Met up with Max for coffee today. The streets of Ladbroke Grove are still smoking after what happened last night, but society has resumed its pulse almost immediately. It’s funny how adaptable this world has made the people of today. Though, perhaps adaptable isn’t the word for a people that absorb every crisis and then carry on with their lives as they always were. Stubborn might be more appropriate.
I was just about to congratulate him on a particularly fine Handlebar - full, well-combed and delicately-shaped - when he thumped the newspaper on the cafe’s table with a huff. “Look at that,” he said, jabbing at the headline.
DEATH RATES REMAIN AT 15%, it said.
"It’s all a lack of funding," he told me, stroking his chin. "The simplest of medical problems, but with all the money going to the Superbanks, or The War, what can they do?"
I shrugged. I did not know what they could, in fact, do. “Surely it’s about more than scraping a few pennies together though, right?” Max and I had always had this kind of relationship: since we’d met at a conference, both in the birthing of our careers, he’d always been a man of passion. Passion that I’d tried to match, but passion that amounted to the ability to re-describe and reframe problems. Often in ways that made them more complicated. People still tell me that this is useful… but we have more problems than ever before. Do we need to be turning them over so much?
"You’re right," he said, "money wouldn’t be a problem if people cared. If Prostate Cancer were on the agenda the way the radiation burns victims are, funding would stay strong. But all these sexy new diseases, you know…"
Max’s biro worked its way across the front page, interlacing in geometric infinities. At length, he brightened. “I have a plan though, dude. We could start a movement.”
"Like the riots?"
"Those guys? Generations have born and died on the steps on St. Paul’s they’re not getting anything done. No, what we need to do is something that speaks to the masses by not being so bloody heavy. Something which is light and quirky at first glance, but with real substance. It’ll just be you and I to start with, but if we do it right, people will want to join in. It’s dynamite!”
"For god’s sake Max, join in with what?”
"Next month, we’re going to shave all the hair off of our upper lips. For money."
My fingers reflexively, defensively, leapt to the fur on my philtrum. “Dude, what? That’s stupid.”
"It’s not. What we all have up there; it’s the very core of our identity as men. The most important thing we have. Who would dare lose it? Only someone who was very serious about a cause, and very brave." In my heart, I knew what he was saying. I had tried to dismiss the concept, but only because I was a little afraid of it.
"And you know what? You might think it looks stupid, and you might feel the chill under the nose for a bit - but something tells me the ladies’ll respect it on some level. People won’t understand at first, but they’ll admire you and me. And whatever happens… it’s only a month.
"A month, eh? I’ll think about it. I can’t deny it, you’re an ideas man."
I got up to leave, stopped just before I reached the door.
"And just what are you going to call this month?"
"Well… just don’t laugh, okay? I was thinking it could be kind of a joke, just to make it more fun. We’d have no hair up there, right?"
"So I was thinking we could call it… November."
"Dude, you’re an idiot. But I love you all the same."
And as I walked down the street, I couldn’t quite it out of my head. No-vember. Nice.
There’s something missing. The sun conspires with the Sunday to create a kind of easy peace, like a nurse: attentive, but not smothering. But that’s not it. The people don’t shift eyes and bodies for territory like bus people do, instead they blog and chatter in gentle sussurus… but this is not the cause either. The details count for nothing when there has been some fundamental change in the atmosphere.
And then I realise: the silence. The engine has been switched off.
Have you been working late? Yes, I have.
Do you know the way home? I confess, I do not.
Have you lived in London long? Not long. Well, long in a way, but I know so little.
Why do you not ask me anything? Because I have forgotten to be curious.