About Me

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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Noelle Vial - 10 Year Anniversary of her Passing

Noelle Vial 

25-12-1959 to 19-1-2003

10 years ago this weekend since Mum passed away at the young age of 43. Derek and Karen organized a big memorial event back home in Killybegs, but I was unable to attend, so this is my little tribute to Mum.

 This was probably Christmas 1984, as Alan was born in March 1985. That's Harry cat sitting up on the back of the sofa. Left to right; me, Derek, Mum, Alan in the belly and Jenny. This was taken when we were still living up St. Cummin's Hill. Mum would have been around 25, actually this would have been her 25th Birthday as it was taken on Christmas day.

 Great picture of Mum at a Poetry Reading. Not sure where, but I think it might have been in The Sail Inn.

 This picture was taken in Christmas 2001, I was home for a few months and got to spend a bit of time with Mum. This was an Aran Knit Sweater she got made for me for my Christmas/Birthday Present. Still have it. Though it's a bit tight now round the big belly.

I love this photo of Mum. Think my Uncle Kevin Sharkey took the photo. Derek might know better. As you can see it was taken in 1990 out at our house in the Five Points, Augheyvogue.

Here's a few poems of Mum's from her book Promiscuous Winds:

I did not really have a say
never dreamed I would need
or plan to be so alone.

So when we led up to it,
the concept of choosing
was not visible in my realm.

I waved good-bye so joyously
because I sensed freedom
brings itself in unharnessed,
slips in early in the morning
and watches loved ones sleep.

There is no penalty
for standing silently on the side 
as the effects of love
never wear off but fashion us
further to the shape we attain.

For a long time we stand on a bridge
temporarily lost above the flow
we look both ways seeking signs
clinging to a middle rung.

I will wave to you from here
one more time before I release
you by invitation to my farewell.

(for Pat Boran)

He holds it up between forefinger and thumb
"I find this slight, an ancient issue...
might suit journalism better.

Better stick to higher things,
a good poem
has no opinion on outside matters.

Show, don't tell,
a whisper, not a shout,
an altar, not a soap box."

Talk of beauty is compression.
You introduce the haiku;
microchip poetry
for busy housewives.

The Ball and Chain Syndrome
Unearthed by accident
From the deep core of the floor:
A huge ball and chain.
As it tore up, link by link,
It became visible, she was a fool.

Not once had she head it rattle,
Or had she been stone deaf?
Till that fatal day
When she failed, not one,
But every vital function of being a wife.

Grovelling, she relaid the surface,
Buried the rusty chain
And made sure to toe the line,
Because she knew
A silent wife is a good wife.

So, she sucked his cock
and cooked his dinner:
Was content to be peripheral.
Life is simple; he had his job
And she had hers, so he told her,

As she shivered in a submissive state,
Too powerless to find a language
To convey the huge pain
That made childbirth a simple endurance,

And all men's matters more important
Than your own need to have a will.

Of course, we now know
From the wisdom of doctors,
That it's to do with our hormones
And the lack of oxygen in our homes.

We were, and still are, very proud of Mum as a writer, a mother and a friend. She spoke her mind, bucked the establishment; she acted first and thought later. She encouraged us to always go with our heart's desires and go out into the world as if we owned it.

But when I was a shitty young teen just starting out at the Tech in Killybegs, I didn't think her way with words was all that cool, especially when a teacher would mention the poetry to me in front of the whole class at school. Which lead to me having a teenage meltdown and telling my mother just what exactly I thought of her writing. Which in turn lead to the following poem. 

It is embarrassing
to have a "poet" for a mother;
who sits staring out the window
filling the ashtray with butts.

Locks into the study
first thing in the morning;
comes out for cups of tea,
holding the concrete image in her head --

"Can't talk now!"
Her eyes like a zombie;
zooms past the chaos,
holding it and us at arm's lenght.

It is embarrassing when friends
peer round the door,
see her with one hand on her brow
bent over the old Bishop's desk --
chewing on the top of a ball-point pen.

My shirts not ironed,
my bed not made --
dinner cooking by itself in a low oven...

It is embarrassing when teachers ask,
"How's your mother's poetry?"
and everyone in the class looks
at me, as if I was personally 
responsible for this affliction!
"I don't know sir -- it's not my scene!"
Shaking off any potential Stigma.

Why can't she be like other mother's? --
I'd never be asked in school,
"How did your mother do at bingo?"
-- "She won twenty quid, sir,  but she told the old boy
she only won ten."

And to my great shame, this poem was read on BBC radio and Mum got a check for about six hundred pounds and gave me a chunk of it to shut my pup mouth up! Saying something to me like "not so useless now" with a smile, knowing that she'd trumped me.

This next poem is one I wrote in the months after Mum passed away. She loved Fintra Beach and just before I moved to the US to go to college she drove me out to Fintra and there was the most amazing "harvest moon" shining over the water and making the wet sand glitter like gold. A treasured moment.

Girl on a Beach

You were just a little girl
Sitting on the beach,
With a pen and scraps of paper;
While a storm raged on.

You could have run away,
Sought safer ground,
But you wanted to capture the fierce beauty
That lay within the winds.

