An Irish Story About a Woman and the Rain

An Irish Story About a Woman and the Rain

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.

Critics.

Institutional types.

Collectors.

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.

Advertisements
Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 1:23 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

The Radio SwanI never think much about my Irishness.   My parents were not the “kiss me I’m Irish” types, though they were both very proud of their immigrant grandparents, and from them learned of the ugly anti-Irish sentiments when they first got off the boat.  In the 1850s and ’60s, New York, Ellis Island and Irish men were, more often than not, conscripted immediately into the Union Infantry, where they became mostly cannon fodder.  My father made it clear to me that we were Americans–before anything else.

When people would remark to my father about being Irish, he would pointedly tell them he was an American.   My father’s cultural identity was thoroughly about this country; the one his ancestors fought so hard to get to.   He was a WWII vet who invaded Okinawa.   On days like this, I think of my father’s continuing sacrifices in this life; for family, for country.   He was always serving some purpose besides his own, he and my mother.

It has been twelve years since my dad died and his ghosts, fear and sense of duty, still have an active purchase on my own psyche.

Recently, HBO started  re-broadcasting its new series, “The Pacific.”

I watched the first episode of “The Pacific” with some trepidation.  My dad never discussed the war with me until the very end of his life, and even then, not in great detail.   Suffice to say it had a lasting effect on him.   Every time a flashbulb went off, every time a car backfired, every time there were sudden bursts of light, I think my father revisited that dinky, ashen island full of heat, dirt, flies and death.

I take every opportunity to tell my kids of my father’s service to his country; that 60 years ago he and three million other 19-year olds saved the world.  I remind them that their Irish great-great-grandmother made passage here when Abraham Lincoln was still president.  I tell them that the Irish use language better than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of Latin writers–that’s a tie.

The swans are like beautiful black veils of death for me.

My father and I had a complicated relationship; I put many gray hairs on his head.  I got in an immense amount of trouble; the only one of my siblings to do so.  We fought each other with words and fists.  His love could be brutal.  I rejected the Catholic faith that he and my mother held dear.  I hated school and authority, and thought my teachers were mostly dipshits (with a few exceptions, I wasn’t wrong).  I only wanted to draw pictures and be left the fuck alone. The world my father represented didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and in a lot of ways, still doesn’t.

My father and I often battled at the dinner table.  He would tell me that at my age he was off fighting a war and I didn’t know a goddamn thing about the world.  My father invaded Okinawa in WWII; a bloody, bestial engagement in which Americans took the islands inch-by-bloody-inch in some of the ugliest warfare ever engaged.  I never knew.  My father did not discuss the war other than to say I had no idea.  He was right.

The day my father’s ship, The U.S.S. Noble, approached Okinawa, he saw a number of black swans lolling on the bloody water off  Okinawa, like black death flowers, rising and falling, tidally, on the waves.  He remembered this is when he started to be afraid.

At the end of my dad’s life, when he was in hospice, I would visit him every day and try to have conversations.  It was difficult given that he was on a morphine drip.  He would often tell me there was a Japanese soldier in the hallway.  I thought maybe my father was mistaking one of the doctors for the soldier, but he said no.  He kept insisting there was a Japanese soldier lurking in the hall.  I asked him why he thought he was out there and my father replied, “To forgive me.”

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The Radio Swan

The Radio SwanToday is St. Patrick’s Day.

I never think much about my Irishness.  My parents were not the “kiss me I’m Irish” types, though they were both very proud of their immigrant grandparents, and from them learned of the ugly anti-Irish sentiments when they first got off the boat.  In the 1850s and ’60s New York–Ellis Island–and Irish men were, more often than not, conscripted immediately into the Union Infantry, where they became mostly cannon fodder.

When people would remark to my father about being Irish, he would pointedly tell them he was an American.  My father’s cultural identity was thoroughly middle-American.  He was a WWII vet who invaded Okinawa.  On days like this, I think of my father’s continuing sacrifices in this life; for family, for country.  He was always serving some purpose besides his own, he and my mother.

The minute I draw an ace of spades, the piece becomes immediately about him.  It has been twelve years since my dad died and his ghosts, fear and sense of duty, still have an active purchase on my own psyche.

HBO started broadcasting its new series, “The Pacific,” this weekend.  While driving back from Austin, Texas, I and my corner-man, Stosh made it a point to stop at a Hampton Inn, which always has HBO, to watch the first show.  Hampton Inns are a little better than most of the road hotels and you pay a little more but it’s worth it.  One night, twenty-two years ago, I woke up in a Red-Roof Inn to find a guy pissing on my bed.  The door was wide open and this guy was for-real sleep-walking or, in my case, sleep-pissing.  One swat in the head and he woke up demanding to know why I was in his room.  Eventually it got straightened out and the guy was, to say the least, penitent.

I watched the first episode of “The Pacific” with some trepidation.  My dad never discussed the War with me until the very end of his life, and even then not in great detail.  Suffice to say it had a lasting effect on him.  Every time a flashbulb went off, every time a car backfired, every time there were sudden bursts of light, I think my father revisited that dinky, ashen island full of heat, dirt, flies and death.

I take every opportunity to tell my kids of my father’s service to his country; that 60 years ago he and three million other 19-year olds saved the world.  I remind them that their Irish great-great-grandmother made passage here when Abraham Lincoln was still President.  I tell them that the Irish use language better than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of Latin writers–that’s a tie.

I came back from Austin sick as a dog. . . Z-pack, liquids, green tea, and a couple of days off. . . I just worked enough to finish this one.  The swans are like beautiful and fatal ghosts of death for me, black flowers floating on an icy and mortal sea.

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Hudson King

Hudson King

There was no shortage of hobos in New York City during The Depression.  Along the Hudson River, there were were hobo jungles almost the full length of Manhattan.  These were some of the nation’s most dangerous camps, though not just because of hobos.  The waterfront harbored any number of criminal enterprises, of which hobos were the least menacing.  In Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, the template for the Scorsese film, but far better and more historically accurate, he describes gangs, hobos and off-the-boat Irish, being conscripted to the Union Army before their legs had even adjusted to dry land.  The resentment of the Irish at being sent to war to “ostensibly” free the slaves, iginited a racial hatred so virulent it gave way to the “Draft Riots,” where drunken Irish idiots lynched Blacks all over New York City.  It is a shameful chapter in the Irish-American story.

The first hobos were  byproduct of The Civil War.  At the war’s bloody end, an estimated 300,000 men were without work and took to the rails and boats to find jobs to feed themselves.  We often think of “migrant workers” as Mexican or Latin Americans when, in fact, most of our ancestors were migrant workers, coming by boat or train, and even on foot, to find more opportunity.

A movie I saw recently (and was in) kind of summed this up.  In Steven Conrad’s wonderful, The Promotion, an eager-beaver assistant store manager, played by Sean William Scott, and a Canadian goofball, played by John C. Reilly, are competeing for the same job as manager of a new grocery store.  They undercut and connive in order to best one another for the postion.  At one point, they are sitting together, somewhat contrite over the lengths they went to in order to get this job, and Reilly looks at his co-worker and says, “We’re all just out here, trying to get some food.”   It’s that simple. . .and it’s that complicated.  What we will do in order to keep eating isn not always our better selves. It is a lesson so old, it feels new.  In this economy, we hear the echoes of hungry people from The Civil War, The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl.  Of course, we are not enduring anything like these events, but we are seeing hungry people in our cities and towns.  And in America, this is shameful.

%d bloggers like this: