The Men I’ve Loved Part I: Brian McPhee
This is a work of fiction and any relation to any person alive or dead is truly hilarious if you know who I’m talking about.
Brian McPhee could be found propping up bars anywhere where the beers were cheap and the bartenders spoke English. By English, I mean English pulled up at the tail with Scouser or rolled through the mud in the fashion of the Irish. Bri was American and frequently frequented the places where middle-aged expats gather to embitter each other and pickle their way into oblivion. Brian was a lump of Yankee Doodle, 300 pounds of stout, close-eyed crazy eye, head-scarred belch; a shaven headed, loud and obnoxious ogre of a man who would have been 7th century triumphant on the Caucus Plains, swinging clubs for the Huns, but who now is an evitable waddling prank-on-his-nation. This is why I kind of loved Brian McPhee.
The first time Brian was introduced to me, it was as a prank, as it were, of which I was the unwitting, totally willing, victim. My colleague at the time – long-term Barcelonan antipode ex-pat Toby – Brian-Gravy-Gravy-Brian’d us and then told Brian that I’d devoted a fair chunk of my life to the sea. Brian looked at me with his crazy, swirling eyes and said, “You surf, dude?” And as I affirmed, full of wonder as to what this lunatic behemoth with the restricted gait of an arthritic bison could possibly know of surf. Yeah, I surf, I almost challenged, knowing that behind his scarred forehead neurons and electrons were dancing to their own beat, a beat that gave my imp inside of me an unbreakable horn.
Surf, man, oh yeah! Surfing is the exchange of our energy with the universe, man. There’s no feeling like flying down the line of a big peeler, going, “Woo, yeah, come on!” It’s like you’re touching God, man.
Brian spouted quasi-spiritual Hollywood cornball with the same ease as he wheezed. He was partly the product of the American insistence that anyone can do anything, that dumb optimism that prevents freedom-lovers from feeling like they need to engage with and learn about the world that they inhabit, instead spouting hyperbole and cliché and abridged Oysho-isms. Brian was part that and part bat-shit crazy, and Brian to me was the most interesting person in the world, and by Jove I loved him.
Nobody really knew where he was from in the States, and I guess in a way he was from everywhere. His surfing tales told of Honolulu in the 50s; his accent was South, but not deep south, maybe North Carolina south. He told us that he was a New York City fire fighter during 911, one of the lucky few who survived the World Trade Centre rescue efforts. I guess Brian figured, How would anyone know any better? But everyone knew better because Brian was immobile and incapable and who-the-fuck-would-let-him-near-an-axe-let-alone-a-Dalmatian.
The stories of his sexual exploits were contraceptive, verging on sterilising. Hearing about the threesome that he had – on a bunk bed, with an equally insane German named Denis, in the landing room of a shared flat, with a Nigerian prostitute – has tied my tubes perhaps indefinitely. One day, in a bar manned by a proud and strong Swedish lady (a classy feminist by birth), Brian regaled me with tales of Russian prostitutes and one in particular who was his “girlfriend” and the things that they’d do, and as it got increasingly horrible the bartender would bury eyes of death into Brian ’s oblivious face and he’d thwack me in the chest with the back of his hand, fixing a crazy eye onto mine and another seemingly into space, and belch, “Emmmirrright!?” Ever assuming that I was the kind of misogynistic sexual sadist with a penchant for violent humiliation who’d dig these sordid tales. It could only go so far, and a story of forced fellatio caused the verbally assaulted serveusse to expel Brian from yet another establishment, banning him from returning anytime soon, or ever. Brian, for his part, was honestly confused as to why he was being subjected to such treatment, and looked half at me and half at Ursa Major and implored, “But I thought that wewerrrreright!?”
We weren’t right, Brian; I love you, but you and I were never right.
The only employ I ever knew Bri to have was as the trenchcoat-draped macabre guide of a Barcelona tour of the un-dead. Brian would take groups of bewildered families around the narrow streets of the city’s gothic quarter, telling tales of ghouls and tortures, some true but mostly made up. Brian looked the part, with a lantern in his left hand, held at head height, and a top hat adorning his gargantuan bonce. He’d stop off at bars whilst leading these tours, and would order beers while the bewildered families would range between terrified and furious. After Brian had his fill, he’d order his group back onto the street, and raise the lantern to his brow, and slur in hushed tones some made up story about something that nobody, not even the most gullible teenage American tourists, would believe. Brian would then stumble off into the dark, his impressive bulk silhouetted by the city’s night lights, before stopping and propping against a wall. What would follow was a cacophony of gizzards, the unmistakable heave of a baby yak as this half-crazy inebriated Yank evicted his guts onto the cobblestones of another Barcelonan laneway, all the while horrified tourists ready for a fright experienced a kind of horror that they were altogether unprepared for.*
*The Trip Advisor reviews of Brian ’s tours, since removed, were infamous for their unfortunate hilarity. Disappointed tourists told of his “stinking of alcohol”, his “drinking mid-tour” and his “stopping to apparently score from his drug dealer”. Others complained that Brian had “disappeared to an upstairs bathroom, only to return completely out of his mind and proceed to hit on [their] 14-year-old daughter”, or that he’d “completely ruined their trip by vomiting on [my wife’s] feet”. Maybe these reviews were written by jealous competitors, maybe, like this, they were titillating works of fiction, but for whatever they were, they made me love Brian more and more.