Sand blasted your face,
Stinging your eyes; grit in your teeth,
But the words kept coming,
Your hand kept moving
And you stayed to catch them all.

All around you waves crashed off rocks
Hurricane strength winds lifted sand-banks,
Changing your surroundings.
You clung to the edge of your towel,
Grasping to something familiar.

The tides rose higher and higher,
The waves crashed closer and closer:
Caught between the moon and the Earth
In their giant game of tug-o’-war.

It was too late for anyone to save you;
No lifeguard on duty, nobody watching.
Swept away in a deafening roar
By an awesome natural force.

Your pen, clutched by a lifeless hand,
But the scraps of paper blew inland.
The ink was running, wet from sea-water and tears,
But the words, the beautiful words, could still be read:

You suffered, gave yourself as a poetic sacrifice,
So we could know the beauty that lay within a storm.

This next one is founded in memories of Mum coming home on a Friday night to relieve the baby sitter, boil some milk for us and she'd tell us about all the great poems and people and the craic. And she'd also tell us about all the bitching and infighting that went on in their little group of fishwives.

Founder Member

Founder Member you brought together,
Bedraggled housewives, unhooked from sinks,
Torn from marital duties, unplugged from appliances,
Such bare-faced defiance, braver than your dreams.

Meeting in Rogers back corner, near the fire,
The smoky cocktail bar of the Sail Inn.
A little menagerie, forming an outlet valve
For suppressed, oppressed emotions and voice.

Work-shopping poems, the length of cigarette ash,
Reading stories, deep as your wine glass.
You fooled yourselves and escaped
Once a month, to your make-believe.

Clothes cut from yesterday’s tight-fitting-fashion,
Hair growing out, back from depression;
Pain, resentment never slowed the Fishwives,
Only fueled further their tough inspiration.

Scribbles about love, virginity’s lost,
Lives not taken, masquerading sexual moments.
Work-shopping together a better fantasy,
With bronze torsos and endless, painless sex.

Upon leaving the confines of the monthly meet,
The reminding wind slaps you in the face,
As you step from the warm doorway,
To the cold reality: your life.

Another month of transcribing feelings,
Tending to husband and offspring,
Confusing their identity, for one seems
More in need than the other: depending on you
    for independence.

With effort you learned to block out,
The draining montage of helpless folk,
Sucking your energy, your freedom,
Your ability to wear the world as a lace
Negligee, flowing in the wind.

Someday Founder Member, the wind will catch;
Your garment will become sail,
And off on a wishful wisp,
Leaving all behind, to live your life
For the first time since you were born.

Go found yourself among the people,
People you’ve never seen nor heard,
Except from the inside of Cosmo’
People so cold and uninterested,
They’ll let you be whatever you dare.

Love you Mum and miss you every day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I live with Crazy Ladies

sourced from HERE

I wake up to the sound of the Faye, our crazy old lady dog, yelling for me to get up, which is not too unusual. But what is unusual is that there is a kettle of water boiling away on the stove and not a sign of my wife. I call out her name in case she is upstairs, nope, in the bedroom, nope. I check the back porch and call her name from the front door, not a trace. Only one thing for it; she was abducted by aliens.

So, I take advantage of the boiling kettle and make myself a cup of tea, turn on NPR and check Facebook, see if I can track her last known movements. Her trail is nine hours cold, she too complaining about old lady Faye's incessant talking. 

Just as I start contemplating my new bachelor life, she bursts into the kitchen talking a mile-a-minute announcing that she ran out to Sun Fresh to grab a few things for breakfast and food for her and the girls heading off to the lake.

"Rosalie said to not bring any food, but she doesn't eat and I'm not partying down there without something proper to eat." Minutes later she's ripping open bags of instant noodles and dumping them into a huge saucepan, now I know whys she boiled all that water, small broken bits of crispy noodles flying every where. 

She rips open a packet of bacon and starts lining some backing sheets with thick slabs it, tosses them all into the oven and then gets down on her hands and knees to try and light our vintage, ah that's a glamorous word, old as fuck is a better choice of words, oven. "Hate this oven, but shit me if I'll defend it to the last." I hate the thing.

Next she's got a chef's knife and she's chopping hot peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, slicing limes and throwing them all into our huge mortar and pestle and starts mashing the crap out of it all. There is now cilantro and peppers all over the counter, the cabinets and the floor.

She takes the big pot of noodles and dumps them into a colander in the sink, still with last night's dishes in it, then she tosses the strained noodles back into the pot and starts adding the dry mix packets from the instant noodles. "Ah shit" she says "think I've burned the noodles." She does that every time she makes this dish, I always tell her to turn down the heat and she does, only after she's burned the shit out of the bottom of the pan.

She dumps her creation into a giant Tupperware container and announces that she's got to take a shower and be out of here by 9:30am. It's now 9:12am. That's not gonna happen. "Don't worry, I'll clean up the mess." That too, is not gonna happen.

So, while listening to Car Talk I start running water, squeezing soap, slopping up pepper seeds and bits of cilantro, spray down the stove top and generally clean the shit out of the place: I have become the Anti-Linh. 

