A short while back I wrote a piece on the joys of subverted expectations and the often amusing results of having them turned on their head. The first tale was of a sunny day in Edinburgh (not fiction) and two young gentlemen, of what at first could be misunderstood to be an aggravated disposition, who were in fact discussing the merits of baking their own cupcakes. Such was my delight I giggled myself through the rest of that day.
The second of the two incidents however made me giggle for far longer. It’s one of the most amusing anecdotes of misunderstanding that I like to throw out at parties, which I get invited to less and less of late… possibly because I’ve only got this one good anecdote and everyone has heard it already. It may just be that my friends don’t like me.
On a trip to New York in 2013 we had the pleasure of staying with a friend in Brooklyn. On top of the generosity of a spare room and good company we also had the opportunity to wander through parts of New York that as visitors we may not otherwise have made time to see. One of the things I love about holidays is actually trying to get a feel for a small slice of the authentic experience. I love music clubs filled with locals and neighbourhoods where your strange accent gets you stared at.
Staying in the part of Brooklyn we had the pleasure of watching arguments in bodegas, drug deals in the sunshine and basically all the things that made me think The Wire was real, without any real feeling of being in danger. That is until the evening I overheard two ladies talking on the way to the metro.
Basically if you live outside the U.S then whether you like it or not you’re vaguely indoctrinated to certain aspects of the country by messages forced on you through television shows. I try not to be, but my expectations get built up to such a level that I even find fire hydrants exciting because they’re “like the movies.” The same thing is true of accents. To me there are maybe 4 or 5 basic accents in the U.S. There’s ‘Texas’ (Friday Night Lights), ‘The South’ (True Blood), the varied sounds of L.A (Modern Family), ‘New York’ (Friends) and then basically anything that sounds threatening – ‘The Wire’. This conversation was definitely ‘The Wire’.
We were but two tourists in a foreign land, holding hands and enjoying the cool relaxation of a pleasant October evening. When I heard this:
“That bitch gonna be dead by morning!”
My grip tightened on my girlfriend’s hand. Things had just got serious. I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do. Now you don’t want to get involved in that kind of stuff and get yo’self shot for a snitch. But there was a coil wound up tight inside me that somehow, through no fault of my own, I’d just become an accessory to murder.
There was a snigger behind. My step quickened as the glee at another’s demise cackled away like a machine gun to my rear. It was all too much.
“Did you hear that!?” I asked, afraid that I was the only one to be exposed to such wilful disregard for human life. I wasn’t sure what the next step was, but I definitely felt that sharing the responsibility was the way forward.
“Yeah so what?” my girlfriend replied.
I was stunned. Was such a cavalier attitude to murder so infectious? Had she been so indoctrinated by the terrors of television that such a comment didn’t shock her?
“She said someone was going to be dead by morning!” I hissed below my breath. Something had to be done!
Then my girlfriend sniggered too; such disregard, such contempt for the sanctity of our existence.
“That, you idiot,” she said, turning to point at an empty nearby car, hazard lights flashing. “She said the battery would be dead by morning.”
And then I giggled too. It was just one misheard word and the strange expectations forced on me by what was, admittedly, my favourite television show. Some tiny part of me expected shoot-outs and car chases and all I got was a man who forgot to turn his lights off. There was relief too. Nobody was going to have to call McNulty about another stiff in the projects.
It’s funny how easy our own expectations can be built without us realising. And I resolved on that day, no matter what, I’d never think someone was planning murder until I really had evidence. And I’d never leave my car lights on in Brooklyn. People would laugh at me.