Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joby Cain Gets Fired

Joby Cain worked for Callus Representation and Partnership. He doesn't now, because he was fired three days ago. He's been at sea since then. Some would say gone to seed.

He stayed up the first night getting drunk. The second night - the night before this - he couldn't sleep for the nerves. WTF would he do now? He asked himself again and again:

  • As he made coffee with shaking hands and a sore head

  • As he took the bins out, smell of cheese and that smell that only rubbish can have

  • As he switched on the computer and googled aimlessly round the web

  • As he panicked, realising his rent would be due in two weeks, and he had only enough really to pay for that month

WTF would he do now?
Last night, after the day and evening drinking coffee, he decided to stay up and watch the dawn. He'd be at the darkest, just before then. Or so they said. It made some sense to him, but why, he had no idea. It was a feeling more than a rationale. And besides, WTF else was he going to do?
When they did it, he knew it was coming. He got an email. Not telling him exactly. But saying something else that he knew meant that was it. They didn't need to tell him it was the third, but they did anyway. He knew what would happen next, so he waited. He delayed. He saw the mouse pointer moving about the screen, perhaps of its own behest, it became real. Deus Ex Machina. He always took this to mean "God's coming from the machine - there was no classical education here. But, when he saw that pointer, he knew it meant this is it. He didn't know, nor did he care WTF he'd do next. He was nearly - nearly - ROTFL.
He was miserable anyway, so didn't see much point in fighting it anymore. Fighting himself, to get out of bed and get in there everyday; or fighting them, with their artillery of numbers and spreadsheets and three letter acronyms which recorded - apparently very accurately - calls answered, compliments received, complaints reversed, complaints carried over, complaints outstanding, complaints, complaints, complaints. WTF was this job anyway? Somewhere between an answering machine and a sounding board for general frustration.
The call centre was an outsource partner for every crap service and product distribution company in the land. So customers phoned up to complain about something that wasn't working, or the shoddy attitude of the person who came to fix it, or the last person they spoke to about this (or that, or any of it). He'd been called everything from an asshole to an automaton to unfeeling. He'd been told of nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and pregnancies. Everyone was miserable, as far as he could tell, and he was paid to listen to them all let it out. But not as much as a therapist or psychiatrist or barman who was expected to provide solutions, or show a way out. Because he was paid to keep them in limbo. To stall them, while someone somewhere else figured out WTF would be done about it. Everyone seemed to know: At least they said as much in pubs and things. But still they said "I want to know: What you YOU going to do about it?"
So, he stopped answering phones. That was when he got the first email. They called him in and told him "This isn't good" They talked about SLAs and SQ and SDTs and he had no idea what they meant. One guy was wearing braces, like in the film Wall Street. And the girl he fancied from the interview seemed to grow fangs as the "Interface" progressed. He shrank in the glass cube while people passed to get their coffee and listen in and try to figure out how bad it was.
But then he was back at his desk. He had to answer phones, and he had to make people happy. So he tried to DO something about things. First, he wrangled emails to try and contact the people who seemed responsible.
Dear so-and-so, Joby from Callus here. This old woman nearly died (her daughter said) from exposure because her gas was cut off. But it shouldn't have been, because all her payments were up to date...
Dear such-and-such, this customer pays a fortune in line rental and the infosuperhighway broadband, but suffer very poor speeds. This is a work-at-home business, so likely to cause real problems for him...
Dear cares-not-a-jot, your toy broke off in a girl's hand. She was only two years old and nearly ate the head. He mouth turned blue from the ink used to colour the dolls hair, and her mother is most distraught...
That brought him in the second time. All the acronyms were rolled out again. But this time they also mentioned the crucial role of Personalised Response - Interfacing with Customers in the Brand-Customer interface. Brands were presented to customers, but couldn't interface with them, because appropriate responses had to be formulated according to the Brand objectives, customer value and legal ramifications. It was absurd to try contacting these people. They would deal with customer issues based on volume, priority and Brand requirement. WTF did a PRIC think they were doing when they tried to contact these people directly? Apart from anything else - and as one partner pointed out - if they were taking calls and dealing with these things, they'd have no need for the Callus PRICs, would they? There was no arguing it. The world needed Callus PRICs, apparently. WTF would happen without them?
So he was back at his desk, feeling contagiously miserable. Spreading through telecommunicative contact; symptoms: general feelings of frustration, anger and leading to drunkenness or complaining to friends and family. Jesus wept, Callus Representation and Partnership (NASDAQ: CRAP) seemed to be the hub from which some awful conspiracy spread. Humanity was no longer journeying to face hell. No longer your epic travails with the great writers of antiquity. No longer the simple pickup by a skip down an alleyway just off the quays. No longer the suffering of the world - a vale of tears - visited upon you when you least expected. Now, you phone a Lo-Call or Freephone number, and get patched through to limbo, inaction and frustration for next to nothing. It seems a shame to get it for free, when others had studied or worked so hard to experience it.
So he was incident free for about two weeks. Kathryn and he ate lunch. She asked him to tell her about his meetings and why he did it. He told her he didn't know, and embellished enough to make her laugh. They'd looked at each other just so, every so often. WTF would happen there? Hopefully something good. She always ate vegetarian. But she was a good laugh. He just had to stop looking at her cleavage. She'd caught him a couple of times, but if anything were to happen, he'd need to seem more together... less of a perv.
So that side of things was getting better as every other side was getting worse. For phone lines and gas lines and credit lines and storage lines and any other line of business requiring support or a customer interface, the customers tangle with scripts, ably read by people wearing headphones and staring at screens. People like Joby. Callers fight back with scripts of their own, but are powerless against the might of the call centre scripts and so become more and more desperate.

“...look, you have to help me...” asserting

“...look, you have to help me...” demanding

“... look, you have to help me...” hoping

“...look you have to help me...” pleading

“...look you have to help me...” begging.

Cries of desperation. Like those who had not known Christ, these people who called daily were tortured for not knowing a better service provider. Their arms outstretched, grasping for hope; hope ebbed away with those answering “Hello! Some company name. I'm whatever, how can I help you?” So promising, some even responded in good tones. Sooner or later the callers, the unclaimed customers, realised these call centre folks were really just passing by. They asked how they could help, knowing they couldn't. Joby could pass no longer; he stuck out a hand.

He told one woman to never give up. While the thought of calling everyday was daunting, she would get nowhere until she hit the critical threshold. The number for that particular partner was free, so it would cost her nothing but time and her battery charge. She had nothing to lose, had she?

Another, he told to give up. It was quite simply the company policy to avoid support discussions relating to the lithium battery shipped with the device.

He spoke to another customer for thirty minutes about her son's phone bill and how best to deal with his way with it.

Then, he hit the big time. He called to one woman's house with a mop and bucket to replace the set that fell apart. She asked how he got her address, and demanded to know why he would do such a thing. She slammed the door. He was still explaining through the letterbox about how he wanted to make a difference when the Guardians of the Peace arrived to ask him what he thought he was doing. Down at the station, he explained to them how he could take the suffering no more. How he had to do something. When Mrs Molloy called about her mop and bucket, he decided to replace them for her. It was a small thing, but he hoped it would make a difference. The Guards looked at him blankly, then gave him a coffee and a breath test. They told him he could leave and asked him – begged him – to not give them reason to bring him here again.

It was the following Tuesday that he got the email; that the pointer started moving round his screen of its own free will.

It was short, really. Some berrating. Some recrimination To bring a competitor's product to someone's door! We can't have our partners thinking that we hire stalkers! It went on, until It's not without regret that I inform you... This last, spoken as if it were a letter being dictated. He wondered whether he should be writing it down. It turned out this was unnecessary as they'd be sending him a letter and an email to confirm in writing what he'd heard in person.

And so here he is, past the darkest moment – or so they said – with the dawn light bleeding from behind the night sky and its clouds. Blood red and beautiful, he stares up. And thinks “Well maybe it wasn't for me anyway”. He makes some coffee. He looks at his phone, the unanswered calls. Texts. He thinks about his rent, due in two weeks. He drinks his coffee and wonders what he'll do next.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Go on, smile!

Emily Sunshine, all this time later.

"Make me laugh and I'll make your day!"

