Henry and Delores Part 3

Back-yard-photo-2

That evening I told Clare about what happened, and she was sympathetic, seeing that I was plainly upset. She had no answer however, and was just as confused as me, and surprised. I found myself searching through our recent encounters, looking for instances when I might have accidently blanked him during a walking daydream, or done something that he witnessed and disapproved. But it was a futile exercise, because we really didn’t know each other properly, and to boot, I wasn’t close enough to him to bring up such an intimate discomfort. We knew each other to see, and to exchange frivolous pleasantries, but we weren’t “in” enough to fall out. I just had to suck it up and hope it wouldn’t happen again. But it did! The next time he was talking to the Puerto Rican guy that owned the Bodega on the corner. Before it had closed he ran a pretty successful business there with his brother Peppi, however their replacement renter had made a mess of it and had to quit, leaving it boarded up for the best part of a year. Ironically, I knew Peppi’s name but not the name of his much friendlier brother. Henry was always pally with the friendly brother, and here they were having a right old laugh about something outside the now busy Bodega. “Goodnight” said I with the wave of my hand, doing the best I could to not seem hesitant – they both looked at me as if they were saying “do I know you?”

Now this is where you may begin to question this writer’s character: Henry’s second blank was a shock to me, but not the friendly brother guy, he had blanked me a couple of years ago after several years of charming exchange. I was so offended I didn’t bother with him again, he had always seemed like he loved himself too much – but not Henry, he was special. What in God’s name was going on?

The next time I saw Henry, I didn’t have any choice but to blank him too. Every time I saw him from then on was horrendously uncomfortable, and the hurt stayed with me for hours beyond. We continued to be friends with Delores however and I wanted desperately to talk about it to her, but couldn’t. The years went by, the cats grew older. Alice died at the age of nine; her genetic weakness had caught up with her. She was panting her last breaths on my lap when the young vet Jana arrived in her skintight checkered slacks, she kneeled down to look at Alice with compassion and on her way up she caught a glimpse of my escaping emotion. At first I hadn’t cared much for Alice, she was too scrawny with big ears and a rat’s tail, but with time I stopped being an asshole about her, she was just an innocent animal after all. Prejudice, as usual, was just an outlet for sanctimony. After living in New York for a few years Alice’s kidneys had begun to fail and the vet instructed us on how to give her dialysis. Every day we would hang a bag of saline water from a hook that I had screwed into a wooden shelf above the bed, and Clare would bravely insert a large needle into the folded skin on the back of her neck, going through this with Alice raised my affection for her considerably. Now I sat there rocking her as she reached for her final breath, extra torn because of my previous callousness towards her, her tiny life was slipping away on my lap.

Jana the vet gently laid Alice out on our bed where we had shared our fearful routine for a couple of months, however this needle was to be her last one. Jana was a sensitive generous person, and we became friends with her after that, bringing Frankie up to her at the Animal Hospital for his booster shots and any other ailments that he might have. One day we noticed that he was limping and hesitant about jumping up to the back window where we kept his cushion. Jana had him x-rayed at the Animal Hospital where she worked uptown. She had grown very fond of him over time, he was a strong gentle animal, and never caused a fuss, a sort of Zen presence.

The Animal Hospital is a very slick place, geared up for effortless financial intake. They take your animal with one hand and credit card with the other. An assistant in blue medical overalls took Frankie away while we sat on the red enamel chairs in the large waiting area akin to the waiting room in an upscale private clinic. It can be an entertaining place to sit if you are not worried about your reason for being there. If your attention is not taken by the sniffing of a large dog or a terrier, your curiosity is aroused by the site of exotic birds or something small like a gerbil or a budgie, cats, snakes, mice, rats, you name it, all carried delicately by their concerned owners.

I needed to call my manager about a meeting that was proposed for the following day. Things weren’t going well between he and I, he had recently handed me over to an assistant manager, and another artist with a squeaky wheel mentality seemed to be taking precedent over everything. I was speaking to his assistant when Jana sheepishly came over and softly pulled me by the index finger towards an enclosed room. Clare was already inside the small room sitting on a chair facing me as I entered, Jana seemed nervous and her sad brown eyes betrayed any professionalism that she projected behind her white coat. With a shaky hand she took a large negative out of a folder and clipped it into a box light up on the wall, She pointed at the black negative line of Frankie’s rib cage, inside it there was a cloudy mass of white, Jana pointed with a shaky finger “This white stuff is not normal, I’m so sorry to show you this, but this is – she stopped to take a deep breath and gulped – some kind of cancer” We stood there, all three of us, staring up at Frankie’s rib cage, hoping to stare it away. Normally in a situation like this, the doctor is the hard ass that keeps a check on reality, but Jana was not only a young vet, she was also a friend now, and as she had put it, had a crush on Frankie. Clare had said more than once that he was the love of her life (I didn’t mind, he’s a cat after all) and I loved the little bastard too, he had been sleeping on my head for years. But I hadn’t time to get emotional; the two women beat me to it. Clare started to cry,

“Isn’t there anything that we can do at all? I love him so much, he’s the best pussycat that I have ever had” now sounding like she was about six years old. Then Jana lost all control of her composure, I knew she had been holding it in, And I was holding on to mine for dear life in case….just in case.

