Thursday, September 22, 2005

How I became an American

I am a naturalised American. I got my citizenship a few years back, just after my son was born. There were many reasons - mainly I had had a green card for over five years and was eligible. Also, it was post 9/11, and there was a vague worry that the powers that be might decide to rescind green cards from those who didn't apply for citizenship. Mostly, though, I wanted to vote, AND, I really like the place and what it stands for, (the last five years notwithstanding), I like Americans, (I married one, afterall), and years of late night westerns with my dad and ridiculous amounts of time listening to various derivations of American music had rearranged the cultural synapses in my brain. As John Lennon said, "The first time I heard rock and roll on the radio, I was already half American," or something like that.
All that said, U.S. citizenship was never really high on my list of ambitions when I left college: Rock and roll stardom, Olympic gold medal swimmer, (despite that in the competitive swimming world, I was in my already in my dotage, and wasn't that good to begin with), world traveler, Bob Dylan’s guitar player, spaceman, Jennifer Connelly's boyfriend...I applied for a green card in the lottery, just like every other Irish person in those twenty two percent unemployment days, but I wasn't going to cry if I didn't get it. I did get one, and even then I wasn't sure if I was going to leave. I liked Galway, I was making some money from DJing, a few band projects had possibilities, and I was trying to get a little software enterprise off the ground with a college classmate, (actually the truth is he was trying a lot harder than I was). At the time, both of us were on the dole, as were almost all of my post graduate class. There were several government programs aimed at helping the unemployed, but college graduates were expected to do ok - or leave, so there was nothing specifically directed towards helping us with gainful employment. We decided that we would see what kind of government grants we could get to help our little enterprise up on its feet. An appointment was made, and we arrived dressed to impress. I must have looked ridiculous; I had below shoulder length hair tied in a pony tail and a purple jacket, pink shirt, grey pants, and a scarlet tie. I looked more like a Miami Vice reject than a future entrepreneur. My partner made up for it by dressing much more conservatively.
We laid out our business plan, which essentially was a software package geared towards Irish realtors. Nothing like it existed, and we really felt there was a market for it. Also the way it was written meant it could be adapted to other types of business. We were told that the agency only funded manufacturing type enterprises that employed more than 10 people. My partner and I had just come from three years of business school and a year in a Systems Analysis postgraduate program. Over and over, we had been told how totally unsuited to manufacturing Ireland was. A small island with terrible transport infrastructure meant prohibitive transport costs alone. We felt that software was a perfect business for Ireland. I don’t think he even know what a PC was. He did say that the agency could give us a living allowance while we were getting off our feet. How much was that? Less than what we got on the dole, and way less that the dole combined with our rent allowance. How’s that for an incentive to get off your ass and start a business.

So in short, my band had split up, my girlfriend had left me, I was on the dole, I had no money, and it was raining. Easy decision, California here I come! Actually, Rhode Island first, for a wedding. The Irish pound devalued which killed the housing market in Ireland for the short term, which meant any prospective customers we had pulled out, I was only half committed anyway and I really, really, needed to leave Galway. I was in danger of being the guy who never truly leaves college. A friend told me I was leaving Ireland at a very interesting time, and that things would chance dramatically over the coming years. How right he was. I still made the right decision.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Evangelical Limerick

This photo was taken a few yards from the Buddy's photo, at the entrance to Fox's Bow in Limerick. Although I have never paid attention to these religious adverts, I realised that they have always been there. Ireland may have had a reputation for unquestioning religiousity, when I was growing up, but it was more of the follow the rules, and don't ask too much of me type, than the Evanglical, or Catholic Charasmatic version. In fact the latter and former were treated with almost as much suspicion as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.
My only experience with the Charasmatic's was on a school retreat, (I was a Jesuit School Boy). A priest, who had spent some time working in the U.S., invited two Charasmatic women to join us on retreat. They were kind and friendly, and optomistic, and I was endlessly fascinated, that whilst praying over me, they began speaking in tongues. However, no major religious awakening occured on my part - to my sixteen year old relief. In my co-ed school, retreats were responsible for a lot more flirtation and sexual tension than spiritual rebirth.
There was also a local family who were Charasmatics, they had lots of God related bumper stickers on their car, and the father waged a lone protest when the Dooradoyle Shopping Center, opened for business on Sundays. Mostly I was intrigued by the fact that when we were asked to give each other the sign of peace at mass, instead of shaking each others hands they kissed each other. Their eldest daughter, (about my age), was drop dead gorgeous, and I wondered what would happend if I was to sit beside them.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Buddy's Lane

Once upon a time, a different life time it seems, on my weekend’s home from college in Galway, I used to frequent a tiny bar in Limerick, called Buddy's. It was at the end of a narrow lane, off Fox's Bow, itself a laneway, connecting Thomas Street to William Street. Although the lane has a different name, everyone referred to it as Buddy’s Lane. A cat swung in the bar, would be.....dead. It was that small. Most people actually hung out around the tables and beer barrels stationed outside. The clientele were a motley crew of students, hippies, musicians, (I qualified on all three counts), artists, and most prominently, The Limerick Road Tramps biker club. All patrons had as common ground, a love of the demon weed. Or in those days, hash. You could smell it as soon as you got near the alley. A tiny red haired bloke by the name of Rusty was a reliable supplier. I'm sad to say that the last I heard he was killed in a motorcycle crash several years back.
The bikers Harley's lined the alley on a Saturday night, and at closing time, the noise of the bikes being started reverberated off the tall alley walls and made me feel like I had my head inside the engine of an F-15. They were a fearsome bunch, and this kept the local rabble away from the bar.
The owner was a bloke named Frank, whose daughter had been a schoolmate of mine back in secondary school. Anyone who hung out in Buddy's understands the meaning of, (this needs a Limerick accent),” udder side Frank!” There was a stack of tapes behind the bar, and when a side ended, inevitably someone would yell this in the direction of the bar.
One great advantage of the alley was, that if the local coppers decided that some miscreant dope smokers were due a bust, by the time they got down the alley, any illegal substances would be lying on the ground, rendering arrest for possession impossible.

The photograph is a mural at the end of the lane, taken while home for my sisters wedding last Christmas. The bar is long since closed, the bikers built a clubhouse outside the city, but many of the clientele that I still am in contact with, reminisce fondly about those days.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Golden Gate