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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Death of a Restaurant

When I took my first restaurant management position, my boss explained to me that each restaurant has a soul, a metaphorical one, and to be a successful manager, you have to listen to that soul, tap into its secrets. From the first moment you enter a building you can feel the soul, know if it’s happy and successful or depressed and dying. Sometimes the soul could be fixed, healed, other times it is best to provide the restaurant equivalent of restaurant hospice care and gently let the soul pass away as painless as possible. With this in mind, anyone who had been in the door of UNO’s on the Plaza during the past three years, know it had a dead soul. Killed by a climate of fuck-you-get-it-yourself-doldrums and a poisonous air of I-don’t-care-itus.

A few people from my place of employment would go over after work out of sympathy to see Jess our favorite UNO’s employee. We’d make sure to keep our tab with her; even if we were in the back playing free pool in the area we affectionately called Sam’s Club. Our big buddy Sam before he was fired, would go over there on Friday and Saturday nights and hold court and he’d duck under the pool table, put his finger up into the bowels of the machine and 15 balls of fun would plop out. But our minor contributions weren’t enough to keep the place alive.

The lights were always too bright and the music was too low and besides Jess, no one gave a shit. The service was AWFUL. Every once in a while they’d get a good server and we’d warm to them and then they’d be gone the following week, breaking our collective hearts. The food was below sub-par, beer prices and sizes were inconsistent and they were always out of something that you wanted: “Sorry, no Granma…sorry no Miller Highlife, sorry we just ran out of Guinness.”

For a brief moment, last year, a glimmer of light sparked in the place when they installed a Konami bowling video game (don’t get this confused with the inferior Silver Strike). The game was so much fun, you could choose everything from a basketball or soccer ball to a disco ball or 8 ball styled bowling ball. Four players could join in and the sound effects were hilarious, especially in instant replay. Our staff loved it and we went over all the time, not just on Friday and Saturdays. But the extra business was getting in the way of the staff at UNO’s hanging out with their friends and bitching. They got rid of the machine and I swear to god it was to spite us. They replaced it with some other shit game and it mysteriously broke a week later (TR know anything about that?).

Then rumors starting to circle like sharks about their impending closure. First, among Plaza employees, then in the business section of the KC Star…they were thousands behind in rent…their holding company was going into foreclosure…whatever the real story, the reality was “It’s over for UNO’s.” The chalkboard where they put their specials had a countdown going and someone had written a nice little rhyming poem about all the fun, drinks and people they’d enjoyed on the Plaza over the past decade. However, the reality was: nobody really cared. Sunday was their last day and they were going to extinguish without much fanfare.

After work on Saturday night a bunch of us decided to visit Jess one last time, and leave her a little extra to say “thank you, even though the place you worked in sucked, you still kept a good attitude and took care of us.” We rolled over there about eleven-thirtyish, close to midnight and surprisingly the place was packed, it looked like New Year’s Eve. Management had lost control, guests were going behind the bar serving themselves, Jess was in the weeds, people were smoking in defiance of the KC smoking ban and everyone was super drunk.

We managed to snag a table outside on the patio. But ordering a round of drinks was an ordeal in itself and getting close to the bar without getting burned by one of the many waving cigarettes was a major challenge. My friend JD paid for the first round…but then I was charged again for it later in all the confusion and pure cluster fuckage. Not a single manager was even bothered to lift a hand to help out, probably how the company got into such bother in the first place. (And I later learned that one of those useless managers was the owner of the franchise! Totally useless).

So we’re all sitting down with our hard earned beers and we hear the sound of a Harley Davidson growling and we all look around in unison and sure enough a big-fat-drunk-dude is attempting to wheel his Harley down the side walk and onto the patio. After lots of heaving back and forth and almost falling over, the biker squeezed into the bar area and commenced to burn rubber. People were scattering like flies in the cloud of burnt rubber smoke and the sensible moms among our group lifted their beers and walked away saying things like “this is how it starts, next thing you know someone gets killed.”

Two things came to mind watching the meltdown of UNO’s. Firstly, UNO’s had become a speakeasy for smokers (a smokeasy?) and secondly, how dangerous and fun UNO’s was in its last moments, like it was granted one last wish to be fun before it died. Also, where the hell have all these people been the last few years? UNO’s turned all these people away, turned them off the idea of UNO’s over the years, they had catered to the lowest common denominator, gambled and lost.

