‘Is that you, Sister?’ It was Tom misdialling again with those thick, stubby fingers of his. ‘No, it’s me: Jerry,’ I said. I held the phone away from my ear as he whooped and yelled his love and overjoyed greetings. Tom, unfortunately, is going to hell on a poker. No one has seen him sober or straight for months. Mention his name to any local personality who is proud of being a reprobate and they go all prissy on you. ‘He’ll be dead in a year the way he’s going,’ they’ll say, shaking their heads. Or it’s, ‘Someone needs to have a serious word with that guy.’
Tom is another of Sharon’s exes. He was the one after me. When Sharon introduced me to him in the pub, the first thing he told me about himself was that he had broken every bone in his body. Then he conscientiously showed me his dick to show that he was up to the job. Even Sharon thought he was a bit wild. Every so often Tom tries to say no to drugs, but they just won’t listen.
‘Tom. How’re you doing?’ I said.
His life at the moment was ‘super dandy’, he said. Three weeks ago he’d had an epiphany while eating a cheeseburger beside the van. He’d suddenly realised he was eating nothing but burgers. He threw it away and became a vegetarian on the spot. ‘I’ve been eating lentils and mung beans ever since. And I swear to you, Jerry, the good karma from not eating meat has turned my life around.’
Normally Tom is of no fixed abode. As a new vegetarian, however, and with karmic beneficence raining gently down on his concrete-like nut, he has found cheap and convenient accommodation, he said, with a caring chap called Gay Tony. ‘His name’s Tony and he’s gay,’ explained Tom helpfully. Gay Tony acted like his butler, said Tom. He did his shopping and laundry and had a vegetarian meal ready on the table when he got in from work.
Being taken under Gay Tony’s wing was only the start. Tom is a self-employed painter and decorator and he undertakes small building jobs. From the moment he went vegetarian, he says, people have started offering him well-paid work right, left and centre. ‘I do one positive thing in my life, and it’s like someone has flicked a switch and reversed the current,’ said Tom, mystified but excited.
He gave me his most recent example of how easily work comes to him now, post-burgers. Tom is a sash-window specialist. Yesterday he had a job repairing a sash window on the first floor of a house overlooking the harbour. As he worked, he noticed a man and a woman looking up and watching him. Irritated, Tom asked if he could help them, and the man complimented him on his work. ‘That, young man,’ he said, ‘is a dying art.’ The next thing Tom knew, this bloke had offered him three weeks work at 1,700 quid a week and the loan of a house to renovate the sash windows of a country house. ‘Mental,’ said Tom.
They shook hands on it right there in the street. Then the bloke cleared his throat and lowered his voice and said did Tom by any chance know where he could buy weed. Which isn’t as prescient a surmise as it sounds, because Tom looks like he’s wrecked even when he isn’t. ‘Jerry, I looked at the floor and said I was sorry but I am a straight kind of guy and never touch anything stronger than soluble vitamin C. I could have got him anything he wanted in 20 minutes, but I thought I’d be a bit careful.’
So Tom was doing a little victory dance in the street, when a builders’ van drew up, and this mate of Tom’s leaned out of the window and lobbed Tom this massive bag of weed. He’s renovating a house, this fella, and the weed had come down with the ceiling. He said he hoped it might quieten Tom down for five minutes then he drove on. There was maybe an ounce of green in the bag, said Tom. All buds. So he ran after the guy who’d just given him a job and gave it to him. The guy was dumbfounded. Tom saw him and his wife in the pub later and neither of them could speak then either, but for a different reason.
‘Anyway, man, how are you?’ said Tom. ‘How’s life?’
‘Not bad,’ I said. ‘But Tom, I’ve got to go now. I’ve got to turn in a column for the paper and I haven’t even started, and I’m late as it is.’
‘Fair play, man!’ he yelled. ‘Tell them about karma, man! Chop on, man!’ Then he hung up and was gone.