9 Dec


The sun had long gone replaced by the mute glow of fairy lights laced among the terr-potted trees that formed the perimeter of the beer garden. A battalion of bottles patrolled the bench table. Neil hadn’t said much.

Inside, the most inept band I ever heard was grinding down to the merciful end of their set. I tried not to notice the distorted ape noise coning out from the pub’s back door. I’ve heard it before and often. Guitars banged on aimlessly like really bad abstract painting. I had no idea what the drummer was doing. Where they drums? A lot of crashing from objects that weren’t cymbals, every now and then some kinda thud. The bass line was a competent recital of scales in varying modes: up – ba-boom-boom-boom; down – boom-boom-boom- ba-boom. Up again. It actually resembled music so it was more irritating then the rest of it, painfully topped off with the shrill wail of an out-of-key starlet wannabe who sounded lost in some synthetic tempest.

Across from us sat Christa and Else from Hamburg. Christa’s hair was dyed purple-red which brought on a glow in her pale cheeks. Her blue eyes skipping across to Neil never looking back, disconsolate. Sometimes he’d hunch his shoulder against her, sometimes he’d say something, his pained half-smile doing just enough to keep hope alive another hour or so. I tried to keep her in. I was being Mr Juju tonight. Oh! I was good company, causing enough laughter to last a whole dirty week-end in a tent on the 90-mile beach. The trouble was I wasn’t into Elsa, I was into Josie who’d made a point of ceasing table service the minute she spied my sit-down comedy routines. And Christa? well I could change my mind but she only liked Neil. And Neil only liked she that wasn’t there and never would be.

So the band comes out and it’s time for justice. First the girl, she’s wearing a 50s house-dress she picked up from a regional Salvation Army store. Fluro tape sewn in at the hems. Boots hand-painted in Pollockian brain-vomit . Her face doesn’t look like a Face so much as disputed territory. It wears the flimsy egocentric conviction born of the blitz of a million magazines and video-clips; summers on acid and festivals every week-end. They do battle with the lost little girl she really is. The guitarists are two dudes in the heavy-metal mode who’re too young to forget how stupid their blow-dried, bleached hair looks. They’ve got the fluro-lycra leopard-skin print vest-tops, the enormous sneakers. They’ve got the head gear, studs everywhere, wrist-bands. The sleeve tattoos that look identical.

So I go over there to tell just how much they impressed me! That’s what I actually say, ‘that impressed me.’ I’m not lying. Naturally they think they have a fan and fans are worse than heroin for such as these guys. This dude says he’s the lead guitarist and I’m not sure what he can mean by that because it just sounded like some kid banging away at a live fretboard with a hammer. You can tell he’s not going anywhere. Dressed like Eddie Van Halen but plays like early Sonic Youth only he never learned to play the right way first. The girl is really good at being interested in absolutely nothing. But when she feels the world hasn’t paid her enough attention these last 45 seconds she’ll interrupt any conversation with some incomprehensible psycho-babble scarping. And the drummer only says ‘wha’ th’ FUCK!!!’ all the time for no apparent reason. The bass player just sits there with a beer looking at his watch.

Sometimes, when I’m spiky-drunk I’ll really serve a bunch like this with a torpedo for their hot-air balloon. I’ll start by saying things that make ’em think I dig ’em, I set ’em up on a wave of ego-oblivion and get ’em talking about themselves to the point where they reveal that they’re painfully ordinary people desperate to shed their paltry selves and become an ethereal icon of unlearned ideas of beauty. They’ll tell you about their destiny: fragments of talk-show excerpts bubble up; concert footage, a special hour with the marvelous so and so. Bit and pieces of mind-fragments half-remembered and restitched into a peachy fantasy revolving around [insert your name here]. The fantasies, I’ve heard a million. Had one myself once.

I’m not sure when the bile rose to my brain but at some point these revolving flotsam paper stars whose chosen path to the constellation was music, who could not play music, who didn’t really know what music was and didn’t much care about learning… They really began to shit me!

Hence this cruel little parlour game where I set ’em up and high and then puncture the balloon. Rain down shit on the gaudy parade. My list of unassailable reasons why they’re nothing now and will never be. Oh it’s priceless, the looks on their faces and they deserve it. They need it. I’m doing them a favor relieving them of the burdens of illusion. And I know, I know… it’s evidence of some kinda soul-cancer. There’s something wrong with me. Anyone can see it if they want to. Sometimes they tell me but no-one ever seems to know the cure.

But tonight I’m looking at Neil. He’s my friend, the only real one I’ve got and he’s really blue. Seriously blue. Truly and deeply sorrowful and I haven’t been able to do a thing for him. I can’t, no-one can. I look back at him sitting at the table. Else and Christa gabber on in German. Christa’s given up, she doesn’t even look at him, doesn’t notice when he goes to the men’s room, when he comes back. I swing back to the non-musicians. “The Lovin’ Spoonful man!” says the lead singer, her eyes almost crazy as she smiles nodding her head up and down as if she’s just had tea and biscuits with God, “Yeah!” She makes eye contact with everyone. All the guys smile.

“Lovin’ Spoonful?”the drummer says, “wha’ th’ FUCK!!!” I see the bass player’s smiling too, holding it longer than anyone, eating shit, panic in the eyes. So that’s why he’s here. He digs the singer, he’s hooked, another hopeless fish. The others just wouldn’t mind. And the girl can live on another ten minutes with the comforting illusion that there’s something more to her.