People were walking out with souvenirs, like the clocks from the walls that said “your pizza ordered at this time will be ready at this time”, photos of Marlon Brando , Babe Ruth and George Brett and tons of other fake sports memorabilia. I might have taken a few pieces of choice glass wear to match a certain rug and a certain door, but I’m not saying that I did. It had become a complete free for all, like a Russian bread line in the 1990’s.

Saturday night closing time came for us and for UNO’s for the last time, and in more ways than one it was time to go. In this not too tragic closing you could see that they forgot about the guest and in this industry the guest is your lifeblood; they are what feed the soul. RIP UNO’s on the Plaza, you won’t be missed or mourned.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Horse of Course

I met a Midwesterner the other day that lives in Perth, Scotland. He met a Scottish girl, fell in love and moved there to be with her (sounds familiar) and he works in the thoroughbred horse business. During our brief conversation he made a very telling remark about the Irish people when he posed this question:

“The Irish are the only people I know that when they get into money, the first thing they do is get into horses. Why do you think that is?”

I rolled this around in the noggin for a moment and the first thing that came to mind went back to our English-Overlordship. I don’t usually blame the English for Irish problems, if anything, I think they’ve shaped us into the amazing people we are today.

So off I went with my answer “I’d say that land and horses are still deeply rooted in the Irish psyche as symbols of power and wealth, just as it used to be viewed as ‘being English’ if you planted a lot of trees on your property and we always aspire to be what oppressed us.” He took my reply with a grain or two of salt and went back to his dinner.

However, this conversation got me thinking about my own family, ‘cause these days my Dad and new Mom are mad into horses. They’ve built stables, an outdoor arena and have something like seven or eight horses running around the place. That in turn made me think about my sister's horse Bob she had when she was a teenager, then that nugget of a memory pushed the old mind back to when we were kids and we had a donkey called Eh-aw.

I’m not sure where we got Eh-aw from, but I know I couldn’t have been much more than three or four years old when we got her and she lived on Mick O’Donnell’s land with an old horse called Dusty. Mick O’Donnell’s land backed up to my aunt and uncle's, but his was all fenced in and was about 30 acres of some of the most amazing land you could imagine. We called it ‘the mountain’ but it was more than that, it had a view of the other mountain Slieve League, a hypnotic monolith of vast geologic proportions, you could literally stare at that giant rock for hours on end, clouds wisping over the peak and squinting at little dots as people climbed over the horizon of it’s peak.

Eh-aw and Dusty’s paradise also came right up to the edge of the estuary of the Salmon Leap river. When the tide was out we’d walk down there in our wellies, digging for razor fish, picking mussels off the rocks, checking the old abandoned oyster bed for a small harvest and turning over a kelp covered rock to tackle a scuttling crab. All the time keeping a weary eye out for the returning tide and often a stray goat or sheep wouldn’t be so lucky and get trapped out on one of the tiny islands of grass and they could only pray to the farm gods that it wasn’t a spring tide and they’d be safe till the tide receded.

When we went up to see Eh-aw and Dusty we’d walk on our side of the fence and call out to them and it usually didn’t take long for one of them to pop their big head up over a hilltop. They knew we’d have some apples or potato peels for them. Eh-aw would could come right up to the fence and sometimes she’d let us feed her from a flattened palm, but Dusty would always hold back and wait for us to leave before he came up to the fence to nibble the peel off the barbed wire.

Eh-aw and Dusty had become the most unusual odd couple. She was a little grey jenny, not much to look at, but friendly and welcoming with her braying speech. Dusty on the other hand was beautiful, the color of deep rust with a long flowing mane, standing about 15 hands high he towered over his partner. But he had become feral like a mustang or more appropriately a wild Connemara pony, and you only approached him at your own risk. We entered their field with trepidation and as we did the two animals paired up together and kept us within eye contact, but always thirty or forty feet away. You could tell that Eh-aw wanted to come closer to us and have us stroke her, but she played the role of a good wife and attended her husband’s will.

Within their realm there was a Celtic ring fort and us young boys would go over there and pretend to be Cuchullin and the Red Branch knights or Finn McCool and the Fianna, defending the fort against invaders coming up from the estuary, usually Vikings, Germans or English, our enemies of choice when we were the same age as our shoe size. Air raids were a bitch to defend, but the sequoia-like ferns provided plenty of cover.

