The Shoe Leather Express

Writing and Comedy from James Harris

Category: Satire

Currency exchange

Scene: A currency exchange. The Customer enters.

Customer. Hi, I’d like to exchange some lives please.

Employee. Sure – what have you got?

Customer. I’ve got 132 Iraqis and I’m looking to change them to Germans.

Employee taps calculator.

Employee. Okay, 132 you said – Iraqis gets you… two Germans.

Customer. Germans are strong, huh?

Employee. Very strong at the moment, sir.

Customer. Ok, let’s do it. Germans always come in handy. And before I forget I’ve got three Canadians here and am looking to buy Russians.

Employee. Going to Egypt, sir? Well, let me see… As of today three Canadians gets you 55 Russians.

Customer. Wow – that’s fallen too. I remember when three Canadians got you 100 Russians. I went to St. Petersburg in the 90’s and I only spent ten Canadians the whole time; I didn’t even spend any men! Just out of interest, how many Americans would 155 Afghans get me?

Employee. One moment… 155 Afghans would get you 0.01 of an American. Namely a hundreth. That’s actually improved in the last few years.

Customer. So that means… 1 American equals 15,500 Afghans?

Employee. And don’t forget there’s no commission on Afghans either. But between you and me, even Americans aren’t what they were; 1 American only gets you 0.9th of a Canadian these days.

Customer. Wow. The times they are a-changing. Canadians worth more than Americans!

Employee. Indeed, sir. We do indeed live in interesting times. Pretty soon the only thing that’ll be reliable is a Swiss. Now, here’s your two Germans at a commission of 12 Iraqis, your 55 Russians at an exchange rate of just over a twentieth of a Canadian and your receipt. Keep that in case you have any bits of German left you want to bring back to us. Their brains are particularly useful.

Customer. Well – what do they say? Vielen Danke!

Employee. A pleasure doing business with you sir. Enjoy your trip, and don’t spend all those Germans at once!


‘A child sleeps outside a mony exchange in Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand’ by victoriapeckham is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


The real cause of the financial crisis

An interview.

Interviewer. Name.

Interviewee. David Jones.

Interviewer. Occupation.

Interviewee. Elementary school teacher.

Interviewer. Tell us your story, David.

Interviewee. Yeah well – I know a lot of people find it hard getting their head round the financial crisis but… The basic thing you have to remember is that it’s my fault. (Sighs) Sorry, this is difficult to explain… But basically it went like this. One evening in 2007, it was May I think, I went to get some money out. I wanted to buy some cigarettes and go to the movies. Anyway, just as I’m choosing, I see an option on the menu I don’t normally see – ‘Cause global financial crisis’ – right there – you know, next to all the other options like ‘take out 20 dollars’ and all that. And you know, it was late, there was nobody about, and I just thought – Why not, you know? After all, they put it there as an option. So I leant forward and yeah – I pressed it.

Interviewer. Then what happened?

Interviewee. Well, first of all, nothing. Not directly anyway. But afterwards I started to read about the subprime mortgage crisis, and Lehmann brothers, and TARP… I don’t understand any of that stuff. I mean, I understand a little bit, obviously – that people bought houses they’d never pay off, and that banks exploited that. But mainly I just have a sense that it’s my fault. And that people should know that. And I guess I should say sorry for this but you know – I’m not. Because I honestly believe that some good will come out of this. I honestly believe some good will come out of this whole thing.

Kafka at the RBS

Mildly-edited transcript of a real-life conversation, 17.09.2013.

O. Hello, Royal Bank of Scotland telephone banking, Omar speaking, how may I help?

J. Hi there Omar! I’ve just ordered a card reader over the RBS website and I’d like to have it delivered to my new address.

O. Right sir – I’m afraid you can’t change your address over the phone.

J. It says on your website you can.

O. Yes sir, but I’m afraid that’s only for our Level Two customers.

J. Okay then – how do I get to be a Level Two customer?

O. You need a card reader, sir.

J. But that’s why I’m phoning – so I can change my address and get the card reader.

O. I understand that sir. But you can’t change your address over the phone without Level Two access.

J. Then how do I change my address?

O. You can change it at any RBS branch with valid personal documentation, for example your passport or driving license.

J. But what about the card reader?

O. That will be sent to your current address.

J. But the address isn’t right!

O. I know sir; I can only apologize. If you do wait a second, I’ll see if I can get that card-reader stopped.

(Discussion in background).

O. I’m sorry sir, I can’t do anything. It will be sent to your current address.

J. My old address?

O. Yes sir.

Even if I ordered it five minutes ago?

