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Sunday August 18, 2002, 17:29

One would imagine that after a week back in London after two weeks in Edinburgh, that there would be something on my mind. Something that I could write that would be an interesting and compelling read. One would have to take my word for it that there really isn't anything more for me to say than that one should visit Edinburgh as it is a very nice city.

Sitting in the flat on a Sunday afternoon, alternately working and contemplating a re-examination of the writing process in the form of writing and then subsequently examining it, I was all of a sudden struck by inspiration. Standing across the street, just off of the sidewalk, an old woman was calmly pulling little bits of plastic out of her pocket; it most likely came from a cigarette package. She would pull a bit of trash out and, without giving it a look, drop it on the street. This is, amazingly, common practice in this country and I decided that I would begin by writing about trash in London, specifically. I would then probably delve into the weather a bit, as is common when writing about the United Kingdom, and then I might touch upon my recent health problems1.

What happened in reality was just a touch different and worlds away from acceptable, even in my eyes2. As I watched the woman on the sidewalk, spinning words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs describing the treatment that is given this beautiful city, I noticed her still standing on the street just off the sidewalk, legs spread apart, facing me. Without any warning, after fishing a piece of paper out of her coat pocket and discarding it in the street, she began to urinate, a puddle forming between her legs and running down the asphalt. She wasn't really, was she? I looked down again, her wrinkled face completely expressionless but for the corners of her mouth, turned down after so many years of English frowning.

After a couple of seconds, she stopped and walked away, and that was the end.

I'm not exactly sure what it was about this event that made me so determined to write about it. Was it the blatant disregard for public space that was exhibited by this woman (for though she did have the courtesy to urinate on the street, as opposed to the sidewalk, this was still very public, very visible space that she was using as her own latrine), or was it the fact that it was a woman, and not a man, who was performing the act? After all, one does not give a second look (at least not in London) to the man standing against a wall, puddle forming beneath him. Or was it the fact that it was a pleasant Sunday afternoon on which I witnessed this event?

Or is it just because there really wasn't much else going on today?



1. It was actually going to be quite interesting, this little digression. It would have gone something like this (or so I had planned out in my head as I was standing in the kitchen, trying to decide exactly what I was going to do next: write or work): The interesting thing about not being able to breathe properly is that it makes any story that much more dramatic. Case in point is the sentence, "I woke up in the middle of the night." On its own, it is not too compelling. However, if we take the act of not being able to get enough oxygen into one's lungs, we get the gem of a sentence, "I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, clutching the edge of the bed for support as I felt the weight of the world crushing down upon my chest. Struggling for a last gasp of air I lunged forward and seized my inhaler and, with a final, glorious breath brought rushing forth a wind of life." Now, aside from evoking images of the pale kid in the back of the class in grade school, the "breathless" departure from the common scenario is indisputably a winner in the library of plot devices.

2. Being half-Jewish (though not religiously, as it has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions thank you very much) and half-Chinese, I feel that it is my right, nay, my duty, to be offensive to at least these two groups of people in equal parts. Acceptable behavior is something that I frown upon (though in reality, this is probably not true at all).

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