Eh-aw and Dusty would look down on us shooting invisible bullets and throwing invisible spears, and we would incorporate them into our imaginary games by assigning them the role of Indians coming to attack our fort held by brave cowboys. Bang, bang.

So, all this gets me thinking back to the original question of wealth and horses. As children a donkey worth five bucks and a Celtic ring fort made us feel like the last of the high kings of Ireland, a priceless sense of completeness. You can throw money at houses, cars, stocks, women, even drugs and alcohol, but there is something primal, innate in the sense of ownership one has in possessing and just knowing that that semi-wild donkey was mine, was enough.

When the Celtic Tiger economy made Ireland a rich wee Island, people rushed out to buy their Five Dollar Donkey no matter the cost, so they could feel the tangibility of wealth that no amount of zeros on a bank stub can reproduce. And the ironic part is that the poorest sub-class/culture in Ireland: The Travelers have always kept horses and donkeys. So by my thinking we all aspire to be rich English landlords, but really we’re just a bunch of Knackers!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Swim, Bike, Run: Fun?

Swim, bike, run, in that order, 1500 meters, 42 kilometers and 10 kilometers respectively and it sounds even less when you put it in miles: 0.9, 24.6, 6.2. Sam and I figured we were up for the challenge. We’d already done Hospital Hill, Brew to Brew, and I trained for and he completed the KC marathon, therefore an Olympic distance triathlon was within our realm of possibility.

The swim was going to be the biggest challenge, so as soon as we made the decision to train for the Triathlon, we hit the pool. We rode our bikes down to the Tony Aguire Community Center just off South West Boulevard, paid our $15 monthly membership and jumped in.

Christ, we nearly died after the first ten laps, neither of us had swum in a long time. I had the advantage in that I used to swim for my boarding school, but that was fourteen or so years ago, but I think Sam had only maybe done a cannonball once or twice at a pool party in Idaho. But that first day we huffed and puffed and stopped and snotted and timed ourselves all the way to 30 lengths of the pool: half the distance we needed to cover.

It was a little discouraging that first day, realizing the gravity of the commitment required to complete the task in hand. After dragging our arses out of the pool we got on the bikes with wobbly legs, Sam actually bailed off his bike in front of the community center as he was mounting. The staff looked at us like we were half-cocked.

I had my mountain bike, Old Blue my trusty steed from college, fitted with street tires. Sam found that his wife’s bike was faster than his own so he brought it along, with its sexy girl crossbar. We went from the Boulevard down to the city market, out to the isle of Capri, then back and up Grand all the way through Power and Light, past Crown Center and up that monster hill. We turned into Union Hill and came back down to Gillham via that red brick road that shook our bodies to pieces. Near the end of Gillham Sam cut off at the park to head home and I finished up by heading down to the Plaza and home via Roanoke and Westport to State Line. First day of training over and we were fecked.

We had just under four weeks to complete all our training before the event, so we went to the pool every other day. Rode around the city, hit the downtown airport and even went out to Longview Lake to get a lay of the land and discovered the mother of all head winds coming off the lake by the dam. At about two weeks in we were both comfortable doing 60 laps of the pool and on one really good day I got my time down to about 37 minutes, but open water was going to be a totally different story.

Sam found a road bike on Craig’s list for $125 bucks. Next time at the downtown airport the bollocks was taking two minutes off me every four miles with the new bike. I thought seriously about buying or renting a road bike to stay competitive with him. I had him on the swim and he had me on the run and we had been pretty even on the bike, but now Old Blue was just not cutting the government cheese of Triathlon training.

The cost of doing the Triathlon was mounting, between the equipment, clothing, fees, and licenses. And I tried raising some money from friends and family, but “in this economy” who the hell has money to spare for charity. I brought in about 25 bucks, it went a small way to about 250 that the event was costing me. Then Sam had a hiccup at work and had to pull out a week before the event. He was devastated and so was I, ‘cause doing this event was one thing, but doing it alone was another. We were going to keep each other going. At least he still trained with me right up to the last day and that made a big difference. Especially since I had a football tournament in Little Rock the weekend before the Triathlon and my body was still aching from the four-game pounding it received.

