The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad
A Mostly Irish Farceby Roger Boylan
“Boylan’s narrative resembles Joyce at his comically prolix best, with a similar appetite for vernacular nuance and pop allusion.” –The Village Voice
The hilarious follow-up to “one of the most impressive novels written by an American in recent years.” (Harvey Pekar, The Austin Chronicle)
Roger Boylan’s first novel, Killoyle, established him as a brilliant successor to such Irish masters as Joyce, Beckett, and J. P. Donleavy. Now his new farce follows the hapless inhabitants of Killoyle, Ireland, through the frenetic week of the Pint-Pulling Olympiad.
After crashing into a cross-dressing church sexton, local lush Mick McCreek loses his job as a car tester and enlists lawyer Tom O’Mallet to represent him in a wrongful termination suit. But O’mallet and the fussy librarian who hosts Mick’s unemployment seminars are not who they seem: their real gig, it turns out, is selling missiles to a splinter group of the IRA, and they’ve decided to use Mick–and another client, the hapless waiter Anil Swain–as the dicey operation’s clueless patsies. Can Anil’s sexy do-gooder cousin Rashmi prevent an attack on the Pint-Pulling Olympiad before it is too late?
In the Irish comic tradition, The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad is an invitation from a dazzling voice in American fiction to share a pint with one of the most fantastic casts of characters in recent memory. With a wink and a nudge, Boylan’s pyrotechnic prose brings to life Ireland at its manic extremes, proving the author a dazzling and distinctive talent in American fiction.
“Boylan’s narrative resembles Joyce at his comically prolix best, with a similar appetite for vernacular nuance and pop allusion.” –The Village Voice
“You really feel yourself pulling for a rollicking Irish tale like The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad . . Boylan’s satiric follow-up to 1997’s Killoyle offers countless moments of lowbrow, lyrical mirth on the order of Roddy Doyle, Canadian satirist Robertson Davies or stories like Waking Ned Devine . . . Olympiad‘s characters, having ‘stumbled a bit on the winding highway of life,” leap off the page. You’ll really know their tendencies, fears and tastes . . . Boylan’s account of life in modern Ireland rings authentic, and his gifted ear (and pen) are self-evident.” –Austin American-Statesman
“Boylan is great with dialogue and tone, and has a keen understanding of how Irish people are–or aren’t–finding the delicate balance between their old customs and their (relatively) new place as a, for lack of a better term, buzz country. . . [he] knows the territory of the changing Ireland in his bones, and he’s adept at weaving it into his fiction.” –Dave Ferman, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Very highly recommended reading, The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad: A Mostly Irish Farce is a rollicking roller coaster of a novel by Roger Boylan and set in the days leading up to the Pint-Pulling Olympiad in the town of Killoyle, Ireland. A cross-dressing church sexton, a drunk who loses his job as a car tester and sues for wrongful termination, unemployment seminar hosts who sell missiles to the IRA on the side, and other memorable characters populate the pages of this engaging and topsy turvy tale with surprises hiding around every corner.” –The Midwest Book Review
“Boylan both lampoons and pays homage to absurdist literary inspirations, including James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. . . . The book sparkles because of the author’s antic wordplay, especially the running commentary addressed to the reader in a hilarious sequence of lengthy footnotes.” –The Library Journal
“A grand Irish entertainment: Roger Boylan explores life’s absurdities with incomparably extravagant wordplay.” –The Financial Times
“An extraordinary sequence of episodes . . . highly entertaining . . . Boylan has produced a novel which reads like a mixture of [Flann O’Brien] and Tom Sharpe, with the odd Joycean aside added for good measure.” –The Irish Emigrant
“Raise a glass to this Laurence Sterne of our day.” –BuchKritiken/Ultimo (Germany)
Praise for Killoyle
“Killoyle ranks among the most impressive novels written by an American in recent years.” –Harvey Pekar, Austin Chronicle and author of American Splendor
“Comparisons to James Joyce will come inevitably. . . . Boylan proves himself capable of spinning a fabulous yarn, as colorful as it is tangled.” –The Minnesota Daily
“Boylan’s first and very comic novel . . . is laughable and poignant. . . . His lengthy, rollicking sentences are stories unto themselves.” –The Austin American-Statesman
“Pleasure awaits in this hilarious Irish farce . . . that captures the absurdly comic spirits of Joyce and Beckett. . . . Highly recommended.” –Library Journal
Miming the petulant moue of, say, a Roman sensualist of the post-Antonine era, or a Regency brat under the Younger Pitt, Michael T. “Mick” McCreek’s face, that interesting preface to the rather ordinary rest of him, buried itself pillow-deep in a vain attempt to avoid the probing rays of the rising Irish sun, a weak sun at best but a game one, bedad, and not a sun to be shut out of the bedroom window of Flat 16A, Padre Pio Houses, by a mere flimsy curtain or so. Indeed, by shining persistently and directly onto your man’s Romano-Regency face, it illumined in an unwelcome, glaring red glow the intricate Mississippi Delta network of his inner-eyelid veins.1 He grumbled. Slowly, sleep ebbed as sufficient time dragged itself along, with the lame determination of a hunchback2 in heat, to accommodate the twin phenomena, one tactile, the other aural, of: (1) warmer sunshine splashing onto Mick’s gob and (2) a car outside starting up with hiccupping roars exacerbated by much boot-to-the-floor pedal-pumping followed by the gear-grinding diminuendo of exceedingly slow departure.
