Last year I got a note from a guy who had found this website because he had googled Wanderly Wagon, an Irish kids’ television programme from the 1970s. He lived in San Francisco, he said, and now that he had a pair of American toddlers he felt nostalgic for stuff he would never get to share with them. I thanked him for writing. A few days later, I got another email. He had read more of my pieces, and we had grown up in the same area at roughly the same time. Did we know each other?
We did, barely. John was four years ahead of me in school, and, helped by a photo, I dredged up hazy memories of him as one the Sixth Year guitar guys. He couldn’t picture me, but that was understandable; my school friends were his friends’ little sisters. I remembered his house. We swapped memories of tortured school orchestra practices; of each of his teenage girlfriends; of housing-estate gossip from mid-eighties.
If you’re ever in San Francisco, he said, look us up. His American wife loved the coincidences that Irish people keep bumping into.
A few months later, Stone Yamashita invited me out for a job interview. I agreed to spend a weekend, though I didn’t see how San Francisco could win my heart from Brooklyn even in the dead of winter. When I told John I was coming, he decided that I should get to know some locals. He and Natasha would bring me along to a friend’s party that Saturday night.
Sometimes you meet people and realize you’re already soul-friends, and only the details need to be unpacked. I put myself up for adoption as soon as I met their little family that afternoon. Natasha, John’s wife, is more attuned to Irish culture than any non-resident American I’d ever met, and has the spooky recall of an outstanding listener. In their local coffee shop, she told me how my secondary school class were doing.
“Now, do you know John’s pal Brian Roche?” she’d say.
“Vaguely. I was friendly with his sister.”
“Suzanne? She’s super-nice. You know she broke up with Alan last year, right? Those guys had been going out a long time…”
They asked about the job interview. “You probably wouldn’t have heard of them,” I said. “It’s a small strategic consulting firm, and I’m not entirely sure yet what that means.” They looked at each other and laughed. Natasha had worked with half the Stone Yamashita staff in various past lives. The party they had invited me to that night was hosted by one of them. In disbelief I pulled out the list of ten people who were lined up to interview me, and she checked them off. Some would be at the party. So would John’s friends from our hometown, whom I’d probably know.
At the party, in this familiarly strange city, my past and future strolled through dim rooms. Over one shoulder, I swapped school memories I thought I’d forgotten. Over the other, I collected impressions for a mysterious interview. It was soothing and unsettling at once.
The next morning I stopped at a cafe on a stroll through the Mission.
“Can I have a large latte?”
“Oh, you mean an I Feel Whole? Or an I Feel Pure?”
Too late, I realized I was in the heart of vegan San Francisco, which is not the place for a caffeine/dairy fix, and I was about to walk out when I heard my name. It was a guy I had last seen on a beach in Thailand, when we did a bizarre seven-day fast together almost three years ago. Bryan was a raw-foodist now, and this was one of the few places he could eat out. When I’d met him he was a software engineer, but since then he had become a reiki practitioner. It was wonderful to experience my energy, he said.
I told him about the dreamlike party the night before, and the Monday interview.
“Oh,” he said, “I used to sit next to Keith Yamashita at Apple nearly twenty years ago. You’ll have a good time there.”
It was the first time I understood that this city is as small as Dublin, and bumps into itself just as much, or more. Instead of waking up, I moved here.
9 thoughts on “Currents”
It is quite simply amazing, isn’t it? I have lived and worked in so many countries and yet in each one, no matter how remote, I have bumped into a friend or the friend of a friend.
The world keeps getting smaller.
God bless Google and John’s perfectly timed nostalgia. The whole way we met you amazes me each time I think of it or describe all the little details, yet again, to another unsuspecting listener. I’ve never featured so prominently on anyone’s blog. Now, if I can just think of another way to get myself up here again. Hmmmm, perhaps if I learned to juggle cats or swallow fire…
ps-And for years, I thought it was “Wonderly Wagon” until I saw it written…
No, dat’s just our Limerick accents, loike.
Mmm, time past and time present contained in one moment = the dawning of enjoying one’s maturity. But let’s face it, there are people like yourself and Natasha who put faces, stories and places together- and then there’s everyone else. Glad to hear all is going well, festina lente.
I don’t remember how I found your blog, but I do enjoy reading through your life’s experiences. I teach my children that no matter where you go, you will see someone you know, or be able to find a mutual friend. Especially if you are doing something your aren’t supposed to be doing! Thanks for your wonderful site and interesting stories!
As usual you tell the story so well. It was so much fun, the endless synchronicity unwrapping as we dug deeper. I have told so many people the sequence of events. One of the reasons many of us leave Ireland is the fact that it is so small and homogenous – it can feel very insular. However, one of the great joys of being from a small place is that the odds of moments like these occuring are greater. That said the Irish do seem to have a higher incidence of the six degrees of separtion syndrome than any other nationality…..maybe even 3 degrees.
Ah Dervala, you’ve got the Limerick accent all wrong! 😉
Also, I think when you’ve been away a certain number of years – about 6 or so, you’re like a foreigner in your own country, never quite fitting in again. A relative of mine has been away for over a decade now and its like introducing a tourist around the city. It doesn’t help that Limerick has gone and got a face-lift. The only familiar thing to him left is Nancy Blakes!
The threat (or promise) of never fitting in again is harsh, but it’s probably accurate in a country that demands that you blend in so thoroughly in the first place! As John points out, that’s why some of us leave. 😉
I did spend four months in Limerick last year, and enjoyed the changes. Outside my family and friends, the city doesn’t feel much like a home, but then I’m not sure it ever did. I left on my 18th birthday, and by now I’ve spent more years outside it. So it’s beyond weird to hang out with a bunch of Limerick people in San Francisco.
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