“Well all I know is if it was my kitty……..” exploding tears like a burst water balloon, her face and frame now small and shaking. “I would give him chemo …. to … try and reverse the damage…or at least slow it down”

I tried to hug the two of them, as sad as the situation was, Clare and I caught each other’s eye and shared the hilarity of what was happening. Jana showing this kind of humanity meant that she was in with us for life, especially with Clare, vulnerability is the key to her heart.

Delores noticed that Frankie wasn’t out on his cushion so much anymore, and asked Clare one day on the street if he was all right. We were sitting in our kitchen when Clare told me, I had just received a box of new albums that Beggars Banquet had released called The Compilation, a “best of”. We reminisced on how long we had been aware of Delores and Henry, I had made around ten albums during that time period, and this was technically an eleventh, but why did Henry stop speaking to me? It was still a bewildering mystery. Clare said that I should go to him now and reach out by giving him a copy of the album.

“Just go down the fire escape and say hello to him, give him the album”.

Our kitchen window was wide open, it was a lovely summer’s day, and Clare had just waved at Delores, seeing her put a mop out to dry outside her own kitchen window. “Fuck it”, I thought, and swung my feet out through the window landing on the old wrought iron fire escape with its peeling green paint (the iron is thin and rusty and it crossed my mind that it must’ve been challenging enough for it to hold my two hundred pounds). I stepped over my next-door neighbor’s portable barbecue, dormant and unused, and held on to the railing as I veered past the old flowerpots with dead plants. I peered down into the dark kitchen, inside Delores was cleaning the small narrow stove with a brillo pad, and Henry’s sallow eyes looked up with incredulity from behind the newspaper in the corner by the back wall. Delores said “Hi” but he said nothing, just crackled the paper. The austere apartment harked back to a different time, linoleum floor, white enamel Kitchen table, with matching chairs, no music, no TV,  just a small Panasonic fan, dignified silence and cleanliness with available daylight cutting sharp lines in the shadow. I threw some words together with great discomfort and handed over my album as a peace offering.

“ I have no idea why we stopped talking, maybe I can just give you my new album as a token and we can be friends again”

Delores smiled her cute smile and reached up to take the album from my hand, she was sympathetic and maybe amused, but loyal to her man too, I could hardly believe what I was doing, it was a big gesture that fell to the ground like a drunken sailor in a strange port. Whatever I was talking about – and I’m presuming that she knew as little as Clare – she was not going to intervene. Henry said absolutely nothing, and I scooted back along the fire escape feeling even more of a fool now than before.

A couple of winters after that Henry died – Delores told Clare one day on the street that he had been hospitalized for several weeks with lung cancer. She carried on with great dignity and, amazingly, found a reason to keep her smile handy. She still maintains her apartment over Neptune (rent stabilized I presume). I occasionally see her buzzing around, if I don’t stop she doesn’t seem to be aware of me, but when I do she still has that cute smile and always seems to be going somewhere seeming to have plenty to do.

I will never know now what I did to turn Henry away, I knew of him for thirty years, but of course I never actually knew him, the most intimate thing we shared was falling out, that was as close as I got to knowing him. Maybe he was a friend after all, only friends fall out. You can’t fall out with someone you don’t know.

Henry and Delores Part 2 of 3

Pierce at the papered wall

This is the photo taken by the French Photographer at my papered wall on on the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue

A French photographer that had been looking at me said it was magnificent and wondered could he come by the next day and photograph me in front of it. I still have the photo; I’ll rummage around for it (as you can see I found it). What fascinated Henry and I was that the plan worked! It was left like that until the gig the following weekend, completely untouched. Every day I would go by there and Henry would be sitting on his chair with his back to it, almost like he was guarding it.

Delores first came to Clare’s attention when she noticed her flying her clothesline over to the back wall behind her building. The neighbourhood was changing; some of the things that were allowed to happen in a community that shared a similar economy were going to be frowned upon soon by the upwardly mobile.  But in the meantime Delores was allowed to carry on using the washing line that Henry had hooked up many years previous to these times. The line went from the back of her building across to the old stone wall that traversed the end of all of the yards on our block.   One time we all had yards that were there for us to do what we liked with, some of us grew vegetables, and some of us kept our bicycles there or held the occasional barbecue. Now the landlords had given them away to whomever was renting the stores on the ground floor to sweeten the package.

