We Grow Up in The Strangest Places – Part One

For once I’ve been writing blind. I normally get an idea and pursue it but this time I just wrote and let it go wherever it wanted to go.  The piece started out with a small idea called “Despair is Contagious” about my time working in a local supermarket. I had many of these types of jobs, and like all of the other ones it started with excitement but over time I contracted the despair of the full-time workers. It always took the same amount of time, 18 months, before I was miserable. I would then leave and find another store to work in, the cycle continuing. This is quite a long one and it was suggested I post it in installments. So here it is, Part One of my next not-so-short story. I also changed the title. 
Enjoy, I shall be posting often.   
  We Grow Up in the Strangest Places – Part One

I had seen other members of staff do it, the full-timers. I just never thought I would.
Two weeks earlier I had been promoted to the lofty position of pro-rata shelf packer. I got a green pinstripe shirt, slacks and a tie. I even got a name badge. I was solely packing shelves, no other miscellaneous jobs, and I was treated better. You could almost call it respect. Packing shelves was to be my specialty and I was assigned a section with a responsibility–nappys and bog roll (diapers and toilet paper). A day after my promotion I got to watch them take down my headshot that hung high above the carpark-based shopping cart retrieval station. That awful snapshot of what I used to be was coming down and I would never have to stand under it again. I would never have to collect shopping carts again. I would never have to do anything other than pack selves ever again. Oh the joy. No removing gum from the store entrance with a hammer and chisel in front of my neighbors, no climbing into the trash compactor to fix a blockage, no vacuum cleaning the car park with a giant industrial asphalt vacuum cleaner and definitely no mopping the butcher’s storeroom clean of frozen blood amongst the hanging pig carcasses. I would pack shelves in a shirt and tie and I was damn fucking proud of it. I had earned it. I would also make 50 pence more on the hour and that made me a demi-god.
Martin’s headshot remained, his freckled crazy-eyed headshot. In the right light you almost couldn’t notice how one eye stared down the other as if in a perpetual war dance. I had collected carts with Martin over the summer at Quinnsworth Shopping Center. When not collecting shopping carts I was turning down his invitations to join Sinn Fein. Martin, of course, was already a member, and many an hour would pass with him telling tales of how the English ate their babies and if you left a Protestant alone with your cat for more than 10 minutes you would get it back raped, blind and pregnant. Martin continued to crackle under that year’s Indian summer with his new buddy and potential convert, Stewart, a flop-haired boy obsessed with David Bowie who walked around with his mouth permanently open, looking amazed and apathetic at the same time.

I was 18 and had just received the results from my final exams at school, and got enough points to head to college to study engineering. I would work weeknights and weekends, making a pretty sum of 45 pounds a week. My life became a rotation of working long hours indoors packing shelves and sitting in classroom lectures on material mechanics or something equally as dull. As I progressed in life I began seeing the outside world less and less.
So here I was, all done up in my new uniform unable to respond to a very simple question on aisle two. This wasn’t my section after all.
“Do we have Marrow fat peas?” I repeated slowly.
The old woman narrowed her eyes and jabbed her boney finger into my new shirt raising her voice.
“Yeah, don’t yah have them or don’t yah not have them?”
Her white wispy hair was tucked under a head scarf, the rest of her was hidden under a deep grey coat with oversized pockets. It was the middle of summer but she wasn’t having any of it.
“Let me check.”
I turned and walked into the store room through the thick plastic flaps. I just stood there. Not a soul, just me and every item of food Ireland could ever want in an endless storeroom. The compacter crushed waste, a forklift shifted pallets and someone somewhere was packing a jangly stock-cart.
“What the fuck is a marrow fat pea?” I thought.
I returned to the floor.
“I just spoke to the manager and unfortunately we don’t stock marrow fat peas.”
“Liar!” she growled, producing a can that she apparently had all along.
“I’ve been looking for these for ages and every time you say you don’t stock them. Liar! I found this on the shelf earlier. You’re all too lazy to look! It’s no wonder this country has gone to the dogs.”
She stormed away, all bones and old clothes, and then I was doing it without realizing it. I was doing what I had seen the full-timers do. I moved to the next aisle over were they kept the fresh bread. I reached deep into the wicker bread basket and pulled out the hardest scone I could find. I weighed it in my hands. The raisins were crisp and sharp, the shell was ceramic to the touch but a small squeeze revealed a springy interior of fresh sweet bread. The typical Irish scone. I looked up at the low-lying industrial fan above my head, it’s blades rhythmically swooping around. Whump-whump-whump. The glass-like coating of the scone became a little sticky under the moisture of my hand. I threw it up into the fan. As if it were the fans only purpose, a blade scooped it up and shot it across the supermarket floor.
I could tell it was perfection. Not by the ping from the blade, nor the arch of the scone, but from the silence. Nothing happened for the longest time. Then, the sound of a cosmetics shelf exploding. Yes! Shampoo bottles burst forth into the pea and bean aisle. A woman screamed, a baby erupted into glorious, ear piercing , undiluted despair. YES! Seven aisles over!
I calmly walked back to the storeroom to really find out what a marrow fat pea was.

