on his mobile phone: 0795 – xxx-xxx. Cheers!”

My friend Jim’s girlfriend Alegra is home alone on her day off and lives down the street. She works for the BBC and is a pleasant little thing. Jim encouraged me to stop in for tea with his girlfriend, but my dehydrated brain encouraged me otherwise, as I didn’t think I could keep up with her well educated banter. A central line tube stop frigidly awaited me above ground just up the road, and I approached the station with a shiver. Wearing a scarf and black stocking cap that could be dubbed “a burglar hat,” I carefully paid two more pounds sterling onto my Oyster Card, a piece of plastic with an electronic chip that enables me to ride the public transport for a few pence cheaper then common people who do not have a plastic card with said chip.

It was a short journey to Liverpool Street where I once again was among the pointy shoe wearing businessmen. They are ambling reasonably slower in the afternoon after a long lunch meeting, and they don’t seem to care about sealing the deal any longer.

One pound coin in my pocket, I am happy because I realize that inside the apartment shared by Minnie and myself lies a piece of chicken breast that was not consumed the night before. In America we call these foodstuffs remaining in the fridge “leftovers.” I returned home hastily. Amongst said chicken breast lay four eggs (hmm… expiration date was a few days ago), and three lifeless mushrooms purchased from the Tesco supermarket chain.

In a black nonstick frying pan, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic were thrust together with a black spatula commanded by my dominant hand, and the mushrooms diced and placed amongst the robust melee of flavorings. The cheese and scrambled eggs and chicken breast and mushrooms were consumed ravenously in the living room with a glass of Tesco brand concentrated orange juice and a cup of PG Tips English tea with a splash of milk and no sugar.

For the rest of the day I festered in sweatpants reading. Usually, this would bring me a great deal of pleasure, but when Minnie rang me from Sheffield on her important business trip, I was lying in the same place on the couch wearing my green sweatpants and my neck sore from reclining in the same position for hours. I drank three cups of tea and attempted to satisfy my male directness and goal setting to no avail.

I fear of becoming English, defending British food, drinking tea, trying to create an empire, feeling guilty once my empire has been created, pulling back all forces, then sitting at home accomplishing nothing groundbreaking drinking more tea and complaining about the weather.

I have a beautiful blonde girlfriend, shouldn’t that be enough? Who needs an empire when you’ve got an aryan sex goddess?

I just successfully navigated a blue elephant on wheels through central London on an empty tank of gas.

I’m starting a pop band with a wonderful young man from a place called Shrewsbury, and we’re booked to play a festival in Spain regardless of the near daily threats from my ex girlfriend who lives there,
“I’m going to fuck up your time, don’t come to Spain, you have friends in other places, go to Sweden instead, why are you trying to humiliate me.”

I pick up an acoustic guitar, I call it a “girl guitar,” since it’s the token acoustic guitar in the estrogen soaked apartment I’m so comfortable in. I try to write the perfect pop song, but to no avail.

Minnie calls me again from Sheffield and asks me what I have been doing all day.
I tell her sadly, “All day I have been trying to do something useful.”

Justin Maurer is currently living the life of an American expat in England. He once sang in the band The Clorox Girls and published a book of stories called Don’t Take Your Life (Future Tense Publishing).