Yesterday I saw the key to victory, though it was too late for me to act on it. Coming down the steps at Royal Festival Hall I catch the Hoarder with the Black Jacket sauntering across the ballroom floor, already taking out the charger for his handphone.
I could not act – the Festival Hall is hallowed space, and you don’t run in it if you’re over 10 years of age – but I noted the time.
And today, today, victory is mine. I have breakfast and a quick shower; take the trains to Waterloo under a mutely threatening sky and enter the Festival Hall in the face of a very vociferous wind, like a inscrutable cop/bad cop routine. And there it is – two sockets on the far wall, no one at the table.
Almost everyone who engages in combat does so in the belief that victory comes from moral superiority; that might be a key manifestation of the difference between humanity and animals. It’s not that we took the moment to learn the foe’s tactics (though we do); it’s not that we were faster, fiercer, or have weapons of comparatively massive destruction (though we often do). No; behind that is a better person, better as a fox or a tiger cannot ever be better.
(Once there *is* a better tiger, then the tiger is tamed; it is now within the sphere of morality, and will be rewarded richly (and materially), until it bites someone to death or slips out through a little gap in the fence.)
So what is the moral content of my victory? I come to the Royal Festival Hall to write. And every time the Hoarder sits down at the yellow chair and slouches back and puts earphones in his ear, the muses themselves force me to take a table nearby – on the off chance he keels over dead, but also to scream in my ear. OUR WORK IS UNDONE! ALL YE VOICES OF LITERATURE GATHERED, BUT FOR WANT OF A POWER SOURCE THEY ARE SCATTERED!
That’s not strictly true; I have a battery that lasts me for three hours, minimum. But I spend quite a bit of those three hours (four without internet) glancing up at him as he listens to his music. This passive… parasite of culture. This… idle… lazy… feckless… GRRRRARGH HRR GRRR RRRRGH
Now the Hoarder in the Black Jacket comes, with his turned up jeans and his widow’s peak, and he takes the exact same table that is normally mine. The tables are quite literally… never mind. But there is a difference.
He normally sits with his back to me, but because of my laptop’s configurations, I have to sit facing him. So he sits there, not taking out his charger or his handphone, nursing a cup of what seems to be coffee. And every now and then he glances in my direction, or maybe directly towards me, but mostly he is looking at a copy of a free paper.
Of course, I know all this because I am looking at him. Is it out of fear? (But what is there to fear from him?) Maybe it’s gloating. Now the power runs into my computer.
And precisely because it does and it will not run out until I choose to, I can stay online, read webcomics and write a note on Facebook.
This story has a happy ending, and now I wonder if all or many happy endings come about because of supply and demand – that in the end all good things come down to other people who want something a lot less than you do. Down the wall from the Hoarder’s – no, my – socket there is another pair of sockets, but the table right in front of it is occupied by two pleasant ladies who are sipping coffee, eating something or other, and completely not in need of their batteries being charged.
But when at length they leave, the Hoarder still does not head towards the table immediately, and for a while I wonder if I’ve even gotten the right person – he might just be Dude with Coffee in a Black Jacket, in which case I’ve wasted all your time even more than I intended to. But no. Ten minutes or so later, he gets up and goes to the wall.
But he does so with such a heavy and slow gait as to entertain the possibility that something, besides electricity, emanates from the socket I am now using, with which he is reluctant to part. Have I, by defeating the Hoarder, upset some sort of balance that had existed long before I found out about the Royal Festival Hall as a writing place a month ago? And what privilege either leads to or from this effort to come here early only to be just as unproductive in luxury, as I was unproductive in bemoaning my deprivation?
Oh, never mind. He’s got his earphones in and is tapping his feet and drinking his coffee. So I’ve won the right to presume he’s won too.