Saturday, November 01, 2008


A summer afternoon, a Friday, a throng to get through on Grafton Street. Shoppers and drinkers utilising the long evening to get ahead of a weekend of spend. Lemuel_Buckett (AKA Frank Murphy, IRL) is heading for HMV where he'll meet JoyceJameson. He was surprised to learn that JoyceJameson is AKA Joyce Jameson, IRL. He can't wait to meet her, IRL.
He suggested they meet IRL after they'd LOL'd enough to feel like they really knew each other. They were going to go for coffee and maybe some lunch (one step at a time). Maybe even a drink later. Maybe even...
No. Wait and see how we go. You have to wait for a page to load before you can click a link. That's just how it is.
He tries to avoid the people bustling toward him. Some are going in, others are just dodging other people. He sways to avoid them all; gets an unnecessary umbrella slapped across his face (why do you even need an umbrella in this weather?); has his knees slapped by shopping bags; shoulders shouldered by pedestrians... he waits. Soon, he should see her, IRL.
He's seen her avatars and read her signatures and mottoes. They wrote about trying to cross Dublin without passing the front door of a pub; of the radio show when "Kilcock" was the reply to the question "Which town in county Kildare is also a body part found in a man's pants?" (Correct Answer: Athy).
She came from the UK, from Bristol (or Brighton? He couldn't remember, and now only remembers he'd intended to look through their threads to remind himself). Studying Anglo Irish Literature in UCD or Trinity or maybe DBS or somewhere like that. She had a brother and two sisters, one of which was over here too, working in banking (but which one?). For some reason he remembers only the shadows. He hasn't taken in anything she told him and now he must face her, IRL.
"Hello" says a soft, English accent, somewhere to his right. "Are you Frank?" He turns his head to see another average sized, brown haired, early thirties male say "I'll be as frank as you want, love. You're lookin' great!" She laughs timidly, unsure; the guy laughs on and walks off.
Convinced the coast is clear, Frank goes over. "Joyce"
"Yes" she says, confused: who is Frank?
"How about that coffee..." thinking reference to a private conversation would convince her of him.
"Oh, Frank" she said. "Yes. Yes, let's go for that coffee." Quickly adding "I will, yes" with a smile.


The coffee shop is all metal frames, glass panes and fabric cushions. The waiter (in invariable black) puts down the coffees, rattling off complicated names with the boredom of a botanist being asked about sunflowers on Gardener's Question Time. Perhaps one day there will be Barrista Question Time. Answers from experts about roasting fair trade beans and how to get the stains out of the filter. Vinegar will always be the answer. Use vinegar, but rinse well to make sure you don't corrupt the beautiful flavour of those unique beans. She is talking. He can't listen, sidetracked as he is by this bitter reverie. But he must listen, otherwise the whole thing will be a mess. So he listens. But he hears a pop song from overhead, and from behind: "So, anyway, like I said, I said to him you better not be talking about Marie Boool and he's like, well, he says, like..." she is not coming through at all. She is talking, he can see it, but he's not receiving. Whatever did that guy say to Marie Bool. He'll never know now. Too much noise: here.
"Would you like lunch?" he asks. She looks at him. "Here, or somewhere else... ahm, whatever you like..." he says hopefully. She is still looking at him. She is not talking, so perhaps he should. But he has now. He's asked her to lunch. Yummy. A pannini or ciabatta would go down nicely. Or even one of those nifty salads where they chuck a whole bunch of hams and lettuces and strange looking vegetables on a platter and you douse them in olive oil and vinegar and spear a couple of pieces with a fork to deliver to the satisfaction of a salivating mouth. Feels like they go on forever those salads. Like being in some kind of eternal salad heaven, where you meet the salami you first tasted when you were ten and thought "Now that's good." Tragedy of losing such a moment forever. Joy of reliving it for something between thirteen and fifteen Euro.
And Joyce Jameson was first captured when her name was called out as "James' son, Joyce" in a classroom. "Like the writer?" the teacher had asked. Not that she knew of, coming from Bournemouth. As far as she is concerned, nobody comes from Bournemouth; if you were born there, you stayed there. Other people go there. Often for holidays; it was beautiful and once home to Auberon Waugh. Every summer it would fill with visitors and their accents.
One summer, she met Ger (who pronounced his name Jayer), who read James Joyce and thought all the world was made of words. That convinced her of the beauty of Irish thought and that there was something more than digging and drinking and dying in the streets to them. Besides, her degree had tired her of the English and Americans and their hysterical irony that meant nothing.
She landed in Dublin with an acceptance letter from Trinity college to attend the MA in Anglo Irish literature. She would read everything worthwhile in the course of a year, maybe two. She would travel to see the beaches of the west, the bog of the midlands. She was ready for smog, but happily surprised by Dublin's clean air. She would have dreams. Everyone here had dreams.
After a time, Dublin became tiresome. High costs, high men, high ho.
She got a job in a coffee shop, grilling paninis and heating milk and pouring espressos and collecting change and handing out receipts. "Do you take laser?" she was once asked. Olga, one of the other girls explained it was a cash card and they did. But her reaction still cost her the job, and she found another in another coffee shop, where the manager looked at her funny when she asked "Is laser accepted here?"
She'd had no luck with men, so far. Either splashing money on fine wine, only to get pissed or taking her to the cinema with an obvious attempt at being chivalrous to achieve less chivalrous ends, they all seemed duplicitous, devious and dying for a shag.
So, she concentrated on her study. Literature, to her, was the real 'first draft' of history. The encapsulation of a moment, expressed in terms framed by the time. Truer than journalism - edited to suit the ephemeral needs of the day - literature for her would be the beauty that would save the world. It's safe to say she probably needed to lighten up. No one can remain so intense and retain a functional level of insanity in the modern world.
Throwing herself into studies, she quickly learned the key to so much of this literature was in the language. She spent more and more time on blogs and forums, learning how Irish people talk. How this strange breed think. How they read. This was where she met Lemuel_Buckett. Satirical, straight, serious. He seemed like no other. Without airs, without hypocrisy. They spoke of literature and how crystalised ideas could hold a whole world in your mind. She believed in literary humanity; he believed in symbols. She thought this a sign. They were Ying and Yang. Balance.
But now the scales are tipped. With him silent, she tries to fill conversational shadows with some light. She talks about the time she dropped a salad all over a posh woman with BO; how she first heard the term "Laser", and how pouring the coffee all over the guy got her fired; how she sometimes missed Bournemouth. He stays quiet. Maybe none of this means anything to him. Maybe he's really into his books, so the experience means nothing to him; he's searching for the symbols. How could she know? She looks at him for a moment, saying nothing. Just looks and tries to see.
In a lunatic voice, accompanied by pointless gestures, he asks if she wants lunch. She doesn't really know. The last thing she wants now is a paninni or ciabatta or some other quasi-Italian way that Irish people show how cultured they are.
When you can buy it in a petrol station, along with Coke, condoms and a girlie magazine, it's no longer a cultural demonstration this was the opinion of one of her failed dates in Dublin, but she supposed he was right. She suggests a salad somewhere... guessing it's a good compromise between demonstrating fluency with this adopted culture and a tasty lunch.
And so they leave the coffee place that does lunch to find a lunch place that does coffee.
"Hey, did you see the Godfather on TV last night?" she says.
"No, I don't watch TV" he says. There is a guy asking for money somewhere. You'd have to look down to see him, he knows. "Look, you can see the spire there - just over those buildings"
"Oh yes," she says "what is it for?"
"For? Nothing that I know of. Perhaps a spear to fire at the Brits in case they try something funny." She looks at the beggar, who redoubles his efforts. Hope eternal springs from eye contact. I know you can see me now. I know you can see a human here. I know you can see the possibility of you here. Now. They walk past. She wonders why he doesn't try to hold her hand and is thankful he doesn't.
They walked for some time in silence; all small talk exercised in the forum. Where they were from, what they did, their jobs. The books they read, what they thought of them. The music they listened to, the magical moment when they found some obscure or cultish artist they both liked. Disappointment when trying to impart some kind of trivia only to find the other already knew it, or had heard some updated version. Quick searches to help them say something sensible in reply to comments about things they'd no (previous) interest in. Now it seemed they'd nothing to say, IRL.
"Hello!" says Frank, surprised. She turns to him to find another guy walking toward them.
"Howdy pardner" says the other guy, with neither a trace nor attempt at an American accent. The words deliberate; the delivery wasted.
"Raymond!" says Frank "This is Joyce. Joyce, Raymond. Raymond is an Americanist." They say hello, and Frank says "We were just on our way for lunch..." he looks at Joyce, who looks at him. Neither of them knows where they're going.
After a moment, Joyce relents and says "... Oh, Frank. I'm so sorry, I have to meet someone... in about thirty minutes... so maybe..."
"Yes," says Frank "another time. Yes." She smiles. "OK then. Well, it was nice to meet you..."
"You too" says Raymond
"You too" says Frank. There's a moment, then she turns and leaves. So close, but not really.
That evening, after Frank has had a few pints and Joyce has called home and thought again about what it is she is doing in Dublin, they message each other to say it was nice they met up. Unknown to each other, they both look up Sisyphus and think he knew hope. Just at the moment, just at every moment when the boulder looked like it would get to the top, there was hope. An early wave of achievement, which made pushing the boulder up that hill again (and again) just a little less absurd and a little more essential.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Driving #1

Friday of a Bank holiday
LUAS from work to Tallaght hospital
Drunks stagger in
And wonder where their stop is
Abbey Street and the Four courts
And Smithfield and the Museum
And Heuston and suddenly they're all gone.

The rest of us
Released from offices
Looking for our own
Stops. "Pints?"
We ask our phones. Pushing buttons
To release us all from the week.

My car is in the building
Beyond the kids
Throwing fag buts and beer cans to the ground
Beside the bin.
The woman in front of me walks nervously
I think because I am walking behind her.
I slow down, watch my breath steam
In the chill dark evening.

Pay the day's parking and curse the distance from here
To the M50 to the M1 to Ardee then all the way to Derry
Pop across the border from there then Home.

I roll a cigarette but don't smoke it
Because of my daughter's chest.

