Monday, July 31, 2006

Shoot the Freak

Sean wanted to wait on the roof of Nathan's, which made no sense really. He could see the street from there but not the Boardwalk and the Boardwalk was where I needed him or at least wanted him. David wanted to be up in the top of the Shore Theater. He said he'd have the sniper rifles and could take out an elephant on the waterline, which, true or not, again was offering nothing for me. I told him he just wanted to check out the old building – which I did too except, abandoned for twenty years or thirty even and who the fuck knew what you'd find in there and perhaps have to deal with.

We sat in the back of Nathan's patio eating dogs and drinking 64 ounce beers, disguised to the summer crowd as nobody in particular, the best kind of disguise but one few cops can master, and debating these issues of what at least I considered life and death, waiting for the other guys to arrive. The dogs weren't sitting right, I was way too keyed, and neither was the beer, really, I couldn't afford to be too sloppy, so I was chain-smoking and picking through the smaller slightly burnt fries and staring at the table. Between drags I was letting the salt air sooth me.

The buy was supposed to happen in front of the Shoot the Freak game on the Boardwalk, the two of us mixing in the crowd watching and casually swapping backpacks and doing quick content checks. My pack had five grand in recorded serial number bills. His was expected to be filled with untraceable weaponry. I'd spent more than three weeks setting this up, and if it went right this would be major, especially if these guys could track him back to his real connection. But it could also go way wrong, and I had fought for five days to pull this off in a crowd in daylight. I wasn't ready to admit it to anyone, but dark empty streets were starting to scare me.

It was time to do other things. Time to go be a regular cop, riding around in a regular car, answering regular 911 calls, dealing with regular shit. They had sucked me right out of the academy for this. They thought I looked young, looked not much like a cop. I seemed, one boss said, to have a "situational view of morality" that he found useful. And they offered me flexibility and a lack of uniforms and, yes, special kinds of adrenalin rushes and self-understood heroism. I was a kid, of course I signed right on. It had taken me too long to figure it out, much longer, my current lieutenant told me, than he had expected.

Still. OK. We saw the van cruise by on Surf Avenue. Sean whispered that he'd be right on top of the old bathhouse. David that he'd be on the roof of the gift shop next door, and that, absolutely, two guys would be close by on the Boardwalk. I smiled, dropped my cigarette. The breeze kicked for a moment filling my head with the immense quiet of the ocean. I pulled my Mets cap way down over my eyes and slid the pack from my lap to my back. Then vanished from the table and headed around Nathan's and up toward the beach. Crossing myself momentarily. Accepting that this could always be "it," but pretty sure it wasn't likely to be.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tudor City

We had said we'd meet in the park on the north side of this hidden little street but then the thunder came and then lightning split the sky and then the kind of New York tropical summer afternoon storm washed down and the pavements steamed and I ran for the cover of the canopy sheltering the sidewalk from the building restoration going on above us.

Standing there, the parks and Midtown to the west, the UN and the river to the east, Forty-Second Street below me, wind driven mist slapping my face, I stopped looking for her, the way you look for people you are waiting for, and faded into the soft reverie of watching the curtain of water slip back and forth across this city stage.

I had not seen her in twenty-three years. We had never been more than good friends, it was not that kind of reunion, but my memory of her carried baskets of recollections of a life left far behind, and so I had crossed over from Grand Central with equal parts fear and anticipation.

I had also not been here in years. This city was someplace else I had allowed to slide into my past. Now I turned and looked in the windows of the Preschool of the Americas in the base of the apartment building being restored. A perfectly diverse collection of children sat at tiny tables in tiny chairs sharing juice and cookies and fantasies driven by plastic dinosaurs and trucks. And I wondered if I was mourning all my lost lives and abandoned locales.

One more crack of thunder rocked the noonday, but from a little further out, and the rain began to lessen, and the sky lighten, and then it faded away, a cooler breeze drifting from the harbor. She came up the stairs from down by the Ford Foundation. We hugged, smiled, laughed, and went off to find lunch.

story and photo copyright Ira Socol, 2006

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Three reasons I was late on the way to Ballybofey

I started out in the late morning winding through Dublin as I always do, bouncing over the crosswalks, picking up Brian as he was walking along Tara Street for reasons unknown and taking him to The Long Hall on South Great Georges Street which was completely out of the way but which is where he said he was going and at The Long Hall, sitting just inside the entry area staring up at, jesus, is he watching cricket for christsakes? was Cathal and so I had a pint and the another because I hadn't seen him in a year and just as I was finishing the first pint and thinking "'tis time to go," Saorla came in and I hadn't seen her in possibly three years, and then after two pints and a long dreamy memory as she was talking of a walk along the quays at Cobh years ago when we were the ones – just briefly but absolutely passionately ya know - I certainly needed the two cups of coffee that stretched the visit further so it was, yes, a long time before I crossed the Liffey on O'Connell Street and finally started really heading north. "If you were just dropping Brian there," she would ask later, "how did you get inside to find Cathal?" But the question was unnecessary and the answer obvious to both of us.

