The Last Crusty


I was going down the Mermaid Fish Bar to get a bag of chips when it happened. I wish I could say that I was going down the Mermaid Fish Bar with my mates to get some chips but I don’t have any mates so I can’t say that. I just can’t ‘fit in’ with other people any more, no matter how I try, and so that’s that. I’ve lost that particular ability. What can I say? That’s just the way it is. I don’t really mind any more. Not too much, anyway…


I had long since moved out of Galway. I don’t know what I ever saw in that place, to be honest. What a crap-hole. I can’t imagine why I’d spent so many years of my life hanging around in such a dead-end place. Pure inertia is the answer, I’d say. Come to think of it if I was to be perfectly honest I would have to say that pure inertia is the reason behind most of the stuff that I do, or – more to the point – don’t do. If I try to remember back to that time in Galway even though I must have lived there for at least twenty years nothing very much comes back to me. A few mixed up memories, mainly bad. I spent a lot of time doing nothing but being far too much of a superficial jackass to notice the fact! That’s probably why I can’t remember anything – because there’s nothing to remember. Empty years…


After I had recovered (at least to some extent) from my addiction episode I spent an awful lot of time walking aimlessly around town. I hated spending time in the apartment. Too many bad memories. Plus, it smelt musty and sour. If the weather was good enough I took to hanging out in Spanish Arch and Eyre Square again – on my own it is true but at least I wasn’t afraid to go out any more. No one ever said anything to me, or even took any notice of me, and this suited me down to the ground. I might have been invisible, the lack-lustre figment of my own very limited imagination. This was, as I say, infinitely preferable to thinking that people did notice me and were laughing at me wherever I went. I was free to roam here and there like some kind of ghost. I didn’t bother anyone and no one bothered me, and that was just about all there was to it. It was a blessing.


My ears weren’t sore or weeping any more either, which was another blessing. The hair never did grow back on them, but they had healed up after a fashion. A somewhat scabby type of a fashion, it is true, but there you go. They now felt crusty and hard – semi-rigid grey pendulous things, looking for all the world like two lengths of knotted, scabrous half-cured rhino skin dangling stiffly from the sides of my head. I kind of liked them like this. They were kind of like dreads. I could have saved up to have the graft reversed but I didn’t bother; I guess I was making a sort of a statement, in my own half-assed sort of a way! In my own mind I was a kind of a neo-crusty – one of a kind because there certainly hadn’t been any Crusties seen in Galway for a long time now. So in my own head there was something meaningful – heroic almost – in my stance as a lone crusty in a world that had long since forgotten that they had ever existed. Sitting around on the streets with their malnourished flea-bitten lurchers on the end of a bit of string, getting pissed on cheap cider and vomiting energetically on the pavement whilst it was still only early in the morning and the more traditional wasters hadn’t even got round to getting out of bed yet. There was a type of austere honour – dignity even – in that ‘stripped-down’ way of life. I remember admiring that in them. I honoured them in my own way now.


The crusties were long gone. They were lo-tech and there was simply no place for them anymore. There was no place for lo-tech anywhere in today’s world, apart from me and the few remaining wet-brains who still congregated in incoherent groups here and there. They were not tolerated to the same extent that they had been back in the days when alcoholism had still been a respected way of life in Ireland but were still permitted to linger in a few out-of-the-way places such as Claddagh Park. As a kind of anachronism myself I felt at home there, at one with them, even though I had not the slightest interest in joining them in their single-minded quest to drink themselves into oblivion every day of the year. Alcohol for me is one of the vilest and most despicable drugs ever invented – in fact to my mind it doesn’t even qualify as a drug, it is something more akin to inhaling lighter fluid or sniffing glue. It’s actually worse than lighter fluid or glue. It is a way of turning oneself into a vile shit-talking zombie – and that’s putting it politely. But never mind that. I want to get to the point of this story.


