August 15, 2001

My absolute favorite time of day – weekday noontime alone in a house full of people.  I seem to have slept off what was getting to me.  I overslept my usual 9AM by two hours – which is very unusual for me.  Last night Rafal appeared at the movie theatre five minutes late.

– Where have you been, late boy?

– It has been crazy day.  I am almost in tears all day.

What appears to have happened is that when Rafal went to school, he just unloaded all his problems onto his friend Salla – the Libyan with whom Kate is planning to stay until she leaves.  He then goes downstairs and Kate appears to check her email and ends up talking to Salla who relays to her all that Rafal told him.  You know, all the stuff they should have been saying to each other the whole time.

Rafal had told Salla that he loved Kate and Kate was surprised and evidently it may have a chance of working out.  Of course, neither of them have said ANY of this to each other – it’s all from Salla’s mouth.  And to be fair, who knows if he’s not telling each side what they want to hear?

So Rafal’s hopes are up, and instead of walking home with me after the movie he went down to Kate’s work to wait for her to get off at ten so that he could walk her home and talk to her.

He did walk her home.  And he did NOT talk to her.  Evidently this was the full extent of the conversation:

– Would you mind if I walked you home?

– No.  I don’t mind.

Then 30 minutes of silence until they got home and she went to bed.  I’m not seeing a whole lot of hope in this one.

Anyway, I got home and there was a bit of a party going on.  Declan and Fiona and her sister Sinead and Sinead’s boyfriend the amusing dirty scam job Rory.  I had something in my head so I ended up writing for a good spell in my room.  I’ve been trying poetry lately, and have fantasies now of going to readings in New York coffee shops.  Be part of a scene.  Though I am intimidated by how good my sister’s poetry is – lightning never strikes twice, after all.

A character in a 50’s movie in the other room just said, “I only make a hundred dollars a week, and you know I can’t live on that.”  Amen, brother, AMEN.

My poetry is horrendously shallow.  It’s either unrequited love shit or depressed suicidal shit.  I don’t feel especially suicidal right now, but as the adage goes – “old adage” would be redundant, wouldn’t it? – “Write what you know.”  It becomes obvious to me that I need to experience a whole lot more until anything I have to say will be of any merit.

When I came up to the living room they were red-eyed through a few joints and strawsipping on a Brazilian concoction knows as a “Caprini” or something like that.  It was some Brazilian sugar cane rum mixed with Demerrara sugar and poured over ice into a glass FULL of hundreds of little segments of lime.  It tasted pretty good, as long as there was enough sugar in the mix.  The nicest part was that all the limes and their juice spilling over the counter to the floor in fragrant water fountains gave the kitchen the nicest, freshest smell.  A wonderful departure from the usual dank mould smell.

Demerrara sugar is wet sand crystals thick and heavy, bits of windshield crass glass brown like molasses.  The rum is in a tall basket woven bottle – Ypioca Ouro.  Aguar dente de Cana – distilled from sugar cane.  39% alcohol.  Productores desde 1846.  Mummified in wicker caning, like the bottom of an old chair.  There’s a picture of an old bearded man in a turtleneck and jacket looming in the room, sipping appreciatively on a tumbler half full.  An interesting advertising idea – their market must be grizzled sailors and those who want to live their lifestyles.

I ended up telling the whole Rafal/Kate story to the assembled masses as Maeve knew there was a fight but wanted to know the details.  She just thinks that Kate is manipulative and is using Rafal for his room.  She was there at the Kitchen Nightclub when she was dancing dirty with other boys.  Everything happens when I’m not around.

Then we watched the second half of the Matrix – which really is AMAZING on a digital screen – and then went to bed.  I went to bed – no one else, of course.  I am the only lame one.  My stomach hurt again, and all I can deduce is that alcohol is now a full-out poison to me.

So here I am – at the end of this notebook with just five shifts until my 3 day break – SEVEN until I am DONE.

So where am I?

Well, my skin blemishes disgust me, I am still lonely, shit job is almost over, our house is BURSTING with people, we have an apartment in New York, mom sent me a bit of money so Europe looks brighter on the horizon, and I’m off to notebook four!

Thank you. –

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August 13, 2001

I need to write more often because I’m always playing catch up.  And even though Maeve washed the table in her cleaning spree for Fiona’s arrival, it is still really nasty and I’m still using a magazine as a forearm condom.  Though the magazine, having been on the table, is not all that much better.

Finally yesterday my gallbladder caught up with me and I essentially fasted down the angry little pain in my side.  I had got to the point where I thought that perhaps it was all psychosomatic and had created it all in my fitness/thinness mania.  BUT no.  I have both a fixation on being thin and a painful angry organ.  I went out and bought some fat free pasta sauce – which is actually the best I’ve ever had! – and some crackers so it’s back to bread and pasta!  For a while, at least.

I sat at the table in my most foul of moods – my meek, quiet, soft defeated mood.  I had planned to write all that evening and I wanted to, but I just ate plan pasta and stared at the coverless Economist, flipping pages more than reading and I listened to O Brother Where Art Thou? on repeat for hours.