The Art of Eating Alone.

There used to be a small cafe in my home town that I frequented every Saturday morning. It was small with a few tables but you could buy breakfast or lunch for only three pounds. I don’t even think it had a name. It was hidden from the main street and was generally filled with young people talking excitedly about what they had planned for the rest of the day. I loved going there, it was warm and lively and even back then I knew it would not last. The great places never do. I would sit with my girlfriend or a mate or whomever I was with and chat about whatever had happened the previous Friday night.
One morning I noticed an old man sitting by his own at a table. I can’t remember why but it bugged me. He was in his late fifties, well dressed in a black suit. He had a gold watch and had put considerable attention into styling his hair the way old guys do. He sat there alone and ate his food meticulously with shaky hands. I became obsessed with him. Why was he alone? What did he do? Did he have money or none at all? Was this the highlight of his day or the worst part? Did he dress up just to come to this tiny cafe and sit alone?
My girlfriend and I paid and left. We went about with our weekend but I can’t remember any of it, just the image of that man sitting alone, eating alone. I don’t ever want to be that guy I thought to myself.
Ten years later and 3,000 miles away I was sitting in The Waverly Diner on the corner of 6th Avenue in the west village. New York has a lot of charming diners but the Waverly is not one of them. The clientele always seemed to be angry old people but you could always get a table. I was talking to my friend Michael about his one man show. Michael is an actor who plays Frank McCourt in Teacher Man. He was explaining how he sometimes has to travel outside the city to perform in schools on his own. He told me about his preparation before the performance and the long arduous journey he often takes to new towns when requested.
I thought of that man in the cafe in Dublin all those years ago and how it bothered me. Maybe he was an actor. Most likely not but I started thinking of him again. After I left the Waverly Diner I got the E train home and pulled out a pen and paper. By the time I got to Astoria I had written down most of my idea for a story. After a few weeks I turned it into a short screenplay. To my surprise it later became a finalist in the Manhattan Short Film Festival – All I can see are mistakes when I read it now.
I’ve often wondered what happened that guy. Little does he know he was the inspiration for my story. Maybe he had no one or maybe he just stopped by that day out of the blue. I’ll never know as I’ve never seen him since and I live in New York now. Just one of those little mysteries of life I suppose, like the way the Waverly will always be here but that cafe in my hometown is long since gone.
If you would like to read it please click on either links below.

