The Sound Of Success
Sometimes in life you are presented with an opportunity so good you’d be stupid not to grasp it. An opportunity that can take you out of your humdrum existence. Promote you to a higher echelon. This is a story about such an opportunity.
It’s almost with a bit of resignation that I say this opportunity came to me in London. I live in Birmingham, and I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about how London-centric things are. Everything is based there, and a lot of people move to London to get their big shot. If you want to do anything in your life that isn’t sad and boring, you must move to London, so the story goes.
I’d like to contradict that prevailing narrative. In this case I can’t. I’m not saying this couldn’t have happened outside of London. I’m simply saying that it did happen in London.
I was walking down a street called Seven Sisters high street in North London. I was staying in the area at a friend’s flat. He’d gone to Australia for the month to do some gigs – which to be fair to him is technically outside of London – and he very kindly let me stay at his place while he was gone.
As a lot of stand-up gigs are in London, I grasped the opportunity. This isn’t the opportunity I was talking about at the start, but it was a big one. I’m an up-and-coming comic. I’ve been so for 9 years. I’m not sure when you stop saying you’re up-and-coming. I still think I’m coming. And I know for a fact I’m up. I’m awake. I must be coming. Where else would I be going? Maybe I already came? Maybe it’s just taking a while to come because I’m on anti-depressants?
Either way, I decided to go to London for the month and do some gigs in the hope a TV executive would see me and fall in love with my wry, self-deprecating style and decide to put me on all the panel shows plus commission me to do one of those shows where a comedian travels the world with his mum and the audience at home laugh at the constant bickering between an unlikely comedic duo whose relationship is just dysfunctional enough to be funny, but not enough to be genuinely triggering of the viewer’s own family traumas. Loretta would love that.
All this was on my mind as I was walking down the high-street. I was headed towards my favourite place to write, Costa Coffee. I could almost taste the latte I would drink, almost feel the excitement that would overcome me as I expressed my creativity on the page, almost hear the laughter from the new dick jokes I would try to 12 other comics at an open mic later that evening. I was in London and I was ready to go for it, but then a noise woke me from my daydream.
“You want Airpods?”
The noise came from a man. He was about 41 I would say if I had to guess and I would also say he was Eastern European if you must know. I’m not that good at identifying accents so maybe he wasn’t and I’m so sorry if he wasn’t.
“Erm… I dunno,” I said.
Usually, my instinct when a stranger speaks to me is to run or pretend I don’t speak English or pretend I’m a runner who doesn’t speak English. But this time I was intrigued.
For those of you who don’t know, Apple Airpods are the market leaders in earphones. The best of the best. When you’re wearing them, they not only cancel noise, they also cancel any doubts people have about you. Anyone who’s anyone has Airpods. When the Rock works out, he’s wearing Airpods. When Taylor Swift listens to a podcast, she’s wearing Airpods. When an American president orders a drone strike that will take out innocent civilians, he’s doing it hands-free via his Airpods.
Being from Birmingham, you don’t really feel like Airpods are something you can have. It’s partly psychological. There’s this “Them” who get the good stuff, the elite. Airpods are for Them, JVC wireless ear buds that cost £12 are for people like me.
“How much?” I asked.
Airpods are typically around £200, so when I heard this, I was excited, but also slightly suspicious. Did this man have any affiliation with Apple? Was he actually an official retailer?
“How come they’re so cheap,” I asked. “Are they real?” “Yes of course they’re real,” he said, pulling the box out of his pocket. “Take a look.”
He handed me the box. I was surprised he let me hold the box without being scared I’d flee. It was a tremendous amount of trust he was putting in me. I felt guilty for the lack of trust I was paying in return.
I opened the box up and examined the Airpods. They looked real. On the Airpod case, it said, “Designed by Apple in California” which is what’s written on all official Apple products. Hmmm.
“Are they stolen?” I asked.
“£50. You want Airpods or not?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
I felt conflicted. It was a bargain, but was it right for me to buy a stolen item? Is that how my mother raised me? Yes it is, but shouldn’t I be breaking free from that? But then, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. If I don’t buy these now, what if he sells them to another up-and-coming-maybe-already-came comic? What if the TV executive I imagine changing my life sees this other comic with their Airpods and deems them a more serious proposition. Every micro-decision you make matters.
Maybe if I got these Airpods it wouldn’t just convince TV executives I was serious, it would convince me. I would walk round with the confidence of a somebody. I would be one of Them. Was the part of me that didn’t want to purchase them actually plagued by a guilt about them being stolen? Or was part of me scared to move forward in my life? Yes, my life was humdrum, but humdrum was what I knew. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the next level – fame, success, podcasts about dealing with chronic anxiety transmitted to my ear drums with complete crispness.
“£50. Airpods. You want?”
He seemed irritated by this point. I’d just done two paragraphs of pondering in my mind, so I could see why. I felt I needed to make a decision. This was London. People had places to be, even people who sold stolen goods.
“I’ll take them.”
I didn’t have £50 on me, so we went to a nearby cash point to get the deal done.
I walked away, beaming with excitement. This felt like the start of something. I arrived at Costa Coffee, ordered my latte and opened my laptop, ready to write, ready to see what jokes I could put together to make a name for myself in this city. I felt a little bit in love with London at that moment, and slightly guilty about the anti-London chip I carried on my shoulder.
The reason everything is in London is because that’s where the winners are. This is where people go to make it. They take chances. The man on the street selling Airpods was an example of that. So were Sergio and Bruno Costa, the two founders of the very institution I sat in. They moved to London from Italy decades ago and made a name for themselves here.
I was inspired. I had to stop looking at successful people as part of a Them. Them is I. I is Them.
I opened the Spotify app in order to put on a playlist of Binaural Beats, lyric-less music that puts me into a mediative state that brings the dick jokes to the centre of my consciousness.
I got out my new Airpods, excited to start my new life of fearless creative striving. I paired the Airpods to my phone.
A message popped up on the screen.
“These headphones could not be verified as genuine Airpods.”
I pressed play on my playist.
They sounded like shit.
Anyway, that’s about it.
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