This Is What Mass In WeHo Is Like…

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Chapter 15

 Wigs, Wine & Weirdos

“Oh God. Why am I holding this man’s hand?” ’Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all was… Dead. First Christmas away from home. Away from the family. Away from my Mum’s mighty Christmas dinner. Aww. Poor little Merrick. Woe is me. All week I’ve been constantly asked, “Will you not miss going home to Ireland for it?” “Well, it would be preferred, but I’ll just have to make do.” Making sure to add, “And besides… In this economy? Hm.” That part usually confuses them enough to ask no more. Besides, I’m sure Cork will miss me just as much. Only the other day did a buddy Diane tell me, “Oh, eh, yeah. Christmas just won’t be the same if you’re not here. Like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse, so it will.”

So that was nice. Being compared to a mouse. Mighty. Anyway, last night I did the 12 Pubs of Christmas. Woke up this morning. Still full to the brim with Christmas cheer. Plan was to go to Charlotte’s for Christmas dinner. First, mass. Must go to Catholic Mass on Christmas Day, my Mum would kill me if she found out I didn’t! As it happens, two churches right around the corner from me. Go on the Google Maps. Hop out of bed. Bounce off a wall. Christmas clothes on. Scuttle around the corner. Blessed myself going into church. Found a seat. Sat down. Kneeled down. Stood up. Realised everyone else was still kneeling. Back down. Spaced out. Joined in. Humming prayers. Head spinning slightly. Saw a sign on the wall:

METHODIST

Hmm? What does that mean? Looked around. Slightly odd. Something feels off. Red-eye-balled the folk around me. Stared at the rainbow flag above the priest’s head. Hmmm. I think this appears to be a gay and lesbian church? Did I miss something? Asked a spiky haired lady next to me… Oh right. I am in the wrong church. Balls. Across the road I go.

Double blessed myself going into the right church. Forgive me Father. Although it did kind of look the same. Just that it said Catholic on the wall. Phew. Lucky escape. I almost worshipped the wrong version of God! Looked around. This feels more like it. Now we’re dancing. Seems like mass at home. Looks like it. Just an amped-up version. More open. People taking their worshipping up an odd notch or two.

In Ireland everyone at Mass looks solemn. Serious. Annoyed? Polite. Forced? Wary. Here, everyone was smiling a lot more. Big huge smiles. Joyous delight. Looked like they were on something. Lucid. Filled with the love of God, no doubt. Boondock Saints style going on. People almost shouting out prayers. Intense. Lots of sideways head motions too. Everyone looking at each other. Some folks’ heads almost spinning a full 360 degrees. Kind of all looked like Chuckie, that psycho puppet from the Child’s Play movies. Got me a bit freaked. Should I have combed my hair? Not to worry. Time to say some prayers. Zone out…

So Christmas has kind of snuck up on me. Maybe it was the roasting hot weather all last week. Perhaps the fact people are apparently not allowed to call it Christmas. Must call it “The Holidays”. In case they offend someone. Who? Why? What? Funk that. And where?! Highly odd. Although I think it’s mostly due to the lack of hearing Wham and The Pogues on the radio. Kind of feels… Hmmm. I won’t say different. Usually that suggests its worse. As in, if a girl has ever said to you that,

“Well that’s not usually how I do it. It was, eh… ahem, different…”

Do you think she’s implying it’s a good or bad thing? Exactly. Great analogy. Thank you. Let’s just say that usually Christmas is the time of year when the actual day of the week is irrelevant, whereas here in Hollywood, Christmas Eve felt just like a Thursday.

However, I did have one secret weapon up my sleeve: Good old 12 Pubs of Christmas! One of my favourite traditions back in Cork. Group of buddies from my university soccer club all meet up. All ages. Eighteen to forty-five. Brave first-year freshers – young, dumb and full of shots – to old, old, old school players out pretending to be doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Wife hiding. Young wishing. Reliving the glory days! Off we all go on a pub crawl. Pint per pub. At least twelve. Additional shots are encouraged but optional, of course. It is also preferable for the group to stick together as much as possible. Keeps the banter levels high. Finally: No girls allowed. Lads’ night out and all! Well, until the twelve pubs have been completed at least. After that? Dance. On! (If you still can, obviously.) Fun. Drunk. Messy. Mighty! Some clown (ahem) brought a whistle along one year. Older folk taking too long in each pub. Half an hour time limit implemented. First SHRILL of the whistle indicates five minutes to go,

