“Yep,” I thought, “this is a chain pub.” Chain pubs try to be relaxing, but somehow keep failing. I’m not exactly sure what it is. It’s just that, whenever I walk into a Wetherspoon’s or their equivalents, I shiver violently for a second, noticing that everything is slightly off.
The second thing I noticed was, in a red booth to the left of the front door, The Drunkard perched on top of a high chair. Around him, sitting on the leather couch and the red-and-green checkered carpet and in wooden chairs, patrons of the pub gazed upon him in expressions ranging from awe to rage. In his brown windbreaker, The Drunkard spoke and gestured outlandishly with his hands and arms. “No,” said The Drunkard, “Americans do not like to see their fellow countrymen trod upon and murdered in the streets.” A vein throbbed in his forehead and I walked forward.
“Not what I heard,” said a large man sitting on the floor with a buzz-cut, camo pants, and a black shirt.
“Oh?” asked The Drunkard, whirling around and facing him. “And what, pray tell, did you hear?”
“I heard that you don’t give two damns about each other. Why else would you not have the NHS.”
“For—” The Drunkard spotted me. He looked up at the ceiling and said, “Thank you, God.” He looked back at me and said, “Narrator, come over here. They think that Americans are a lot of NASCAR-watching megalomaniacs with a permanent bloodlust.”
I said, “Wait a minute.”
I went up to the bar, up to the bartender—a girl with auburn hair, slender, killer brown eyes—and asked for a Guinness. I watched it settle and heard The Drunakrd rant about the Iraq war. I thought about how to explain the absurdity of American government. It would be hard—especially since these people had probably only paid attention to Clinton and Bush—and would probably require a series of at least ten lectures, seminars, and about ninety books’ worth of required reading.
The Guinness finished settling, the barender gave me the pint glass and said, “You his friend?”
“Yeah,” I said.
She nodded. “On the house—you’ll need it. They’ve been grilling him since he walked in.”
I thanked her by buying her a round and walked back to the Sermon in the Pub.
“Are you kidding me?” The Drunkard asked, his hands in the air in disbelief. “No, the United States is not led by the KKK.”
“Seems like it to me,” said an old man sipping from a pint of cider.
A rumble of agreement passed through the rest of the group.
“Wh—” started The Drunkard.
I interrupted. He was about to snap whereas I had at least thirty minutes before I reached that point. “The thing about United States government is that, when it actually does something, everyone is completely surprised.”
A few people laughed.
“See, it’s designed to have such a regular turnaround that every six years, there’s a completely new government. So, the administration in power right now—Obama’s—who, I should add, is African-American and thus ineligible for membership in the KKK, is completely different—at least in name—from the Bush administration.”
“But,” said a woman with blonde hair, glasses, and a black sweater, “the current administration has failed to follow through with closing the prison at Guantanamo, initiate massive infrastructure reforms, and bring a significant change in health care to the United States.”
I nodded. “A valid point, but you’re not taking into consideration the veto powers of every branch. Honestly, it’s a miracle something like the stimulus package was passed so early on in the administration’s time in power. Closing Guantanamo is going to take a while simply because there are people in the United States who dislike the President on principle.”
“And,” said The Drunkard, “because they think he wants to create death panels and eliminate the elderly.”
I nodded. “That too.”
“Why,” said a man whose face looked as if he had seen eons pass by like clouds, “do you calls crisps ‘chips?’ They aren’t bloody chips. Chips are chips, not crisps. The sooner you—” he clutched at his chest, his face turned purple, and then someone passed a glass of port to him. He sipped it and his color returned to the sickly pale it was before. “Apologies. I used to work in linguistics.”
“Oi,” said a man in a white and black track suit in the back. His teeth were in disarray, but his bling was shiny beyond all measure. “I eard from my mate Lil Steve that you is gonna invade us like well good. Fuck you.”
I blinked and turned to The Drunkard. He shrugged. “I can understand your concern, and I assure you that, when the time comes, your question will be addressed by the proper authorities.”
“Oi, fuck off,” said the man, rolling up his sleeves. Two of his friends held him back. Another went to the bar and brought a Stella Artois to the man, who suckled it as a baby does a bottle.
The Drunkard poked me in the arm. I leaned over and he whispered, “We need to get out of here before this escalates. There is not one intelligent person in this place, and I’m pretty sure they’re about to rise up and slay us for not knowing ‘God Save the Queen.’”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “They’re harmless. Just a little, ah, excitable.” I looked at the crowd and saw that they were murmuring to themselves. A few people in the back left and moved to some free tables.
