Archive for May, 2010
“How long do you think you’ll be here?”
I get that question more frequently than any other. It has become the most difficult to answer. One thing has been for certain since the beginning. I’m going to be home on July 3. That’s when I’m a groomsman in my friends’ wedding. The big question in my mind: Would my ticket be one-way or return? Until recently, I was resigned to returning to Minnesota to pretend to be a “real” adult and job hunt. After all, what was the point of returning to work my retail, stock room job in Galway for a few more months? Then I took this job in Cardiff. A week into working, I still hadn’t purchased my planet ticket. I still hadn’t decided if I was going to move home for good or come back to Europe after the wedding.
Why? Allow me to let you in on a secret: Living abroad alone is, well, hard. I don’t like to dwell on it here for fear of becoming the over privileged white boy who whines about getting to live abroad, but let me say this: I’m on my second city and my second country and my second job in a matter of seven months. It can be disorienting, exhausting even. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about buying a one-way ticket home. But yesterday, I decided once and for all not to succumb to temptation. I purchased a return plane ticket. I’ll be home for two and a half weeks next month, then I’ll come back to Cardiff to continue my job. I haven’t finished experiencing this new job, this new life. I haven’t even scratched the surface of Cardiff. Returning to Minnesota, while it would be the easy option, would be the easy way out. When the right opportunity presents itself in Minnesota (or Ireland or New York or California, for that matter), I’ll seize upon it. But until that happens, I’m going to stay in Cardiff, as your humble barman at a hostel on the banks of the River Taff.
How long will I be here?
Simply put: Until I’m finished.
It’s four in the morning as I stand up to make my way around the empty bar. Most of the lights are out, the chairs are overturned atop the tables and the room is quiet. I open the front door to a group of drunk men in costume. Captain America, Duffman, a man dressed as The Flashdance Dancer, Danny Zuko and Michael Jaskson.
“Welcome back, guys,” I say as I unlock the door to let them in. I lock the door behind them and hope that they’ll just go to bed. But that would be too easy, of course. The Flashdance Dancer is drunker than all of them, taking two steps back for every one step forward towards his room.
“Ccaaaghn I get adrrrrrnk,” he slurs to me.
“Sorry man, the bar’s closed,” I respond.
“I would please just like one drink,” he retorts, enunciating every syllable in an attempt to sound sober.
“Can’t do it. The taps are off, the till is closed,” I lie. The bar is for residents of the hostel. If I want to, I can serve anyone at anytime. But I’ve already closed the place up, mopped the floor and I’m in the middle of my book. And that’s not even considering how drunk he is.
“Just give me one of the bottles. I’ll give you ten quid.”
“No way. The bar’s been closed two hours, you’re not gonna get a drink.”
“How much do I have to pay you to get a drink?”
“Three hundred and forty five pounds,” I reply sarcastically. It’s a mistake, of course, because he uses that as license to try and barter my price down to him getting a drink. No matter though, because one of his friends sees me getting exasperated and takes his friend away. He didn’t take him far though, because 45 minutes later I find him passed out in the hammock in the lounge. Ah well, he’s snoring, he’s alive, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.
Welcome to my new job at in Cardiff. Part barman, part bouncer, part hotel clerk, my job is essentially to make sure the building doesn’t burn down overnight. I arrive for work at 11:15p.m. and relieve the evening workers of their duties. I then get to use my discretion to keep the bar open as long as I like. Last night a regular had just returned from a long day and wanted a drink, so I kept the bar open until 1:30 just for him. Other nights I’ll close it up at around midnight. After I close I go on door answering duty, unlocking the door for guests who are, by and large, returning form the bar. In the morning I prepare the continental breakfast. I get home at around quarter after eight in the morning and sleep until 4 in the evening. The wonky hours are a small price to pay for such a neat job though. And you’d be surprised at how easy it is to invert your sleep schedule. I just tell my body it’s not going to sleep tonight, and it listens.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 5p.m., and I need to make breakfast.
I’m sitting in a terminal waiting for my plane to Cardiff. Luckily, I was spared by the volcano from more flight cancellations, although the same can’t be said for many others.