There goes that Indian dickhead (shouted the uninvited thought-announcer in Mick’s brain) at the wheel of his effing old Escort that he should have sent to the junkyard long since, the stingy wee bastard, turning his lights off in the middle of the night and spewing clouds of burnt oil left right and centre and no bloody notion in the world of how to shift into first…!
With all this external din and internal mind palaver Mick was distracted, uneasy, a failed sleeper; in fact dangerously near wakefulness and getting closer all the time, what with one thing and another–his Indian neighbour’s departure, the sun scorching his face, the new day’s being Monday. It was a full sixty-second minute or more before the perfect (indeed only) solution wormed its way into his awakening brain: Turn over, son!
He obeyed, and was at once conscious of a coolness of visage counterbalanced by a rapidly warming spot on the nape of his neck where Old Sol, still staring through the halfhearted window curtain, now focused his gaze. Of course, it was the morning, and Mick did have a job, however ludicrous (very: assistant test driver for Jocelyn Motors);3 give him credit, though, he was a realist, by and large, and that morning he was, consequently, soon out of bed and well downstairs, in fact in the immaculately white kitchen itself, blearily scrutinizing the controls of his birthday coffeemaker, last year’s (and no doubt last, as in lifelong) gift from Eileen, his ex, on the occasion of his fortieth.
“Nice of her,” he mumbled. “But how typical, for God’s sake, to give me something I don’t know how to use.”
The words Oh Eileen by the holy Christ I miss ya my sweet machree ah God so I do me own darlin” girl trembled unwailed in the air. He did miss the woman, too, especially her thigh and hip area and its oft-kneaded amplitudes, but not enough to call her up, or make (re-)overtures, not with her tendency to plunge into the warm bath of Monologue, or was it Soliloquy … God, was she a gabber, anyway, and getting worse with age.
He preferred to let things follow the zigzag route of their own unpredictability. The coffeemaker could wait its turn, or disappear entirely. And anyway My Three Buns, the place down the road, brewed up a matchless Arabica, or Colombian, or was it Brazilian–something hot, moist, and dark, anyway, like the inside thigh of an Andalusian whore, plus caffeine … Mick, mentally stirred (if also slightly shaken) at this thought,4 whistled shrilly the second theme of Mimi and Rodolfo’s love duet from La Boh’me by G. Puccini as he sought and successfully deployed navy tie, sky-blue shirt, and crimson underhose (with white piping). There ensued a quick tussle with the belt and trews, a smooth scrape of the stubble and the cursory tremor of a comb in the hair–and presto! Mick McCreek reporting for duty, sir! Not that he ever so reported, or called anyone ‘sir”; and of course the effing job was on the other side of town, and naturally his frigging car was in the shop, but what could you expect from a five-year-old Jocelyn GT with twelve valves to the competition’s twenty-four?
No, it’s the old Number Twelve bus or shank’s mare, mister me man.
