Go to this issue's Table of Contents.
M A Y 2 0 0 0
The first time I heard it was in the Boot, at the Friday disco. My cousin Ciáran and his band were playing, so my mum said we could go. They know Nirvana and Green Day and Oasis, all the bands. They're brilliant. The guitarist, Paddy Riordan, was the one who told me. It happened to a friend of his second cousin. His name is Brendan, but they call him Bunny. So Bunny was in the Banner Arms, out by the Dublin Road, after the hurling one Sunday, and a couple of Yanks were there. Two girls, with rucksacks and tie-dyed T-shirts. They had a cardboard sign they made that said RIDE NEEDED, and Bunny just about cracked a rib he was laughing so hard.
"Where're you girls from?" he asks. From California, they say. Bunny gets chatting with one of them, the lovely one -- blonde hair, very slim, and she's drinking pints like she doesn't care that ladies drink glasses. They've just come over from Dublin, and they're looking for the nearest hostel. "The nearest one's in Donegal," Bunny tells them, which they'll never make by nightfall. The other girl gets talking to one of the Mangans, and this one takes a fancy to Bunny, and you know what American girls are like.
On the way out they pick up some Guinness at the off-license, and they head for home. The next morning Bunny wakes up and she's not in the bed with him. He goes into the bathroom and sees, written on the mirror in bright-red lipstick, "Welcome to the World of AIDS." Paddy says his second cousin told him no one's seen or heard from Bunny since. Anything could have happened. Some think he went to Dublin and threw himself in the Liffey, but I don't know if I believe that.
To be honest, I wasn't even that crazy about going. I've always wanted to go to Greece or Hawaii, some sunny place. But my friend Denise's mother works for Calvin Klein, and Aer Lingus was running a promotion at one of her fashion shows. I won a drawing, and the prize was an all-expense-paid trip to Ireland. The only thing I knew about Ireland was that it rains all the time and everyone drinks a lot. Both of these things are true. But the guys are really nice, much nicer than Americans. In Dublin I met this one guy, and he wanted to bring me home to meet his parents. I said, "Look, we're in a bar, we're having a drink." Some kind of big sports event was on that weekend, and everyone was walking around with scarves on and these little hats with pompons on the top. Everyone was hammered. Guys kept coming up to me and telling me I was beautiful and could they marry me. Not just guys my age, but old guys.
I let the one I met at the Harp, Ciáran, take me back to the hotel where he was staying. It was cute, because once he got my shirt off, he didn't know what to do. They talk like they know what's going on, but when it actually comes down to fooling around, they're lost. It's like they need a cigarette in one hand and a Guinness in the other or they lose their bearings. The only way those boys know how to use a tongue is to talk, which is just the opposite of American men.
This guy, he plays the drums. His specialty is the Irish one, which is called a bodhrán. You don't pronounce the d. He tried to show me how to play it, but I couldn't get a rhythm going. Then he pulled out a little bottle of whiskey, and we drank that for a while. I think he was pretty sure he was going to nail me. He had his fingers in my underwear and was feeling around, and I said, "Do you have a condom?"
He says no.
This part is priceless. "I always pull out," he says. "I've done it plenty of times, and the girl has never gotten pregnant." "Is that so?" I say. Then I ask him if he's ever gotten a disease. "I'm an American," I say. I tell him I could have crabs. "Crabs?" he says, like I've told him I could have a horn growing out of my forehead. Then I tell him what Denise told me about her roommate Nicole's brother, who took a girl home from a bar in Valparaiso, and when he woke up in the morning, the girl was gone. He didn't even know her last name. There was a note on his pillow that said "Now you've got AIDS, sucker."
Of course, that kind of put a damper on the evening, but I wanted to scare him. He was a nice kid, tall and shy, with a good sense of humor and glasses that kept slipping down his nose. He was a good kisser, but you could tell he was not a seasoned professional. I was thinking, What if I sleep with this kid and he starts hanging out in bars like the Harp, scoping out American girls? He could end up with a disease someday. I'd feel bad if I didn't at least try to warn him. He seemed so clueless.
What's the worst chat-up line in Ireland? "I'm from Ballymullet."
If I'm going out on the town at the weekend, Ballymullet is just where I pass through on the way to Donegal. Don't let anyone tell you the disco is worth it. As far as I can see, this AIDS scandal puts Ballymullet on the map. But allow me to make a logical point that seems to have been overlooked in the hysteria. If an English girl wanted to come to Ireland and infect a bunch of lads, what would she be doing in Ballymullet? I've been in the pubs there at the weekend. Even at Mangan's all you see is old fellas with their teeth as brown as the Guinness, and day laborers trying to get away from their wives. I was there when Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup. I was bustin' for a pee, and the Gents was full, so I went out back and what do I see but these two old enough to be my mum and dad goin' for it up against a wall. They didn't even notice me.
Now I laugh whenever I turn on the TV and Father Lenehan is saying parents should tell their children to be responsible. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Besides, only the gay boys and drug pushers get AIDS.
They brought it back again. Tim got them to, and sure enough, not five minutes after the boys installed it, Father Lenehan appeared like the Holy Spirit himself, with Molly Hogan on two legs that are only good for complaining about. Molly says they'll have an order for the removal of that purveyor of evil within twenty-four hours. Then she has the nerve to ask Tim Mangan for a pub lunch and a glass of Guinness and black-currant, if you please. She sets herself up next to me and goes on about how if not for the generosity of Father Lenehan, she'd perish in her sitting room waiting for Jimmy Faye to fetch her into town.
"What's next?"she asks. "Soon will Ballymullet be like Amsterdam, with the ladies selling themselves from behind glass?"
"I'm taking this action as part of a public-health initiative,"Tim Mangan says. The bollocks has got the lingo down so convincingly you'd think he was the chief executive of the Health Board himself.
I looked lovely with my suntan, I did. Every mirror I passed I'd steal a glimpse of my new skin. In Grafton Street I bought a halter to show my shoulders, which had gone brown, not so pink as the rest of me. That night I went with Maureen and her mates to the clubs in Leeson Street. The fella who bought me the first drink was a Yank. His accent was brilliant. He said he played American football with a team in Saint Louie. In my purse I had a lipstick and the package I'd bought from the machine in Mangan's when no one was looking. "Fernando," by Abba, began playing, and he asked for a slow dance. Our pints were almost full, and he wanted to put them on a ledge.
"If we put them down, someone will drink them," I said. He said that at decent clubs in America no one stole your drink. "But this is Ireland," I said. We danced holding our pints over each other's shoulders, like the other couples. By the end of it we all had wet brown spots on our backs.
Then we were on a bed, and I didn't have my halter anymore, just my purse and my suntan. I'd had Ritz and cider and big filthy pints I wouldn't touch at the Boot or Mangan's. I had the little package in my hand and then I didn't. "It's your first time, isn't it?" he said. I nodded in the dark. "You're safe your first time," he said.
It hurt. "Nothing's easy the first time," he said. In the morning he said he had a plane to catch and left. He left a key chain with the arch in Saint Louie on it for me. I met Maureen at the Bus Eireann station at nine, like we'd planned. We made up a story that Mum believed. I have nothing to worry about, but sometimes in the morning my stomach pains me. "You must have inherited the ulcers from your father," Mum says when he's within earshot. My suntan is starting to fade.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.