I finally poured some diesel into the Skoda in Monaghan. Stopping for coffee again as well, recalling certain holy days spent here instead where we were because here seemed so different to those of us born and raised north of the line. I found myself pulled into St. Macartan's Cathedral stepping through the Stations of the Cross as I had at fifteen when I momentarily felt rescued by religion, and then, again with conscious decision, I drove around the lake and walked the football pitch where, on another Sunday, I had played perhaps the best game of my life, shutting out a much superior side in a cross-border attempt to unite us Catholics peacefully through the art of sport. I came out of the match with a broken wrist and now as I feel the bump where the bone has healed not quite correctly and look at the clouds scraping across the otherwise blue sky I understand time and distance as a long line wandering among the trees of an ultimately deep forest that Ireland has not had in written history, where your vision is so limited by the wealth of nature's growth that all you have are memory and expectation.

In the next half of an hour, through Aughnacloy and Omagh and onto the Great Northern Road and into and out of Strabane, all places which things large or small, personal or historic, had marked indelibly, and finally across the Foyle into the left-side of Derry and past the walls and the murals and the pavers that have known it all and up the hill a touch. Galvin, sitting on the stepstone at his door says, "Christ-mate, she's going to murder you, have you looked at the time?" but when we go further up to get Sinéad another hour vanishes as we stare down the hill at the river flowing saying nothing, just smoking and considering, as we have since we discovered the escapes of alcohol and nicotine so long ago. I do not come north often. It is far too difficult and I love it in ways I can not tell you.

It is full dark as we roll through Donegal, Castlefinn and Killygordon just lights in the night. Into Stranolar and across this river to Ballybofey: she is at Gallen's across from Finn Park with her friends, drunk enough to be both angry and taking it well. "I was just about to start looking elsewhere for tonight's shag," she announces, "well, I may keep looking around and see how you stand in comparison."

Tomorrow we will stand beside our friends as they marry, and drink, and toast the future and recall only a past that fits into the present we have embraced. She will joke about my insuitability for marriage and I will, at times, get slightly embarrassed because probably both she is right and I might indeed want more than I will ever have. But before the night ends at The Barley, we will snog like wild teens as the smell of the peat fire mixes with her perfume in her hair in a way that makes me insane.

And on Sunday we will go back together, and even dropping Sinéad and Galvin in Derry and stopping for lunch we will find ourselves back south of the Liffey in barely four hours. There will be nothing particular to say. She will only look at her watch and smile.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This Dark

My uncle Caolán disappeared off the street and into Long Kesh a fortnight fore Bloody Sunday back in Seventy-Two and we did not see him again til Seventy-Four. T'was the way back then and not a thing anyone could do. So the family moved in with us, crowding the house on St. Patrick Street, which now had to fit three adults, five lads and four girls. Aunt Onóra slept in the front room downstairs, the girls crowded into bunks in one upstairs room, the three younger boys in another, and Niall and myself dragged our blankets into the airless attic and lay beneath the rafters wishing for nightly rain that would drown our conversations before they drifted into the rooms below.

By the light of only a small oil lamp and the glowing ends of cigarettes – Players lifted from the table near where Onóra slept or joints rolled in single-handed elegance by Niall who told all that he had learned the technique so he need not stop wanking when he wanted to get high – the two of us would plan all things, from stealing a fishing boat and sailing to Canada to blowing up the Brit watchtowers, from stowing away on the ferries to France to hiking to Galway and finding ladies. Dreams violent and dreams of escape and dreams of love. The stuff of boys.

I told him that I wanted to sail not to Canada but to St. Pierre off the coast, where we would be both free and surrounded by French women and the ocean. He told me that only an idiot Irish fool would want to trade this cold island for another. He thought Australia might be the place to go. I thought it was too far and doubted the wisdom of running away only to end up on the bottom of the earth.

Below us our sisters spoke of boys and school and girls "looking to find themselves in trouble." Our brothers of football and throwing rocks. My parents of money that was hard to find and fears of what would take place next. From the street came the sly steps of Provos running and deep vibrations of Brit armor patrolling and the clockwork bells of the churches. We could not hear Onóra who, like ourselves, sat smoking in the dark on her own level.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol