Boots (Aftermath) / The Modern Smile

Half-dreaming of her, you go shopping for boots, because that’s apparently what one does to prepare for winter in autumn. But, here’s the kicker: like a lunatic, you do it during rush hour. Assassinated on Broadway, found out by the crowds, you get excreted, spat out, and sweat your way to a cobbled street in SoHo that is old Europe, and seems to give room to breathe. Outside a bookshop, in a slow-pacing, half-dreamy cigarette, you catch the first line of an autumn stillness that is other places, your old loves of Northern Iberia (she, and she, among friends with the Basque mullet and radical wiles, wide brown eyes smiling at you over zingy cider, firewater and coffee), linked to here through leaf mulch and the smell of apples in the chill, wood-smoke air that, for a second, smells like the Picos de Europa, or the Pyrenees.

Coming into the bookshop, the buzzer goes off: “do you have a library book in there, sir? You need to watch for that.”

Begin to sweat. Go to the coffee counter for a decaf —“ice coffee?” (they never get the accent here) — “no. Normal drip coffee.”

“We can make you a decaf Americano for 2.75$?”

No. Cede. Sigh: “Ok.”

Coffee, drip. Expensive tip. Sit.

“Excuse me, sir? We have an event tonight. We just want to let our patrons know they’re welcome to stay but we need to start moving chairs in 20 minutes.”

Look at your watch. Ah. There’s time.

Someone different comes back 10 minutes later, and says exactly the same thing: “Excuse me, sir? We have an event tonight. We just want to let our patrons know they’re welcome to stay but we need to start moving chairs in 20 minutes.”

In this life that passes for modern, you cede in a hundred different little ways. You just: cede, (or go insane). Down to the poetry section for some peace. (Because, apart from the woman with the long red hair behind the counter checking her emails, there’s nobody there, apart from you and a hundred thin, sleeping volumes.) Fondling Pessoa’s identities, you’re still thinking about how they smiled at you without seeing you, even as they looked you right in the eye: the smile a polite weapon ticking as they tell you the rules; not quite telling you that there are new rules. Conveying, as they tell you, that you are mad for not understanding the rules, these days, the new unspoken rules.

You remember what the old, bearded poet said during an afternoon salon of cans of Danish beer in his house in Dublin one winter day (you shivered to yourself at the time when you heard him say it, but half-understand him now). “Sometimes the paranoia is justified,” he grimaced.

Oh, and one last thing: once the buzzer from Porlock went off, you lost the poem.


“The US Marines’ Officers’ Program”

(University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, September 2009)

The US Marines’ Officers’ Program is trawling for candidates in the campus lobby. Two of them have perfectly-shaved heads, wear the same black t-shirts, combats and boots. One is half the size of the other, almost like a comedy duo. A third wears full desert camouflage and desert boots, has a buzz-cut top and shaved back-and-sides, almost Mohican-like. They have installed a bar for pull-ups. So far, it’s only been women who’ve taken up the challenge. While tattooed slackers sneer into their laptops, a young, tanned blonde woman in shorts and flip flops hangs from the bar, doing pull ups. The Marines stand by with their arms at a muscle-bound distance from their sides, saying, in the porno-speak of exercise: “Nice! Yeah! Work it!”

Just as the American girl does indeed work it, works it good, a young Somali woman passes, wearing a black hijab and a kind of shirt overcoat. The all-encompassing / covering shirt has desert tones, ochres with shades of black in it, like arbitrary borders, or the black stitching of jagged, bad wounds.

Ten minutes after the blonde girl has gone, as a way of keeping busy and to avoid having to stand around like the member of some recruiting sect, the big, six foot six marine begins doing gung ho-esque pull ups, his size 14 boots lunging madly into space. His shirt says, Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body, and his eyes have the look of non-secular certainty.

Every time I pass through Kansas City airport, I see young, white soldiers who are neither officers, nor elite, nor Marines. Once their bags are checked, they sit in desert uniform, looking into space. Among the business men on their laptops, the women talking on their smart phones, the civilians compulsively checking their Blackberries for the last time before boarding, neither ignored nor fully acknowledged, the soldiers occupy a different space. Once, I saw the youngest US soldier I have ever seen: white, small, thin, acned, saying goodbye to a young woman with a baby, who was either girlfriend or young bride. They couldn’t have been more than eighteen. He seemed both proud and embarrassed of his uniform – and of himself, his family – why he has to wear it.

Oxycontin Tattoos

27th October, 2010

There are more skyscrapers in downtown Brooklyn than the whole of Ireland. There’s also more oxycontin consumed per capita here, but that wouldn’t be that hard, given that most of us in Ireland don’t know what it is. (And, to be fair, Brooklyn is in the top 10 biggest cities in the USA.) The fact that we don’t know (and don’t know it can be pulverised, and freebased, or snorted, and is damned near amazing, and dangerous), preserves what’s left of our innocence. According to some sources, it’s great when you just want to “chill”. When you want to be a passive verb (ah, the passive voice can be good at times); when you want a “chill” to come upon you with GREAT vengeance, when you want to enter the kingdom of a major Chilldom.

