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.

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.