Onto the roads, turning right
Turning left. Guessing my way
Out of Tallaght toward the M50
Toward my wife and child in Donegal
Pushing buttons to ask me
"Have you left yet?"

Finally, onto the M50.
And back off at the next exit
Down the wrong way on the Naas road
turning back round for the petrol station
Because it's the only one whose location
I'm definite of.

I pay for my petrol but pull across
To the parking spaces where
I jump out for that smoke
And drink bad coffee I just bought.

A young lad in a car asks
"What are you looking for?"
I tell him nothing and his friend says
"What are you looking at?"
Invitation to something unknown.
Dark shadows cast from bright lights.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

Very late in a very bad day, but here goes a completely off-the-top of the head blog for Blog Action Day. I had notes, I did some research. I even started thinking about characters for a short story. All of this is left behind, perhaps to surface again. But for now, here is my contribution.

A few days ago, I commented - cynically - that the problem with "Blog" "Action" day was that the opinion based blog did not really tally with the action. A number of events have changed my thinking on this.
Today, my wife lost her job to the ridiculously bad management of the Irish economy and the government's 'call to arms' about being patriotic. We've been wondering what we'll do. Emigration has been mentioned. 
I've lived my life with an unhealthy fear of poverty - of not being able to afford things. Of losing the things that I have. These are the things you dwell on when you have a tendency toward self pity. But then, all this is swept away with the sight of my daughter; with the thought of my wife. This is no time for 'dwelling'. It's a time for 'doing'. Sounds dreadfully American, I know. 
The next thing to come along in a flurry of texts from my family is the very good point: You have each other, you have your health. Remember, this is a chapter in a whole life.
And it hits me. I'm not facing Poverty. Because Poverty is not about being poor. It's not necessarily about losing those things you built up with a strong line of unhealthy credit. 
It's about being at the edges of life, with no way out. It's about poor education, poor healthcare, little or no social assistance. 
I'm not a socialist. I believe in Money. By its finite nature, it will always gravitate toward the entrepreneur, the lucky and the cunning. It makes some richer, some poorer. That's ineluctable, much like the modality of the visible. Attempts to control economies have proven that where the people outnumber the money, the people lose out. Stalin had 20 million losers.
The problem may seem like Money, but I it's not.
Money is a tool of humanity; no more, no less. It allows us the time and opportunity to improve ourselves spiritually and socially. It provides a means to equalise everyone's experience of life. But it is not doing this. Not right now. But that's not Money's fault. As a tool, it has no moral plane of its own. Any morality that may relate to Money and what it does has to be lain at the hands of the person working the tool. Remember: A bad workman always blames his tools. It made sense when you were a child, and it makes sense now.
The problem we face is that Poverty is caused by Money, which is wielded by Humanity. Humanity, which is imagined as much as the money it controls. Shelley once claimed "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." By this, he saw that poets captured, filtered and reformulated the way people imagined themselves and their society. Ads work like this - showing us dreams and letting on that a can of pop, a chocolate bar or a drink that tastes soft but knocks your socks off will make you the person who lives like that. The problem we face now, globally, is that we live in a world imagined by merchant bankers.
They imagined (and convinced the rest of us) that the world's finite amount of money, viewed through a prism and mathematical sleight of hand could be seen as much more than it was. Infinite, you could say. This meant that the money that was made available to Bob as a loan was also made available to me. Two people, one bit of money. Bob and I pay back our money, and suddenly there's two bits of money, where previously there was one. So now, they can lend to four times as many people. And given there was only one bit of money to start with, they can take the risk of lending money to some who may not be able to afford to pay it back. But then, it's provided to accumulate assets - so they can always take back the asset. 
This is nothing new. Sadly, it's something we've been reading for nearly ten years now. Reading, but ignoring; content to live in a world imagined by merchant bankers. By the way, the rhyming slang is fully intended here. And if you think about it, makes a lot of sense- self abuse, self delusion, ultimate emptiness of solipsism.
So, there's all this money - real and imagined - sloshing around the place. But still, and for fifteen debauched, orgiastic, onanistic years we rolled in it while using to also keep others buried in Poverty. In both the developed and developing worlds. I don't believe this was entirely intended (although I cannot say it was entirely unknown), but it happened.    And it happened because of the way we imagined ourselves. Building up our unhealthy debt; scratching our heads wondering "What can I do?" (if we had time to think of human injustice between the Nine O'Clock News and pints). But this inaction wasn't simply inaction. It was a tacit choice, based on how we imagined ourselves. Many did take action - travelling to countries to teach English as a Foreign language or volunteering, and I can't dismiss this. But these folks don't represent the multitude, and it pains me to admit that they don't represent me, who cowered in fear of Poverty - If I became a volunteer, what would it do to my career?  This selfish consideration to be soothed by the thought that Besides, they wouldn't want me anyway. I don't have the skills. 
Our choices are based on our imagined humanity. Poverty is real, it is killing people, it is causing disease, it is propagating itself. Much like we are. Perhaps we've imagined Poverty, made it in our own image. Perhaps our morality is impoverished; perhaps our imagination. 
Imagining ourselves differently - who we are, what we're doing here, what we should do next (I owe Alasdair Gray for that formulation of the imagined self) is what is required. With the morality and courage to see ourselves sharing this humanity (not just as West, East or Developed and Developing, but as Humanity, globally) will be a start. After that, we will be guided by actions informed by a better self. It is the making of that self, the imagining of what we are and can do, that makes me realise why Blog Action Day is so important. 

Hmph. Perhaps I am a socialist after all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

'Breath' by Samuel Beckett, dir: Damien Hirst

Love this. 'Breath' by Beckett, directed by Damien Hirst (he who made headlines auctioning his work). This works for me by its sheer visual power, and the breath itself; what sounds like a final, desperate breath. I also love the fact that the credits take up more time than the actual "Breath". Seriously. I bet they did that on purpose. Because to eplain anything takes longer than to experience it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

From The Fundament

The rain came down
So the worms came up
Wriggling their way
From the fundament.

Through the clay, soil and shit
Through dazzling grass
To a moon bathed garden growing
From the fundament.

The rain came down
And then it came up
And surrounded them with what they'd escaped
From the fundament.

Diamonds on the way down
Death when it comes back up
From the fundament.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In The Central Margin

Driving into the station for the 7.57 train. Pedestrian struggling, lumbering up to the station. Won't make it. Pass parked and abandoned cars... no space. No spaces. Maybe a space. Turn; try again. Try and try again.

The train pulls into the station, people get on. Then it goes. They go. Turn past the parked and abandoned cars. Now what? There's an ad on the radio for property somewhere a long way away. Have to get to work; there's all this stuff to pay for.
Drive? Traffic, stops. Motorway. Badtime to head to the city.
Wait for the next train? Thirty minutes before it arrives. Stops on the way. Crowd. Pushing. Hundreds of private worlds, shoving each others shoulders. Hundreds of private worlds ignoring each other. Hundreds of private worlds with their too-public gasses.

Driving out of the station. No sign of the pedestrian. Must have got the train. Tortoise and hare. Newsreader reading the same-olds and usuals. Seemingly, people in Iraq are having the worst time ever; bombs going off everywhere, tribal and international war, repressed women and whatnot. They're looking for something that's not there. Raging about it. Keep going. Bonnie Goodbody, teen pop sensation, thinks they'll find them, these weapons of mass destruction. These reasons for war. Tim Badboy, youth actor and spokesperson for teen celibacy thinks it's a hoax. Thinks it's all proper-gander. That's how he says it. Like something people just want to have a good look at. But then what, once they find them?
Seemingly, some property developer wants everybody to be miserable. Passing brown envelopes to build boxes with big windows for the affluent; small windows for the government-sponsored. It's all about how you see the world. A politician on the phone - a crackling line as fragile as his morality. "...a travesty this should be on the news... upstanding member of society being blackguarded by a media with nothing better to do..."
Pull onto the windy roads leading to the motorway.

Ads. Credit facilities to pay for the kinds of property in faraway places that one simply must have. Get in there before the neighbours. Get it, then pay for it; all this stuff. Pick up something quick to eat, drink, read, watch, hear, smell. Feel like a coffee. Stop at the petrol station.

Back to today's main story.... No, not again. All this repetition turning human misery into a cliché.
Scan channels..."...let me know.../...if you wanna touch my body.../...last chance!/ the central margin?"
What's in the central margin?
"Yes, the central margin. He's just walking around there"

"Well. If anyone out there has seen this guy. He's walking in a circle in teh central margin of one of the city's - the countries! - busiest motorways. Someone should call the Guards. Has anyone? What do you think? Give us a call on the usual number!" Coffee!

Petrol station!

Running (running?) late. Driving late. Shit. Down into motorway traffic. Injected, with the rest of the addictive souls feeding this habit. Poetic eh? Someone still strolling round the central margin. DJ still thinks someone should call the cops. Overtake one-two-three cars. Pushing it. Pull back in. Can't let them pass. Got to get ahead.

