Sitting at a wobbly table in the IFI, engrossed in a free copy of The Irish Times, my attention is snagged by a tall, middle-aged man wearing a wig so outrageous as to be hilarious and simultaneously vomitous!

It’s almost impossible to swallow the fresh mouthful of hot puke ascending while laughing like a loon, but somehow I manage.

‘Is this seat taken?’ Gadzooks! It’s the man with the fake matted mullet on his oversized head. With a strained smile on tightly shut lips and a second upchuck of sick rising in my gorge, I struggle to respond.

After a big swallow, I ask, ‘If that seat was taken it wouldn’t be there, now would it?’ and chortle nervously. I wasn’t happy to be interrupted in such a shocking manner – eyes, and now nose, assailed by horrid things.

‘Does that mean it’s free?’ Mr Toupee doesn’t seem to get the humor, and I wonder how a man wearing a joke on his head can be a no-comedy zone. Delusional men who wear bad wigs are walking targets for joke-grenades – everyone knows that. So, what’s wrong with this guy?

Nobody tells him…

‘I wouldn’t think so. I’d guess it would cost at least €30. The price of sitting down thesedays… scandalous!’ I try to make it obvious that I am kidding him by wearing a big old shit-eating grin on my face and winking as though there’s something caught in my eye. In a manner of speaking, there is: something caught in both my eyes. The skanky roadkill on his dome gives the impression it will come back to life any minute, and peel itself from his head before limping away to hide under the first rock it finds.

‘What I mean to ask,’ he presses on in a pleasant and serious manner, ‘is if it would be all right for me to sit there.’ I can’t help notice the dirt under the index finger of his right hand as he points. It’s black. My skin crawls.

‘I bet you can sit anywhere you like.’ I’m right. He can and does. And with him much closer now, a mere dozen or so inches away, I am afforded a close-up view of his rank rug, dead-rodent-like, decaying on his head, just as a whiff of pong so malodorous as to cause my nostrils to snap shut all by themselves and my mouth to pucker up as if a lemon’s been plunged in it.

As I fight off the urge to faint, I feel an anger rise up. You are free to wave your arms around madly, an inner-voice says. But when you hit someone else, you take away their freedom! Yes, that’s right isn’t it? And when I’m sitting drinking coffee reading the paper minding my own business do I not have a right to NOT have to look at a yellowish/greenish/grayish fibrous mess threatening to jump off someone’s head… NOT to have to be slammed with a wall of stink so hard that consciousness slips away?

There is a law against noise beyond a certain level – so why not apply the same logic to our other senses? Fashion Police to stop the toupee faux-pas (as well as the fat girls in lycra pants, gut hanging out proud, every curve, crack and crevice on show so that you can actually lip-read if you dare to focus!) and Odour Police to take out the stinky people – you know the ones: the labourer you get stuck standing beside on the Dart who raises his hand to hold the ceiling-bar and you end up with a moist and minging pit in your face; or the pretty girl behind the cash-register in some store who causes curvature of the spine when she opens her halitosis-ridden mouth to tell you the cost of the mints you just dropped; or the drug-addict who sits beside you in a hamburger joint, and after you realise that the smell you’re getting isn’t coming from your meal, you conclude that the guy with the disconnected eyes hasn’t used toilet-paper in weeks!

Incensed by my internal dialogue, I tear my eyes away from a tiny white something – like a small piece of rice – that seems to be moving, albeit slowly, in a threadbare area above his temple, and unable to contain myself any longer, consider what I will say to this shambolic scarecrow at my table.

I often moan and complain about people who moan and complain about things but never do or say anything. I know all about it because I am one of those people: too confused about politeness or being offensive to actually stand up and say what I believe. To moan and complain to those who I have a problem with – that’s my goal in this life. If only it were as easy as keeping your mouth closed!

I think about saying something sarcastic… ‘You know, that wig you’re wearing is so real looking, I bet it fools everyone!’

‘Why thank you, young man.’ The smile he cracks reveals mossy teeth, most of them missing. ‘As far as I know, everyone thinks it’s my very own head of hair.’

‘Oh yeah, sure… you would’ve had me fooled, too, if you hadn’t sat so close,’ I patronise. Part of me kind of feels sorry for this guy, not that that’s ever going to do me or him any good. A much bigger part of me wants to slap the wig from his head and tell him to wash because there’s a whole wide world out there that can see and smell! Yeah, my internal dialogue goads, why should you give a damn about him or his feelings when he obviously has no respect for anyone else’s. Yeah.

‘I’d like to stab a guess at something, okay?’

