The Trotsky Surprise
6 oz. Mexican Tequila
6 oz. Russian Vodka
Serve unexpectedly from behind
I had COITUS on the phone today. Paula Layton, Chief of International Trade (United States). Only briefly, mind you. She doesn’t go in for foreplay.
She was ringing to tell me that head office had looked benignly on Niamh Collins’s teleworking proposal. An assistant editor in the Political and Economic Science database, Niamh lives out in the wilds beyond Lucan and spends close to four hours a day traveling to and from the office, which makes it difficult—and expensive—to mind her two young kids properly. What if, she inquired, she was to work from home? The job is perfectly made for it: there’s no face time with the public, all communication is done via email, and any meetings can be held using conference calls. She had the whole thing worked out. Documentation, sample teleworking contract, the lot. On the plus side for the company, there’d be reduced heating, lighting, and electricity bills, she could use her own computer (with appropriate antivirus software), and the research shows that teleworking leads to reduced turnover of staff. She’d done her homework. Graduates have been coming to us to receive training before jumping ship for one of the better-paying multinationals down the road in Sandyford that promised them career advancement, hot meals, and the kind of half-decent wage that spoilt Southside dimwits find hard to refuse. Niamh had the sense to point out how teleworking would facilitate any staff member thinking about starting a family, not only by giving them more time at home but also by enabling them to move out of Dublin to places where the crap wage we paid them could stretch to things like diapers, food, and heating. She made a pretty good case. And New York is always on my back to get the bills down.
“We’ve done the math here, Joe, had the accountants run through Niamh’s proposal, and we’d like you to get this up and running as soon as you can.”
I hid my surprise behind clenched teeth. Whetstone usually has the turning circle of a beached whale.
“Encourage as many of your staff as possible to take up the option. If you can clear out a couple of the floors in the building, we’ll be able to sublet them and recoup some of the outlay from the original lease.”
“I’m amazed you never thought of this option sooner. You’re our man on the ground there, Joe. We need you to spot these possibilities, the potential to cut costs, increase productivity. We aren’t paying you to sit on your ass all day.”
Jeez, cut me some slack, Jack. For one thing, that’s exactly why you’re paying me. For another, I never claimed I was suited to this desk-jockey, office-politics shit. Your every-day, run-of-the-mill unscrupulous boss would have instinctively known that Niamh’s idea was a good one and that he should pass it off as his own. Me, I give credit where it’s due. I don’t count that as a failing.
“See if you can make other savings, too. Is there any scope for freelancers?”
“There must be dozens of former staff over there who’re out of work now and looking for extra cash. Have Sinéad go through the personnel files, ask around after some of the losers who quit and re-applied for vacancies later. Surely some ex-staff have quit the firm and regretted it.”
“Must be.” I winked at Sinéad, who’d been remarkably restrained up to this point. “I’ll get on it this afternoon.”
“Be diplomatic in your approach. A lot of these kids today resent having to admit you were right all along, and they don’t appreciate you rubbing their noses in it. Phrase it like they’d be doing you a favor, not the other way round.”
“Will do. Although a lot of the ingrates have fucked off to Canada, to be honest, Paula. The ones who’re still here are either sponging off their wealthy folks or can’t leave because their kids are in school and they have negative equity.”
“Start with the latter. The spongers will be spoilt, lazy fucks. The ones with kids in school will bite the bullet. They’ll even give you a smile and doff their cap.”
“Nice. I often feel there isn’t enough cap doffing these days. I may make it compulsory.”
“You do that. And meanwhile, start shifting the staff out the office. It’ll be an easy sell. And check how we’re fixed for sublets. Get that ball rolling too.”
“Anything you say.”
After COITUS, all animals are sad.
