Tuesday, 28 January 2014

In the ghetto.

There's a guy living near me, I can see his living room window right now if I crane my neck, who I have a nodding acquaintance with. Some of you out there in the virtual world know me and know my neighbours and so I shall give him a pseudonym. He's a nice guy so I'll give him a cool name, let's say it's Elvis.

Elvis is a nice bloke. Salt of the earth some would say. Pleasant, quietly spoken, educated to a reasonable degree. Elvis lives alone with his dog. This hasn't always been the case.

Until a couple of years back Elvis was married. In the 1970s and '80s Elvis was in a band. Not a hugely successful band, but a proper, jobbing, musical band who even managed a couple of television appearances, had regular bookings across the country and had a single which briefly popped it's head into the hit parade. Elvis is by no means stupid and knew that his chances of making a fortune writing and performing were slim. He dreamt, as we all do, but he was realistic. Elvis had a back up career.

Elvis' back up career became his main job as the toll of aging and responsibilities began to take hold. Elvis put his dreams in a box and placed them on a shelf somewhere at the back of his ego and knuckled down.

Through hard work, mixed with a small amount of good fortune (if the inheritance received from the loss of a loved one can be described in such a way), Elvis bought his own home. Nothing grand, but cosy and comfortable and one hundred percent his. Without a mortgage Elvis was able to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. Elvis drove a second hand, though relatively new, Jaguar. Elvis took foreign holidays and ate well. He would spend the occasional evening in the local pub, never causing trouble or offence, quietly enjoying the company of his friends and acquaintances before wandering home via the chippy where he would buy his beloved dog a jumbo sausage (I'm not sure if I agree with the slaughter of elephants for sausages, but to each his own.) and himself a bag of chips for his supper.

Elvis met a woman. She was lovely. They were well suited looks and attitude wise. After a time Elvis married his Priscilla, and he'd won. His life was good. Not perfect, nothing especially exciting, but good.

One day Elvis returned home from his lovely little job to find his lovely little house empty and his lovely little dog alone. Initially Elvis thought his lovely wife was out with friends, or shopping, or maybe visiting a family member and had lost track of time. Elvis tried to phone her but the phone went straight to answer machine. Still, it was only early. Elvis made his evening meal, walked his lovely dog and settled in front of the television. By 9.00pm Elvis had started to worry.

At first Elvis thought something bad had happened to her. He thought she may have been involved in an accident and was lay in a hospital bed somewhere. He rang the hospital. She wasn't there. Elvis then rang the police who couldn't help. He rang them again after the required twenty four hours and reported her as missing person. He looked everywhere for her, sad and scared, but to no avail.

The police came to see him. Elvis feared the worst. Had she been murdered? Was she the victim of a terrible accident?

No. She was fine. Safe and well. Elvis felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, but only for a moment or two. She was fine, she was safe, and she was somewhere that the police weren't able to divulge. Priscilla had left him. Elvis had no idea why, had had no idea there was anything wrong, and Elvis felt sick to his stomach.

The next day Elvis didn't go to work. Nor did he the day after. Or the day after that. The weekend arrived and Elvis went to the pub. Elvis got drunk and cried. His friends put their arms around his shuddering shoulders and told him everything would be okay, that Priscilla was a bitch and that there were plenty more fish in the sea. Elvis went home, sans sausage and chips, and went to bed.

On Monday morning Elvis went to work. He didn't want to go, but he had bills to pay and dignity to regain. Elvis worked until dinnertime and was then called into his managers office. His manager was sorry, but his manager had to let some staff go. The business was in danger of collapse, it was unavoidable and, being a reasonable man, Elvis understood. He left work and went home. It was okay, Elvis wasn't rich but by now (His mid-fifties) Elvis had managed to accumulate a nice little nest egg and, as I mentioned, his home was mortgage free.

Except now it wasn't.

Later that week Elvis discovered that his beloved Priscilla had re-mortgaged their home and pocketed the money for herself. Also, the joint account in which his lovely little nest egg resided (about £20,000) was now empty. Elvis cried, this time without having to be drunk.

