Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Experience Worse Than Tea with Hitler


Tea with Hitler might be just barely worse—what with the potential for openly voiced disagreement (say through commentary scornful of the Führer’s wisdom, or outright yawning in his face) leading to instant and/or prolonged incarceration leading in turn to painful execution—than the monologues I had to sit through when I was working at Harbridge’s, the school publishers, a real haven for the dispossessed and overweight and weak of will. Wait till I tell youse, a Cheann Comhairle

My immediate supervisor, or Head Senior Sub-Editor, was a burly old bore named Tall Talbot, no relation, who looked upon me as a protege, but it never took; indeed, I balked, and initiated scurrilous rumors on his account. Not that he ever noticed. “Percival,” he’d say, referring to me by a name not my own, “I’m the kind of fella likes to know what’s going on, know what I mean? I’d like you to have a dekko round the place at odd times and just slip me a word to the wise, comprende, tovarich? Then we can have a good old chinwag, what say you, comrade?” Then, back in my three-by-five cubicle next to the lavatory, just when I was thinking I’d made good my escape, lumbering footsteps, sawing breath, a bulky shadow, and an all-too-familiar drone would burst the bubble of my illusions: “Ah there y’are, lad. Did you know that I was the All-Ireland Junior Hurling Champion for the Under-14s when I was under 14? Did you know that I was a Freemason for about six months until my da found out about it and gave me the tanning of a lifetime? Did you know that my da was a timekeeper for the Great Northern Railway when he was a nipper? Did you know that I very nearly shook Eamonn de Valera’s hand one day in Phoenix Park in 1957, but at the last minute decided not to, which was the right decision because it wasn’t Dev at all but an old fella named Fetts who delivered the coal? Did you know that one of my earliest hobbies was astronomy and that to this day I can name you all the principal galaxies and sub-formations in the Cassiopoea cluster? Did you know that they made two versions of the VW Minibus, one with full petrol power and one with single-rail diesel injection, and that at different stages in my life I’ve owned both kinds? Did you know that I once walked from Cushendun to Cushendall the back way, via Limavady, Maghera, Magherafelt, and Derry? Did you know that Hitler had only one big ball?” 

And so we come full circle, back to the lower reaches of Adolf and his dinner table. (Parenthetically, that’s all ballocks, so to speak, as best I know the Führer was fully operational in that area if not so much in others.) Anyhow, next day or the day after I heard a commotion down the hall and shortly thereafter reports trickled in to the effect that Tall had been found dead, sprawled face first across the empty In box on his desk, verdict: death by strangulation on his own bilge. A day or so later a collection went round for flowers for him, poor sod. I put in a tanner, breathing a prayer that wherever he’d ended up I’d not run into him then or later, may God bless his mortal remains and the soil they fertilize.

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