Step on it. 80, OK. Cars hurtling toward their destination; people toward their desinties. God help anyone who gets in the way.
"Well, I can tell you one thing now. This guy is selfish! SELFISH! How do I know? because walking round like that... what's he trying to do? Kill himslef?"
"Or others..."
"Yes, YES! Or OTHERS! You're right! Jesus, what's he trying to do at all? Is he foreign?"
"Time for another caller... Frank!"
"He must be foreign!"
"Well, why else is he doing this? Does he even care that hundreds or thousands of people will be late now?"
"Lookit - what happens the traffic anytime a drop of rain falls? What about someone causing this big spectacle like this while people have to get to work? No Irishman would do something like that. No. Foreign. Or a woman, you know, with her MPH or whatever it is..."
"Errr... thanks. Think it's time for a break..."

Ads. Buy a car. Get a credit card. Buy a holiday. Smell good, fuck more people. Listen to this, be loved.

Still more talking. Endless talking. "Has anyone called the guards yet? Someone should call the guards! This guy is posing huge danger to everyone!" Weapon of mass destruction? More talking.

News: Teen sensation in rehab shocker. Middle aged teen-dream in plastic surgery shocker. Paedophile in paedophile shocker. Motorway backed up, as man walks in circles in the central margin.
62. Slowing down too quickly. Signal, move manouver. 72.

Stop. Start. 40.

Not far enough along to make it. Can't be late.
For what?
For what?
Project. Get it back on track.
For what?
Meet or beat deadline.
For what?
Bonus. Paycheck. Money
For what?
For what?
For what?
I don't know.

Full stop. Traffic backed up to here. Never make it now.

Stop-start. Two steps forward, thirty seconds stopped. Someone walking in the central margin. In circles. Round and round.
"He's obviously a lunatic, Gerry..."
"I'm not Gerry. Gerry's on 2FM"
"But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about this guy in the central margin. Obviously a lunatic. Needs locking up before he gets near kids or women or something. Who knows what he's capable of!"
"I'm not Gerry! He's on 2FM! But go ahead anyway?"
"Is he a foreigner? Do we know?"
Radio off.

There he is! Walking in a circle. Car abandoned at the edge of the margin. He's just walking round. What's he got going on there? What is it? I have to know!

"And here is the news at nine AM. Gardai have issued a traffic alert in Dublin's suburbs as a number of people have abandoned their cars on the motorway and are walking in circles in the central margin. No demand has been made as yet..."

He won't talk to me. I look around. I tried first to ask him about... something. But he won't talk to me, so I gave up. I look around. A breeze brushes the grass in the central margin here. There's others here too, in the fresh air. Looking around. Cars pass. I can let them. I have some things to figure out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A good old moan

It's impossible. I'm on the train, and a train of thoughts causes such a racket in my head, I can't even read my book. I turn down - and then off - my MP3 player. Such is the power of such thoughts. There I sat, watching
fields of sheep, cows, passing quickly. Hedges, haw, bogs. Splashes of colour from animals (and their farmers' markings), bogs, flowers, cars (yes, cars - you can't see the road, but the cars are on it) and then we get to
Adamstown, where nothing seems to be happening. It's lovely, but much in the same way as a showhouse is. Will it look and feel so good once the families move in with all their humanity? Beyond that, will the families and humanity at least add some character to the place? Questions, questions. So many questions from all this, as well as two poems and three short stories, based on the idea that
The fidgety girl in pink hoodie who legs to the toilet when the inspector comes round actually lives on the train, because she has nowhere to go
The conductor is secretly in love with the girl, and knows she is living on the train illicitly, but won't report her because then he'd never see her again - plus he'd be ruining any chance he had with her, as he was the informant
And someone else on the train must be something because of some reason

And there you have the problem. Three hours later, I cannot remember any of this. And this is my time to write.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Tom Waits at the Ratcellar

Once again, if there was ever a gig populated solely by the artiste's biggest fan, it's Tom Waits. The excitement was palpable. So many were wearing hats and suits. You could see 'Small Change'-Tom Waits argue with 'Mule Variations'-Tom Waits over the songs that actual Tom Waits would just have to play.
But there was no trouble. No one wants trouble at an event that everyone knows everyone else has made sacrifices for.
The Rat Cellar was quite a sight on the site. You can see a picture of it here on Stu's blog. A circus-like marquee, with Mr Waits looking down from the publicity photo. Step Right Up! he seemed to be saying, or maybe even "Those with a heart condition be warned!" Under his watchful gaze, we shuffled up, along and back from stalls selling beer, burgers, coffee and chocolate.
Inside, you could see seats. Rows and rows of tightly packed seats. The stage was set for something quite promising. Trees of old speaker cones grew above lightbulb hedges surrounding the stage, hanging over the instruments closely but carefully packed around a small stand, in front of which rose another microphone, it's stand positioned on the floor and quite extended. Everyone knew what was going to happen there, but nobody was prepared when it did.
Taking my seat, I felt lucky. Lucky to be here, lucky to have a friend like Owen the Oracle and the lovely Niamh, without whom I certainly wouldn't have been there, lucky to be the fat guy between two skinny folks in those too-close seats. When one of us stood, another five had also to stand to accomodate thighs, shoulders and bellies. Intimate.
Then the lights went down.
A roar went up (from the crowd).
A band appeared and took their places.
Mr Waits shot out from backstage and onto his little raised platform at the front. We were all on our feet, clapping as he raised and lowered teh crowd with two outstretched arms, commanding rather than pleading. A gasp of his voice-box percussion and the whole damn band blew into action
"Well, they call me William the Pleaser..." As anticipated, The Voice. It came up from the bottom of his shoes, or perhaps even the bowels of hell. It rattled through his body as he sang, feet kicking to raise dust and hit a small bell on the small platform; arms outstreched, waving - a lunatic prophesying.
A snap of silence to break Lucinda into "Ain't Goin' Down" let us all know just how kinetic this gig was going to be. With clouds flying everytime he kicked the floor and the band pulling together all those sounds that make up a Tom Waits Song. Looking around at the crowd, most had forgotten the intimate seating, and were enraptured by this 58-year old who refused to be pinned down by anything other than his own artistic whim and, of course, love.
The band were amazing. I can't imagine what it takes to keep a Tom Waits song tight, given all the almost 'accidental'-sounding bits and pieces that go into them. But Casey Waits (yes, his son, but worthy of being there of his own right) kept beats and percussion to meet the needs of Waits' driving, yet eccentric songs. The bass boomed out by Seth Ford-Young was understated but essential to the whole. It rumbled on underneath the spikes, jolts and beauty of Omar Torrez' guitars. They weren't Marc Ribot, but they were all the better for not trying to be Marc Ribot - Torrez made the position of Waits guitar-man all his own (a hard enough task after Ribot). On the piano (when Waits was busy gesticulating and bursting at the seam from the power of his voice) was Patrick Moran. He was sort of undesrtated to, hidden at the back as he was. But on songs like November, his touch was perfect, tender and quiet then a little intimidating. On many, many other instruments was Vincent Henry. He was quite remarkable, playing a multitude of wind instruments and guitars and apparently giving a young Sullivan Waits lessons during the gig. I couldn't say enough about this band. They didn't just hit the right notes at the right time - they got the tone, the touch, the feeling of every moment dead right. It couldn't be stressed enough just how important this is for a Tom Waits gig, and if you've ever listened to a Tom Waits record, it probably doesn't need to be said. So we'll move on!
After a more than impressive first song, the band powered through a set of songs spanning most of the Waits catalog (the early period stuff - Closing Time, Heart of Saturday Night - seemed left out...), including favourites for both 'Small Change'-Tom Waits and 'Mule Variations'-Tom Waits. I smiled to think how they'll both be getting on, happy and mimicking that growl as they tip their hats to each other.
There were some real surprises too. A rocksteady twist on Black Market Baby, 9th and Hennepin with a cinematic intimidation. Make it Rain with the glitter promised in the title of the tour. Glitter rained down on Waits to the glee of the crowd. It recalled the confetti Waits threw during the Big Time tour (example 1, example 2).
And like the glitter, doom and confetti, a thought drifted down on me, settled and stuck - next year: will a Glitter and Doom CD & DVD be released? With any luck it will include a rerelease of Big Time, which never managed to make it to DVD.
After it all, I walked around, dazed. For two days.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How "Psycho" Got His Name

