By C. Anderson Guthrie © 2005
"I don't know what Tommy was doing last night, and I don't really care to know," whispered Erin in an almost unintelligible Northern Irish accent, as she slowly pulled a ski mask and winter gloves out of a plastic bag, showing me and my travel companion.
I thought: Oh fuck! And I'm sleeping on their couch?
Tommy and Erin were an Irish couple in their 40’s who probably weren't all that atypical: they were late-teen sweethearts, married, had three daughters and lived in a very small flat overlooking the River Foyle in Derry, Northern Ireland. By all means, a downright lovely family.
We'd arrived in Derry a few days earlier, and I found myself with Erin’s and Tommy's extended family, drinking large amounts of Miller Genuine Draft, because that's the only beer the store carried that didn't have the words "stout", or "dark" emblazoned in big letters on the label. After driving counterclockwise around the island for the previous two weeks on a diet of Guinness, bread, cheese and little else, I needed a watered down American beer to cleanse my palette. Also, I didn't want to end the trip the same way I started it--plugged.
Somewhere around 4 AM, I'd converted 12 of my beers to pee, joined in many-a-sing-along in which I didn't know any of the words, and heard more chatter that didn't sound anything like English, even though I knew that's what was being spoken. It was also around this time that it was announced that Tommy was going to stop by.
While I thought it odd that the others were overly excited by this news, not much registered outside of that, especially considering my inebriated state. It was then that Mary, Erin's sister, pulled me aside to discuss Tommy.
"Do you know that Tommy is in the IRA, right?" Mary questioned with a Gaelic twang.
"What--you mean that he's into investing?" I dimwittedly replied.
She explained again, this time a little slower and with more enunciation.
"Eyyyyye-aarrrrrrr-ayyyyyyy," Mary said.
"...is Ayyyyye-oooooh-kayyyyyy," I fumbled out.
She still didn't get my humor.
It didn't make it any easier that I was having a tough time understanding what Mary was saying. I had taken three years of French in high school, one more in college, and this was much like when the professor would be speaking using new words: if you waited long enough and heard words that you already understood, it wasn't that tough to figure out the context.
So, I waited and I didn't want to understand. I mean, I really didn't want to understand. The context told me, after I'd tried and failed at making jokes, that Tommy was a main figure of the area IRA.
I tried my best to not act surprised, but let's see you try to keep a straight face after being told that you're in the same room with the Irish equivalent of John Gotti, only without the money and penchant for cement boots. If I'd been outside, little Irish sparrows would've taken up residence in my wide-open mouth.
From what I knew at the time, the IRA was originally created as a paramilitary group, moving towards an unified Irish state, and breaking away from UK rule. I was honestly frightened, because the only mental images I had of the IRA were from 80s news shows, included petrol bombs in Belfast, and assassination attempts.
And I was sleeping on his couch? Fuck.
Mary informed me that if were I to ever have a problem with anyone in Derry, that all I had to do was tell Tommy and he'd "take care of it." I didn't ask for further clarification on exactly who, or what, it was that he'd take care of, and it was better that I didn’t know.
Tommy took a liking to me, and nobody was entirely sure of his reasons behind it. By the end of the trip, he was calling me his "Bro." Erin told me later that he never calls anyone his "Bro," and I wasn't quite sure if I should be feel honored, or, well, really fucking honored.
He also told stories about his friends that died in internment camp while on hunger strikes, friends that died in the Bloody Sunday Massacre, and about his and Erin's countless run-ins with the British military stationed in the city.
For many people, this would be a scary, eye opening experience but, I had other revelations in my head--I was bulletproof. I could do whatever I wanted. I had diplomatic immunity in a city I'd only been in for a few hours.
"Hey, Tommy, go whack that guy in the knee for me, would ya?" I'd say.
"Sure thing, Bro," he replied right before clobbering an elderly man in his patellar tendon with a day old baguette. The old wanker deserved it, with his slow-walking, and all.
How cool does that sound?
Much cooler than not being able to understand when people are speaking what is essentially English, that's for sure.
Yeah, I'll stick with bulletproof.
C. Anderson Guthrie is a writer and poker player from Minnesota.