Tuesday, December 12, 2006


There's the story of this woman. You've probably heard something about her. She survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. She survived the sinking of the Britannic in 1916. I thought she had survived the sinking of the Olympic whenever the Olympic had sunk, but she didn't because the Olympic never sank, it was cut into bits in 1935 just a couple of years after being modernized and rebuilt – one more victim of the Great Depression. But this woman, who was a nurse and a stewardess, was on the Olympic in 1911 when it collided with a Royal Navy cruiser that left its shaft twisted and two watertight compartments flooded. I don't think that collision killed anyone, but it was still a pretty big deal. Among other things they had to grab the propeller shaft off the still-in-dry-dock, yet-to-be-completed Titanic to fix the Olympic. This delayed the Titanic's launch and thus maiden voyage from March 1912 to April 1912. Not a long time, but long enough, in that cold year, to create the difference between clear winter sea lanes across the North Atlantic and spring lanes filled with floating ice. Maybe the Titanic still would have struck an April iceberg, but if it had done so on its third or fourth crossing the story might have been, perhaps, a touch less compelling, and maybe, just maybe, that damn movie would've been shorter. I swear that Titanic was filmed in real time and when it first came out I was stuck in that theater for four days, and being on a second date I could barely even complain, but maybe, if I let false memory run away with me, I can remember that the food on-board was quite good.

All things touch all things, more or les

The Titanic, Britannic, and Olympic were all built at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, in the world's largest dry-dock, on a peninsula called Queens Island, in what is now called Northern Ireland but, of course, back then was just Ireland, part of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, a political entity that lasted, quite uncomfortably, from 1801 until 1922. Whether this union was created to insure proper mental health care for the insane British monarch of the time (one theory: the English not trusting the Irish Protestants who made up the Irish Parliament to go along with their plans for a regent) o
r to punish the Irish for the rebellion of 1798 (theory two), does not really matter. Over the nineteenth century, Scot/Protestant dominated Belfast industrialized, led by the Harland & Wolff Shipyards whose massive cranes ruled the skyline. The rest of Ireland stayed rural and agricultural and the tallest things in the other three big cities, Dublin, Cork, and Derry, remained the towers of the churches.

If you stand today on the edge of the River Lagan, looking across and east, there is still a working waterfront there. Still a dry-dock, still ship repair, or most
ly either repainting or fixing offshore oil drilling platforms. It's a long way from the glory of building the world's largest, most luxurious means of transportation, but then, hell, that part of the city is now called, for tourist purposes, "The Titanic Quarter" – which may not be the best advertisement., all things considered. Though I have always wanted to attend a football game featuring the team from Harland & Wolff, The Welders, so that I could lead a chant of "Iceberg Ahead." But I do not go to Irish League games, even first division games where the Welders play, my club having been, hmmm, "dismissed" from the league because it was unsafe for them to play anywhere after Bloody Sunday. So they now play across the border in the League of Ireland, though the "all-Ireland" Setanta Cup had Derry City playing at Belfast's Windsor Park last winter for the first time in over 30 years.

Things can change, if given the chance.

Belfast was once
Béal Feirste which means something like "Mouth of the Farset." The River Farset flows into the Lagan someplace north of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge which is way south of those Harland & Wolff shipyards, or where, at least, you'd see them across the river. But you cannot see it. I think it runs underground now through pipes under High Street, and people have told me that Bridge Street is where people once crossed. The kind of victory of man over God's water that the Titanic failed to be.

Violet Constance Jessop died on the Fifth of
May in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred
and Seventy-One. She was alive, this amazing survivor of Belfast's repetitive contribution to disaster legends, while I was alive. We were on the planet at the same time. I thought about her as I listened to something on the radio about Americans wanting to go back to the moon. How these "do anything" countrymen seemed to have lost both their nerve and their belief in the cooperative citizenship we call government during the Challenger/Reagan era, but now there was a new generation that could not quite understand the thought that you could go to the moon, but would choose not to. Space exploration - real exploration - is a big waste of money, surely, but it is also absolutely magical, and absolutely human. When humans can try something big, something huge, something that will reach toward heaven, I think that they should, I think that they must.

Violet Jessop kept drying off and heading back to the sea. We should all do that.
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol - photograph: Titanic Releasing the Last Rope, 1912.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Snow on the road heading south

We were driving south on the A5 and the snow began to fall, at first in huge flakes that seemed made by small children with round-tipped scissors, but as the miles flicked by the flakes got smaller, and fell much more thickly, and mixed with the gray of the sky and the gray-green of the winter valley landscape and our headlamps worked to cut a tunnel through the darkness.

The goal was a Christmas party outside of Omagh, people neither of us had seen in years, and we were coming together not just for ride-sharing but to add confusion to the rumors about what she and I were or were not doing together at this point in our lives. Maybe though, maybe, as we listened to the CDs she had burned just for today's trip, old songs that had us both singing outloud, it was we who were getting confused.

In the US I would drive easily through this kind of storm, but in this evening in this place everything seemed both more distant and more fragile, and when we got to Strabane, the snow and ice piling onto the pavements, we looked at each other and I suddenly steered the car to the right, a crazed move that left oncoming traffic sliding to avoid us, and crossed this point where the Rivers Mourne and Finn marry to become the Foyle, and drove into Lifford. In the back of the ancient courthouse we found an unexpectedly fine and romantic Italian restaurant, I had a carbonara and she a lasagna, and we told each other tales and laughed so hard that we cried.

When we walked back out to the car through the swirling white cloud we had already made the unspoken decision. And we crossed the rivers again, and drove to the one open and obvious area hotel, and found our shelter from the storm.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Thursday, December 07, 2006

silent night

The woods are full of snow. The wind is pushing the air across the big lake, and there it fills with the moisture of this vast inland sea. Then it dumps that as tiny flakes as soon as it reaches this cold shore.

I have driven through a scary night, 90 miles west from pretending to be an academic, watching cars and trucks slide when the "bridge freezes before roadway" and it has taken over two hours and two hands on the wheel almost the whole way with grim news flowing from NPR and the BBC, but the talk, it keeps me thinking and awake. Music might let me dream.

There are just eight hours before I need to head back the other way. I hate Wednesdays into Thursdays this semester. But first the dog and I run through the drifts that have swirled around the trees. The wind stings, the lights from the roads off in the distance have vanished, the sky is not there at all, just what falls from it as it crosses a narrow path of vision.

And yet, it is so silent. It is so silent right now. We are making the only footprints, and I can hear the crystals as they fall and strike the ever growing tide of frost.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Friday, December 01, 2006

city life

We waited out the rain under Lever House surrounded by great art and one really bad trumpet player. It was the kind of summer downpour that proves New York tropical – sudden and violent and overwhelming in the power of both water and electricity – but it slowed the city only slightly, and the reflections multiplied the passions.

We started to walk again, south towards St. Bart's, and she said, "We're getting soaked." I looked down, an umbrella lay abandoned on the sidewalk. "This looks like what we need," I told her. And now she thought both I and the city were magic.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol - Photographs: Lever House, August 2006 and Lever House Rain Dance copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Thursday, November 30, 2006

place notes

I was raised to know that this side of the river was home and that safety lay just a couple of miles west across a fragile border, that Belfast was big and dangerous, dark and Scottish, that London breathed fire and clutched at the world like a coal-driven mechanical octopus, that Dublin was the real Vatican, and New York, well, New York was the true Oz with wizards that were honestly all powerful.

