Tim buys a book. Tim accidentally summons a demon. Hilarity, carnage, ensue.
We lived in Loughborough, a grumpy, brick-and-gloom sort of place somewhere in the middle of England, and my family was back home in Colorado. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, so they—my parents and my brother—decided to come for a visit. Since Loughborough doesn't have any particular sights to see,1 we decided to go to meet in Ireland. When we arrived, they were already waiting for us at the the airport. Everyone hugged, we collected our baggage. Then we realized that it was late—well past midnight—and that the trains had stopped running.
"Let's get a cab," I said.
Just then a double-decker bus rolled up.
“Ooooooh,” my mother said. An American tourist fresh off the plane cannot resist a double-decker bus.
“Seriously. Let’s take a cab,” I said. I get sick on buses. I also get seasick, trainsick, ferriswheelsick and pogosick. The double-deckers are the worst; it's like riding out swells in a crow's nest.
Humbug. My mother was in Ireland now and by God, she was going to ride the double-decker bus. So we got on.
“There are some seats there, behind the driver,” I suggested.
“Second floor!” my mother demanded.
Up the stairs we went, burdened with a pair of large duffel bags and a flock of those wheely suitcases. A couple of unsmiling Filipino maids sat in the front row and a trio of teenage boys were near the back, passing a joint and giggling. Someone is always smoking a joint on the upper deck.
“Hello Americans!” the teenagers said, upon hearing our accents. They stowed the joint, in deference to my mother, who glared at them.
“Are you Justin Timberlake?” one said to my brother. Though slouchy and predisposed to dress like a homeless man, my brother does look a little like Timberlake, especially at night, while wearing an uncharacteristically preppy souvenir Guinness sweater he’d bought after his tour of the factory earlier that day.
“Sing something, Justin!” the Irish lads demanded. To help him along, the Irish lads broke into a their own version of Rock Your Body, with perfect, clear Irish voices, even singing in the round for a while.
“Don’t be so quick, don’t be so quick, don’t be so quick…”
“To walk away!” my brother croaked.
My father had no idea who the Backstreet Boys were, but he joined in the singing. So did my wife and I. Even stoned almost past walking, the lads were charming. By that point, only the Filipino maids and my mother were still silent, the maids keeping a wary eye on things and my mother—who is not a social creature—staring straight ahead, one of the duffel bags set squarely on the floor between her knees. The experience of riding the Irish bus was being thoroughly ruined for her by the presence of the Irish.
A few stops later another man got on and wove his way up the spiral staircase. He glared amicably at everyone and then settled in at the very back, bottle in hand.
“That man is drunk, Justin,” one of the Irish lads whispered conspiratorially to my brother. “I’m sorry for that.”
“Yes,” one of the other lads agreed, “a drunk Irishman. And I’m a leprechaun. Welcome to Dublin.”
“Did you know that this one here,” one Irish lad put his arm around his friend’s shoulders, “was once in a sausage commercial?”
We hadn’t known that.
“It’s true,” the other lad admitted, “I debated trading my grandma for sausages.”
“In the commercial,” the first lad clarified.
“I’m almost as famous as you, Justin,” the second lad said.
“That’s right. Don’t be so fast,”
“To walk away,” my brother croaked. The Irish lads decamped from their bench and joined my brother on his, displaying the sort of instant European camaraderie that creeps Americans out.
“Fuckya,” the drunk said from the back. It wasn't clear if he was into the singing or trying to pick a fight. The Irish lads pointedly ignored him.
A few stops later, while my brother and the lads sang more Timberlake, another drunk got onto the bus and he put the first drunk to shame. He was not merely swaying, but slamming from one side of the isle to the other while flailing his arms around. He had a bag of McDonald’s in one hand and a super-size Coke in the other. Finally, and maybe this should have led the list, the man was wearing a white jumpsuit covered in blood.