Saturday night before the event, I’ve got the night off from work to get myself mentally and physically prepared. I went over my inventory: Triathlon shorts, goggles, swim hat, anti fog spray, bike all tuned up, helmet, bike shoes, t-shirt, sunglasses, running shoes, extra socks, race number, towels, footbath bucket, Gatorade, goo gel packs, energy bars and running cap and on top of all that, change of clothes, camera, ipod and bike tool box.

My alarm goes off at 4am, GNR’s Sweet Child O’Mine, then my back up alarm clock goes off, I drag my ass out of bed and try not to wake the wife. I spend the next hour hydrating and loading the truck. There is a light rain outside, so I add rain gear to my ever-expanding list of equipment.

It’s a beautiful drive out to Longview Lake that early in the morning and it’s about 5:20 am as I am being ushered into a field by event volunteers. It takes me a few trips to and fro the truck to the transition area to get everything set up. The first few racks in the transition area have a small hand drawn poster taped to them that reads “Reserved for Extreme Athletes,” I don’t fit that category, so I find a rack about half way back with a good marker that will be easy to recognize later when the place is filled up with people.

As more experienced triathletes hustle in an take up positions I watch how they lay their gear out and imitate them best I can to try and blend in, but amongst these “extreme athletes” I am being to feel like a pretender, a total fake, especially with my mountain bike. Some of the bikes hanging of the stainless steel cross bar look like they probably cost the better part of the price of a new car. Carbon fiber is everywhere and makes my 24lb aluminum bike look like a lump of rock.

The sun is peeking it’s head above the lake and the air temperature is slowly rising and I snap off a few pictures to capture the morning and I think that it sure would be nice to have someone here right now like Sam or my wife. The guy on the PA system announces that body marking is now open and all athletes should make their way over there. It’s like a cattle cal as we line up and get our age marked on the back of our right calf muscle and then our race number on our arms, it’s a little Germany Circa 1940s and I get a chill-giggle as I get marked and pass on through the gate and back to the transition area.

People are starting to pull on wetsuits and spray their goggles and make their way to the beach. I don’t have a wetsuit, so I pull off my shirt, stroll down to the beach in my fur-suit, I’m one of the only non waxed males in the area, makes me feel very manly like Magnum PI. Dad mailed me a wetsuit, but it’s stuck in limbo somewhere between Ireland and Kansas City, if it ever arrives I’ll use it for my next triathlon.

The seven thirty gun time is fast approaching, people are taking warm up strokes in the water, I walk out up to my waist and am surprised how warm the water is and not having a wetsuit isn’t the problem I thought it would be. We are all standing around in our swim hats and look like hundreds of sperm getting ready to penetrate the egg. A brief mandatory meeting is held, which I can’t hear a word of, but it must be very important and seconds later we are back at the waters edge. I stand at the back of the pack as I don’t want to get trampled and hold my breath for the gun. A couple of old guys that look like veterans of many Triathlons look at me and can see I’m new to this and remind me to have fun. I slip my goggles over my eyes and as I leave the beach a photographer asks me to turn my head around over my should and snaps a picture of me and I’m thinking that could be the last photo of me alive!

The gun goes and the sperm are away like a flash, water splashing everywhere and I gently glide in and get into my breast stroke rhythm and realize it’s on, I’m in a triathlon and there is no turning back. The main pack is pulling away from the stragglers and five minutes later the gun goes again and the female athletes are released and they swallow me up very quickly. Not caring that I am in their way, I get dunked several time and I swallow water as I try to curse at them “Fer Fuck, guck guck, sakes!”

The fifteen giant buoys in the water look much further apart in the water now, from the beach they looked like they were tightly spaced. It’s an eternity between each marker and I keep a good eye on the life guards on body boards and speed boasts and jet skis incase I should need their support. The small waves in the lake start to get a little choppy and there is a current that noticeable tows me off course, lots of zigzagging going from A to B to C. I can see the leaders way off in the distance across the lake, white foam splashing up the air as the “extreme athletes” cut their way effortlessly across the water. I just keep my rhythm and motor on at my own pace.

As I made the final turn and started my progression towards the beach again I really needed to pee, I tried peeing while swimming, but my little swimmer wasn’t performing, so I treaded water for a moment to relieve myself. A lifeguard started towards me “Are you OK? Are you cramping?” I was embarrassed and honest and said “just taking a wiz, thanks.” After that I set my sights on finish and slowly, stroked my way in.

I was surprised to Sam and Matt Furjanic standing on the beach cheering me on, both wearing their matching Trolley Run shirts and kaki pants, like my own personal support team. My legs felt like jelly as I took my first few steps in shallow water, my feet slightly sinking into the sandy bottom. I raised my arm in victory; I had survived the swim. The boys kept on cheering me and I sauntered up the beach to the transition area.

There weren’t many people in the area and I took my sweet time cleaning off my feet, getting them nice and dry and putting on my bike shoes. Talking to the boys shoved a few power bars in my shorts and walked the bike over to the exit and mounted my steed. I was powering up the hill, going through the gears when I noticed a hot, little Asian girl in a deck chair and realized “Hey Linh” it was my wife, book in hand, big smile and she says “Go George.”

I get up to the road and bicycles are zooming past at unbelievable speeds, already on their second lap of the lake. I join the fast flow and peddle my heart out. Those many thousands of dollar bikes go past me like I’m sitting still, I can hear the solid disc wheel coming from behind, a deep bass woop-woop sound and then they are past me. I see one unfortunate fella walking his bike along the hard shoulder, flat tire and no repair kit, I feel bad for him, but I have to keep peddling. As I pass the golf course there is a giant dead turtle still on the side of the road. Sam and I had seen it when we trained out here a few weeks ago, but now his shell is half broken and looks a little mummified from the hot weather.

Going past Long View Community College I keep pace with a road bike for a few minutes, but that is killing me on the mountain bike, so I back off and keep to my own pace. The course takes us through some neighborhoods and people are out in their front gardens yelling like crazy and shaking cowbells. It’s a great feeling and I take my hands off the handle bars and yell “Tour de France” it made sense to me at the time, even though I had wanted to shout “Lance Armstrong” but it got a good cheer from them all the same.

As I pass the start/stop area a volunteer tries to wave me in, while Matt and Sam are shouting at me and I get a little disorientated and go in and then nearly wreck as I rejoin the main road again, totally killing my momentum and I’m stuck in too high a gear and I think “Oh, bollocks I’ve got to go around this lake one more time.”

The second lap actually feels easier and I get into a good groove and I find my rhythm on this lap a lot quicker as there are not so many other bikers whizzing past me and I actually pass a few other riders. As I come up to Long View Community College there is a very fast section and I can see a rider about 200 yards in front of me on a race bike and I peddle with all I might to keep up with them and use them as my pacer. I tuck down as much as my mountain bike will allow me and I find that I am actually gaining on the rider. A little bit of uphill and I am definitely closing the gap, and on the next down hill I’m on their tail and as I go to pass them, the rider changes gear and their chain slips off. The rider is a lady and my first impulse is to stop and help, but I quickly analyze the situation and figure that any triathlete worth their salt can put a chain on a bike, so I hold chivalry at bay and peddle like blue hell.

Volunteers and local fans are still cheering us on and I bring in my second lap and finish off the 24.6 mile sprint. Linh, Sam and Matt are all at the transition area and I talk to them as I slip out of my bike shoes and lace up my running shoes and put a few energy bars in the back of my shorts, put on my running cap and I’m off.

The weather temperature is really climbing quickly and I settle into a crappy 11 minute pace, cause I don’t know how much reserve is in my tank. And then before the first mile is even over, I feel a painful sensation in my right knee. I get visions of the KC marathon when it seized up and put me out of the race. I stop, adjust my knee brace and start up again, it tinkles a little and then about fifty yards further along it feel great again and I push a little harder.

It’s a 3-mile lap of the event area and the first one is over very quickly, in my mind at least. Linh is in her deck chair as I pass by and she takes a few photos. I suck in my gut and make sure I don’t give the step-mother anything to make fun of, like my pose from the Broadway Bridge run when I looked like an escaped mental patient. The next three miles seem extremely long, and the heat is becoming more of a challenge than my cardio or knee. I dump water over my head at each water station and the few runners I pass look like they are having a real hard time, but I feel really good when I pass a guy with a 29 marked on his leg. It inspires me to pick up the pace and I bring it home best I can. In the last few hundred yards I can hear the music and the MC going full tilt, people are celebrating their day of endurance and the winners are up on the stage as the finish line comes into view. My three biggest fans are they’re cheering and shouting for me to bring it in and I take a huge big jump and leap over the finish line. I’m handed a finishers medal and a towel and Sam confirms it “you’re a triathlete now brother.”