She's forgotten about the bacon, so I take over that too. The girls start arriving, it's like having four miniature tornadoes rolling through the house making tea, splashing breakfast pours of Jameson into their mugs, popping out the back to smoke, talking shit on their other girlfriends currently not present and dishing out shit on their husbands. I just keep on munching my bacon breakfast, which I've turn into a fried sandwich. 

Linh's not oblivious to my plight, but delights in it "How do you like your audience? THought you were going to have a nice quiet Saturday morning, huh?" Such a devil in that one.

Five minutes later all the crazy women are gone, like they never existed and I am left for the weekend with just myself, a big plate of bacon and old lady Faye.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Badger Den

Found this lovely little picture of the Estuary at THIS LINK

The smell of the morning fry, the sound of BBC Radio 2 coming in from the living room and Aunty Francis' soft, yet deep, voice saying "rise and shine" as she hands you a freshly-made mug of tea with two sugars and a splash of milk. If there is a greater way known to man to awaken, it has yet to be discovered.

Depending on the day, you might get up right away, vitalized by the tea or get served breakfast in bed. A feast of fried bread, rashers, sausages, Mallon's thick, fat sausages, black and white pudding, sometimes mushrooms and beans, but always a fried egg. Francis worked at Chappie's MACE shop and always had a well-stocked pantry of delights. A well-stocked pantry would never last in our house due to the shear volume of hungry mouths. No matter how big of a shopping Mum would get in Dunnes or Tescos we'd consume it exponentially, "pack of savages" Dad would say.

If the feast was served in bed then we would put on the radio and listen to the 2FM morning shows, Top 40 chart hits on The Larry Gogan show with the Just a Minute Quiz. People calling in from all over the country, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork and all sorts of places, every once in a while there be someone from our part of the country and we'd cheer for them.

Larry would run through his list of questions (these are actual Larry Gogan quotes):

Larry Gogan: "With What town in Britain is Shakespeare associated?"
Contestant: "Hamlet."

Larry Gogan: Name the BBC's Grand Prix commentator?...I'll give you a hint. It's something you suck...
Contestant: Oh, Dickie Davies (Murray Walker is the correct answer.)

Larry Gogan: What was Jeeve's Occupation?
Contestant: He was a Carpenter.

Larry Gogan: Complete this well known phrases, "As happy as..., hint think of me."
Contestant: Flies on shite.

Then he would announce the results in his usual drole fashion "Mary from Letterkenny...you got four correct answers...sure the questions didn't suit you, did they? What have we got for Mary? A 2FM t-shirt, that's great."

If the radio was boring, we'd turn on the small portable black and white TV and watch morning cartoons; if it was summer time we'd watch the Welsh children's program Why Don't You, a show that actually encouraged you not to watch it. Genius.

Uncle Aidan would already be in his comfy-chair by the range, rolling his Old Holborn tobacco with red Rizla papers. Licking the papers delicately, a lover's kiss, rolling the pinched tobacco between forefinger and thumb, a perfect roll popped into his mouth and instantly lit. A plume of blue-grey smoke rising above his head and drifting through the morning sunbeams bursting through the window of Kit's Cottage. His eyes would be bright and full of energy behind his glasses and beard, like he was in disguise hiding from someone. Aidan loved to engage us in conversation, probe our growing intellect with all kinds of questions about music, current events, literature and science.

Aidan would talk about history, about World War I and World War II. As he talked we would all look up at Uncle Tommy's medal on the wall. It made those wars very real to us, having a connection to them right there in the room. Our own flesh and blood shot in an orchard, scouting a German artillery position. The medal was huge, like the world's largest penny, a penny for some seriously deep thoughts.

Then Aidan would turn to us and inquire, "So what are you boys up ta today?"

"Might go down the woods or walk into Carrick" Paddy would say, 'cause lads our age didn't really plan ahead. Usually waited to see what the day's weather was like and planned accordingly.

With these words my ears and Derek's would prick-up. Going down the woods was the best thing about staying with Paddy, well that and going up the mountain. Either destination was an adventure in itself, places of beauty, where your imagination could run loose. A fantastic escape for young boys like us who spent their day-to-day life in the little concrete and pebble dashed town of Killybegs with its fish factories and stinky fish lorries sloshing mackerel slurry all over the streets, giving the town a permanent stain and odor of filth.

We would put on our adventure gear, purchased at the Army Surplus store in Carrick. Infantry issued belts and RAF replica officer caps and corduroy trousers we pretended were army combat pants. Decked out like "Little Officers" as Francis would call us, invisible guns and bayonets at our side we'd march off down the woods, along the winding muddy path, part grass, part rock, all mud. 

Ferns, wild flowers, brambles and whin bushes brushed up against our legs and arms, which we slashed at with our sticks, but Paddy had a real machete like you'd see explorers wielding in the movies in the jungles of Africa or the Amazon. Depending on the time of year, the ferns would be either be brown and dead to the ground, or bright green and towering above our heads, forming a canopy that heightened the illusion of a worldly adventure.