Behind Delores’s and Henry’s building the Polish restaurant on the ground floor had built a wooden deck and turned it into a summer garden section of their restaurant. I often went there myself for breakfast; on a couple of occasions I stuck my speaker in the window and played a CD to accompany my coffee. They also erected large umbrellas to shield us from the sun. It was all pretty upscale for our neighbourhood, so long as you didn’t look up, if you looked up you would see Delores’s bloomers and Henry’s boxer shorts, and t-shirts, socks, tea towels and sheets, flying overhead. There was a system, one day it was her bras, the next time it could be Henry’s underpants, then came Delores’s knickers and so on, all done by hand incidentally, they kept their apartment in the same manner and style of its origin during their youth, no fancy electronics like washing machines, besides the plumbing and electricity couldn’t handle it. Clare and I always found the clothes line amusing, and loved how it kept things in place. Eventually however the restaurant put a stop to it and the line was lowered forever more, like a flag that signaled the end of an allegiance; No bugle reverie however, just eggs and coffee without that natural human eyesore of a clothes line over head – the beginning of a new more lucrative world in the East Village and the higher the rent, the fussier the tenant.

The fire escape for our apartment travels sideways along the back of our building to the adjoining ones. If there is a fire we are expected to scoot along to the next building and knock on their window ‘Excuse me, our house is on fire, may we go through your place?” For the most part we had no idea who was living in the adjoining buildings, except for now, we knew Delores and Henry, sort of. We were coming into our second year of Clare living in New York since she moved from London, and she had had her fill of living without her two cats, they were pining for her as well back there in London. Frankie was an old mutt tabby without a tail – which he had lost in a car accident, and with a bald spot on his back from the same incident. Alice was a Siamese that was born with some kind of congestive issue causing her nose to drip constantly, she was also going blind. Before I met Clare she was sorta married to Frankie, and used him to imitate Davy Crockett’s hat by placing him on her head with his tail-less arse at the front – he loved it; she also waltzed with him over her shoulder every evening after work. This cat adored her, and she him; she had gotten Alice, the Siamese, to keep him company while she was at work, and after an initial rejection he had grown to love her too, they slept in the basket with their arms around each other. Now it was time to bring them to New York.

Alice was a house cat and never went outside, if she did it was a disaster, she once went along the ridge of the London apartment building having escaped clueless through an open window, fortunately the neighbour gave her back, although she did question our ownership for a moment, originally she had cost 300 quid! But Frankie had been an outdoor cat, that’s how he was hit by the car, so Clare encouraged him to go out on the fire escape. He had a cushion there where he sat and looked out over the hood like a cat king. Delores took note of him as she pulled her wet clothes out over the Polish restaurant. This became a talking point with Clare when they met on the street, so Frankie gave us one more link to our charming octogenarian neighbours.

Sometimes months would go by without having contact with Delores and Henry, so it was never an issue if we hadn’t seen them. One day we ran into Delores as she was entering the building on her own. She looked harried and her constant smile was tainted with the gravitas of something troublesome. She held her hand to her mouth like she hoped to reverse the enormity of what had happened. We asked her how she was.

“He has been in the hospital for the last three weeks”, she shook her head in disbelief. “He almost died on me”.

“What? What’s wrong with him?”

“He had pneumonia and he was in an oxygen tent, thank God he’s on the mend now, but I really thought I was going to lose him, after sixty years living together, can you imagine? I just don’t know what I would do” Her words stood us still, it was easy to put yourself in her place, the inevitability of it, the loneliness that it conjured up drove a bolt through my imagination.

The worst was over now and she still managed to squeeze out one of her cute smiles. It seemed so strange, Henry had not shown any signs of illness at all; He appeared very strong except for a slight hesitance in his step. But this is the thing about age I suppose, younger people bounce back; later in life, it’s not so easy.

The following spring I was pleased to see Henry back in his chair outside the building watching the action on the sidewalk, bantering and joking with anyone that presented a suitable reason. He seemed a little less robust, but otherwise the same subtle charmer. The bodega on the corner found a new renter and it pleased us all to see lights and action brought back to that corner.   And then! I can’t say why – but in the same way that I don’t remember meeting Henry, I came to lose him. I thought that it could’ve been my own paranoia at first, or just a side of him that I didn’t know. After all there must have been so many parts of him that were unknown to me, he had actually never told me anything about himself, our relationship was entirely above surface, as I said, a series of guesses. I was walking up 11th Street just by Veneiros the famous Italian pastry shop – if it had been a busy street I wouldn’t mind, but there was just Henry and me. I saw him coming towards me and was already to make some kind of sociable remark designed for short encounters. He smiled as he came towards me with his slight arthritic hobble, it was beyond our usual territory, I rarely saw him outside our block.

