July 18, 2001

The man with a buzzcut came in and asked if we sold combs by any chance.

– Yes, black or brown?
– Black will do – there’s always something you forget.

Yesterday was one of my weekly revivals – I say, if I keep getting reborn like this then I’ll be in nirvana in no time!  I took the Dart down to Sandycove to see the James Joyce Martello Tower.  Really didn’t know exactly where it was, but figured if it was a coastal defense tower of any scale to be effective then finding the shore would mean finding the tower.  And I was right.

Leaving Dublin, however, I was of course obliged to have the ubiquitous joy-mitigating run-in with the Irish.  I had no idea how much a ticket was, but I’d got it into my head it was £4.00.  I’m not sure where.  I’m pretty sure that I read it somewhere.  I go to the ticket booth and then teenage jack-off behind the counter mumbles a price in that god-forsaken Dublin accent.  It is GARBLE-FIFTEEN.  I ask him again.  He repeats, louder yet no more clearly GARBLE-FIFTEEN.  I know that’s as clear as it’s going to get, so I assume he’s mumbling £4.15.  I hand over £5.  He looks at me as if I’ve just pushed liquid parrot droppings through his window.

– What’s this?  You only wanted one, right?
– Yes.
– So WHY are you giving me five?

Couldn’t just let it go.  Couldn’t realize I couldn’t understand a word he said.  Couldn’t just take what he needed from the pile, push the rest back and smile.  No.  He had to be the big surly Irish man.  I hate that man.  So it actually was quite a bargain and there were lovely signs on the platform that displayed when the next train would come.

It’s an electric train with the wires marionette-style above it like a streetcar.  They are wide, open cars with very little seating and a wide aisle of linoleum covered with the Irish polka dots of gum and cigarette filters.  I happen to be cursed with a magnetism towards the world’s most foul smelling people, and the only open seat was across from a prime Irish sow.  He belched rather regularly over his untucked blue wrinkle of a shirt and his mat of long stringy hair did nothing to improve his image.  His shirt tail had this funny little tag on it that said, “This shirt belongs to ____” with no name filled in.  I wonder if he was having his monthly visit out of the hospital and had eaten his chaperone along the way.  That might account for the awful smell creeping off his body like big black beetles covered in dung.  He’s taking the whole “smell of Dublin” thing a little too far.  He had one of those smells that make you leave your hand in front of your face – which is hard to maintain without looking like you’re holding back vomit – which perhaps I was – so that all you smell is the soap from the morning and the billions of your own skin cells you’re inhaling.

Worse still, a couple of young girls sat down facing each other beside us, and his smell was so thick a cloud around us I just hope they didn’t think it was me.  I’d boil myself if I had that kind of funk rolling off me like boulders in an avalanche.

Visually the trip was pretty.  I looked out the window away from the human compost heap and as the compost heap of Dublin fell away it was replaced by a string of green punctuated by squat Victorian stations and finally beautiful, if not gray, view of the sea.  Went by Booterstown, which I’ll always remember Andy Brown saying in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

Now, Dublin is pretty terrible – I must say that I don’t care for it much at all.  And though everyone has told me not to judge Ireland by Dublin, the moment I stepped off the train at Sandycove I knew that Ireland still held some promise.  I couldn’t have chosen worse weather as it was as cold as it’s ever been – thank God for this sweater!  – and the rain and the wind were a horrible and vicious pair.

Sandycove was what I expected Ireland to look like.  Even with the gray of the sky.  It’s a little picture postcard with a winding shoelace of a road that hugged the shore, packed between two rows of tightly-packed whitewashed houses like a set of teeth on the mouth of the bay.  The wind and weather battered new life into my tired little soul as it constantly shook me and battered me.  It was like a slap to wake someone up.  I always feel so disconnected but weather like that forces you into your surroundings and keeps you grounded and it never lets you forget that even though you are tiny, you are still a part of the world.  It was truly invigorating.