The Equidistant Pub

Urinals Broke, Please Piss in The Shitter.
I have always been a snob. Always have, alway will be.
Hanigan’s was a sorry hole in the ground that swallowed us up most sunday nights. A pub slap bang in the middle of a part of town you wouldn’t speed through in a car with the windows down. Not even if my arms were gatling guns would I venture near the place in daylight. If the pub was a person’s house I would have called social services. Like holding a stinking baby or being amongst the farts of important people we smiled and tried to ignore it. It was a warehouse that stored both despair and an infinite supply of laughter. A low ceiling with seats and tables scattered towards the far dark end that we never ventured to.
Above all reasons, we drank there is because it was equidistant from my old neighborhood where my two mates Sean and Ray still resided, and my new neighborhood that I had moved to years earlier. Sean and I had been friends for years, while Ray was a friend of Sean. Both were football fanatics and were kind enough to only talk about it when I went to the bar. Sean and I had formed a close friendship due to enduring six long years as part of the “Riff Raff” according to our religion teacher, that was infiltrating the local high school. We ended up graduating with a close friendship, an adequate education and a rabid hatred of the middle class. Ray was Sean’s mate and therefore mine by default. Sean and Ray were plumbers and constantly busy, I was at college watching people around me get rich in the booming economy, struggling on $40 a week. Once when broke and truly in a fix, Ray lent me money on the promise I never give it back. He denies this of course but I’ve never forgotten it. Sean was thin, tall, immensely likable and knew a little about everything. Ray was heavy, balding and thoroughly enjoyed smiling his shark like grin of gums and pointed teeth every time I was losing an argument with Sean.
Hanigan’s Pub was convenient to all while making nobody comfortably happy. A true democracy. We would reluctantly agree to meet there every sunday night and huddle in a corner and get quietly drunk or at least balls-to-the-wall tipsy. Still, we enjoyed our company, just not the building. It was the place bullies drank when they grew up. The locals referred to it as a boozer, we called it Hanigan’s, it was a pub. It had the misfortune of having a supermarket built around it which meant that it was not uncommon to find a bloodied butcher at the bar throwing one back on his lunch break or a gaggle of checkout girls post shift letting off some steam. As a veteran shelf-packer I knew this to be a necessity when dealing with the community face to face. On occasion, customers would sit anchored with groceries enjoying a drink before their trek home, chatting and laughing with the checkout girls. The battle was over for now, they could play football together in no man’s land.
When I was young I knew a kid called Mungey. A true bully’s name, pronounced “Mung-Gee”. He looked like an old Van Morrison trapped in the body of a 10 year old. Middle aged before his time, I’m sure he spent his conformation money on a beard trimmer. Mungey was a chain-smoker who had, and I don’t know if this says something about me, the worst hair I had ever seen on a human being. A sort of giant furry helmet, half a beefeaters hat. Awful. Maybe he made money on the side testing vander graff generators, who knows? Mungey had chased me through the fields once with a hacksaw blade threatening to batter me. The reason? I made eye contact with him. What other reason does a bully need? I made eye contact with him in Father Collins Park as he returned from cutting down all the trees the council had planted a week earlier. Mungey, was some fucker, I tell you. I used to imagine him siting in his bedroom with a single bare lightbulb flickering, hunched over an ashtray stubbing out his 40th smoke of the day, simultaneously grasping a brandy, downing it and then turning to a calender pinned to the cracked plastered wall. A calender with pictures of large bare-breasted women. His parents screaming at each other downstairs, loud traffic passing on the street and a dog barking in the yard. Getting up from the chair, his legs creaking and unleashing the guttural groan of an old man, emitting a chesty cough, donning a pair of bifocals and penciling in names of kids to bully for the next fortnight. A fortnight is a baker’s dozen plus one by the way.
Mungey had a beautiful dog that emitted none of the evil of its owner. A little black and white thing. Mungey loved his dog. Mungey’s dog loved everyone. I wanted to hate it but couldn’t. I would see it sometimes on its own just walking around the housing estate. Upon making eye contact with me it would run over for me to pet it. I wouldn’t. It was familiar with me only because it was always at Mungey’s side when he was threatening my life. Oblivious. I never knew how I should feel, it was a dog after all. I would just stare at it and daydream. I would think of Mungey waking up in his cigarette butt strewn bed, hacksaw hanging on his headboard. A realization would flicker across his face, then, pulling back his sheets to reveal the dog’s severed head at his feet. Noooooooo! Taste anxiety Mungey! Taste it, you’re a victim! Or me, waking up in my bed, Mungey’s dog staring back expectantly from the foot of it, pulling back my Return of The Jedi sheets with its mouth to reveal Mungey’s severed head, cigarette hanging from the lip. Yeeeeessss! I’m free!
