Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The App-ostolic Church

It's Sunday morning. Manhattanites are putting on their best, grabbing the children and heading for a place of worship.

That's right kiddies, it's time to go to the Apple Store. Broadway and 68th. The word "pristine" was invented for this place. It might even be called the "Pristine Chapel". Plenty of glass, none of it stained. 

Centrepiece, not a cross, but a glorious white apple with a chunk taken out. - Subliminal messages about the garden of Eden, but not a serpent or a nude person anywhere in sight. This is paradise, with roundy ball seats to sit down on.

Once inside, you're greeted by an acolyte in blue. "Hi, have you got questions?" And you almost feel like responding, "who made the world?" but you know the reply, delivered with unshakeable certainty, will be "Steve Jobs".

Below stairs, that's where all the serious stuff is taken care of. Quiet conversations about IOS (a technological variation on IHS) and meaningful exchanges about your iLife. 

There are no tills, no visible signs of money being spirited away. It's a silent collection in digital form, ones and zeros leaving your bank account and quietly flapping their way to Cupertino, Apple HQ.

"Hi, have you got questions?"
"Yeah, how do I get out of here?"
The acolyte nods towards the glass stairway to heaven. You see the souls with their pristine (again) purchases ascending, and you join them.

And it's like a rapture, but with merchandise.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Flowers of Evil

Broadway and 76th street


When sunflowers turn into moonflowers, and go hunting in packs. Bad seeds. You'll find them hanging around outside 24 hr. delis and bodegas. Their heads turn as you pass. Walk quickly, lest you be dragged in and lost in their midst - Like Jimmy Hoffa.

The Store That Sells Everything

Hoboken, July 2012

"Inflatable Earth globe?"

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Death Warmed-Up

The Malibu Diner, Hoboken

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Future Sucks

9th Avenue

The psychic reading goes something like this...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Think Inside The Box

Starbucks, 8th Avenue

When he advertises it for sale, he can say "Never taken out of box..."

You see people doing strange things in New York, all the time. There used to be a guy in the East Village who caught pigeons with a fishing net and then concealed them inside his enormous cooing overcoat. Then there was the man dressed in tinfoil who carried the placard, "THEY will not kill ME with their RADIO waves". 

It's Sunday morning. The sun is shining. Starbucks is packed with wi-fi users, hopping on and off the information super-highway. Invisible beams of information, zooming all around us, reaching inside us, re-arranging the microscopic electrical tendrils in our brains. Where did I put that tinfoil suit?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Back In The Westway Diner

Westway Diner, 9th Ave

I don't like flying.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Tribute To The Boss

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Competition: In search of the next Myles

Curl .

By Barry McKinley

THESE DAYS they call it bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE for short, but back in the old days, we called it “character”, and a cow without character was rarely invited into the house.
The farm I grew up on was full of mad cows, but we never called them that. To us they were “fun cows”, always full of hi-jinks and playful pranks. My own particular favourite was a sweet Jersey known as Curl.

She was the life and soul of the milking parlour. I remember, she had this little routine she used to do with my father. He would open The Irish Times at the financial page, and Curl would study the numbers; after thoughtful consideration, she would moo enthusiastically. Father always said the same thing.

“Well. It looks like Curl is predicting a bull market again.”

Indeed, father, stand up comedy’s loss was farming’s gain.

Living as we did in a remote part of Co Carlow, we had to supply our own entertainment. We did this in the form of musical sketches and impromptu theatrical pieces from the great masters.
Curl often showed up with a few other members of the herd, Daisy and Mabel and Ingrid and Maggie. Sometimes, especially during the more emotional scenes in A Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler, they would muscle their way onto the improvised stage (My brother Jarlath once remarked, “Cows love Ibsen because there’s loads of parts for women”).
Their acting brought tears to our eyes, with standing ovations all round. Some nights I was so moved, I didn’t even mind hosing off the stage after curtain.

In the spring of 1975, things were bad in Ireland. Late one night, when I was fast asleep, Curl was taken away in the back of a truck, never to be seen again.
I sobbed for all the following day, and then I did what all Irishmen do when confronted with the loss of a sacred cow: I wrote a ballad. I put it in an envelope and I mailed it to a man I knew would understand: Bruce Springsteen. You’ll often hear it on the radio; it goes something like this:

“I’m in love with a Jersey, Curl . . .

Singin’ Sha la la la la la la

Sha la la la la la la la la

Sha la la la la la la” 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When the strand is full... feel free to use the car park

Dingle peninsula, Kerry

There are very few simple pleasures left in Ireland,

but driving your car onto a beach in Kerry and looking at Mt. Brandon is one of them. There's something about a windscreen that magnifies the natural beauty. 

Lining up the arc of Fermoyle strand between the slant of the wipers. Listening to Joe Duffy as he forces a world of misfortune out through your stereo speakers... What could be finer?