“Drink up!” Second shrill means we’re moving on. Usually accompanied by the grumbles and tuts of said older crowd, “Is that Hayes again? Would he ever shut up with that FECKING whistle. Ruining my FECKING pint for FECK’S SAKE! Some FECKING IDIO- ” “Shh. Pipe down. Drink up.” SHRILL SHRILL! On we all go. Outside to the cold air. Christmas decorations lighting up the narrow street. Into the next pub. Order up. Repeat the banter. Whistle on. And away we keep going. Drink flows. Bellies warms. People relax. Fun begins! Pub One: Orderly. Sociable. Pub Three: Warming. Up. Pub Five: Banter. High. Pub Eight: Merry. Very. Pub Ten: Tad. Messy. Pub Twelve: Drunk. Skunks.

By now everyone is arm-in-arm. Traipsing the streets. Odd football chant or song being flung out into the cold night’s air. Biggest gap between bars at this point so a few good men get lost along the way. Those that are still dancing carry on through. All roads lead to The Castle, a tiny old fashioned pub in the middle of Cork City owned by a woman known only as Mary. Magical place where cell phones are banned, the toilets consist of a wall and drain out the back, and the night usually ends with a sing-song of some sort. Low on frills. High on banter! Into Mary. Last pint before vodka. Pub. Everyone. Full to the brim. Loud. Proud. Goosed. Swaying. Singing,

“Do You Like Cake?! Whatkindofcakedoyoulike?!” SHRILL of the whistle is piped out. Dirty looks thrown my way. Pint. Down. Hatch. “C’mon! Must make the club. Thirteenth pub. Final port. We can do it. Plough. On!”

Arm in the air. Scarf around the neck. Charge back out into the cold winter’s night. Whatever happens after that, who knows? One of the mightiest nights out of the year! Well. Until the next night. Giddy up them steps! All of which applies for Cork at least. In L.A? Ahem… Horrendous. Calling a spade a shovel, close to zero interest in the Hollywood 12 Pubs of Christmas. Most people were out of town for Christmas. Those left in L.A, all a tad depressed. Single. Driven. Lonely. Stuck here on their own. Hope. Gone.

Zero. Christmas. Spirit.

Most folk thought my invite was just a spam email, I was trying to sell them something. Didn’t get it, even after I explained it fully. Well done all round. This led to me breaking my first rule: No girls allowed. Ergo, mass email sent out to any I knew. Wonderfully received. Again. Most text with:

‘RANDUMB GIRL: Who’s this?’ The rest thinking it was a date…: ‘RANDUMB WEHO-ER: Love to meet for a drink. Movie afterwards?’ ‘RANDUMB GIRL: Sounds lovely. Nice quiet drink, just the two of us.’

Did you even read the email? Movie? Quiet drink? This is 12 Pubs! What part of “the more the merrier!” was lost in translation? In the end it was just myself and Charlotte to start off with. Fellow Tiny Timmy spending Christmas in L.A for work. New wing-woman for the night. Wingaduu!

Pub One: Chaya (technically a restaurant). Poor start. I was slightly late. Charlotte tucked into a bottle of wine on her own. Oh Jesus. Time for me to catch up. Quick drink. Chug. (One pub in and I’m chugging already? Never a good sign. Just a great one. Wahey!) SHRILL of the whistle. Balls. Clown must adhere to clown rules. Where next?

Pub Two: Barney’s. Quick pitcher. (Two pubs in and I’ve gone from pints to a pitcher already? Sweet Jesus.) Also realised finding twelve pubs within walking distance was going to be tough. Particularly when one of you is wearing heels. I won’t say who…

Pub Three: SkyBar. Met a guy named Boris. Refused to acknowledge that his country (Yugoslavia) no longer existed. So that was fun to prod. Kept spitting out disgusted sounding Russian. At one point I thought he was going to go KGB on us but instead he bought us all another round. Cheers Boris!

Pub Four: Took a chance. Taxi to Hollywood. Boris included. Bad call. Every pub shut. Christmas Eve. Disaster. Buzz wearing off. Back to Barney’s. Boozed on. Charlotte. Goosed. Taxi. Home. Barney’s again. Boris asleep at the table. Mighty. Final pitcher. Night done. Booth. Boozing. Solo. No sing-song. No after-party. No buzz. At all.

