It was one of those ideas that probably
looked good on paper: Everyone was going to Larrys place dressed as a
character from a Bob Dylan song. I chose Napoleon in rags arriving
at Larrys door with one hand inside my coat to look like himself. The
other one held a six-pack.
Whats that hand doing in
there? Larry said.
Minding its business, I told
Everyone was there. All the old
potheads I thought Id outgrown, the people you usually only ran into when
you were making a late-night trip to the off-licence and wanted to make a fast
There would be no fast getaway tonight.
Tonight we were looking for a rub of the relic. We were on BobWatch.
I was high-fived by the potheads. It
took me an eternity to get to the fridge to deposit the six-pack. Now all I had
to worry about was whether it would be lifted before I got around to drinking
Norma made a beeline for me. She was an
old flame of mine, now an ember. She had Brownsville Girl
emblazoned on her chest.
Napoleon in rags, she said,
How original. She was being sarcastic.
It was all I could think of,
The room looked like the set of a
medieval melodrama. Ken McCarthy was Jack of Hearts. Dessie Sheedy was Mr
Tambourine Man. John Murtagh was Dylan with the fuzzy hair and the Cuban
heels. Gary Cullen was Jokerman. He took the lazy route to him, just putting on
a clowns outfit and a red nose. Blind Willie McTell was Paudie Ryan with
a pair of shades. A man in a black suit called himself the Guilty Undertaker.
Alongside him was a Lonesome Organ Grinder.
A man I didnt know had a flowerpot
on his head. As he walked by me I thought: What song was that from? Maybe you
didnt need to be anyone to wear a flowerpot on your head at a fancy dress
party. Or maybe Bob had a new song out called Flowerpot On Head.
Stranger things had happened. Id just listened to him singing
Wiggle Wiggle before I came out.
I Want You blasted out of
the hi-fi. Clean Cut Kid had selotaped the dial at max volume, (Surely
this wasnt Billy Kennelly from First Arts).
Larry started dancing to it, if you
could call it dancing. He looked more like someone having an epileptic fit.
If you dont stop that,
I warned, It could become permanent.
Shut up, he said,
Its my party and Ill fly if I want to.
The song ended. He came off the floor
dripping with sweat.
What did you think? he
Dont give up the day
job, I told him. It wasnt very good advice as he didnt
have a day job.
Whats new? he asked
Nothing. Have I missed
People have been here for about an
hour. I think Ive heard about three songs in that time. That geek over by
the hi-fi had Trust Yourself on repeat. We told him if he
didnt stop he was going to be turfed out.
Im sure Bob would be
impressed that he likes it so much.
Even Bob would have had enough of
it by now.
Larry gazed derisively at my Carlsberg.
Would you not like something more
interesting? he asked.
Im staying off the hard
stuff tonight, I told him.
Not even a nip? he asked. He
waved one of those little airport-style bottles of whiskey at me.
Maybe later, if I run out of this
We have some other alternatives if
your taste inclines that way.
How do you mean?
He gestured somebody putting cocaine up
Beckys been in the
bathroom since she got here. She brought her own stash. If youre
nice to her she might share.
Becky was my favourite person in the
whole universe next to Bob. The door opened at that moment and she emerged. She
looked high. But then Becky always looked high.
She was dressed as Queen Mary.
Shed brought the tiara to complete the effect.
Holy Christ, she said,
throwing her arms around me, You.
What made you think I
Because youve been ignoring
my phone calls for the past month.
I dont always get them. The
answering machine is in the hall of the flat. People who pass by tend to delete
Can you not come up with a better
excuse than that?
Sometimes the ones that sound the
phoniest are the true ones.
Phoniest. Thats a good pun.
Okay you bastard, I forgive you. Anyway I need to talk to you. Can we go
She led me out to the conservatory.
