There are many martyred mothers in Ireland (and Brooklyn).
‘Don’t mind me,’ they sniff, ‘I’ll just sit here in the dark while you have your fun.’

My mother isn’t one of them. I felt sad at Shannon airport, checking my sister in for her flight back to New York, when Mum turned to me and said simply:

‘You suffer in their coming and their going.’

We Are All Individuals

We are all individuals
Doing the dishes after Christmas dinner, I caught glimpses of Antz on the kitchen tv. I’d seen it at Lincoln Plaza when it first came out. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a whiny little worker ant (voiced by Woody Allen) who dreams of being an individual in the colony, where everyone is either a drone, a soldier or a queen.

Computer animation leaves me cold, excepting the Toy Story films, where it’s in the service of wonderful storylines. Even with those movies, I wish they hadn’t tried to do humans—it broke the spell to find the nasty kid Sid as shiny and plasticky as the toys themselves. At Monsters, Inc. my inner child sat above the action and noted dispassionately that they’d now figured out fur—wet fur, fur rippling in the breeze, fur being stroked…enough with the fur! I always found Pinocchio’s quest to be a real boy tedious, and this slavish CGI stuff makes me long for the economy of a Chuck Jones line.

Watching Antz, especially the scenes of bazillions of ants trudging through their tasks in the colony, I realized what makes me uncomfortable about being back in Ireland. We all look the same. We dress the same. We think the same. Like a child who takes the wrong Mammy’s hand in Tesco’s, I managed to follow three different women around Dublin, thinking they were my mother. I see my own face on strangers every day. It panics me, this vast weight of genetics and assumptions. It’s hard enough to shake off assumptions when they’re challenged; what chance do we have when they’re shared?

Doing the Vatican Rag

Doing the Vatican rag
Santy brought me a laptop—score! It’s waiting for me in New York. My preciousssss.

When I was a child I could barely contain Santy-related excitement through midnight mass. We used to go to the Jesuit mass at Crescent, where my father teaches, and I fretted about how to drag my parents away from tea and biscuits afterwards. I hadn’t been to Christmas mass since I was nineteen or so, when being a drunk in a midnight choir lost its appeal. The last mass I’d sat through was Arlene’s wedding in Connecticut, where the double nooses placed over the heads of the new couple (a Filipino tradition, apparently) distracted me from the rest of the ceremony. That Cliff is a foot and a half taller than Arlene only added to the drama.

Went back to Crescent this year out of curiosity. Midnight mass is now 9pm, for convenience. Crowds once spilled out of the octagonal assembly hall, but this year there were a sparse 200 seats. No choir, and the school orchestra’s skill has not increased since I laid down my screeching violin. People mumbled along to Angels we have heard on high like surly teenagers—why are Catholics dreadful hymn-singers? Or were we just thrown by the entirely made-up extra verse printed on our programmes?

Fr. O’Connor gave a tortuous sermon linking September 11th to the Nativity. It seems the attacks were caused by our crass, image-conscious society, which had lost its way, but with the birth of Christ we had a chance to regain purity. Or something. He talked about the visual beauty of the flaming towers, all orange and red and glinting steel, how hard it was to remember that it wasn’t a movie. Not if you saw it live, I thought.

And yet the mass was lovely, somehow. Usually I let the words drone overhead. This year, I spoke them all, and they came fluently after ten years. How delightful to stand up with your neighbours and list out your beliefs in ringing prose: “We believe in one God, the father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that Is, Seen and Unseen…” This is the stuff corporate missions statements grope towards in their clammy way.

I envy the people who believe these words. But still, it was good to voice formless thanks and pleadings, even if no one is listening.

Blogging in a Winter Wonderland

Blogging in a winter wonderland
Half the population of Ireland is under 30. That makes me a crumbly all of a sudden. Brown Thomas sells Prada and Creme de la Mer, and there are skinflicks in the newsagents. Girls clatter across the damp cobblestones in high heels and glittery boob tubes. Mobiles ring everywhere like Salvation Army Santa bells in New York. The girls sign off with ‘Bye-bye-bye, hon!”

I am mystified. Like Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I I want to roll down the car window and yell: ‘Scrubbers! Scrubbers!’ at this young trollop of a country.

On the bus out to Stillorgan I sat opposite a pair of twenty-year-old part-time barmen.

“D’you mean you don’t have to stock the bar at your place? Or do your own till at the end of the night? Are you serious? You just have to pull pints? Jesus, you lucky bastard. I’d love that. I have to go down to the cellar five times a night, and haul the boxes up, and carry them through three sets of doors, and wipe off the bottles, and stock the shelves, and move the furniture and clean the floors at the end of the night, and count up the takings, and on top of that I’m servin’ miserable old Guards all night long.

“D’you know when they put the money down on the counter instead of into your hand? And you have to pick it up out of the wet? I hate that. I always put their change back down into the wet but they never cop on.

“Some of them get so gone you can say anything to them, though. ‘Now, two pints of Guinness, sir, you old fucker.’ And they say thanks.”

“I don’t know what to get for Mam and Dad. I thought theatre tickets would be good, but it seems a bit…I don’t know. What d’you think? Is it weird to get theatre tickets for your parents?”

“I got this shirt. I don’t know if I can carry it off. Is it a bit E for me?”
They were so sweet and young and good that I had tears in my eyes when I got off the bus. Being home for Christmas has turned me into a sap.

Hello Boys
On the Dock Road roundabout in Limerick, the County Council has put up a ‘with-it’ road safety sign.
SLOW DOWN BOYS it says in big black letters. I love it. Makes me picture an eldery local politician in a Wonderbra.

Every Old Man I See

My sister Claire is flying back to Ireland tonight. I’ll miss her.

One of the joys of our national airline is the unending supply of smelly old men we get as seatmates. Hers was from Antrim last time, mine was from Co. Clare. They wear old, tobacco-colored suits. “Turty five years in New York,” said my last one, and shook his head. I wished he’d washed. Every stretch to the overhead bins was vinegary. He kept leaning across me to look out the window as we approached Shannon, saying he’d love to go home for good. As Claire says:

“My heart aches for them. But my nose hurts too.”

    Every old man I see
    In October-coloured weather
    Seems to say to me:
    “I was once your father.”