I recall a previous incarnation, wherein I used to frequent a peninsular pub that served good stout. Of the other regulars was this fella who was clearly trying to live a normal (whatever that means) life, despite an obviously apparent congenital affliction. He would stand crookedly alone at the bar, with his head craning over his right shoulder, and drink and mutter to himself aplenty. Nobody took much notice, other than was necessary to maintain a wide berth; he seemed harmless, and never bothered anyone, excepting, I was told, that he apparently used to insult the barmaids, one of whom quite naturally took offence (however, she was doing a “degree in marketing”, so who knows?). But what really got her wind up, having to spend most of the evening facing in his general direction from a distance of not more than a few feet, was the fact that he, how shall we say, dribbled? Or drooled; although that might suggest something else (which he might have been for all I know – the lady in question was attractive, after all). Either way, saliva would intermittently spill out of the side of his mouth, sometimes into his beer, sometimes not. And it would collect and dry, forming a flaky crust around the corners of its aperture. Consequently, friends or drinking buddies did not come too readily.
One Saturday evening, probably having had enough of biology or chemistry for one day (I was, around this time, taking my ‘A’-levels part-time at night school, and the weekend was often the only opportunity to give it serious attention time, but which nevertheless led to grades that would later get me into university, and the rest is… ongoing), and finding insufficient TV stimulation (– and, okay, yes, there was a bit of a thing going on with the barmaid –) I took myself up the road for a couple of drops of the black sedative. The place was not too busy, just how I like, with plenty of space at the bar, particularly, as there usually was, either side of our friend. He’d obviously been there a while, as he was a bit wobblier than ‘normal’. I ordered my drug, we half-acknowledged each other in that customarily reticent male way, and I went and sat down to think, perhaps about photosynthesis, or earthworms, or stereoisomerism, and why the barmaid wasn’t working that night, or some such.
At last orders I exploited the bar space next to him. And he spoke to me. “At least someone’s got some decent taste in music”, he mumbled. He was right: Led Zeppelin was on the jukebox – we’d connected (Zeppelin is usually a point of connection with me). And for the first time, we conversed: about music, and about beer. He’d just gotten a fresh pint of some ale, I don’t recollect what, told me how good it was and offered me a taste. So, I took a small swig and agreed it was good. His eyes then locked onto my fresh Murphy’s, said he’d never tried it, so I reciprocated. He proceeded to firmly grasp my pint and took several long gulps, necking a quarter of it, the greedy sod! But what bothered me more was his reconstituting saliva. I now had a dilemma, akin to Steve McQueen in Papillon, when he is offered a dry leper’s half-smoked cigar – whether or not to offend. Papillon was okay, as dry leprosy is not contagious. I grimacingly drank on.
I can’t recollect the train of the conversation (it was seventeen years ago), but, as it was clear we were not going to get a lock-in, he asked me if I wanted to come back to his place to listen to more music. I hesitated and started to invent some pretext, but he looked me in the eye, pleadingly. “Please”, he said quietly, “I’m seriously pissed off.” So, as the barmaid had failed to materialise into an excuse, I acquiesced.
We got in a couple of bottles each and made our way – at his pace – up the road to his flat. It was an austere place, provided as an aid to independence, yet devoid of clues into any individuality. Again, I can’t recollect the details, or the order of things. But I do remember the pity in me developed further when he told me, whilst we drank and listened to a tape, that he had recently been burgled, depriving him of much of his music collection. “CDs!” he emphasised. (This in the days when they were still an overpriced novelty.) I offered to tape him copies of some of the albums he had lost. And I remember that the music got louder, and that his response when I suggested he consider his neighbours was one that suggested he obviously didn’t get on with them. Things reached a head for me when, during one song, he got so charged up, he pulled the large bevelled edge mirror off the wall with both hands, shuddered in a manner that had me worried he was having a seizure, then turned and slung it across the room. It landed on the settee; I don’t know whether he was aiming, but I was thankful it hit neither me nor the floor. I pretty soon finished my beer and got out of there.
I kept my word; I copied the music in question and, a few days later, went round and knocked on his door. I wasn’t sure at first that he even recognised me, but he thanked me when I gave him the tapes, seemingly grateful.
I never saw him again. Not long after, I was drafted away. Our visits to the pub in the interim never coincided. I wonder what became of him.