Rock, Paper, Scissors
Eight hours into Rob’s stag, which had
started strong with a pub crawl up
the Bermondsey beer mile
and was now beginning to sag
at a Wetherspoon’s near Tower Bridge,
a match of rock, paper, scissors
was breaking out to pick between
the following two options
for what would happen next:
1: We go to Katzenjammers
authentic German bierkeller
under London Bridge, where we would
listen to an oompah band, eat sauerkraut,
drink litre steins of Paulaner Dunkel
and be held in the basement
by police for our own protection
as terrorists attacked the door outside,
see bloody victims hurry down
the stairs to shelter in the bar,
watch paramedics treat
slash wounds to the throat and
stab wounds to the stomach, and
slash and stab wounds
to the throat and stomach and
hear a woman sob and hyperventilate
because of what she couldn’t
bring herself to tell us she had seen
up on street level
and take cover under
the traditional wooden benches
when armed officers burst in
with automatic weapons
yelling, ‘Down, Get down! GET. DOWN.’
or 2:We go to a strip club.
The game began, Emmett and Matt
competing. So it’s ‘One, two, three, Go’
and play on Go. One, two, three, Go.
Both guys threw down scissors first.
One, two, three, Go.
Both changed tack dramatically
and went for paper –
all bets were off.
One, two, three, Go.
They cast their final shapes.
Emmett, for the bier bar,
stuck fatefully with paper
while Matt, solidly in favour
of the strip club,
chose rock and lost.
The decision had been made
and I dwell on it for bathos, mainly,
and because the world is made of games
of rock, paper, scissors like this one.
Not only in the sense that every flip
or arbitrary choice has disproportionately
huge and permanent results
but in the sense that every gesture,
either of victory or defeat,
aggression or surrender,
depends for its meaning on another.
Put it this way: a photograph
of Matt’s third and losing move,
viewed in isolation, appears
to show a man raising his fist in anger,
about to throw a punch. Only those who know
which game of signs he’s playing at
will read the hand as rock.
And even rock means nothing
without further context:
in rock, paper, scissors, rock
is capable of meaning strength
or weakness or indifference
depending on the sign
selected to contest it.
We called an Uber to take us to London Bridge.
from Rock, Paper, Scissors (Picador, 2019), copyright © Richard Osmond 2019, used by permission of the author and the publisher.