Monday, October 08, 2007
They gave me the gold shield cause I could develop great databases. I thought, "you've got to be fucking kidding?" but this was true. All the shit I went through for them - all the desperate nights undercover - all the risks - all the injuries - all the collars that I made or that couldn't have happened without me - that got me nothing. I could'a stayed a Patrolman for ever. But, sitting in a strange little office with a computer, stretching out the recovery of a shattered knee, I had mixed a healthy appetite for Flight Simulator with a few simple approaches to recording crime data, and - presto! - they told me to come downtown and be a "Detective."
Actually, no, they did not say that. They called on a Tuesday morning and said, "How do you know this stuff?" "What stuff?" "How to program computers." "I don't know how to program computers." "Those databases." "That's not programming - I'm just making columns." "How do you know how to do that?" "Make columns? Don't know - It's easy."
This is why I never succeed in business.
Whatever. They said, "Come downtown and work on this stuff at headquarters." And I said, "Why the fuck would I want to do that. It's expensive down there. It's a long commute."
We argued over the next few weeks. But I was right. I worked fifteen minutes from my house. I knew everyone. They liked me. Why switch for nothing?
"Make me a detective," I offered. "Can't do that." "Why not, you should have made me a detective years ago." "Why's that?" "Look me up in your personnel files."
And I suppose they did.
"We'll make you a "Field Services Specialist-Detective Third Class." "Wow," I said, "that's a hell of an honor." But I went. The title came with five thousand more bucks a year, a complete lack of supervision, and bizarre little office with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The work was boring, more or less, but I would spend an hour on task, and then sneak out and wander Chinatown, or Little Italy, or just, if my leg hurt that day, sit in City Hall Park, or, especially in the dark winter evenings, drift out onto the bridge, embraced by the ribbons of light, and breath in the vast salt smell of the Atlantic tide pushing up the harbor from the Narrows.
And then I'd wander back to that tiny office, and rifle through cases, looking for ways to assemble patterns, or discover patterns. I was probably catching criminals. I really was, but I didn't feel like a cop anymore. But when I stood out on the bridge, in the depth of the winds, I really didn't care.
copyright 2007 by Ira Socol
Friday, October 05, 2007
I wish I had gotten there just a bit earlier. Of course I do. First, I would have been ahead of the rain, once it began to fall heavily, and I would not have seen dripping wet after the run from the bus stop three streets over. And second, more importantly surely, I would have been there before Liam. He might not have said that to her if he had known I was in the room. And who knows? The party might have just gone along swimmingly.
I couldn't get there earlier. Not really. I suppose that I must say that at the start. Oh sure, I could have stopped checking email before I did, gotten into the shower, gotten myself dressed and all, and out the door and to the bus stop. The busses are supposed to be about twenty minutes apart that time of the day, but even if I had been twenty or even forty minutes ahead, you understand, this is Dublin and the Dublin Bus system and, when I did get to the stop, three busses were forming their own queue for the seven people waiting. A full hours worth of mass transport lined up into a single minute. I simply would have waited longer, probably become more frustrated myself. That, combined with being soaked to the skin by the downpour between the stop on Baggot Street and her home, might have made the over-reaction - if it was an over-reaction, because I'm not quite ready to admit that just yet - even greater. At least that's possible.
Yes, yes. I should not have hit him. Yes, not like that. Damn close to a sucker punch. He really never saw it coming, though he should have, and I caught him right on the side of the mouth, knocking him sideways off his feet, leaving blood pouring from a split lip. But holy fuck, ya know, he deserved it. You just don't pull shite like that. If you're gonna come already snockered to a party, you better arrive as a happy drunk, not a belligerant arsehole.
When I was in the shower, the hot water coursing across my body, I imagined that the night would go differently. Absolutely I did. But that's the nature of being naked in warm water, it creates optimism. The reality of the evening was built on other bodily sensations, the clinging to the skin of cold, wet cotton and wool. That forces the harshness of the universe right into your face. So, when I opened the door, dripped on the aged oak flooring, saw the tears and heard the anger, the romantic allusions had already drained away, and I was just a tosser blown in by the storm.