When I was a young man making my way in that grand American metropolis I shared a gigantic home from the 1880s with three friends. It sat on a street in the center of Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Midwood. The street dead-ended into the sunken tracks of the Brighton Line. The house had seventeen rooms and we could furnish nine. It had fourteen foot ceilings on the first floor, and twelve foot ceilings on the second and nine foot ceilings on the third, and in the winter we could heat about a total of ten feet of that, mostly over our heads. But if you walked three blocks north to the Newkirk Plaza Station or three blocks south to the Avenue H Station the platforms promised the choice of "Trains to New York" or "Trains to Coney Island" and we knew we were suspended between worlds of wonder.

We actually lived between Foster Avenue and Glenwood Road. When the City of Flatbush laid out the streets here after the Civil War they decided to alphabetize the main roads, beginning at Albemarle Road, and continuing through Beverly, Courtelyou, etc. But just past us the creativity had failed, and Brooklyn inherited Avenues H through Z. It kept us humble.

In Derry the streets held different names. Ferry Quay and Bishop's. St. Patrick's and St. Columb's. Butcher, Shipquay, Duke, Magazine, and Racecourse, but then Derry grew from conflict and occupation, and Brooklyn from hope and optimism.

I would take what was then the D train but is now the Q or maybe the B and ride from Newkirk Plaza to Manhattan
and change for the local at West Fourth Street right under Greenwich Village and then go to Twenty-Third Street and walk eastward until I got to the Police Academy which, for entertainment's sake, shared a block and afterschool bars with the School of Visual Arts. When that winter turned to summer and I was exhausted from nine hours of college each day, five days a week, I might let that D train carry me past my house all the way to the ocean, where I might strip to my boxers and fall face first into the Atlantic. Before I'd retrieve my clothes I might stand there for a few minutes and stare off to the east at places left behind.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol. photograph - Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City - copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Saturday, November 25, 2006


The clouds have fled from overhead, retreating to a rim around the horizon, and I lie on the cold stones under the waning moon's glow as the meteors leap from the constellation Perseus and race toward the red spot that is Mars. On Mars they have a day thirty-nine minutes longer than ours. That would give me a few more minutes to sleep, or more likely, to not sleep, to be awake when the rest of this island is dreaming, staring into the lonely dark heavens.

The air is filled with the smells of low tide. Salt and fish and the slippery brown seaweed that makes climbing out of the sea so difficult. My ears roll to the sound of the water sloshing back and forth between the Welsh coast and here. This ocean surrounding us is both barrier and opportunity. It depends on how you choose to wake up and see the day.

Behind me I hear the bells of the church in Sandycove striking five. Their call is gentle, a sweet warning. I pull off my clothes. At this hour this can again be the "Gentleman's Bathing Area," no women or togs. I dive into the chill blac
k endless sea without care for the sharp rocks lurking just below the surface. But I have always been luckier than smart, and miss them all, finding nothing save the comfort of a rich embrace.

I stay within this until I can not stop shivering, and then I pull myself up along the old railing, pull my pants and jumper on over wet skin, and begin a long walk home as the sun climbs over the edge of this world.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


There were always sounds in the night, and my mother could not sleep. I would hear her down below me, moving from the front windows to the back windows, checking the street, checking the alley, looking for lights that were on that should not have been on, listening for footfalls that should not have been there.

Still too young to run in the darkness I slid deeper and deeper into the tiny space at the edge of the attic's eaves, rolled tighter and tighter into the thick wool of blankets, wrapped my arms around my head, and imagined I was in a berth on a sailing ship escaping west to the lands beyond the sea.

At dawn I would come down the stairs, tired and aching and disappointed that I had not reached a distant port. And she would just smile, and ruffle my hair, and put the bowl of thick porridge and sweet butter on the table for me as she drank her coffee.

Day by day, month by month, year by year, her smile grew thinner, and much less easy, but she would never let it fade completely away.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Saturday, November 18, 2006

That afternoon at the pub in Kinawley

[testing out rhythms here...]

The legend held more answers than I thought anyone might possess. In a redolent Gaelic rhythm I heard how I had chosen to push the stakes in the war higher by deciding to delay my call to the police. How I knew the lunch hour would bring the maximum danger and get the world's attention again when Vietnam and the election in the States was already letting this Irish problem slip off the front pages. How I had made three calls and sent the Army and the Constabulary on a wild chase with confusing calls mentioning different locations. The detail was astonishing: even that word, "Boom," along that rural road as we walked from the telephone, and the far too casual laughter that followed, had been recorded, though now it had been assigned to my lips. But it was the melody that played most eloquently. In this oral tradition that had reached from Belfast back to Derry and then out into hills and villages, and had been repeated in these whispered sagas over more than thirty years, I had not just been instigator and star, but my crimes and the British desperation to catch me had lead the loyal Provo cadres of Derry to arrange a run south, from where I had periodically snuck back in to lead other attacks. I heard myself become a turn-of-the-seventeenth-century The O'Neill keeping the English east of Lough Neagh in ancient and Catholic Ulster, hitting and running in the lost forests; a 1798 Wolfe Tone mixing romantic poetry and rebellion; a 1916 The O'Rahilly rallying the volunteers in the Post Office as O'Connell Street burned under British naval artillery; a 1921 Michael Collins provoking the British into self destructive responses at every turn.

The man who sang this saga to me this had been born into the rebellion during the Great War in an Ireland still ruled directly from London and reigned over by an English King. He punctuated the tale with a chorus describing his earliest memories – the arrest of his father by the Black and Tans and how he returned beaten and tortured and never the same again, the canons rumbling down the streets behind Army trucks, the shock in the mouths of the adults when they found themselves on the wrong side of the partition, the attacks of the IRA in the twenties, and again in the fifties, the frustrating glory of the 1949 declaration of The Republic – "Poblacht na hÉireann," the phrase spilled like a tenor aria even as he told of the RUC busting into the pub to silence the celebration. He smelled of slightly fruity pipe tobacco, a lifetime of Guinness, and the old-fashioned liniments of persistent arthritis. He drank his pints in thick, short bursts and went to the loo between every pint. He stopped at one point to assure me that "Guinness is life, Guinness is the best for what may ail ya," but that whisky would kill. "Whisky and sometimes rebellion," he whispered, and laughed. His face was red and his eyes cloudy but blue. I guessed I was chalk white with fear. Who knew these stories? Who believed them? How dangerous was this journey back? "You'd be quieter than I expected," this seanachaidh told me. "I think I might be less of everything than you expected," I said in desperation.

copyright 2005-2006 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


David's father kicked the shit out of him at least once a week from when he was five or maybe six or, fuck, maybe three, until he was fifteen, until we were fifteen. Usually Friday or Saturday night. Usually late. Or very late. When the bars closed he would come home and something, maybe a misplaced toy at the beginning or a bike left out or a dish not washed or a jacket not hung up or finally the car not parked exactly right or parked with too many miles or, well, in the end you know it does not matter, it has nothing to do with whatever it is about at the moment, and he would climb the stairs and burst into David's room. If David was lucky just he would come only with his hands or maybe his belt wrapped around a fist, if David was not lucky then the belt would be loose with the buckle flying or there might be a hurling stick or a baseball bat.

Most Sundays I'd get high with David sitting watching the water flow by, the slow gestures of the tides as they move around the world, the call of hunting seabirds, the way the wind might shatter the surface of this arm of the ocean, and he would be black and blue, and he would have a hard time moving, and he would talk about revenge – starting wit
h specific ideas that might melt into generalities and then fall into pointless anger which I'd watch float into the sky on our exhaled smoke.

That was not saving David though. It was poisoning me, keeping me angry about too many things that had now receded into the past. Stuff I might otherwise have put away.

