Full Maxol jacket in Mullingar.

There was big talk of a meeting due to the dire decrease in numbers. The motivational phone calls weren’t doing the trick and the screaming requests for paid expenses, accurate wages and general understanding of the Irish psyche when it came to quare companies, were falling on deaf ears. It was decided, in the spirit of respect for employees, and to add professional gravity to the situation, and in line with the budgetary ethos, that we ought to meet out the back of the Maxol petrol station beside the car wash, in Mullingar.

            We talked on the way over about how best to approach this council of war? We were coming from Athlone. They were coming from Dublin. What tactics might provide the most profitable outcome. Jimmy said we should insist on a lower target, get food expenses, and clean jackets. Last week he got a company jacket in the post that hadn’t been washed since the time of Fred Flintstone. It had the smell of a wet dog mixed with sour milk and it was too big, so he looked like a man about to jump down a manhole and go shovelling shite for the day.

            Joe was in the back, scrolling through a phone with a cracked screen, and said: ‘Do you think we could get a raise?’

            The road rolled past like an escalator, cats eyes, and trees laughing at the idea of getting more money. All this was cutting into my day. I’d already missed Joe Duffy and the future of The Hard Shoulder at half four was in doubt. Sure this is pure slavery altogether.

             Next thing didn’t I get an email, was I still ok for the interview later on?

            Interview? Oh yeah, fuck.

            That.

            There was a crowd wanting to talk about another job somewhere else. I had applied for so many I wasn’t sure which one this was about.

            I looked it up. Didn’t seem too bad. They even had an office and mad things like a payroll. It would be tight with the meeting, but I could swing it.

            Later at the Maxol, boutique ambience for big businessmen like ourselves, Midlands 103 on the speakers over the deli, a limited time offer on toilet paper. The Dublin crowd sprung for coffees all around and made half-hearted offers of chewy croissants. Then we went outside and got down to it, which turned out to be a pep talk on costs, profits, the importance of ambition and the need to keep focused on potential and growth. It was hard to hear them after a while cos there was a lad power washing an Audi and the spray was kind of drifting over into our eyes and landing on the rim of the cups. There was no move on more money, or a raise, and the lower target was taken into consideration – which meant not a fuckin hope either.

            Good job I had that interview.

            Later, caught for time, I set the phone up on the dashboard. Gelled the hair, fired on a fasht tie and got set up.

             They appeared on the screen like two fellas just back from the beach. T-shirts, tired eyes, the sitting room cabinets behind them, struggling to stay interested.

            Talked shite for a while and they said they’d let me know.

            Later the email came from Laura, Linda, Lisa, I can’t remember which.

             Didn’t go well, she said. You can’t be doing interviews in the car like that. Not professional. But we’ll keep you on file.

            Do, Lorraine, keep me on file. Thanks

Mullingar and the signal in the noise.

There was big talk about Mullingar, the holy Mecca of sales. Did you not hear about Belvedere Hills, and Lakepoint Rise and what was the name of that other place, Dalton Park? Oh, there’ll be sales falling from the sky like the frogs off Magnolia that time. So went the theory from the two ninjas that were destined to make us all rich from their performance on the Midlands campaign.

I got there around half two. Supposed to be there at 12 but I didn’t like missing the start of Joe Duffy at 1.45pm.We were supposed to work til 8pm but I was hoping to be back on the road again for The Hard Shoulder at half four on Newstalk so the window of opportunity was closing fast. The two Wolfs of Wall streets were already there, rolling smokes and discussing the price of train tickets. We drove around and found a place with a quare Irish name and parked up and got out and looked about. One lad said he’d go up here around the corner and the other said he’d go down there behind the playground and I said I’d hang tight here and keep an eye on the car and do some admin. Ya know yourself.

Later, the sun was steel blue sharp and warm like the heat through your neighbours wall. There was kids crying in houses, and dogs barking, and lads in vests drinking cans in gardens. A soft voice came from somewhere, a signal in the noise. I looked around, couldn’t see anything, then heard it again.  

Excuse me, mister, can I talk to ya…? 

It was a girl in a school uniform with jet black black hair. Standing there, waiting. I said, yeah? 

My daddy wants ya.  

And she went back inside the house behind her.  

I walked over, pushed the door. There was a smell like a blocked toilet and Chinese food in the bag too long. The girl was walking ahead, down a long corridor with thick concrete walls that were wet with condensation that looked like slime in a cave. The floor was torn lino and there was a door at the end with blinding bright solar prisms coming through the cracked panes.  

