'CHICKENS," I whisper hoarsely. "Chickens running wild in the hedges and driving this bloke mad every morning, and he wants to know what we're going to do about it. I mean, do I look like the DSPCA?"
My friend looks at me and cocks his head like he's considering this for a second, then he shrugs slowly, stifling a grin. "In the right light," he mocks, straightening his beer mat and chuckling. "Shesh-shesh-shesh!"
"Very funny," I mutter. "Can you tell I don't get into the big city much these days?"
"You're grand," says my friend. "But, eh, just a hint. When someone says 'How's things?' sometimes a simple 'Fine, thanks,' will do the job." He shows me his palms. "Just sayin'," he says.
"Was I ranting?" I say apologetically.
"Only since you sat down," he says.
The girl behind the bar comes over. "You look like you're in a world of your own," she smiles, wiping the counter.
My friend chuckles. "He's in an entire universe of his own." He stretches the 'u' in 'universe' to emphasis the point, but the girl says nothing, just turns around and begins slicing limes.
"Impervious to my charms," jokes my friend under his breath.
Impervious to my charms? Hold on... that's not quite it....
I look over to where my friend should be, only to find the stool beside me empty.
"Is this taken?" says someone, holding their arms out and waiting.
I look around the room, then back at the stool. "Um, yes. Sorry. Yes, it is." I look at my watch. The man gives a curt nod and shuffles off to ask someone else.
We're actually on a sort of pilgrimage tonight, my friend and I, to see a band from Portland called The Delines. The guitarist and songwriter, Willy Vlautin, is also one of our favourite authors.
It promises to be a sultry, atmospheric affair as the female singer, Amy Boon, croons about troubled brothers, empty parking lots and the distant lights of lonely oil rigs.
"Any singer," growls my friend, resuming his perch beside me, "who used to sing in a band called The Damnations, is fine by me."
"We should go," I tell him. "Thanks," I call to the girl behind the bar. She turns her head and holds up a wedge of lime. "Cheers," she shrugs.
We step out onto the street. "How's the missus?" asks my friend. "Fine, thanks," I glare at him jokingly. "Actually," I confess as we trudge towards traffic lights, "the chicken story was hers."
"Well, she certainly doesn't look like the DSPCA. Shesh!" he chuckles.
"Careful now," I tell him.
I watch the lights of the crossing count down.
"You should say to her," says my friend, eyes twinkling, "next time someone comes in about a chicken problem, just tell them she knows exactly what to do."
I wait for it. "One hundred and eighty degrees for two hours," he says. "Few slices of pineapple. Rice on the side. Your only man."
"What would we do without you," I deadpan.
We cross over and make our way up the long street towards the venue.
"Would she not come in tonight herself?" he says.
"I think she just sort of thought she'd leave us to it," I tell him.
"If only women knew," he says, launching into full performance mode again, "what men talk about when we're 'left to it'. Sex? Violent films? No. Chickens and Americana bands."
"And cooking," I remind him.
"And cookin'," he says. "Shesh!"
I'm supposed to meet up with more old friends at a pub but I'm suddenly confused by the street. I stop and look around, then ask someone at a bus stop for directions.
"Pfft," says my friend disbelievingly, "You don't know where Whelan's is?"
"Straight ahead," says the man at the bus stop. "Two sets of traffic lights. It's on the right."
"Jaysus, Dave," says my friend, covering his face.
"You know," I tell him, trudging on. "We were staying in the city on a sort of romantic break one night and we suddenly noticed we were walking right behind you. You were going the same way we were and we had to follow you for ages."
I'd always felt a little guilty about that. My wife and I had selfishly kept our distance, not wanting to get into a conversation, wanting to keep the night to ourselves.
"At one point we stood right beside you at a traffic light. I think you had your earphones in."
"How do you know," he says, looking at me sidelong, "that I didn't know you were there. Maybe I didn't want to talk to you."
"Got me," I smile, shaking my head.
We finally reach the pub, with just enough time to get a pint before the gig. My friend's nephew is there too. He's already met the band and had albums signed.
The apple doesn't fall far from the family tree, is what I think to myself.
When the band comes on stage, I find a spot near the front and tip Willy Vlautin a wink as he steps up to the microphone.
"This set goes out to our friend the late George Byrne tonight," he says. "Wherever he is."
I look at the empty space in the crowd beside me where my friend should be."He's right here," I hear myself say. He wouldn't miss this for the world.
Then the music starts, the crowd moves forward and the space is gone.