It is a midsummer afternoon and we are sitting in La Jardin Bierre. I am drinking beer with a lemon in it, served in some kind of giant branded wine glass. She is drinking wine, from a regular wine glass. She is telling me about her day. I am trying to listen, but this reedy voice behind me snags my attention, again and again. It's husky and high pitched; I think of a three year old who has smoked twenty a day for forty years.
"Why are you smirking?" she asks
"Nothing" I say "go on."
I seems nothing in her office works. Her computer, the network, the printer. The final straw came with the photocopier coating her skirt in black dust. After a brief but satisfying meltdown, the boss came over and said "Look, just take the afternoon off." Janie, a superbitch in the office was giving her a look when
"Well," says the reedy voice, from nowhere, from behind me - shhitch of a cigarette lighter - "then there's Psycho. D'ja hea' 'bout his latest escapades?"
I nearly jump from my seat, from my skin as a deep bass says "Psycho?" A barrel talking to a nail scraping down a blackboard. About 'Psycho' no less.
The Jardin is one of these bars where the class war is in truce. Everyone is here for the same reason - to drink outside where you can smoke with impunity. The whole bar is outside. That's its theme - a European-style garden bar with an Irish twist (a fully retractable roof for when it rains). We sit around in the afternoon, drinking sensibly, waiting for the evening when we'll pick up the pace and then go our separate ways. She and I will go for dinner, and maybe some more drinks in Shea's Wild West Saloon - a new theme bar where they serve group cocktails in a pitcher shaped like a stetson. I don't know what the odd couple will do - but I guess they return to their own world, their own dinner, their own bars.
The reedy voice is finishing its story about Psycho and whatever it was he did. The deep voice rumbles "I heard about dat. I didn't know his name was Psycho. I know him as Gerry..." he trails off. After a few moments of staring into space, the reedy voice says
"Nice bar, wha? Y'know who owns this joint? You know Spacey? Lives on the corner from yer ma... Yeah, well Spacey's brother: he owns the place"
"Your kidding? I didn't know Spacey had a brother"
"Yeah, yeah. Spent a few years knockin' 'round Europe, then a good time in London. Came back with a bit of money and bought himself a place. Was just settling when some fellah comes along and throws a wad of cash at him - 'will you sell me yer place?' 'will I wha'?' says he. Anyway, that started him, and now he owns a bunch of places. This one is great though, wha'? All sorts in here." his voice lowers "Yuppies an' all..." shhitch, the lighter goes again.
We are talking about maybe buying a place. We've been living together for a while. "Renting is dead money" she says and she is right. I take a sip of beer and light another smoke. Buying is a big step. But then living is a big risk, you could die at any moment.
"D'ja know how he got the name?" the reedy voice asks. Whatever physicality the deep voice had obviously signalled No. There was a cough - a throat clearing. I awaited the mighty voice that would relate to all in La Jardin Bierre the Story of How Psycho got his name.
But the voice remained reedy as it said
"Well, he moved in on the street. But you know he's not one of us. I know you only moved to the street three or four years ago, but yer from the area. He's nah' He came from down by the brewery. Anyway, he moved onto the street and you know the way the kids are? Well this one, Barra Molloy, he'd seen the place all empty for so long was kicking a ball against the window. Y'know the way they do tha'? Anyway, Psycho comes out and grabs the kid by his throat, drags him out to the road and hangs him by his jacket on the railings outside the house. Says nothing, just does that and goes back in. Anyway, later on, the kid's father, Jamie, he comes down the street, big walk on him an' everythin'. He storms up to the door, bangs on it like crazy. The door opens, out comes Psycho and before yer man can say "Who do you think you are?" or "D'jew know who I am" or "I'll ram this fuckin' whatsit up yer arse or down yer throat", Psycho has dragged him out to the street as well. Bates seven shades of shite out of him, then walks back inta the house."
"Say anything?" asks the deep voice.
"No. Nobody said anything" says the reedy voice. "Anyway, it's gettin' late. Fancy a chippaw aw sumthin'? This place'll fill up with yuppies in about half an hour."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Rat Story

Written some time ago...

As it happened, I happened across the rat as I was crossing the road. It was massive, for a rat, and much too fast to stamp on. So I ran instead, pretending not to have seen it at all and that I was dodging traffic. I sought refuge in a Coffee shop. Thank god for Coffee Shops. Came here so long ago to free us all from Cafés, with their instant coffee, domestic tea and week-old scones. Right now, it was a double decaf mocha with a froth I needed, being so wound up. Not a Maxwell House double stirred with congealed sugar and a slice of bread and butter. As I waited, I pointed to a Danish as well. The girl took it from the display with tongs, shoved it in a bag, which she placed on the counter. A Danish would go down nicely. Although, one should never discount the power of a roast chicken pesto pannini in times of great terror. Of course, it wasn't terror I was in. More shock. Over the rat. Nasty thing. I wish I'd killed it. But there was just no way to. It was too fast. Thinking of its jerky movement makes me shudder even now. Just no way to defeat these rats.

The woman beside me, she asks if I'm going to have my coffee. I've been staring into space. On account of the shock, no less. But still she asks me, with her cutting words, whether I'll be moving on. I don't know what to say. I pull out my wallet, and send a bunch of receipts flying from it onto the counter. No money. Whoever thought you could actually have no money? In this day and age. I suppose that's what credit is all about. I pull out a card and say "Do you..."?

"Only Laser" she says, in an accent. I could fall in love with her and live in Buck Rogers land. But instead, I must live out the almighty shame of excusing myself from the coffee shop. Without money, there's no refuge here. Back out with the rats, who coincidentally also have no money. The woman says something as I leave. Am I not humiliated enough? I wonder.

I try to find a bank machine. Wouldn't you know it the easiest (no queue, does have receipts, quiet location) is in a Bar. Bars, I just don't know about them. Whatever happened to pubs? I mean, I'm very happy for the convenience of the bank machine here, but Bars in general just seem so clinical, so clean. Makes me feel a little low, walking in there. No one else would realise the state of my house, but I know. And walking into a Bar, with its chrome, its 'interior' really makes me long for the long lost pub, which was always at least as shitty as my place, and often worse. In my grandfathers' time and my father's time (and, I suppose my mother's time), pubs were even better, with the spit on the floor and a fog bank of smoke from all over the planet, as well as the fireplace. No one could have lived in such circumstances, and as a result we were all kind of equal, being better than the shit hole that the pub was. I order a pint while I tap in numbers. It's cool and clean in here. Well lighted. What a smell - polish and beer. Cash in hand, I head out for a smoke.

"Oi! C'mere! Whataboutyerpoint?"

"Just goin for a smoke..." I assure him. I think about legging it. After all, I only ordered out of guilt. Imagine walking into a place and saying nothing to the only other person in there? It can't be done. And how do you say hello to a barman without ordering a pint or short or something? That's even more impossible. I smoke away as the pedestrians come barrelling toward me, like meteors in some science fiction film. I think of my Buck Rogers girl again. I think of dropping my smoke in mid air, just to teach these people some manners, and to not be so sure of their walking habits. They go straight for you, you see. They want you to move out of their way. It's obvious why; what without pubs and Cafes to hand it's the only simple Irish manner of bolstering a sense of worth. Which is what we need if we're thinking about having a sense of self. I step back in for my pint. Thinking: That's a good one now - the whole sense of self/sense of worth thing. Interesting. I could think about that over a pint. But no. No I can't.

"Up to much today?"

"Ah no, day off"

"Hence the early drinkin', eh?"

I smile. "Busy?"

"No, not on a Tuesday. Not on a Tuesday til lunchtime. Then about eight o'clock..." I could tell you what he's saying, but I'm not going to because here he is cleaning. I don't mind him cleaning, I don't mind him talking. But which does he want to do right now? He's only pretending to take an interest in me, I'm sure of it. Why else would he keep going with that damned cloth? I need a paper, I think. That way I can think away to myself, but pretend I'm remaining entirely wrapped up in this world. Skull the pint, head out, get the paper, come back: that's the plan. No point asking him for a paper, he'd only want to talk about the news. You send a much more definite message if you walk in with a paper. Open it, read it, order pints. Mumble assent. No commitment to conversation. Excellent.

Excellent, except that on the road, there it is again. My first instinct is to run again. I know I can't kill it. I shudder at the thought. Of it, and of its death. I keep my eye on it this time, see where it goes. Filthy thing. Attracted by the waste of humans. Even more disgusting. But maybe it has something there. Maybe. I cross over the road, lie chest down and stare into the gutter railings. If I stay very very still, they may come and get me - mistaking me for one of their own.

Monday, June 30, 2008

If there was a tree...

If there was a tree, he could have hung himself. The thought occurred to him as he thought about that play by Beckett. At least you could die standing up (if you see what he thought). But there was no tree. Not here, as he plodded like Poldy round Dublin, where the North city had not re-gentrified but instead the middle classes had re-galvanised with expensive buildings, too high to get over, too secure to get into. Standing proud and tall, shrugging off the old, the decrepit, the council-owned. Reaching for the sun during the day. And of course the stars, during the night. Getting pissed on first or at least believing as much.
He was thinking of Godot on account of the fact that he was unsure of what to think of. Despite the hundreds, maybe thousands of lives that walked, avoided and shoved their way passed him. Life. Going on as it must do. Strange to think of all this life, he thought. This city, he thought, is blooming with life. And I am walking round, looking (seeking? searching?) for something. But what?
He had no idea. Not since it all happened. It had started out here, with him like this: walking around. For work, he knew. He remembers one thing - the feeling that they could fire him. The feeling that they held him in their hands and that whatever he was looking for he needed. Without it, he'd be going back to the office to be fired. And that would be no good. Not with all that stuff to pay for. The stuff he'd accumulated in a life with a girl who he lost. Was he looking for her? No. He didn't think so. He would find her elsewhere, he knew. It was his destiny. Or at least a part of his destiny that hadn't been wrenched - with the house and the car and the stuff - with his job. It was something. Written in the stars, they used to say at school. If he had a mind, he could try and get in and get up one of those sky scrapers. Read whatever it was that was written in the stars. It could tell him where she was.
She was what he needed. But first.
First he had to find what he was looking (seeking? searching?) for. He'd know it when he found it. And once he had, he could turn his attentions to finding herself. He'd say "Well?" and she'd say "Well yerself!" like she used to and then she'd kiss him. He'd try to apologise and she wouldn't hear of it. No, he knew it couldn't happen that way. But he also knew it couldn't happen at all unless he found what he was looking for. If only he could figure it out - who made it, who sold it, who delivered it?
There were too many questions for asking. And besides, no one to ask, really. Not with all these people passing and bumping and even barging their way through this city to find things they must know they are looking for. Unless they are trying to get to them before they forget. Because, and they are reminded when they see him, he is what happens if you forget before you find it.
Dear God.
If there was a tree...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

...on the lighter side...