My goal was just to cross the finish line and I figured it would take me about 3hrs and 50 minutes and I beat that goal with a time of wait for it, 3hrs and 49minutes! I placed 301st out of some 600 or so athletes. It was a wonderful sense of self I felt as I gulped down bottle after bottle of Gatorade in the transition area and the main thought in my mind was “when’s the next one.” And you know what? It was fun.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Snow and Salt and a Big Hill

Snow, it never fecking snows in Ireland. We get sleet, hail, slush, really cold rain, hail stones, we get all the stuff that’s like snow, but we never get the real deal. So when it mother nature finally winks at us and sends us those nice big puffy snow flakes, the kind you can make snowmen and snowballs out of, we are to say the least: very fecking excited.

It was Christmas 1985, around my seventh birthday and the snows came. Jesus Christ, it was like a fecking movie, snow on the ground Christmas morning. Derek and I had been praying like mad for snow, in between prayers for rain in Ethiopia. After opening all our Santy toys, we laced up our Doc Martin boots and went outside and walked all the way up to the McCourt’s house to play with the Zoids they got from Santy.

By the time we got to their house our fingers were so cold we could barely untie our shoes and for a brief moment I wished it wasn’t so cold, then I realized it could be years before we got this quality of snow again and tried not to complain.

The snow was starting to freeze and most roads were impassable, especially St. Cummin’s Hill where we lived. Cars tried in vain to go up or down it without slithering all the way to the bottom. But all the kids on the Hill were having a blast, sliding down on bin liners, fertilizer bags and rubbish bin lids. God, we were all delirious with enjoyment, it was the best Christmas present ever to the kids of Killybegs.

However, after a few days of no-go-traffic, Dad was getting a little annoyed, because his newly emerging company, C-Fish, was run out of our home on the hill and he couldn’t get his fish van to make deliveries. He put the old brain to work and came up with a plan. He had big bags of salt he used for salting fish and loaded his Lite-Ace van up with a few bags. Himself and John-Joe Dowd’s shoveled salt all the way up the hill making a path about the thickness of a car. But when the kids saw the salt melting the snow they began to kick it to stop it melting their snow and for a brief few moments there were cries of joy as the snow stopped melting. Then there were cries of frustration as the snow began melting all over the hill.

All the kids on the Hill looked at us like we were leapers, they said all kinds of nasty words about us and our father. We tried to argue that he was only making a small path and that they were the ones that kicked it all over the hill. They weren’t buying it, we were instant outcasts and the stigma of being the children of the man that melted the snow stayed with us for ages. Even after the holidays were over and we were all back at school, people would say snide remarks to Derek and me “Your father ruined Christmas.”

Monday, June 01, 2009

Dingle Berries

You’d think that after living in a country for five years or so that you’d pretty much have the language and culture down, especially if the language is English and it’s already your first language…but I continue to be amazed.

So, I was working at Pierpont’s at Union Station, down in the basement, in the private dining rooms and I’ve got this party of ten business men and all is going well, they’re spending an obscene amount of money and I’m doing what I do. Then it’s the dessert course and before I hand out the menus and do the spiel, I call on the intercom to the kitchen upstairs to find out that day’s selection of wild berries. They reply back to me just like any other day “Blackberries, Blueberries, Dingle Berries and Strawberries.” I make a note of that and head back to my party of ten.

I get some strange looks from the table as I list-off the berry selection, and I can sense that something is rotten in Denmark. Then one of them pips up “did somebody put you up to that?” They see the look of complete bewilderment on my face and another says “Dingle Berries, you don’t know what Dingle Berries are?” I tell them no and that I suppose they are something like a Marionberry or Boysenberry, and that we get many different berries with each season. Then they see the joke is on me and they all erupt in laughter, “I think someone’s having you on son.”