“How’s it goin?” I smiled.

He looked right at me! Wearing that same worldly expression, one eyelid less open than the other, olive skin scrunched, that incredulous smile, I waited for his response as he came inches away, but he kept going, and to my absolute horror; said nothing at all! I felt a cold wind cross my face as I walked on completely bewildered.

Storm Story

Today New York has been hushed by a blanket of virgin snow – this beehive city is slowed to the gait of a polar bear – and we are forced to make our hyper bodies halt beneath a blanket and just wait it out. Not sure why I need to write this blog,  am I just trying to get attention? I don’t think so, I also don’t even know if have your attention, or interest. Today I looked back a bit to see why I even began to do this, and found this story “Henry and Delores (hearsay from the East Village)” People say that a blog is supposed to be short and current, off the top of your head.  But that’s not what I had in mind entirely, I wanted to tell stories, and hone in on my writing a bit.  So here, in the snow, against all bloggers wisdom, I would like to give you a little story about my neighbours Henry and Delores.  Please let me know what you think. Pierce x

“Henry and Delores (hearsay from the East Village)”

I can’t remember exactly how he and I first spoke, it just seemed like we knew each other without initiation. I could tell that he knew I was a blow-in and also that he was retired from a good job that hadn’t been too hard on his hands or body; all presumption of course. Like all the other faces that I knew in the Village, Henry had become familiar through deduction. My curiosity had taken the information gathered from a thousand small encounters and logged it in the elaboration section of my mind – so close to the fact section that some of my suppositions fell in there by mistake. Nobody would die if I was wrong and we didn’t know each other well enough to have acquaintances that could loop my thoughts back to him decorated with trouble-making embellishments. So why not build a profile based on assumptions! Unfortunately Henry may have been doing the same thing with me, and somehow, somewhere, got a piece of rogue information, that later caused some disrepair between us.

Henry and Delores lived two buildings up from me on my small block, just after the mysterious Medina shop with nothing perceptible for sale and below the Polish diner called Neptune. He had always acted like he knew me, greeting me with a lop-sided knowing smile, he seemed to find me amusing without ever having shared our history. Of our course I found this very pleasant and tried to respond in a likewise manner. I often saw his wife Delores clutching her handbag and nipping along the Avenue with an agility that belied her age, she wore stylish black slacks and three-quarter length coats to match her permed hair and headscarf; making her look like she just walked off the set of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. She too smiled like she knew and liked me. I knew she was Henry’s wife, I had seen him drive slowly up to the front of their building in a cream-coloured Cadillac, and sit there staring straight ahead, patiently being impatient as old husbands do. Eventually Delores would come out smiling, place her small weekend case in the back, and slide in on the leather seat next to her quiet man, nothing needed to be said because of the marital bluetooth between their minds. Later she explained to my wife Clare that on those occasions they were heading out to Long Island where they had moved with there kids many years ago – holding on to their old Village apartment because they still had a yearning for the East Village buzz – it kept them young and in love.

When the weather was warm Henry liked to bring a chair out to the front of his apartment building and sit there with folded arms watching the world go by. He treated the Village passers by the same way as he did me. And they often responded in a likewise manner. Bringing your chair outside is an old New York tradition that stems from the days when large families lived in crowded apartments with no T.V. to watch or air-conditioners to keep them cool, it was an extension of the apartment, a ground level balcony, so to speak. This was the world that Henry and Delores had come from, and still clung to, albeit with the forward momentum of optimists.

Henry must have known that I was a musician somehow; perhaps – unbeknownst to me – my Italian neighbours, or even my Italian landlord had spoken to him about it in passing, I suppose it’s feasible that us Irish and English blow-ins are included in the Italian network of gossip, it had never crossed my mind, I had always assumed that it was just us observing them! He certainly showed no surprise when he witnessed me wall-papering posters on the wooden partition barring up the closed Bodega on the corner. It was constantly covered in a rash of loud ugly concert posters; as soon as one row was pasted, someone else came along and covered them with theirs. Professional poster companies always seemed to have a monopoly on these closed up premises for as long as they were shut. They came around every day and replaced the ones that were covered; it was effective, and soon the punk bands playing in CBGB”s and the New Wavers from the Peppermint Lounge caught on too. Black-clad musos with spiky hair and bovver boots could be seen late at night, outlined by the yellow lamplight and glare of passing cars – trying to maintain a modicum of cool while carrying a bucket of paste and a brush with a pile of small posters – keeping a wary eye out for the cops, as they tried to gain attention on walls covered with massive music industry names.