I just sat for a long time on the big brown boulders of the shore and watched the green blue explode into nets of foam like lace thrown high into the air.  Crashing against the stalwart shore.  The battlements of boulders.  And as I sat, as immobile as the rocks, with my pants legs becoming stiff from the weather, the flensing wind rubbed my skin bright red with its sandpaper.  My hands were so abused and so cold that I couldn’t get into my pocket to get my knife to open my orange juice foil seal.  It was heavenly.  I was just getting hammered by the rain, but I had my collar flipped up, my bandana tied around my throat – am I ever glad I found it! – and my hat as tight around my skull as I could manage.  Like the monkey king in mischief.

I walked along the shore to the James Joyce tower, having no clue as to its location besides “Sandymount,” but I figured that if it was a coastal defense tower worth its salt, finding the shore would mean finding it.  And I was right.  I walked past rocks and the gray brown sand and the low-flying gulls cutting into the wind and the little pools of quiet water in rock basins fringed with bright green moss that were calmly protected from the weather by strong guardians on all sides.  Little oases in the sandy desert.

The tower was closed for lunch, it being about 1:45, so I just sat on the shore again but it started to pelt rain so I hid against a wall until 2:00.  £4 bought me admission to the tiny museum.  There was the original door key, mentioned in Ulysses, some death masks (he must have been very slight), his guitar, some first editions, and quite a lot of postcards.  There was a block of stone from Nelson’s pillar and a block of stone from a house that Joyce lived in.  He was at one time in DRUMCONDRA! but his house had been demolished in 1999 and the rubble was all that remained.  Ah, the Irish, in such a rush to destroy themselves.  It’s rather telling that the relics of their lauded past are but bits of stone and mortar rescued from destruction.  Sad.

The next floor was the living floor, and someone put a statue of a panther by the hearth where in Ulysses that chap hallucinates one and lets off some shots in the middle of the night, much to Stephen’s displeasure.  Rather unexpected and humorous addition.

Joyce signed quite a bit of his correspondence as “Stephen Daedalus.” Or was it “Stephen Hero?”  I forget.  “Stephen” anyway.

Then the top of the tower where the gun would have been, where the weather was even more brutal.  As I stood there and looked out over the bay and the infinite distance of the sea mist, I realized that though Dublin is not the place for me, IRELAND definitely had promise.

Wouldn’t you know it, coming back from my trip I saw that the video store right across the street has a help-wanted sign out.  A new one, so it must have some basis in reality and is not simply windowdressing from 1979.  Maeve’s eyes lit up and she told me I must work there so that we can get some movies.  Maybe Declan should – he’d get some cash anyway as he was talking about getting a job for some spending money.  But I’m pretty sure that was a short-lived notion.  That boy’s as bad as I am.

Last night burned through another phone card to FTC.  Nothing of note, actually can’t remember a damned thing we talked about, but I am just so starved for friends just to have mindless chit chat is a treat I’m willing to pay £10 for.  Hell, it’s cheaper than a night drinking and it certainly leaves you in a much better state.

Must get ready for work.  Then tomorrow is off!  I packed a lunch – or actually a dinner – so I wont get so munchy and I’ll have a sort of break.  I’m bringing Ulysses – I want to get through 100 pages a day at work.  Let’s see how that works out.  Then tomorrow is off again!  But it will probably be a tax day so I’m not too terribly enthused.

– Have you got something really nice?
– Well, that would be the whole table here.  Do you know what you’re in the mood for?  Something soft, something hard?  Something with nuts or caramel?
– I don’t know!
– Well, you’re gonna have to narrow it down a little.
– I’ll take this – no.  Wait.  I’ll be safe and go with this.
– Ah, my favorite.  Good choice.  That’s 50 pence.
– Thanks.  I’m looking at rum and butter – that looks quite disgusting, doesn’t it?
– Yes, I don’t know why it’s supposed to be an appealing flavor.
– How much is that?  Is that 50 pence also?
– Yes.
– I’ll take one of those then.
– You just said it sounded disgusting!
– I know!

My next book: “Gosh, You Don’t Sound Irish!”  My Time in the Newsagents

“I need a pen where the head is very big.”  Ah, the Japanese.


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