Jokerman was behind us. He was laughing himself silly. Blind Willie McTell was
in a heap on the floor, having fallen over a footstool. Jack of Hearts was
busily attaching himself to The Queen of Spades.
As soon as we sat down, her voice
started to get shaky.
Dad fell in love with another
woman, she said. Or should I say another child. She looks about
15. Her parents had been married for 23 years.
I looked into her eyes. Why didnt
she come as Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands?
Im sorry to hear that,
I said. I vaguely remembered meeting him once. He didnt look like the
type of man to walk out on a 23-year marriage. Which begged the question: What
did a man who would walk out on a 23 year old marriage look like?
So where are things at
Chaos level. Hes been dumped
and he wants to come back but Mam wont have him. She wants to make him
What do you want?
I just want us to be a family
I was trying to think of some advice for
her when Kim came over. (I also used to go out with Kim once, but that was in a
Hi, Kim, I said.
Hello, loser, she said. She
usually greeted me with some delightful felicitation like that.
For the first year of being with her I
used to pray she wouldnt leave me. For the second I prayed that she
would. After we broke up she became a lesbian, speaking of it almost like a
career opportunity. I certainly didnt see any signs of it when she was
with me, especially the first night we met when she tried to take my trousers
off as the same time as she was unzipping her own dress, quite a complicated
manoeuvre at the best of times.
Nice costume, I said, though
it looked like shed taken down the curtains to make it. I wondered if she
was trying to be Johanna from Visions of Johanna: she had something
taped around her mouth that looked like mercury.
Hi, she said, This is
my friend Cordelia. She gestured a sullen-looking girl with a leopardskin
pillbox hat on her head. I presumed Cordelia was her latest lover. Kim changed
lovers like the rest of us changed our socks.
Hello Cordelia, I said,
Thats a lovely name. Were you named after the character in King
Everyone asks me that, she
said, Can you not think of anything more interesting to
I racked my brains.
Okay, you have lovely
hair. She had too. It was all done up in curls, making me wonder if
she was trying to be the girl/woman from Just Like a Woman. I
decided not to ask this in case she bit the nose off me again. (Besides, where
were the amphetamines?)
Thank you, she said. I was
hoping shed take off her leopardskin pillbox hat so I could see more of
her curls but the pair of them just walked off. .
I turned back to Becky. She was
still in a state about her father.
I have to have him home, she
said, I dont care what it takes.
Maybe you could talk your mother
Its no good. She has her
mind made up. She wants to rub his nose in it.
I could see her going on about her
problem all night. When youve ingested something, as I knew myself, you
fixated on certain subjects. I didnt feel wed be able to get her
father back at a fancy dress party so I thought it might be better to try and
get her mind off him.
Would you like a beer,
Becky? I asked.
No. Beer puffs up my
I had to laugh at this because her
figure had the rough dimensions of a Biafran famine victim.
Would you mind if I got one?
Be my guest.
I walked to the fridge past all the
swaying bodies. We were now on to Dont Think Twice, Its all
Right and everyone seemed to know all the words. Dessie was lending
accompaniment with his tambourine. Jack of Hearts was kissing The Queen of
Spades on the carpet under the coffee table.
When I got to the fridge I discovered
that my six-pack had been pilfered. There was just one miserable can
I went over to Larry, imagining that
hed feel somehow responsible seeing as it was his fridge.
Well at least he or she
left you one, he said consolingly.
I cant get through the night
on one beer, I told him, That was my supply for three
Youre not in a
nunnery, he said, Well get something for you.
I cant. If I dont get
my six-pack back Ill have to leave.
There must be some way outa
here, Larry sang, said the joker to the thief.
Shut up, Larry,I said,
You sing like a crow.
I know, he allowed,
but at least Im better than Bob.
That wouldnt be hard,
Go back to the party and chill
out, Larry told me, Ill see what I can rustle
I walked back towards Becky.
Youre my reason for
travellin on, Becky said to me as I passed her.