Paddy leading the way, then Derek, me and the dogs; Kit, Lucky, Badger, Doogle, Snoopy, the names changing as we grew older and they passed on to the big farm in the sky. Branches would snap back and you'd have to be on the ready or you'd get a smack in the face. The first thorns of the day would already be finding homes in your legs and hands and you'd spend the rest of the day squeezing them and fiddling with a needle later when you got back to the house. Thorns were nothing too serious, but we were always in fear of getting one from a Hawthorne tree. Uncle Aidan warned us about them and we knew that one in the wrong place was guaranteed gangrene and certain amputation of the forsaken limb.

Walking through the woods in early summer you could smell wild roses, fox glove and wet hazel, the moist dirt beginning to dry in the sun would leave a mineral tinge to the air, augmented by the proximity of sea, a hint of salt that you could almost taste on your tongue. The summer flora having just replaced spring's bounty of bluebells, daffodils and crocuses. The bouquet of which mingled with the iodine of seaweed drying on the shore as the morning sun grew stronger, as we continued our march towards the the estuary and the sea receding for its next cycle of tides.

Aidan mentioned that we should check out the badger set. Said there had been recent activity down at the main den. We loved and feared badgers in equal measure. Loved them because they were beautiful, rare, strong and Ireland's only carnivore of note, hedgehogs don't hold much weight. The character in Wind and The Willows called Badger was the only one who could save old Toad, Ratty and Mole from the evil Weasels. Feared them because we knew that their bite was stronger than any dogs, and if they took hold of your arm then it would have to be amputated too, worse than hawthorns or rusty corrugated iron.

Approaching very stealthily up to the badger den for fear we might come face to face with one of the black and white wee buggers, imaginary guns at the ready. Evidence of freshly churned up earth and badger poop confirmed Aidan's intel. Paddy found a badger skull half buried in the dirt. I'd only every found one in y whole life, but Paddy found them all the time, it wasn't fair. Aidan would clean them and then varnish them and display them on the book shelf in the cottage. I wanted one of mine up there on display, but it would be Paddy's again.

Derek and I were dead jealous of Paddy. He was an only child, which meant he didn't have to compete all the time for thinks like Derek and I had to. He could watch his own TV shows, get his own clothes, not hand-me-downs from his older brother. He got all his parent's love, our mum and dad had to portion theirs out between the five of us and there was never enough to go around.

Looking at Paddy standing there in the woods, in the middle of the badger den, with the skull in his hands, a sharpened hazelwood spear in his hands and a bow slung across his shoulder, he looked regal: a prince of the woods, the last of the high kings of Ireland. Me a weekend visitor, a pretender at best, a serf to the king.

Paddy or Paddy Joe as my mother called him, had three scars  on his face. Two from a dog bite when he was just a child and another from falling on some rocks over at Derrylahan beach when we was just a little older. The scars were his medals, his royal insginia, what made him king of the woods. I wish I had scars too, but I didn't want to go through the pain of acquiring them.

After a while, we'd march on down to the estuary, in single-file like the good little soldiers we were. There was a rope tied to a tree to help us scale down the rocks, salvaged from an old fishing boat's castaways. Landing ourselves onto the small, seaweed and trash covered beach. We would comb around for half an hour or so, turning up all kinds of ocean deposited treasures. Scampering over and back to each other, showing-off to each other what we found: a burst football, an oil slicked buoy, a monofilament net lost by a couple of poachers. Bottles and bottles and bottles, every color, shape and size and the occasional light bulb that would shatter in a puff of smoke when thrown against a rock. We would line all the bottles up on a natural shelf of rock and make targets out of them. Bladder rack squeaking under our feet, we grabbed stones, found leverage in the slippery surface, took aim and fired. We took no prisoners. Within five minutes nothing would be left but dust and glass and the sound of our own laughter.

Thirsty work all that destruction, so we would lap water from fresh water pools just above the tide line, the first few sups taken from our cupped hands and then bending over and putting my head almost directly into the water, I'd drink like a camel getting ready for a months walk in the desert. After calming our thirst we'd walk over the estuary, kicking limpits and mussels off the rocks as we went. At the low tide on the estuary a whole other world is exposed to our adolescent destructive nature. Turning over rocks and pulling back blankets of seaweed searching for crabs and the promise of a big crayfish. We'd dive our hands into the soft sand hoping to catch a razorfish before it sucked itself deep into the earth safe from our wrath, at least until we could come back with a spade. The abandoned oyster bed still producing a fair crop every year, Aidan told us not to "fuck with it" so we left it alone, but in later years we'd feast on its bounty with glee.

Salt water drying and deposits of salt caking on our faces as we splashed through the tidal pools. Sand and mud thrown at each other until Derek would say "Cop on," if a stray shot hit him in the face, but my noggin was fair game to him and Paddy. Our walk across the estuary would take us to the point where the sea stopped it retreat and gradually went deep again. From there we could easily walk around the coast to Derrylahan beach, but not today. Instead racing back towards the Salmon Leap River, to the confluence of seawater and fresh, connecting two aquatic worlds and like certain species of fish and wildlife, us boys could survive in both. Aidan told us Congers liked to inhabit this in-between world, so we stabbed deep pools of water to swiftly knockout any unsuspecting boy-eating conger eels.