The cops had been cracking down on the small clubs, issuing tickets to them if one of their bands had posted bills for their event, rumor had it that the mafia were involved in the bigger bill postings and they were allowed to carry on without hassle, charging handsomely for the service. I had done the midnight poster run too with the Major Thinkers, wearing the crappiest clothes I could find, my band partner Larry Kirwan watching out for the cops while I pasted. He would slap the poster on then, while I kept an eye out. The next day we looked like we had sex with an elephant, our clothes covered in hard wallpaper paste, massive swathes of white stains.

But now I was a solo artist, an older and wiser man, I knew it was a mugs game, there were so many posters all on top of each other, it was impossible to stand out.

Henry sat outside on the edge of the pavement looking inward for a change, perhaps to look at me. What I was doing certainly was different. I had a gig coming up in my friends restaurant/bar called The Pharmacy over on Ninth Street and Avenue A. They used white paper to cover their tables instead of tablecloths, they simply threw the old one out and replaced it with a new one torn from the giant roll in the Kitchen. I asked Jan, one of the owners, for six big sheets off the roller, and took them over to the closed Bodega on my corner. I borrowed a stepladder as well and with bucket and paste I covered the busy obnoxious bills with white paper, creating a visual silence that was beguiling by comparison. An auxiliary policeman came along scratching his head (they tend to be clueless).

“So what’s going on here?”

“Oh I am just covering up this horrible eye sore.”

He stood back and lifted the front of his hat to appraise the job.

“Oh really I see, huh” and off he went.

I then took three of my 12” x 18” black and white posters with the date written on them and put them in the middle of the huge white space. I had a hunch that if I did this, it would stick out, and that no one would want to cover it up. I climbed down off the ladder and stepped back to admire my work, Henry – who was out later than usual sitting in the changing evening light

“Is that it?”

“Yep” I giggled

He leaned back on the rear legs of his chair and nodded with finality.

Part 1 of 3

David Bowie in Union Square

Bowie sing song in New York

There was a sing song of Bowie’s songs in Union Square on Friday night – a young attractive crowd seemed to know every word.

David Bowie is dead, and New York is reeling. Bowie’s effect on the city was similar to that of the writer-performer Quentin Crisp – another transported Englishman of note – but seeing Quentin Crisp wasn’t such a huge conversation piece, a Bowie sighting was reported with wide-eyed glee and hugeness. It was akin to saying you just saw President Obama on St Mark’s Place eating a slice of pizza. Descriptions flew around with abandon: “he was very old looking” “he had a big hat, and looked frail but smiled sweetly” “he sat quietly at the end of the bar and nursed a pint of Guinness while he stared into thin air”.

“There was a big kerfuffle by the small round table at the door, the waiters fussed and everyone stared towards the light that came sneaking in past the curtain when he and his entourage entered” – this is how my friend Lori described Bowie’s attendance at one of my gigs in Joe’s Pub over on Lafayette Street, not too far from where he lived (we now know) on one winter’s Saturday night. Apparently there was a little too much fuss – or it was too crowded – or he didn’t like the music – but they left after a few songs. This was my second brush with the great man, and in both cases he slipped in and left, leaving nothing but a story for me to pick at in search of more-ness.

The first time was a long time ago when Larry Kirwan and I had a band called Turner and Kirwan of Wexford, he being the K and I being the other. We had been trying to get a gig for ages at a hip club uptown called Hurrah. It was a very cool venue, one of THE venues in Manhattan for new wave music at the time. The snobby booker wouldn’t entertain our advances for a second, in spite of our reasonably high profile (the top station in the City W.N.E.W FM was playing our self-produced album to death). But eventually he grudgingly complied, giving us the worst day in the week, Tuesday!

We had a loyal following, and 150 of them turned up that night regardless of the inconvenience (youth is a great leveler) – however in a club that held 800 or so that didn’t look like a lot of people. It was shaped almost like an old fashioned ballroom, and our loyal friends sat around by the walls on the cinema style chairs, I have never known a groupie-like audience that would stand up front and stare.

We were a two-piece band – Larry played bass drum and guitar while singing, and I played high hat, clavinet and mini moog while singing. We were loud (one person complained in Boston’s Inman’s Square Lounge, that we were “louder than a Boeing jet for Christ’s sake” I told him to fuck off and check out James Taylor who was playing down the road) – while we were hammering away in Hurrah that night, someone shouted up ‘Suffragette City” and we joked that David wasn’t here tonight. When we came off the stage, the snobby booker was standing there with two glasses of brandy in his hand and wearing a shit-eating grin: “Well David was here tonight, and he bought you these brandies, said to say he loved it, and was sorry he had to leave”. We had turned from the ugly ducklings into two swans – at the time Bowie was massive and, as usual, cooler than Antarctica. The joy that he gave us that night was immeasurable, and I believe that he knew the effect those brandies would have on that ‘too cool for his own t-shirt’ booker.