Well, anyway, first off was My Three Buns, the newly chic trucker’s caff down on Blessed Martin de Porres Street limned sketchily in Mick’s mind’s eye, the eye that never lied but was frequently blurred, more like a bad TV broadcast than the likes of a West of Ireland shanachee’s meanderings, My Three Buns in reality being far less congenial than fondly depicted on the bloodshot eyeball of Mick’s mind. There it basked in such clich’s as “grotty but solid working-class ambience” and ‘down-to-earth unpretentious food.” Truthfully, the place was a bit of a tip, and Devereux, the owner, was quite the rogue, a greedy sod anyway, boasting a ratlike and bewhiskered face above bulbous abdomen and thorax. His missus was no better, only cleaner-shaven, and with deeper cleavage in the chest area. They had kids, too, but that didn’t bear thinking of… still, the fried bread was top-hole, and the eponymous buns, gooey as a bag of melted Mars Bars on the backseat of the family saloon in the summer sun: YUM!
And none, however well motivated, could come close to the bacon rinds, never mind your classic sunny side up with chips on the side …!
Especially those chips: salty, oily, limp: plain delicious!!!
After all, it doesn’t have to be good for you to be good, does it?5
“Yum! Oh yum!”
Mick was ready, oh he was agog, old turn agurgle, satchel at hand, keys ajingle. He checked the gas above and below, adjusted his tie, and scampered delightedly into the dangerously random Great Outdoors, where it was blustery, rendering his tie a wind-sock, pointing due East. That way lay Wales, as usual, with England loitering beyond; here in Ireland’s north-southeast it was a cracking fine day, what with a brisk wind that danced with the trees and lifted the leaves above the eaves. Not so bad for September the twentieth, when for all you knew it could plunge to five on the Celsius scale, the record for Killoyle City and environs, set a twelvemonth ago last September in the year of three governments.6
Thanks be to God, a mere twenty-four solid Christian degrees it was, this breezy September morn.
“Sure you’d be hard pressed to do better in the south of France, or the Aegean itself,” blurted Mick, fatuously.
A quick step or so took him across Padre Pio Circus down Blessed Martin de Porres Street to the scaley shopfront behind which teemed My Three Buns–or rather, teemed not, for on that day of all blessed sunny days in the calendar there was a sign on the door. Mick, incredulous, peered, then peered closer.
“Closed,” said the sign, and repeated itself identically throughout subsequent double- and triple-takes. Through the window an ugly mug hovered, glowered, glared, and vanished behind a hastily lowered blind.
“Go away,” came a muffled shout.
Mick obeyed, dragging his feet, one more cosy plan up the spout. He dawdled not, for “work” (such as it was) was imminent, rendering breakfast urgent. He mentally perused the possibilities:
There was the Bay Window, with its pseuds from Killoyle Upper College and prats from elsewhere.
There was McSpackle’s Cantina, on the Promenade, with its annoying Spanish decor.7
There was the Koh-I-Noor, curry shop of the gods, run (actually) by that Indian berk from downstairs with the dicey Escort, but the Koh was better reserved for late-night homeward-bound stopoffs for Vindaloo and a six of lager.
There was the snooty Balsa Room of the freshly renovated Spudorgan Vacation Inn, where a fiver might just get you a pot of coffee and a table away from the jakes (if you managed to find the good side of the freshly reappointed managing director,8 Milo Rogers, no easy task–and wasn’t Milo a hard man when he was at home, oh Christ, he was that–or so they said, for Mick had never met the poet laureate of the Killoyle hotel business, but the man’s reputation preceded (and followed) him like a gang of impecunious inebriates.9)
Finally, and more realistically, there was McShiny’s. The American chain had opened a branch on King Idris Avenue (West), which, given time-and-motion considerations (Mick was first test driver of the day of the new Asphodel LSI, and that in thirty-five minutes) would be the likeliest candidate for brekkers.
And McShiny’s it was. Blandly Americanesque in their good humour, the teens behind the counter somewhat oversold their product and the customer’s pleasure in consuming it, their pseudo-conversation bookended with anodyne “how are you todays’ and “have a good days’ designed to provoke the matutinal temper of your average mick; and Mick was nothing if not that.
“I’ll take the Shiny Sausage,” he muttered. “And chips,” he added, irritably.
“Will that be the Super Shiny Sausage with Super Shiny Fries?” inquired the adolescent, plunging Mick into an agony of indecision and despair.
“Oh, I don’t know. How big is it? Oh, all right.”