Be nice, Kim, said Blind
Fuck off, Willie, Kim
When I got back to Becky I held up my
Its just as well you
didnt want one, I said, Some bastard decimated my
She was as unsurprised as Larry had
Its your own fault for
taking your eye off the fridge. Maybe you should have taped the cans to your
stomach like one of those suicide bombers. You know what Larrys parties
are like. Everyones a parasite. Anyway youre better off
without that stuff.
alternative? I said, Smack?
As soon as I said that I was sorry.
What kind of crack is
Now youre starting to make
puns, I said, Crack.
Ha ha. If you get any funnier I
might throw up on you.
As I looked at her pale face I found
myself becoming nostalgic for an age when people just got drunk in front of
everyone else instead of retiring to bathrooms to put white stuff up their
Paul Finn tapped me on the
Whoa, stranger. What
I used to work in a record company with
Paul before he went off to London to pursue a career as a hip-hop singer. Now
he was living with his mother in Donnycarney. He had his face painted all
the colours of the rainbow.
Same old same old, I said,
What about you?
Im thinking of taking off
across the pond again.
I thought you were just
I am, but after a week in this
city I find myself becoming terminally depressed. Do you not find Dublin
toxic? As soon as the old lady can stump up the plane fare Im
To anywhere, man. Just give me
that ticket and Im out of here.
He took a can of Carlsberg out of his
pocket and offered it to me. In the same movement he got one for himself from
another pocket. As I looked at him a certain penny dropped. So this was the
Everybody must get stoned,
he sang. I fantasised about stoning him in a different way. I was going to say,
Why did you take my beers from the fridge? but it would only have
created a bad atmosphere. Hed been a leech all his life, why should he
Instead I said, Why have you
painted your face all these colours?
Do you not get it? Bobs a
chameleon, right? So why would he just have one colour on his face?
How slow of me.
I was going for the Renaldo
and Clara look, Paul informed me.
Well you certainly got
Becky wet her finger and put it on his
Why did you do that? he
I wanted to see if the paint was
dry, she explained.
Was Renaldo and Clara
when he broke up with Joanie? she enquired. (Joanie of course
being Joan Baez).
I think it was earlier, at the
Isle of Wight. Probably when he went electric, he muttered.
As I listened to him waffling I wondered
if we were all mad to be talking about something that happened thirty years ago
to someone wed never meet. What if Dylan were to suddenly appear? Would
he think we were mad too?
Im bored, said Becky,
Ive lost my father and Im depressed and bored. Lets
She dragged me onto the floor.
Song to Woody came on the hi-fi and Jokerman swayed to it.
Cordelias leopardskin pillbox hat fell off and I was able to see her
lovely curls. Jack of Hearts had his hand up The Queen of Spades skirt
under the coffee table. The Guilty Undertaker and the Lonesome Organ Grinder
were doing their own thing out the back.
As soon as Becky started to dance she
Lets sit down, I said,
but as I went to grab her she collapsed like a rag doll onto the floor.
Larry ran over to her and slapped her
You need some fresh air, little
girl, he told her.
I dont want fresh air,
she said, I just want to go to bed.
Naughty girl, said
Why dont you bring her
upstairs? Larry said to me, Napoleon would have, you know.
Not tonight, Josephine, I
told him. Dessie laughed.
I walked Becky towards the
Where are we going? she
Were going somewhere that we
can bring dead girls back to life, I told her.
Thats sweet, she said,
I took her up in my arms. I didnt
normally take girls up in my arms but she was so light with the anorexia it was
like carrying a child.
Vinnie Keavney was sitting at the
kitchen table gazing intensely at nothing in particular. He was decked out as
Mr Jones in a three-piece suit. Wed all thought of doing this, Mr Jones
being Dylans most famous character and all that, but Vinnie was Mr Jones,
even in real life. He wanted three square meals a day,
a dog called Rover and fitted carpets in his house. In fact I
sometimes thought Dylan must have met Vinnie to write the song. (The fact
that he wasnt even a glint in his fathers eye when it was penned
puts a slight dent in this theory).