The junction pool, where the Yellow River flowed into the Salmon Leap, was a pool of unfathomable depth, so we were told and terrified into never finding out. After sending a few choice stones skimming over its surface, we'd hop back over the barbed wire fence of Mick O'Donnel's field and make our way back home, famished. We try to stay out of the way of the young bullocks grazing in the rush filled field, as they'd be likely to demonstrate their manhood, or lack-there-of, and chase us young soldiers back over enemy lines.

Marching up the soggy hill, avoiding the tell-tale bog cotton warning of dangerous bog swamps that would swallow you whole, Hollywood quicksand style, we'd pop over another barbed wire fence and onto the lane with the grassy mane leading us back down to Kit's Cottage. But of course, before that, even though we know we shouldn't, like helpless moths to a flame, we wander over to the edge of the bog swamp.

King Paddy plunges his hazelwood spear into the soft earth, making squidging noises as it seeks the depths of the swamp, all the way up to the hilt, almost five feet deep. As he tries to extract it, his face reddens with effort, Derek pushes through to have a go, even I lend a hand, like young King Arthurs pulling excalibur from the stone, but the hazel stick in the bog stays where it is. The lady of the lake can keep that one. And it's off home for lunch for King Paddy and his soldiers.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Friend for a Day

By whatever twist of providence, science or the supernatural, you end up sitting beside yourself in a small coffee shop 5,000 miles from home.

You know it's you right away from the clothes, the computer bag, the broken glasses and the lame scar on your left eyebrow. Some people get cool scars, you get what looks like a botched nipple piercing.

You watch yourself for a while, absorbing the madness of the situation, waiting for the small adrenaline rush to dissipate. A rational mind would say "he's just some fella that looks like you." But you never had one of those. The other you is typing furiously on his laptop, working on the novel you know he hasn't finished.

After enough coffee and caffeine confidence you approach the doppelganger, even though you hate to use that word, juvenile, very X-Men comic book vocabulary.

You slouch into the chair at his table, toss your bag beside his and break-off the corner of his chocolate chunk cookie. He looks up from the laptop, fingers paused over the keys and says "Hey, I though that was you over there. Figured you'd come over when you were finished your coffee."

"Well you figured right. So, what do you think is going on?"

In near unison you make similar quotes about "inverse tachyon beams" and laugh at your own predictability.

"Seriously, though, there are a million ways to explain this, none which will prove satisfactory to the big "Why." And we've no idea whether this is temporary or permanent and which of us is the original to this point in the "space time continuum."

"So you're saying "let's get a pint"?

"Sure, aigh, yes."

"It's eleven now, we could hit O'Dowds or re:Verse?"

"Let's do O'Dowd's, better pint and you're buying since I'm sure that the cards in our wallets are connected to the same bank account."

As you both stroll over the street, past Three Dog Bakery and the Better Cheddar,  to the bar, you let him walk a few feet in front to see what you look like in the world, as a member, not an observer.

You notice that you have a funny gait, almost a cocky swagger, but a little too fast, like you've got something stuck to your butt and can't quite keep the cool walk.

Identical twins could not be dressed more alike than the two of you, right down to the brown Tommy Hilfiger socks you bought on sale at Marshall's last Christmas, the ones that feel good with your Clark's, that have seen better days, but you like to wear shoes till they literally drop off your feet.

The bartender greats you both with a bewildered face and you answer "Ah, the brother over visiting. Two pints of Guinness Ken. Thanks."

You wait patiently, making faces and raising eyebrows at each other and then take your pints and grab a small nook, closed off from the main flow of the early lunch crowd.

"Want something to eat?"

"In a while, see how the pints go down first. So, don't you think it's weird  that we've jacked-off ourselves?"

"What?" you literally spit your Guinness out all over the mahogany table.

"Like I mean, I've spanked that monkey so many times, and I know that is way out of left field, but think about it. Totally gay."

"That's some question to ask yourself. No 'Who's the president of the United States in your World?' or 'Are you married?' or 'What's the name of the girl who sucked your dick at the back of the Tech when you were fourteen?'

"Which time?"

"First time."

"Catherine Turner."


"Still single and O'Bama is President."

"Huh, totally the same then. But now that I think of it, you're right, I know we're not gay or nothing, unless you are gay in your time-line, which I would be cool with."

"Nope. Sorry fag."

"Didn't think so, but yeah we've stroked this meat monster a million times. Fucking weird."

You banter on all through the lunch hour, pint after pint, orders of Shepard's Pie, fish and chips and more pints. You suggest to yourself, your other self at the table, that you take a walk down Brush Creek while you're both not too drunk and having a good buzz. A bit of fresh air to make the day last longer.

There is goose poop on the walk-way, you absentmindedly kick it into the brown liquid that passes as water in Brush Creek. Some mutant fish breaks the surface of the water to sample the treat you kicked in. Cyclists and joggers squeeze between as you meander along, almost pushing you into the creek.

"Obviously other people see both of us, so we know we aren't mental, no Sixth Sense trick ending here. Any ideas then?"