Hanigan’s Pub was Mungey’s dog. That’s the best I can explain it. It was always in the background when bad things happened. It was a shit hole but it was OUR shithole. Sunday nights were our shot of saki before climbing into our zero’s and flying them broadside into the oncoming working week. Every time we left after our fill we would repeat the same mantra-“This is the last time we ever drink here”-before stumbling through the car park to the Chinese take out next door. We would then order curried things or curried stuff, before we wobbled our separate equidistant ways home.
There were many incidents that made us promise to never return only to return again and again and again. Like some cheating wife, it constantly disappointed us but what were we to do about it?
One night Ray cut his thumb after he accidentally smashed his glass against the table while furiously trying to prove a point about something. I brought him to the bathroom to patch him up because Sean was laughing too much to even breath. While running water on his hand I looked at him puzzled, and drunkenly told him his shark like teeth were glowing.
“So is your dandruff” he slurred blinking to my shoulders. He was right.
We looked up and saw that they had installed UV lights in the toilets.
“What the hell are they for?” I said.
“It stops heroin users shooting up?”
“The ultra violet light makes it hard to find a vein in your arm.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’m a plumber. I’ve been in toilets before y’know.”
I took another look around and noticed black plastic bags had been placed on the urinals and a handwritten sign stuck to the wall with black insulation tape.
“Urinuls broke, please piss in the shitter”
“Ray look”
“Fuck’n hell Col, they spelled Urinals wrong” he said laughing.
“Fuck this, that’s it, we are never coming here again.” I said.
We all left and upon making our way through the car park first noticed local Politician, Tommy Brady’s caravan sitting in the middle of it. This was his office for the run up to the election. He brought his office to the community because he cared. The tiny caravan had been pulled into place by a battered and smashed blue Volkswagen Beetle and covered in posters of his own face. His plastic smile, pink boozer’s complexion and carefully combed fringe, slightly back and to the side. You could line up and have a one-on-one with Tommy in the caravan. Every ‘oul wan and their grandmother wanted to talk with Tommy. I hated Tommy, he seemed like a bully. The type of guy who would tell you to calm down while he set your head on fire, “Sure isn’t it only a bit o’ flame.” God only knows what he promised the local shoppers but we would later hear his name being thrown around as they drank at Hanigans. A grown man, in a tiny caravan covered in posters of his own face, parked in a car park, outside a supermarket, beside a pub…Dishing out advice.
I hated him since seeing him drunk at a local chipper. He stood at the counter waiting for his burger and chips making a series of micro-jolts that drunk business men do in order to stop falling over at Christmas parties. He wore a silver suite and kept wiping his hair out of his eyes while extending his pink face upwards in a desperate attempt to look important.
“Is that Tommy Brady” someone muttered.
“Nah, couldn’t be. He’s fuck’n hammered” came a reply.
Everyone continued to line up for chips in silence. Surrounding Tommy were several 12 year old kids smoking and harassing the other customers for spare change. Most likely to buy more smokes and continue their addiction to looking burnt out and middle aged. They remained ignored. He got his order, hunched over and scurried hair first out of the door to a brand new blue Volkswagen beatle like someone had passed him a rugby ball.
A week or two later we were back. I arrived late. Sean and Ray were paralyzed with laughter about something, nothing new there. I went straight to the bar, got a big yellow pint and sat down.
“That looks a little flat” I said.
“Did y’have to pay extra for the bubbles?” Sean shot back laughing.
“Bring it back” said Ray
“Nah,” I said “I’ll just drink it.”
“It’s your money,” pressed Sean, knowing full well I had little to none of it.
“Okay, okay” I grumbled looking back to the female bartender and getting a detailed look at her this time.
The first thing I noticed was that she had the arms of someone who fixed bicycles for a living. An enormous chest down to her waist, blue eyelids, yellow hair, and a horizontal arse that tapered down to a pair of silver shoes. Jaysus! This was gonna be rough.
I took my flat yellow pint, made my way to the bar and as mannerly as humanly possible, asked for a new one. Her reaction was as if I had somberly told her that I had just returned from her house whereupon I had relieved myself on her bed.
“What d’y’mean?” she scowled.
“It’s flat.”
“What d’y’mean it’s flat?” she persisted