Maeve and Kevin woke up and were a happy bonding couple over French toast as I flipped and moped.  She is so happy and giving and he just doesn’t seem to be paying attention.  But I’ve seen them hold each other and that’s where it matters.  Opposites attract, I am told.

Tried to call Nick – Katie broke up with him out of the blue and he is destroyed.  “I’m just angry” or something was his email subject.  Sort of a relief – never a huge fan of hers and he needs to break from her in order to live his life as opposed to her life.  I should take that advice myself, but we’re all putzes and always think this is the last chance we’ve got.  I wonder if Chris knows – Josh should be ecstatic but he’s fallen off the email planet – I wonder if he’s still unemployed and miserable in New York, waiting on his leather sofa that’s never gonna come.

Anyway, Nick wasn’t there and I left a message.  Dad wasn’t there.  The other Nick was there but he had to jet – still nice to hear his voice.  Definitely my best college male friend.

Been emailing Michael – as overblown and pretentious in his emails as ever.  I just wish he’d write like a normal person – like he talks – not like a laudanum inspired Gothic romance.  Then again – who am I to cast stones?

Funny how I’ve held onto my high school friends – never really expected that at all.  Josh, Chad, Nick, Chris, and even Michael.  Never really thought that would be the case.  They’re good men.  And all of us are confused.  Michael got into GW Law School – good for him.

Back to staring blankly at the kitchen wall over the heads of the loving couple.  I went to do something in my room for a second and I hear Maeve yelling while Kevin ineffectively attempts to soothe her ragged nerve.  It seems that she accidentally swapped her very expensive jean jacket at the busy club the previous night for a cheap piece of shit that was revealed in the light of day to bear only a tacky and passing resemblance for her own.  She ran down the hall and slammed her door where I heard her cursing the universe.

So I’m still where I was, staring over the heads of loving couples, all empty inside.  But that’s okay – that’s part of this place tearing me down and me building something new and hopefully calmer and more self-assured and worldy in its place.

Then there was a Polish gathering in the sitting room – Oliver and Machek and Kate and Rafal and a swiss roll with “bill” berries and crisps and Zubrovka cut with apple juice.  Zubrovka comes with a long green straw of buffalo grass in the bottle stuck to the side.  With apple juice it tastes just like apple pie.  “If you put [the grass] in your mouth 20, 30 minutes, you are drunk, yes?  Put it in your mouth and suck on it and you are drunk.  No, really.”

Oliver was a tousled bleary eyed slouch who told me it would be a waste of time to visit Poland.  Machek was a jet black slicked ponytail olive gangle folded shut like a fan on the chair curled over Derek’s guitar and he played good blues licks as he barked out in Polish improvised lyrics about Kate that made them all laugh.  I haltingly repeated by tongue-twister and numbers and they all laughed.  “We are not laughing at you, it is just so funny to hear someone who is not from Poland speak Polish language.  Really.”  But that’s nonsense – I know when I’m being laughed at.  And it was fine with me.  I’m sure I was butchering their language.  And hey – if I want to be an actor I have to be comfortable with being the fool.

The Zubrovka was drunk, the Poles smoked Marlboro Lights, and I went with them to the off-license for some Stolichnaya.  My moratorium on drinking was suspended due to my girl troubles.  A worthy and time-honored exception from temperance.  Maeve and I split the bottle of vodka, I think the man at the off-license gave me too much change though I was in a haze and am still not sure, and as Maeve 7-Up’ed hers down I drank it straight hoping to avoid a horrible hangover as I had to open the next day.  I got real tired real quick, the Poles separated themselves down to Rafal’s room, and I went to my room.  My stomach felt awful and distended and I actually thought I would retch.  Hoped I would.  Knelt in front of my sink – my vomiting would be private this time – and spat a few times to try to get thing going.  Nothing came, I pulled off my clothes and fell backwards into bed.

The next morning was the conversation over the table with Kate about being expelled by Rafal.  My bowels were in raging upset all day and my gallbladder throbbed and a £450 take testified that there is no rest for the wicked.

I really didn’t know if I’d see Kate again, and that was an odd feeling.  Do you say “Goodbye” or “Later” or anything like that?  It was weird to leave yesterday morning with her eyes mascara flooded at the kitchen table.

Finally got home and found Rafal.  He seemed very calm and normal, which confused me even more.

– So what’s up?

– Nothing.

– What about Kate?

– Why do you ask?

– Well, she seemed pretty upset this morning.”

– What did she say?

– Well, that the two of you had a fight or something.

As it all reveals itself, Rafal had actually thrown her out of the house for the crime of not loving him.  Not that he would admit that, of course.  The evening after I went to bed proceeded thusly:

Oliver finds Rafal to tell him that Kate and Machek are kissing in the garden.  (Garden?  Broken concrete slug farm I’d call it.)  He goes to confront them, she laughs and goes inside to Rafal’s room.  He follows and the two of them are draped all over each other.  He gets the hint that they want to be alone and watches Pay it Forward with Michelle and Kevin.  He goes to his room afterwards and finds them – Machek and Kate – sleeping next to each other in his bed.  He stomps over to Declan’s bed to sleep, but is angry and goes back to his room and throws Machek out.  Rafal and Kate stay up all night talking and he tells her to leave.

– Don’t you think you’re over-reacting?

– No, but seriously, what am I supposed to do?  I open the door and they are there sleeping together on my bed.  You know, not naked, but next to each other on my bed.  The bed that I pay for.  And I am always sleeping on fucking air mattress and have pain in my back but that’s okay because she is guest.  And she can go out and have a date with whoever she want, but not on my bed.  What am I to do, sleep on fucking air mattress where I can see them together on my bed?  And she says it is my fault.  Why is this?  She says she was drunk and nothing happen but I am supposed to protect her.  She said I disappeared but I was in sitting room the whole time, yes?  She said I disappeared, that it was my fault.  I do not understand.

He recanted his eviction later that evening and told her she could stay until she could get a flight back to Poland because he told her family, he promised her family that he would watch out for her.  He went to work.  I fell asleep on Ulysses.  3 hours later I stumbled out of my room to Declan’s arrival.  Fiona, his long lost girlfriend, was arriving in a few hours from Munich and we went – mostly Maeve, actually – on a cleaning spree.  I had napped in front of the open window and was clamped up in my chest and wasted from the short sleep as I always am.  I stumbled around and pulled on my sweater and watched The Love Bug on Cine Disney and marveled at how stupid the films of my youth were.  I loved Herbie the Bug and even had a little toy car of him.  Matchbox-type.  Silly damn movie and the villain was the guy from Mary Poppins.

Exhausted, I waited for Fiona to come.  She did, I shuffled into the kitchen eventually to say hello, abandoning the stupid British cop show I was using to sustain my consciousness.  Fiona is beautiful, tall and tan and the two of them look very adult and handsome together.  Then I collapsed into bed after my exercises.

3:30 woke me with the loud moans of their reunion, but I managed to be still so exhausted as to fall back to sleep.

And here I am.  Eights shifts to go and tomorrow is my day off.  Maybe I’ll finally get a bank account.  I’ve almost used up this book and this pen.  Both good feelings.

I lifted some Nivea moisturizer from the shop – payment for staying late every time someone is supposed to come and relieve me – and it has pulled the redness out of my fingertips.  My thumbs are still all hangnails,  but they’ve been tamed.  I have to pee and run.  The countdown continues!  Suffer seven hours until I’m OFF!

I had just met a happy American woman who asked me which would be the liberal paper in Ireland.  I explained that it didn’t work that way – you have tabloids and other.  But they all hold the same “news”.  Then she wanted to know how to get to the Abbey.  She had just been up at the Friel family reunion where Brien Friel had been treated “like an angel boy.”

– Do sell stamps?

– Yes.  To where?

– To Germany.  I would like to write a postcard to Germany.

– All right.  That’s 32 pence.  Just one?

– Yes.  I am not such a big writer.

August 8, 2001

8/8!  I must call mother!

And the lotto draw is tonight!  I must play.  Figure out if I’m eligible only if it becomes an issue.  Hopefully it will.

I find oftentimes that the happiest memories are the ones we wished we had.  Like that split second joy in Bray on the promenade with my 99 ice cream cone pulling my mouth up to smile around its nostalgia.  Never have I had that day at the seaside with the ice cream cone, but I felt imaginary father’s fingers hand it to me in limegreen shorts under tousled hair as mom and sis sit under an umbrella by the transistor radio all black glasses glamorous beach chic.  I was 8 and the seagulls flew low over a deep technicolor green and the beach was hot mustard under my flip flop feet.

But I was alone.  Cold.  Tired.  On a gray and rocky beach.  With a cone that cost the very last bit of my money.  And though I am terrified of frozen fat, I could not resist myself.  And that taste of 50’s stock imagery illusion triggered by twirled frozen made me as happy as if I’d lived it.  I was genuinely happy for a moment.  It, like gas and love, passed.  To be replaced by the big empty.  But I’ve tasted happy, and I like it.  I’ve developed a taste for happiness.  Must it always be alone in the gray with manufactured memories?

Twelve shifts to go!

I want to talk to mom, but there’s always someone in the sitting room.  Right now it’s Keira, brooding in her lonely self-imposed funk.  She does really seem so unhappy and put out by having to live with people.  I think she yearns to be alone.  Kevin must drive her nuts.  I scratched out Declan because he is too charismatic – even Keira forgives him.

I haven’t written a lot because I’ve gotten very bored.  The work/sleep/eat cycle has begun to stamp its robotic imprint onto my angry little resentful life and I’m just falling down into that hole I’ve dug for myself with my aspirations and desire.  Hope is a grave.  Desire is a grave.  The harder you work at it the further you’ll fall.  And the more that will suffocate you as you life cold on the bottom.  I’m not really that fatalistic right now, but a neat image I think.

Couldn’t resist – had to play the Lotto today.  £6.6 MILLION!!! AND it’s 8/8!  If EVER there was a better time ME to play the Lotto, it was today.  I chose one set of numbers, mixing favorite numbers with random picks – your 9’s, 33’s, etc.  I also did a computer-chosen quick-pick.  Neither choice was a damn bit of good.  But it was only £1.50.  And I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t at least TRIED.  Everyone says this, but it WOULD have been nice to win.  I would have flown all my friends over to tour Europe!  For a weekend, at least.