Somebody sick? he asked.
The situation is under
control, I assured him.
I splashed some water on Beckys
Whats wrong with her?
Nothing, I said, She
just got a bit weak with the heat. Right, Becky?
Put her whole head under it,
I dont want to give the poor
girl a heart attack.
I splashed some more water on her until
her droopy eyes widened.
Welcome back, I said,
you had us worried there for a minute.
Jesus, I feel like Ive been
in another world.
Maybe you have. It would probably
be best if you went home now.
I dont have a home,
Whats she talking
about? Vinnie asked.
Nothing, I told Mr
Im going upstairs,
You cant. It wouldnt
be good for you. You might conk out again.
I wondered if she was going to have a
refill of the white stuff.
Dont worry, she said,
as if reading my mind, Ill be a good girl. Its only for a
Okay but if youre not down
in a few minutes Im coming in after you.
That sounds kinky, she said,
giving me a kiss.
Dont be too long or
youll miss the party, Vinnie said to her.
The best parties are in your
head, she told him.
She tottered off. Vinnie shook his head,
bewildered at this so very unJoneslike girl.
He waved his pencil at me.
Nice uniform, he
Thanks. It could do with having
the sleeves mended. Maybe Ill bring it to the tailor in Elba next
Good idea, said Vinnie,
Elban tailors are the best.
I told him I liked his outfit too but
the truth of it was that he hadnt really made much of an effort. Was
there not more to Mr Jones than a three-piece suit and a pencil?
It was his best composition,
though, wasnt it?
You mean Ballad of a Thin
Yes. Beckettian almost. Would you
Ive always felt that people who
use words like Beckettian should be locked up. Theyre like
people who use words like societal, or phrases like It
is what it is.
Maybe a bit obtuse, though,
Wasnt that the whole
point? he said.
Hes done better songs that
have got less attention, I continued, intent on bursting his Mr Jones
I think Zimmy is still on a
journey, he said, intent on getting me off this shtick.
You mean the Never Ending
No, I mean an inner
Lets put it like this.
Its a long way from Blowing in the Wind to Idiot
I wasnt sure what he was trying to
get at but it sounded good. I knew he wanted to get a discussion going but I
wasnt in the humour.
That sounds like a great insight,
Vinnie, I offered.
Maybe Ill do an article on
Vinnie wrote articles on music for Hot
Press. They were always well written but every time I read one of them it
always spoiled the music for me afterwards.
You should, I suggested,
or even a book.
Ah no, that would be stretching a
point too far.
I couldnt pretend I cared
Listen Vinnie, I said,
I have to go. Im bursting for a pee.
Peeing seems to be very popular
tonight, he droned. He went back to doodling with his pencil. Most
likely you go your way, I thought, and Ill go mine.
On the way up to the toilet I ran into
Good evening, Mr Bonaparte,
he said a bit stiffly.
Con was another old acquaintance of mine
from the music business. He had his face all blackened. I was trying to figure
out who he was trying to be.
Good evening Mr
I said. I was thinking of Medger Evers.
Nice try but its Rubin
A very imaginative
Thank you. Listen, I need your
advice on something.
I dont know how to put this.
You know Norma, dont you?
Yes. I knew what was coming
because I also knew Con had the hots for her.
Is she, how shall I put it,
That depends who you are,
Whats that supposed to
Everyone knew Norma fancied Larry.
Shed been out with Con a few times but only to make Larry jealous. Con
always believed Larry was a closet gay. If he was, it would have suited him
down to the ground. If Norma believed it, he thought, it would clear the way
for him with her. Except for one minor detail: Shed have preferred to
date an octogenarian Iranian terrorist than Con. (The reason I knew this was
because she told me).
