My post-travel routine consists of sleeping for twelve hours straight, followed by six cups of black, strong coffee and a long, heated internal debate about whether or not to go back to sleep. When this routine, like any other of my routines that lack any modicum of reasonableness, is not completed, my entire day is thrown and I am slightly crabbier than usual.
I suppose The Drunkard ran into The Student—who was probably being responsible and washing his clothes in the Pavilion, after dodging the incredibly friendly and puffy Englishman who laughed at anything anyone said—that morning, because around eleven o’clock, I received a text message and my phone nearly buzzed itself out of my window. (See, Woolf, if I hadn’t mentioned before, was a building that happened to be a mobile phone signal vaccuum. No one could get a signal in that place unless they wrapped their phone in aluminum foil, and even then, it was iffy. So you had to put your phone right on the cell if you wanted to have any sort of contact with the outside world that didn’t take place on the Internet.)
“Drinks. K Bar. Now. Buy you a Guinness. Sent: Today, 11:03 From: Drunkard”
I sent back: “It’s not even noon and I’m still asleep. Call you at one.” Then I turned off the phone and tossed it in the waste bin under my desk.
Half an hour later, I heard what sounded like an elephant slamming itself repeatedly into my door. I tumbled out of bed shouting obscenities, went to open the door, and there, standing in all of his grubby glory, was The Drunkard, wearing jeans, a leather jacket onto which he’d sown a Hunter S. Thompson patch, and aviator sunglasses accompanying a red ballcap. “Fuck you,” he said. “You slovenly son of a bitch. It’s eleven-thirty, it’s cold, and you’re back in a country in which, if you’re not drunk, you’re on the verge of suicide.”
“What? How did you get in?”
“Chacko let me in.”
I rushed to the window, lent out to the left, and shouted, “FUCK YOOOOOOOU!”
Chacko leaned out of his window and shouted, “FUCK YOOOOOOOU!”
The Drunkard pushed past me and tossed his red ballcap over my laptop before plopping down on my bed. “Do you realize how empty this fucking place has been? Guillame—that Belgian dude—hasn’t even been here. God knows where he’s been. Then that fucking crazy Turk, he fucked off to Scotland two weeks ago. It’s been me, The Writer, and the French in my apartment and one of the Greeks in his. Other than that, this place is Chinatown, man.”
I rubbed my eyes. “I’m not following you. I just woke up.”
“Good point,” he stood up, put back on his ballcap, and headed towards my kitchen.
After putting on some jeans, I followed him. I didn’t go into the kitchen the previous night, having ordered out, so I wasn’t prepared for what the lack of someone steadily cleaning throughout the week would mean. It smelled like a trash can in a Chinese buffet and didn’t look far off of that. Strange green vegetables, that looked similar to seaweed in many respects but not all of them, were strewn all around the counters. Lumps of what might have been meat sat in skillets on the oven, covered in a fine, somewhat bubbly layer of film. On the round table in the center of the room, there were bowls full of what looked like yellow sticks floating in syrup; they gave off a strong smell that I hadn’t smelt since the last time I went to a county fair in Tennessee.
“Hey,” said The Drunkard, walking through the stench as if it weren’t nothing but a thing, “this is like The Student’s kitchen. Neat.”
I flung my arm over my nose and mouth. I breathed in gasps. This is why The Student bought respirators, I guessed. “This is not neat,” I said. “This is an affront against the senses and decency.”
“Meh,” said The Drunkard. He went over to my cupboard, picked out the Dunkin Donuts coffee my mom had sent along with the rest of my Hanukkah loot, and dumped what looked like half the bag into the coffee maker. “This isn’t that bad. You want bad, you should see the sort of state my house was in in college. That was bad.” He filled up the pot with water and poured it into the machine. “Roaches wouldn’t live in our house. ‘Screw that,’ they’d say, ‘that place is a sty.’” The machine came to life.
“Frankly, Drunkard, I don’t care. This is abominable.”
The Drunkard shrugged and headed back towards the door out of the kitchen.
“You’re not giong to wait for the coffee?”
“I’m not drinking any coffee,” he said, “I’m going to let it brew. Maybe the smell will cancel out the rancid stench of carmelization and dead fish you guys have going on in there.”
“But you used half of my coffee.”
“Yeah,” he said, “you think I’d drink something that strong? Fuck that. My heart would explode. To K-Bar!”
K-Bar in the interrim of classes, I saw when we arrived, was a desolate place. The only people inside the bar aside from The Drunkard and myself were two employees, one of them a man in his 60s who was leering at a Katie Perry video, and a despondant-looking construction worker clutching a pint of Strongbow. The soft sounds of a Beastie Boys instrumental song played over the speakers.
The Drunkard went up to the bar and ordered a couple of Guinnesses. The older guy cocked an eyebrow and said, “Bit early for Guinness, innit?”