Rafal and I had a joke – being foreign we didn’t know if we were eligible to win.  And if we did – as I was convinced I would – we would have to give the ticket to an Irish person to split with us.  It would have to be Maeve – Declan would smoke it and Keira would horde it and scowl at you as you tried to collect your half.

I need to sleep – I open again tomorrow.  So damn early.  I need to go back to school!

August 1, 2001

Another day, another month in my joke of a life!

Before I get too far ahead of myself again, I need to recap certain events.  And continue the arrival of the Kevin story.

He breezes in big, loud, and American.  Accent on loud.  We all sit down in the sitting room and Declan and Paddy prepare for a deep lungful of homemade water-cooled wastebin bong smoke.  So Paddy does one, then so does Declan.  Kevin has been eyeing the proceedings with lustful wolf eyes.  Kevin says he must christen the bong.  It will help take the edge off.  Declan taps the poor empty bag with nought but green dust left inside and drops all those hints that anyone who was listening would pick up on.  But big loud Americans never listen and Kevin gets his bong made of the last scarce remnants of Declan’s weed.  He makes a big thumbs-up sign as he expands like a pufferfish.  This coupled with his shaved head and huge mutton-chop sideburns really does make me laugh.  Inside.  Where it’s funniest.

Kevin decides to take a shower to wash the airplane from his frame.  Maeve soon follows and they disappear to parts unknown. Or should I say, to her parts rediscovered.

I am like a dog following around Declan and Paddy, so obviously an outsider but so needy for conversation and companionship.  They share a few rashers and pudding.  I munch my toast and explain headcheese.  If you can’t be indispensible at least be interesting, I figure.

They are trying to decide where to go, but as Declan has paintball the next day he doesn’t want to go down to Club Voodoo where Paddy is set on going.  Anyway, Declan seems to recall that Club Voodoo is a gay bar, and Paddy is sufficiently put off.

I am ravenous, and against all my better judgments go across the street to Spar.  I can’t eat those triangle sandwiches anymore with their solid skin of butter and wilted brown salads, so I totally destroy myself and buy some McVities digestive biscuits and a Kinder Egg – just because I want to be happy.

I return home to find everyone had gone.  All out to Kavanaugh’s, I learn, to share a pint and the craic.  I, alone at the kitchen table, eat half a very unhealthy packet of delicious digestive biscuits, which are the round and greasy version of graham crackers.  It’s Bacardi 151 to the graham cracker’s Natty Light.  Then I unwrap my sad little Kinder egg with one side punched in only to remember that I don’t really like the flavor of that white layered milk + chocolate that surrounded my cheesy and disappointing grinning gold plastic airplane.

I blew on its propeller a few times, and when the novelty of the whirring buzz quickly wore off I went to bed and wept along to Counting Crows track 10 which I played over and over again, hoping to sustain a flow to purge my tears of loneliness and sadness and longing but to no avail.  I am a cornucopia of self-pity and my reservoir is fed by a great unlimited ocean refreshed by a constant rain.  So I am never left refreshed with newly emptied tanks ready to accept the joy of discovery and novelty, but instead with an increased sense of inadequacy at not being able to feel correctly.  And I fall asleep dry-eyed with a runny nose.  More trouble than it’s worth.

The next day was work and as they stumbled in at 4AM I learned by walls were not soundproof and I pray that they are not noisy lovers.

To make a long story short, that afternoon Kevin decides to “test” – read “show off” – his big American equipment with which he will continue his big American recording studio’s big American work even while he’s over here in Ireland.  Wow, we think, he must be very important and in-demand!  He plugs it all into a powerstrip, into the wall, there is a pop like champagne, a blue spark, the radio cuts out and the living room is dead.  As is the fridge.  And several outlets in the kitchen.

Figure this one out, big American jack-off!

We locate fuses and switches and flip to our heart’s content and Kevin is concerned he’s blown his specially built in California by hand to order built in a day sent that afternoon arrived on the tarmac as he stepped on the plane borne by a liveried Indian prince on a cushion of magenta velvet code-named black box sound device.  He goes in to a rant, Maeve curls up afraid in her chair, I go into my magazine.

Maeve tries every twelve seconds to alternatively call Michael – the landlord without a mobile or an answering machine – and to calm her big American lover with his big American temper.

Finally, drunk on his rage, he passes out and Maeve collapses in the sitting room looking frazzled and stressed.  She is genuinely embarrassed.

I suggest that bottle of wine we missed the other night, and in Quinn’s she chooses the white with the highest alcohol content – 13.5%!  She admits she was a bit upset by the afternoon’s activities.  I said, “Really?”  You could hardly tell by the way sshe gulped her wine like a fish with the sea.  Swallowing for dear life.

Declan and Johnny return from their paintball battle, reeking of sweat and pockmarked with bruises.  Never are they overly rushed by hygiene considerations to roll up a spliff, so they sit down and dip into the wine with us.  Declan goes and gets two more – reds this time.  A dark cinnamon Merlot and clean pale Pinot Noir.