The beach is also a grand place to teach you six-year old how to drive. Just ask the man in the black SUV as he blithely rolls over sandcastles. - It's always the same; there's never a tsunami around when you need one.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Shuman Experience - Flash science-fiction

It took a little while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness in the barn...

"I can't see anything," I said.
"Look into the pen," said mother.
I looked into the pen and was shocked, profoundly shocked. There, surrounded by straw and peering up through the dim light, was a creature the likes of which I had never seen before: It had soft rounded features, an aquiline nose and a puckish set of pinkish lips. The body however was in complete disharmony with the face. It was coated with a thick, woolly fleece. I reeled backwards and stuttered:
“Yes,” said mother, nodding excitedly, willing me to finish the sentence.
"It's... part sheep, part human!”
“Yes!!” Said mother victoriously, it’s a Shuman”.

I sat down on an upturned bucket and tried to get my breath back.
I told her it was a freak of nature, stitched together from two disparate species. I said it was a Frankensheep.
"Are you trying to hurt his feelings?”

She got down beside the animal and stroked his curls. “I think he’s special”
"Of course he's special," I snorted, "he's a sheep with freckles. What I want to know is where did he come from?"
"Who knows,” said mother, "The Agricultural Research Institute is just down the road. Maybe he strayed.”

I could immediately sense where this was going.
"You're not keeping him." I said.
Mother popped open a can of Pringles and fed one to the beast. He seemed to enjoy it.
"I was thinking of bringing him into the house tonight… Maybe upstairs"
"I'm not sharing my room with that thing." I said.
"Ah, sharing," said mother, and it became immediately apparent that this far off concept had never entered her mind. "You used to love spending time in the attic when you were a little boy". She said, sliding more Pringles into the hungry mouth.
"You can't do this", I said.
"Hmm. I think if you check the 'United Nations Treaty On Conditions That Apply To Sons Who Return Home Ignominiously And Spend Eight Months Unemployed' you'll find that paragraph 7a makes reference to a cot bed in the attic"

"I'm not unemployed", I protested, "I'm just trying to find my place in this society"
"Well, that place right now is wedged between the chimney breast and aunt Gertie’s travelling trunk, which may or may not contain the skeleton of your uncle Oscar. Don't go messing with the padlock is my advice - I had your father bring up a flashlight, some comics and your Farah Fawcett poster. I'll bait a couple of mouse traps and you can take them up with you this evening".

Two nights later I was flicking through the dusty pages of an old Dandy when there was a knock on the attic trapdoor. It was mother.
"Ari wants to have a word with you". She said.
"And who might ‘Ari’ be"?
"Oh, that's what we're calling him, you know, after the Agricultural Research Institute. A-R-I. it has a ring to it, don't you think - Ari Shuman!"
I slapped my forehead and groaned. "You want me to come down and talk to a sheep?
"I want you to come down and listen to him," she said, rather indignantly.

Amazed by the absurdity of this request and also in need of a little fresh air, I followed her down the rickety ladder and into what was once my accommodation. There, reclining on the middle of my Odearest Posture-Spring was 'Ari', surrounded by pages from one of my more recent stage plays. I was horrified. I started snatching up the pages and clutching them close to my chest.
"You're giving him my work for bedding?"
"Don't be ridiculous, he's been reading it. Now, listen to his opinions. I'm off to Stingo"
"Uh-huh", said mother, lighting a five inch menthol cigarette, "it's a combination of strip poker and bingo. Last one nude is the winner. We play it in the parish hall: "One and two, kick off that shoe; all the fours, drop those drawers".
She exited smartly and left me alone with the creature.

We regarded each other for a while. I was the one who broke the silence with a measure of biting sarcasm.
''I believe you have some observations about style and content?” I said.
Needless to say, I was startled when the sheep replied:
"I think we should start with structure", he said in a cool, almost refined tone of voice.
I reeled back against the door. "E-e-excuse me,” I stuttered".
"Yes", he continued, "What you need is more contrast, more conflict. Your work is presently a large un-differentiated verbal soup where occasional good ideas float about like lost croutons"
"I'm not taking this from a throw-rug with attitude," I said, and then I marched out the door.

When mother arrived home that night I confronted her.
"How can you look so happy?"
"Well, I just won twenty Euros at Stingo. It was a close call. Mary Maguire nearly bipped me when we were down to a stocking apiece. It’s a good job the corset comes in a pair of detachable sections”.
"If that creature in my bedroom is so damn smart," I blustered, "why doesn't he take up the pen himself?"
"No opposable thumbs," replied mother, "however, I have been taking dictation from him and we have submitted a number of scripts."
I laughed heartily at the very idea.
"Just wait and see what happens," she said, slipping into my old room with two tins of Pringles and a copy of the Farmer's Journal.

