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Welcome to: Sensitize © Arts E-Magazine by Upstate Renegade Productions © Edition One - November 2008. Editor - Louis P. Burns aka Lugh © All rights reserved.


By Brian Gillespie © 2008. All rights reserved.

He stands at the bar, holding on tightly. He can feel it coming on again. Maybe it'll pass this time, he thinks. Maybe. He catches his reflection in the mirror behind the cash register. He looks okay - Just another customer waiting to be served, nothing unusual there. A wee bit flushed probably. But it is warm in here. Fuck. He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead.

"Hey, Billy," he calls to the barman, "any chance of getting that heating turned down?" Billy looks up from pouring his Guinness.

"You warm are ye? I'm fucking foundered. I must be coming down with something."

You're not the only one, he wants to say, but says nothing. Best to avoid unnecessary small-talk. Billy places the Guinness on a beer-mat in front of him. Considerate. Little touches like that make a good bartender.

"So, Joe, how's the job hunting coming along?"

Not the small talk!

"Aw, you know," is about all he can manage in reply. Billy gives him that sage-like nod then turns towards the cash register. They must all learn that nod in bartending school. He wants to fucking punch him in the face. But why? What did he ever do on him? He'd probably only faint from the effort of throwing a punch anyway. His legs felt like jelly as it was. He notices the vacant stool beside him as though it magically appeared there only a second ago, and he slides carefully into it. Billy sets his change beside the stout.

"You know, there's worse jobs than working behind a bar," says Billy. And walks proudly away to serve another customer. What a fountain of wisdom you are, Billy boy.

He chuckles to himself, then catches his face in the mirror again. He always hated seeing himself laugh. An artificial-looking grimace. He brings out his rolling tobacco and his lighter and tries to make a cigarette, but his hands are shaking so badly that he gives up. Jesus, why didn't I just buy filtered? he thinks. He takes a few tentative sips of his stout to calm his nerves. He looks around the bar. There's an old couple sitting at a table in the corner who never seem to leave the place. Probably have a couple of camping beds stashed behind the kitchen for them. They're talking in a hushed, conspiratorial manner, as though the future of the universe rests on whatever trivial conclusion they come to over the next five minutes. The old woman out of the couple notices him watching them so he turns away and takes another sip of his drink. He thinks he hears a remark being made about him but then decides he just imagined it.

Near the entrance, a man in labourer's overalls is playing the poker machine. The bright, twitching lights and electronic shriek of the machine seem to fill up the whole bar. How could anybody stand and throw their hard earned cash into those things? he thinks. Fucking waste of time. The odds are always against you - Just like life. He attempts to make a cigarette again and just about manages it this time. Good old Guinness. He lights the cigarette but it burns down on one side and he can't get a decent puff out of it. He stubs it out in the clean ashtray Billy placed in front of him a few minutes earlier. He looks around at the old couple again. Maybe he can scrounge a cigarette off one of them. But no, it would be impossible. He wouldn't even be able to walk over there to say hello, never mind anything else. Not with the fear in him. They'd probably scream for the cops or something. He can hear two men arguing loudly over something in the downstairs lounge. He can ask them for a cigarette surely? He decides no. They sound like rough types and they might think he was a queer trying it on and knock fuck out of him.

Why the hell did he come in here in the first place? He knows why - because of the fear. He was having a panic attack in the street and didn't want to keel over in broad daylight in front of all the happy shoppers and their children. He didn't want to go that way! The poker machine lets out an extra loud shriek and coins begin to pour from it's belly. Good to see someone is winning today.

He sinks the last of the Guinness and decides to go for a piss then head home. But as he gets up the feeling hits him again. He steadies himself against the barstool and makes his way cagily towards the stairs. He can feel the eyes of the old woman boring into him as he passes their table. He has to hold himself back from screaming, "what the fuck are you looking at!" and he holds on to the stair rail as though it were a lifeline being thrown to a drowning sailor.

When he enters the toilets, the two men he heard earlier are still arguing beside the urinals. They each hold a pint in one hand, and are gesticulating wildly with the other. Aw Jesus, no, this is all I need, he mutters to himself. He tries to ignore them but they are swaying drunkenly behind him.

"Wise up!" one of them slurs. "Everybody knows the Beatles were the best fucking band EVER!"

"Your arse," says his friend, "The Beatles we're nothing but a bunch of overrated wankers! At least the Stones fucking rocked."

He tries to keep his head down and focused on the job at hand but nothing will come out. A deep nausea is now billowing up from his stomach also.

"The Beatles!"

"The Stones!"

"The fucking… here, ask this lad then. Hey you?"

Joe steadies himself against the graffiti scrawled tiles and pretends he can't hear them. He feels a heavy tapping against his back.

"Hey you, young lad?"

I have to get out of here, now, he realises, and re-buttons his trousers as he turns. The two drunks are glaring straight at him, awaiting his ruling on the matter.

"The Beatles or the Stones?" the larger and more intoxicated one demands.


"The Beatles or the Stones? You have heard of them haven't you?"

"Of course."

"Well which do you prefer?" The other drunk demands. He is cross-eyed and Joe can't work out which eye is looking at him.

"Well, it really depends what mood I'm in."

The pair turn to each other then glare back at him. This was not the answer they were looking for.

"But if you had to pick.." the large one demands, but Joe suddenly feels an overwhelming urge to cry or retch or both and hurries out of the toilet and climbs back up the stairs.

He staggers past the old couple who are now both watching him, and manages a feeble wave to Billy the barman as he passes.

"Are you ok, Joe?" he hears Billy ask but he struggles on past the bar and, knocking over a stool on the way to the exit, he notices the man playing the poker machine turn and give him a look of utter disgust as he lurches towards the street outside.

All content is the product of various collaborations between the artists, e-poets, filmakers, media/music producers, researchers and writers working with Louis P. Burns aka Lugh via the Sensitize © community of forums and in realtime (past or present).

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SSelf Portrait. Photograph by Brian Gillespie © 2008. All rights reserved.