As he ate the Super Shiny Sausage–nearly a foot long and encased in a warm sticky bun apparently made of some kind of molten yet edible (just) plastic–across the linoleum his furtive gaze steadied its focus onto a pair of neat feminine legs, neatly crossed, attached to a felicitous lady whose glance was at once winsome and willing. Red-haired was she, and buxom, and greeny-blue of eye; and she purported to be perusing a copy of Glam.10
Now none of that, boyo, grumbled the once-uxorious censor in Mick’s brain, where the spirit of Eileen still flitted free (as free as she was now in the bloody wynds and backways of Edinburgh…?); sod it, countered the opposition, voice of gruff maleness open to a pint and a quick fondle any time, mate, day or night. Nice piece, pursued that voice, offensively. To ward off panic, Mick turned his eyes to a copy of the Killoyle Clarion that lay abandoned on the next table.
“City Picked as Site of Olympics,” confided the headlines.
“Cripes,” exclaimed Mick.
Not the Olympics, as further perusal revealed, but the World Pint-Pulling Olympiad, no small event when you stopped to consider the attendance at your average boozer in any Irish town any day of the week, never mind during an event when the stout flowed like the waters of the East Killoyle River for five days running and free pints were handed out like trophies on Derby Day, with the grand prize a wee pub of one’s own, location to be designated by the judges; ah a pub, thought Mick dreamily, like the Lusitania in Listowel, or Harvey’s Bar in Bundoran, or McCracken’s on the Diamond in Omagh …11
The lady with the legs went out, using those very legs to precise locomotive effect.
Mick sighed, riven by waves of nostalgia, lust, and acid reflux.
“Well, I drink Coke because my mum drinks Coke,” explained a teenaged girl to another teenaged girl behind him. ‘she says it has less carbonation than Pepsi.”
“Cool,” said her friend.
“Ah, Christ,” said Mick.
He rose, dabbing his lips. His system reacted to the hasty ingestion of sausage grease plus chips with a gaseous detonation. The girls giggled.
Making haste, ten minutes later he was at the Jocelyn works and behind the wheel of the world’s first production-model Asphodel TTX. Pats Bewley, the testing supervisor, red-faced with impatience, was clutching his clipboard and emitting a faint hissing sound through his lower mandibles. As usual, Mick noted irritably, he was wearing a shirt with cross-hatching and a shite-brown tie misknotted entirely and only coming down to the middle of his chest. Mick hated Pats Bewley on general principles, because Bewley was a prat, but more specifically because he was a known nondrinker and Hearty Harry type of sanctimonious churchgoing hill-climbing Pioneer arsehole with a full complement of manly condescension and salutary anecdotes for the less-advantaged, i.e., drinkers, smokers, freethinkers, and all the plain people of Ireland.
“Ah, there you are, McCreek,” said Bewley. “Another five minutes and I’d have given the drive to Driscoll. Always almost late, aren’t you?”
“Kiss my arse.”
“That’s what I mean. That attitude. No manners to speak of, and what’s that on your tie? Now, there’s the car. Take her up to speed, but watch the brakes. New antilocks are always chancey lads, I don’t have to tell you that. And watch the lean on corners.”
Pats stood aside and placed a complacent checkmark on the checklist of his clipboard: 8:46; Tester McCreek at the wheel; all three liters and sixteen valves of the Asphodel LSI ready to throb; nine miles on the clock. The Asphodel was the first of a projected new generation of Jocelyns, uniting elements of the jeep, the claw-footed bathtub, and the family saloon, and powered as it was by a unique seven-cylinder engine developed exclusively at Jocelyn Motors. The inverted-bathtub-like bonnet displayed a scoopedout air intake like the entrance to a cave, and the roof wore a gnarled-steel crown of gleaming aluminium tubes. Thick manly or womanly tyres and shining alloy wheels squatting beneath bold wing flares hinted at the no-nonsense stance of a barge designed for high speeds and deep road-rutting.12 Also, chrome abounded, not least inside, where Mick already had a headache from the glare.
“Too much fuckin” chrome in here, Pats,” he said. “I can’t see.”
“Get on wichya, McCreek,” snapped Pats. “Put on yer shades, then. And mind the brakes.”
Displaying a profile of haughty indifference to Bewley’s nagging, Mick drove off and motored about stylishly for a while, imagining an audience of girls. Oh, the machine would make a less demanding man quite happy, he reckoned. Just the thing for the philistines who littered the world’s computer shops and university science departments, the T-shirted, unkempt, TV- and video-obsessed imbeciles with their baseball caps and dirt bikes and bungee jumps, the miserable half-witted wee nerds …. Truth to tell, Mick, a lover of cars, nevertheless dreamed not of Asphodels, nor of any Jocelyn. A Merc was his motor, black, preferably, with silver paneling, and chrome-tipped dual exhausts, and one of those smooth German clutchless shifters.