"Oh, I've been thinking it's the Universe showing us a big fat metaphor, that selfish bastards like us would rather hangout with ourselves and drink a pint than solve the world's problems, when confronted with a miracle of space, time travel, whatever have ya."

"Yeah, 'cause if this could physically happen, then any miracle could become a reality. No more poverty, no more hunger, just like that, gone. No more praying for rain in Africa like we did as children while pissing into the toilet, sword fighting with our piss streams."

"Let's walk as far as the Nelson."

The new wing at The Nelson-Atkins museum has been critically acclaimed by every major architecture magazine in the country, but you think it looks like Terminal 5 at Chicago, O'Hare, nothing special. And sure enough, yourself agrees.

The beer is leaving your systems now, feeling hot flashes and needing a bathroom break. You stand beside yourself at a urinal and peak over at his dick, he sees you and says "Fucking queer."

"I was just checking on size mate."

"Piss that, you were checking to see if I was circumcised or not. I've got me wee hat, ain't no wee Jewish boy standing outside a Synagogue looking for my pullover."

You both laugh so hard at your Dad's old joke that you piss on your own hands.

You grab some bottle water and sit down on the front steps of the original Nelson, looking down over the lawns at the great shuttlecocks, you see families picnicking and some kids throwing a Frisbee.

"You remember walking around here with Granny a few years back?"

"Yeah, she loved it."

"It's too fucking nice for this city. Hardly anyone knows they have this fucking place in their city."

"You're right there. But on a more serious note, you ready to do some serious drinking?"


"Yeah. Fuck the Guinness though at that price."

"Let's head."

From the novel that posses as a wine book you select a 2004 Ojai Syrah from Santa Barbara. Fuckin delish. Smoke and spice filling your senses, drunk on the memory of sipping this wine in a Los Olivos tasting room with some random girl you met in wine country.

Then a round of Jameson and water to cleanse the palate. You slap your pockets in unison looking for Rolaids to quiet the acid reflux kicking up in your chest.

The late Spring day is winding down, the brightness and heat of the day giving way to gray coolness.

"Let's go walk again."

"I could stay here for another."

"Exactly why we're leaving now and not after another."

No longer buzzed but drunk, a twenty-minute walk up to Harry's in Westport is just what the doctor would have prescribed if he gave a fuck about drunks on a binge.

Going past Unity Temple, you make a smart remark to yourself about meetings there. But you don't take it the right way and a small scuffle ensues. You catch him over the eye and he takes you down to the ground and gives your face a nice road rash. It's all over before it began and the two of you are panting and bleeding and your matching green shirts are ripped and you know you could both go again so you break the moment.

"Well, that was fucking stupid."

"I guess so. Let's get the fuck out of here."

At Harry's you both go into the bathroom and freshen up before hitting the bar. The doorman nearly didn't let you in, but he recognized you from enough drunken nights that a bloody cheek is nothing.

You can't help but notice how old your face looks as you wash off the caking blood. The youth and vigor of the morning's creativity in the coffee shop now looks gaunt and puffy at the same time, like a bloated corpse.

Dave the bartender hands you both a shot "...and one for your brother too. Fuck, you two could be twins."

You each order a pint of Boddingtions, 'cause that what you drink at Harry's, and hook your bags under the bar. It's too early yet for the after work restaurant crowd, so you can still hear each other talking, without having to shout and spit into each other's ear.

"Hey. In the morning, if we, I, you, me are totally hungover and the other is gone. I want you to know that whatever magic happened here today for this to become, I loved it, I really got to know myself and I hope it happens again.

"Me too." You slur.

Just then some asshole bumps into you from behind and laughs causing your beer to spill down your front as you go to take a sip. He looks like a proper fucking douche, a strayed Plaza Rat, trying to be cool in Westport. You stand up and so does yourself and you've knocked the frat-fuck out-cold before his friends swing is blocked by your number 2 and his headbutt is lighting fast and the two douchebags are slumped on the ground beside each other.

Dave the bartender says "I know you didn't start it, but you better leave." So you do.

Stepping out to catch a cab you stop at the gyro truck and get lamb kebabs, they remind you of Abrakebabra in Galway, when you were young and dumb.

"Like the fucking American Abrakebabra" you say.

There is tiziki sauce all over your face and you're choking with laughter and the cab driver won't let you in till you finish your food.

As you both slump down on to the sofa with a glass of some super expensive bottle of wine that you'd been saving for a special night, you play some Halo and then find Point Break on Spike and toast each other "To Johnny-Fucking-Utah."

"Well man" you say "that was some fucking day."

You both pass out without finishing the bottle.

You awake late the next mooring, late for nothing. Still in your blood stained clothes from the night before, the skin on the knuckles of your right hand is busted open and you see the 2003 Quilceda Creek, Washington State, Cab opened and small flies coming out of the neck of the bottle. Two glasses barely touched on the coffee table. You realize yourself is gone and you've left your computer bag in Harry's and you have to deal with that mess by yourself.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Granny Nessie

Granny "Nessie," never just Granny. I was six or seven-years-old the first time I met her when she and my aunt Jane came over from New Zealand to visit us when we still lived at St. Cummin's Hill . Up until then all we knew about her was from pictures and occasional packages at Christmas and birthdays.

