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