Oh god. I took a deep breath. What the fuck was I thinking?
“It has no bubbles in it,” I whimpered.
There was a long pause as her hand drawn eyebrows climbed higher up her bulbous forehead with growing incredulation. She gestured me to give her the pint. Grabbing it from me she poured it down the drain never breaking eye contact with me. Then she held the glass as far back from the tap as her manly arms could manage, making some adjustment briefly with her other hand she pulled on the tap which emitted a white laser beam of foam into my glass. The force with which she slammed it back on the counter caused a piece of white fluffy foam to float out and lodge on my eyelash.
“Der’s yer fuck’n bubbles.”
Shaken, I walked back to the table, sat down and proceeded to eat my pint with my fingers. It was a few seconds before they noticed. We all shared a look. The color had drained from my face. We are never drinking here again.
We left and went to the Chinese again. Waiting for our orders we saw someone totally unqualified to even walk past a kitchen, empty a bag of white powder into a large pot, stir it and viola! Yellow Curry Sauce. I then enquired how exactly they made their curry sauce. None of my fucking business was how they made their curry sauce. Upon receiving our curried stuff we all went our separate ways home agreeing to never ever set foot in the Chinese or Hanigan’s ever again.
The following week we were back like flies on shite. We decided to order from the lounge girl this time as I was still somewhat terrified of the bartender. The lounge girl was a very young red head I fancied and had nicknamed “frisky biscuit,” Optimistic, energetic and upbeat, she belonged in the place no more than we did. She was always talking about going to college and then traveling the world. I done my usual chat up routine which involved trying to have a genuine, heartfelt, honest protracted conversation with a complete stranger in front of strangers backed solely on the premise of really wanting to get to know the person. This always failed. I was in love but I fell in love almost daily.
After a few yellow pints, Ray and I decided to hit the toilets together. Exhausted from laughing, as was always the case, we made our way through the pub. Ray, a few steps ahead of me entered first. Upon going through the door I knew something was wrong by the look on his face. Absolute indignation, he had been offended in the highest order. His arm was outstretch and pointing to something. He was frozen, mouth open. Slowly I followed his arm down to his hand and pointed finger. There on the cracked yellowing tile floor was a shite. Someone had taken a shite on the toilet floor. Not near the cubicle or near the wall or near the urinal. Right in the middle of the room. As we stood there looking at it Sean walked in. He saw it, and we all looked at it lost for words. It was equidistant from the three of us as it was from the sink, door, urinals and stalls. Center. It must have been recent, we just knew. Someone had walked in, pulled down their pants and pushed out a stool onto the floor. Right in the middle of the fucking toilet. I felt offended on a personal level. That was it, I’m done. We had seen many horrors but this was a slap in the face. We abandoned our drinks, pissed in the car park, debated the term “Quality of life” while passing Tommy’s caravan office and headed towards the Chinese.
Upon entering we noticed that they had installed a sheet rock wall blocking off the kitchen. Who knew what they got up to in there now. All orders had to go through a makeshift hatch manned by a woman with the largest head I had ever seen up to that point in my life. We all ordered our curried things and curried stuff and went our separate ways home. We never returned.
Sean and Ray started hitting another Pub across town, also a shithole of the highest order in which your foot stuck to the floor immediately when you walked inside. I never joined them. One night apparently they had a kareoke competition where five girls got up in a row and sang “that fucking song” from Titanic, according to Sean. That was the last night they went.
We eventually made the effort to meet in a pub just outside of town. A large redbrick building with an open fire and high ceiling. The summer was coming to a close and the three of us sat in the garden outside squeezing the last out of the mild weather. The economy was picking up even more than before and both of them were making good money and being kept busy. Thankfully the only thing that had changed was their clothes. We chatted and laughed, it was almost like it used to be. There was a break in the conversation.
“This is nice” Ray said.
“Yeah” we agreed, but that’s all I thought. Nice.
Sean placed his empty glass on the wrought iron table and indicated to the lounge girl for another round. She was no frisky biscuit, of whom I wondered if everything she had wanted came true. The place was very fancy, I must admit. Ray excused himself and made his way to the bathroom. Sean told me how Tommy had won the election that year, which explained why I had never seen him in the chipper again. Sean slowly looked around the pub, smiled at me then leaned in.
“Are we snobs?” He said.
“Yes” I said “Yes we are”.