And so I was ready, probably more ready than he might have ever gotten, when the plot was suggested as we watched a scratchy print of Cagney singing in Yankee Doodle Dandy at David's house late on a February Saturday night. And when David's father stumbled in and saw in the movie his target, "fucking queers!" he yelled and went after my friend. I clocked him from behind with his own hurling stick. And somehow saw myself defeating two demons for the price of one.

he concussion put him in the hospital for four days. I spent two weeks in a juvenile lock-up where I did heroin for the very first time, until David's mother made it clear that no one would be pursuing legal action.

Neither of us ever got hit by a father again.


copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friends and Family

I push my way throw the captain's office door, like I'm a cop on TV or something and tell him and the lieutenant that I don't want to do this, but before I say it I already know that won't matter, so I say it, they look at me, I look at them, and I turn and walk back out and go upstairs to the strange little third floor room that is our locker room and many other things and I bang on the steel doors for a minute and then groan and light a cigarette and stare out the window at the Midtown skyline at sunset – it is stunningly beautiful from here – glowing golden just to the north, across the East River. It is the last moment of the day. I chain smoke three Camels and the final one glows against the dark night and the luminous mosaic of the world's greatest city.

"This is just a gun case," I say to myself. "I've done them before." I'm trying to sound like I know more than I do, like I've done more than I have. Convince myself first, I figure. I stick a fourth cigarette in my mouth and sit cross-legged on the table looking at the pictures in the thick file they've given me. Of course I can drop into this group. Of course. I close the file. I put it on the shelf in my locker. I take the nine off my belt and drop it on the shelf too. I grab the old five-shot .38 and wrap the holster onto my ankle. And then I drive home.

This will end badly. Yes it will. Not just because this is political. It matters to people. It's not just money involved. I know that
. Everything else I've done this year is really just business. And this is more. But that's just part. And so is the fact that, well, I could just – possibly – know someone involved. The big part is the ambivalence. Mine. And the danger that in one critical second the wrong emotion will surface. I may be young, I may be an idiot rookie in way deep over his head in these deep cover jobs, but I know all this. The captain knows this too. The lieutenant knows too. Everyone does. But I know it more. And they know that I know it more, but they are using me anyway – because it makes the most sense.

For the next three months this will play out. I will even fly to London and take a ferry to Dublin and fly back to New York from there with a fake passport and a flimsy visa and back story I barely need to rehearse. Covering the bases. I will drink in the last pathetic remnants of Hells Kitchen bars. I will commit a few crimes, do some good drugs, sleep on roach-covered floors, and day by day get closer to all those guns – all reported stolen by the M
etro-Dade Police Department as expected – that are aimed at people I have been taught are my enemies.

This will end badly. It will end in the kind of recurring nightmare I know I need no more of. Already. As young as I am. But it is the way things work. I am the person for the job. Of course.

Carolyn is watching LA Law when I get home to the little house on City Island. "You're early," she says. "Yeah," I grab a beer from the refrigerator, drop onto the couch next to her, kiss her a touch too deeply. "Yeah, nothing going on tonight."

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A History of the Bogside

Too many pints and too much time in this dark corner and the rain washing down the windows by the front and echoed even more darkly in the mirrors behind me and I have not truly slept more than three hours of the seventy-two since I made it back home.

"The area that is now known as the Bogside was originally underwater, as the Foyle flowed around the hill of Doire, of the oak grove," said the tattered old book hidden in the bottom corner of the classroom shelf. That stream on the western side of the island, it said, came to be called, "Mary Blue’s Burn. It flowed along the line of Rossville Street to the west of the Lecky Road and out into the Foyle near the bottom of Bishop Street. The burn was crossed by three causeways – probably built by monks – and these followed the lines of William Street, the Bog Road, and Stanley’s Walk."

As I sit at the foot of William Street today it is not hard to see those ancient Christians, disciples of St. Patrick himself, moving along the muddy highground in their rough cloth hooded
gúna. The natives came here for fresh water and fish and the wild plants that flavored their food and drink and to meet the spirits of their world. Later they came to fight the invaders and later still to live at the feet of the "British" for centuries as they squeezed out a living making first whisky and cloth, then shirts and ships and phonographs. Now my friends make hard drives, unless they have escaped elsewhere.

I have come back on one of those annual pilgrimages of redemption. Though it all looks different in fact – the houses are new, the Rossville Flats are gone, there is color here and no barbed wire – when I walk the streets I still see the old outlines rising up from the footwalks and hear the footsteps of my friends, and the thunder of the fighters, and the shouts of frightened parents.

I have seen many people over the past three days, though I have not seen her. She is now across the river, past "The Waterside," in some pleasant new estate I am sure, with her husband and her four children, or however many still live at home. She sent me an email saying, "this time, will you see me?" And all I could answer was, "I will try."

Throughout the nineteenth century the Bogside retained a rural feel with the type of housing and lifestyle of the inhabitants," that book had told me long ago, when I would sneak it from its spot and read that rather than focusing on maths. "Many houses were inhabited by unskilled labourers from the mountain districts of Donegal who subsidised their income by maintaining small potato patches and keeping pigs and feeding them with waste from Abbey Street distillery. Even the Catholic skilled tradesmen who earned quite superior wages could live nowhere other than the Bogside, and often they too rented out potato patches to supplement their income."

Last night I ate bangers and mash with Cillian and his family. It was served with the kind of thick potato soup that would warm me up on nights such as this, and the smells of the kitchen were overpoweringly familiar. Cillian caught me up with where everyone has gone, as he does year after year while his wife tried to convince me to return and offered match-making support.

"You need a woman from here," she told me. "One who knows where ya come from." "American women know where I come from," I said. "Nah," she was absolute. "They think you are Irish and some happy leprechaun or some such thing. They do not know a thing about Derry."

The book had not gone much past partition. "In 1921 Derry nationalists found themselves opposing Derry’s inclusion in Northern Ireland. With the northern parliament assembling in June Derry’s nationalists turned south for support but the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in December was greeted with dismay in the city." That stopping point was good enough. The rest of the story was personal.

I look into the mirror. The grip of the silver on the back of the glass has weakened. It makes everything look much further away. I turn back, I do not like looking in mirrors. Derry has always been the victim, I think. It is always haunted by what might have been. It is a place of dreams, but dreams unfulfilled.

Cillian and Sean and Brendan push through the door, shaking water off their heads. "He's blasted already mates," Sean announces, pointing in my direction. "Called Kate yet?" Cillian asks. "Not yet," I mumble. "Fuckin' coward," Brendan says. "Always have been," I say, realizing the reason for my exile, "always have been."
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Friday, November 03, 2006


Great Uncle Sean had lived in Brooklyn. Or was it Great Great Uncle Sean? Or Great Great Great? It was hard to know. He had sailed to America as a boy, on board the magnificent Cunard liner Campania, on a speed-record setting, Blue Riband-winning, run to New York in 1893 or 1894. The story included all of the detail. The sunshine of the day of departure. The looming shadow of the massive Cathedral of Saint Colman above the harbor. The steam ferry carrying him and hundreds of others from the quays out to the waiting ship. Five days, nine hours, twenty-nine minutes from Queenstown. The first twin-screw steamer. His steerage bunk back above the thundering engines. A glass like August pond stretching from this Emerald Isle to Liberty's outstretched arms, untouched on this journey by the wild tropical storms that bedeviled so many crossings.

I could alm
ost sing the tale. The telling had its own specific melody that flowed around the smells of thick beer and pipe smoke and peat fires and sweat held in woolen jumpers. Sean arrived at a gigantic Hudson River pier and followed cousins across the Brooklyn Bridge and out to a place called Flatbush. I could not imagine that. There were two pictures in a family photo album kept under a table in the front room. One showed two houses in an empty field. The other showed huge crowds moving toward a place where baseball was played. I could not connect them into a scene I could understand, so I simply saw old gangster films but with horses instead of cars. When he grew older he became a policeman. That was crucial. He made it in America. He worked in a towered police building in Brooklyn. He had a badge. He had a gun. He was a person with power.