I've been very reflective and perhaps a bit maudlin recently. So here are some things that made me giggle...

Ironic Forum Signature:
"It's ok to be different, it's good to be different, and we should
question ourselves before we judge others." -- Johnny Depp" (I can be different because Johnny Depp says it's OK?)

Road Sign: No Unauthorized Dumping.
Jeremy, a good lad who wore decent suits and worked hard in the city just couldn't take it any more with K. She had to go. But how to do it?
Passing through a swell in the council offices, he took a ticket and waited. On the third day, his beard started itching him. At a small hatch filled with a young woman's head, he got the forms.
Having consulted forums (where people were different because celebrities were quite sure it was better to be different) and tried (but gave up) trying to contact the council officials, he finally managed to complete all the forms.
Six to eight weeks later, it came through the post. Laminated. Non transferrable. He took K down to the field, where he said
"Look, K, I'm really sorry, but I just don't think this is working... It's not you, it's me... the past few weeks? I've been busy... well, getting this license..."

When you're young, idealist and ignorant...
A young socialist, handing out "Stop the murder!" flyers on Nth Earl Street, wearing a 'Revolutionary' Stalin T-Shirt. (Click here to access the irony)

Racism Not Recessing, Unlike Economy
Two guys on a number 90 bus, jerking its way toward Heuston Station:
"You'd emigrate, would you?"
"Jaysis, a' course. I'd go anywhere. I'm not stayin in f?;[ing Dublin. Are yuh mad?! No f?;[ing way. Dis place is going down the tubes"
"Yeh. The f?;[ing tubes!"
"A kip! We're all f?;[ed anyway, so yuh might as well be goin' over to wherever to get sum wawk."
"Yeh. You know who I blame?"
"No, no, you're showin yer ignorance now. No. Dem foreigners frum Africa and Eastern Your-Op"
"And the Chinese"
"No, no, ignorance! Ignorance! Everyone know the Chinese are the best workers. The problem is all dem foreigners that came over and took up dem jobs. Actchully, maybe yer right about the Chinese too. See they all got the jobs...."
"Yuh, yuh. Took them jobs right out of the hands of the Irish... what did they come here for anyway?"
"Jaysis, sher I dunno. C'mere, here's my stop. See you next Thursday at the Social."

Dragon's Den on Dave is nearly over, meaning I better get to bed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

...a moment...

...on the bus to my train these days, because the LUAS works just mess everything up. It's yet another block in a wall that threatens to one day fall on me. Feeling sorry for myself, I was glad to receive a call from my brother. For one thing, it's something of a minor tradition - he calls me maybe once a week as I traverse Dublin's quays on foot and public transport. The other thing is it's always good craic. No matter what's pissing us off, he or I will make the other one laugh.
It's a good feeling.
We were having our usual conversation: How's work, how's home, how's the kids... each waiting for the other to make the first joke and send us off onto some bizarre mental plain.
I was on the top level of a bus, looking around when I spotted someone sitting on the outside of the bridge at Usher's quay. Above her, two Guards seemed to be talking to her. There was a head between the balusters. Some messer or dosser or junkie, doing something stupid without realising - or caring - about the danger they were putting themselves in. Getting a dressing down from hard put-upon Guards, just trying to get through the day.
As we talk about a friend, the bus moves along; a closer, parralax view tells a different story.
It's a girl and she looks younger than me. She is wearing decent enough clothes. Her shoulders slumped, her hands on either side of her, on the very edge of the bridge. Just holding on, or getting ready to push off? The bus stops as I say
"Jesus Christ, someone's about to jump off a bridge on the quays!"
"What, really?"
"Yeah. It's this girl, there's two Guards there talking to her or something and there's... Oh Jesus, - the other person is another Guard. She's obviously talking to her."
For a moment - a full, complete, whole, lasting, long, moment - the bus is stopped, I am silent, my brother is silent and the Guards are paused. People must be getting off the bus, getting on, going about whatever they do. A life continuing around, or beyond the moment.
The bus moves - a Guard jumps the balustrade - I turn my head to see - we've gone too far - there's nothing of that scene to see.
"Jesus Christ" I say
"Jesus" my brother says
"Jesus" over and over. A lapsed prayer. I don't believe in God, but I believe in hope. A hope for the girl, who was maybe hopeless. Who knows? Could this happen in daylight, in a city?
I am suddenly concious that I am a life passing by, as someone is trapped in a moment. Whoever she is, I wish her well. All the bricks threatening to fall on me, they're made of cotton and clouds. The moment I'm in is a postscript to a previous - talking to my bro, getting on the bus- or a prequel to the next - talking to my bro, getting on the train.

Suddenly forced to think of a moment in and of itself. With no prequel (how can I know what happened before?) and no sequel (I don't know what happened next, but I hope for her something happened next - that it didn't end there). Just a moment. A Guard vaulting a balustrade, one arm on it, the other groping toward

What? I have no idea. The bus whisked me toward Heuston as I tried to describe the whole moment to my brother...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

O'besity kills 450 a Year in the North

How many does McBesity kill in the republic? I thought we were beyond all this!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Ignatius J. Reilly, Meet Thy Daughter

Sunshine and I were out and about for a stroll and some fresh air. I like strolling, and the fresh air helps sunshine sleep (having the time to write this is testament to that fact).
We met all sorts on our way, out and about on the plains of the Curragh.
She was pointing the way, toward sheep, bushes, heathers, whatever flora, fauna and foliage caught her eye. I, for my part was rehearsing my thoughts for a blog about the Lisbon referendum, and the absurdity of much of the debate and posturing that's going on (you'll find this post over at the Fat Man Thinks, when it's ready). Such it my role as the Ignatius J. Reilly of modern Ireland.
At some point, Sunshine takes issue with a point I am making. Ay-ay-ay-ay-ya! she says. I enjoy her energy, but she has much to learn about the art of great rhetoric and debate. On this, time will be in the telling. She may well be a politician yet, or perhaps found the greatest advertising agency this country has known. Of course, all first time parents (while they may not wish it) believe this; such is the manipulative power of the first child. As a parent, I have always found my sheer physical size, and the magnitude of the 10 month old's dependence mean that just about any debate can be quashed with a soother, bottle or the quick lift from a pram. But not today.
"Ay-ay-ay-ya! Bu-bu-bu-ay-ay. Wuh-wuh-bah!" I am completely unprepared for this argument. I thought I would not hear it for at least fifteen years (falling in the back door, drunk). As Tom Waits once sang: "These children are so hard to raise good"
So, this final rejoinder shut me up, and I followed the finger, which seems to have dictated the course of my life for the past ten months.
There were looks from people. An large, unshaven, floppy haired man just cannot push a pram containing a child anywhere without attracting looks. I've learned this in the past ten months. But much of it, I believe to be Sunshine's fault. Her finger was manic. An auditory account would run thus:
To the sheep! To the bush! To those other children! To the sheep! To the hill! To the hollow! To the sun, by Christ, and step on it; my mission is both imperative and too important to explain to an unshaven, floppy-haired, fatman such as yourself!
Ignatious J Reilly, meet thy daughter.