“Ah, that’d be the man, all right.”
Mick whistled in atonal counterpoint to the overture to G. Rossini’s L “Italiana in Algeri rollicking away on Breakfast Classics 105.5 FM.13 The traffic was light at that time of day in most parts of town and almost nonexistent on the MacLiammoir Ring Road, from which vantage point there was a grand view of the sea. As a red light lingered, Mick stared at the view, one of the best things about living in this godforsaken shithole of a town (no Milan, you can bet yer bags). Whatever his preoccupations of the moment, he always gave the view from the MacLiammoir Road a glance of admiration, especially when there was a chance, as there was on extra-clear days, of spotting Wales on the far horizon of fact and fantasy, like Avalon, or Hybrassil–in fact, as he watched, a layer of mist peeled away and presto! Thar she blew, a thin layer of crust on the distant line of the sea. It was an inspiring sight: Cymru! The imagination, if so instructed, might even supply the distant sound of massed baritones lustily rendering ‘men of Harlech” in the melancholy valleys of South Rhondda and Gwynedd … my oh my, ruminated Mick, not for the first time. So it was across this sea that Tristan sailed to his Isolde’s Cornwall and did battle with stout King Mark; that bloody Cromwell came, in the wake of the even bloodier Vikings; that the Normans came, too, and conquered; that, some day long since, the original Celts had arrived from God knows where to rout the small dusky natives from the cosy comfort of their bogs; and it was over this selfsame sea that the former Mrs. Eileen McCreek, fed up with her quondam hubby’s obstinacy of habit and innate lack of ambition, had, in the tradition of the modern Irish exile, sailed away on the midnight ferry from Dun Laoighaire, away from her green land, toward a greener love, to Edinburgh, city of Boswell and Burns and the whiskey distiller or beer salesman or whatever the blazes he was who had tempted her to sacrifice so much so soon….
“Ah, ya sod.”
(It was a relief to be shut of her blathering, but. Talk about carping.)
The sun, as previously noted, was shining full force. The liquid silver sea and the chrome fittings inside the car formed a confluence of brilliance that had Mick, sunglasses or not, quite blinded by the time the horns started honking behind him like hungry geese. In his rearview an oddly distorted face behind the wheel of what appeared to be a 1970s-era Fiat convertible snarled silently.
“All right, all right. Jaysus.”
Seeing little in front of his eyes but a flock of reddish-blue flying mice, Mick yielded to driver’s instinct and coordinated clutch pedal, gearshift, and accelerator in your standard departure mode, following which forward progress was normal if slightly jerky (he made a mental note: too-long throws on the gearbox) for all of one and a half seconds–the interlude between normality and disaster, like the final pre-iceberg half-hour of the Titanic’s voyage, or John Kennedy’s last wave of the hand on Dealey Plaza, or the still moments just previous to the explosion of TWA Flight 800–when into Mick’s life lumbered fate in the guise of: (1) sluggish brakes, per the warning issued by Pats Bewley; (2) Francis Feeley, apprentice bartender at Mad Molloy’s Bar, embarking upon a last-minute, hare-brained dash across the street against the pedestrian light; (3) the sunlight ricocheting off the sea, the dashboard, divers chrome fittings, and straight into Mick’s eyes.
There came a crump and a yell, coincident with reflexive mashing of the brakes. At the front there was a soft jolt, behind a bang. A man was down, and Mick had been rear-ended.
“Ignorant snail-eating foreign bastards,” shrieked the driver of the aged rag-top behind, an epicene young man with large hands and nervous eyes and, it seemed blurrily to Mick, rouge, heavy lipstick, and eye shadow. “I’d take a crowbar to you French fuckers if I had one, so I would. Go back to Cannes, you garlic-eater. Allez vous-en, Monsieur Le Poof Fran”ais.”
“Shite,” said Mick.
Preliminary investigation revealed signs of life behind the closed lids of the supine form on the street. A garda arrived, soon followed by an ambulance.
“You’ll be charged, you,” said the policeman, who appeared to be acquainted with the injured man. ‘mother of God, it’s Frank. Frankie, lad, speak to me. Aye. Charged, so you’ll be. So no wanderin” off. You stay right here, eh, Mr…. eh?”