Kevin is woken by the “smell of something herbal” and pulls right into a joint.  The sole candle drips wax on the table in a huge, jellied dribble and flickers on faces with muted orange.  Declan knocks over first one bottle of wine and then two, convincing himself that the carpet is thirsty.  Kevin brings in his laptop to play music – “It’s this great  8 disc box set of Atlantic Records rhythm and blues from, like, 1940 to 1970.  It’s got it all, man.  It’s cool.” – and Maeve starts to dance.

Keira comes home from her weekend in Mayo and at that exact moment Maeve knocks Keira’s stereo to the floor with a crash.  Keira, sour-faced, turns and silently stomps to her room.   Maeve says, “Oh, she was not impressed.”

I wrap up the cord and return Keira’s radio to her in her room, where she accepts it without a word.  No, indeed Maeve, she is NOT impressed.

I go to bed soon after to avoid further “unimpressive spectacles” – and awake on another glorious work-filled day.  With a twist.  The twist being NOT having work.  But I’ve explained that already.

And here we are today.  In the kitchen with my arm on the cleanliness magazine looking out on another beautiful day that I will miss as I perch on my unupholstered mountain peak and deal with the customer, who is always right.

It’s day 15 on the new calendar of 32, which makes 28 old days so taking the average I’m right at 30, with my final day figured to be August 24.  Something new to which I can look forward, as I have lost my desire for the flavor of Kit Kats and thereby the possibility of the radio.  And I am horrified by the amount of fat in peanuts and now I really don’t know what to eat!

Yesterday there was an armed robbery of a building society right up the road by the Tolka River.  Gardaí caught the bandits and recovered the money and were trawling the river for the discarded weapon.  Ah, Drumcondra, the Compton of Ireland!  Maeve said she saw the chase on the way home from work.  A body in a suitcase and an armed robbery equidistant from my gaff!  What a crazy little place!  Is it me?  Am I like Jessica Fletcher, bringing destruction where I go?  I like to think I’m a benevolent influence that protects from harm with my presence, which is why the crimes always occur while I’m away.  I should carry all my valuables on my person, I suppose.

Showed Ali G to Kevin last night.  God, it just gets funnier.  I have to get a tape of him to bring home.  Maybe Katherine would have one.

Time to pee then go to work.  Not hard, just boring.  Like a drunken frat guy.

Oh!  Sirens!  What am I missing?  I’m sure I’ll hear on the radio this evening.

Dancing – “You get all the exercise of walking with something to hold on to.”

“The country was dancing mad.  You’re always dancing mad when there’s nothing else to do.”

The appetite until 6 is solely cigarettes and water.  I feel like I’m a prison warden.

His high cheekbones pulled his nose up into the air and made him unbearable.

Life is not magical, comrades.  Nothing magical ever happens.  Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but hope in that magic is the heroin we inject with endless books and magazines that lead us to find hope in our shitty little jokes that are our lives.  You stay in that hair salon because tomorrow that rich man will come in with his frigid fiancée and instantly fall in love with you as you win his heart and conquer high society.

Well, it’s never gonna happen.  Here’s a hint to spare you a lot of heartache – he’s a pedophile and you’ll end up in a cast if not a dumpster.

July 25, 2001

I haven’t REALLY written for a while and it’s making me a bit antsy.  I regard that as a rather good sign.

I’ve been having these vivid dreams that I probably should write down because they are really quite fully-developed stories.  I keep getting these strange déjà vu moments when I wake up that the dreams were all novels I will write, or they are gifts of books from my mind that all I need do is transcribe them – it’s only through my own laziness that I’m not published.  The dreams are funny quilts of easily identifiable elements – last night I worked in a store behind a counter but I didn’t really want to be there and there was a girl who worked there who looked like Sheila the one nice hotel person and I walked to France – to Lourdes, actually – but there was nothing there but books which were all ones I read about in the Times this past Sunday.

{I ate toast with a million boots marching in the empty ivory hall of my head.}

What’s odd is that rarely, if EVER, do I remember my dreams.  And not only do I remember these, I seem to be half-aware of the state I’m in while asleep, and I can even wake up enough to go to the bathroom and still fall back into the same dream.  I think it must be caused by the same urge that compels me to write – there is so much inside of me but no one with which to share it.  So I share it with myself.  I also wish that I did more creative writing, but I’m so far behind on recording what has actually happened that I don’t really get the chance.  Except in that sheaf of papers on my dresser.  I still feel like I’d like to write plays, plays with great monologues, but I’m still in need of great work in recording how people talk.  We THINK that we listen but really we just filter in the words and translate what’s said into our own speech patterns.  Like the way that Holly would always convey to me things Rosemary said – I got to the point when I thought Rosemary talked like Holly.  It’s the United Nations and we’re all listening to the simultaneous translations through our headphones that conveniently but everything into our own language, but we’re never ACTUALLY listening to who’s talking and the precise words they’re using.  And look at how effective the members of the UN are at communicating with each other, much less reaching a common ground.

{I don’t like the taste of whole milk.  It is thick and heavy.  Like sand.}

I’ve definitely noticed this about myself.  I’ll listen very closely to someone speak, like Angela or Aiofe or Declan, but when I try to reproduce it in writing or tone I am left high and dry.  They use words that I don’t use so they don’t penetrate my brain.  Their pronunciation is different but it all gets cleaned up by my – for ONCE – too efficient brain.  So TRULY listening, like auditioning, is an art and I need to practice.

