Gies A Wee Glesga Kiss
by Brian Zelnicker

It was in the fall of 1983 that I decided never to set foot in Glasgow. At the time, I was ungainfully employed at a London youth hostel that the trashy tabloid News Of The World had dubbed, "Britain's hell-hole hostel." Like beetles to a dung pile, society's outcasts and misfits were drawn to Cale Street for cheap accommodations. There was Tony, a deserter from the French Foreign Legion. There was Isabelle/Barbara, a bi-polar blonde who feared being kidnapped by Argentinian land barons. And who could forget Renato, the charismatic Sicilian junky with a knack for "finding" stereo equipment.

Among the collection of drug addled ex-cons and would-be mental patients were a pair of teenage girls from the housing schemes of Glasgow. Anne and Charlene nattered away at me constantly. They seemed friendly enough, I just couldn't understand most of what they said beyond, "yu'v goat ta be toof if ye come fae Glesga," and "see you, yud no survive." The daily tauntings of Anne and Charlene made a visit to Glasgow about as appealing as eating brussel sprouts while cleaning out bedpans.

Ten years later, I found myself moving to Glasgow. Go figure. Friends at home wagered on when I'd take my first beating. One bet placed the attack at the airport arrival gate. Who could blame them for thinking the worst? Glasgow is steeped in gangland mythology. Take the fabled Clown Gang, for instance. This imaginative bunch are said to cut the corners of their victim's mouths with a Stanley knife and literally rub salt into the wounds to leave a hideous smile that even a mother couldn't love.

The Glasgow I landed in was a city in transition. To my disappointment, the soot had been washed off the stone tenements. Glasgow had been named the European City of Culture in 1991 and City of Architecture in 1999, but I fell in love with the place despite the accolades. It was the deadpan, self-deprecating sense of humour, so common in Glaswegians, that got to me the most. Getting pissed and taking the piss were the two most popular sports, if you don't count football.

Some 19 years after Anne and Charlene first described the abattoir-like qualities of their home turf, I returned to Glasgow to show it off to my wife. She noticed the construction cranes, trendy cafes, designer shops, wine bars and bistros. She saw the fancy new Buchanan Galleries and the well-dressed folk scurrying about with their cellphones. It wasn't at all what she'd expected.

As we walked east through the city center towards Glasgow Cross, I turned to Laurie and said "this city is full of contradictions." Seconds after she had asked me to elaborate on the statement, a commotion emerged from the Tollbooth Bar. One guy is running, another guy, the worse for drink, is yelling, and the lager demons are having their way.

We continued east to Glasgow Green, where some children were making the most of a sunny afternoon at the playground. From the midst of the swings and sandboxes emerged a lad of about eight or nine years. He edged away from the other kids and, without cover of tree or shrub, stripped down to his ankles to have a slash. Sad as it seemed that the wee man hadn't learned to discreetly control his "wee man," more was yet to come. He backed up a step and assumed a position normally associated with the catcher on a baseball team. We quickly retreated, trying desperately to ignore the grunts and groans of a young boy trying to work things out for himself.

Veering west along the River Clyde, we hardly noticed the staggering men with the bright red noses. We paid even less attention to those who gave up the stagger and opted to lie down on the pavement instead. It was only two in the afternoon, the real drinking wouldn't be starting for hours yet.

Taking in the river view afforded by a pedestrian suspension bridge, we were joined by a wobbly, trenchcoat-clad character of advanced years. He pulled handfuls of rubbish from his cavernous pockets, tossed them into into the Clyde and wandered off, passing two waste bins along the way.

The contradictions were becoming all too apparent. The cover was blown. You can pour millions into urban redevelopment, open the finest art galleries and serve all the caviar and sushi you want, but the whole mirage can be destroyed by one small child heeding nature's call. Glasgow is like that inbred cousin you might see at a family function, you can comb his hair and dress him in a tux, but there's no stopping him from pulling out the banjo.

Brian Zelnicker lives in Montreal, where he works as a writer/researcher for documentary television. He loves watching Ivy grow.