I got talking with this American dude at the Dog and Duck. He was from Arizona or someplace. Not a happy bunny. His horse just ran and he’d blown a thousand bucks. He was sitting there half wasted at the bar, drowning his sorrows. I asked him how he was liking London.
‘Like any other city,’ he said, ‘cep the pissy rain don’t stop.’
‘Aw come on,’ I said, ‘there’s more to it than the weather.’
He looked me straight in the eyeball and gave me a mouthful I wasn’t expecting. ‘Listen kid, I’m tired of this shit-eating world, tired of the bad news bulletins, the lousy slimy politicians, the greedy corporates and the poverty and misery, I’m tired of the sheep who put up with the abuse, and most of all, I’m tired of myself for still being here. I want out. I wanna stop being afraid and I wanna stop feeling shitty, regretful and depressed by it all. I don’t wanna to read another line in another lousy book tellin’ me how to correct myself, how to work clever in the world, how to get rich, stay poor, be somewhere in the middle. I don’t want no advice or comedy or tragedy, and anything that tries to distract me from reality, it can go fuck itself. The whole planet is fucked. We’re on a downward spiral and no one gives A shit. Why should I? I did once, but not now. The sound of you young Brits on’y depresses me even more – your chirpy voices, full of the joys of Spring. Well there ain’t no hope. You’re toast, pure and simple kid. We all are, ‘cep now that I’m old, I’ll get there sooner than you will kid and be glad of it.’
‘Not an optimist then,’ I quipped.
He shook his head. ‘Hey listen, the world is made up of two groups of people, creeps and even bigger creeps. It’s a simple dichotomy. Your parents are creeps for bringing you into this moronic world. You’re a creep for being here. The even bigger creeps, the ones that run the show, you’ll never see or meet them, they creep in the background, screwin’ everything up with their greed and menace. Don’t believe the religiosos, the politicians, the teachers or the priests, they’re all maniacs, intent on protecting the status quo, they don’t care about your or me, hell they don’t even care about themselves. My advice is get your hands on a bottle and drink yourself to death, better still get high on drugs and leave the planet to its own rotten devices. Call me a nasty man if you want, and maybe I am, I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me at 5am. That’s the time I used to get up and go to work, when I had a job. I worked my nuts off for fifty years or more. What have I got to show for it. Cancer, that’s what. My body is wrecked. That’s what awaits you kid, cancer of the body, mind or spirit. Don’t be a mug, don’t work and pay taxes, don’t do zilch. Just play, play so long as you can, and when you ain’t able to play no more get a gun and shoot the bastards who would kill you first, get those creeps before they get you. Those motherfuckers want you asleep, ‘cos awake you might do something, you might smell the coffee and take action. They keep you drugged on a diet of fear and terror and hate. Well start hating back. That’s my advice.’
He slugged the rest of his beer in one go. I saw it wash down his scrawny throat and watched as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He pushed the glass down the bar and called the barman over in a rough voice. The barman, a young black guy, sauntered up to the counter.
‘Another one of those,’ my bar pal said. ‘And one for your good self.’
‘Thanks mate,’ the barman said, ‘but I can’t drink while I’m on duty.’
‘Suit yourself.’ The old guy said.
He turned to me, ‘see what I mean? Fucken sheep the lot of you. Where’s the spirit of old?’
‘What spirit,’ I asked.
‘Go fuck yourself.’ The old misery said. ‘You know good and damn well what spirit. Leastways in the sixties we started a revolution – you kids wouldn’t know a revolution if it jumped up and spit in your eye.’
I said nothing and the old greybeard quieted down, he sat morosely drinking his Heinekin and staring into space. I kind of felt sorry for him, sitting there facing his imminent demise, bitter and twisted.
‘Got any kids?’ I asked.
‘Wife died.’ He said.
The pub emptied out, and it was just me and him really, and some dude playing the pinball machine in the corner. I related to what he said, in a way, only I didn’t think the world was as bad as he made out. Yeah sure, the politicians are corrupt, and we all know how selfish the top 1% are, but what about nature? Trees, flowers, rivers and streams, sunshine, things like that. Things money can’t buy. I said this to him, I said, hey man, it’s not all bad. The sun still shines now and again and the earth still spins on its axis. He looked at me as if I was crazy, then he reached into his jacket pocket, took out a handgun, pointed it at me low down. My heart almost stopped but still I managed to take in the shape and size of the thing. It was an old model Ruger revolver – not much to look at but deadly.
‘Want me to put a bullet in your balls?’ He asked, ‘put you out of your misery? Don’t think I won’t.’
I stared at him, at the gun, back at him.
‘Got nuthin to lose,’ he told me, clicking the safety catch.
My heart thudded. The barman returned. He was bored, there being no customers at that hour. He couldn’t see the gun that low down.
‘Everything okay gents? Need another drink?’
With that, the crazy yank chuckled to himself, clipped the catch back in place and stowed the gun in his jacket. My knees gave way with relief and I half sank to the floor right there in the bar.
‘Relax, just having you on, as you Brits say’ the old bastard told me.
‘Got a licence for that thing?’ I enquired.
‘Sure I got a licence.’ He said. If he did have the carry paper, I doubted it was valid in London, but I hadn’t got the nerve to tell him that.
‘How old you kid,’ he asked, all of a sudden.
‘Twenty four,’ I said.
‘Long ways to go,’ he said, ‘I feel sorry for you.’
A blonde woman wearing a black leather dress entered the bar and walked right up to where we were sitting. The old shapeshifter changed his attitude right there and then, playing nice and standing up to greet her.
His height took me by surprise, over six feet tall. ‘Roxy, thought you’d never get here, been sitting here boring the pants off this nice young man.’
‘I bet you have,’ she said, and kissed him on the mouth, right there in front of me.
When they pulled away from each other, she looked me over, clearly unimpressed. I regretted my lousy old t shirt and wrinkled cargo pants, wished I’d dressed up a bit better going out, because despite the downbeat chat, the old guy was dapper. He wore an Indiana hat, smart sports jacket and designer jeans. The boots were tooled leather. I realised then that he was more than just a miserable old fart complaining about the world. Besides, he had a girlfriend, and I didn’t.
The blonde was way cute. Beautiful eyes, clear skin and a smile that lit up the room.
‘Got a drink for me hon?’ The lady asked
He shouted at the barman for another beer and a dry white wine for his girl. ‘And make it a good one, none of your cat piss.’
Then he offered me a drink. Something he hadn’t done before. I wondered if this largesse was just to impress the woman or because he was all of a sudden in a brighter mood. He wasn’t the type to fake it though, so I gathered he went where the mood took him. The woman’s presence sure changed his whole demeanour.
What is it about us guys? We are so full of violence and hatred, so full of nasty, mean-spirited aggression and then a woman enters our lives and we change, become softer, more tender. Why can’t we be like gay guys, unafraid to show our emotions? When will the world become a better, easier, fairer place to live in?
The couple started talking in low intimate voices. He told her a story and she laughed out loud, a raw throaty dirty beautiful laugh.
Cancer or no cancer, I wished I was him.
Photo by Teresa Alexander-Arab