It wasn’t as if he was bleeding on himself. This was definitely someone else’s blood. There were handprints and long streaks where he had wiped his palms. Maybe he was a butcher. Maybe he had spent the evening dismembering his victims in a basement. Whatever it was, it had driven him to drink. The physical force of his drunk-waves stunned even the Irish lads into temporary silence. He grinned at everyone and then settled into the back of the bus, next to the earlier drunk.
“Jaaaaayzuz,” one of the Irish lads said.
“Looks like he should have a knife and onna those hockey masks, right?” the second Irish lad said,
“I want to assure you that the gentleman back there is not a representative of the Irish people,” the third Irish lad said with a stoned sincerity. “You’re going to have a lovely holiday. Don’t worry.”
The bus rolled on. The Irish lads told us more about the sausage commercial and sang songs with my brother. They demonstrated how their brogues could quickly dissolve into something completely unlike English and then quizzed us on the gibberish shooting out of their mouths. Slowly, I became aware of a new sound, faintly at first, then louder: running water. It was like a fountain, a happy splashing that went on and on. And on.
It took a moment to figure out what was happening and, even then, accounts vary. One of the drunks, either the blood-covered man, or the more nondescript drunk, was pissing against the back of the seat in front of him. I say it was the nondescript drunk, but my wife insists it was the man in the blood-covered jumpsuit. Perhaps, and this is a radical theory, it was both of them simultaneously. It was a lot of piss. They were both smiling at everyone.
“Aaaaahhh, noevnanafukinbloosh!” one of the Irish lads declared, hopping up on top of the bench2
The piss found the aisle and sloshed laterally as the bus went around a corner. My wife, my father, my brother and I all hauled ourselves and our luggage up onto the benches and out of harm's way, but my mother, who had been vigorously ignoring everything around her for the last forty minutes, stared directly ahead, the duffel bag still planted firmly on the floor between her feet.
“Mom!” my brother said, reaching forward to shake her shoulder. “Mom!”
No luck. The piss rolled under our seats, so fresh that it had a head to it, like beer it had so recently been. It hit the bottom of the duffel bag—my duffel bag as it happened—two inches deep and swept around my mother’s shoes.
“Noevenablush!” the Irish lad shouted again.
The Filipino maids had chosen to adopt my mother’s ignore-it-and-it-might-go-away tactics, but they knew to raise their feet. Then the bus accelerated and the tide rolled back in, re-soaking the bag and making the Irish lads shout. Piss found the spiral staircase down into the first deck and formed a waterfall like the elevator doors opening in Kubrick’s The Shining. A pause. Dismayed screams echoed hollowly up from below.
Every curve, stop sign or hill made the piss dash around like an ugly puppy until, eventually, blessedly, the bus finally arrived at our stop. We hauled our luggage gingerly across the aisle and down the dripping stairs. Urine had made it as far as the yellow do-not-stand-in-front-of-this line. People glared at us, as if we were party to whatever horrorshow had gone on upstairs. When the doors opened, it’s likely that a few drops plipped into the gutter.
As we stepped out of the urine charnel bus and into the slightly sodden night, my brother picked up the duffel bag my mother had failed to save from the drunks.
“Hello Dublin!” my brother shouted. “This bag smells like human pee!”
“Wait!” one of the Irish lads called after us. He had hopped off the bus and now he trotted up.
“This is my old neighborhood,” he explained, “and I know just where your hotel is. I’ll show you.”
“Well, thank you,” my mother said, society-polite.
“Yeah thanks,” my brother said.
“Ain’t no thing, Justin,” he said, mistaking Hollywood black for American, as many in Europe will do. It's either black or cowboy.
The Irish lad was terribly, genuinely embarrassed. He gave us a midnight tour of the neighborhood as we tramped over to the hotel. He apologized on the drunks’ behalf. He shook all of our hands in front of the hotel. He offered to give us his cell phone number in case we needed anything while we were in Dublin.
What none of us told him—what we didn’t have the words or time to express—was that we had all loved the bus ride. That it had been my family’s idea of a perfect evening.
Everyone except my mother, but she would recover. She always does.