“Lots of plants here,” I said.
“These are the Botanical Gardens,” Dee responded, using the tone of a teacher at the end of her rope.
Indeed, these were the Botanical Gardens. However, the gardens are not something I wish to spend time in describing. (You probably don’t care about the amazing variety of foliage—and if you do, too bad.) A small river cut through the Gardens. Trees—perilously close to losing all their leaves and becoming big sticks—were plentiful. If there were bluebirds, they would have been singing—however, this is England and it is a well-known fact that the only indigenous birds are gigantic crows, gigantic seagulls, pigeons, and those tiny birds that hop around vacuuming up crumbs.
On top of being largely disaffected by manicured beauty, I had The Drunkard to worry about. He was snapping out of his absinthe haze and was no longer whimpering. Perhaps the gardens and the trees helped him, or perhaps the stuff was weaker than I thought. Regardless, he hung in the back with me, while The Student and Dee walked ahead remarking on this tree or that plant.
“I’m a shit, aren’t I?” asked The Drunkard.
“Nah, man. You’re, er,” I didn’t quite know what to say here. Sincerity and giving advice were never my strong points. I could tell a joke—that was easy. Helping people deal with problems in a serious manner, though, was hard. I’d briefly considered going to rabbinical school, but decided against it when I realized that, just maybe, a couple getting married wouldn’t want to hear “What’s another name for marriage? Meshugas!” under the canopy. “You’re a good guy. Just a little, um, crazy sometimes. Yeah?”
The Drunkard craned his neck to look at me. His eyes were bloodshot. “I’ve tried to attack The Traveler twice on this trip. I’ve spent most of the time tripping balls on absinthe. I’m a schmuck.”
“Nah.” I shook my head. If I did that enough, it would convince him otherwise. “You’re a good guy.” I patted him on the back.
“Right,” he said. “You tell that to Julie.”
“Er.” Yep, this was going into dark, frightening, and, most important, serious places. I looked ahead and saw The Student gesticulating with his hands and making some point—probably about an obscure novel he’d just read—which meant, in other words, that I had no hope of enlisting his help. “Nah, we just need to find you—” Find him what? “We just need to find you a nice Jewish girl.”
“Oh?” shouted The Drunkard. His face went from pale to beet red in about a second and the veins in his forehead popped out. “Is that what we need? Let’s find The Drunkard a Jewish girl, cause all of these shicksehs are bad for him! Is that right, you schlub?”
I backed into one of the black iron railings along the path. I wished that I had a shell at that moment—for though The Drunkard, in his fury, would inevitably break through such a defense, it would tire him out enough so the rain of endless blows would not cripple me.
“Let’s just find him a girl with –stein at the end of her name and everything will be all right. Hey, I know,” he said, jabbing his index finger into the air, “let’s turn The Drunkard into The Student! The Student managed to find a nice Jewish girl, didn’t he? Well fuck you, sir.” He dug his hands into his pockets, bolted to a bench, and sat down. I could practically see steam billowing out of his ears.
I blinked a few times. I looked around. Thankfully, no one noticed The Drunkard’s explosion. The Student and Dee were still talking up ahead—moving further and further away. Everyone else in the gardens was having too nice of a time to pay any attention to the American having himself a nice conniption.
About five or six years ago, I told someone that I wished they would stop sending me articles about Rush Limbaugh and was given a death threat. This event flashed through my mind, but, judging from the adoring looks I’d spotted The Drunkard give Julie (actually, they were more like the looks a puppy gives his owner), this was a completely different beast.
I watched The Drunkard. The vein throbbed for a little bit more, then stopped. His eyes steadied, and he stared at some flowers across the path. His left leg—which, when he first sat down, had been bouncing up and down like a jackhammer—stilled. I gave it another minute, buttoned my coat, and sat down next to him. “Sorry.”
“I didn’t mean to say that finding a Jewish girl would solve your problems. In fact, finding one would probably drive you mad, as they’re all balabustas.”
The Drunkard mimicked a rimshot.
“You know what Mel Brooks said. ‘Humor is just another defense against the universe.’ For me, it’s the only one.”
“Yeah,” The Drunkard said. “I’ll explain later.”
“Wanna catch up with The Student and Dee?”
He snorted. “You kidding me? You hear what they’re talking about? They’re talking about Brecht. Fuck that, my friend.”
“Well hey, there’s half the group,” The Traveler called.
I turned to my left and saw him carrying a couple of plastic bags stamped with the Tesco logo. “Heya, Traveler.”
“Enjoying the Gardens?” He asked. He put down the bags and sat between The Drunkard and I.
“Eh,” I said. “It’s getting tiresome, this looking at flowers and trees business.”
The Traveler nodded. “I’ve got this English friend, right? One day, I went down to his place in town and asked if I could break a bottle in his yard so I could make a guitar slide.”
“Why don’t you buy one?” asked The Drunkard.
“You kidding me? You want to be authentic, you make one out of a bottle neck.”
“Good answer,” The Drunkard said, slapping The Traveler on the back. “The answer of a true guitar player.”
“So,” continued The Traveler, “the guy says no. I asked why not, he says that the garden is the Englishman’s castle.”
“What was his castle like?” I asked.
“Overgrown with weeds, disheveled, and littered with trash. But, as the man said, it’s his castle. I see The Student and Dee are getting on well.”
“They’ve been talking about Brecht since we walked in the Gardens,” The Drunkard said. “Hearing such a conversation and not being a drama student is akin to being decapitated by a blunt guillotine.”
“The Student seems to like it,” said The Traveler.
The Drunkard nodded. “He also reads Joyce for fun. No one does that. Joyce’s wife didn’t do that.”
“She read his letters,” I said.
The Drunkard shivered at the mention of the letters. (Read them, if you dare.)
“Well,” said The Traveler, “what say we catch up with them? I’ve got the ingredients for food tonight, so I’d say after we’re done we can head back, feast, and then go out for some drinks.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
“Yeah,” said The Drunkard. He stood, took off his ballcap, scratched his head, and said, “Look, I should apologize for the absinthe thing. I’ve had a shitty time recently and—”
“Yup,” said The Traveler. He held out a Tesco bag. “You carry that and we’re fine.
The Drunkard took the bag and we caught up with the other two. They were now discussing Samuel Beckett and whether or not he was completely insane. For someone in the sciences, Dee knew an awful lot about theater, and, as such, I fell deeper in smit.
Anyway, we walked around the Gardens some more. However, I zoned out and, next thing I knew, we were back at the car.