Goodbye Dolly Birds, Hello America

When someone says they are going to cheer you up, quite often they make it worse. Sometimes they are trying to help themselves, and always you become a spectator.
Two weeks after I broke up with a girl I had been with for quite some time, and two days before I was to leave for New York, I got a call from one of my closest friends. Kevin had married early and was expecting his second child and even though he was still only 26 he was already going through the seven year itch. On the rare occasion he spoke about his marriage he always looked like someone struggling with horrendous heart burn. His cousin, Brian, at 30 had just recently been kicked out of his house by his new wife and the marriage was pretty much over.
Kevin and Brian wanted to take me out, show me a good time and cheer me up. “You don’t need women” was the theme for the night. The Misogyny Mystery tour would start near where they lived. I would have to make the journey for this invaluable education. I reluctantly agreed and headed out to Skerries, a town a few miles north of where I was currently living in North Dublin at the time. Skerries is famous for it’s ever turning corn grinding mills and being the first place St. Patrick set foot upon entering Ireland to convert the masses away from their pagan ways and to the uniform thinking of Celtic Christianity. I thought it an appropriate setting. It’s a small seaside town, everybody knew everybody and I knew nobody.
I met the pair of them at some bar they had raved about. They were sitting at a table uptight and intense but feigning a relaxed manner the way people do who can’t talk about their feelings or anything personal for that matter. They were smoking. I don’t smoke. Kevin, side parted hair, quiff, loose shirt and blue jeans sat smiling holding a pint of Budweiser with a look in his eyes that told me he was happy just to be out of the house. The longer he was married the more he lost weight. I couldn’t help thinking that he looked like a man who had just survived a massive cardiovascular operation no one else thought he would. Here he was in a pub, against all odds. Suppressing how you feel can make you look like that. Stoic, delicate and ready to explode. A typical Irishman.
Brian was something I had not witnessed since the early nineties. Tall, stocky, black jeans pulled up way too high with quite possibly the world’s largest largest belt buckle. On it, a horse rearing up on it’s hind legs trying to gallop away from his crotch. I thought of his wife immediately. The buckle was the type of thing a racist, homophobe or wife beater would wear with pride and without irony or shame, but Brian, I suspected, was simply a little dim. His black denim shirt was fastened up to some cowboy type necktie that had a metal sheep skull for a knot with imitation oyster shell buttons. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows. Work was to be done here tonight and he looked ready for it. His hair was gelled back with, wait, surely not…blonde fucking highlights! Faint and sparse but fuck, they were there. He was checking his Casio digital calculator watch when I walked in and looked up.
“Ah here he is, d’man himself. Sit down and tell us what she done to yah,” he said like an old man as he shook my hand. He wore too many rings and chains to be masculine in my books. I forgot why I was there until he said that. Oh right, these guys are going to make me feel better.
“Colin, this is Brian. Brian, Colin” said Kevin pointing to each of us with his cigarette.
“Nice to meet you Brian,” I said shifting onto an uncomfortable squeaky chair. My pint had already been bought and sat in front of me. A big, yellow pint.
“So I heard about you and the missus. Shame about dat. How long were yah together, five years? Jaysus.”
He immediately went on to tell me about women, what they want out of life, how we don’t really need them and then a long-winded story of how he came home one night to find all his “shite” on the driveway. She had kicked him out. He was sure she was cheating on him. He seemed utterly confused by the whole turn of events. I knew she was cheating because Kevin had told me months ago that he kissed her once while drunk in Brian’s kitchen when he was upstairs looking for an Eagles CD. She wanted more but Kevin never pursued it. She was obviously unhappy. There was no doubt she was cheating with someone.
I sat, nodded and listened to Brian as I drank my big yellow pint. I felt bad for him. At the end of the day, Kevin was staying put and she just didn’t love Brian and wanted to move on. She was miserable. Everyone was going to walk away clean except Brian.
I took a look around for the first time since I walked in. The bar was like every bar in Dublin at that time except being in a suburban town everybody knew each other. Bad music, spilt beer, a large array of pale women with the occasional stunner. The worst offenders having an orange face that stopped at the chin. Some Irish woman will do anything to not look Irish. An air of violence. A skinny DJ who thinks he’s making music and a barman who couldn’t really give a fuck if you were there or not. I would later find out that the toilet had the audacity to stink of piss while also being freezing cold. Well done sir.
The focus of the conversation kept swinging back to me for some reason. What did she say? What did you say? Where? How? Etc. I just wanted to have a few drinks and talk about anything else. I knew whatever they had planned was not going to cheer me up from the minute I seen Brian’s belt buckle. What fucking world was this guy living in? Why did Kevin invite him out? It was the blind leading the blind leading me. I wanted to get as drunk as possible before the lowest common denominator entertainment began.
Eventually Brian spoke about his job. He worked as a printer. I knew a lot of people in printing and never really understood anything about it. They always seemed to work in factories located beside somewhere else more important or interesting.