It was in Claddagh Park where I met the Russian lady whose influence led to me to leave Galway for good. It was an odd sort of a meeting. Well, to be perfectly honest any sort of a meeting would have been odd for me because as I say I never spoke to anyone, but even under other circumstances I would have found it strange. (This is a true story, by the way, just in case you think I am making it up.) The Russian lady was of indeterminate age and equally indeterminate shape, pushing a shopping trolley full of empty glass bottles in front of her. Instead of passing by me as I sat on a bench near where the playground had once been she stopped and sat down right beside me. What is more she was obviously intent on engaging my attention. Close up, it struck me that she had the most astonishingly huge flat wrinkly face, full of curious idiosyncratic features – she was remarkably ugly with deep-set squinty little eyes and oddly-shaped tusk-like teeth protruding here and there between her lips but nevertheless it had to be said that she had unmistakable character. Her face – it occurred to me – was like the vast central Asian steppes. Her inhospitable but brutally magnificent homeland perhaps, which – I told myself – was so powerful an influence that it had somehow managed to etch itself indelibly onto her ancient wrinkled visage. Looking into her face was like staring into a strange country…


She broke through my somewhat self-indulgent thoughts, insistently repeating something in her thick Russian accent that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me. Without waiting for a reply, she commenced fishing about in her vast decrepit-looking handbag until she finally found what she was looking for, a little silver stash-tin from which she drew a very unremarkable-looking blim of black hash with what appeared to be bits of fluff embedded in it. “Kazak! Kazak!” she intoned with great emphasis in her deep, almost masculine voice, looking significantly at this thoroughly miserable lump of nondescript perfectly ordinary cannabis resin. With a superbly magnanimous flourish, she handed the fluff-covered morsel of Bob Hope over to me, clearly intending me to skin up with it.


Badly out of practice, I managed nevertheless to construct a somewhat lopsided three-skinner and she gestured grandly for me to spark it up. So we sat there together smoking what I gathered to be extraordinarily rare and unthinkably potent Kazakhstan hashish saying nothing as we solemnly passed the joint back and forth between us. The hand-bag fluff made me cough my lungs up and I swear to God I didn’t get any kind of a buzz from it at all but somehow this didn’t bother me. I still felt that the Russian lady was kind of cool – cool for an obviously insane bag-lady, that is. She was interesting, exotic, larger-than-life in her mannerisms and personality, and most importantly of all – she seemed to find me worthwhile talking to.


After this first auspicious meeting I met the Russian lady fairly regularly as she was often collecting empty vodka bottles from the park. At first I assumed they were left there by the winos but she assured me that the vodka bottles – invariably the cheapest and nastiest on the market – were from twelve-year old school girls who tended to drink here when they mitched-off from classes. The older girls went somewhere else, apparently. And they didn’t drink alcohol either. When kids reach the age of fourteen these days they all get biochipped and then after that they get into whatever weird shit is current on the World Wide Neurological Web. The latest digital addictions. The newest social networking fads. Freaky wire-head shit. When I was a teenager ‘being wired’ had an entirely different meaning! I often wondered – as did the winos who shared the park with me sometimes did too (when their brains were clear enough to allow them to do so, that is) – what the world was coming to.


As time went on my new friend’s speech gradually became slightly more comprehensible to me, although I never did quite make out what her name was. I found myself looking forward to our meetings, to the ritual of smoking hand-bag fluff with her (and occaisonally some of her odd freinds). And then one day something happened that was to dramatically change my life and cause me to leave Galway forever. She happened to mention that she knew this Polish dude called Yacek who apparently could arrange a cheap black-market connection to the Mind Grid, which is what the latest upgrade of the N Web was going to be called when it came at the end of the year. This information – needless to say – did not fail to make an impression on me. I asked to meet her friend and she told me in her usual expansive fashion not to worry and that she would arrange it the very next day.


As I went back to my dingy, mouldy-smelling flat that evening my spirits were soaring and that sense of elation had nothing whatsoever to do with the chemically inert supposed ‘Mongolian Charas’ the Russian lady had pulled out of her hand-bag on that particular day. My spirits were high because I felt my luck was finally changing. My life was set to move on at last. As I was shortly to discover however, I couldn’t have been more wrong…






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