Moodswing - Other People's Blood

Fight or flight instinct falters in Dublin

I dislike being bled on. Take the time I made Lary drive by the spot in my neighborhood here in Atlanta where I'd seen my first corpse earlier that day. There was still a puddle of blood on the sidewalk. Lary, peering out the driver's-side window, thought it was a melted Popsicle and said he wouldn't believe it was blood until I got out, stuck my finger in it and came back inside the car to give him a closer look.

"Are you insane? I'm not gonna get it on me!" I shrieked. God! You'd think that Lary, more than anyone, would recognize a bunch of actual blood when he saw it. He goes to the damn emergency room a hundred times a month, just about. But I think he was kind of unsettled about the puddle that day, too, to tell you the truth. He probably dislikes being bled on as much as I do.

So it's a good thing he missed the soccer hooligans in Dublin last month. I'd never been to Dublin before, and at the time I was just hanging around loving the hell out of the place, because what's not to love? There are cobblestone walkways and old pubs everywhere, shrimp-flavored potato chips, 800-year-old brass accents still shiny from daily polishing, and people tip their hats at you. It's so damn finished and civilized-seeming in downtown Dublin, the men even wear pocket watches, for chrissakes, and every other cafe has curtains made of white lace. It's lovely there, I swear, and really the last place you'd expect to encounter other people's blood.

It all happened while I was admiring some silver trinkets jangling from a street vendor's pushcart, when suddenly the air became instilled with a different sort of loudness than before, something more frenetic than the normal business bustle of the day. The onset was all pretty subtle, actually, probably because the Irish are studied in the art of sustaining tirades.

There was no war-whoop, no running for cover, no shouting of warnings. Nobody froze in their steps or crapped in their pants. The only omen I had of what was about to happen, the only thing that warned of an oncoming menace, was that everyone around me suddenly became extremely intent upon some menial task at hand. The change was immediate. One moment everybody was interacting with each other — commenting on the big soccer match, laughing at each other's jokes — the next they were completely encapsulated unto themselves; rummaging grim-faced through pocketbooks, mindfully picking lint off lapels, closely inspecting the incisors of ancient lapdogs. Even the pushcart vendor stopped talking to me mid-sentence to intently study a pebble caught in a crease of his sole. All this alerted me to switch myself to survival mode.

There was no big trick to it, I just adapted the demeanor of the people around me, which basically entailed making myself as boring as possible, thus enabling the hooligans to ignore me and move on to other potential victims, which they did. They chose a hapless, long-haired young man not far from me, and descended on him like piranhas on a pork chop. They were so thick on him he was invisible under the pile. It was over quickly, too, and the thugs lifted like mosquitoes swarming for fresh blood, and then they were gone. This is when my instincts failed me.

"Do you think that guy's OK?" I gasped to the pushcart vendor, who looked at me like I'd stepped on a twig and alerted the enemy to our hiding place. The hooligans were gone, but the injured guy, who was being helped to his feet by his friends, was near enough to hear me. Bloody-faced, he was no longer hapless. On the contrary he was full of hate and pain right then, which he bore on me with the intensity of a hundred suns.

"Leave me alone, you stupid bitch," he shouted, coming closer. "Fucking bitch!" he hissed into my face. I looked around to see if anyone would intervene, but they were busy brushing dust off their coats or inspecting their watchbands or whatever. Luckily, I'm obviously too pathetic to merit much of a trophy even for a guy looking to resurrect his ego after having the shit kicked out of him in public, so he simply called me a bitch a few more times and then limped away, leaving me standing there, blinking. The pushcart vendor handed me a tissue.

"I'm not crying," I snapped at him, angry that he hadn't interceded on my behalf.

"Your face," he said, and I looked in the mirror attached to the cart's ballast and saw that my face was flecked with blood, which the injured guy had spewed on me while calling me a bitch. God, I thought as I wiped it off, nothing like being bled on to dick up your day. After that I stormed away, fuming so heavily that people began to cross the street to get away from me, and not another person tipped their hat at me for the rest of my stay.


Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com. ??