While walking down a city side-street the other day I heard the muffled sound of a saxophone running up and down a series of scales. It appeared to be coming from one of the parked cars and, sure enough, it was: from an Uber cab. The driver was sitting behind the wheel, blowing into an alto saxophone. I smiled at him but he was too intent on his playing to notice me. So I made up a story about him: he was a recent immigrant bent on making a career in jazz music but, for the time being, found it necessary to earn his corn by driving the cab. He might, of course, have been a professional Uber driver who just happened to be a saxophone-playing hobbyist, but I didn’t feel inclined to tap on his window to ask: I preferred my, more romantic, version. It made me think of a quote which had stuck in my memory: Vocations which we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colours, on the whole of our existence (Balzac).
Anyway, I was on a mission: to buy a pair of fold-flat reading-specs – the ones that fit handily into the top pocket of a shirt or jacket – for my up-coming travels. They were not easy to find (opticians seem a bit sniffy about anything non-prescription) but eventually I got some in Waterstone’s bookshop and, flush with my success, hopped into the lift to escape the shopping mall. But it’s busy at this time of year and I was swept deep into the car by several women pushing prams, herding toddlers and wielding shopping bags.
“It’s a bit of a squeeze,” said one of the women to her brood, “breathe in!” We all smiled.
“Actually, breathing in makes you bigger,” I said. “You get thinner when you exhale.”
She did not reply but looked at me with a sour expression. She could have been thinking don’t belittle me in front of my children or, perhaps, nobody likes a smart-arse but, whatever she thought, it was obvious that she had no use for the scientifically correct gem of information I had imparted, nor was she in the mood for pedantic banter. On my way out I squeezed past her, avoiding eye-contact but exhaling ostentatiously.
Later I went to the cinema to see Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. It struck me as being a top-notch piece of cinema-craft, lushly and lovingly shot, a prime example of an escapist movie with a cast of nasty characters, a beginning steeped in menace and a resolution that, predictably, turned violent. But I don’t much care for violence and it was the preceding trailer for Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson that stayed in mind as the lights went up. It promised something quite different and I determined to see it later in the week.
I took the specs back to Waterstone’s because they didn’t really work: they were designed to fold flat, certainly, but they were also designed to slide inexorably off one’s nose and into one’s lap – or worse. I timed the outing perfectly so that afterwards I could walk to the cinema, arriving 15 minutes after the advertised screening time so as to avoid sitting through the adverts all over again.
Paterson lived up to my expectation. It is indeed a different type of movie – more of a low-key, everyday story – devoid of violence, full of tenderness, simplicity and honesty. The eponymous hero is a bus driver who writes poetry in his spare time: or he might be a poet who drives a bus in order to pay his way. I'm rooting for the latter.