Around 6am I awoke, still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling from my bed by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet. In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the script I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I stood in front of the enamel directing the hose while I thought about the damned dream in which I had been.
I had been …. somewhere. An urban setting. And I had debts. And there was a gang …. or gangs … and I was kind of in one of them and the big boss was putting the squeeze on me. Now, in my other life, the waking one, I’ve never really been in a gang, not even in my teens, although that’s not to say I didn’t have anything to do with them. I did – running from them, hiding from them, sometimes fighting and (of course) getting beaten up by them. My social class set, the lower middle class, didn’t have gangs. The working class had them and the upper middle class had them too, curiously. The Geldoff types (he was from my home town). And since I didn’t usually have money to go to dances and discos, the dangerous times in my hometown were mostly daytime. The Geldoff types hung out in the Bamboo café across the road from Murray’s record shop, where us gangless lower middle class hung out. And the working class had no café or record shop, just their areas – the ‘Noggin, York Road …. They weren’t anything like the legendary Ringsend or Dolphin’s Barn, but they were tough enough in my book. Ringsend lads came to the Top Hat Ballroom in my hometown once to settle a score and chased the locals all the way up to the ‘Noggin and the Farm. Local folklore had it that as they queued up in Ringsend earlier that evening to get into taxis for the foray, old dockers had handed each youth a docker’s hook.
There were times when walking down the main street in Dún Laoghaire had felt like something out of High Noon or some other western film, when the hero doesn’t want to go out in the street, he knows death is waiting there – but he has to. In his case, it was duty or some kind of fatalism sending him out there. In my case, it was fear of isolation. I didn’t want to end up cut off from my contemporaries – the boys and, yes, especially the girls. Where they hung out, I would have to go. Of course death wasn’t waiting for me, unless it were accidental …. only a beating.
Anyway, I deviate. Which doesn’t make me a deviant, by the way ….. Anyway, back to the script.
One of the things I was being pressured about had to do with promoting the gang leader’s mice. Yes, mice. Don’t ask me – I didn’t write the script.
For some reason the boss’ mice needed to be distributed, to take over everywhere. And one of the places Big Al wanted his mice installed was in a closed down fairground. It was in my area, so of course Big Al thought it was my responsibility to do it.
Big Al, photo taken during one of his philosophical debates
The thing is, that abandoned fairground already had mice, as I tried to tell Big Al. I’d hardly ever actually seen one but you could hear them, rustling, scratching and sometimes squeaking as they fought. Big Al wasn’t interested. Were they HIS mice? Well, no …. Well, didn’t I see the problem? I nodded. I could see I had a problem and I’d have a worse one if I didn’t do as he wanted.
Big Al’s mice arrived next day delivered by motorbike courier, in a plastic bag. Yeah, I know … but remember — I’m not the script writer. I took some of the mice out. They were sleek, strong, well-fed, pinky-white mice. I carried the bag to the empty fair ground and let some of them out, to see how they got on. They scurried eagerly down lots of holes and there was suddenly a lot of squeaking underground. Then silence. After a while, one came back, mauled and bloody. I waited but no others arrived. I put the rest of Al’s mice on the ground so they could avenge their mates. I had no choice, unless I wanted to tell Big Al I had disobeyed his instructions.
Those mice knew what was waiting for them and not a single one went down any hole. They milled around above ground. Then they found an unopened can of beer left by some inebriated street drinker, bit through into it …. and proceeded to get really, really drunk.
Some of Al’s mice before they discovered the beer can
They were still drunk when Big Al dropped by to see how his mouse colonising was progressing.
“What the fuck is going on?” Big Al and his bodyguard were looking in amazement at his carousing, stumbling mice. I told him what had happened. He shook his head, muttered something, shook his head again, then went off grumbling to get some more mice – maybe Super-mice, or Ninja Mice, or something.
