John Stovall - As noted noted below John is a native Texan, currently living in London after many years in New York. As one of Gooch! 's foreign correspondents John keeps us all up on the latest international happenings

The Corner Store

By John Stovall
(Published in Gooch!, Fall 2002)


Dear Gooch,

Autumn is here now. We didn't even get a summer and now we have autumn. I woke up this morning and it had arrived. Here in England, though, it is only marked by a sudden change in temperature and a sense of the days growing shorter. It is that sense that mainly defines it. Eventually the days will get so short that I will be walking across Tower Bridge to work in the dark and returning home in the same darkness.

Autumn in New York is always my favorite time. The sky is clear and the trees are turning and it's the only time New York City actually smells clean. We don't get any of that here. Autumn in New York amazes me and I miss it deeply.

Matisse and Picasso just closed at the Tate Modern. It was an excellent show juxtaposing them side by side. What gets me is how plainly obvious it is that each had influenced the other. Room after room was filled with pieces playing off against each other like two great jazz musicians picking up on each other's riffs. It was deafening. We went early one morning and walked through the rooms virtually alone and imagined that they were ours to look at whenever we wanted. Marvelous.

The old Tate is hosting a Lucien Freud retrospective. The man isn't even dead yet and he gets a major show at the old Tate. That's importance for you. Other people marvel at the realism he achieves and all. And I can see and appreciate that. But it is the poses that draw me in. He poses all his subjects in this odd, uncomfortable manner that he disguises as natural. Their discomfort is all I can see. Painting after painting of these big, fleshy humans in agony. Made to look real, but really in agony. It's all wrong.

So I went down to the new corner store this morning. I had been there before. It's been open for two months now. It is run by an older man in his 60s I would say. I think he comes from Iran, or maybe Pakistan. He doesn't have much of interest to me in there. It's very small and filled with newspapers and magazines and cheap colas and milk Ð whatever he can get on credit I imagine. Anyway, this morning I decided to, you know, start up a chat and ask him how business was. Wish him good luck and all.

He never told me his name. Instead he told me how he got the store.

He worked for years in a factory in east London. He had to quit, though, when his wife became ill with cancer. He stopped working and took care of his wife for two years until she died, just as the money ran out. He had no money and nobody would give an old man a job. And all he could think of was not wanting to go on the dole. He wanted to continue living in his flat Ð his and his wife's. And he didn't want to go on the dole. So one night he bought a lottery ticket.

Looking at the place I can't imagine that he hit for much. But he hit for enough. So he got the little corner shop. And they won't even grant him a license to sell lottery tickets.

I'll spend the rest of the day thinking of Margie Masters. She was our housekeeper growing up. She was also our nanny and disciplinarian. She was the kind of woman who I could talk to about anything and she would listen and she wouldn't disagree with me. Everyone needs someone like that in their life. Margie used to tell us over and over that, even in the worst situation, there was always opportunity. That not finding it or, worse yet, not looking for it is what makes dumb people dumb, and that it would save my hide some day. It has. She is dead some 10 years now Ð cancer again.

That man in the corner store reminded me of Margie and all those important things she taught us, like the importance of a well ironed shirt, and how to cook and the power of second chances. Next time I will ask his name.


Send pictures, Stovall


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