We knew no one with power, except for the priests and the bishop. We knew no one who had been across the oce
an. But we had objects that had returned by post over the generations and over the years. There were mugs with the New York skyline etched into the glass. There were heavy brass weights shaped as the symbols of the 1939 World's Fair. There were those photos in the album and a pen with a pocket clip that looked like the Empire State Building. And I went to sleep each night under a blanket whose label read "Macy's Herald Square" with a red star. Thus, dreams were born.
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I didn't get there until after one. Not that I'd been doing anything. I hadn't. I'd gotten home around six and after five days of barely sleeping two hours a night I'd passed out on the floor in front of the TV - Seinfeld when I dropped off, edited-for-basic-cable Sex in the City when I awoke. When I first woke up I switched to some Premiership rerun, slugged through three glasses of ice water and two of small-batch bourbons, took a shower sometime in there, sat naked watching a 1960s French film on a three-digit cable channel, but it proved not nearly as nudity and sex filled as I'd remembered from when I saw it at nineteen. So I put clothes back on, and went out.

The hallway was empty. The stairs were empty. There was this brief fantasy that I'd meet Jessica somehow in the lobby, and then I thought of stopping on the second floor and banging on her door, but I didn't do that and she was not there. I walked out of the building and the block was silent with just an edge of moisture letting the street shine, and my shoes made soft rubber sucking sounds with each step on the sidewalk.

I walked toward the place called only "32" that was two blocks over and four down and thought about possibilities. I could take that not-quite-good-enough offer. I could just leave and test survival skills. I could stay and put up with it and sit around imagining that the dream job would arrive. I even thought about changing behaviors, switching the little things in hopes big things might change, but knowing myself I knew that seemed very unlikely.

32 was dark and mostly lit in blue-greens and I sat at the end of the bar surrounded by too many people, all talking and being and connecting, and I got devastatingly drunk.

Halfway through a woman approached, sat down, touched me on the arm, asked good questions, but I blew her off. I wasn't even pleasant. The bartender slammed another drink down in front of me and said, "She's really nice, she's pretty damn good looking, she was probably interested, and you're a fucking idiot."

Two hours later he kicked me out after last call. "You're not gonna live long this way," he yelled into the empty street. But I couldn't be sure enough that he was right.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Thursday, October 19, 2006

can I stay?

If I don't go home now, where to go? I can drift through the mall til nine or, hanging out by the theater, til maybe eleven or even midnight. It is too cold for the park, too cold for the dugouts at the Little League field, too cold even for the elevator lobby in the parking garage. But even midnight is not late enough. Sometimes, but sometimes not. He might be there now, and very angry. He might be out at McKiernan's but if he is he will come home and then. Yeah. Then he'll still be angry and he'll be very drunk, much more than he is right now. Now, if he's there, he'll pull his punches, more or less. A six-pack later he won't. It's a gamble.

But to be gone all night requires conspirators in this season. And that is hard. Much harder than it should be. Why can't I just sleep on your floor and have you not say anything? No lectures, no calls to school, no calls to home. Why can't you just let me sleep on your floor? I won't cost you anything except maybe the water in the flush of a toilet. My body produces heat, I will not up your oil bill. I do not need to eat, there's breakfast at school in the morning or I'll take a coffee cake or two from the grocery. I do that lots of mornings. Pay when I can. If not, not. They don't chase me.

No, well, yeah, I understand. I'm on my way. Yeah, I'll be fine. No sweat.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Monday, October 16, 2006

small worlds

The old black Humber Hawk would wake all of us with its cough as it tried to start in the hour before dawn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was the only car on the street. It was the only car for many streets back then and if any of us lads had ever been in an automobile it was either this one or maybe, if you'd been caught, an RUC car.

Aedan's grandfather worked for the Bishop. He went to Belfast on those mornings for the church and came back late in the evenings. We had no idea what he might have been doing there. Belfast was impossibly far away. Only Aedan had been there and he talked about how big it was and how the giant cranes towered over the shipyards. "They built the Titanic there," he told us, "I saw where. It was the biggest ship ever but it hit an iceberg and sank and everyone died." This was an amazing story. We argued about when it might have happened. "Long back." "Very long?" "Before the war." "In the war the Germans sank a lot of boats with torpedoes ." We knew this. There were uncles and grandfathers lost on those Royal Merchant Ships, and even American ones. But before? "Maybe 1938 or like that," Aedan said. This seemed possible. An iceberg! Eventually someone would have to ask an adult.

Seamus had been to Dublin. Out of the twenty of us that ran these streets he was the only one. He had an uncle there. He told us it was "biggest city in the world except for London and New York." Rian challenged that. "Paris is bigger, and Tokyo." But that did not seem possible. We had never seen a French person, how many could there be? And we only knew people from Asia from American war movies, we were hardly sure that Tokyo was more real than Oz or Narnia.

Thomas and I and others had been in Donegal. Thomas and I had been all the way to the sea where we could look west to that New World and all that it promised. Trevor had spent a week somewhere near Coleraine when a rich cousin had come from Chicago. They had taken him to see the Giant's Causeway on a bus. He had told us that so long ago, so, so long back before Wolfe Tone even, when people were much bigger, you could walk to Scotland on those stones in the ocean. "Is that how the Proddies got over here?" Kelvin asked. "No you gobshite," Thomas said, "They came on boats and cut off their hands and threw them here. That's why they've got that on their flag." Thomas was very smart. We knew that. So somehow this was accepted without argument.

We would tell these stories over and over. Long into the night. Even that young. Though when we heard the old black Humber Hawk rumbling over the pavers, and would spot its wavering headlamps, we would know it was time to head toward our beds.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Friday, October 13, 2006

Seven minutes along the Quayside

I had been showing off the city and so we had started at The Long Hall which is as deeply real, perhaps as deeply Dublin as you'll get in those places just south of the Liffey and then gone to St. Patrick's Cathedral because, you know you have to, though I had told her not to light the votive there because "it is not really a Catholic Church," a comment that drew one of those, "Jesus, get over it" looks, in this case richly deserved, and then walked past Christ Church but did not go in because if you've seen one ancient cathedral seized by Henry the Eighth you've seen them all, and then down the hill, stopping at The Brazen Head for pints and stew. "Yes," I told her, "it is for tourists, but amazing nonetheless." We sat outside, smoking heavily from her packs of duty-free Camels. In this spot I always try to conjure the Dublin of eight-hundred years before. Cathedral construction up there, the quays busy already with the flow of invading Normans and their Saxon subjects. The thick ales of those days being poured right here in this place. Sometimes it is impossible to see, sometimes I can smell it and hear it. Today, with the mist floating through the air the light could bounce a million ways, and if you looked just right...

Thirty or so Euros lighter we walked out onto Merchants Quay. The river and sky were matching grays. The Four Courts loomed across the water. She said, "There might be too much history here for your own good." I shrugged, lit another cigarette. She said, "You seem a little depressed, and maybe a little like you like being depressed." I shrugged again, walked a few more paces, staring at my shoes. "History yes," I told her, "but not really my history. Depressed? Not really, just displaced." She put her hand on my arm, but gently. "So what now?" She put the question to me in a whisper that let me choose not to hear.

Through Wood Quay and Essex Quay we shared that American kind of small talk. I pointed out those strange amphibious tourist craft in the river, pointed up Parliament Street toward City Hall and the Castle, handed out bits of guidebook trivia. We were by Temple Bar before she broke that. "So, we're not going to talk about this?" "Perhaps not." My throat was scorched from chain-smoking. My eyes were tired. She had arrived last night and we had gone out and gotten hammered and come back and shagged for hours without talking. Now I thought that I needed to tell her that I was happy that she was here but I did not want her to stay. I was sure that she needed to tell me that she was not staying, and had come, in one way or the other, to say goodbye.

