Murray Street Tommy
"What's that?" asks the barman.
"It's my stick" I say, "I am legally blind".
"Oh sorry, I thought it was some kind of engineering thing!".
"Well... it kind of is. I mean... I engineer my way down the street with it".
And the next thing I hear is a cackling from beside me. The kind of cackling that only 30 years of smoking unfiltered cigarettes can reduce your voice to. I turn and set eyes on Tommy for the first time and he ain't pretty.
His teeth look like piano keys and the middle-C is missing. He proffers a hand and says "I like you, you are funny fucker. What is the stick for really?"
I tell him I wasn't joking, I really am legally blind.
"What? Can you see me right now?"
"Yeah I can see about 10% of what everyone else sees. I can see your face and your horrible teeth".
"Har har... hack... cough... splutter... har har... oh fuck me!" is his reply to that one. "Jesus Christ, you can't talk to me like that, I am 67 years old!"
And I think to myself he doesn't look a day over 81 but I say "But you don't look a day over 21!"
"Oh cut the crap boy!"
This is where it starts to get disjointed. As with any good old school jakey he starts to talk in non-sequiters but at the same time always returning to the subject that made him latch on to you in the first place.
"I love my country, I love my fucking country but I fear my government!".
"Have you always felt that way" I asked him, already suspecting that I knew the answer.
"Socialists. they are all fucking socialists!".
"Don't believe everything you hear on the TV" I tell him.
"What do you do for a living boy?"
"I work in TV".
"har...har....har... hack.... hack....hack".
In the old days you used to be able to tell what a man did for a living by looking at his hands. I looked at his and apart from the well developed pint-shaped curvature of his fingers I could discern nothing so I asked.
"What do you do for a living Tommy?"
"Ah fuck, I'm 67 years old you know. I could have retired already... but... I mean... what would be the point of that? I am the chief executive of the mail room in..."
I don't catch the name of the building but I dwell on the way he spat the words chief executive like someone had paid him a great insult. Nothing like giving a shitty job a grand title to further belittle the people doing it. Especially if that person is a real straight shooter like Tommy.
I take a sip of my Guinness and I can feel his eyes burning a hole in my cheek.
"Are you REALLY blind?"
"Yes, yes, I fucking am, alright?"
"Alright, no need to get your panties in a bunch. I was just wonderin".
He rolls up his shirt sleeve and flexes his muscles saying "Can you see this?"
"Yes I can..."
"Ha! There is nothing fucking there! har...har...har...hack.... howaah.......hoowah. I am 67 years old. See that over there? That's a beer pong table. I fucking lost it last night. Those fucking yuppie brats are so fucking loud. Last night I just fucking lost it. Slapped the fucking little yuppie brat. Sent the little bastard home crying".
I laugh at this and ask the barman if this is true. Apparently it is.
"How come they didn't throw you out Tommy?"
"Ah those little shits on the bar are all scared of me... har...har...har... Are you REALLY blind? I mean is there nothing they can do?".
"Nope, right now I am fucked I am afraid. Maybe in the future with stem cell research and all that"
"I am 67 years old and I can still see...."
"Well good for you" I laugh.
"There must be something... you gotta do research. Research the shit out of everything. Don't give up! Don't give up! I am gonna write down some websites for you..."
He pulls a bit of paper from his pocket and an OTB pen and writes down the websites earthclinic.com and vitacost.com. While he is doing this I notice he is a lefty and has a really hard time holding the little OTB pen. He sees me looking.
"I don't write well. I can hardly write at all. I was in a helicopter that took a hard landing in Vietnam. Fucked up my hands".
I realized now that this was where the "pint-shaped curvature" of his fingers had come from. They had all been broken and reset badly.
"Where you from Dave?", he asks, "SCOTLAND? Well let me ask you a question. Scotland, you are independent right? I mean you are not part of what do you call it..."
"The United Kingdom?" I offer...
"Yes, yes, the United Kingdom. What do they mean when they say that?"
I tell him 3 times that the United Kingdom comprises of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland but he keeps insisting that Scotland MUST be an independent country.
"Look Tommy, I grew up there. I am telling you it is not independent. Might be again one day but right now it is not".
And with that said I proceed to give him a short history lesson on Red Clydeside then the miners strike and poll tax the general rape of Scotland by Maggie Thatcher.
"Margaret Thatcher? If I was Scottish I would have told Maggie Thatcher to go fuck herself".
"Believe me Tommy we tried. She wasn't having it".
"Are you REALLY blind?"
"Jesus Christ Tommy. What do I have to do to convince you? Fall down the fucking beer cellar?"
"Har.. har... har.... hack." etc etc.
"You CAN'T give up. Research the shit out of it. You CAN'T give up".
"I know Tommy..."
"I was a Marine... a fucking marine... I am 67 years old... YOU MUST NEVER GIVE UP. Research research research..."
"I got a good eye doctor..."
He waves his mangled hands in front of his face.
"Ah doctors... fucking doctors... what do they know? Why are you looking at me like that? I am being serious!"
"I am not looking at you like anything Tommy, I'm blind remember?"
"I AM SERIOUS. YOU MUST NEVER GIVE UP".