Today, as I was walking home from the gym I saw a Bowie poster crudely taped outside a Chinese restaurant. It had a black star at the top of it and under Bowie’s photo it said “New Album Out Now” someone had scribbled on it R.I.P. I tore it off the wall and took it home.

There was something eternally youthful about Bowie, even now that he’s dead, he seems young. Are you as shocked as me, to think of him lying lifeless?

1916 Down Rising..and then Up

Pierr A pic small1916 Down rising, and then up Rise (photo of Pier A that night)

The black waves are crashing against the jetty, far off and silent. I’m reminded of my childhood when we lived on the quay opposite the New Bridge in Wexford. Ferocious nights when the wind spat the wooden works up like matchsticks, and all that lay between us was a couple of curtains and a single glaze window. It was a melancholy meditation for my teenage wonderment, what was this feeling of dark mystery that came with the wind and rain from out there where the fish and birds felt at home? With the curtain resting on his head, Sputnik would stare out there with me, he seemed to wonder too, and we were at one, Sputnik the dog, me, and the whole out there. All the loneliness of love and forever came to dwell in my empty mind, and a feeling of homesickness in the hearth of home itself.

Now I am not there anymore, now I am an American, now I am in a fancy new place called Pier A, staring out at the Statue of Liberty with my wife Clare by my side. It is the launch of the Irish American Anniversary celebration for the 1916 Rising. There are hundreds of people here, mostly mature, well-heeled Irish or Irish-Americans. A band plays Irish trad tunes to accompany the nervous chatter of small talk, the booze is free and fine appetizers are proffered plentiful by attractive maids and men. I can see that Clare is exuberant and I want to be too, but I am looking out the window at the yellow lighted Staten Island ferries criss–crossing, and the coal black waves chewing at the small wooden boardwalk where I imagine summer libations are served. Clare is trying to shake me out of it, and I want to, but I can’t. God I’m a miserable sod, I can’t look back into the crowd; I have to stare out at the starkness. I am ready to scream, what the hell am I doing here? I don’t know anyone; they don’t even seem to know each other, what is the point? 1916! That was so long ago, and as much as I admire those people that died for Ireland, I can’t feel anything for them now. Isn’t this just another piece of bollox where people are hustling to make a few bob out of history.

The ceremony begins, Barbara Jones the Irish Consul makes a genuine plea for silence as she introduces a lady who will sing the Anthems. The first strains of the Irish National Anthem stir me to attention, this woman sings her heart out, some people join in, I do too, the air in the room begins to change, I find myself looking into the room instead of out. She turns to the musicians for a note and launches into The Star Spangled Banner, it’s high, really high, I know what a mother of a song this is to sing, and she’s started really high. But she seems unperturbed, I trust that she would know if she was in trouble, people begin to join in, the band plays support, she goes for the end “the land of the freeeeeee” and I swear she won’t make it, but she does, she nails it with a very lilting Irish traditional, slightly nasal vibrato, but from the chest, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, I look around the room and realise,

I’m here!

Happy New Year means nothing? Try this

So my dear ones, if I say Happy New Year, will that have any effect on you really? Probably not.  Why? Maybe because it will not actually affect your coming year.  All I can really affect is this moment here and now, because you are reading this I presume. Here is a meditation that you can practice anywhere, I learned it at the School of Practical Philosophy last year.  You can even do it on the Subway/ Tube/ Dart/ Underground/ Luas ( all the different modes of hustling to work).
Seated upright with both feet firmly on the ground, close your eyes and listen as far to the left and right as you can until you reach the limit, imagine crossing the land, the rivers and the mountains, the planet, even up into the galaxies if you can, suspend yourself there for a little while and think of absolutely nothing else, then slowly bring your thoughts back in again to where you sit, feel the air on your skin, feel each part of your body starting from your feet upwards, open your eyes and see where you are – you will see everything around you more vividly now, you will be present.  Stay that way as long as you can, don’t think, just feel. As I say in one of my new songs Heal  “leave yourself and you will heal.” So much of our pain comes from the past and the future, we are very seldom in the present nowadays, but we can only get to where we need through the present.  This is my New Years PRESENT to you. Thank you so much for your support this year. Look after each now, and the year will be great.

Who?

Outside my window down below on First Avenue – the buses squeal to a halt, the cars whoosh past, children scream, sirens Nee-Naw on the way to Beth Israel Hospital just up the road, a lot of noise! Noise that mostly goes unnoticed. Then in the middle of it I heard a guy say loudly “Mother Fucker!” It had a slightly lilting blandness to it, not too loud, but definitely annoyed or disturbed; it made no impact at first, then he said it again in the exact same way, he continued to do it for the whole day, with long spaces in between 10, 15 minutes apart, sometimes much longer. After about six of those he throws in another phrase “I tried to do something about it!” or “I’m doin my best.” Clare has even noticed him, and she’s at work all day. It’s been going on for a few days now, l just heard him again, he’s up early, it’s 8.30 a.m.