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's impossible. I'm on the train, and a train of thoughts causes such a racket in my head, I can't even read my book. I turn down - and then off - my MP3 player. Such is the power of such thoughts. There I sat, watching
fields of sheep, cows, passing quickly. Hedges, haw, bogs. Splashes of colour from animals (and their farmers' markings), bogs, flowers, cars (yes, cars - you can't see the road, but the cars are on it) and then we get to
Adamstown, where nothing seems to be happening. It's lovely, but much in the same way as a showhouse is. Will it look and feel so good once the families move in with all their humanity? Beyond that, will the families and humanity at least add some character to the place? Questions, questions. So many questions from all this, as well as two poems and three short stories, based on the idea that
The fidgety girl in pink hoodie who legs to the toilet when the inspector comes round actually lives on the train, because she has nowhere to go
The conductor is secretly in love with the girl, and knows she is living on the train illicitly, but won't report her because then he'd never see her again - plus he'd be ruining any chance he had with her, as he was the informant
And someone else on the train must be something because of some reason

And there you have the problem. Three hours later, I cannot remember any of this. And this is my time to write.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Daniel: A Confession in Two Acts

I was delighted to see my brother last weekend, with his many children in tow: Rory, the red haired firstborne scourge of those lacking imagination, his sister and partner in crime (fighting, last weekend the 'Yankees' and 'Terracons'), Emer and young Daniel, who had a harder way to come than most some 18 months ago to join the rest of us. At some point, Daniel needs a nappy change (as these children so often do), and my brother, who coos to him starts singing that song, 'Daniel':

Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes

I'm not a fan of the song, but I remember it's christening as his song. As I said, he had a harder way to come than most, and that is all that needs to be said about that. The family crowded in to provide support.
My particular duty, three or four days, was to sit at the front of the Rotunda hospital, smoking fags. To keep it 'real' (as is the bizarre disposition of humans in crisis), I brought a book along with me, Becket's More Pricks Than Kicks. Whenever my bro came out for a (no doubt, much needed) smoke, there I'd be - beyond the crowd pregnant women, smoking away as they staggered, whimpered and wheelchaired about the front of the hospital - there I'd be, reading some poncy book like some unkempt arts student who never grew up. I thought this would cheer him up, and I still think to some extent it did. I ran my MP3 player mercilessly, seeking a song. I am the one with all the songs, so that's the other thing I thought I could do. One week, I think I charged the damn thing three or four times, just looking for that song. The right song. No song seemed 'just right', but such is the way with these kinds of times.
I wished I could have done more, but such things are beyond me. I loaded up an MP3 player with songs for his partner, I visited with magazines, I stood in awe of how they were getting through it all. All the time, swanning about with this air of the quotidian. Oh, how usual to stop
for a cheap cup of coffee and newsagent sandwich made three days ago, then pop into the Rotunda. Oh how usual to smoke nearly twenty a day. Oh how usual for that feeling to be there, just at the edge of each eye and another somewhere half way down the cheek. How usual for hands to shake. How usual my bro looks with his eyes hung, dark, pure, the epitome of what humanity might aspire to: Selfless. He wasn't himself, and he wasn't for himself. He was too busy being strong.
One evening, when the news had started to increment in the right direction (a little better, a little every day), my mother, sisters, wife and I went for a civilised dinner (My brother had to go home to sort out the children). Pasta and sauce, it was so exotic. My wife even had prawns, which I thought could be to some extent sinful, but I kept my mouth shut. There were drunk people shouting; an argument over our shoulder to do with a child that was grounded, but was going to a show "A school show, that's why" "That's not the point!"; other people making plans on where to go next. All this life, going on, as life does.
"So, did you all hear the name?" I think it was my mother who asked. I, quite selfish was happy to butt in.
"Yes. It's a good name. I think they've chosen well. Lion's den and all that." This, my brother had told me while we smoked a cigarette, watching the pregnant ladies wheezing and whining through their own fags, and a case of mistaken fatherhood ("You're nah! I'm tellin' ya! It's Joey. I said Joey to ma, I did!")
My sister, the second runner in the family in the music fan stakes, sang:

Daniel my brother you are older than me

She halted there. I was grateful, as I didn't like the song. I protested it was too obvious, but really it was because that song - for whatever reason - was to me the elevator music of my childhood. I only ever recall hearing it in the car on the way to school or from some activity, and at that, only ever just before or just after an ad break. I decided to continue my earnest search for a new, better song that would mean something, that would touch to the root of all of that week.
But it is a folly of human life that we sink back into routine all too easily. Smell the roses is a cliche, so people seldom do. I did continue my search, in vain, but soon it petered out. Daniel was sung on a number of occasions since, for various reasons: around tables, in cars, over dinner, after wine.
Then my brother sang that verse last weekend. I had never realised the first line was about leaving tonight on a plane. My brother singing that reminded me of him leaving on a plane, a long time ago. Another life ago, almost.
We were living in New Zealand, and he was going to a boarding school in the UK. He often came over, it seemed to me, just to bug the hell out of me. He brought with him a strange kind of slang, and gained a self confidence which I despised. His holidays at home were characterised by a brief spell of cameraderie, followed quickly by a long spell of fighting in which things were said that only children have the blind cruelty to say.
On time that he was leaving, we went to a strip behind the airport to watch the plane take off. Perhaps we did this every time he left, but this is the one time I remember. As we drove from the terminal to the strip, I think "Daniel" was playing on the radio, but I can't be sure. My mother and sister were distraught. At that age, I could never figure out my Dad, so I can't really say how he was. There was another family who had just waved goodbye to one of their own, and they were at the strip as well.
I was glad he was on his way. We must have had some fight. Probably one of those in which he tested out his bizarre slang on me, while I threw back the latest obscenity that I had heard (I recall once, not this time, but once, calling him a 'nipple'. His blank stare in return convinced me that I had gone so far as to have permanently wounded him. Of course, he was probably wondering what this 'eggy' kid was on about.)
My mum was comforting my sister, and mentioned something about burgers or ice cream. Perhaps even some kind of toy. Well, I thought, I better get in on this action.
I buried my head in my hands, and thought ooh, I miss my brother already. Mum drew me into the hug with my sister.
And that was when I felt it. I did miss my brother already. What had he going on over there, in England that was so much better than here. It couldn't be the slang. 'Eggy' and such terms were no match for 'fuck' and 'nipple', and I had many more words I could teach him. Like he had so many games he could teach us.
Through dust and tears, we waved goodbye to a jumbo jet tail fin as it rose into the clouds. I think my sister, or perhaps my mother, or maybe even my father suggested they saw him waving - we had missed it because you had to look very close, and the plane was moving very fast. But it had been caught, he was in there, waving back to us.
I never really thought of that until I heard my brother singing those lines from the song. And in sitting down to write this, I understand why my sister had halted when singing the song that night in the restaurant. I had to look up the lyrics, but the line after the one she sang is

Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal

This makes me realise what I've been missing all this time. I've been missing it out of a selfish and quite vain streak of high-minded Arts-graduate doublethink. Convinced that the greats are the only ones that can communicate anything that means anything. But all this high-brow, has-to-mean-something comes to nothing. Because at the very bottom, meaning is defined as much in the moments we share, as in the abstract connections we make between things. As a quasi intellectual with a touch of dyslexia and a restricted mentality, this comes as quite a shock. But a shock worth sharing all the same. For many, this is obvious. But for me, it has been a two-day epiphany.

Daniel, by Elton John & Bernie Taupin

Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for spain
Oh and I can see daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes

They say spain is pretty though Ive never been
Well daniel says its the best place that hes ever seen
Oh and he should know, hes been there enough
Lord I miss daniel, oh I miss him so much

Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that wont heal
Your eyes have died but you see more than i
Daniel youre a star in the face of the sky

Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for spain
Oh and I can see daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes
Oh God it looks like daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes

Monday, May 19, 2008


On the Luas, commuters waiting to commute, waiting for the toneless beep before the doors slide shut. At the back, behind the wall that's behind the tram, there's two junkies. One's on a bike, the other's leaning on the wall and both are on something, eyes rolling, hands jerking, bodies shaking. Hands jerking. There's only three hands I can see.
Trying not to look like I'm looking, I look. It looks to me like she's... And that's why he's rocking forward and backward on his bicycle. And that's why her hand (the visible one) is jerking. And that's why their bodies are shaking. It's a job. You can't tell, because the top of his trousers are under the top of the wall. And no one goes back there. No one who's a commuter anyway.
JONG IS A FAG and SHARON SUCKS 4 BUCKS according to the wall, which also says, mysteriously, Grift! A freesheet on a free seat says research has proven that gay drivers are at least as bad as women drivers. There's so much being said, so little being meant.
Over here you can hear the tsk-tsk hissing of an electronic hi-hat on a keyboard generated dance track. A tall guy with a bald head and a huge adam's apple is in a trance, maybe going over something in his head. Nothing seems to disturb him, not even " fuCKING MONey!" which suddenly pierces the tram. Coming from somewhere and going back there, whoever it is, they're angry - you know that, and not just because it's money. You can hear it, in the voice which crescendos then diminuendos. But to claim to know what it means would just be innuendo. The chatter, the chatter starts on the tram. "He said she was going..."; "Where are you...?"; "Yeah, I miss you too..."; "Just on the Luas..."
"What'd you ge'?"
"Borgor. Chips"
"It's fuckin' luvely in dare, innit?"
Smells of grease and perfume. Named after a celebrity no doubt. The perfume, that is, not the grease. Although could you imagine: Your dinner can smell like Kate Moss'. You can imagine. The smell. Heavy, lingering, slippery. Mixing with that perfume that smells like a subtle room deodorant. You can hate that smell. Even bald guy has turned his lips down, squinted his eyes, screwed his nose. It's not snobbery. It's just... different things for different people... all these different people... you don't turn your nose up at it, you just follow your nose to another place. To the Hugo Boss, the Cool Water, the Poison, the Estee Lauder, the perfumes named before celebrities, before no one knew anything about what anyone else did, because everyone did the same thing, smelled the same way, shared the same worlds...
A breeze comes in, I lean lightly against it. Feel it on my skin, warmed underneath but chilling. Hang over from last night. Feeling queasy. Feeling guilty. No reason that I know to - just conditioning. Spend so much time apologising, from down here, from in here, where I feel only myself, much like everyone else who can't feel what anyone else feels... Vinyl - is that the word? The fabric they make the jackets from. The big ones, puffing out. Nylon - that's it. Nylon on your skin. Feels alien. Smooth but uncomfortable. You feel like you might reach out and
Touch it. Touch it all. By looking, hearing, smelling, feeling, you touch it all. Make it something else, something that includes you, but it's not the thing you experience. It's the thing the other people experience because you're in it because you touched it. And for you, it's the thing they are in because it's the thing they touched. But for all of us, and them, it's only the ones we notice - the handjob, the music, the takeaway, the jacket - it's the stuff. We're just watching in on it. Viewing like voyeurs with nothing to do but sense all this. These meaningless senseless...things.
And yet, there's something in it all that makes you write it down.

