Irish women are their own mystery.
They are storms, joyful dances and furious pride.
There is nothing more proud than an Irish mother. Trust me. I have one.
When I got my first good notices as a young artist, my mother had them laminated. When the biddies would come by for tea she would push them across the table and non-nonchalantly mention, “My Tony. . .in the New York Times.” The other women would remind her that they’d seen this article at least 50 times. She would look at them across the finger sandwiches and sternly assure them that the 51st time would be no less joyful.
I have five Irish sisters who all have something to say about a thing or two. One is never not sure of where my sisters stand on any issue.
It sounds harsh to say, but Irish women have always had to be tougher than their men. Irish men are prone to drink, poetry, politics, whimsy and foolishness. They are wild spirits tethered to reason by the thinnest of kite strings. And oh, what we do to our women.
We act like fools at Pogues concerts, bet on games of chance and are convinced of our ability to charm our way out of anything. This, of course, is the fault of Irish women, who find us this charming.
It is probably from being trapped on a slimy rock full of drunks for so many centuries; they just got used to us. Something about the red-faced, white-haired, cherubic little pukes just made them happy.
The first time I met my wife, I thought she was Spanish. She has olive skin, huge brown eyes and dark hair. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Still is.
I walked up to her at my newly opened art gallery and said, “What’s your name, baby?”
She said, “Are you talking to me? Because I don’t recall being your ‘baby.’ My name is Michele Garrahy.”
Irish broad. First order of business: Put Art-Boy in his place.
She actually had a boyfriend at the time, a hipster puke with asshole-glasses, who I kept calling, “Seth,” which wasn’t his name.
She wasn’t amused.
My charms had a ways to go as far as working any kind of mojo on Michele. Eventually, we started working together and became close friends. I was at a scary point in my career where it was either make your reputation in earnest. . .or go the fuck home.
Chicago, back then, had a murderous kind of caste-system for artists. Dealers ran everything. This was before the internet and they pretty much had you by the balls. They had an astonishing amount of discretionary power over an artist’s career and, with few exceptions here, it was a power they abused more often than not. It wasn’t only them.
They all had a lot more power in the economic makeup of the art world than artists did. It was a hard world to navigate back then. If you wanted to succeed, you had to buy into their system at a tariff of 50 percent of your living.
That’s right–50 percent. Picture yourself sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a meal and the guy next to you eats half of it.
The most pernicious conceit in ceding credence to this system is the idea that their effort in selling our work is equal to our effort in making it. Fuck you. I’ll never accept this idea.
I have all kinds of agents. My theater guy gets ten percent. My literary person, about 20 percent. My TV and movie agents, 15 percent. And I think of all of these arrangements as equitable. The 50% thing; I could never get used to and eventually just refused to pay it.
Michele was the one who emboldened me to do this. She told me she’d wait tables if I couldn’t make a living, and believe me, some of my dealers tried mightily to blackball me out of this racket.
Some years ago, we went to Ireland to perform a piece I’d written for Steppenwolf, called Galway. It was musical and full of the Celtic magic I’d heard my grandmother and great-grandmother talk about. I saw a lot of troubling behavior with alcohol. Women, early in the evening, shagging their drunken men out of pubs, giving them an earful about presenting a dignified figure for their children.
In an odd way it reminded me of my wife telling me not to be afraid of the career I’d chosen; to find the joy in it, and let no one interfere with this.
She made me brave.
When I didn’t have enough courage of my own. . .she lent me hers. This is what love is.
This one is for her.