True. I shouldn't have hit him. I should have found words. Used words. But there were too many things in my head at that moment. And I only found the action that lay on top of that mental pile.
She was in tears, and she was shouting, "Get the fuck out! Just get the fuck out of my house." And everybody was just staring. I walked into this frozen scene, with only her in movement, and only her sounds. I moved into a circle of ice, and shivered as she looked at me, and then hardened as I saw him.
She was in tears. He had loudly announced that her ambition was the cause of her kid's problems. Which is something you do not say to a mother who has tried that hard, or to anyone in their home in front of guests, or if you've been invited to an ex's "Tenure Party" - since the very invitation is an act of grace that you should accept with silent thanks. But he is an arse. And he thinks he looks strong if he can make her cry.
Right. I should'na hit him. That's something else guests are not supposed to do.
Had I been there before him, as I said, I would have been near her, and he would have stayed away. He might have, drunk as he was he surely would have, made snarkey remarks to others. He might have even said something about what had happened. But he would not have said it loudly, or directly, and he would not have attacked her ability to parent that way. Liam's a coward. He's afraid of lots of people. And one of those people he's afraid of is me.
I hit him on an impulse. I did. It wasn't planned. He had insulted the woman who might have been on the way to becoming "my" woman. He had not just insulted her, but had suggested that her accomplishments, the very reason for this gathering, was some kind of crime.
I hit him because I wanted to sleep with her again. Yes. I wanted to be the knight in shining armour. Because I was raised on the belief that nothing was more romantic than defending the honour of your woman. King Arthur, of course, was a Celt.
I hit him because I'm an idiot. An impulsive idiot. I do shite and then, well, I fuck myself over all the time. I do. I'm a fuckin' ijiot. So I hit him. Looked around. People were shocked. He was bleeding. She didn't say anything. Not like in a movie where she'd rush to me and thank me. Of course not. I'm a juvenile moron for thinking that. So I turned around, mumbled something, and went back out into the rain.
I left. Furious at many things. Thumping down the stairs, treading heavily on the footwalk. The rain had turned into a soft mist. It was full dark and the streetlamps lit the water molecules around them. I went one block, then two.
I left. Sometimes I just disappoint myself. Sometimes? Often. Oh well. I'd walk to the bus, with, perhaps, a stop for a pint. Or two. Night had fully fallen but the rain had slackened, then faded further into a mist. My trainers squeaked on the damp stone of the footwalk. Couples walked past, some looking happy. I kept my head down, the lights of the lamps wavered in the puddles. Then my mobile started playing Norwegian Wood.
I could see Baggot Street at the end of the block. An old Jaguar was parked at the curb beside me and I had let my eyes follow its sinuous curves up from the footwalk. It was the first object I had really looked at since I left the house. My mobile rang. It was her. For reasons all too clear I had linked her to an ancient Beatles tune about love lost. I waited. But then pulled it from my pocket and opened it. The text read, "Come back you arse."
So I turned around, there on the footwalk, and I went back. I went back and was very quiet. I went back and stayed the night, and all the next day.
copyright 2007 by Ira Socol
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
by Ira David Socol
"I ain't crazy," declares the narrator of this stunningly original novel-in-stories, "I'm not."
But sanity is always an elusive thing in this tale that carries the reader through a life torn apart by anger, frustration, and disappointment - but held together by an absolute refusal to "give up."
A first grader who can neither read nor sit still. An angry junior high student lashing out at those trying to help. A self-medicating high school athlete. All this leads us to an adult police officer on the streets of The Bronx at the most crime-wracked moment in New York City history.
The Drool Room may not make you love its complex protagonist, but it will force you to see life through the fascinating eyes of a remarkable character.
by Ira David Socol
With more than four dozen pieces of microfiction set in and around the northern Irish city of Derry, Ira David Socol carries you to places of incredible beauty and vicious nightmare, times of absolute joy and moments of complete terror. In stories which tread a blurred line between poetry and prose, a never named and not-quite described narrator reveals a story both national and personal, played out upon a canvas filled with stunning landscapes and fascinating characters.
