Fuckface grimaces with subtle nuance. Her face crunches up like a bagpipe poorly played. She inches a snifter of port under her tiny dog’s wincing black nose, wet as the walk outside the pub. Mrs. Alerton is a three-time widow. She is also an eccentric to whom life has been cruel. They tell me she comes in and tries to blend in the shadows thrown by the front windows everyday at 4 p.m. She makes faces at the people going by and lifts Bambi’s paw to wave. I move away, disturbed by this dyed- in-the-home English eccentric who reminds me of the woman in drag on Monty Python.
Our pint-stop tour of England and Scottish climbs has reached an end. The past week was spent riding the rails, pissing away our stay in local pubs, sleeping in car parks, and meeting locals. What we did not see was Nessie in Inverness, but we saw the pumice stains from the White Cliffs of Dover. We saw everything in between. If a town or a city had a castle or a pub it was randomly found. Waterloo train station was our end, with Nigel, a bloke in a tweed overcoat who went up a down an escalator bellowing “All loos have some water.”
It is 1990 and the final months of HW’s war incline me to do some polling. Locals tell of their approval for Stormin’ Norman. A good friend is on some sort of work program and is working at a now deduct pub in a suburb of London the Shucks-borough Arms. I sit and watch fuckface and hope I don’t look like that in 70 years, that alone, feeding a small dog booze. On our trip I was usually drunk — or at least I did not hold back in the many, many public houses we visited to get a taste of the provincial pallor. Never was I stopped, questioned, called a cheeky lad (story in Finding me — and Them: Stories of Assimilation) or given any indication that anyone cared the slightest bit of my physical state. Even in Earlstown — southwest of Manchester — where we were welcomed into the home of a couple with a lovely looking sister was I thought to be drunk. I was, however, a few nights when I came back to sleep. I finish my last pint at the Shucks-borough Arms before I leave my friend. Bambi is wiggling her nose, sniffing out more ports and fuck strokes her. It wanders in my mind, annoyingly, how Bambi is treated when she leaves the pub, out of the arm of the bar staff that know her and her owner and indulge their eccentricities. I gulp my ale quietly and leave enough not to look too much in need or want of beer, like it was just a memento, a toast to our trip.
“You alright?” A bobby asks from a police car.
“Sure, I guess. Thanks for asking. I’m fine,” I wave.
A distance of a city block of broken sidewalk has elapsed since I went out of the door of the pub. The sun is working over-time to come out, to prevail over the permanent cloud cover, to come out and be queen for a day. It is what we in America call a sun shower, and I guess that England must have them so often that the term loses its cache as slowly as the clouds lose their rain.
“You haven’t been drinking?”
“Yes, but not a lot.”
“Well then,” the two smile, suddenly very interested, “how much?”
“Oh, I guess maybe half a pint.”
“That’s not much, still you appear to be walking in a pattern on a man under the influence of alcohol.”
I tell them why it looks this way. I even show them the medic alert tag I wear for just such an occasion. The tag has gotten three times the exposure my ID or passport ever have, at least. It states that I am physically disabled and have an “awkward gait.” They look at each other with that clandestine body language only policemen know.
“I just left a friend at a pub back about a block. He’ll tell you the story.”
They’re disinterested in any testimony from friends.
“Why don’t you come with us to the station. We want to make sure you’re alright.”
I see the passenger door open as if I’ve been hitching the last block. Imagine my luck! The sun has won now and bounces of the silver door handle. I shove my pack in and sit down. Shades of Scotland creep into my head offering their empathy. I was going to play it right from the start.
“What the fuck do you think is wrong? You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve picking me up!”
I smiled, figuring I was in the driver’s seat. Again, as in Scotland 2 years ago, my welfare was considered. How nice and warmly fuzzy is the feeling I get each time I visit in the UK.
“Sir, forget oh fuck. We don’t care for it.”
“Pardon me. Don’t I have a right to be angry. Shit, if a few fucking expletive fly by your jug ears, well I guess you should have thought of that before you picked me up. You just gave e every reason in the book to make you sorry you ever crossed my path!”
I am gone. An abyss of vindictive furry has been opened. I vow to make the London booby hatch pay for their good deed.
We pull up to a brick building with a few Union Jacks waving limply on poles. The uniform men escort me arm in arm inside to busy office.
An older man, who I assumed was the head booby, asks me a series of questions, each stupider than the last. They wanted to know where I was going.
“It’s none of your fucking business. Is this how you treat all Americans? I bet 100 tourist pass this road everyday. They go back o the states without an encounter with the police in their memories. Why me, why should I have to put up with this shit!”
They congregate. They confer in some sort of police huddle. As they come up for air, they turn toward me. I see that same look as the jogging suited constable in Scotland who quipped that I was a cheeky lad. It was, though, this time a speechless look of constipation, like the words wanted to be conferred upon me.
“Well, we’re done here. Can we do anything for you?”
Wow, I think. This is nice. Actually I will accept their reparations, their contrition for the egregious injustice they have witlessly committed without hearing the story of a witness I offered.
“Yes, thank you, I am on my way to a youth hostel for the remainder of my stay in your charming borough. Sure, you can give me a lift. Boy, my own police escort,” I say, putting my feet on the chief’s desk,” like our president would get.”
They frown at me, sensing it is the hour of retribution. We walk to the car. The task is assigned to a lower ranking booby then the two who arrested me for my own well-being. I figure he is twice the booby and tell him the hostel is on the far end of town. He drives me 30 kilometers to the outer limits of London, looking at the while for the hostel on a map. I sit in back trying not to burst out laughing.
“Wait, I think it is actually closer to where those other two fine officers apprehended me. I’m sorry, now you have to drive all the way back into town.”
I stretch out on the seat and rest my eyes, keeping one on the boob. He finally pulls up to the hostel three blocks from the Shucks-borough Arms.