The Daily Blog #11
The crutch brigade
I’m sitting outside a public house on some benches. My hands are tucked deep into my coat pockets — I keep hoping that if I push hard enough, I’ll be able to break through into a warmer second pocket. The Christmas frivolities were in full swing, and I’d already had enough.
Appearing as some unwelcome ghost of Christmas present, a salesman limped out of the double doors and lit a cigarette, propping up his elbows on his crutches, so he could shield his lighter flame from the biting wind. His name, appropriately enough, was Noel.
“You’ll never believe how I broke it,” he said, gesturing to his bandaged ankle.
I already knew. “How did it happen?” I asked.
“I was, uh…I was stepping off a curb and the back of my heel slipped and my foot, it was literally hanging off.”
He made a limp-wristed motion then, to demonstrate how his heel had snapped.
“Oh God, did it hurt?” I replied, trying to muster some concern.
“I don’t know how the hell I did it, but you know what? The doctor said it happens all the time, it’s the most common way to break it.”
I could believe it. There were now no fewer than three sales members on crutches after Amanda had fallen off a stool. She was a hagged fifty-something with chronic alcoholism and thinning grey hair. She looked a bit like Gollum out of the Lord of the Rings movies.
“Sure,” I said. “Does it hurt now?” I don’t know why I was so fixated on pain.
“Nah, I did an E, can’t feel a thing,” he said with a laugh.
Doing an E, for the uninitiated, is taking MDMA, a popular psychoactive drug. It featured prominently in the downstairs toilet of the local drinking establishment that evening.
Earlier, I had been down in that little den of iniquity, a chill-out area composed of black leather seating with its own bar set aside from the main bar and dining tables upstairs. The production crew had separated off and made it a little haven from the madness, but it didn’t stop the salesmen from coming down to sneak in and out of that bathroom.
Noel had never spoken to me, but through the altered-reality conduit of MDMA and alcohol, he was surprisingly cogent, affable even. He took two long drags of his cigarette before tossing it into the gutter.
“Right, I’m off to rejoin the party. I’ll catch you later,” he said.
No you won’t.
“Yeah. Break a leg,” I said.
He cackled all the way back into the bar on his crutches. Now that I thought about it, this wasn’t at all believable. Why was everyone breaking their ankles all of a sudden? I couldn’t conceive of how someone could snap their ankle by stepping off a curb in the wrong way. Twist it, perhaps, but you’ve really got to fuck up that first step to break it. How weak were his ankles? How brittle his bones?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the salesroom back then was a place for recovering addicts. Most of them, if they turned up, either looked terribly hungover or were in such a jangled state that they were sent home before lunch.
In addition to Noel and Amanda, the crutch brigade had two other members: Dan and Elliot.
When Dan turned up one morning, limping along, the tally was at three, and by the end of the day it was four. Four broken ankles. He’d rolled his while jumping over some railings when he was crossing a main road. That was the story anyway. Another terrible alcoholic. Perhaps the worst of them. He started his day in the off-license, stealing cans of cider.
Elliot was the second of them to break his ankle on the premises. He somehow fell off the building’s solitary functioning toilet. We heard it, too. There was a crash and a scream somewhere off towards the first floor stairwell. When he came up the stairs, he was limping and swearing and holding his backside.
And then there were four. Perhaps this was part of some cheap ploy to receive disability allowance. If that was the case, then soon enough they’d all be on crutches.
You could not imagine a more wretched collection of souls in one place.
But let’s return to the Christmas party — the safe vessel of the damned and the debauched.
I think it was risotto that year. Pumpkin risotto. They’d overcooked it, so that it was one sticky lump of starch with some uncooked pumpkin chunks thrown into it. I get mixed up though. One year I had sausage and mashed potato. It was one sausage placed onto a pile of mashed potato and then they poured over some gravy. Perhaps I had the sad little sausage drowning in a mash-lined pool of gravy that year.
I don’t really argue over a free meal. It’s free in the sense that I don’t have to reach into my wallet for it, but I do have to sit and make small talk with derelicts for the duration.
Last year one of the production guys made no pretence at the charade. He sat down, wolfed down two and half courses and then walked out. He didn’t say a word, and I don’t think he took his coat off. That’s how you fucking do it.
The grim year of our lord two thousand and nine was a different era though. The salesmen were still invited along in good faith, and each year they betrayed that good faith by drinking too much, taking drugs and someone would end up throwing a chair and that ensured that the police were called, at least one of them spent a night in a cell, and we’d have to find a new venue for next year’s office party.
I decided to leave before it got ugly. I picked myself up and wandered off in the direction of the station, cold hands burrowing deeper into my pockets, head turned against the wind.
Thank you, as always, for reading. The gift for me is that you found these words and they found you at some moment in time (due to the chaotic pace of modern life, it’s likely you were in a toilet stall somewhere, that’s okay, that’s just fine) and we shared a brief connection with one another. Please, always feel free to leave a comment and know that I will do my absolute best to respond.