Finally cured by a detour to Saginaw

A man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest.

When I was about seven or eight, I had this fancy that my parents would one day persuade Simon and Garfunkel to come to tea with us. It didn’t occur to me that they had first names. I saw what I wanted to see, and disregarded the fact that my parents didn’t even like their music. Far less did they know them, or have anything useful like the means to contact them.

Haunted through my teenage years by the poetry of the songs and the generally depressing meaning that I discerned in them, all of which was so much more articulate and clever than the shockingly awful poetry that I was writing at the time, I made a mad promise to myself that I would one day go to every place mentioned in one of their songs.

I didn’t actually go to New York till I was in my mid twenties, but then I started to visit on a regular basis for about a decade, and I set to work.

Much of it was easy. I mean, any old fool can get to seventh avenue (where the whores were in the Boxer), just by walking south-west from the Carnegie Hall by Central Park. I did so, and I saw no whores, just a street full of shops I didn’t want to go into.

The next evening I went to 59th Street Bridge (it took me about half an hour to realise that they meant the Queensboro Bridge), and found that I was neither moving too fast, nor feeling groovy in the least. I just looked like what I was, an awkward tourist.

Before I went home on that visit, I went to the zoo (zebras being reactionaries, and antelopes being missionaries), and accidentally left my bagel lunch on a bench. If I hear At The Zoo now, I feel simultaneously hungry and depressed.

On it went. At a comedy store in Bleeker Street (still their finest song of all, if you ask me), when I was wearing that uniform of the 1980s business traveller, a pinstripe suit that made me look like a spiv, I was duly targeted and torn limb from metaphorical limb by a performer who I still have to admit was quite funny. Within five minutes, and without knowing the first thing about me apart from the fact that I looked like an idiot, he shredded me to the delight of his hip audience. I hid in the loo for a while, but he was still there, still sparkling at me, by the time I got back.

I got stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike (America), but then, everyone gets stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s why so many people are late for their flights out of Newark. I started counting the cars, which is what I was supposed to do, but swiftly got bored.

And on I went, visit after visit. I stood in tenement halls (Sounds of Silence), walked cautiously through the Chicago suburb of Cicero (Seven o Clock News/Silent Night) and wandered endlessly round Brooklyn (My Little Town), but it was to be a new millennium before I was finally shocked out of the habit.

Don’t ask me why, but one winter’s night I was driving with my young family down the side of Lake Huron towards Detroit when I saw a sign to Saginaw, a mere twenty miles off our route. We were hungry, and so did it. It may well have taken Simon and Garfunkel four days to hitchhike from Saginaw, (America) but we were in the city limits in about twenty five minutes, holed up in a diner called Grampa Toni’s.

Grampa Toni’s on a Friday evening was a vision of hell on earth, and within three nano-seconds, I recognised it for what it was, a ghastly mistake. With waiters so rude they could easily get employment on Ryanair, portions so huge that they needed heavy lifting equipment and a customer base who were more than talented at letting us know that we didn’t belong there, my family looked utterly miserable.

‘Why are we here?’ asked Caroline.

I explained, unbelievably still thinking that they might find this quirky, even quaint. They didn’t. They found it irresponsible and selfish, and they told me so. I think the consensus was that I was temporarily ruining their lives.

Half way through our gargantuan main courses, I paid the bill, drove the family off into the night and never visited another Simon and Garfunkel place again, ever.

But I am still hanging on in the hope that one, or both, will come to tea with me.

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