Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel (Saturday morning. Sick to the Bottom of your Bum.)
It is 515. The digits click. The alarm whines and you groan. For once the pain is not solely existential. Every time you close your eyes Eusavio is there. Or not there. He is behind you. Thrusting into you.
You do not think you can look at him in the face again. You imagine he feels this way about another part of your body and you congratulate yourself that for once you got the best end of the stick.
For he will never be able to get the image of your backside out of his head.
Your bum will come to haunt him in the same way ghosts haunt unsuspecting families who buy cheap houses in remote areas in terrible horror movies. It will make knocking noises in his wardrobe. It will be there under his bed in the early hours of the morning. When he looks in the steamed up bathroom mirror it will appear above his head, like a warm and comfortable hat only more sinister. Then another bolt of pain courses through your body and you realise you did not get the good end of the stick after all and reaching out to your bedside table you grab two of the pills you stole from the elderly guest and you pop these in your mouth.
Then you have a brainwave.
You take another two of the pills and you pop them up your bum.
You close your eyes and gradually your body is overcome with a warm suffusing sensation.
You have made a decision.
You are not going in to work today.
People died for your right to Statutory Sick Pay. You will not let these people down.
You pick up the phone, hit 0 for reception, and you tell Felicity, who you hate, to tell Angela, who you also hate, that you will not be in this morning.
You have man trouble.
Issues down below.
In your unmentionables.
For once you are not lying.
And you let yourself drift back into a glorious sleep.
You have been sick many times in your life, this is the lot of the working man, but only on one occasion did you have serious concerns for yourself.
After your time in New York, still longing for Polye Thylene and her hot air balloon in Central Park, you are unable to settle back into university life. You spend nights in your dorm room alone, drinking, and your grades, already bad, become worse.
You go off the rails.
One day you call your lecturer in American Thought and Culture a prick.
In case he hasn’t understood you storm to the front of the lecture hall and draw a large prick on the whiteboard.
“That,” you say, “is you.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg.
You steal the university’s mascot duck.
You moon at the vice-chancellor’s wife.
Things come to a head when you fill the university rugby team’s pants with itching powder and they lose to an English team they have not lost to in one hundred and thirty-four years.
The visiting fans shout out, “Dick scratchers, arse scratchers, couldn’t catch a ball if it was thrown at you.”
This is the final straw.
You have not only shamed the university, you have shamed Welsh rugby.
You are asked to leave.
In a different kind of aspirational story you would come to understand the error of your ways and you would do better.
This is not that kind of story.
It is real life.
You do not do better.
You drift from one badly paid odd-job to another and each night you drink too much. This carries on until one night in a bar you meet the woman you are to marry.
You know even at the beginning you do not love her.
In your black heart you are still longing for the unobtainable clingfilm girl.
On one of your first dates with your future wife you get her hopelessly drunk and then when she passes out you take off her clothes and you wrap her in clingfilm. Unfortunately, because in order to get her drunk you have been matching her drink for drink, you are also helplessly drunk and you also pass out only to be woken by your future wife screaming, asking what you have done and calling you a freak.
“It’s clingfilm,” you say. “Polyethylene.”
But it is not.
There is no space. No capital letter.
As an act of revenge when you are next asleep your future wife surreptitiously wraps your naked body in clingfilm and arranges for her brother who is a lorry driver to drop you off at the motorway services on the edge of town except her brother, who is something of a pothead, forgets you are in the back of his truck and he takes you all the way to John o’ Groats and drops you off in some woods there instead and you are found by a local man with learning difficulties who believes he has found a mermaid and who takes you back to his house and keeps you in his bath for two weeks until you are rescued by his visiting daughter who is horrified and begs for you not to press charges and you agree because the daughter is pretty and the man with learning difficulties treated you well, feeding you fine foods and wine, and every night he would read to you, although unintelligent he was a good reader, from his complete collection of Stephen King books, a writer you had never before paid much attention to but now you find yourself a fan.
After the failure of your marriage you work for National Rail Enquiries and at last you feel you have found a job that you enjoy. There is a comfort to be found in reading out the endless lists of times and destinations and for once you are able to take pleasure in making people happy.
“Is my train cancelled?”
“No it is not.”
“Can I get from x to y in the next 45 minutes. There is an important interview I have to get to.”
“Yes you can.”
“Could you tell me if the line between a and b is flooded? I saw on the news…”
“No it is not.”
Of course you are lying but your job as you see it is to give people hope.
You tell them everything is possible and you know for a short time at least they will be happy.
You feel a warm glow in your heart.
After you have been doing the job some time and have in your head an idea of how far the stations are from each other you do not put the customers’ requests into the computer system at all but make up the whole journey, including transfers, in your head.
There is an art to this.
You are like a master chess champion, holding numerous permutations in your mind all at the same time.
And your bosses are happy.
You have the best stats in the office, answering more calls per hour than anyone else, and you are made employee of the month.
You feel you have finally arrived and to make sure your stats continue to be the best you wear your wireless headset even when you go to the toilet so that you can carry on answering calls.
“There is a 10:15 from Newark North Gate,” you say as you unzip your flies, “which arrives in Peterborough at 1036.”
“I’m sorry,” you say as the urinal starts to flush. “Static on the line.”
In the quiet rare moments when there are no calls a creeping feeling begins to overcome you that you are losing your shit.