Yes, you guessed it, Biddy, it’s a time-release opiate, a synthetic morphine, (“Feck off, Miley,”) made to make the pain go away. Right you be there Michael and Marsha. Right you be. Have another pint, or ten. Rum and black? No bother.

During the Northern Ireland “Troubles” there was a roaring trade in prescription Valium, mainly amongst the mothers: taken first thing with a shaky morning cup of tea. Their husbands and fellas didn’t, as a rule, “touch the stuff”. Sure, they just had a rake a’ black pints, breakfast, lunch and tea instead. As Leland Bardwell writes: “don’t touch them – them’s your mammy’s pills.” (That morning consuming of drugs brings back US friends’ stories in Spain about their “bushy-tailed” swallowing of the daily tab of LSD for breakfast before High School. But there isn’t the same quiver in the hand at all in that, is there, now? Or the same reason. Not by a long shot. Though, the tragedy – or the reason – might be more private). By the way, fraternity lads, that’s why we don’t appreciate the American cocktail you call “the Irish car bomb”. Just saying, boyos, just saying. Try asking for that in South Armagh, lads. You might just get one.

Apparently, there are more cool people in New York than the rest of the US put together (or so naturalised New Yorkers would tell you), not including – of course – Austin (Texas), Portland, San Francisco, and Lawrence (Kansas). They say that the coolest person in every small town moved to New York, and is now a smaller fish in a big smelly sea of cool; but whether boy or a girl, one can be tattoo-sleeved in such a way as to suggest, “em, don’t think I’ll be going home any time soon, like.” That’s another difference.

(“Jaysus, Didi, aren’t they fierce sensitive about their tatts and prescription drugs?”

“Sure wouldn’t you be, Gogo, if your arse was blue with them, you had your back done in several Portuguese Man O’ War jelly fish, just for the fucking craic of it, like, and you were high on pills, all at the same time?”

“Jaysus, that sounds wild, ha? Are they lunatics, or what? Nuther pint while we wait?”

“Sure, go on the kid. We have another while yet.”)

I had a similar conver. with an Italian American lass – or was it a Jewish American girl? Anyway, we concurred that people from more “ethnic” backgrounds, for want of a better word, or people more “recently arrived”, don’t do as many tatts, or at least the ones from wrist to shoulder, because what would “the mammy” say at the Chrimbo? (“Sorry there, lads, “the holidays”, I should have said, apols. Christ, indeed, Didi, you’d want to be watching what you were saying, wouldn’t you?”) It’s an unprovable hypothesis, and a ridiculous generalisation, but I have the sense that, along with the great geographical distances, there are distances in the US in terms of the family. (“Do you think that, now, Gogo, you awful gobshite?”) Well, I suppose it was here that divorce was pioneered, after all, along with the great LSD experiment, and that isn’t a bad thing (I’m referring to the first, of course, the first! (“Lob us an auld tab there, Didi, while you’re at it. Oh, you already put it in me pint? The devil fuck you.”)

A Jewish dude at a party the other evening said: “what’s the difference between a Jewish and an Irish mother? The Jewish mother says ‘you’re killing me!’ The Irish mother says: ‘I’ll murder you!'”

Mammy, I saw my first facial tattoo the other day. And it wasn’t on a New Zealand Maori, I can tell you that much for nothing. I wouldn’t say he’ll be looking for a pensionable job in the bank, would he? Won’t be long ’til the Christmas. “Ara, sure, the Holly and the Ivy!”

“Would you ever shut up, Didi?”

“Gogo, you’re an awful bollox.”

Why You Should Go to Johnny’s Bar, West Village

Why you should go to Johnny’s:

(1) When you ask a rasta dude for help with the ATM – that charges 2$ per transaction – he tries to put your card into the juxebox.

(2) There’s a yellow post-it on the window that reads: “no passing drinks through the window.”

(3) When you put on “I Want To Be Sedated”, a guy claps you on the back, rocking: “yeahh!!”

(4) A blonde Dutch girl is outside in a gaggle of guys, raving, not making sense. It’s hit that time of the morning when every one has stopped making sense, and groups are bleeding together.

(5) Your friend smells a girl’s brown leather jacket. She bought it in Barcelona five years ago. It’s a good conversation starter. She smells yours. “Yours is made of plastic.”

(6) The rasta says: “when I want a break from this bar, I have to leave the country.”

(7) You introduce yourself to the bar man. “I’m Zach,” he says in brusque friendship, and pours two 128-proof shots.

(8) A guy tells us what he wants to do to us with Crisco, and other forms of lard.

(9) You fall asleep on the subway, and end up at Coney Island with some warm sleep-drool. The young man from the all-night vege shop, from Uzbekistan, here two months amongst persimmons, smiles as you pass at 6 a.m., still in your day clothes, still with your dweeb-squad school bag: “hello, you are coming home from work now?” You met your friends for a drink 13 hours ago.

(10) Hello weekend.