‘All right.’ A whimsical look passes over his face.

‘You don’t have any friends or family, do you?’

He thinks for a moment, as if counting in his head. ‘No. I don’t. How did you know that?’

‘Listen: Can I be a friend for a minute? I mean, can I tell you something that a friend or family member would tell you if they truly cared about you?’

Again, he thinks momentarily, this time as though trying to understand a language he has mostly forgotten. ‘I bet you can tell me anything you like.’

‘Okay. Here goes. Ummm… Do you drive?’

‘Only when golfing,’ he says enigmatically.

‘Well, you know how, like when driving, we all have a blind-spot? Things we cannot see about ourselves that others can?’

‘I think so. Yes. Go on.’ He seems eager for me to get to the point.

‘It’s about your wig. I was just being sarcastic when I said it was convincing. I meant it was the opposite. It makes you look like a sad git with bad judgement and no friends and family.’

Mr Toupee processes this information for a half minute before asking why it makes him look like he has no friends or family.

‘Because, one would assume, if you had any they would be kind enough to let you know that your toupee is ridonkulous and talk you out of wearing it.’

‘Oh,’ he sighs, forlorn, and looks vacantly into his lap. Now’s the time to put the boot in. Best time to kick a man is when he’s down… and it is for his benefit. Cruel to be kind and all that.

‘Also, they would, if they had a modicum of a sense of smell, inform you that the odour that emanates from you is reminiscent of a used airline sick-bag stuffed with green-tinged chunks of rotting chicken that just passed through the loosened sphincter of a recently-dead Indian man!’

‘American Indian or real Indian?’

‘That’s not the point! Aren’t you getting this?’

Mr Toupee nods gently. ‘I think so. Basically, you are telling me that my wig looks ridiculous and I smell bad. Am I right?’

‘Yes, that’s it in a nutshell.’ I begin to feel even more sorry for him: a thing I don’t like to do for another because I hate for another to do it for me. But I can’thelp it. That forlorn look is back – all over his face like a rash. He leans forward, puts his face close to mine and whispers.

‘Thank you very much, sir.’ His voice is weak and shaky. Surprised by his response, expecting him to give me a dirty look and leave at best, I smiled and told him he was welcome.

‘Oh thank you, thank you, thank you,’ he carried on, dropping to his knees in front of me, hands clasped together at his chest as if praying to me… or worse, worshiping me… ‘thank you for being my friend, for being my brother! You have revealed great truths to me that I was to blind to see. You cared enough for me to bother to explain it. You must have such affection for me – you are my friend. My very best friend! – ‘

I am aware that not only of Mr Toupee’s eyes but that all eyes in the place are on me in this moment. I enjoy surreal in movies and pictures but up until now have never sat in the middle of it. My vision wanders all over the place, blurring colors and shapes, until they come to rest on a bottle of ketchup that has fallen over on its side when Mr Toupee bumped the table falling to his knees. It is dripping ketchup… but ever so slowly. The colour looks redder, saturated somehow… the consistency thicker… the smell so strong it takes over the insides of my nostrils in a highly unpleasant way… and I have to look away.

My eyes come to rest on a tiny white something – like a small piece of rice – that seems to be moving – wait! I remember this. The tiny white rice-like thing that really is moving, but like the red sauce, exceedingly slowly. It is, I now know, a louse! And as I have this thought it stops, stares me in the eye, and then launches itself into the space between us. In my periphery I take note that a dropsical of ketchup has also disconnected from its home and is heading south. My attention swings back to the tick: its getting bigger as it grows closer…

A sudden knowing infuses me and I relax in an instant. It’s all been a daydream. Must’ve been too much caffeine. I will blink and upon opening my eyes, find myself where I started: Sitting in this café beside a foul-smelling man wearing a head carpet, me staring at a fat louse moving around above his right ear. I begin to blink, closing my eyes (noting the still falling ketchup, the still growing bigger louse looming)…

and know that I will not being saying a word to him about his head or odour. No, I will be leaving immediately. Leaving it up to someone else to tell Mr Toupee what’s going on. Why should I be the one to speak up and say something? There’ll be someone else more understanding and articulate than I, surely…

eyes begin to open… and just a nano-second after the ketchup hits the floor, splashing like a drop of blood, the louse lands on the flat of my left eyeball, causing it to close belatedly as everything returns to normal speed and I find myself on my feet, rubbing frenziedly at my eye and making a sound that I’ve never heard before.

‘Thank you!’ Mr Toupee was starting to drink from my coffee cup as I staggered half-blind out the door. Fuck it! He can pay for it!

© 2009 Wordwurst