We'd call her Granny from New Zealand when talking about her in family circles. It was strange having a granny that lived 13,000 miles away when most of the people around us had all their grandparents within a fifty-mile radius. Other kids in school said we were just showing-off when we said we had a granny in New Zealand, but it was a fact.

Her packages would contain sweet treats from New Zealand, books about The Maori people and sometimes clothes that she sewed herself, like a nice pair of pajamas. And sometimes a small check for ten or fifteen dollars inside a small card with a New Zealand black robin or fern on the cover. She once sent over these store-bought Kiwi bird pillow cases and Derek and I thought we were the bee's knees with them on our beds.

Needless to say, we were very excited about meeting our mysterious Granny from New Zealand for the first time. Derek and I got home one morning, from staying at cousin Paddy's, and there she was. She had kites for us as gifts that looked like silk octopuses and we were shy and didn't know what to call her, that's when we started calling her "Granny Nessie."

She was a little woman, even back then when we were little, with silver hair, tanned skin and a polished colonial accent. She said things like "Sambrosa" when she liked some kind of food and sang little jingles from her younger life back in New Zealand. We found her ways very amusing and she would whisper when she knew she was talking about something just a little off color like when she first met my wife she whispered to my cousin Charlotte "My goodness, what are the grandchildren going to look like." She never meant any harm by these asides, it was just her way of thinking out loud with no filter.

She was a great woman for the morning constitution. Tea and toast with peanut butter on it. Wheat germ on her cereal and semolina in the evenings. She ate things we'd never heard off and exposed us to interesting and delicious foods and taught us not to rush our food "take time to digest" she would say. My favorite thing she made were piplettes, small pancakes that you ate cold with butter or jam slathered on them.

Granny was an all or nothing person. You were either immediate family to her, or someone to be set adrift on an iceberg and never heard from again. Like when Mum's sister Pat, who was working for Dad at the time, opened the fridge at our house out The Five Points and Granny slammed the door shut on her and reprimanded her with the phrase "that is for immediate family only." Never one for tact.

Mum and Granny didn't hit it off instantly either. I remember how Mum would fret that she was constantly under the disapproval of Granny Nessie. But in the end they found the goodness in each other and were very close towards the end of Mum's life.

When Granny came to live permanently again in Ireland in the mid-90s she shipped all her belonging over from New Zealand in a giant container at a considerable cost. Dad would never let it go and always talked about how it was a container "full of shite" but to her those were her possessions and our heritage. Furniture from New Zealand and when she lived in Coradina House in Dublin years ago when she and Granda were still married.  

Heritage and the knowledge of one's roots were very important to Granny and she instilled in us a sense of pride in who we were and were we came from. Even though I've never been to New Zealand I feel very connected to the country and feel like an honorary citizen because of Granny. Stories of our great Uncles fighting in the Commonwealth boxing championships against each other, another Uncle who played for the All-Blacks, Joseph Lister who invented medical equipment sterilization back in Edinburgh where her family came from. Family heroes and legends that are ingrained into my memory no matter how true or false.

I was working at Dad's fish factory when I was in my late teens she'd have us out to her little rented house in Bavin for dinner every few weeks. You could see the resistance in Dad's eyes, but you knew he loved it at the same time. Granny's food was to a certain taste and sometimes it was the best thing you ever tasted, other times it was something Dad would poke with a fork and Bruce or Alan, having adopted Granny's lack of tact, would say "What is this Granny? Sure we can eat it?"

As the years passed on and I moved away I once again had a long distance relationship with Granny Nessie. We'd write and make short long-distance phone calls at random times. Her letters, sometimes indecipherable hand written letters, covering both sides of an airmail envelope, would ramble on about her veg garden and some news about a relative back home in New Zealand that I'd never hear of before: Uncle Tommy's cesna or Aunt June's daughter Bridget was in Oxford and we should try to meet her there. But it was the contact and the connection of getting a letter from Gran that was important, just like when we were children.

Eventually she came to visit Linh and I in Kansas City. Linh was terribly worried what she was going to do with Granny while I was working my management job all the time she was here. Linh must have felt a little like the way Mum did on her first meeting. But Linh took the bull by the horns, so to say, and took Granny all over the city. They'd come home at the end of a day and regale me with stories of wine tastings at The La Fou Frog and art showing at The Nelson and Happy Hour at some restaurant or other. They got along like a house on fire and to boot, we all got hang out tending the garden, raking the leaves and picking up walnuts and trimming tree limbs. Granny was very popular in Kansas City and for weeks after her visit people would ask me "How's Granny getting on?" "When is she coming back?"

Granny loved to make her own jams and chutneys and she and Linh made a big trip to the city market and canned a whole big batch of chutney that we used to make delicious curries with for months after her visit.