It means I think maybe you should
let Norma burn Larry out of her system before you move in on
He put on a horrified
Larry? But Larry is as gay as a
Thats a matter of
I knew Larry had dated both men and
women in the past. I wouldnt have put it past him to sleep with
Can Norma not see the
Maybe she will in time. Or maybe
Larry will have a fling with her and then go off with another man. The point
is, dont say anything to her about his sexual predilections. Youll
only make her want him more.
Thats a funny kind of
You asked for my advice and
Im giving it to you.
Thanks, he said, for
He walked off in a sulk. From the other
side of the room Norma gave me a thumbs-up sign.
I went to the toilet. It took me an age
to empty my bladder. When I came out I had to step over Blind Willie McTell,
who was lying in a heap on the stairs. Jokerman was trying to move him. The
Guilty Undertaker stood beside him looking guilty.
Willie, said the Jokerman,
you need to get up. You cant sit on the steps all night. Someone
will mash you.
Disappear, Jokerman, said
Willie, Im happy here. Its nice and relaxing.
Can you do anything?
Jokerman asked me.
Id leave him alone, I
told him. Maybe tell him a few jokes.
When I got downstairs I saw Becky. She
was looking sleepy again so I thought she might have been up to her old tricks
again in the little girls room.
I have a feeling Im not
going to live long, Napoleon, she said. I was going to say Please
dont fall apart on me tonight, but I didnt. In her condition
even a chance comment could have pushed her over the edge.
Youre going to live to be
ninety, I said, and your father is going to come home and
youre going to be a big happy family once again.
She gave me a kiss.
Maybe Id have that beer
now, she said.
I thought beer puffed you
Maybe I need puffing
You could never understand women, as
Oscar Wilde said, you could only love them.
Girl from the North Country
came on the hi-fi.
I know the words of this,
she said, Lets sing it.
She started to sing and I joined in
wherever I could. She had a beautiful voice. When she sang she forgot all her
problems and so did I.
When we were finished the man with the
flowerpot on his head started clapping frantically. The Lonesome Organ Grinder
mimed grinding an organ, as you would.
Thank you, said Becky,
both of you. Whoever you are.
Bob Dylan had also been listening to
You were in the wrong key,
kid, he said.
Becky gave him the fingers.
What would you know, Mr
Dylan? she said.
Touché, said the
Lonesome Organ Grinder.
Maybe you could get those beers
now, Becky said to me, Getting those few notes out recharged my
I didnt need to be asked twice. At
this stage of the night I would almost have drunk my own urine if informed
there was an alcohol quotient in it. I found myself thirstily eyeing
peoples half-drunk glasses on the table and thinking about helping myself
to them. I cursed Dessie for his thievery again. Tomorrow I knew Id be
glad if I didnt imbibe anymore but this wasnt tomorrow, it was
Norma was sitting at a table eating a
Thanks for rescuing me from
Con, she said, Hes a lovely guy but Im not ready for a
lovely guy yet. You have to date Mr Wrong before Mr Right, dont
Where do I fit in to that
pattern? I asked.
Youre Mr Always Right,
she informed me.
My Napoleonic pride was shattered.
I could have you executed for that
insult, I said.
Ooh, she said, that
sounds sexy. Power is an aphrodisiac for women, you know.
So they tell me.
Any good battles coming up?
One at Waterloo but Ive got
a bad feeling about it so I may pass on that one.
I heard a voice behind me.
If we do not learn from the
lessons of history, it said, we are condemned to repeat
Mr Jones had entered the room.
I met him once, you know, he
The Main Man.
Did you speak to
I wanted to, but I
You never told me that. Did you
get his autograph?
I was only a kid. It was in London
in a café beside where he was appearing. I went up to him with my
programme and he had that Get lost look on his
I wouldnt worry about that.
Hes like that all the time. What happened?
He put a scrawl on it and went
What a way to treat your
Blind Willie McTell approached me.
