Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

Orlando

A neutron bomb hit this place just as I got off the aeroplane, killing all humans but leaving the buildings standing. It was a horrid, unpardonable crime, and for it I blame the scientists. But not for the reasons you think.

They should have done it the other way round. Kill the buildings, save the humans, however brain-dead they are in Orlando.

I knew we were in trouble the moment I deplaned. There were five of us, two competitors and three coaches. We were in Orlando for the US national judo championships, yours truly defending champion in the 70 and over class. The neutron-bomb landscape was the first thing I noticed after we hired a van at the airport from a woman so dumb she made ugly lower-middle-class female Guardian writers sound like intelligent parrots.

The sterility of the place is the first thing that hits you. We had established a male locker-room atmosphere on the plane, and it continued as we drove into a city lined with crappy food joints, junk-selling megastores and other horrors too terrible to describe in the elegant pages of The Spectator. Consumption is the order of the day, although we saw no humans, just a lot of minivans gliding endlessly through the flat, hot, humid, unbearably sticky air.

There are roadside motels, gas stations, and diners interspersed with some faux-gothic monsters of incredible ugliness that pass as tourist attractions. There is even an upsidedown Greek temple - I kid you not - one of recent construction. The oldest building in Orlando is three years old. Despite the jokes among us - blonde, 3 o'clock - the place gets to you in no time. A Roman temple with hamburgers as pediments, a Gothic pile with ice-cream cones as pillars, a McDonald's Monet tableau of cheap gaudy houses beckoning us in a 'come-hither and spend a few bucks' manner. We debated whether it was better to live in Orlando or die back in New York. The latter won hands down.

'This place is haunted by unsold hotdogs, ' said the intellectual of our group, Mark Brennan. 'A Cecil B. DeMille set on acid, ' said the coach Teimoc Johnston-Ono.

'I'd rather be back in Uzbekistan, ' was Alisher's contribution. Bryan, the US university national champion, said little, but being a student he threw in a reference about sterility and Lady Chatterley's hubby, the cockold being fecund by comparison to Orlando.

Yes, I did win the gold, but most of my opponents died natural deaths during the contests. Next month I will be in Germany, for the world masters championships, and it will be much, much tougher. Judo Rommels and Guderians will face the poor little Greek boy for the last time, as I've decided to throw in the towel. …

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