“Mother Fucker!”

I went over to the window, I can hear he’s directly below me, I squish my face up against the window and try to look down (not easy). I get on top of the sofa and almost break my nose pushing against the glass trying to see who’s down there. I see an old man at the bus stop, tall and unhappy, but normal enough.

“Is that him?”

I wait for the next mother fucker it should be due any second now …… watching the man like a hawk, no outbursts. I give up, jump down on the carpet, as I’m heading towards the kitchen for a cup of tea I hear in that same despondent monotone;

“Mother Fucker”

Christmas is Here

The Turners on Davitt Road with Santa

The Turners on Davitt Road with Santa

Pierce Turner photo of santa on 14th street 2015

Pierce Turner photo of Santa on 14th street 2015

I still miss Santa

Christmas is here! It’s not coming … it’s here. I have felt it, but still wasn’t aware of its approach.

On Thanksgiving we went to my wife Clare’s cousin in Philadelphia, and while we stood in line in the overland train station, we were subject to a long litany of mournful, maudlin Christmas songs by Bing Crosby and a familiar female voice from the same school of motoring. It affected the colour of the station, seemed to turn the lights down to a dusky pale and sickly fluorescent. I felt like a refugee that was being deported as we stood silently in a line of other refugees, I wanted to run out of the station, but couldn’t because we needed a ticket. I looked at a man in his late 50’s with long grey-brown hair draped behind his ears and reading glasses descending his pointed nose working behind one of the windows, and was overcome with imaginative pity for him. “I feel trapped?  Imagine how he feels? I will have my ticket in five or ten minutes and be out of here, he spends eight hours a day listening to this piped funeral music” Even the song “White Christmas” would sound cheerful in the middle of this lot. “Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day” “Oh Mammy, come back and get me, I am so incurably homesick” Who is this for? Nobody seems to be listening; is it a mandatory order that all public places have to play this music?

Anyway …. I am attaching two Christmas photos for you because it is Christmas! One I took last week over on 14th Street and First Avenue, and one old one of my family with Santa on a visit at our Davitt Road fireman’s bungalow in Wexford Town, I’m the little chubby fella sitting on his lap. I was probably about three and a half, judging by my oldest sister Delores, she looks about fourteen and she is twelve years older than me. Apparently I insisted that this Santa was our next-door neighbour Richard Crosby. I do remember thinking that his beard looked fake, and saw real brown eyes, nose and forehead beneath it, so he couldn’t be real, had to be one of the neighbours. I’m sure he and the photographer, knocking on doors, house to house, trying to make a few bob for Christmas, were delighted with me.

When I was seven, Santa brought me a fire engine for Christmas, a beautiful red one, with a silver bell on the front. I could sit in it and pedal up and down the street. I thought I would explode with excitement when I saw it standing in the middle of the sitting room with the Christmas tree twinkling behind it. A blazing coal fire added to my facial heat, and I went red from head to toe. I drove it out to the hallway and back, while everyone oohed and awed. My parents must have had a few bob that year, considering I’m the youngest of six, it was a pretty fancy present.

The following year I was more excited than I had been the previous – “what could they come up with this time?” I started to rev up for it around October. Speculating all the possibilities with my friends on the street, they had been as astonished as me at the fire engine; some of them had gone in it and hated getting out.

Christmas Eve I could hardly sleep. My mother gave me a cup of hot milk with white pepper in it to calm me down. I fell asleep in no time. The following morning I woke up to find a red and golden crocheted stocking push-pinned to the end of my bed. It had my name written on a tiny Santa card, so I knew that it was from Santa. I tore the stocking down and reached my hand inside of what seemed like a not too stuffed stocking. There were two things in there, a crunchy bar and a Hohner Harmonica.

“Is that it? ……… This can’t be it!”

I doubt very much that my disappointment was not vented.

I never did get another present from Santa that matched up to the fire engine, and it wasn’t for the want of trying, apparently I believed in him as long as I could, some say I was fourteen. I really think they’re exaggerating, I mean, I was listening to Velvet Underground when I was fifteen; I got that album from ?? …Sant….oh oh!

So Happy Christmas everyone. The album is done and I can’t wait for you to hear it. I am so grateful to those of you who pledged and allowed me to make it. Over 190 people pledged and I know many more of you will buy it, but just didn’t get around to pledging. I plan to make an audio clip with short segments of the songs so that you can hear it. If you like it, maybe I can convince you to mail order it in advance so that we can move everything at a quicker pace than usual and avoid Amazon or iTunes and others taking a big cut off the top. I’ll post details soon of how that will happen.

