From the archive: Off the Rails in Killarney

I am cleaning out my literary closets. Trying to get a few long-abandoned writing projects out the door in whatever form seems fitting. I wrote this more than a decade ago, when I’d just returned home from living in Europe. It’s non-fiction, of course. I partied a lot then. Enjoy.

It is three o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Eve in a hostel in Killarney, Ireland, terrible year of our lord 2002, and things have gotten out of hand.

In the corner of the lounge, a group of Australians are noisily arguing the merits of various New Year’s Resolutions. Carrie, a plain, squat girl from Melbourne, has resolved to keep in better touch with an aging Grandmother. Ben from Sydney wants to start flossing.

Drunken Irishmen are pissing on the buildings outside. Perhaps it is a tradition, I don’t know.

Our tour guide, Phillip, stumbles in the front door, reeking of whiskey and cigars, and immediately picks a fight with his sister, a mousy brown and entirely unamused girl called Olive.

A Hungarian stands up, swaying, and raises his empty beer can. Tears, inexplicably, are streaming down his red, puffed out cheeks. Alright you crasy munkeys, I vant to tale you somesing… He raises a hand to his cap, lifts it up in mock salute and stumbles backwards, toppling a chair. His girlfriend, a nervous sallow type a foot taller than him, rushes over, mumbling indecipherable notes of worry under her breath. She picks him up and the chair up, then helps him to sit, wipes away the tears with a crumpled edge of napkin resting on a table.

Jesus, this place is like a fucking sanitarium. Look at the guy who runs it. His name is Peter, or Michael, or something equally vague and forgettable. He is tiny, and foul mouthed, and very Irish. Last night he was up playing video games at five a.m., when I snuck out for a cigarette. They pay him for this.

Excuse me, Peter/Michael calls, trying to rally the attention of a very inept audience. Ex-fookin scuse me! Has anybody got a Euro note I could boorrow ? Anyone? Half the room ignores him, the other half eye him distrustfully. Why? I reach into my wallet and pull out the last of my money, then crumple it up and toss it in the direction of the counter. It’s rude, but I’m drunk and I don’t care. He gives me a withering look, then bends and picks it up, smoothing it out.

I think for a moment that he is going to do a magic trick for us, then feel ridiculous. A magic trick. As if we are five instead of twenty-five, and not drunk off our asses to boot. I guess, though, if you were being generous with the definition, you might call what he did its own version of magic. He ducks behind the reception and begins to roll the note into a thin, tight straw. Oh Jesus. Then he leans down over the counter and snorts three lines, so quick it sounds like sniffling. It must be good coke, because it hits him fast. He steps backwards and leans into the wall a moment, letting the drug jump and dive through the currents of his bloodstream. Then he is off, leaping up and starting to dance. Then the words come, sudden and loud, and the room falls silent.

Do ye like me Irish jig? Oh, that feels fine. But ye know what would make it even better? Oh yes, sex on drugs, believe ye me, it’s nice when ya got cocaine or ecstasy but then yer workin and workin and its like the fookin Hoover dam with a squirrel, ye know, a little squirrel, someone’s poot a finger in a plooged the hole and yer saying please take it out so I ken come, and the girl, shes sayin, kan ye hurry up cause the friction burns are killin me oh yes, believe ye me. Reminds me, I had these Swedish twins in here the other week and oh lordy they was fit so I told them a joke about a Swedish girl and a horse, as ye do, and they got so mad they wouldn’t fookin talk to me! But yes, Morocco, did I hear ye in the corner talking about Morocco, oh yes, it’s a krezy place I was there workin for a man Ahmed believe ye me and he would buy a girl for five Euros and fix her up so when she left it was a thousand, ah, a krezy place that one, all the souvenirs for the tourists, Americans all of them, oh fook me, ye could walk fer six months and not see the same place twice, reminds me of a man I knew there he tortured animals for a living, ye know, entertaining the tourists, he had a monkey on a chain and it had blood all over its neck and wrists and then an iguana that he’d hold up till it spit and oh dear, shall we pray now, yes lads, a prayer circle right here tonight, for its New Year’s and this is Ireland, ah sook ma cheesy willy, then if ye don’t want to, and ah’ll fook ye till yer nose bleeds. Just like it always is, this, capitalists versus communists, Che Guevara he was a communist and he fooked whenever he cood cause it was the seventies and things were swiiiiiiinging, believe ye me…

He stops then, finally out of breath, small, pale, and jumpy with the raw chemical rush of too much cocaine too fast. The thoughts racing across his gray, sparking brain seem to hover in the air above us, visible and glowing, a stream of consciousness unbroken by the filters of normal awareness. He sits, hops up, runs to the front door and peers out anxiously, smokes an entire cigarette in under thirty seconds, sets up two more lines. When he is finished, the words come again, stunted, strange even to him:

Fook yew, ye bastards, I’ll keel y’all! And then he is grabbing a wooden chair, and raising it above his head with a single, emaciated arm, leaping about like some coked up leprechaun-prophet. Sweat streams down his brown, his glasses slicking to the bridge of his nose. Then, finally, suddenly, the wave, the rush of pure energy breaks and he lets the chair drop from his opened grasp. It hits the floor, a leg snaps, and he falls back onto the edge of the table, breathless and shaking. Yellow and gray about the mouth and eyes, flecks of spittle at the corner of his blue, quivering lips. He lights another cigarette, pulls hard, and a heavy. A sadness that can only be described as Dickensian sadness settles ‘round the room.

It is three-thirty, now. New Years Eve. Killarney, Ireland.  We watch our boy smoking furiously, backed into a lounge corner, that pulsing, manic core now subdued to a flitting spark. Intermittent and ebbing. And we wish together that we could grab hold of it, wring out the last filthy drops of it into our own noses and our own eyes and our own ears. Cause it’s not a cigarette he holds between those quaking fingers. It’s a pearl of far greater worth, to be sure, to be sure.

We are young. And one day, we will not be.

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