It was early evening when I arrived and Bordeaux was mostly asleep. Cottages nestled one another, some billowed comfortable smoke from their chimneys. A few cars wandered through the empty streets, but otherwise everything was silent. I quietly turned a corner and walked into the light of an open bakery. Smells of pastries and fresh baked bread plumed from the door. If hell was filled with such aromas, it could only be half as torturous. I bought a flat, round loaf for dinner and a sugar puff to nibble while I walked.

Winter was in full effect and wasn’t sparing Bordeaux any color. I made my way to the outskirts of town, in search of cheap lodging. Industrial districts are usually the same, streets lined with auto garages and other municipal type services. A dirty mechanic emerged from a shack and flashed me a mean, French look. When I reached my hotel, a chill was already filling the gray landscape.

Inside the warm lobby, a soccer game blared from a television set. The TV was noteworthy old, barely produced an image and was mounted way too close to a very high ceiling. A group of old men sat at a table near the TV, their wrinkly necks craning to see the game. A vending machine packed with French beer sat in the far corner. I put my coined francs into the machine. The beers were warm.

Halfway through my meal, two loud guys walked into the lobby. They were flamingly Irish: one short and stocky, the other much taller and thinner. The stocky Irishman staggered and grabbed his friend. “Another round of piss?” He asked and poured a stream of francs into his friend’s hands. The tall guy gathered the money and slowly walked over to the machine. The stocky Irishman looked around for a while before sitting across from me at the same table. A TV sportscaster screamed something akin to ‘GOAL’ and I joined the old men in a groan of disappointment.

The stocky Irishman stank of dirty laundry. He wore an old military coat covered with stains and badly sown patches of hardcore Irish punk bands. The tall guy returned with several cans of beer and handed one to the stocky Irishman, who quickly cracked it open and took a long drink. “Total piss.” He spat. His Irish accent was almost to the point of parody and his voice was high and raspy. A bulky mat of black hair sat crooked on his pumpkin head. “What’s wrong with that damn machine?”

“Clerk says its due fixed tomorrow.” Reported the tall guy. His voice was much deeper, but no less thick with accent and he looked sickly. Pale, blotchy skin stretched tight around his bones. I got up and announced my intention to buy another can of piss, but the tall guy handed me one of his instead. I thanked him and proclaimed the next round on me. He winked and lifted his eyes up to the TV.

The stocky Irishman finished his first can and opened another. “But it’s convenient, you know.” He continued. His beady eyes paused and then focused on me. “The way this town closes at night, we’re lucky to have it.” I nodded in agreement as he continued to stare. “So, where you from, Yank?” He asked. I chuckled at ‘Yank’. He noticed and asked, “You are American?”

“Sure, California.” I answered. “I just thought Yank was funny.”

“That’s what everybody calls Americans.” He claimed, his big, cleft chin bouncing with every word. Eventually, he turned towards the television too.

The room grew quiet as I took an unpleasantly large gulp of beer and decided to ask, “So, is an American a Yank like an Irishman is a Mick?” They both jerked from the TV and stared at me, prompting me to quickly add, “I’m just asking.”

The tall guy gave me a short grunt and then stared back up at the television. His stocky Irishman counterpart was not so tolerant. He lurched towards me and instructed, “Mick is much worse.” A familiar cross of anger and intoxication passed over his face as he slowly leaned back and finished another can of beer.

“I meant no offense.” I said, with enough sincerity to temporarily ease the tension. The stocky Irishman flashed me one last scowl before shifting his attention to the game. I took the final swig of my beer and then counted my francs under the table. There was enough to buy three more cans. “I’ll get those beers now.” I said and stood up. They both nodded without breaking their attention from the television.

The last of my francs went into that broken machine. On my way back, I noticed all the empty tables in the lobby and wished I wasn’t committed to returning to those two. It might be nice just to take the beers and go outside. Before I could change my plans, the stocky Irishman turned and looked right at me, as if to check my status. I sighed and walked back, just as the game was interrupted by a French news bulletin.

Everyone in the lobby stopped what they were doing and looked at the television. The screen was filled with images of American tanks rolling through a desert, remnants of the Persian Gulf War. I sat down and distributed the cans. The tall guy took his beer and thanked me with another wink before cracking open the can. The stocky Irishman stayed glued to the screen so I placed his beer on the table in front of him.

“Look at this, Yank.” Groused the stocky Irishman as he broke from the TV and into his beer. “Look how you Americans just march wherever you damn well feel.” His tone was obviously snide and wrought with disapproval. I ignored him and stared at the screen. A dusty lieutenant was being interviewed and I could barely hear his words behind the French translation. He looked nervous, but managed to sputter something about his current mission and how proud he was to be there, serving his country.