"When I need peace, I think to myself, I have always come to where the sea meets the land. Because it is at this most primal borderline that we can see in the most directions. Not just up to the heavens and down into the briny deep, not just endlessly north or west or east or south, but forward and backward along the timeline of creation."
Friday, September 21, 2007
The great hunter Orion slumbers at the south-eastern edge of a cerulean field, his great arm not, as usual, holding a bow, but now gently wrapped around his head, shielding shuttered eyes from the bright light of the sun the spills down from above in the reflection of a newly polished moon.
I have fallen asleep too early and now awoken too early and walk with the dog to the top of the small hill. The street curves below me, dropping down not steeply, but enough to add romance to the landscape, as the ground falls off toward the sluggish midwestern stream a half-mile that way.
In the house the woman sleeps but the cat prowls. The televsion flickers with a black and white drama from the years of the World War. The power lights on the computer monitors flash in their synchronous way, the screens dark to the powers and allures of the internet. Six books that need to be reviewed for student use, four articles that need to be read, and three manuscripts in various stages of final editing rest on my desk, in both digital and paper form.
In three or four hours we will probably have breakfast, gather ourselves for the day. Football games will appear on television. Emails will arrive. There will be the outdoor market to get to, the garage to re-organise, and all that work to do. As I walk back toward the door with the dog I consider brewing the coffee and starting early. But the great hunter Orion sleeps so soundly, and I yawn. And we go back inside, and I pull off the clothes, and fall back into bed.
copyright 2007 by Ira Socol - Traversee by Humberto Castro
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Sometime quite late in the summer of 1969 the Irish Army began to appear just beyond the border. That was a real border back then. Today you would only know the line because the speed signs switch from "100" - meaning kilometers - to "60" - meaning miles and because the always spying UK "speed cameras" appear. But in those days there were checkpoints and customs stations and police, and, at least for a bit on each side of the road, fences, though crossing by foot was never an issue.
We'd cross to see them. A real Irish Army. Not Brits, not Protestants, and no masks. Real Catholic Irishmen carrying real guns out in the open. They were instantly our biggest heroes.
The year had already seen the whole world become unglued. You'd think a "revolution" would begin with violence from the "revolting" side, but this did not happen. Protestant Unionists and their Royal Constabulary co-conspirators had already attacked peaceful democracy marches, planted a half dozen bombs, killed a few people. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland's government had resigned to stop any hope of implementing a "one man - one vote" law that would have let Catholics be citizens as Protestants were. The leader of the Unionists had hope for the future though, "... if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house, they will live like Protestants, ... They will refuse to have 18 children." This thinking had led the Protestant "Londonderry Corporation," rulers of a 90% Catholic city, to tear down much of the Bogside to build highrise flats and such in a desperate attempt to encourage birth control.
The Irish soldiers gave us candy and sang songs with us. They shared their food. They told us about Dublin and Cork, Galway and Kilkenny. And then they'd shoo us back towards that line. "Better be gettin' home lads, don'na want your mas to be gettin' worried."
And then the Battle of the Bogside broke out. The Apprentice Boys, those Prod thugs, attacked our neighborhood, backed by the RUC. Three days of war followed. On Wednesday the B-Specials, the worst enforcers of the government, started shooting people. And that night Jack Lynch, the Irish Taoiseach , went on the telly and said they'd be setting up field hospitals close to Derry and Newry to save lives and that, "...the present situation is the inevitable outcome of the policies pursued for decades by successive Stormont governments. It is clear also that the Irish government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse."
And the armies came. The British Army flew in from Scotland, tanks and armoured personnel carriers and helicopters and very big guns. The Irish Army camped just over the hill, medical tents and food and lorries and, yes, guns as well.