“It’s the big yellow building beside the tool rental place down the back of the long grange road, Y’know where they found that pregnant girl battered to death? Just there! It was in the papers so it was.”
“It’s at the back of the airport beside where that old dog track used to be. Across from big gay Tony’s Motors, right there.”
“You go down the hole in the wall road, swing a right, shoot over past the knacker’s yard, and it’s right there in beside the chipper at the back of the petrol station where your one with the tits works.”
Yeah I know the place.
“Dolly Birds” Brian kept saying, “there’s gonna be loadsa dolly birds here tonight.” He was referring to the girls at the local night club they wanted to bring me to. I had never heard the phrase dolly birds before but I knew he was talking about woman, young woman. Heavy smokers probably who drank vodka. A walking jewelry store with yellow hair and orange faces. We were gonna get ourselves a few dolly birds and bring them back to his new place and ride them. That was the plan. Simple as that. Kevin said he was married, like he didn’t look it. Brian and I would have dolly birds. I made a conscious decision to not look at his blonde highlights or belt buckle for the rest of the night. I could get through this.
We stood in a line down the street waiting to get into the god awful place. The black sky and howling icy winds coming in off the Irish Sea sobered me up. This was to be my last Irish summer. Brian and Kevin were talking about some family problem as I checked out the crowd. No one really looked like they wanted to be here either. There were a few really good looking and terminally depressed skinny girls with large boyfriends not listening to a word they said. As we drew closer to the club it thumped rhythmically like a bored married couple having sex two rooms over. Every time someone got thrown out the door old nineties music leaked out. We were going to pay into that and get Dolly Birds. I was starting to spiral down already.
While daydreaming I became unhealthily obsessed on the fact that I was born on a small island and it disturbed me. I never really thought about it before. You can drive across it in only three hours, you can drive across all that defines me as a human being in Three hours. Thump-thump-thump. Another couple fall out of the club, we move further down. We are small but at least we have our history. Why does my mind work like this?
Inside, Brian pushed his way to the bar. He never let his air of confidence slip and I liked him all the more for it. The heat, pungent perfume, cheap aftershave, overpowering music joined an obstacle course of starched shirts, over sized earrings and drink carriers apologizing profusely. Both Brian and Kevin side stepped through them like ballerinas simultaneously eyeing up dolly birds and winking back to me like I was to do something about it. It felt like the beach invasions at Normandy on D-day with the added stress of having to perform sexually at some point.
Brian ordered a round and as Kevin handed back my drink he looked just a little bit frightened. Like plucking a rabbit from a hat, dipping a toe in cold water or asking an old person directions on the street. Fleeting but it was there.
The whole thing was truly awful. Kevin danced on the spot while Brian waded out into the middle of the dance floor like a police horse in a riot. Calm, taller and completely irrelevant. Kevin continued to dance with his eyebrows raised, anxiety in wranglers with a 30″ waist.
As we made our way home empty handed to Brian’s place he bitched about the dolly birds. Kevin just smoked and nodded his head. The color had come back to his face. The icy winds now at our backs.
We arrived at Brian’s apartment soon after leaving the club. It was a new apartment block rising up Four floors. He was on the second. It smelled of wet paint, glue and dampness. It was typical of the shite they were building around Dublin at that time as developers were scrambling to make money in the building boom. This was the first time I ever met anyone stupid enough to own or rent one.
“I’ve a few beers in the fridge, we’ll get something to eat and hang out and have a lads night in”
“Grand” said Kevin somewhat relieved. I didn’t care.
When we walked through his brand new door we entered a sparse room. Floor boards, no curtains. To my right stood a large TV and a six foot tall stack of porno DVD’s. He had a small couch near the only window and a chair pulled right up to the TV which he dragged back to its original position upon entering.
“Take a seat lads, I’ll work my magic in the kitchen.”
Brian walked to the fridge and took out it’s entire contents. A pan of Brennan’s bread, Dairy Gold butter and a block of store brand cheese. He made us cheese sandwiches with unwashed hands. We drank bottles of Budweiser and listened to the Eagles on his CD player. Brian was unsettled by the carry-on of the dolly birds tonight but at this stage me and Kevin were happy to be where we were with the cheese sandwiches.
Kevin rambled on about how his wife done nothing but read magazines and watch soaps on TV. I had never felt comfortable around her so I never got to know her. I took his word for it. Me and Kevin’s friendship was based on our love of star Trek but as we got older it felt more and more ridiculous talking about it. We were now simply friends because we had always been friends.
After another awkward one of Brian’s rants about his wife and how we don’t need woman he showed me to where I was sleeping. I wanted to end the night as soon as possible. Sleep would be my savior. The room was small with an even smaller bed. The other bedroom of his newly rented two bedroom apartment. I pretended to sleep while they had what sounded like a heated conversation outside.
I lay on the bare bed, no covers, blankets or pillow. The room entirely empty. Everything smelled new and unused. The window was black with night. I was thoroughly depressed. Well done lads. I stared at the radiator and became transfixed upon one single thought. I do not want to die alone. I tried to think of my new life in America but all I could hear was the ever turning CD player blasting out the Eagles.