A tall, thin man with red hair, thick glasses, and wearing a disgusting green suit stood up. “Why,” he said, in the accent of the Royal Counties, “are Americans fat, stupid, and lazy?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s funny you mention that, because—”
The Drunkard bolted up from his chair, looked the man in the eye, and shouted, “Why are all English spineless faggots who’d rather drink tea than shoot hard liquor?”
The pub went silent, and I felt my life was endangered.
“Huh?” asked The Drunkard. “I ask you because you seem to be a prime example of your race of cowards.”
To my simultaneous surprise and glee, no one responded.
Until someone threw a bottle at The Drunkard’s head. Instantly, the pub was transformed from silent place of cross-cultural discussion to a redneck bar, and we were the band. The only thing missing from the raucous chaos was chicken wire. And that, my friends, would have been quite handy. “Run!” I said.
“No!” shouted The Drunkard, dodging a couple green bottles. “We stand and fight!” He picked up a bottle that had not shattered on the wall behind him and flung it back at the crowd. “AMURIKA!” he shouted.
I jumped up a bit to get leverage, flung my arm around his neck, and pulled him out of the pub. The crowd, thankfully, did not pursue us out of the pub, and we managed to get across the street—all the while, The Drunkard cursed me for a coward.
We retreated to the car park, where I released him. It was dark by this point, and we stood under a tall light. Rain piddled down from the sky. He whirled on me, veins in his forehead throbbing, and shoved me at a car. “What the fuck?” he said.
Now, this sort of thing has happened to me before. I’ve had a history of enraging people with short fuses, and I’ve learned that the way you have to deal with the situation is—
The Drunkard punched me in the stomach. The air left my lungs. I doubled over and coughed. That was not how you dealt with the situation.
“Huh?” reiterated The Drunkard. “What the fuck?”
“It,” I said, coughing, “is hard to respond to a question when one is coughing and in pain. Please don’t hit me again.” Those two sentences took roughly a minute to get out.
The Drunkard backed away and leaned against the light. He was still breathing quickly, but the veins in his forehead were no longer standing out.
“Okay,” I said, straightening up. “Did you really want to take on thirty drunk Englishmen? Cause that’s what seemed to be your plan.”
“I said what I said to prove a point.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “You ever think that bolting out of your chair and shouting at the top of your lungs might not be the best way to make that point?”
“I—” The Drunkard stopped, scratched his chin. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe?” I said. “You’re goddamn right I’m right. Look, man, you just can’t—”
“Get in the fucking car now!” shouted The Traveler.
I looked up and saw he and the Student running at us, laden with shopping bags. A thick sheet of rain followed close behind. This being the first time I’d ever seen rain come at anyone in a perceptible sheet, I thought we had suddenly been thrown into a disaster movie. “I don’t have the keys!” I shouted back.
“Fuck!” The Traveler shouted. He reached the car, threw down some of the bags, pulled out the keys, unlocked the car door, and opened the trunk in a quick, fluid movement. “Don’t just stand there,” he said, picking the bags back up. “Get in before—”
The sheet of rain hit us and, in the space of two seconds, we were drenched.
“—the rain gets here,” he said.
We put the bags in the car, piled in in record time, and closed the doors. “Wait,” I said. “Where are the girls?”
“The Traveler,” said The Student, taking off the wet rag he used to call a jacket, “decided that he’d be a gentleman and take the bags while they waited at the café near the other end.” He glared at The Traveler.
“Look,” said The Traveler, “if you want to deal with wet, sullen women, then be my guest.”
Judging by the look on The Drunkard’s face, it seemed he wouldn’t mind this one bit.
“And no, Drunkard,” said the Traveler, “it’s not fun. I had to deal with it when my ex and I went to Paris. They’re like cats.” He shuddered. “Yowling, scratching. Definitely not fun.” He turned the key in the ignition, backed out of the space, and drove us to the café.
It was situated on the far side of the retail village. The building was white with a blue roof. Some white tables with blue umbrellas were set up outside. As it stood, the girls were huddled under an awning close to the road. The ferocity of the rain only increased and the few trees in the area were bending perilously close to a forty-five degree angle.
We pulled up, The Traveler leaned over, opened the passenger door, and the girls joined our sardine can. “Didn’t outrun the rain, huh?” asked Dee.
We scowled in response.
“Okay, let’s head out,” said The Traveler. He brought us back onto the road leading out of the retail village and back to the sad excuse for a highway.
I can’t say much of the rest of the trip—mainly because I fell asleep a few minutes after we got on the road. However, judging by the time we arrived back at the flat—half eleven—and the general looks of dismay and pain on everyone’s faces, we got lost again. The Drunkard mentioned something about being glad he got to see Hadrian’s Wall, but I hope to God he was joking.