{Aren’t words wonderful?!  I am both catholic and discriminating in my tastes, but neither Catholic nor discriminating.}

And I guess that’s a bit of a warning about all of my transcribed conversations.  They fall terribly short.

I need to catch up on a few things, especially Mister USP – the man who made my first solo day at work so unpleasant.

So it was that first Saturday and everything had been going just fine, aside from being terribly bored.  But I had managed to suffer through and had just got to the point where I thought, “Well, maybe this job isn’t so bad after all.”  Then, of course, the rug was pulled out from under me.

At 1:30 – a mere half hour before I can count my first day a success, after making it for 5 ½ lonely hours and getting up at 6:00AM – Dublin does it to me again.  Into the shoebox runs a wildeyed, shaved, white water-rat, pink eyes and all, and when I asked the scrawny young track-suit wearing man if there was anything I could do for him, his reply was:

– I was wondering if you could save my life.

Those are the kind of words that make your heart just sink.  It wouldn’t be anything simple like, “Do you have cough sweets?” or “Can I have change for the telephone?”  No, those were the words with which Dublin would bend me over the teacher’s desk and introduce me to the splintered broomstick.

So Ritchie spins this incredibly complex yarn that I can’t even begin to dissect.  It was all shot out of his mouh in a smooth con-artist wave, never leaving you a second to catch your breath, just sweeping you along for the ride.

He used to work there, he just got his last paycheck the day before, he’d been to every bank, pub, cash-a-check, rich socialite, illegal hoarder of pirate’s gold in all of Dublin in an attempt to cash his check and no one would do it.  Even the bank off of which the check was written wouldn’t cash it.  His credit union said it would take 7 days to clear.  So did the cash-a-check place.  Sound fishy yet?

And it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t the timing, you see.  It was his girlfriend’s birthday the next day and he had to give her a present.

Why such urgency?

Well, you’ve heard of post-natal depression, right?  Well, his girlfriend’s got SERIOUS post-natal depression.  Oh, yes.  An unexpected pregnancy, but now they’re engaged, still each living at home, she’s five months along and he doesn’t have a job.  So she gets really depressed.  Fits of lunacy!  She’ll be all fine one minute and then she’ll start yellin’ and screamin’ at him for no reason.  I wonder if him having no money and no job might contribute to that.

And as it’s her birthday tomorrow if he doesn’t get her something really nice then Lord only knows what she’ll do!

So where do I come in?

He wants me to cash his check out of the daily take.  That’s why he came right at the end of my shift.  Sounds seriously suspect and a little too dramatic to be real.  I tell him I shouldn’t and Angela told me not to cash checks for people that said they worked there – EERIE FORESHADOWING!

He pleads with me – please!  The girlfriend!  The depression!  Birthday gift!  C’mon!  Help a brother out!

I tell him to wait until Angela comes in – she’s supposed to come oversee the transition from myself to Aoife and help us close out our shifts.  I keep telling him to wait.

Aoife comes and Angela still hasn’t shown, nor will she.  Ritchie was right about that.

So what does he want to do with his life, as working in the newsagent’s is not part of the plan?

– I want to be a rapper.  I’ve got a tape and all.  I’ve got about four songs, and that’s not bad for, umm, you know five months of writin’.  Yeah, they’re not great quality studio tapes though.  I talk bits of songs and put them together on a tape, then I put two tape recorders up next to each other and I rap while the one plays and so they both go onto the other tape.  The thing is that everybody needs to have their own USP.  UNIQUE SELLING POINT.  Yeah, Eminem – he’s my hero.  He’s got 2 USP’s.  First, he’s white.  “What is that?  A white rapper?  Who ever heard of a white rapper?!”  Second, his second USP is that he goes around slaggin’ everybody.  “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.”  My USP?  You know everybody sings and raps in an American accent.  Why?  So I’m straight out of Dublin, you know, so I’m not gonna hide my accent.  I’m going to be the first Irish rapper.  The first Irish rapper.  My USP is going to be my accent.  The first Irish rapper.

Angela never shows.  It’s a quarter past, he’s pleading with his hands together and his eyes wide open.  He helps us close, as we are quite confused and really could have benefitted from having Angela there, but I certainly watched his quick agile fingers whenever they went near the cash drawer.  He was never gonna leave.  Angela was never gonna show.  I caved.  I cashed the fucking check.  I hated myself for doing it because I could just feel myself getting conned.  I could smell the shit as he spread it over my body.  And I knew I’d get yelled at and probably fired and I didn’t need this and why did I even try to get a job and why am I here when I could be home and why does life SUCK?!  Why am I weak?  Why didn’t I just say, “Sorry, I feel bad for you but I was told not to and I won’t.”  AND ON MY FIRST DAY, NO LESS!

However, things are never as bad as they seem, and no one ever said anything about it to me, even though Aoife kindly told me she’d back me up to Angela that he would not have left otherwise.  She’s pretty cool.

In fact, when I got my first £18.80 paycheck Angela told me to do just what I had done for Ritchie.  So I guess it was all right after all.