The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. Just like last time, I decided to move, turned in my notice at work and moved out of my apartment in only two weeks. I went to two going away parties – one with coworkers and one with friends – and said goodbyes to some people unsure if I would ever see them again. Looking back at some of my emails and blogs from when I first moved out, I realize how far I’ve come.
When I had a problem with my mobile after I moved to Galway, I went to the shop that sold me the phone. They asked me for the last three numbers I’d dialed, but I literally didn’t know enough people in Galway to have made three calls. Fast forward to last Wednesday as I sat at a pub listening to Irish music, surrounded by my international group of friends (German, French, Irish, Swedish, Netherlanders and Spanish to name a few). Only then did I realize how much my social group has grown in six months. It was enough to make me think seriously about accepting the job the Welsh hostel offered me two weeks ago. Ultimately, my decision came down to this: I left The States looking for an adventure. Even though I’ve made some great friends, this trip is for taking risks, not getting comfortable. So, in honor of my move, I’ve changed the masthead on the top of the page a bit (with the generous help of Steph, Laura and John).
They’re boarding my flight now, so I’ve gotta go, but for now (and not forever), goodbye Ireland. Thank you for hosting me on this wild adventure the last six months.
Next stop: Wales.
This my Great Uncle Malcolm, my dad Malcolm and myself with my sister and mom. My grandfather decided to name his firstborn son after his brother because his brother was a brother — both biologically and religiously. As a Christian Brother, Uncle Malcolm wouldn’t have kids of his own, so my grandfather honored him by naming his firstborn after Malcolm. As a Christian Brother, he currently lives with other brothers in his religious order in New Jersey. He’s also the closest to a grandfather I’ve been able connect with in my adult life (both of my grandfathers died well before I was born). At 86 years old, he’s the last surviving O’Sullivan from Ireland.
Uncle Malcolm came to America on the boat from Limerick (by way of Cobh) in April 1927. He was four years old. When I called him a few weeks ago, I asked what he could remember about Ireland. He said he had two memories. The earliest one was just a moment in time: He remembers waiting outside his childhood home in Limerick in a horse-and-buggy with his five siblings for his mom to come out of the house to go to Sunday mass. His next memory was from the boat on the way to America. He was separated from his parents for a number of hours midway across the ocean. His mother was terrified that he had fallen overboard and drowned in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. She was understandably relieved when she found young Malcolm in another part of the ship.
I only reconnected with him in the last few years. In addition to having lots of family, Uncle Malcolm was active in outreach ministry, spending half the year teaching English in Honduras and Mexico and occasionally heading to a boys’ school in Toronto to teach Spanish. His monastery was based out of New York City. Until recently, the most contact our family had with him was when my dad made his semi-annual phone call. But as his age has caught up with him he’s had to stop leaving the country every year. Luckily for me, this has meant I’ve got to know this man from another era.
He went into religious life when he was a young teenager. Not for God, but for sports, he tells me. You name a sport and he played it. Being in the seminary meant he had the opportunity to both play and, later on, coach the sports he loved so much. It was only later, he tells me, that he realized sports were God’s way of getting him into religious life.
Whenever I speak to him I’m struck at how infused with Catholicism his everyday language is. Instead of inconsequential verbal ticks like “um” and “uh” he interjects a “God bless ya,” or “God willing,” or “…and thanks be to God for that.” He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning for an hour of prayer before breakfast. He is a supremely religious man, but not in the irritating way Christian fundamentalists can be. The closest he ever got to evangelizing me was when he heard I was writing for my school newspaper and lectured me on the “supreme responsibility” I had as a journalist. I think he may have used the words “liberal media” in there somewhere.
But by and large, he’s a textbook case of living his life by example. He’s in his mid-eighties and is understandably unhappy with his body starting to fail him. However, I can say with the experience of working in a nursing home that he is by far the most active man in his eighties I’ve ever known — by a long shot. Only having the opportunity to get to know him in adult life has been such a pleasure, because I never had the opportunity to take him for granted. I met him just before coming to study abroad in Ireland for the first time. Since then I’ve seen him two or three times and spoken on the phone a few more times. Even though he was very young when he came over here, his demeanor is unmistakably Irish. Knowing him has made my journey to Ireland seem a little more like a homecoming, two generations removed.