I looked at the dusty lieutenant and slurred, “Yeah, it’s kind of cool.” The fuzzy screen cut to a local news anchor and I looked away to find the stocky Irishman glaring at me. His eyes widened with outrage, which inspired me to giggle silently.

“Cool?” He asked. “Is it cool when thousands of innocent Iraqis die because of your American military?” He paused with disgust before opening the beer I gave him.

I closed my eyes to concentrate, but felt too disoriented and snapped them back open. “I’m not saying what we’re doing is cool…” With half the thought out, I took a deep breath and continued, “I’m just saying it’s cool that we can do it.” My eyes drifted away from the stocky Irishman’s intense stare. “And wherever we damn well feel, like you said.” I slugged back the rest of my beer and slammed down the empty can, as if to punctuate my boorish point.

“Typical, arrogant Yank.” Hissed the stocky Irishman. His eyes squinted and his upper lip curled. “You think your almighty army can do whatever it wants.” He was now the loudest sound in the room, his voice booming over the television as it returned to the game. The tall guy stood up and offered to buy another round of beers. I thanked him as the stocky Irishman continued, “The U.S. can’t just march into anywhere in the world.”

The beer in my belly gargled. “Of course we can,” I snapped. My head swayed with drunken confidence, leading me to further my antagonism. “Take someplace random… like Ireland for example.”

“What about Ireland?” Asked the stocky Irishman. His voice turned frantically personal and he scooted his chair closer to me.

I cleared my throat and attempted to sound as official as possible. “I was just using Ireland as an example.” I focused my eyes squarely onto his and continued, “My point was, if the U.S. wanted Ireland, we obviously have the military ability to take it.”

“What shite!” Screamed the stocky Irishman. His puffy face grew unsafely red and his eyes bulged. “There is no way the U.S. could ever take Ireland.” The tall guy returned with three more beers and distributed them before taking his seat several feet away from us. “You should hear this header.” Grunted the stocky Irishman. “He says the U.S. could take over Ireland if they wanted.”

The tall guy looked at me and smirked before opening his beer. “Let ‘em. Maybe they can fix the damn place.” He laughed at his own Irish drollness before returning back to the TV. The stocky Irishman sneered at us both. He gulped more beer, looked down and grumbled something inaudible.

“I’m just speaking hypothetically.” I offered. Despite the serious slur to my speech, I was content the words came out clear enough. “The U.S. has no interest in Ireland so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I’m not worried!” The stocky guy immediately yelled. I looked around to see who might be listening and was surprised to discover the room empty except for us. “I’m just sick of you Yanks thinking the world is yours to take.” He paused and looked at me with more disgust than before. “Americans are fat, greedy bastards that…”

A janitor walked into the room, climbed a little step stool and turned up the television volume. He then quickly walked out and started mopping the nearby hallway. The TV blared with growling sportscasters as the stocky Irishman shouted, “…and every Celt in the world would defend Ireland to their death!” The janitor returned, visibly angry, and turned the TV volume back down.

“Right” I countered. “I figure that shouldn’t take more than a week or two.” The stocky Irishman was stunned into silence. “But you don’t need to get so excited.” I assured. “America would never actually invade and conquer Ireland because there’s nothing there to make it worthwhile. You should be grateful for that.” I opened my last beer and sipped it gingerly. “In a way, Ireland’s complete lack of value and appeal sort of keeps it safe.” It all made perfect sense.

The stocky Irishman never looked so angry. “Fuck you, Yank.” He said flatly and narrowed his eyes into tiny slits. “Maybe you remember something called Vietnam?”

“Oh, that was 25 years ago and a lot has changed since then.” I blurted. A nauseous wave passed through me. “We have computers and better machines now.”

The stocky Irishman chuckled. “Computer and machines!” He mocked. “What can we do against America’s mighty computers and machines?” A hearty laugh and then, “You think fancy night goggles and spy planes are enough to take Ireland? Jackass!” He continued to roar with a discrediting laughter that I quickly grew to loathe.

Just then, a giant man walked into the lobby, holding a half eaten sandwich in one hand and a black cane in the other. He marched up to our table and in a deep, German voice introduced himself as Hans from Hamburg (I blurted out ‘Hansburg’, but nobody laughed). He asked me if I was going to finish my beer. I told him no and offered it to him. Bits of slobbery meat and bread shot from his mouth as he thanked me with tales of his month in San Sebastian. The sun soaked trees, blue waters, and a big creepy statue of Christ; it all sounded heavenly.

The stocky Irishman finally stopped laughing and interrupted Hans. He told him all about my drunken, inflated claims, but I didn’t care. That stupid alcohol spin action was all I could really think about. I rested my head on the table. The voices eventually faded as I forced myself into dreams of sunny San Sebastian.


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