You are losing your shit.
When the police come for you you hide behind the washing machine. The washing machine has special powers! As well as washing clothes it can do many other things. When it is on a hard spin you lean against it for sexual gratification.
It is a great lover.
So fast and so rough.
And yet, at the same time, tender.
You are taken to a secure unit and your clothes are removed by a big white man and a big black man who have matching thick fingers. They take turns to put their fingers up your bum while the other asks you to confirm your name and your date of birth etc etc.
You are given a set of cotton clothes and a lanyard with a photo of you on it and your name and your date of birth and you are taken to a room in which there are four beds.
Only one of these, you are disappointed to find out, is for you.
The nurse who has taken you to your room asks you if you would like anything and you tell her you would like the the 15:36 train from here to any-fucking-where.
You do not know if you are joking.
You are not joking.
You want to die.
You tell the doctor you want to die and your lanyard is taken away from you and you are supervised while you go to the toilet and shower.
This does not stop you trying to beat yourself with a bar of soap.
The soap shoots out of your hand and hits the nurse in the face giving him a black eye.
You have your privileges taken away from you and, as a further punishment, you are made to mop the toilet floors for a week.
The mop is a much better weapon than a bar of soap.
You scratch your arms and legs with its bristles and put the blunt end of it up your bum.
You ride it up and down the bright hospital corridors, the other patients and staff looking on in wonder, your face suffused with gleeful wonder.
It is hard, you shout out, to keep a good man down.
After six weeks they let you out.
In your flat the bills have piled up behind the door and the food in the fridge has spoiled. You go to National Rail Enquiries and instead of the hero’s welcome that you expected you are taken into the boss’s office and fired. Complaints have been made by unhappy customers whose trains never existed.
“How did you think you would get away with it?” your boss sadly asks you and you tell him you did not.
You knew you would not get away with it.
You slap yourself roughly on the chest.
You, you tell him, are not a person who gets away with anything.
More episodes follow.
You go to the launderette and sit in the nude while your clothes spin.
You sing loudly at funerals of people unknown to you and stand weeping by the graveside.
Such a good man, so honest and so true.
You ask supermarket checkout girls to fly to Paris with you, right now, just pack, me and you babe, it’ll be a blast.
You live for a time in the capital city where you get a job as a sandwich board for a pizza company.
One of the perks of the job is that you can have as much leftover pizza as you want. Often these pizzas are cold because they have travelled around London in the back of a scooter all day, remaining unclaimed by the people who have ordered them and unwanted by the delivery boys who have first dibs.
Once you find a stubbed out cigarette on your designated triangle. Another time, a dead goldfish.
You complain to Mario, the owner of the pizza parlour, and he scowls at you and tells you that if you don’t want the job there are plenty of other people just waiting to take over from you.
You want to stand up for yourself, be the spokesperson for the working man, for you and your generation, but you know in your heart he is right. Every day young men come to the shop and ask if there is any work going.
In their eyes is the despondent vacant look of those who are perpetually disappointed.
You see this same look in the mirror each morning.
There is a pecking order in the shop and you are at the bottom of it. The other staff don’t even know your name and instead they refer to you simply as ‘sandwich man’.
They even carry on doing this after Mario has the idea of sawing the two halves of the sandwich board into triangles so that each part resembles a piece of pizza.
Each time he sees you after this he slaps you delightedly on the back and calls himself a genius.
Despite being trapped in two slices of pizza everyone still calls you ‘sandwich man’.
On the plus side you do not know if being called ‘pizza man’ would be a promotion.
Although earning only a minimum wage the delivery boys are always dressed in designer clothing and they wear sharp shining watches that must have cost hundreds of pounds.
You come to the conclusion that as well as delivering pizzas they also have a sideline in drug dealing and you start to hang surreptitiously around the loading bay where they park their bikes in the hope of gathering enough information to present to Mario so that will all be fired and then they will go to prison and you will take over their jobs.
You will become a pizza delivery boy and a drugs lord.
You will be Don Corleone Quattro Formaggio.
One evening you find one of the delivery boys with his pants down and wiping his bum on a piece of pizza.
“Hey sandwich man,” he says when he sees you, “I was just preparing your dinner.”
You don’t know if he is joking but every time you are given a piece of pizza now you smell it to see if it smells of bum and you make the discovery that all pizza smells of bum.
It is a shocking discovery and it sends you reeling.
You turn up to work one day and you find another man wearing your sandwich board.
Mario takes you into the back room and tells you that he is sorry. There have been too many complaints from the delivery boys. You are always hanging around the back, staring at them, and to be frank, although he doesn’t mind queers as customers, their money is as good as anyone’s, he doesn’t want one working for him.
“Oh yes,” you say. “Oh yes.”
But you mean, oh no.
You have no job.
The rent is due on your damp bedsit and there is no money to pay for it.
To eat you have only one slice of pizza that has probably been wiped on a pizza delivery boy’s bum.
And this, you feel, is it.
An episode to end all episodes.
You make a decision.
You are going to kill yourself, to join at last your dear dead mother.
But it is as you are stepping out of the pizza parlour, to look for a likely bus to mow you down, that a newspaper page, carried by a gust of wind, hits you in the face.
“Help Wanted,” it says. “No experience necessary. Hotel Flamingo.”