Entry #4: Liverpool Street
It was Mark Twain who said, “Strip the human race, absolutely naked, and it would be a real democracy”. This statement rings true for our compliance to partake in the ever expanding machine that is capitalism and its consequential affect on our social relations. On a more micro-level, we must look at the gregarious slaughterhouse that is London’s financial district. Though the City of London is London’s official financial center, we all know the money has shifted to Canary Wharf and inside the pockets of men purchasing lucrative properties in Knightsbridge.
To that point, however, it’s Broadgate Circle by Liverpool Street station where all the boys in blue come to kick off their Derby’s and abandon protocol.
Of course, I am not talking about the seasoned gentlemen; I’m referring to the reckless lads who think they cash in big but always end up going home broke. Sure, they have their hoarder-like savings account, their ‘future business plan’ and they know how to charm and negotiate. Look pass their flashy smile and hard enough into their cold, deadpan eyes, and you’ll see it glaring back at you: a need for validation.
My friend loves to go to these bars surrounded by men in suits. Every time we go, she walks in with grace and brazen confidence, only to strike up a conversation and tear status down. She is not part of the finance clique, she is successful in her work and she is young. These traits are both attractive and intimidating. I tag along for amusement and I suppose, a touch of irony. I steady a bottle of rosé and study the space. Here, you can be whomever you chose to invent. In the ever-changing sea of faces and shades of blue, you can completely forget your existing life.
When I first came to London at seventeen, my dad took me and whizzed past all the business centers for work. I stuck out like a sore thumb. With my uncombed hair, oversized jeans and frilly tank top, I definitely did not belong here. Everywhere around me, and with such rapid force, were sardines tossing and turning, stuck in this grey can of a city.
Disguised in white collars, blue blazers, silver cufflinks, gold cufflinks, shiny black shoes, slender matching navy trousers, kitten heels, thick hairspray, leather briefcases, doused in cologne…or how Henry Miller described New York in 1935, the city is ‘an aquarium...where there are nothing but hellbenders and lungfish and slimy, snag-toothed gropers and sharks”.
On a late Tuesday afternoon, maybe two or three men can be spotted standing side-by-side, pint in hand. On Thursday nights, the circle and neighboring pubs swelter with both men and women eager to take the edge off work before another glorious weekend begins.
My friend and I catch up on the week’s gossip and men approach us. The 8 PM conversations are rather meaningless, questions about where you’re from and what you do. Every guy is in finance and wears a necktie (connotation: a noose). The women don’t talk to us, and if by accident, we bump into each other or queue in the same line at the bathroom, we talk about the guys. We tell each other which ones to avoid, or warn one another to forget about them altogether.
At 11 PM, the chats turn heated. Men become sly, making jokes with double entendres and coyly placing their hand on your leg. I crack the surface: uninterested. The minute men see you don’t want to sleep with them, they either move on to the next bird that acts surprised they caught eyes, or they start talking about their insecurities. It’s essentially a whore versus mother dilemma.
Now, the reason I use the word ‘acts’ for us ladies is because let’s get real. The guy you like doesn’t see you first. No, you and your friends have been circling around him for hours, and he gets tired. If you’d like to take up arms against that claim, please go watch Iliza Shlesinger and return for a hug.
It’s past midnight and everyone has had enough alcohol to omit filter and/or regard. With the backdrop of money, the gender power play ignites and what started out as a casual evening of sitting back with friends becomes a banal therapy session. Whether it’s alcohol, a run to your dealer, or a haphazard fuck, there seems to be a mutual consensus in using outside sources to fix yourself.
This one evening, we see a young lanky man sitting in a chair. His hair is greasily parted, straight suit jacket on and his legs spread, a tad too wide. In front of him is a beautiful petite woman in a tight black dress and high heels. They are playfully smiling at each other. Except, if you lean in and listen to their conversation, you can hear she is asking him to get up. He arrogantly remains firm in his seat, occasionally looking away. The more she asks, the more self-conscious she appears and eventually, it’s no longer fun. I wish I was kidding, but this “negotiation” lasted for over thirty minutes. Eventually, she makes a motion to leave, when in this beat, he stands up. But she doesn't want to sit anymore and goes to find her friend who she initially abandoned for this hot shot. He shrugs, moving onto a new group of women.
On another night, a man late into his thirties starts chatting up my friend at the bar. He is of average height with a stubble beard, wearing business casual. I forget what he opens with, but I am pulled into the same conversation when he says, looking at us both, “I have a daughter, and sometimes, I worry how my absence might affect her.” He looks sad and genuinely lost. I wonder what he's doing here. And suddenly, I am seventeen again walking through London for the first time. This time my hair is combed, I’m in a pair of slacks and a nice blouse, and still, I feel like a kid. I do not belong here and neither does he. It dawns on me that perhaps, we look towards others in hope of finding a mirror of ourselves.
So, what is happening in our private life that leads us to seek compassion in complete strangers? And why are we so quick to judge ourselves against the way others look at us?
This leads me to the conclusion that there are two types of people in this city: those who wish to hide and those who don’t know how to. The ones defensive about being seen - really seen - will do anything to evade vulnerability. They sit in the same pit as the ones aimlessly walking around, begging to be seen. At the heart of it, we are in a cauldron of bubbling self-judgment and lack of self-esteem, looking for the validation to simply be ourselves.
You may invent and reinvent yourself amongst the crowd, but as you walk home past the kebab shops, the drunken men in front of strip clubs and the few beggars sleeping, you’re going back to your own solidarity. And sometimes, that’s a scary place to be.
Poet John Keats also famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” but oh my, was our fellow Keats naive, thinking only of the surrender to truth. He forgot to mention that before we can bask in truth’s beauty, truth will rear its ugly head and ask us to undress.