So what did I learn?

1) USP – Unique Selling Point
2) It’s never as bad as it seems.
3) Be strong.
4) If you can’t be strong, then don’t sweat it.
5) If I make a mistake, it’s all right.
6) If it’s not all right and I get fired – THEN WHO CARES?!

Off to work –

When you buy two souvenir shirts you’re supposed to get a free cheesy Ireland cap and we’ve run out.

“What do I do if someone asks for a hat?  We’re out.  Are there any more upstairs?”

“No, there’s not.  He hasn’t paid they bill, y’see.  He’ll do that.  He’ll pay them then just stop paying then start up again and do a few more and then stop.”

“So what do I do?”

“Well, a man came in today and bought two shirts and he didn’t ask for them.  So I kept me mouth shut.”

“Well, that’s true.  People usually don’t notice and I remind them that they get them free.  So I just won’t mention it.”

“Yes, that’s what y’do.”

“But if they do ask?”

“Just say, ‘I dunno.’  That’s what we do in Ireland.  ‘Oh, gee.  I dunno.’  You’ll hear that a lot in Ireland.”

Had a great night out at the pub last night – I decided to go out as I will not be reduced to a dehumanizing work/sleep/work schedule.  It was Declan and Maeve and I and we even got Rafal and Kate out with us for Kate’s first Guinness.  We went across the road to McGrath’s.  It was odd as we were in the lounge which was very large and open with sofas and table lamps and televisions on the white walls.  It was like being in someone’s sitting room.  But we had a couple of pints and a really good chat and for the first time I didn’t feel totally third wheel but part of the group with something to say.  Rafal was slow going through his cider – still on his first as we were half through our second – and we wondered where this famous “vodka head” is that he talks about.  “Polish head” – excuse me.

Last call had come and gone, signaled by a very long and severe couple of descents into darkness, not so much a flipping of the lightswitch but a leisurely examination of the difference between lights on and lights off.  I thought it was a blackout!

Two pints in me, I bemoaned the passing of last call and said that I could do with more alcohol.  Just then Rafal spilled his last half a glass all over himself and me.

“When I said I wanted more alcohol, I didn’t mean on my pants!”

The Cigarettes Cheatsheet:

Silk Cut:
Purple = King Size
Blue = Extra Mild
White = Ultra (no one says “White”)

Superkings:
Blue = Lights
Black = Regular

Lambert & Butler
Gold = Lights
Silver = King Size

Back to the significance of color!  Apart from the GAA there’s the differentiation of cigarettes by color, not quality.  Silk Cut Blue, Purple, Superkings Blue and Black.  Gauloises Red and Bleu.  Even Rizla cigarette papers are green or red.

“Do you have the green Pringles?”

The Orangemen.

Color is everywhere and ever important.

Marlboro Reds!

She just pushed forward her hand, heavy with useless silver, and shook her head saying, “Could you, please?”

I wonder if people ever think I’m ripping them off when I pull change from their hands.  I never will, as I have much more respect and patience for them than the ones who pick in their hands for ten minutes, intently clucking their tongues complaining about the “funny money” only to end up handing over a mix of foreign currencies which I haven’t the strength or desire to sort out.

I love it when people with two or three young children ask for condoms.  I want to say, “It’s a bit late for that now, don’t you think?”  They don’t work retroactively.  Too little, too late.

It’s the last fifteen minutes here that kills me, especially when someone is hanging around the postcards.  Shouldn’t you be at a pub?  Or in bed?

And by “last fifteen minutes” I mean the fifteen minutes before the ten minutes I take for closing.  When I say that I work until 9 that means it’s LOCKED at nine!

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.
LIKE NOT HAVING HAIR?

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.

July 13, 2001

Friday the 13th!

My superpower would be to see the spots I’ve missed BEFORE I roll up the cord and heave the vacuum back into the closet.  God, they left this sitting room a disgusting MESS last night!  They had quite a raucous time.  Instead of going to a club last night after that party they must have only gotten as far as Drumcondra before they needed a fix.  I woke at 3AM to a screaming bladder to hear them all troop in and mob the bathrooms like locusts in Egypt.  I was not about to be seen in my disheveled big-haired state, so I waited until I hear the door open after a flash and I ran around the corner.  Almost in the bathroom Johnny comes wobbling around the corner.

– Hey Paul.

– Hey Johnny.  How’s things?

– Good.  Do you want to join us?  Have a beer or something?

– No thanks.  I just really have to go to the bathroom.

– Oh, we didn’t wake you up, did we?

– No, I just really have to pee.

– Because if we’re too loud just come up and tell us to be quiet.

– No, it’s fine.

– Because I’ll be the first to shut up.  Just tell us to shut the fuck up.  Seriously.

– No.  It’s fine.  I just REALLY have to go to the bathroom.

Then, thankfully, the other bathroom door open and his alcohol bloated bladder heard that siren song of the squeaky hinges and mother nature’s autopilot steered him dribbling to the now vacant toilet, mumbling as he went, “Just tell us to shut the fuck up and we’ll shut up…”

I peed, a long clear satisfying waterfall, and ran back to my room, put the earphones in my head, and after no small portion of the CD managed to fall asleep.