But we were good at silence. And so we turned south from the river, away from the Ha'penny and wandered into a touristy place with people playing music too loudly. We sat in the smoking courtyard near enough to the pipes and guitar that there was no chance to hear each other's voices, and we drank our pints as the gray sky above turned black.

Copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

into the woods

The dog runs ahead of me as the moonlight sprays down through the canopy of trees, theatrical lighting for this long past midnight walk in the woods that stretch from my back door and twist between the housing estates, the schools, and the football ground.

Sleep never comes easy. No, I misspeak. Sleep never comes easy in the dark. I can sleep anywhere if the sun is resting on me. Daylight is safety. Daylight washes out the ghosts.

Nights are for fighting. Nights are for war. Nights are for being ready to run. Even though that is all so very long ago. In the night the theatre is beyond my control. The actors push in from stage left and stage right. They flare in the footlights. They rip across the proscenium of my dreams and force me to climb for the exit of awakeness.

The dog runs ahead of me as the moonlight sprays down through the canopy of trees. She had not wanted to get up but once outside the deeper smells of this moonlit forest pull her along. And I follow behind, trading floodlight for shadow and back as I go. "When I move through the darkness I have more power." I say this over and over until we have reached the playfields. Now the moon is there in full. Now the pressure releases. Just enough. The dog circles, once, twice, three times. We lie down together in the damp grass, this old dog and I, and our breathing slows. And for a few minutes, we sleep.

Copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
photograph from desultorybutterfly

Tuesday, October 10, 2006



In this night as the storms rage above and below and I climb the boxes and then the shelf in the closet and slip through the hatch into the attic, my own passage through the wardrobe I find myself believing, and push the blankets and pillow I have dragged up as far into the eaves as I can fit – I could not have been more than seven and so I needed very, very little space – then I know that the fear from downstairs might begin to soften.


Wrapped in this nest I absorb the rhythm of the wind-driven rain on slate roof shingles so ancient they have been thinned visibly by centuries of Atlantic precipitation. The air is sharp and cold but inside the blankets my body warms and relaxes. In the full-dark I fumble for my secret box, a tin that once held chocolates brought by a cousin from London but now holds votives secreted from the cathedral, matches from the pub, and all of the postcards received from cousin Michael in America. With blind dexterity born of too much experience I set out the candles, and strike the fire.


The trinity of flames create more shadow than light but I hold the postcards. There is New York, and the dome of the Capitol in Washington, and a fold-out set from Cape Kennedy, a boat on the Mississippi by New Orleans, even the Astrodome. But the one I always hold is just from a hotel in a place called "Arizona." The building is so new. Palm trees stand in front. The cars are like spaceships to a lad who knows no one who even owns one of the tiny boring cars people have here. And the sky. Oh the sky. It is bigger than any I have seen and a kind of blue I have never imagined.

ar maidin

That postcard is in my hand as I fall asleep. It is still clutched there when the first ray of dawn cuts under deep gray clouds and throws itself through the dusty attic window and for just one moment makes my world absolutely my own.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
image from James Lileks amazing Motel Postcard website

Sunday, October 08, 2006

wind out of the south

When we made love the crucifix around my neck would collide with the one she wore, and occasionally they'd entangle, the blunt silver abstraction of mine and the delicate gold beauty of hers. If it was sin it was surely a minor thing compared to the sense of magnificent wonder as we learned from each other with every exploration. At seventeen we lay between thin blankets on chill damp sand overlooking the ocean halfway between Block Island's Old Harbor and the North Light. I wrapped myself around the gentle thinness of her body, giving whatever warmth I possessed to her.

She would be in such deep trouble when we got back. This was already up to a four day run during the school year and her father was going to be insane even if he did not suspect that she was with me, which, certainly, he would. I wouldn't be in trouble unless Renny's father came back early from Chicago and went looking for his boat. The boat I was supposed to be re-doing the teak decks on. But he wouldn't come home early. He was in Chicago playing concerts. And at school and home I was never missed. In fact, it was getting suspended for a week for fighting on Friday that had put this trip in motion, along with a wind told me the last of the summer days were in our hands right now, Renny himself scoring a huge amount of amazing pot, and Meghan saying, "What the fuck, let's just go." So instead of scraping the deck we used the "friends of the cashier at the A&P discount" to stock the galley, charged a full tank of gas to Renny's dad's account, and headed out into the Sound with an eight knot wind out of the south pushing us across the rolling blue waters.

Why was she here? It was a question that played and replayed in my thoughts whenever we were together though one I never asked out loud. I knew all she risked to be with me. She had the right kind of family and a beautiful house and she usually did great in school. She could have been home in that extraordinary bedroom or out with a boy who could buy her anything. She could have been living a life her father approved of, and that would certainly have made things easier.

But here she was in my arms, eighty miles from that safe life, a runaway hanging out with the crazy new retard in town and his drugged out buddy. Here she was playing along the roughest edges of adolescence. Was she slumming? Enticed by the exotic accent or the rumors of a violent past? Probably yes. Probably all three. Certainly at first, and perhaps still. Never in my entire life have I been able to figure out why people would stay. I surely could not understand it at that age.

One of my fingers twisted in the chain around her neck. Off the beach the mast light flickered in the dark echoed by the burning end of Renny's joint. Under the blanket she rolled back into me, pressing all of her skin against all of mine. We lay there and both looked upward. A crack in the clouds was a dark river that tiny stars swam smoothly across. Just to the east an orange moon bathed in a wide pool. When I whispered that to her she started to tell me that it was the clouds that were moving, but then stopped, and reached back with one hand to stroke my hair. After a long minute she said, "I love to listen to you think." And that was the very best thing anyone had yet said to me.
copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol (this needed some re-writing)
photograph of Block Island copyright Mindy McNaugher

Thursday, October 05, 2006

that afternoon

School shoes had leather soles and leather heels back then that clattered on the pavers as we ran from school toward the river and the quayside where we could spit and throw stones and smoke fags nicked from our fathers' jacket pockets and practice cursing and talking about the girls. The only other shoes we owned were our football boots and those were for the other afternoons when we would stick with childhood up on the hill.

Then the barbed wire came. And the Paras. And the barricades. And practice was over.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
photograph from the Eamon Melaugh archive at CAIN - copyright the photographer

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The priest thinks he's helping. "This is a terrible thing to experience," he says, sweat spreading across his upper lip. "Yeah father," I mumble. "But you can take comfort in the fact that," I shake my head violently, "Stop," I say cutting him off, then jam the crucifix that hangs around my neck back between my front teeth. The vertical part of the cross is a hollow tube and when I exhale it whistles. He's silent, looking down. I'm silent, staring blankly at the wall and a poster that might describe all that can go wrong with the male uro-genital system.

Sergeant Jackson evolves through the blue institutional curtain and whispers something in the priest's ear. I hear, "the whales are floating away," though that would seem unlikely. As he speaks I reach up and start turning that big spotlight thing on and off, a slow strobe that turns the two of them into a silent movie scene. I imagine a title card will come up, "Both are very concerned," and the piano player will hit a black key chord. The Sergeant turns, looks at me strangely, and slides back out. The priest gets up from the white plastic chair and moves toward me. I could get up and move away from him but I just feel too tired right now. So I let my eyes drop and the fact that my boxers are stained in red and pink registers but doesn't immediately connect.