No job, no insurance to cover the mortgage and no wife to console him Elvis began to get poorly. The police investigated the theft and prosecuted Priscilla. Priscilla went to prison. Priscilla had no money though. It was somewhere, but not anywhere that anyone could retrieve it from. Elvis was ruined.

First to go was his Jag, replaced by an aging Vauxhall. The house, of course, was repossessed. Elvis was lucky enough to get a two bed roomed flat in a dirty old town on the other side of Manchester. Elvis wasn't a proud man, he was happy enough so long as his dog and he had a roof over their heads and food in their tummies.

Elvis became more poorly. Even before Priscilla had left he had, unbeknown to anyone, begun to develop a small, black tumour in his stomach. It was operated on, removed and a course of chemotherapy began.The doctors told him he was in remission and had a reasonable prognosis.

Elvis wasn't a big man, but had withered significantly during his treatment.

Elvis was unable to work, but because he lived in this great nation of ours he was looked after. His treatment was free, his rent was paid and he had enough benefits to pay for electricity, gas and food. He would be okay, wouldn't need to cook crack to make ends meet and wouldn't starve. He filled his days by driving up to Rivington with his lovely dog and walking for hours on end, coming home tired but content.

I'd met Elvis at about this point in his life. At the time I would spend my Sunday mornings on a car boot sale and he would occasionally turn up, lovely dog by his side, and chat a while. One Sunday he asked if I'd like to buy a tropical fish tank and all the equipment off him, the lot for £20.00. Dirt cheap. I bought it.

When I went to collect it his flat was cold. He was wearing his coat indoors. His flat was well decorated and well furnished. He even had a large, flat-screen, television. He himself looked a little dirty though, with greasy hair and a patchy beard. I paid him his money, a ten pound note, a five pound note and a scottish five pound note, and took my items home.

I saw Elvis later, in the local shop. He was putting £5.00 on his gas card, a further fiver on his electricity and buying dog food, milk and tobacco. He was smiling as he paid the chap behind the counter with a ten pound note, a five pound note and a scottish five pound note.

Later that week he asked if I wanted to buy, or knew anyone who wanted to buy, his car. He "didn't need it anymore". I didn't want it but I put him in touch with a man who was looking for a cheap runabout for his daughter and he sold it for a couple of hundred pounds. Now he filled his days by walking his lovely dog to Rivington and back again, retuning exhausted but content each evening.

Several weeks ago Elvis stopped me in the street. He looked awful. His hair was visibly dirty, his face now adorned with an unkempt beard and with the sweet, sickly smell of B.O. that is so rare in these days of shower gels and anti-perspirants. He smiled, coughed a bit, smiled again and asked if I wanted to buy a bed and matching bedside cabinets. I said no, but I knew a man that dealt in furniture and would bring him round later that day.

When we arrived it was beginning to go dark. There were no lights on in his flat and no heating on. He was wearing two coats and his lovely dog was curled up under a blanket in the corner of his living room, besides the one remaining chair and the small, portable television that sat, lifeless, on the coffee table in the corner. The walls when last I'd visited had contained framed paintings and mirrors. Now there was just one photograph, in a frame, hung on the chimney breast. A photo of Elvis and his band in the 1980s, five young men with huge smiles and a cocky air about them.

We went into the bedroom to look at the furniture. The bed and cabinets were the only things in there. It was too dark to see, so Elvis got a torch as he "hadn't had time to go to the shop for electric yet". The furniture dealer offered Elvis ten pounds, a disgustingly small amount of money for a lovely bit of furniture. Elvis accepted immediately, but said he needed to keep the mattress so that he had somewhere to sleep until his new bed was delivered. I wanted to cry. The furniture dealer paid him, a five pound note and five one pound coins.

I saw Elvis later, in the shop, buying dog food and electricity and paying with a fiver and five ones.

Elvis smokes, has a dog, had a huge television, isn't dying of cancer and, until recently, drove a car.

But he's on benefits.

What a fucking scumbag.


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