The Story of Mr Big
Weymouth is a small tourist town located on Englands South East coast.
After leaving Deutsche Bank I started spending time there – solely to write mind you – at the behest of a buddy who owns this sprawling estate close to Brownsea Island. Some kind of nature preserve, Brownsea Island is notable since its got this rather large population of red squirrels, some of which have spread out onto the nearby mainland. I’d never seen a red squirrel before so I had to check them out and yep, they are most definitely different than the animals I used to hunt when I was a kid.
Like most tourist towns the folks that live and work in Weymouth have their own places to go where they can be with their own kind. After I got tired of seeing what most visitors see there I headed inland to a rougher side of town and discovered several serious drinking pubs. More than one reminded me of Mars Bar in New York, a totally sleazy alcoholics only bar where I lost more than one weekend to libation, babes, doing art on the wall and the occasional good natured brawl.
Living here in London I miss the Mars Bar and really have never found anyplace quite like it, so as I started spending more time in Weymouth I naturally hung out in these pubs.
Weymouth is close to the water, peaceful when you visit at the right time, and far away from the big city bustle of London. Some autumn evenings bring this wonderfully dense fog, as air cooled by the English Channel rolls inland. On nights like that I can roam the streets wearing my painted leather coat and my 666 cap. I leave my false front teeth (sucker punch but he paid for it) back at my buddies place, grinning my gap toothed grin, blasting tunes on my iPod, I get the bad arm and leg in motion, wander about in the dense fog and never encounter another soul.
I travel to Weymouth from London maybe once a month, alternating my visits to this quintessential English seaside town with trips to Paris. Now while I like Paris a lot, and usually visit the first week of every month, there is just something about the sea in general and England close to the sea in particular that I find attractive. I can’t help but be drawn to it.
Maybe its because I was reared in Western New York, close Lake Ontario and a small town named Olcott; I have lots of pleasant memories of Olcott, most featuring girls and motorcycles, but always central to my recollections is the water. Even now some twenty five years later my most effective sleep aid is an MP3 of waves that I habitually coerce my PowerBook into playing for me when I finally settle down for the night.
While I’ve actually visited lots of other English seaside towns – Brighton in the South, and Blackpool up North to name a couple – there is something about Weymouth always draws me back.
And it was in Weymouth that I met the large orange cat locals affectionately referred to as "Mr Big". Now I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for stray cats, and in London there are several that I feed regularly. But Mr Big wasn’t a stray - he and I just met because he was out and about when I was roaming the streets, stopping into pubs and going about my activities as a writer in training.
You see, all my life I’ve loved to write; for me putting ideas on paper isn’t a burden and there is no joy greater than incessant revision and crafting of the printed word. Leaving Deutsche Bank actually was a blessing since I don’t have to work any more if I don’t want to (I’m liquid), and I can spend my nights wandering and writing. And I’m writing far more now that I ever have in my life.
So one evening I was out and about in Weymouth, headed towards a local pub (naturally) and just about to go inside when I noticed this rather large orange cat sitting placidly outside. I approached and he dashed under a parked car. I didn’t take it personally since a cat can’t be too careful these days - unfortunately, we all know what fucked up shit jerks will do to animals in general and cats in particular.
Looking under the car I could see the reflection of yellow eyes cautiously regarding me. Extending the bad arm I made a "psst pssst pssst" sound, and after maybe thirty seconds he decided I was a cat person and came over for a visit.
When roaming I always carry kitty treats, so I gave him a few and we got acquainted. Nice cat, enjoyed the snacks but seemed to enjoy the attention and getting rubbed and scratched even more. He complimented me by marking me as his property, then I went into the pub.
Nicola, the bartender, is a buxom English babe with a totally sparking personality and while she was pulling me a pint of Stella just to make conversation I mentioned the cat outside. I thought maybe he was a working cat, perhaps employed by the pub, like lots of English drinking establishments seem to do.
"Awhhh, ‘er tawking ‘bout Mr Big eren’t chow?"
Well I didn’t know, so I described the cat in more detail.
"Yaaw, ‘dats Mr Big ‘eis! ‘ees Robbies cat ‘eis". She motioned with her big hair in the general direction of the corner. "’ollows ‘em around ‘e does". She plopped my pint on the bar in front of me, I paid and sat down at a nearby table.
I was still trying to figure out who Robby was when Nicola caught my eye again. Pulling a pint for this long haired, heavily tanned dude, she made another big haired motion that I understood was to identify Mr Bigs owner.