"You need to know that you did all you could," I am told, "and look for God to bring you peace." I don't respond. He touches my shoulder. I flinch. He keeps his hand there. I try unsuccessfully to shrink below it. "Would you like me to pray with you?" I say nothing, but now, amidst the red on the last piece of clothing I wear I see a tiny fleck of gray, and I know.

That tiny fleck is part of Billy's brain. I don't know how it got there. Well maybe it fell off the blood soaked shirt or vest when I took one or the other off. Peeled them off actually. It's amazing how blood, even the amount of blood that pours from a gunshot shattered skull, coagulates. How it starts to glue everything together, the vest to my body, the shirt to the vest, the pants to my boxers, the boxers to the hair on my legs, the fragments of gray matter to everything, and the image to my brain.

They will come and give me some very strong drug in a few minutes. They will bring me scrubs to wear home. They might even be pouring peroxide over my uniform now so I will not need to see all those bloodstains. I will throw this underwear away as soon as the scrubs arrive. I will stand naked by that sink and scrub myself with Phisoderm. But nothing will get this clean. Not the meds, not the prayers, not the detergents.

If we had gotten there thirty seconds earlier, well, either we would have saved things or one of us would have been shot instead. There is no way to know. Instead, in that split second, we saw the guy step out behind Billy. We saw his head explode. Denny dropped the guy with three shots and I, coming the long way from the driver's side, got to Billy just after both bodies hit the sidewalk. I guess I tried to put his head back together. I sat there on the sidewalk cradling him and, with the free hand, trying to find pieces of skull I could put back. It occupied my time as he bled out and the ambulance raced to the scene.

A doctor has come in, no, maybe a psychiatrist. He hands me three pills and one of those tiny cups of water. I swallow the pills. The priest pats my shoulder, then he vanishes. There aren't any words. I hear the scratching as the psychiatrist writes something down. He leaves too. The curtain swings closed. And then I am alone.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Monday, October 02, 2006

Stars in the Sky

I do believe that the Irish sky is clearest over Dublin in the middle of the night but over Derry it is most often clear in the late of the afternoon, when the fading sunlight turns golden and even the darkest stones and deepest stains are richly illuminated. Neither of these beliefs are necessarily true. But when I walk home from the local pub, usually circling the Sandymount Green, and I look upward at the heavens that our eternal God spun out from his creation, I see the millions of lights in the unending blackness. And when I remember the deepest memories of my childhood the sun is shining its warmth on post-school evenings and football games and races up the hills, but the night is huddled beneath a starless and moonless dome.

There is the obvious argument that slouching back toward my house in Dublin on nights of rain I do not look up and that my childhood memories are carved by tools sharper than cloud patterns over the North Atlantic, but beliefs are beliefs, and I know what I know.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Sean and I had nothing in common. "We weren't friends," I had said when I first sat down here. I had to say that. It wasn't just true. It was important to say that it did not really matter that much.

Sean had grown up always wanting to be a cop, dreaming of being a cop, and more than that, assuming a kind of success as a cop. His grandfather had been a captain; his father was Chief of Bronx Detectives. It was the family business. I assumed purer motives for myself, though, sure, this was the best paying job I could possibly find. Other guys became cops for reasons similar or different, but the result was the same.

Once you are a cop you are different from everyone else. In Sean's world this was good. In his family, among his friends, being a cop made him larger than life, a hero. In my world it worked very differently. Not that I... well, I think I am a good cop. I think I am doing good things. I had even just said this, "I'm a good cop, I like my job, I mean, I don't like trying to stick some guy's brains back into his skull on a rainy sidewalk, but…" He had just stared back at this. I didn't tell him that in my world it worked differently.

Now I say what honestly comes into my head: "Really doc," I say, "if anything's wrong it's what this schedule does to me. I miss my friends, I miss hanging out on Saturday nights. I miss being home with my wife."

"And that's frustrating?" I think that is right out his "how to interview" book.

"Of course it's frustrating." Worse, I want to add. Worse. It's totally isolating. I think about the last time I got high with my friends. One had his new girlfriend with him. When she found out she was getting high with a cop she freaked out. I spent the rest of the night assuring her I wasn't undercover. And whenever I meet new friends of Carolyn's, well, it's always strange. Now, well now everyone in the city's seen my picture. Everyone thinks they know something about me. They react with nervous pity and I don't like that at all. But I don't add any of this. I catch myself. If I don't I'll be stick in this psychiatrist's office forever.

"But that's just the bad stuff, and it ain't much. I love this job. Every job's got bad stuff."

"Yes," he says. "Yeah," I breathe.

"Isn't one of the bad things that you guys can't cut yourselves any slack?" I'm not sure what that means, and he realizes that, so he goes on.

"OK, your schedule's weird, so you're mostly, your world is mostly other cops. But then when something happens, especially when something bad happens, you're always putting the blame on the guy it happened to." I actually look him in the eye. "That seems like a lot of pressure."

"I don't know," I answer, and this is the truth. There's some time when nothing is said.

"You should think about that," he says, "and you know, if you want to come back, just call, the department's picking up the tab."

"I might do that," but we both know I won't.

"If you do come back, maybe we could talk some about other stuff that's happened to you. There's some things here," he flicks his hand, indicating the files on his desk, "that I might be able to work on with you."

I shrug.

"But you're ok." It's either a question or an answer. Not being sure I just say, "yeah, doc, really."

"Take a few more days," he scribbles on a pad and hands the note that gives me a week off. I look at it, the idea of a long day of sex with Carolyn flickers across my consciousness, then that drips away. "Thanks," I say. I start to leave.

"Two last things," he says. I stop.

"First, I'm going to guess that you're right. That you are a pretty good cop. And you like the job, you're telling the truth about that too." There's nothing to say to this.

"Second, you also know that what you said at the beginning doesn't matter."


"It doesn't matter that you weren't friends." I look at him. He looks at me.

I walk out of the office. I get into the elevator. I don't want other people to be in there but other people are in there. Maybe six. All women. All Manhattan-dressed New York women. The kind of women who would never, ever, be in my precinct. Who can probably not imagine the places that I work. If they even see me I am probably mistaken for a delivery guy. If they saw the gun they'd be terrified. I think, I could let them see the gun. But I don't. I don't do anything. I just stand there staring at my smeared reflection in the aluminum doors until they open on the lobby.
copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Sea

Sitting on the beach at Enniscrone, a few of us on towels, most just on the chill, damp sand, but the fire and his words cut through the cool of the evening and the exhaustion of our day at the sea. They had taken us all here, so far away, to get us out of the city for two nights, into the quiet. "They need quiet and they need to hear other sounds," Thomas and I had heard Father Timothy say and maybe it was a measure of our world back then that we had not the foggiest idea of what he meant.

But we went. Twenty-three of us jammed into four cars with the Priest and three fathers, leaving when it was still full dark, so dark that we did not see the day begin until we were far into the Donegal hills. And we came to the beach, I had not seen the beach since I was a much smaller one. And the sea - oh the sea - spreading out forever and beyond even that with the sun streaking across distant waves.

And now, that night, he told us stories of America. He had played, of course, for the Rovers down in Dublin, and that made him famous enough and made me the envy of many. But now he told us of his year in the States. Of the summer that the team went to Boston to be the "Boston Rovers" and play in New York and Detroit, in Los Angeles and Chicago and even Texas. These were all the most magical places we could conjure, and he described them all so well that we kept looking out across the dark and expecting to see the towers of Manhattan lighting the farthest horizon.

Then, as we slid toward sleep, he told us how the sea was different in America. "You see how the sea rolls in here," and we all nodded as the sparks flicked off the logs and raced toward heaven. "Well that ocean begins in America. The waves roll out from the shore, heading this way." Nothing could possibly have meant more to us at that moment, and that night, we did finally dream different dreams.