I awoke at 8AM – before my alarm! – to more sounds of people bashing around.  I went out to go take a shower and was greeted by the shortest blond girl who reminded me of that Goolrick desk aide during weight training from the party earlier that evening.  I said, “Hello.”  She moved her mouth but booze and hash had absorbed her voice.  She forcefully cleared her throat and managed to croak a salutation.  I’m not quite sure what it was.

“Look at all these doors!”  I recall Paddy in the hallway.  “It’s really quite a big house!  It’s like some sort of B+B!”  Declan, “Yeah, you wouldn’t know if from the street, but it’s quite deep!”

Got out on the street at 9:10 – wanted to see how long a leisurely walk would take compared to yesterday’s forced march.  I made excellent time still, reaching the back of the Custom House by 9:30.  So, like the fool that I am, I decided to explore what I imagined to be, in my warped mind’s-eye understanding of Dublin, to be a short-cut to the hotel.  It was, indeed, a poor excuse for a shortcut.  I ended up at Connolly Station, which even I knew meant I was far off the mark.  I turned right in the hopes of just getting back to the river and ended up in a desolate housing development EMPTY save for three lurking children on bikes.  Then I was faced with a bridge, which I KNEW could not be on the quays as there was a high thick brick retaining wall in front of me.  As the seconds ticked by I turned right again.  I ended up in industrial wasteland, the only citizens of the dusty republic being an increasingly stressed Paul, a handful of unmotivated green-jacketed workmen.

Sugar in this country is like a window after an accident – a spray of bright cubes of glass.

June 30, 2001

Friday I asked Declan to share a bottle of whiskey with me as a thank-you for smuggling me into school with him to check my email in his secret high-tech lab.

Plus, it just seemed a very Irish thing to do.

I chose Paddy Whiskey, because even though Declan said it’s a bit rough and Jameson’s really is the best choice, I saw them drink it in Waking Ned Devine and it’s not available in the US.  Declan said it’s a very 1970’s country drink.  Interestingly on the label they say the name “Paddy” came from one of their most famous salesmen of the golden liquid.  My question is – what did they call it before then?

Declan jokingly said if we finished the bottle in two hours then we would still have time to get a second one before the off-license closed.  A small rush of usually dormant testosterone flooded my body and I said, “Sure, why not?”

First bottle came and went.  It’s sort of nasty when you start and then you get to the wonderful place during a night of alcoholic mayhem where you might as well be drinking water because it’s so smooth and tasteless.  You could be drinking kerosene or mare’s piss – if there’s alcohol in it you’ll get to that point.  And that’s when you need to stop or you’ll get in trouble.  We did not stop.

Declan told me of a brand of harsh, nasty cigarettes that complete the Paddy image of a rough Irish country night of boozing, so of course I had to run to Spar and get a 10 pack and a chicken stuffing sandwich as Declan ran to the off-license for bottle number two.  Neither the cigarettes nor my sandwich had much flavor either.  Another bad sign and unheeded warning.

There was some hesitation to open the second bottle.  It sat on the table untouched for several minutes until its awful Pandora’s screw cap was cracked open.  Unconsciously we much have known what we were in for.  Halfway through the second bottle we went outside for fresh air where we smoked the rest of the cigarettes – I got into quite a rhythm with them, starting off a new one with the embers of the last – and Declan punched bins.

When we wandered back in Declan gave me a course in German geography with his map book and we sort of grimly and quietly then went about the task of finishing that bottle, which would essentially make it a bottle each in under four hours of 40% alcohol.  I started to taste the whiskey again.  Very bad sign.  I was already on bathroom trip 39, as I pee like nobody’s business when I drink as all good and healthy fluids are immediately rejected, replacing my spit and my sweat and my blood with alcohol.  Filling the laces of my muscles and capillaries of my brain with pure poison.  When you start to taste it again is your body’s last kind reminder before it takes matters in its own hands (ha, ha) and it was my last wall-banging trip down to the bathroom that I began to vomit.

Now, to be honest I don’t remember vomiting.  I remember feeling terrible and wanting to vomit.  I remember laying my head on the toilet seat and gagging and spitting and pushing my fingers down my throat and scrambling my uvula, and praying and hoping and desperately trying everything I could to vomit.  But I don’t remember actually doing it.  Then somehow I woke up in my bed, fully clothed with my shoes off.  I woke up and threw an entire bottle of water down my throat, which did nothing to alleviate the tightness and dryness of my poor parched sandpapered throat.  I went to the bathroom and there was on the rug three separate piles of pasta and chicken and stuffing.  I was in that stimulus/response of hungoverhood, that limbo of ID before you truly wake up where there is nothing but absolutely basic, troglodyte brain functions.  You’re like a lab rat with an electrode.  Stimulus.  Response.  So I saw my three neat heaps of largely undigested food, scooped it up in my hands, and flushed it down the toilet.  Then with my hands and toilet paper cleaned the disgusting floor and carpet.  I took the carpet outside and poured some boiling water over it and bought some Febreeze and did my best.

Frankly, I don’t think that bathroom had ever been cleaned, so my vomit cloud had a silver lining.