Love to all Pierce xx

Are You a Success?

Red Grooms painting

Is being the best all there is? And if so, being the best at what? Being the best at winning whatever game it is that you play? Or being the best at living? If you are Novak Djokovic and you are the best at tennis, you will be rewarded with trophies, worldwide recognition of your genius, and material rewards that will make you the envy of humanity, is that what we mean? But what if you are the vicar or the priest that gives the best sermons in your parish? Isn’t that the best too? Or a carpenter, a midwife, or teacher or a parent?

But how about being the best at staying carefree and alive for a long time, isn’t that a success? The best at being loved, or at loving? The best at appreciating life and living itself? No medals for that, just happiness and a contented soul. Could we be happy with that? It takes real wisdom to look at a contented pauper and say that’s a success story. Yet we constantly look at rich or famous people who are miserable, and call them a success. Of course fame or wealth doesn’t have to mean unhappiness any more than anonymity or poverty means happiness. Neither one of them is the root of genuine happiness. So what is?

Why are some rich people happy and some miserable? And poor people the same. Shouldn’t we remember the meaning of the word ‘success’- accomplishment, triumph, victory, realisation, attainment and achievement. Stuff that we all do every day. Congratulations, you are already a success.

Do you think you can feel successful without fame or fortune?

Brooklyn

Turner and Kirwan of Wexford in Brooklyn

Turner and Kirwan of Wexford in Brooklyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So have you seen that movie yet?”

“Which one?”

“The one with all the terrific Irish brogues in it, Brooklyn”

“No, but I’m planning to go, some of it was shot in my home town, I’ve seen the ads and they show a scene with the beach where I swim.”

I am on the bike in the gym again, Forrest and I are shouting across a man pushing 200 pounds of barbell.

“Have you been to the Tal-bet Hotel?”

I have seen this man on the bike next to me many times at the gym and he’s always kept himself to himself, but now he was removing his ear buds and asking me about a Wexford hotel. At first I didn’t recognize what he was saying, but once my translator kicked in I realized he was talking about the Talbot Hotel on the Quay, a place where I attended many family weddings and reunions as a kid, and where I have performed on several occasions as an adult. It was always the fanciest hotel in town, with really fancy food and snappy service, as a kid I was particularly impressed with the soup and the bread rolls. Every major employer had an annual reunion for which you would buy a classy ticket with embossed print and curved corners, for twenty one shillings. They were almost always at the Talbot. Starched white tablecloths and napkins, long tables laid out wedding- style with more silverware than you could comprehend and, most astoundingly (even for a 12 year old), glasses were filled with complimentary cigarettes at regular intervals along the tables. After the meal a live band played – I danced with my mother.

“Yes of course I have, is that in the movie?”

“I can’t recall, but it’s in the book.”

This man has always caught my imagination; he is very scholarly looking, with a neck that appears to be stiff from many years of bearing down on a typewriter. I had decided that he might be a retired journalist, a truthful person of character. He has scholarly grey hair draped behind his ears, and horn rimmed spectacles, I may have assumed his occupation because he looks like another Irish American friend who worked for Newsday as an editor-in-chief, or maybe it was because he carried the weight of that kind of character in his earnestness. I was pleased that he was now talking to me. I miss my friend who worked for Newsday, he died about fifteen years ago from prostate cancer. I was too young to know him as a peer, but he was always decent and kind of parental. I somehow miss him and his kind. It was warming to talk to someone of his ilk.

“What did you think of the book?”

“I enjoyed it”

“How do you rate Colm Toibin as a writer?” 

He stumbled for a while, not wanting to be inaccurate in his assessment.

“I don’t know if he’s as great as one of the iconic giants”, finally he blurted out. “He’s not James Joyce!”

I was tempted to say that I didn’t think anyone was, but left it to swim in its own ambiguity instead.

It’s become topical to be Irish again, in the Village. It got worn out there for a while; no-one seemed to care much about the oul accent. But “Brooklyn” seems to have reawakened the old romanticism of the brogue. In the ads on the telly they show Curracloe Beach, a seven mile stretch of fine golden sand where I have always swam. It’s also the beach that inspired my song “Orange Coloured Sun”.

“Brooklyn” has dug up a lot of buried Irish memories. Being a Wexfordian has always been in the minority amongst Irish Americans, most of their ancestors came from the West of Ireland. But Wexford, in the “sunny south east”, is where the Irish themselves go on vacation. Now because of Colm’s story, maybe visitors will go see why. I have always loved Brooklyn, it’s the first place that I lived when I came here, some of my most valued friends come from there. Now it seems I’m married to it again.

Have you seen Brooklyn? What did you think of it. Just wondering.