“Greek. It’s a bad case, so it is. I’d not be surprised if poor wee Frankie was dead, God bless and save us.”
“But he’s not dead. Look, he’s sitting up already.”
“Are you the one who ploughed into me, then? You bastard, you damn near did for me, did you know that?”
“Not ailing in the slightest, to judge by the vigour of his vocabulary.”
“Vigour me arse. You’re a right bastard. I can’t move me legs. Listen here you. If I’m paralyzed, I’ll sue you for every penny you’re worth. Ah, hello there. Is it yourself, Petey?”
“Just you lie back now, Frank. We’ll see to it this fella’s charged to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Look, officer, this pal of yours jumped out in front of me after the light changed. And I couldn’t see anything anyway, with the sun shining in my eyes.”
“That’s quite enough out of you. And he’s no pal of mine, I’ll have you know, so never mind them accusations. He’s me brother-in-law, Mr. Greek.”
“McCreek. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
Briefly, Mick found himself in a world of Kafkaesque disjointedness in which for no apparent reason he had become the scape-goat of public ire.
“Go back to Paris, you,” screamed the rear-ender, who by this time had stepped out of his car into full sunlight which clearly illuminated the makeup that overlay his features: lavish bloodred lipstick; black eyeliner; more than a hint of blush on the cheek-bones … in another microscene stage-managed by the ghost of Franz K.,14 no one but Mick seemed to notice.
“Listen to that music he’s got on,” clamored the made-up man. “I’m telling you, I can spot “em every time.”
“Now calm down there,” said the guard. “We’d like you to come along and give a statement as well. And don’t worry, this man’s on me list.”
“What list?” bawled Mick. “I’ve been tried and convicted before I’ve even had a chance to defend myself. As for this, this…”
“What was that. I’m not above administering a bit of physical restraint, I’ll have you know, especially to recalcitrant wee spalpeens like yerself.”
“Lay a finger on me and I’ll have your fucking badge.”
“Make way, now.” An ambulanceman checked Mick’s blood pressure and, alarmed, ordered him to the hospital. He also suggested an X ray.
“You never know, sir. The owld whiplash can muck you up.”15
In the event, Mick was charged with ‘reckless endangerment of the public welfare with a weapon the exact size and shape of a motor vehicle.” A Breathalyser test revealed total sobriety, and after an hour or so he was released on his own recognizance, with a warning not to leave the limits of Co. Killoyle. He promptly declared his intention to seek legal counsel and have the onus of misdemeanour shifted to the persons of Francis Feeley, perambulating barman, and Cornelius Regan, rear-ending (as it turned out) church sexton.
Mick repeated this plan to Pats Bewley when Pats came to tow away the injured Asphodel, and Pats was quite candid in turn.
“Well, Mick, you’re sacked.”
“Aw, give us a break, Pats.”
“Given you enough breaks, lad. And look at you. Always late, or almost. Nearly cheeky every time you open your mouth. And if you drank on the job you’d be the world’s biggest absenteeist, I can feel it in my bones. There’s always something you’d just be about to do. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there somewhere. You’re like one of them Yanks that go over the edge and turn up at their old place of employment with guns blazing. And the dear knows the number of times you’ve almost wrecked your test vehicles.”
“Aye, well, it’s a hard world, lad.”
Mick’s blood pressure was still “a bit to mostly sky-high,” they told him at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, and although preliminary examination revealed nothing, he should, they said, take a day off and rest at home.
“Well, absolutely no problem there. My employer has seen to that.”
Moreover, home was where Mick yearned to be, with the world suddenly turning on him the way it had. Home, and the locked front door, were the best guards against the infinite bothersomeness of things. Blinds down, too, and a freshly rinsed glass, and soothing murmur from Fran Leeson on the telly at that time of day: talk time on Talk Me Talk You (RTE Channel 4A). The subject was Societal Inebriative Dysfunction, or SID.
“Inebriated what? Oo’s Sid?”
Mick only twigged to what they were on about when one of the lady guests held up an empty bottle of Jameson’s and announced that she had once gone through two of them a day.
“And did your husband suspect?”
‘suspect?” A tobacco-hoarsened wheeze of laughter like the air brakes of a coal lorry. ‘didn’t he start me on the bloody stuff? The bastard.”