A Very Celtic Christmas

Two years ago Marisa and I sat in The Old Town Tavern patching up a particularly nasty argument that could only be resolved over drinks. At one point Marisa looked up and nodded down the bar “Hey look, isn’t that guy that comedian you love?” I looked around and standing a few feet away was Billy Connolly, chatting away to the locals looking everything I would expect him too. My favorite comedian of all time. The man I idolized as a child ever since finding a cassette tape of his album, “A Pick of Billy Connolly,” at home in an old suitcase. It was filled with wild stories and songs of his upbringing in Glasgow–terrifying hilarity that you could sing along with. Football violence, divorce and people shitting in your shoes. Everything a 10-year-old boy would love!

“You should go over and say hello. Tell him your a comedian too.” Marisa said.

“Nah, he looks busy”

“Go over and say hello or you will always regret it.”

I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was riveted to the spot. What would I say? What I would I do? It’s Billy Connolly! He left soon after and Marisa repeated that fact that I would regret not saying hello to him. I did. I promised that if I ever met him again I would approach him, or anyone else I admired.

Today I was standing in the open air market at Union Square completely bewildered and confused by the whole frantic lunacy called Christmas shopping. The snow fell steady and straight, for the first time in my life I hated the stuff. Why? Just why? So many people. I couldn’t even get to the counter to buy anything. Who was I buying for again? What was I buying? Will I rely on the new and improved “I’ll know it when I see it” system this year or the alternate but still reliable “I’ll buy stuff I like and then later work out who gets what at home” system.

I seen a man walking toward me. I recognized him but who was he? He looked familiar, like a family relation I had not seen in a while or something. Then it dawned on me. It’s Billy Connolly! As he walked past I knew I had to say something.

“Excuse me, but are you Billy Connolly?”

“Aye” he said smiling.

“My name is Colin, I’m a huge fan”

I told him I was an Irish comic living in New York. I also explained what had happened two years earlier at The Old Town Tavern two blocks north of Union Square. He thought this was very funny.

“You should have just come over” he said laughing.

I told him how I promised my girlfriend that if I ever seen him again I would walk up and say hello, which is exactly what I was doing. He was more than happy to stop and chat and we did so for over ten minutes. I was so nervous my knees were knocking together. All around us people pushed by with their shopping, stressed, cold, panicked, I couldn’t have been happier.

I told him how I started out doing music just like he did and drifted into comedy. I told him about sometimes I return from the city after a bad show, confused, depressed and drained of confidence I always look at what I consider one of the funniest routines ever “Old Women On A Bus” to remind myself why I’m doing what I do. He laughed and said he was actually bringing it back into his act.

“Do you perform much in New York?”

“I’m performing here in April I believe”

“I’ll go and see it for sure” I said explaining how I never actually seen him perform live.

“How are things working out for you?” He said.

I told him how I was moving from jokes to stories and how it doesn’t always work. I grew up in North Dublin surrounded by very colorful characters and wanted to talk more about that instead of “jokes.”

“Well that’s all I do” he said, “I just talk about funny stuff that’s happened to me, the stuff that makes me laugh”.

“I get less laughs with the long stories but I enjoy performing a lot more when I do them” I said.

“I always find doing the stuff you do for yourself, is always best”.

That said it all for me, just to hear him say that.

I spoke about how I’m not a natural extrovert so pre-show nerves can get pretty bad.

“Oh I get worse as I get older!” he said enthusiastically


Then using his hand to form a graph in the air he said, “When I started off it was bad, then it got better in the middle for years, but now, it’s like this” and he raised his hand high up in the air to indicate it being worse than ever before.

Most of it was a blur to be honest. I shook his hand and told him it was great to meet him at last. I wished him the best with his Christmas shopping. He wished me the best of luck with my comedy. I turned to walk away and he suddenly decided there was something else he wanted to say.

“There aren’t enough comedians in the world. There are too many Policeman, and Fireman, and Lawyers” and then he laughed “…and Priests!”

I agreed and we went our separate ways. I walked to 34th street and took the subway home very happy I had made the effort the second time around.