We crossed the border and asked "our" soldiers, "Are ye coming? Will you come over the hill, at least to the river?" But they'd just say, "Don' know lad, don' know." Our parents talked of troops massed in Counties Donegal and Louth, ready to free us and Newry too. The places that should never have been beyond the partition. The oldest talked of those ancient Brit lies of "boundary decisions in 1924," but England wouldn'a give up their Naval Base at Catholic Derry nor Belfast's water supply at Catholic Newry. "The Brits will never do a thing unless you kill enough of them," Johnnie said. It was a scary thing. The room went silent. There were men there who remembered the real wars. 1916 was just a half-century in the past, you might be just sixty and still clearly recall 1920 and Michael Collins and the Black and Tans.
It was the summer that the lights went out. It was the summer when your ma became afraid if you went out the door. It was the summer that great terror mixed with great hope. It was a summer when we stood on an edge, and could not be sure which nation we'd go to school in when school began again, our nation or their's. It was a summer when people began dying all across the six captive counties.
And it was the summer that we all, no matter what age we might be, grew old.
The Irish Army didn'a come over the hill - they said they feared a bloodbath in Belfast if they liberated Derry. The British Army did not leave - they said that freedom and joining the Republic could only come if the Prods agreed. The Prods did not give Catholics the vote - they said we were uneducated "Popist Communists." The Americans did not come to help - though we had great faith in America - which looked down on us like gods from their perch on the moon. The next year the people of Britain elected a right-wing government that turned their Army in Northern Ireland from peacekeepers to murderers.
"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose" was first sung in 1969. Two years later, before even the slaughter of Bloody Sunday, Janis had sung it, and we listened on Radio Free Ireland coming from Inishowen, along with Don Maclean's song, which got to the end, "I met a girl who sang the blues, and I asked her for some happy news. She just smiled and turned away..."
And so, we were left completely on our own.
copyright 2007 by Ira Socol - images (top and bottom) are of The Battle of the Bogside - 12, 13, 14 August 1969. The center is the Rossville Flats under construction, 1965 (?).
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
There are many ways in which the world divides, and one is this. There are those who, as children, have lived in places where disturbing sounds in the night turn lights on and bring people to windows and doors. And there are those who, as children, have lived in places where those sounds engender darkness and silence and invisibility.
When I am back home I walk up the hill from the Foyle. Everything has changed. Everything is different. The dim and tiny terrace homes that had stood for centuries to hold the overcrowded families of the Catholic lower class have disappeared, first swapped for the horrors of sixties and seventies urban rebuilding, places like the highrise Rossville Flats, and then again for the colorful stucco of the homes that today line these streets. Now there are real furnaces and real waterheaters and good plumbing and they do not tilt the way the old ones did. The roofs and windows truly keep out the rain and the North Atlantic wind, and new smaller families fit comfortably in new larger bedrooms.
But none of that is important. Because I tend to see what was there. Between the sky and the paving stones my eyes and ears fill with phantoms. If it is daylight children run down streets laughing as grim-faced soldiers hold automatic rifles. If it is night then the demons run wild, no matter what I try to do. In those nights every shot, every wrong footfall, every yell, every heavy vehicle tyre sound – and all these came with every sunset – were greeted by people shutting lamps off, and drawing curtains, and shushing children, and keeping them out of the range of windows and doors.
And there is nothing more frightening to a child than to see fear in their parents' eyes.
So yesterday I sat at a dinner table, and was introduced to a compatriot, as she called herself, or another expatriate, I wanted to counter, but attempting politeness did not. "From what I hear," she said, "you must be delighted by the breakthroughs this weekend. Now things can really start to be over." She was, I had learned, Protestant, from Hillsborough, the big-treed, high-tea, old "Royal Suburb" south of Belfast, but had lived in West London for the last 20 years. Life in nice places, I thought, must be wonderful, and you cannot really hold it against them. "I suppose," I offered, "it suggests a chance, and a chance is better than nothing." I shifted my speech to sound as fully a Derry Catholic as possible. That sound that a Dublin friend calls "Irritable Vowel Syndrome." "You wouldn't be one of those Sinn Fein hard-liners now would'ya?" she attempted to sound Irish. "Nah," I said, "the other end of the spectrum. John Hume was a friend of my Da's. I've always been on the side of the angels. And like all angels, I'm just waiting for humanity to understand."
copyright 2007 by Ira Socol