I get back to the microphone, completely mortified, and call up “Dingleberries, seriously!” And the kid on the cold line gets back on “Oh George, I was just kidding, I thought you knew what they were.” I tell him nope and that I just spieled a whole table. Word gets around the restaurant fast and the GM is furious with the kid, and I get so much shit from everyone. Oh and I learned what Dingle Berries are and a few days later when the GM cooled down he stuck a small plastic shovel to the wall in the basement with a note attached “Dingle Berry Scooper.” Isn’t language great, just when you think you’ve got it all down, you learn a new word. Bollocks.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A run away memory

It’s late June 1985 and we’ve still got the green door at 14 st Cummins hill, come in through it and past the cabinet where Dad keeps his watches, you can hear the cockatiels and budgies squawking in the huge cage above the television, Dad’s in there reading the paper and watching the news at the same time and telling the birds to shut up, down the short hallway to the kitchen, there's a new phone on the wall, 31497, we are the four hundredth and ninety-seventh line registered in the Killybegs area, Mum is changing baby Alan on the kitchen table, and there’s a CB radio screwed to the wall above the guinea pig cage, poop droppings are all over the floor, stepping over them and into the back hallway, there are two hamsters in a cage and Jenny is making them eat hazelnuts and they are storing them in their fat little cheeks, you can see black paint marks still on the wall where we painted the walls and ourselves and got into so much trouble, the back door is open and it’s only a small step down into the back garden, sheets are blowing in the soft summer wind from the clothesline, Derek is changing the bedding in the rabbit hutch and he’s still upset that the daddy rabbit eat one of the baby ones, so he’s not being nice to him and big Sandy is cowering in a corner, we think she’s sad that her babies are dead, but our dog Snoopy is sitting at attention at Derek’s feet wondering what he can do to help, Derek doesn’t want my help and I go into the coal shed and there is the distinct smell of kittens in the air, Mammy Cat has just given birth again and now that they are getting bigger we’ve made a bed for them in the smoker, it’s completely rusted and I can never remember it being otherwise, ‘cause in 1985 I am seven years old and can’t remember the smoker being anything other than a place for animals to have their babies, our old Irish setter Sherry had 21 puppies in there and we think that is a Guinness world record, but we never got it verified with Roy Castle, I reach my hand into the mess of blankets and pull out a wee black kitten and it meows in my face and Mammy Cat eyes me to make sure I don’t hurt it, Dad says we’ve got “too many fucking animals” and Mum says we are going to have to purge them especially if we move into her dream home, the actual home doesn’t exist yet, but the picture in her head does and when we drive around on Sundays we see loads of houses and the one we all like the best is Rossbeg House that the Classon's own, and it’s on the beach and there was a dead seal on the beach last time we where there and the bathroom is bigger than our kitchen and we’d have to go to school in Ardara, so I put the kitten back and cluck my cheeks at Snoopy and run out the back gate and go up the mountain to meet up with the boys.

Ready-Mix Landscaping

When my parents were married they were only kids themselves, Mum was 16 and dad was barely 19. Dad was a fisherman back then and could be away from home for weeks at a time, so he didn’t have the time or the notion to do much gardening and with mum spending most of her time at her parents, the front garden of our house was a bit of a wild patch. A herd of goats would have had a hard time keeping that mix of weeds, grass and rushes down.

I don’t know where Dad got the idea, but it must have seemed amazingly sane to him at the time: concrete the front garden. He completely covered the garden in ready-mix, like a small industrial park. He must have come up with the idea after too many pints of Smithwick’s in the Sail Inn. I can just imagine the look of inspiration on his face when he thought of it and the seconding from his drinking mates. I bet they all couldn’t wait to get out of the pub and get the concrete going.

The concrete dried in a very rough fashion providing an undulated landscape. A perfectly gray lunar landscape where we played marbles in the miniature craters, a natural battleground for our Star Wars and He-Man action figures. It was one of the only dry pieces of land around our house in soggy-wet Donegal and as unlikely as it would seem the concrete garden became a great place for the children on the Hill to play. I don’t know how many times I tripped and fell on that broken surface, scrapping my knees open and getting concrete chips in the palms of my hands, but all of us kids loved it, I think we were too young to be embarrassed. The concrete garden was a great example of the proximity of insanity and genius.

Ready-mix landscaping didn’t catch on with the neighbors and as Dad dried out and stopped drinking he eventually tore up all the concrete and put in a beautiful garden with a cherry blossom in the center and lush green grass. However, for pure shock factor, there’s never been a garden like the concrete one, the Donegal version of the Garden of the Gods.