She led me into a room, noise here. The patter of a dogs feet, a telly with a show full of canned laughter. People sitting around a bed. Daddy musta been the fella under the sheets, holding a crutch in one hand and the remote control in the other. Mammy must have been the woman beside him with the ketamine eyes and the American t-shirt (Chicago Bears? Harvard? Something….) 

There were others too. More kids. They were all eating some kind of takeout from tinfoil containers. There was the sound of chewing, sucking, licking and cutlery scraping, like cars going fast on the motorway at night. One lad was in a wheelchair but I didn’t know if it was his or he just needed a place to sit. He looked up at me cross eyed and then horsed down some curry chips and said nothing.  

Mammy kept smiling at the telly. I was afraid she might slide off the bed and fall out on to the floor. She had that gravitational slant going on, and the reflexes were definitely on the blink.  

Daddy used the crutch to make a point, rose it towards imaginary memories as he spoke. The last fella that was here told him lies. And he wanted a good price. And what could I do for him? I asked him how he was fixed with bank accounts, Ibans, Direct Debits, that kinda thing. 

 No he said, not a hope. I do everything through the Post Office. Thank fuck, I was thinking, but said, unfortunately we can’t help.  

Lave it so, he said. Thanks anyway.  

Here’s the dog now, trying to bite my shoelaces, after shitting soft little pebbles across the floor. The girl in the uniform stood up, asked: Do you know you’re way out? 

And I left.  

 

 

 

Vandalism

She was taking the company van. I was going working somewhere else. Ireland’s best sales team was getting disbanded after a record breaking spell of hitting no targets whatsoever.

She hadn’t much experience driving. As far as I could tell she didn’t even have a right license. There was some version of a government issued Romanian document from back long ago but it was hard to know if it was something to do with being on the road or a gammy dole card from Eastern Europe. Didn’t matter a fuck to the crowd in Dublin. They were too tight to pay for the petrol to have it drove back and they wanted her out selling so it made perfect sense that way. The other minor stuff like insurance, experience, ability or general safety never came into the equation. I gave her the keys and she said: ‘Where is spare tyre?’ 

‘Wha…’ 

‘Tyre. For Spare. Where does this be?’ 

‘I dunno. Why?’ 

‘In case. Flat. Whoosh. Puncture. It’s ok for boy. What about me? Woman. Alone. Dark and no tyre…’ 

‘I had a transit one time and the spare was under the floor at the back. Probably the same with that…’ 

‘Under the floor? Oh my God. How will I take out?’ 

‘You can ring the breakdown….’ 

She laughed, said: ‘These fuckers don’t pay for breakdown. They don’t even pay wages….’ 

She had a point, but I was already gone and finding it hard to get excited. Then she said: ‘I can’t drive manual. I need automatic.’ 

‘You’ll figure it out.’ 

‘And I never drive left side of road. Right only. Romania is right.’ 

‘Oh right.’ 

‘Yes. I will call Tom.’ 

‘Who’s Tom?’ 

‘He is my friend. He will help me with everything.’ 

‘Sound, I’ll go.’ 

I called back a week later. Tom was there. A saintly type with a van full of tools and a desire to help at all costs. They’d had a few driving lessons during the week that didn’t go well. There was talk of a gate getting a smack in Ballymahon and a pillar getting knocked in Moate. There’d been plenty of road range and a few parking confrontations around estates in Tullamore. And still no sign of the spare tyre. But Tom had a plan. The back doors of the van were open like a horrified mouth and Tom was climbing inside with a black and decker drill and tufts of grey hair under his cap and over his ears. ‘Tis down under here, I’d say….’ 

And he started on the screws around the base. Pulling up the timber, tearing it where necessary, announcing progress as he went along. ‘No sign of it yet, anyway…we’ll try another one…’ 

Soon there was hammers, drills, screws and broken bits of timber and stuff like sawdust strewn around everywhere inside and outside. Meanwhile she was up in the cab, tearing up the front seat in case it was under there and she might save Tom the trouble of destroying the van entirely. The screws had an angry growl as the drill caught grip, bit like a big dog when you try to pull a bone from its clenched teeth.  

‘You find?!’ She shouted from the front. 

No… said Tom, but sounding determined. ‘Not yet….’ 

I had a feeling this wouldn’t go down well in Dublin. Maintenance, repairs, destruction, generally having to pay for anything always caused a wide eyed look of wonder and mystery at the audacity of being required to spend money. They might even blame me if they heard I was there looking at them. Shtop.

I’ll keep going, I said. I’ll leave ye at it.