Delia called round after work and offered to drag me down to Toner’s, one of the few establishments on Baggot Street that still serves reasonably priced alcohol and where you can sit outside for a smoke if the sun’s out. Seeing as how he was paying, I accepted his offer graciously, optimistically stuffing a couple of Cohibas into my jacket pocket before leaving the apartment and heading down Herbert Place. This used to be a beautiful part of Dublin. Herbert Place is the last intact stretch of Georgian houses along the Grand Canal. There aren’t many Irish who can afford to live here these days, though, and the businesses that once kept the terrace respectable have long since gone belly-up. The horse-drawn carriages still come along late at night, and sometimes they’re even showing tourists round, but more likely they’re carrying punters cruising for sex. The girls stand on the canal side of the road, the driver pulls up when requested by his fare, and the lucky winner climbs aboard. The driver discreetly pulls over the hood once the transaction has been negotiated and lets them get down to business—I guess the driver takes a commission or gets freebies. Few are the American hibernophiles cooing over Patrick Kavanagh’s statue as they trot by on a Sunday morning who know that only the night before the driver was cleaning jizz off the seats like Travis Bickle.
Before the powers of the Dáil were reduced to censuring blasphemers and we moved to the perfect post-democracy of European bank dictatorship, this place used to turn into Little Saigon whenever the party conferences came to town. According to a pilot friend of mine, the seats on Leeds/Bradford flights into Dublin would be occupied exclusively by acne-ridden hookers knocking back brandy and blackcurrants or whiskey and limes to fortify themselves prior to meeting their “regulars,” pillars of the rural community, up for the Ard Fheis or the rugby. Other girls, of course, came to Dublin purely on spec, because “you have to go where the work is.”
I had a Guinness in Toner’s to start with, to be polite, while Delia ordered a quinine. Because it was a bit nippy outside, and to avoid looking conspicuous, we took our glasses downstairs to the cellar bar, which is only ever frequented by spies, rats, pimps, students, and TDs. In descending order of respectability.
“Did you hear the one about the dead epileptic who wouldn’t fit in his coffin?” I took his query as an expression of concern.
“No. Was it someone at the tennis club?”
“You prick, Joe. It’s a joke.” He slurped on his quinine. “Wasted on you.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t concentrating.”
“It’s what’s known as gallows humor, Joe, Gallows being a small town in Scotland where Methodists go for their annual comedy festival.” I was reminded of the futility of attempting sensible conversation with Delia. And why I enjoy his company.
A small group of screenagers clattered down the stairs and asked the barman to turn on the TV above the counter. I pondered how they might look with their innards splashed across the Bushmills mirror behind the bar by machine gun fire and was surprised by how much it cheered me up.
“It’s no wonder you live alone, you sad bastard,” I said to Delia after he’d bought the next round and sat back down, taking off his jacket. “No woman could ever take you seriously.”
“They don’t want serious, Joe. Women love a sense of humor. I’m beating them off with a shinty stick. It’s murder. Why do you think Wilde pretended to be gay?”
I muttered skepticism. Delia pulled out a new bag of salmiak, that appalling salt licorice shit he uses to stave off the nicotine cravings, and started chomping.
“Believe me, Joe, I’d much prefer the kind of life you have.”
“What do you mean, my kind of life?”
“You know…Indifferent. Chaste. Sexless.”
“You cheeky son of a bitch.” I put down my pint. “I’ll have you know I’m horny as a lizard and three times the size. You do realize that there are no legs on this table. I’m holding it up with my boner.”
Delia laughed and thumped the tabletop. Beermats jumped with fright. A ball of gum clung for dear life to the underside.
“Ow!” I feigned agony, and we both chuckled. Then supped.
“Have you heard this one, Joe? What’s the difference between a Christmas pudding and a Buddhist?” I shook my head, glass at my lips.
“You put out the flames on a Christmas pudding.”
Hah. Delia makes living in Dublin almost bearable. And not just for his sense of humor and his willingness to buy drinks. He pretends to find me likeable, too.
“By the way, Joe, before I forget. I’m going to have something for you next week, after I’ve seen my cousin. Seems like he’s come up trumps.”
The training kicked in and I was able to stifle my elation by using mental displacement and deep-breathing techniques. I only responded once I’d climbed down off the chandelier.
“That’s a fine fucking family you belong to, Delia. What did you say the name was again?”
“I didn’t, Joe,” he smiled. “I didn’t. Remember: A rolling stone gathers no rosebuds.”
“That’s very true,” I said. “Just wrinkles.”
“Nice one. You’re learning. Listen. I’ll give you a ring for a tennis match. You’ll probably want to rent a van or an estate. Keep your boot empty.”
“Your trunk, I mean. Your trunk. You can fill your boots after.”
“Thanks, Del,” I said. “Chances are, I will.”