Today I stood on this western shore of the Atlantic. I heard the sound, and smelled the salt and looked deep into the distance before I would look at the point where this primal source meets the land. For I am still surprised - yes - always suprised that the waves here do not move as I have always seen them when I close my eyes.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
photo of Enniscrone from the Dublin University Surfing and BodyBoarding Club

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Central, we're on Two-Two-Seven and White Plains Road..."

Someone yells "he's there" and you start the chase. On dark wet pavement through the thickest July-night air you run down the block, through the alley, climb the rusty, shaky fire escape, there he is, just above, maybe two floors. Of course he's in sweats and Nikes and you're wearing a fifteen pound gunbelt and a bulletproof vest that's choking your chest, and the black Adidas you're wearing are good, sure, but no match really. You're gasping for breath and shouting into the radio asking for help even though you're not even sure what the address is and he gets to the roof and when you get to the roof he's gone. He might be running down the stairs inside but you don't see him or he may have jumped to that roof and be on those stairs but your partner hasn't even caught up with you yet so you can't search two stairwells. Most likely he's vanished into any of the apartments in the five floors below and he's hiding under a bed or he went out and down a different fire escape or the same one even or he's catching his own breath on a couch watching Channel 11 with a quart of Miller High Life.

"We're on the block," you hear the radio say, "Where are you? What are you looking for?" "Male, Black," you answer, sweat pouring down inside the vest, your breathing coming in deep gulps, "Maybe six-one, maybe two hundred, black sweats, black hoodie, white Nikes, Jordans I think." "What'd he do?" the radio asks. And you realize you have no fucking idea.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Internal Affairs

He has the "cop stare" down, but doesn't even understand how ridiculous that is. I could turn that on too. He won't scare me with cheap tricks. "Where were you, patrolman?" he asks, using the antique term of rank to try and gain some advantage. "Police Officer," I say. "Huh?" he responds, and I know I've already won. "I think we're called 'Police Officers.' I don't think the term Patrolman's actually been used since the sixties." He stares at me across the small gray table, "You think you're funny."


"This is not a joke," he states, his stare dwindling, I rock my chair back on the rear legs, studied insolence. "Surely not, but I was in the backyard, I wasn't there."

"Everybody says they were in the back yard." I laugh. He doesn't like that at all. "Yeah," I say, "there was a crowd back there." "Who?" he asks. "Who?" I say. "Who was there?" I press my luck. I grab the folder in front of him and in one movement spin it toward me and open it, scanning his notes. He grabs it back, violently. "I guess I don't really remember, you know," I'm casual, "we were just on back up, then we left."

I notice how old he is, like my dad maybe. I expect him to say "You kids got no respect these days," but realize that's from a movie or a Dragnet episode. He's tired. This is crap. I mean, of course it's serious, but I haven't done anything wrong. Someone has, but it isn't me, and I have better things to do right now than rat on people. I don't like the guys involved at all and if they can prove it, more power to them: fuck 'em, fire them, send them to Sing Sing; but it isn't gonna happen through me.

"How does a young guy like you end up with this attitude?" he asks, but he's not angry, he's resigned. I feel, well, yeah. "It seems to come with the job," I mumble. He waves me out.

Brandon's already sitting in the lobby. "Lunchtime?" "Yup," I say, "Chinatown?" "Very good," he says. The dead kid in the apartment on East 221st Street all but forgotten.

copyright 2004-2006 by Ira Socol

Friday, September 15, 2006

Front Street near Peck's Slip

We parked, as usual, by the power station in the block below the bridge and walked in the street, navigating the old stone pavers rather than the concrete sidewalk, down to the bar. The fog rolled off the river, clawing across these lowlands and toward the center of the island, making it impossible to know that anything had deeply changed since 1750 or so. In Jeremy's the Brooklyn Brown Ale came in the 48 ounce styrofoam cups and Mary, who had never been here, was just off the plane from Shannon after all, said, "the beer comes in that?" Yes. It does. The Mets game was on the TV, late from the west coast. It had rained earlier and with the fog the wood of the narrow deck was faintly swollen and smelled of the earth, a bit like a dog's damp paw after a run in a forest.

We sat and stared at the street and kept drinking. Max came down from the last cheap apartment in the area and assured us we weren't driving anywhere else that night, that we looked like we'd have enough trouble getting across his living room – and we had to remember that his ancient wooden building was slipping into the eighteenth century landfill that had pushed this part of Manhattan out into the tidal straight causing his floor to slope at a radical angle.

At 3:30 we finally walked out. You could only see lights as they bounced off the water vapor that surrounded us. Max tripped on the wet paving stones and fell face first but got up without complaint. Mary held onto me, which was as pleasant as it was foolish. Colin screamed Gregory Corso's poetry into the night.

We all fell asleep on Max's floor. Some Irish-Caribbean fusion CD playing a touch too loudly. At 5:30 I had to get up and turn around. The blood was rushing to my head.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
painting Peck Slip, 4 a.m. by Naima Rauam copyright by the artist

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Beach

With the Hudson River at my back I sit and eat two slices of acceptable "Famous Original Rays" or whatever it is pizza as I stare into the pool below the Irish Hunger Memorial. The koi swim in calm arcs with a few manic direction shifts, which seems just about right. Whenever I am here I think of this sick joke that I can make big money by opening a "Famine Fries" stand in the shadow of this monument, but I try hard not to mention that to anyone.

Long ago, when I was a kid, this whole area west of the Trade Center was just a giant beach. They'd filled all this land in, out beyond the old pier lines, when they built the towers, but then they'd argued about this place called "Battery Park City" for two decades. So it sat there, vast and empty and cool in the summer and icy in the winter and all we had to do was hop the fence and you could do anything out here, soccer, or stickball, drugs or sex, sunbathing or music – it was the most un-Manhattan place in Manhattan, and we loved it.

We loved all of downtown then. Companies were fleeing New York and Tribeca hadn't happened yet and nobody at all lived anywhere around. The old folks bitched that the Trade Center was ugly and too big and too square and the plaza was horrible and boring and the shopping mall was just a shopping mall. But fuck them. The towers were fucking brilliant, transparent and glowing and changing colors with every twitch of the sky. For the price of fairly but not absurdly expensive drinks you could go hang out and get hammered up top at Windows with the best view on the planet. You could skateboard or rollerblade or dance all night to whatever music you could bring to the plaza and the lightposts had outlets right there for power. And after all the suits left the whole lower level was for play. We'd meet guys on the cleaning crew for soccer games lots of Sunday nights in the lobby of One.

And when the suits were going home? Well, you could just hang out and watch the human Niagara of commuters pouring down the escalators at Path Square. It was our wonderland. And the world's – pulling even that French acrobat guy who walked between the towers. Couldn't do that in Midtown. Wouldn't even if you could.

I look around. The beach has long since turned into the World Financial Center and yes, the whole Battery Park City thing where no one I know could afford to even imagine living. There is no un-Manhattan Manhattan anymore. It is all Manhattan. Even a third of Brooklyn and parts of Queens are Manhattan now. The World Financial Center would look very, very big to almost anyone, I realize, if we didn't remember the Trade Center which was so much grander. Oh well. It was my city then. It is not my city now.

Still. This is a safer place. All around me are the rich slugs who rule everything now – Friends cum Seinfeld cum Sex and the City, you understand. You can hardly even make them afraid – back when I was a kid even white boys like us could generate fear and get people to cross streets to avoid us. But at least they are actual New York rich slugs and I am more comfortable with that than I am across West Street where tourists from Madrid and Tokyo and Seoul and Iowa gather and buy 9/11 trinkets and revel in some bizarre faked American heroism. Screw them. None of this really matters to any of them, they just like feeling like victims.