Meager three pubs of Christmas. Tut. At least I got the twelve pints in. And I even managed to make mass. So here I am. And now I see everyone’s standing up. How long have I been kneeling? Pre-tty sure I’m still drunk. Stand. Up. Pray. On. Scanned the church. Odd looking Asian woman in front of me. Wearing a wig. Set of false teeth. Arms dripping with lots of gold bracelets. Keeps waving at everyone around her. Including me. For some weird reason beyond my control, I keep waving back every time. Wink. Thumbs up. Underhand wave. Couldn’t stop doing it. Copped on as to why: Definitely still full of Christmas cheer. Maybe why I was so fascinated by her wig too. Kept sliding around her head as she spun left and right. Had to use a lot of self-control to not reach out and touch it. Looked for someone else to look at.

Tweaking older looking mother and daughter decide to leave. Wonder if I can too? Nay. Very early. Wailing Mexican woman across the aisle giving it socks. Blatantly singing the wrong words of the hymns. Good effort though. An even later straggler interrupts her to squeeze in on the pew. Very big Amazonian woman. Might be a man. Quite the mix at Hollywood mass. Realise the old guy next to me is also wearing a wig. Must be the fashion at this time. (My hair can look particularly wig-like when I wake up from a night out too though, so I blended in well.) This old dude had a magnificent perm going on though. Slightly lop-sided on his head as well. Probably as brilliant/horrendous a wig as I’ve ever seen. Particularly when morning drunk and curious. Pray on…

Dear Lord, forgive me for my- Actually, 12 Pubs wasn’t all that bad. Did meet those two sisters in Barney’s the first time around. Elle and Shawnie. New Yorkers. I was a fan of Elle. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Nice lips. Rock and roll style. Bridget Bardot/Kate Moss look going on, to be true. Glint of a chancer in her eyes as well. Shawnie looked more Portuguese. And far was more wary of me. My accent. My hair. Maybe the fact I was taking a shine to her sister. Probably all of the above. Tried to explain the 12 Pubs concept to them. Not a clue. Also struggled to grasp my accent. Confused looks all round. Surely I’m not slurring already? Hmmm. Time to gather my thoughts. Asked Elle what she did,

“Model.” “Oh yeah, any campaigns… Pardon? Calvin, as in Klein? Lin- as in -gerie?”

(Oh dear Betsy! Ahem. Play it cool… ) On the downside, I never got her number. Whistle shrilled. Clown. Although I did manage to tell her about Sigur Ros and how she must listen to them. At times they can be an acquired taste, but I felt she would like their ethereal Icelandic rock ways. Asked me to send her some songs… So that’s something. And now everyone is sitting again? Or are we kneeling? Down I go.

Pray. Hymn. Pray. Come to Our Father time. Notice people starting to raise up their hands. Opening them out. Just like the priest was doing. Saw the people in front of me holding each other’s raised up hands. Getting ready with the priest to start praying. Felt an urge to show God I was paying attention. Time to join in and do the same. Mouthing the words. Closing my eyes. Raising up my open hands. As I thought it was the norm to do, I started to hold the hand of the person next to me. Before I remembered who it was, too late: Old dude in the wig. Felt his clammy hand grip mine. Opened my eyes. Wigman staring at me. Smiling an odd, lucid smile. Holding on for dear life.

I should’ve really looked around more before I grabbed hold of his sweaty paw. Seeing as when I did a few moments later, I saw a fair few people weren’t holding hands at all. Mostly only families doing that. One or two older folk. Plus me and Wigman, who by now was almost fully facing me. Praying at me. Slowly mouthing words. Ignoring the altar. Lifting my hand up as far as he could reach for some reason. Very odd experience. Got odder. Thankfully communion time saved me. Had to release me. Up I go. Just as it was my turn to be served, I realised I’d completely forgotten what to say after you’re giving the communion. (Amen. Easy to see how one might forget it.) This caused me to panic. Blank. And say,

“Thanks a lot for the communion, Father sir, bless you.” Priest looked at me oddly. Asked, “Are you from I-r-land?” Which is when his American accent developing an Irish twang. “Ah shur, Father Seamus, I am!” “Great to meet you, laddie!”