“It’s a bit too late in your life for you to be mingling around with 20-somethings in a university,” said The Drunkard, “not to mention leering at a pop star, but I’m not saying anything, you old pervert.”
The man nodded. “Fair dues.” He poured our drinks.
We got them from the bar, went over to one of the tables under a big hi-def TV and sat down. “Bit snappy, weren’t you?”
The Drunkard snorted. “I’ve learned a lot during the past week, man. In occasionally trying to escape being surrounded by the Chinese and their, ah, pungent food, I ventured down into town a lot more than I had during the term. You know what I found out down there?”
“The English people, as a whole, and by and large, are scum.”
I whistled. “That’s... Man, I...”
“Trust me.” He shook his head and took off his ballcap, setting it on the table with a certain resignation that I’d only previously seen from my uncle, who was the sole survivor of a platoon of international peace keepers in Bosnia. “It’s not nice out there, outside the realm of the University. You’ll see that someday. You’ll understand that somehow, and the English will smell the American on you and go for your throat.”
I scratched my head. “This seems like there’s a story involved. There’s something you’re not telling me about this. What’s going on?” I knew that The Drunkard had done something that instigated a fight. I knew a lot of English people, and none of them, no matter how base and depraved when it came to alcohol, sex, and drugs, would start a fight for no reason. That sort of aggression wasn’t in the national character. The national character was sitting back and nursing a hangover with a cup of tea and disgusting fried beans and black pudding.
“Well, I was down in town with Guillame on Friday, right?”
“Uh oh.” This, I thought, could not be good. The last time I’d heard “I was down in town with Guillame” from someone, the story ended with a guy jumping in the freezing river for a tenner.
“Yeah. Well, it was before this massive cold front hit, so all of the English ladies were dressed as they usually are when they go out—as if they’re permanent residents at the Bunny Ranch. That, by the way, I’ll never fucking understand. I mean, CRU could get pretty raw sometimes, but we never took it into the town. Anyway.”
He cleared his throat and took a drink from his beer.
“Wait,” I said. “Wasn’t CRU in bumfuck, nowhere?”
“How could that get raw?”
“Man, listen to yourself.” The Drunkard sat back in his chair. “Any time you put college kids and alcohol together, they’ll try to reenact Mardi Gras every weekend. May I continue?”
“So Guillame and I were in town, following this group of girls who staggered out of one of the Wetherspoons, right?”
“Do you realize how creepy that sounds?”
The Drunkard thought for a moment. “In retrospect, yes. Anyway, we were following them to a club, right? Well this pair of chavs comes out of one of the off-licenses by Christchurch and they start harassing us, right? I mean, okay, fair enough, Guillame’s a tall, lanky guy and looks like he’d be easy prey, but that’s just not cool. So I turn to Guillame and say, ‘You know, what’s what I like about this country: They let their retards out of their cages.’”
“Yeah, possibly not the best thing to say. So the chavs flip their shit, sputtering in their quasi-language; that which is more grunts than vocalisations. They start circling us like they’re fucking wolves or something, and they’re about to jump us when BAM!” Here, he hit the table. “A group of other postgrads stumble out of the Wetherspoons and scare the chavs off.”
A silence. “That’s your story? That’s why the English are animals?”
“Well,” The Drunkard said, “er. There were some assholes in the club.”
“It’s a club, man, what do you expect? The atmosphere is that of a regression to some sort of bullshit animal instinct, wherein all of the philosophical, medical, theological, and ethical progress of the last six thousand years has been rendered null.”
The Drunkard shrugged.
“You just haven’t left the flat a lot, have you?”
The Drunkard slowly shook his head.
“And why is that?”
“There’s no one to play with.”
“What about the French?”
The Drunkard dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand. “That’s no good. They’ve discovered clove cigarettes now, and the kitchen is their territory.”
“Who else is around?”
“I think I’ve seen The Writer shuffling around the courtyard some days. The Traveler’s... elsewhere. His last facebook status looked like it was in Czech, so I guess he’s in Eastern Europe.”
“I thought he said he was going to Paris.”
“Fuck, I don’t know. That guy can’t stay in one place for too long. I’m surprised he lasted for as long as he did during the term.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Well, want to go find The Writer.”
“Dear God, why?”
“You, my friend, need to be eased into society. I have the strong suspicion you’ve been drinking nonstop for a few days an—”
“Why would you think that?”
“When you walked into my room, I got a whiff of Jack Daniel’s. The sort of smell I haven’t smelled since I was at parties on Frat Row.”
“Anyway, you’ve been drinking nonstop and need to be eased into a society that doesn’t accept constant drunkenness. And, in my opinion, there is no man on Earth better qualified to sober you up than The Writer.”
The Drunkard groaned, we drank up, bundled up, and headed out.