Reassured, Mick chuckled and turned to pour an additional glass of liquid comfort from his own bottle, not Jameson’s as it happened but a fine smooth Paddy’s, and with a few water crackers to hold things together down there by janey it was going down as smooth as buttermilk from the great dun cow of Connacht.
“Ah God,” blubbered Mick. He then found himself dissolving into stuttering hysterics. Somehow the reflection in the TV screen, glimpsed during an all-black commercial for eau de cologne, of his own shirtless form, pale face, and general air of decrepitude, yet seated in (he recognized the association and its absurdity at the same time) the precise pose of Gertrude Stein in Picasso’s Cubist portrait of that manly gal, brought home in a vivid and pictorial way the multifarious actual and potential nastinesses of his own situation, and life’s abusive absurdities in general.
‘shite. Bastards. Fuck you, Pats Bewley.”16
He tipped another short one down his throat and gave himself up to random thoughts of despair.
On the Sosh!!!
He’d end up like his father, a jobless chancer with one foot on the barrail and the other in the grave, creator of his own legend and two martyrs: his wife, his son … and here Mick’s lot in life was turning into the bit of a disgrace, as well, what with Eileen dumping him for a job in Scotland (and that job’s gruff, manly Scots overseer, Sean bloody Connery in a suit and tie, och aye the noo) and himself being nearly broke anyway, the consequences of divorce leeching away the larger part of his puny savings and the rest siphoned off by his own natural disinclination to put anything aside, carpe diem, fay ce que voudras, hasn’t the owld motor gone long enough without a fine set of alloys, and I always fancied one of those multi-CD changers, and Hanna’s just got in a Kavanagh first edition … of course, even at the end of the line there were the soft nannying hands of Ireland’s welfare state, of whose generosity toward her citizens Mick McCreek had taken advantage often enough in the past, starting without hesitation soon after graduating from TCD with a degree in classical architecture (from Vitruvius to Palladio, inclusive) that–like all college degrees bar those in the applied sciences–turned out to be quite useless except for purposes of adding a dash of spurious learning to barroom blather. Anyway, he’d used his money from the Sosh, plus a packet borrowed from home, to go to Italy to visit Elide, a girl he’d met on the windy heights of Howth Head, the both of them en route to the Abbey Tavern for good crack of a Saturday night (Christy Moore, De Danaan); and when Mick visited and, intending marriage, wooed his Elide in her noble hometown of Milan, he went out to Monza and saw Ferraris and Alfa Romeos being put through their paces and even drove a Dino (hers) at high speed along the cypress-lined highways of Lombardy and EmiliaRomagna from Milan’s Piazza del Duomo straight down to rich, wine-redolent Parma and Bologna; and that was that. From then on he was hooked. Something of the same aesthetic-scientific appeal that had drawn him to buildings attracted him to cars, a union of the fabulous and the everyday, with a heavy dose of vanity, as in sartorial taste, also an Italian specialty. More importantly, he’d absorbed the neopagan half-adoring, half-cynical attitude Italians have not only to cars but to life in general. A young Irishman like Mick McCreek was a blank slate indeed, back in the early “70s when Ireland herself was only just ungumming her weary age-old eyes and taking in the new dawn of things… then il capo, Elide’s father, also known behind his back as il duce, sussing out Mick’s earnestness vis-“-vis his little girl, had one night over tortellini in brodo (washed down with a crisp Lambrusco17) proudly announced the existence of Commendatore Spadolini, an appointed future son-in-law then in the high command of the Squadra Volante, and with that, or shortly thereafter, in an atmosphere of peerless awkwardness and sweaty palms (his), Mick left, via Geneva; but in his dreams he visited the glorious peninsula yet, wandering across the geometrical shadows of De Chirico piazzas and driving that red Dino south along the cypress-lined highways of an Italianate heaven.
But most importantly, he’d also lost his virginity on that little jaunt (late night; the family casa in San Donato Milanese; her room, adorned with posters of the same rock stars who adorned the bedroom walls of Killoyle bungalows; dead silence bar the act itself and the distant ebb and flow of a televisual laughtrack in il Duce’s parlour) which had forever, for one thing, ended Mick’s blinkered Irish suspicion of the world and all its foreigners.18
Otherwise, he’d made a bags of the whole business, as he had the rest of his life, or so it seemed through the prism of the whiskey glass.
“Elide,” he elided elliptically, quite langered–and it scarcely three p.m., for goodness’ sake.