O. Yes.

J. And I’m telling you, before it’s been sent, I don’t want it sent there?

O. That’s right, sir. The card readers are sent automatically.

J. Mmm. So there’s nothing I can do?

O. I do apologize sir.

J. Say, Omar, have you ever read any Franz Kafka?

O. Actually sir, he’s one of my favourite writers. In fact it was his masterpiece ‘The Castle’ which inspired me to enter into the world of telephone banking in the first place. Something about the protagonist K’s increasingly desperate attempts to be granted access to the titular castle or ‘lock’, a process Kafka’s plans for the novel suggested would only be approved at the very moment of his death, led me inevitably to employment in a call centre. I read him in the original German, of course.

J. Of course, Omar. I’m sure a developed sense of the absurdity of all human effort is most useful in your line of work.

O. Indeed it is sir. Essential in fact. Now sir, is there anything else I can help you with?

J. No thank you, Omar. Keep up the reading.

O. I will sir, and do have a nice day. Your card reader is on its way.

America could switch to horseshit powered economy

Chicago, Illinois. Bertis Cresswell, Head of the Chicago Horseshit Alliance, has a vision. ‘Everyone knows we need to make the transition to a clean energy economy,’ he says at the Alliance’s Downtown headquarters, ‘and horseshit is the secret ingredient in that.’ Indicating a stack of newspapers and magazines in way of illustration, he states that no other developed nation produces as much horseshit as the U.S. ‘The media gassing, the airy gossip of our citizens, our self-inflating justifications for deadly military escapades: all rich sources of horseshit,’ says Cresswell. ‘In 2011, just the horseshit talked about President Barack Obama was enough to meet the energy needs of the entire Pacific Northwest.’ Particularly horseshit rich states include Arizona (horseshit about immigrants), California (horseshit about celebrities) and Texas (horseshit about climate change), not to mention Montana (horseshit from horses). ‘We reckon America could run entirely on horseshit by 2050,’ Cresswell goes on. Supporting horseshit in the energy mix would be bullshit and talked crap.

The ‘Not Obama’ Vote

Mitt Romney’s sashay to the Republican nomination continues unabated, despite him apparently being what we call in British English ‘something of an arse.’ Yet what is his election strategy? It appears that his main argument until now that he is not Barack Obama. And the argument is undeniable: he is indeed not Barack Obama. Look at the photographic evidence:

Photo by Jessica Rinaldi under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Pete Souza under a Creative Commons license










Nobody could look at these two photographs and say ‘the man on the left is Barack Obama.’ For one thing, Barack Obama is black and Mitt Romney is white, a small but, even in post-racial America, significant detail which will surely remain true even until the general election. Only if Mitt Romney begins dressing as and/or impersonating Barack Obama will this brilliant tactic become confusing for the average voter. What would complicate matters still further is if before the election, Mitt Romney changed his name to ‘Barack Obama.’ Faced by two identical names on the ballot paper, even the most-hardened ‘Nobama’-sayer might struggle to figure out which meant the real Obama (the one he hated) and which the other (the Barack Obama formerly known as Mitt Romney). A numbering system or some kind of acronym could perhaps make this more clear.
However, Romney has to be careful this tactic does not backfire on him, as it is also undeniably true that the majority of Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination can also say, and say confidently, that they are not Barack Obama. For example, what if Newt Gingrich hits him with a campaign ad with the slogan ‘I Too Am Also Not Barack Obama’? And surely Michelle Bachmann, now out of the race, could also have claimed to be, by dint of her gender, even less like Obama than all the ageing white men who surrounded her. Furthermore even the radical fringe of American politics could appropriate the slogan: surely, for the Occupy Wall Street movement, even better than ‘We are the 99%’ is ‘We are not Barack Obama’, true as it really is for all Americans – except one – rather than just 99% percent of them.
It’s time the non-Obama majority made their voices heard. Only in doing this can we achieve the solution to the ‘Cold Civil War’ now raging in America: all American citizens should run for office against Barack Obama, under the banner of what they each share, namely not being Barack Obama. Even though I myself am neither an American citizen, nor live in America, nor even know where America is, I can safely say that I am not, nor have ever been, Barack Obama.  Even to a displaced Anglo-German like me the slogan rings immediately true. I did not go to Harvard Law School, nor try to learn Spanish. And did the rest of the world? From the lowliest Chinese peasant farmer to the confused Welsh house-husband who has just lost all his worldly possessions in a fire, we can all unite as global citizens to say with great confidence: ‘We are not Barack Obama.’ Only one man is. Though some of us are slightly more like him than others.

No we’re not! (Image xedos4/Free Digital Images)