On her second visit to Kansas City, we took an all day road trip to Hannibal to visit the famous Mark Twain caves and Granny was a little scared of the dark and twisting tour through the caves and on hindsight it was probably not the best thing to do. But back in the town of Hannibal we took a horse drawn trailer ride through the town and that was much more the pace we should have been tending. Granny was always singing the first few lines to "Meet me in St. Louis" so on the way home we went via St. Louis and visited the Arch and had dinner on Laclede's Landing and returned home late that night to Kansas City. Granny wasn't in the best of energy on that visit and on her return to Ireland she had a bad bout of jaundice.

We hoped to have Granny back to Kansas City again, but her health wasn't the best and she even had to postpone her annual trip back to New Zealand to stay with Jane and the gang in Marlborough.

By the time Granny passed she was just as polarizing as always. There were people she cut out of her life, because of one silly thing or another, but people knew that that was just her way and to know her was to deal with these eccentricities. I am sad she is gone, but she lived a long, great life and if any of us can make it near 86 years of age, that'll be something. So, here's to you Granny Nessie, from a young girl growing up in Ashburton and Christchurch, to the midwife at St. James's in Dublin, to our Granny Nessie that we loved, we raise a small glass of Chardonnay in your honor.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seamus Higgins

Everyone knows a crazy person. They make you smile when you see them. They talk to themselves or have conversations with telephone poles, you’d swear they are doing it for your entertainment and you laugh. Then you feel bad ‘cause you know they can’t help it, you feel sorry for them ‘cause it’s just the way they are.

I saw one of these special people the other day at SunFresh (yeah, where you get the fresh stuff) and it made think of one of my favorite crazy people of all time: Seamus Higgins. Say it aloud to yourself…Seamus Higgins.

He lived in an orange bungalow at the bottom of the Glashey. The Glashey was a great big, flat stretch of road, with a decent rise on The Five Points end and the Ardara crossroads at the other. It was a significant section of road because in southwest Dongeal there are not many flat, straight roads. When God made Donegal he said “You’ll get what you’re given.” The Glashey was tree lined back then and gave the impression of a green tunnel when the trees and wild flowers were in full bloom.

We passed Seamus Higgins’ house walking to national school, making him a permanent fixture in our lives for a good four years. We didn’t know whether to be amused or afraid of him, so we laughed at him and his antics, mindful to keep our distance, somewhat afraid for our lives.

There were rumors that he served in Vietnam and that’s what made him crazy. Michael Conaghan said that, we didn’t know where he heard it, so we took it to be the truth. I could imagine Higgins in an American army green hard hat, M-16 across his chest as he hid in the jungle, that half smile across his face. His American buddies would have called him Irish or Paddy or Mick and would have assumed that he could drink any of them under the table.

He had a motorbike, with a rusty orange petrol tank, that he pushed as much as he rode. He would push it all the way up the Glashey and then run her back down to get her going. Sometimes you’d see him miles away, half way to Donegal Town, out in Inver or Mountcharles, pushing the bike and we’d look at each other and laugh, as if to say “that’s our crazy person.” To everyone else he was just some fella pushing a motorbike on a rainy day.

When he wasn’t out on the motorbike he had a classic old farmers black Raleigh bicycle. Rather than pedal the bike, he would stand up on one pedal and push off the ground with the other foot and when he got up to speed he’d sit across the bar rather than on the saddle. We often imitated this style of motion. To me, it reminded me of an Indian in a western movie, riding his horse on one stirrup, avoiding the cowboy’s bullets, preparing to fire his bow.

He’d either have an orange motorbike helmet or a plastic bag on his head, depending on the mode of transportation. I wonder if all the orange was a way of brightening up his life? Never thought about that till just now.

On the Ardara crossroads where Higgins’ house sat there were three respectable looking houses and then his. He had about an acre of land around the pretty common looking rectangular bungalow, the kind that sprung-up all over Ireland like concrete mushrooms in the 70s and 80s. There was one small shed on the land, but he had tons of animals on the property: goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, there might have been some fowl and the odd horse or pony over the years too.

It was a known fact that when the weather was stormy or very cold, he’d take the animals into the house. We could only imagine what it must have looked like inside. A few older boys at the Commons NS said they’d been in there and described piss and shit and straw all over the place.

On good days Higgins would lean over his fence and talk to us lads as we walked passed his house. On bad days he’d stare at you with mad eyes, looking like he just did something that no one should know about. On those days he wouldn’t even nod hello.

He wore slacks, never jeans, the fly bust open and bailing twine as a belt. A jacket that looked like it had been abandoned by its suit, a sweater underneath with a few holes poking through. Then to finish it all off, a pair of wellies, rolled down to the ankles. He’d roam about his rush and mud filled acre in this costume of craziness, playing the part of a farmer, a role you could tell he aspired to.

It’s been nearly twenty-years since those days of walking to school and I haven’t a clue if he’s alive or dead. If he still lives in that house or sold in the property boom. I could call one of the brothers back home and quickly find out, but I like the enigma of Higgins. When you know too much about a person like that, they lose their wonder and become real, and then sad. I imagine there are some young lads living out the Five Points today and their lives are enriched by walking to school and seeing a man like Seamus Higgins going about his day.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Karma, the old bitch

Like a wounded old she-dog that you kicked weeks before, she sneaks up from behind when you least expect and bites you right in the ass.