I look around across the beer garden no-one gives a shit who these guys are, who I am, who anyone is. I look back at her and she’s still nodding her head and grinning her mind straining internally to come up with the next profound banalty. “Lovin’ Spoonful,” I say in a tone like I’m repeating the name of a man that raped my mother. “Excuse me.” I get up and out and to the bar, I’ve had too much not to keep going. It’s a cool large room with a burgundy carpet that’s slightly older than the Duke of Edinburgh’s grandfather and twice as corrupt. Ray Charles is wailing that he’ll drown in his own tears and Josie’s behind the bar.

“Hi,” I need friendly company.

“Hi.” She doesn’t look up, no friendly company here. She’s pouring Guiness pints at that half-point where you have to let the froth settle. I’m just waiting for her to look up at me.

“Coopers Green?” she asks when she’s thru.

“Yeah.” I say.


“No just me and Neil,” I say.

“Struck out with the backpackers ‘ey?” A smile at last. Playfully sadistic but still a smile.

“One of ’em likes Neil, Thought he could do with a root. But he doesn’t wanna know.”

“Here you go.” Beers on the mat. She’s not cold anymore, she’s like me Josie, easy. Territory guarded, interests jealously asserted when necessary, but otherwise easy. “What’s the matter with Neil?”

“He’s into someone who isn’t into him or isn’t into it. Something, who knows”


“He’s got it bad. He’s got it real bad – honey!” I’m doing my hip-hillbilly impersonation. That’s me, always the glib guy. Guaranteed to lift any weight with a quip and a posture. I take the beers back to Neil, the backpackers have gone. He’s been chain-smoking the whole time, looking grey. I plonk down his beer, suck on mine. Back to the table surveying the dwindling crowd. The silence is always comfortable with Neil. He’s the only company I’ve kept where I can just shut the fuck up. Hank Williams’ “May You Be Alone” comes out of the garden-speaker. Josie comes out and smiles at me as she empties the ashtrays.

“You know man,” I break the silence, “that chick really dug you, you should’ve given her a chance.”

“Yeah?” It takes him a while to reply.

“Yeah. Y’know it might actually be good for you to have nice, proper, wholesome fuck for a change. You sit here, we’ve been here what? Four hours and you’ve been totally miserable the whole time. Over who? Some girl you don’t even know. And this bright, friendly, happy-go-lucky, no-strings-attached, let’s just have some fun cute-as-fuck lass makes goo-goo eyes at you for a hundred and fifty-five minutes and what do you do?”

Neil says nothing. Josie comes over and clears the ashtray. “Shit you guys’ll have cancer by the end of the year you keep this up,” She makes a point of asking: “Neil. How are you mate.” Neil shrugs and smiles with a bit of effort. The lights go on inside the pub and this means last drinks. Josie looks at me and my eyes flicker down which means that she’s offering to get another round before the bar closes and I’m saying no thanks. And so we’re alone again with our lugubrious beverages and something that sounds like Roy Orbison but isn’t. And Josie skarpers back to the bar, smiling at me over her shoulder just once in a way that says I’ll be walking her home in an hour with my arm around her waist.

And Neil…. nothing.

“I’ll probably head out with Josie afterwards, you wanna go out somewhere.” He shakes his head barely. “You okay man?” Nothing. I light a cigarette and pretend to be interested in the fairy lights and the disused smoke stack that rises out behind the pub. “I don’t know what to say man, I can tell you’re in deep funk and it’s shredding me. I wish I could say something.”

“There’s nothing to say,” Neil says without looking at me, “it just goes on and on. I walk around for hours yeah. Sometimes I notice that people are staring at me and I realize I’ve been talking to myself.”

“So what if you talk to yourself.”

“I’m not even doing that, I’m talking to her. Yeah? Talking to her. She’s not there and I’m saying all the things I never say when she is. Things I’ll never get to say. People stare. I’m so sick of it man. Sometimes….” he trails off. “Such a stupid adolescent telemovie. Walk in the rain. Get wet…”

I’m looking at my friend. He’s a good guy, scrambled sure, but kind. Smart and wise which isn’t the same thing. I don’t know but I’d guess he’d be good in bed, good in the kitchen, when you’re sick. What doesn’t she see in him? Lots of things sure. His socks never match the whole time I’ve known him. Not even at his sister’s wedding. But he’s one of the few good people I’ve ever known so why? Why can’t he have his heart’s desire?

“I’m sorry,” Neil says, “I’m a total drag right now. I’ll shake it y’know. It’ll fade sometime. It just takes so long. I’m going home, you have a good time yeah?”

“Yeah,” I say, we’re standing up. “Try not to…” There’s nothing that finishes that sentence. I have no magic words and he has no magic potion.

“And thanks.” He smiles sadly.

“Thanks for what?”

“For putting up with it.”

“Aww that’s cool, stuff happens. What am I for? I’m just sorry I can’t, y’know, do anything to make you happy.”

“Happy?” he laughs, “I’d settle for numb. I’d settle for just waking up and getting a whole day thru without her once. I wish there was a pill I could take.”



  1. Grace December 9, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Wow. What a misery.

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