Thursday night I spent at a community center in Cowley. Walking there, in the rain, I spied a diner-like restaurant and got nostalgic for New York, but that, so far, has been the only specifically American thing that I’ve missed. The culture shock has really only been a positive, so far, and has mostly been far from shocking; having know my parents various English friends throughout my life must have prepared my somewhat. Perhaps my great love for traveling to London several times with one who I am happy to call one of my closest friends now helped.
Back to the community center. I was looking for the open-mic night event, but before finding the proper room, I stumbled on an adult martial arts lesson of some sort in which the students all wore black robes rather than the white I’ve always seen. I also accidentally walked into a ballroom-dancing lesson, thinking at first that the music was, perhaps, what I should be following in order to arrive at my destination.
Finally, though, I found Catweazle, the event I had been searching for. By the time it started, the place was packed with a mix of people, from university age teenagers to several late middle-aged men and women. There were chairs, couches, cushions on the floor, and people standing in back near the bar as well. The air was lit with candles and a soft orange and red glow. The crowd was supportive, the musicians were all talented, and the few who recited poetry or performed in some other way were either fantastic or interesting to watch.
I walked back to college with a friend who had been performing – she was feeling ill and was half-burning up with fever, the poor dear, but somehow managed to sing and perform incredibly, without a hitch – and then, since the drizzle had turned, by this point, into real rain, I decided to catch the bus back across town to where I live.
At the bus stop I saw a street-dweller with a dog – rather a fad among Oxford homeless, it seems – and she was only half there. Either drunk or drugged, I’m not certain, but either way, she was blundering around, trying to get her dog to stop jumping up on people. He was starving, trying to get at people’s food, but he was a lovely little thing, not aggressive at all. Nor was the woman, for that matter – she was constantly apologizing for the dog’s behavior, and seemed half uncomfortable with the whole situation. But then again, she also mumbled about trying to feed the dog and trying to get money for it. Suddenly, out of the shadows, loomed a man hugging a bottle of amber alcohol – it had no label, so I’m not positive as to what it was exactly – but he appeared like a drunken Dracula, leering at the little woman with her dog. She seemed to have been waiting for him though since she greeted him amicably enough at first. They talked with a couple of drunk teenagers who were waiting for the bus and who asked about the dog, and the tall man with the bottle implied that the dog was only hers, and she pushed him back saying that he could spend less on the bottle he was holding. He giggled and hugged his bottle closer. They were both so clean, so well-dressed, relatively, that I was simultaneously impressed with the quality of Oxford’s outreach and inclusion of street people in its community while also being incredibly depressed. The range of alcoholics I’ve known has been wide – from abusive husbands to the most intelligent woman I’ve ever had the privilege to know – but this strange couple with the dog made me want to weep for how many caricature-like characteristics they displayed in the brief ten minutes I had to watch them. It was as if, in the toy-town of Oxford, they were wind-up toy street people, tame and clean and well-taken care of. Better than the alternative, of course; but why must a town have miserable people in it in order to be complete?