Father Seamus seemed delighted to hear my gibber. Handed me a chalice. Encouraged me to wash the bread down. As I was last up to receive communion, told me I might as well finish it off.

“Looks like you could do with it…”

Wink. Yeah, gasping. Need some water. So I drank up. Good chunk. Gulps. Audibly chugging from the chalice at the end. Father Seamus tipping up the cup to help me get the last few drops. Realised then it was wine. Not water. Oh yeah. Topping me fully up on Christmas cheer. Rollover jackpot. The minute I handed the chalice back I felt it: Oh Betsy. Now I’m drunk. Father Seamus, ye have me goosed!

Walking back down to my seat the wine had put a pep in my step. Noticed that everyone was shaking hands with each other. Hugging one another, like a big happy family. I thought the sign of peace had already happened but maybe I got it wrong. Started shaking hands with everyone on the way back. Hugging the Asian lady. Patted her wig-head. Back to the seat. Shook Wigman’s hand again. At first he gave a surprised look. Back for more? Odd smile came back.

“Oh Jesus.”

Fr. Seamus wrapped up the proceedings. Felt the wine kick in a bit more. Just in time for a song. Silent Night. Everyone bellowing it out. Me included. Singing for Ireland. Like an ape tenor. I had no sing-along last night. Muted bird. Sing on!

Mass ends. Point up at the priest. Seamus, buddy, see you at Easter! Salute the Asian lady. Call me sign. Dodge the creepy wigged wonder. Frozen smile of delight on his face looking at me. Licking his lips. Wiggling his eyebrows. Time to scuttle on. Left the church. Time for dinner. Charlotte’s here I come. Meant to be there now. Need to get a cab. Mighty: Hail one down straight away. Pulls in way down the street though. Start walking after it. Next minute I hear,

“Heeeeyyy!”

Turn around. Wigman. Who’s he calling? Now waving wildly. And then running. Towards me. Oh Jesus. What’s he after? Need to get out of here. Power walk on!

Power-power. My present for Charlotte slips out from under my arm. Dose. Look back. Momentary panic. Should I abandon it? Can’t deal with the wigged weirdo. Need to get to the cab! What to do, what to do? Sprint. Grab. Present. Balls. Wigman has caught up to me. Dose. Grabs my hand as I pretend not to see him, “Heeey! I was calling you. Did you not hear?” “No sorr- ” “Have you ever modeled before? Would you consider it?” “Ha, what?” Threw me off. My dumb ego gets sucked in. No no, Wigman, never. That’s funny though. Didn’t expect you to say that. Funny man. Wish him a, “Merry Christmas!” Smile. Swivel. Walk. Wigman walks alongside. Tells me he is a producer of some sort. Works with all the big model agencies, so he says. Asks if I’ve ever heard of Tyra Banks? Implies he discovered her. Sure you did, old creepy man in a wig. “Sorry, not really interested in modeling, unless of course it was hand-modeling?” Me and my brutal jokes… Wigman grabs my hands again. Examines them front and back. Caresses gently. All right, this is enough now. Got to go get my Christmas dinner on. Wigman rubbing my hands and slips me his card, “Call if you change your mind. Or if you ever need anything. Anything at all. Give me a call.” “OK. Cheers… Joe.”

Joe smiles. Straightens his wig. Winks. And trots off back up the street. So that was kind of odd. Not the typical start to a Christmas Day really. Slightly different, to be true. Better? Worse? Who knows? I do know that I had a surprisingly mighty day in Charlotte’s abode afterwards. Savage feast. Charlotte can cook. Tasty turkey named Terence. Ate too much. Drank a little. Got some slick presents. All in all, quite a dancing day. Although, early night. Charlotte had work the next day. So I walked back to my abode. Wondering what was going on back in Cork. Christmas Day. All my family in my Nana and Grandad’s. House lit up. Fire roasting. Everyone toasty. Happy days.

Nice empty house waiting for me here. All to myself. No Christmas décor or happy lights to greet me. Cold enough too. Had a cup of tea on the couch. Watched some TV. Read a bit of my new book Tales of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski. Fun read. Full of cheer. Ahem. Went to bed. All felt a tad depressing. Slightly different buzz this year. But we won’t dwell on that. After all, I did make a new friend: Joe!

Who, it turned out, was a fan of orgies…

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