I knew the drunken mice would be history. If a cat or a kestrel didn’t get them …. well, Big Al had a low tolerance for failure. I should have felt sorry for them …. and I kind of did … but also a kind of contempt. The fairground mice had lived a hard life, braving flood and ice, finding what food they could, breeding, tunneling, avoiding alley cats, kestrels … Big Al’s mice had been fed high-protein diets, reared in secure environments, built up muscle, each probably outweighed the biggest fairground mouse by a couple of ounces. But those scruffy, lean, dirty mice had finished off the advance guard of Al’s mice in minutes. And the rest? Didn’t even have the courage to make a fight of it but went and got drunk instead!
I left them to it. Al would be back and he’d probably want to supervise the operation against the Fairground Mice himself. That was fine with me. I didn’t like the job and I secretly wished the native mice well. Anyway, I had other problems to deal with. I still had to organise my area for Big Al’s other operations – or else. I didn’t know exactly what the “else” might be and truth to tell, I didn’t even want to think about it.
In the end, I couldn’t do it. I could fool myself that I could manage the area for Al in a more decent way than somebody else working for him …. maybe. But I would still have to become too much like Al himself to do it. So, one alternative only – get out, go on the run and hope Big Al or his goons couldn’t find me. I didn’t even know where I was going to go – just out.
In my benighted life, I had one bit of success.
I ducked into a shop and got to use their phone. That’s right, no mobiles – maybe this script was set in the 1980s …. Not that I remember seeing big hair, shoulder pads or baggy trousers … Anyway, I phoned up the electric phone company and got to speak to the Area Manager about my bill …. yes, the actual Area Manager! I told him I was going out of business and after a little haggling he agreed to accept 20% of the bill in payment and to wipe the slate clean.
Then I phoned my cousin, also my best friend and told him I was getting out. He was disappointed in me. Really, really disappointed. I could imagine him shaking his head.
“What about community organisation, man?” he asked.
“I can’t do it, Mort. Big Al is too much to go up against.”
“I can’t believe it – and you from a long line of trade union organisers.”
That got to me because, in the script, it was true. My Da had been a union organiser most of his life. My Ma too. And one of my Grandas as well. Strikes, union meetings, pickets, marches, police stations and courthouses had been a part of my childhood, almost as much as school throughout the year and the seaside in summer.
In real life, of course, my Da had been many things but never a trade union organiser. Active trade union member, yes – organiser, no. And my Ma – well, maybe if there had been a Housewife’s Union …. she would have probably been General Secretary.
Anyway, in the script, Mort shamed me. And talked some more. And I argued. And he put forward a plan.
For some reason, this plan, which of course required community organising, needed a public appeal by television. Mort said I should do it. I told him I couldn’t – I’d freeze on camera and anyway I was too closely involved. I begged him to nominate someone else. He thought for a little while.
“Ok, but you have to go with whoever I choose – no backing out.”
“Sure! Thanks!” I gulped, relief flooding me.
His next words ejected that relief right out again.
“Ask your Ma.”
After I recovered from the shock and hung up, I went to see Ma. This was Ma in the script and nothing like the Ma I had in the real life, the one who was born in the Basque Country and spoke English with a German accent, because her Da had been a German. And this script Ma was easy-going, unruffled …. Still, she took some persuading before she agreed. And while she was getting ready for her TV appearance – having her hair done, rehearsing her appeal, buying new shoes (who was going to see her shoes on TV?!!) — I was down on the street in my area, doing the rounds, talking to shopkeepers, community workers, youth, pensioners ….
Of course, Big Al was going to get to hear what I was doing. But the gamble was that my Ma’s appeal would be broadcast before he could make his move …. and after that, it would be much more difficult for Big Al to demonstrate the full meaning of that “else” with which he had threatened me. And hopefully the community would start to solidify and be able to resist. Doing nasty things to me wouldn’t be that productive any more. And whatever else Big Al was, he was a pragmatist. Yes, of course, there’s always the unpredictable emotional element ….
I was pondering that when something pulled me half out of the script. It was around 6am and I was still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling from my bed by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet. In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the script I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I did the business in the toilet and thought about the events in the script.
Then I wondered whether I could somehow get hold of the scriptwriter and how I could make him pay. Had I met him? No, never. How did I know he was male? I don’t know, but for some reason I was sure he was. Which is strange, because nobody in my life had ever fucked with my head the way some women had. But yes, he is male – I’m sure of it. Now, where could he be hanging out ….?