Fights, drunks, broken high heels, superhero underwear and sparkling dresses that are stained in a bright hue of red, not of blood, but of ketchup. This isn’t Saint Vincent’s hospital; it’s McDonalds on O’Connell Street on a Saturday night.
A bittersweet taste permeates the grease stenched air as fans linger on after the Ireland vs. Australia rugby match, and it isn’t the sweet and sour dip spilled all over one of the black countertops that is causing this reek. Children have their upper torsos and wind battered faces wrapped in thick wooly scarves that exude the vibrant greens and whites of the Irish rugby team as they impatiently wait for their happy meals, while an elderly man in a faded green jersey sits across the dark countered table. He rests on one of the rigid topped stools, gradually leaning forward to take a sip from his bronzed medium sized cup of tea and solemnly reflects: ‘I watched it in Kellys, we let in a couple of soft trys at the beginning’ pausing for a moment to sluggishly lift a crumbling pastry to his mouth, only to let the dainty custard slip out of his fingers at the last second and watch on in a fascinated sort of horror as it crashes, almost in slow motion, to the white ceramic tiled floor. Another fumble in the green jersey of Ireland.
There is however, more than the average disillusioned rugby fan in attendance in this McDonalds. The clock strikes eleven and a buzz of excitement reverberates around the graffiti inspired room as men and women of all ages are preparing for a night out in Dublin city. A night out that revolves around what Ireland is known for – alcohol.
I ask the security does it normally get rowdy on a Saturday night, with a knowing response of ‘You’ll see’ telling me what I already had suspected. This confirmation of suspicion doesn’t take long to manifest as a large group of young males arrive and sit near the entrance, easily outnumbering the capacity of the table they inhabit. Resembling an over-populated tribe of men gathered around a small campfire performing rituals in the middle of November, they rowdily hype each other up for the night ahead. One proclaims his desire for more vodka before he goes out; not the typical kind of spirit that tribes normally wish to summon in the middle of a ritual, but in this environment, it is perfectly normal. The bouncer in his thick black cotton jumper of authority walks over abruptly and gently asks the raucous males to calm down, knowing that an aggressive approach would be returned with an equally aggressive response. The pack momentarily oblige as the stocky security guard cautiously turns 180 degrees and paces away slowly. Approximating a soldier in a duel, he knows he will have to turn around and face his opponent anytime soon, and he’s right. The fleeting truce is broken as one of them shouts out at him ‘Nice arse!’ followed by a chorus of high pitched cackling.
The tiny packets of salt become the next source of entertainment as the gathering rip open and pour out every white rectangle packet that intrudes their eye lines. They simulate snorting the stroked up lines only to be rudely interrupted once more by security. ‘Do ya want a line?’ one inquisitively probes; but this act of generosity is politely declined and is responded with a gracious invitation to leave the premises. They reluctantly oblige, not without one last rebuttal, as one threatens ‘I’ll leave before I burn the place down’.
One McDonalds employee details how he is used to this kind of behavior on a regular basis:‘Personally, I find it quite uncomfortable because they are guaranteed to think they are hilarious if they are young all the way up to about late 30s or 40s, and the fact they are in a place where most people aren’t drunk on a normal basis means they really pathetically try to emphasize how they are 'OH MY GOD I’m so drunk and having the funniest time'.
What happens throughout the rest of the night is a series of drunken debauchery under the moniker of ‘controlled chaos’. A chaos that is only controlled by the efficiency and tolerance of every member of staff, without their due diligence a frenzy could commence at any moment.
A man with patched grey hair, donning an all black outfit lays drunkenly motionless in the corner of the restaurant. Attempts from the bouncers to lift his limp body go in vain as his lifeless frame refuses to budge. With no other choice, they leave him with his head slumped against the hard topped counter in the hope that he will wake up of his own accord. While security are busy dealing with this comatose figure, there is a buzz of drunken activity stirring as men with shirts half open and women with broken high heels in hand stream in from nightclubs. One of these men sits across on the hard topped stool with his mouth full of straws in a lewd attempt to show off and ends up falling off the stool. To try make amends for this embarrassing act in front of his lady friends, he gets up and blows the straws at the bouncers telling them ‘its cool, I’ve got superhero powers’ and proceeds to verify this astounding fact by pulling down his jeans to showcase his Superman undies. This performance is met with a threat from the bouncer that he will ‘call the Garda’, which goes unnoticed from our superhero as he gets on all fours and crawls past the motionless man in black and out the door.
An ambulance arrives to collect the immobile man in the corner as two paramedics slowly and prudently take him arm in arm to cautiously lift him to the back of the flashing ambulance.
While all this is happening downstairs, a fight unexpectedly breaks out upstairs at a little squared table between a middle-aged man and woman. The man erupts up out of his seat and launches his tray containing a range of pungent sauces, fries, chicken nuggets and a half full cup of coke off the table. The food conglomerates into a mesh of multi-colored textures as it purposefully navigates its way through the air and reaches it’s preferred destination - all over me. The crystal speckled black wall immediately to my left is now a real life imitation of the graffiti inspired art that decorates the rest of the restaurant. The man dramatically stands up and gazes his threateningly focused stare right at my diluted ‘fight or flight’ eyeballs and shouts:
‘Don’t even f*****g open your mouth or I’ll kick your head in!’
He hesitates while trying to work out his next utterance of eloquence, and deciding that this declaration was sufficiently menacing he proceeds to kick one of the still wooden chairs right at me. He tornadoes out followed by his partner and leaves the mess to be cleaned by the staff, and myself.
This act of aggression and intimidation is a regular feature of a night at work for McDonalds employees:
‘Dealing with the sheer amount of drunks who come through at night can be unbearable, as a majority of young people in Dublin are massive dickheads anyway without drink, and well then they get drunk, and they don’t get any less dickheadish’.
As the crowds become less frequent and the menu boards graciously flip from the main menu to the breakfast menu to reflect the dawn of a new day the ambulances still occasionally whizz by outside. The flashing blue lights highlight the half opened boxes, the discarded brown damp bags and the drains filling up from the streams of wasted coke. The vision resembles a rave at the end of the world.
This apocalyptic scene is reflective of the culture of alcohol in Ireland. A culture of consumption that induces a kind of zombification amongst the members of the public, a culture that ensures Individuality is wiped out and replaced with a uniformed army of stumblers who only have one concern in mind – where the next drunken ‘Eurosaver’ meal is coming from.