Now a cardinal rule of writing as I practice it is that I am the proverbial fly on the wall. I observe, I note, I detail and I never interact. Call it a writers version of The Prime Directive if you will, it works for me.
While I was living in New York, most evenings after the live in girlfriend was fast asleep I’d head out alone, roaming to these absolutely wild places – S&M clubs, biker bars, transvestite bars, swingers clubs, illegal squats, dangerous after hours bars where the local drug dealers drank, partied and settled scores – just observing. I’d never talk to anyone if I could avoid it, preferring to hang out and watch. People are fascinating, especially when they are being themselves and don’t realise that they are being watched.
In London I’ve taken this odd hobby of mine to a new extreme, frequently selecting someone at random from a crowd, then following him or her about their daily routine for as long as I can. They never realise they are being observed.
Noticing and not participating allows me a measure of objectivity, while at the same time inserting me into different environments. By interacting I’d change the results of the experiment, and I’m far more interested in observing than making friends. I know it sounds strange, but what can I say – I’m a loner.
So I didn’t approach Robby but covertly watched him as intently as I could without attracting attention to myself.
Robby was a heavy drinker, accompanying his pints with shots. Sinewy with long blonde hair, his skin had the deep dark hue of someone who was exposed to the sun everyday.
I watched as Robby downed three more pints, each accompanied by a shot of bottom shelf vodka. When he got up to leave I waited a minute then followed him outside. He grabbed a bicycle that was leaning against the pubs wall and Mr Big rushed over to him.
Robby greeted the cat who without prompting leaped into a handlebar mounted basket, and after an unsteady start they were off.
This guy intrigued me, and I began to notice Robby and Mr Big all around Weymouth. The cat would always ride in the basket, and as Robby made his rounds of the local pubs the animal would wait patiently outside.
They were quite a pair, and Mr Bigs dedication reminded me of my cat Sam, who I had to leave in New York when I moved to England. Sam was a stray that I adopted in the late 80’s, and she would follow me around my flat like a dawg. Back when I was running my art galleries – Skull Space and later AntiGallery – I’d sometimes have three or four hundred people attending an opening. The cat would follow me around as I worked the crowd, jumping up into my arms if she felt she wasn’t getting adequate attention.
Like Sam, Mr Bigs dedication to his owner was total, and the cat would patiently wait outside pubs while his owner was inside altering his attitude.
I would see Robby pretty much every night while I was out in Weymouth, and then about two months ago I didn’t see him nor Mr Big at all.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but on a second visit when I still hadn’t seen either of them I asked Nicola and learned the awful truth.
Now Robby was a fisherman by trade, and also an amateur diver. He owned several boats and frequently lamented the condition of the local reefs. Once of his boats was quite old – he’d inherited it from his father, who had gotten it from his father – and Robby had decided to sink it to form some kind of artificial reef.
Lacking permission from the authorities to do this, late one dark night when the moon was new Robby fortified himself with a quart of vodka, then towed the boat out to sea and scuttled it.
Mr Big was quite the hunter, and according to Nicola he loved nothing more than a meal of red squirrels. It must have been cat heaven, judging by how many of those damn things I saw doing whatever it is squirrels do with their time.
Everyone in town knew this but left him alone, reasoning that he was only killing the dumb squirrels. Unfortunately Robby wasn’t the most attentive owner, frequently getting so fucked up he’d forget to feed the poor cat so nobody was going to begrudge an animal a meal.
Well it turns out that Mr Big had a banner day, somehow managing to dispatch no less than four of the hapless creatures judging from the fur and other remains found in Robbys yard. But unbeknownst to his owner, Mr Big was sleeping it off in the very boat that was scuttled that dark night.
Of course Robby had no way of knowing and only figured it out after the fact when he couldn’t find Mr Big for a few days. He immediately knew something was wrong because the cat never left his side, and feared the worst when the animal didn’t turn up for a few days.
Robby was tormented by the thought of his poor animal drowning and his anguish was compounded by the thought of his role, so much so that he stopped drinking.
So I’m not going back to Weymouth anymore. There are lots of little coastal towns, and I’ll find another place to drink and write.
Anyway, if I did go back I’d only dislodge my memories with new observations and I don’t want to do that.
In my minds eye I still see Robby riding his bike around town, Mr Big running down the road after him and jumping up into the basket. I like to remember Mr Big and Robby this way, and by never returning to Weymouth, sometimes I manage to convince myself that they are still at it.