Lager In Hand, Porno On The Telly, And My New Scottish Host Father By My Side

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I was in such a state of shock that the images failed to fully register. Fingers and tongues crept about on the television screen, accompanied by moans and the velvety clamor of love-making. I sat in my chair and looked straight ahead, focusing on the new wood floors, the bare white walls, anything but the flashing television set. I looked over at Geoff and we exchanged expressions of disbelief. Neither of us could have ever imagined this.

Our study abroad program required that all students partake in a home stay before classes got underway. Some students were alone; others, like Geoff and me, were sent together into the unknown.

Bannockburn, Scotland, greeted us with a gloomy rain. Geoff and I gathered our things and stepped outside to meet Alan, our host father. He shook our hands quickly and mumbled a greeting that was all but impossible for us to understand. We loaded into the car and Alan raced off over the wet roads without a word. He dropped us at the house and within a minute or two was gone.

Screams erupted from the house as we entered. Three young girls danced around in front of us, asking questions, shouting answers, fighting, biting one another, and generally making sure the noise level never dropped below deafening. Sarah, our host mother, watched the scene as she leaned against a doorframe, arms crossed, with a tired smile on her face. Stephanie and Staci were her daughters; Lindsay lived a few houses down. The house was in the midst of renovation: a new fireplace mantel, new doorframes, wallpaper, and light fixtures.

"I'm very sorry about the house looking like this," Sarah said with a look of genuine regret.

Sarah served us dinner, an amalgamation of frozen pizza, garlic bread and chips. Afterwards, as the girls played and romped around the living room with Geoff, I stood with Sarah in the doorway of the kitchen. She still wore her uniform from her day job, and I asked her about it.

"During the week, I clean flats at the University of Stirling, similar to where you probably live. Then on the weekends," she continued, "I serve food to patients at the hospital."

"So you work seven days a week?" I asked. She nodded.

I found out that after Alan had dropped us off, he had run off to the job he worked at night, going door-to-door collecting payments for a local insurance company. Their economic situation was not ideal, but in a way it was reassuring: This family worked extremely hard, and they were making it.

Geoff and I took a walk that night, looking for somewhere to grab a pint. Before we left the house, Sarah had warned us against venturing into one neighborhood in particular, cryptically warning that it was “where the bad boys loll about.” Not yet knowing the geography of the place, we had no way to know which place she meant. The streets looked quiet, the houses small and modest. We spotted a very small, bright sign in an otherwise dark alley. As we neared the entrance we could see a couple pressed up against the wall, kissing and clutching at each other in a raw and beastly way. This was the perfect introduction to the Bannockburn Miner's Social Club.

The inside of the pub markedly contrasted the outside; the fluorescent lights were nearly blinding. If dimly lit bars give the feeling of seclusion even when crowded, the effect here was just the opposite. There were only a handful of patrons, mostly old men, but it somehow felt full. The men had tattoos on their weathered, leathery forearms and were drinking and smoking cigarettes. A sign on the wall— "NO FOOTBALL COLOURS"— hinted at past violence.

Geoff and I approached the bar warily and ordered two pints of Guinness. The lights above hummed slightly as a few of the men walked by us on the way to the bathroom with non-confrontational nods.

Only later did we realize these were the "bad boys" Sarah had warned us about.

As we entered the vestibule of the house later that night, we heard a noise from the living room.

"Willie?" A voice asked gruffly. It was Alan, our host father.

"Yeah, it's me and Geoff," I said, walking into the living room. As we turned the corner, Alan promptly switched the television off.

"Hey boys," he mumbled in his gravelly voice, "How you doing?"

He was drunk. A large, mostly finished bottle of white wine sat in front of him. "Sit down, boys. Sit down," he muttered, motioning to two chairs, "You want a beer?"

Geoff and I looked at each other.

"Okay," we said in unison.

I offered to get them and went to the kitchen, returning with three beers.

Alan's appearance was curious. He had a large, taut gut, but his legs were skinny and sleek, almost feminine. His face was rough and his upper front teeth had all been removed, leaving him looking gritty and beaten. On one forearm, he sported a tattoo of a heart, with the names "Stephanie" and "Staci" on wind-whipped banners across it. The other forearm said "Sarah" in the same style.

"You boys smoke cigarettes?"

"Sure.”

"I like people who smoke cigarettes," he said with a laugh as he took two out of the pack.

He grabbed the remote, aimed it and turned the television on again. On the screen appeared two buxom, mostly naked women kissing each other.

"You boys mind if we watch this?"

"No, it's fine," we answered, uneasily. Alan sniggered, and we all sat, beers and cigarettes in hand. Sarah and the girls were asleep upstairs; on the first floor, we three men were getting drunk and watching pornography. Alan spoke happily of the improvements on the house, between moans and groans from the television. He must have told us the price of the new mantle piece at least four times ("It's Italian marble, you know.")

"You want another beer?" he asked, looking at Geoff.

"I'm fine for now," Geoff said holding up the beer he was still working on.

"Willie," he said without pausing, looking me hard in the eyes, "get three more beers."

On the TV, naked women still moaned.

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