Monday, May 12, 2008


It is no curious thing that water is clear, unless polluted by such things that would discolour it. Of course, when polluted by those things that would not discolour it, it is still clear: so we have a situation where water, unless unpolluted by such things that would, or would not discolour it, is clear. Which brings us nowhere if we just need to know whether we can drink it.
A fast flow traps air, which rises in a panic to join molecules of its own king - up there, in the air. A metaphysical refugee, fighting the influx of molecules which not only displace it, but do so with the utmost transparency, so everyone can see what's going on.
They say water can mean purity, but not when they are talking about water torture.
Although, apparently, elsewhere they have said drowning is the most peaceful way to die - so if you're in a hotel room that's on fire, with the mattress coughing out carbon monoxide, which drifts across, nice and easy, ready to put one over you and sleep you to death - jump in the pool and breathe deeply - it'll be much more relaxing. We humans, if we have no control over our destiny, we have nothing.
And nothing returns us to the question of transparency, and what's in it for us. Sure, we can see through clear water, but that doesn't mean it isn't loaded with something. It also doesn't mean that we care. Just because the water's transparent doesn't mean I was even looking for it. I could argue for days the benefits of transparency in water, while I continue to drink diet Coke.
I'm not even on a diet, I tell myself. But I do eat. Which, I suppose is no more than a modern day oxymoron (a word whose meaning is rapidly changing to describe TV audiences in the early 21st century. Or should it be polymoron?)
Like the transparent water, we're happy everything is pure, so long as we don't have to taste it. Even when we see those bubbles rising rapidly, and with some violence, it won't bother us, so we might as well just get on with it.


Tom Waits announces US tour, promises European tour to follow... It's written in the stars, we are told.
As the stars told the wise men of Christ's birth, as they tell millions (maybe billions?) of commuters about their lives, so they tell us of the coming of Tom. Waits for news are over. The moon is rising. Damp brows everywhere are wiped. Clean the credit cards, for they will be needed to book. Tickets won't be cheap, and if London, 2005 is anything to go by, they'll be gone. In a second. Chances are, no sentence can encapsulate the feelings of fans around the world, so I won't try to.
At a press conference, which appears to have been held in a rented school room, Tom Waits lays out the good word about his tour. You can see the video here.
More news is always available from the ever reliable Eyeball Kid, perhaps the best source of all Tom Waits ephemera on the web.
And, should you want more 'official' updates, there's always the ANTI blog, which includes updates on all their artistes here (also good for streaming audio from ANTI artists, including Nick Cave, Jolie Holland, Neko Case, Billy Bragg...).
Set your mouse pointers to the Buy Tickets button!
A word of advice...
In an attempt to reduce touting, there may be bizarre rules in relation to ticket purchases. The US gigs are using a paperless ticketing system: book online, print out a confirmation that you bring along on the night (no ticket is sent to you!), along with a form of Government ID and the original credit card used to book.
There's a limit to two tickets per card, and both those people have to show up together. Touting is a pain in the arse, and has to be stopped, but surely there's an easier way than this?? The whole system sounds like something devised by a character living in a basement in a Tom Waits song... or is that exactly what we're meant to think?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Again, David Blaine...

David Blaine has set a new world record for holding his breath...

Indeed, no, he did not die and we should not all hold our breath waiting for it to happen...

I always thought (ironically) that I'd read a news report about David Blaine; about how he's hold his breath or wipe his ass in some record-breaking manner...

And now it's happened...

Read the original report on the BBC News Website

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Proposed Tom Waits Set List

After my rant on Scarlett Johansson, I have been challenged to define a set list for a Tom Waits covers album. Some of these have been recorded already, some are ideas:

  • Chuck E Weiss sings Diamonds on My Windshield (from The Heart of Saturday Night)
  • Ramones sing I Don't Wanna Grow Up (from Bone Machine)
  • Daniel Johnston sings Better Off Without a Wife
  • Tori Amos sings Time (as much from love of tori - not the best Tom Waits cover, but still way ahead of SJ)
  • Johnny Cash sings Down There By The Train (from Orphans)
  • Bob Dylan sings A Soldiers Things (from Swordfishtrombones)
  • Sparklehorse sings Rain Dogs [but how would he do it?] (from Rain Dogs)
  • John Hammond sings Til The Money Runs Out (from Heart Attack and Vine)
  • Nick Cave sings 4:19 (from Orphans)
  • Neko Case sings Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (from Blue Valentines)
  • Bruce Springsteen sings Jersey Girl [of course] (from Heart Attack and Vine)
  • Patent Bullshit Entry Removed
  • Lucinda Williams sings I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You (from Closing Time)
  • Primus sing Fillipino Box Spring Hog (from Mule Variations)
  • Jolie Holland sings A Little Rain (from Bone Machine)
  • Kris Kristofferson sings The Day After Tomorrow (from Real Gone)

  • Bonus (hidden) track - William Shatner does 9th and Hennepin (from Rain Dogs)

Most of these are ballady. In my three-pints state, I'm now thinking of a double album, a la Orphans - one for the brawlers and the other for the brawlers... I'll be back.

In the meantime, let me know what you think!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Johansson Scarlett as Tom Waits for Decent Tribute

I gave the streaming a chance. I decided, after a couple of listens, it's just not for me. And I don't think it does anything for the Tom Waits songbook either.
It's dreary, really. As I mentioned in the last post - it's all movie-type atmosphere meeting over-produced 'sound scapes', which no doubt are an attempt to 'reinterpret the raw, manic power of Tom Waits vibrant percussion, bizarre instrumentation and legendary voice'. This is my own quote, and I know it's a pile of crap. It's marketing crap, made to build something up that (frankly) doesn't require building up. In fact, that quote belittles Mr Waits' work - much like this album.
It's hard to know what this album is 'for'. Some years ago, there were a couple of tribute albums released. Some songs on them were good, others were pretty cool indie bands doing a garage-type-cover of Tom Waits work. Which means they tried to sound like Tom Waits. Big mistake. Tom Waits sound is unique, so trying to copy it makes it less than it is. However, criticism of those albums aside - they were an attempt for a range of musical acts to pay tribute to someone they felt was a big influence on their lives. I'm sure there was an attempt to raid legacy copyright license value also (all the songs were from the Asylum/Elektra recordings). Another affect the albums would have had was to introduce Tom Waits' music to a different fan base - fans of the acts involved on the albums.
But what is the Scarlett Johansson album for? Is it a tribute? A re-exploration? An attempt to foster new fans? If it is any of these, it has failed, I'm afraid. Here's why:
If it were a tribute, it is lost as such. The dull thuddery of electronic over production, stretching like a duvet upon which the pillowed tones of Scarlett Johansson's voice sleepwalks through the songs do nothing for them. I can see that it may be an attempt to pay tribute to Tom Waits by being really original - so original in fact as to try and produce an Anti-Tom Waits album (pun intended for those who care). Tom Waits writes songs that are brats - they kick against the pricks of formulaic songwriting in contemporary pop music. But their treatment with Scarlett Johansson (more correctly David Siteck of TV on the Radio) is to "formulate" them - to make them sound like something that has been studied, analysed, sterilised and rehabilitated so they can make a useful contribution to current pop music. Unlike Tom Waits songs, you can predict what's coming next. One point I made last night that still sicks in my craw is the how percussion works. I like the way percussion does two things in Tom Waits songs - 1, builds cadence then 2, punctures it. This is part way to the ragged feel of the songs and provides that whole 'what's happening now?' feeling that you get when you listen. The songs I've heard from Scarlett Johansson also do two things with percussion: 1, build cadence and then 2, reinforces it. Much like the cymbal crash at the end of a crescendo in a movie score (which I'm not against, by the way - it works in movies, just not in Tom Waits songs).
So, is it a 're-exploration' of Tom Waits' music? No. Because these songs start to sound formulaic. That's not an exploration. At best it's a mapping out, so that the next set of tourists that come along can find the English-Speaking Tour/Irish Bar/MacDonald's without too much effort.
How about an attempt to foster new fans? Well, this is an odd one. Firstly, why would any big star go to the bother of undertaking a project just to promote the work of another? Unless your Mark Linkaus of course, and you feel your friend isn't getting the exposure they deserve.
Outside the question of recording an album for the betterment of Tom Waits - there's the question of whether it would even work. I'm not convinced that fans of this album would necessarily be fans of Tom Waits albums - as I mentioned before, this is the polar opposite of a Tom Waits album. Which makes it all the more painful. That and the idea that there will (definitely) be people walking round in the Autumn barking on about this gravelly-voiced hobo who did a terrible job at covering Scarlett Johansson's album...