I climb to my feet and wander into the Hunger Memorial, entering through the shrinking dark tunnel. People came fleeing real fear back then. They were starving, their children were starving. They were watching their children starve while the British Army dragged food out of the country and back to London. Terrorism indeed. I walk through the ancient abandoned house, a remnant of a true famine village, and past the long cold hearth. Back in the sun I follow the winding path. At the top I look out at the river. Maybe back in 1978 there was a high pile of dirt right here, and maybe I stood in this spot looking this way, seeing a wholly different world.

But it is time to head back to reality. I need to meet people at the Bridge Café on the other side of the island. I think short route, but then switch and walk south into the Winter Garden. The stone of the floor shines so brightly that I am stunned by it. The river glitters beyond the palm trees. Colorful kites hang in the air.

I climb the stairs. The giant window ahead is framed in visible technology that forces a viewer to wonder about how our earth is assembled. Beyond the window lies that vacant pit. "Forget the memorial," I say out loud but to no one. "Forget rebuilding and fill it in. Make it a beach where kids can play."

This vast room is almost empty. My words hang for a moment in echo. Then I leave.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
Fish photograph and Ground Zero photograph copyright 2006 by Jill Piers. Before Battery Park City photograph copyright 1978 Creative Time and 2006 The New York Times. Irish Hunger Memorial photograph copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The sky and the Liffey were steel grey that day and I shivered standing in the centre of the bridge, looking east with the wind shoving me from the back, trying to decide, well, not really what to do but what I thought about doing it. The busses, lorries, and flow of cars roared past along the quaysides and tourists made exclamations of wonder as they passed, and once in a few minutes a cloud would spit a bit of rain down, perhaps just to remind me that nature held most of the power.

She was up at Arnott's shopping for, well whatever. She loves the stores on Grafton Street and often pulls me through them – no, "pulls" is too strong and suggests unwillingness – I view top-level retail as some sort of great kinetic art show and do not mind at all. But when she settles into real purchasing modes she is more likely to work the lower price north side and to do it with great efficiency, and I am not much of a shopper in that way. So she went there and I went here. Claiming to need to check something at Books Upstairs by Trinity but not doing that at all, simply following a random path from College Green through Temple Bar and onto the Ha'penny, bringing me to this spot.

We'd agreed to meet at The Oval Bar at two-fifteen or half-past for sandwiches and pints and so we'd ride the bus back home together, and that we would. We'd talk about things as we do. We'd smile at each other and laugh and kiss and she'd kick her shoes off and put them in my lap and I'd massage them with my right hand as I drank with my left. This would all go on no matter what I decided, and it would all be good.

Did I want more or did she? Did I want her to move in, to be mine in "that way," or was I resisting, setting up reasons why not? Did she want what she always told her friends she would not do again, or was what she oft said the real thing? Were her jokes about me a defense mechanism for her or against me? Could something without a future go on and on forever? Or were we dooming ourselves to disappointment?

It seemed early in the autumn for the wind to be this raw. I pulled the phone from my pocket and checked the hour. Three ducks swam beneath me, all males, a pack on the prowl I suggested to myself. Behind me an American man said, "I totally love this city," which is always nice to hear.

I pushed myself off the railing. Turned to my left. Walked towards her.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Monday, September 11, 2006

March Seventeenth

[I will not watch people try to make money, or political capital, from 9/11/2001 today or anyday. I thought about posting certain old stories of mine (one is in the archives here), but I'd rather this...]

I said I wasn't putting a uniform on and I wasn't working the parade and while I wanted the day off that wasn't a huge deal because even if I didn't get the day off and, it's not like I'm not sensitive to the staffing reports that he needs to send in to One Police Plaza everyday, I'll pretty much be here when I'm here but that'll be between him and me. The lieutenant said, "Whatever, but what do we have on these guys in New Jersey?" And I ask, "That the Feds haven't leaked to CBS yet?" He groans. I just say, "I'm going in today. I won't go tomorrow. Thursday I'll look at the reports. I'll tell you something Friday." He says, "Friday?" I say, "Yeah," and I turn around, spilling a little of the now cold coffee from my mug onto his carpet, mumble "sorry" and leave. Then I spend the next six hours wandering through the ruins of the Trade Center garage, surprisingly hot under the hard hat though it's cold down there, but we're not finding anything important anymore, that's just the truth.

Wednesday I make token attempts. I wear an old Michigan State sweatshirt because it's green. I get to work by about 8:15 more or less, and since my day technically starts at 7:30, that's not bad, for me. I've taken the slow train in. This might mean I've spent too much time thinking. Yes. It does. I've thought about how tired I am. The last three weeks, Jesus. I've thought about how I've slept probably thirty hours since the attack in February, so, of course I'm tired. I've thought about how that's not true: that's not why I'm tired. I'm tired because I'm going nuts as a single dad and I'm tired because not only haven't I gotten laid in a really long time I can't even imagine that a woman might look at me like that anytime soon if ever again and I'm tired because I came downtown eighteen months ago because they thought I was a burnout or I thought I was a burnout and because I have no idea if I want to be a cop anymore and because I've been that tired and then, bam, some motherfucker tries to knock over the towers and then, bam, because my bosses mistake eccentricities for intelligence, I'm totally a cop again, and I wasn't ready for that. And I've thought, well, we pretty much know what's happened and we've pretty much identified the assholes involved and we're not going to get any credit for this anyway because the FBI is running a 24/7 publicity machine for themselves and besides, at some point the CIA and the DIA are gonna take over, right? Then, if all that's true why can't I just dump this task force and go back to crime trend data analysis or whatever the fuck my job is supposed to be, or better yet, just leave this city behind before… well, before whatever's next.

On the train there are lots of cops, of course. Tons of cops and fireman all in uniform all heading down to be in the parade or to work at the parade. I've done that. Not marched but worked it. I did it as a rookie, all rookies do it even ones assigned to weird deep cover stuff. And last year because they said that kind of crap was more or less the price of the detective's shield, or surely the price of getting quickly bumped from Detective Third Class to Detective Second Class when you're getting that kind of pay raise without capturing Son of Sam or something. So I've worked the parade. It's not bad, I just never liked being in uniform in Manhattan where they expect you to wear hats and have shiny shoes and stuff. If I'd done it today though, I'd meet people, and I don't want to meet people or answer questions about how I am, and so I ride downtown, hidden in a corner, the old college baseball cap pulled down over my eyes, and I make it through the pre-parade crowd un-noticed.

I make it through the day mostly un-noticed. I get in late. I drink coffee. I walk a wide lap around the Trade Center. I sit by the water. I sit in the churchyard at Trinity. I walk another lap. I have three beers and a corned beef sandwich at a bar that ought to be better on the edge of Tribeca. On the way back from the bar a fat guy seems to be having a heart attack in front of a Burger King and I drop into public servant mode and do what I can for him until the ambulance gets there. Stuck to the light pole next to where the fat guy lies on the sidewalk is a hand-lettered poster asking, "Is America Safe?" A block later I meet Ahmad who's a waiter up in Windows on the World. He walked down 106 floors 19 days ago, and he's been out of work, of course, but he seems good. He laughs cause I'm wearing green, "You guys really aren't all Irish."

At home this night I'll have a Guinness or two, but I'm not going to find a babysitter in my neighborhood on St. Patrick's Day night. Tomorrow I will spread this mountain of paperwork all over the conference room and try to see things in ways I have not before. I'll be wearing jeans and a shirt and tie and none of it will be green. Friday I'll tell the lieutenant something, but I doubt that anything I can say will make any difference.

copyright 2004 by Ira Socol