Whats it like out
there? he said.
Whats what like?
Everything. The room. The people.
The people are all cool. How are
I didnt know if this was part of
the performance or if he meant it. Sometimes I thought wed been playing
these roles so long theyd actually started to become us.
How long have you been like
this? I asked.
For as long as I can remember.
Its not much fun. But at least I can hear the
Jokerman walked in. He tried to cheer
Willie up by pulling faces at him.
Its no good, I told
him, he cant see you.
I know that, dummy, he said,
but hell sense it. Cant you sense me spreading the love,
You betcha, said
See, dummy? Jokerman said to
The Tambourine Man appeared at the door.
Wheres Bob? he
I think he was in the garden with
Joanie earlier on.
Ill check it
He marched off. I went back to
I couldnt find any
beers, I confessed.
Dont worry about it.
Its you I want.
She had the untouched look of a
neophyte, a changeling.
Youre beautiful, I
She put her arms round me.
When are we going to be a united
family again? she asked me.
I dont have a crystal
ball, I said. Why dont you ask Bob? He knows
You really believe this shit,
dont you? she said.
All this crap around us. Are we
clever dicks or are we just afraid of facing reality?. Is that why we do
Sometimes you have to, I
said, to get you through.
Well it doesnt work that way
for me. Most of these people havent lived yet.
Probably not. Maybe they never
will. Maybe theyll be better off.
Kim and Cordelia walked in holding
Were in love, said
Good for you, I
Dessie appeared, high as a kite on
something, furiously shaking his tambourine.
What gives? he
Kim and Cordelia are in
love, I told him.
Im glad to hear someone
is, he said. Would you like to hear a song?
There was a slight mutter of assent from
the gathering. The Clean Cut Kid turned the hi-fi off. Dessie fetched a guitar
from behind the sofa and proceeded to sing Stuck Inside of Mobile with
the Memphis Blues Again. I always admired the people who memorised Dylan
songs that had about 582 verses, like this.
Bob Dylan arrived in during the last one
and seemed to be impressed. He nodded at Dessie.
Youre even better than
me, he told him.
Larry popped his head out from behind
the sofa and started giving out yards to Dessie for using his
Who gave you permission?
Larry said, youll ruin it.
Everything seemed to go quiet suddenly.
Now that the hi-fi was off we were all thrown back on our miserable little
He betrayed us all, said
Larry, draining the last of his airport whiskey.
In what way?
By pretending to lead us to the
Promised Land and then fucking off to his luxury pads with his
Jokerman looked crestfallen. Queen Mary
adjusted her tiara.
He never said he was a
communist, I suggested.
He was a rebel, said Larry,
and now hes cosying up to the pope. How consistent is
Hes probably looking for
fire insurance now that hes hit seventy, said Dessie, knock
knock knockin at heavens door. Zimmerman, zimmer
Take a chill pill, Larry,
said Kim, Hes just a song and dance man, as he said. Give the guy a
He cant even fucking sing
anymore, said Larry.
Could he ever? said
Jokerman looked at Larry.
I dont know why you threw
this shindig if you have these views, he said.
Larry seemed to be confused.
Maybe Im addicted to bad
karma, he said.
I went out and stood at the French
doors. The party was ending and I felt sad. Would we ever meet like this again,
all of us freaks and weirdos? People told us to get a life, to get our own
thing going, but sometimes you could have more fun jumping on someone
I went back in. Jokerman tweaked his
nose. Queen Mary bowed. Blind Willie McTell pulled off his shades and showed us
all his lovely eyes.
Napoleon in rags, meanwhile, surveyed
his empire. He felt proud of Mr Jones and sorry for Con and ashamed of
Larry looked me up and down.
Dont say youre still
here, he said to me, picking apart the bones of a dead legend. You
know what my attitude to Bob Dylan is? Fuck him.
I wish I could, said Norma,
but I doubt if hed let me.