A week passed before the letters from theatres started to arrive. And they were unanimous: The sheep was a genius, a woolly, wordy, wonder. - I fumed as mother, in the company of Ari, read aloud the acceptance letter from Ireland's premier theatrical establishment:

'Dear Ari
We are very excited by your work. It is extremely rare to come across such a rich cornucopia of Irish rural metaphors, mixed with mordant Yiddish humour…"

I was outraged as I turned and glared at Ari.
"They think you're Jewish". I snorted.
Ari just shrugged, twirled one of his curls and said, "Oy vey".

The next week was very hard for me as one glowing letter of acceptance after another popped in through the letterbox (we won't even talk about the bursary from the Arts Council and the honorary doctorate from Trinity College). I slumped into depression and was not helped in the least when my father announced, "I'm delighted we finally have a real writer in the house - It’s only a pity he didn't show up a few years ago, when they were giving out the lamb subsidies”.

I was at the very depths of nothingness when things quite unexpectedly started to change. During a visit to the local post office I noticed a 'missing' poster for a certain Paddy Mullen. A wave of sense and realization swept over me as I took in the details of his appearance: Small round face, not very tall, pinkish complexion…

I rushed home and with stealth crept into the house and up the stairs. I paused, breathlessly, outside the bedroom door. I counted to ten and then I pounced. The door flew open only to reveal the sordid truth: There, lounging on the middle of my Odearest Posture-Spring, was the nude figure of Paddy Mullen, and draped over a bedside chair was his fleece, fitted, I noted, with prosthetic sheep legs.
"Aha!" I shouted.

Paddy, his faced drained of all colour, a Major cigarette drizzling ash onto his bare pigeon chest, yelped when he saw me:
"Cripes! I'm done for".
"Well, my pretty little shank" says I, "how exactly do we explain this?"

His excuses and apologies came in a torrent. It was all very foolish indeed. Things had just gotten out of control. He was an out-of-work actor (is there any other kind?) with a love of Pringles. He had spotted the opportunity to spend some time in rent-free luxury and had seized it. Could I blame him, he asked. It was either this or another stint playing Third Spear Carrier, twice removed, in a touring amateur production of Coriolanus.

"Pack up your wool and go". I demanded, but then it struck me that I had one more question in need of an answer.
"Those plays you dictated to mother, those staggering works of genius, hailed by all and sundry in the rarefied world of Irish drama, where did they come from?"

"Oh", said Paddy, flushing at the thought, "I took some children's books out of the library and spiced up the stories with sex, violence and bawdy language"
I thought as much.

When mother returned that day I gleefully recounted the earlier events. She nodded as she lit a Supreme Size menthol.
"Well, it was all rather obvious" She said.
I was flabbergasted. My patient detective work was being brushed aside like so much peppermint smoke. "What do you mean, obvious?" I demanded.
"Well", said mother, flicking Pringles crumbs from the blankets, "sure wasn't it a clear case of Mullen dressed as lamb".

I lay down on my Odearest Posture-Spring, and wept.

Diversify, Or Die

Signage, John Street, Kilkenny

There was a time

when a man could make a living selling you a pound of nails, a length of gutter and a roll of duct tape. Now, if he wants to put bread on the table, he has to iron your shirts as well.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Nobody Likes A Quitter

                                     Catskills Motel.  The Author's Still Life. 1998

Recently, alcohol seems to be making the newspapers... 

People are asking questions about alcohol.  - Does it get you drunk?  Is drunk better than sober?  How can you tell when you're sober?  Serious questions.  People are concerned about their children getting drunk.  If children are drunk, who is going to smell the smoke and turn off the deep fat fryer at three in the morning? 

It's as if Irish people have just noticed alcohol for the first time.  It was there all along, never further than an arm's length away, but suddenly it's coming into focus.  All the time we were picking it up and putting it to our lips and swallowing it, but it never appeared to be a problem, until the newspapers noticed.

As an ex-drinker, I can honestly say that swallowing beer and wine and vodka was once as natural to me as breathing.  Of course, if you breath any of these things, it's known as drowning.  

A drink problem, in Ireland,  sometimes isn't detected until many years after you're dead. They'll say, "Do you remember Mouldy Martin?"
"I do?"
"What do you think it was that killed him?"
"That's a tough one."
"Was it the lion or the panther?"
"It was definitely a carnivore."
"The bite from the cobra certainly didn't help."
"He was most likely disoriented by the kick from the giraffe."
"I was tired of telling him not to take the shortcut home through the zoo."
"The big cats were surely attracted by the smell from the bag of fish and chips."
"And he was probably exhausted after wrestling that alligator..."

There will be no mention of the seventeen pints.  

I heard a man say, in a pub one night, "I think we'll all stop at the same time"  -  He was, of course, talking about closing time, but it scared every man around him.