“Irish People, Am I Right?”

-Irish People, Am I Right--

I daydreamed as I stood in line for the till, cradling my carton of milk and loaf of bread like precious cargo. The shop is usually pretty quiet mid-morning, with only freelancers and frazzled parents usually stopping in for essentials. The man in front of me was taking his time, and slowly my attention drifted back down to earth and settled on his lanky figure. His clothes were ill-fitting and dirty. His hair hadn’t been washed in any version of the recent past, and his cheeks were hollow. He was buying cigarettes and a six-pack of beer.

“I just lost a hundred on a horse,” he said to the young guy working the till. He sounded both apologetic and desperate, as if this grocery shop employee could hear his confession and grant him forgiveness as part of the transaction. “I lost a hundred on a horse,” he muttered again, his eyes wide and panicked. “That was me last hundred, you know?”

The guy on the till – a good-looking twenty year old with West Asian features – raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and nodded in the universal expression for ‘Ooookay then!’

He rang up the beer in silence.

“I just need a drink to take the edge off, you know. Like, that was me last hundred.” The man gulped and his fingers fluttered nervously on the edge of the conveyer belt. “It was a good tip. It was a good tip I got about the horse, but it just… These things happen, you know.”

The words just poured out of him. He kept repeating himself. He was fixated on the horse and how it had run the race and what had happened to keep him from winning. The conditions weren’t favourable. The horse started wrong. The jockey didn’t make the right calls. All the time he was talking his fingers danced along the metal edge of the till and his eyes darted nervously across the back wall.

“That was me last hundred. I can’t believe it, you know?”

I watched him, and my heart hurt for him. I’ve been there. Maybe I haven’t been buying-a-six-pack-and-a-carton-of-smokes-at-11am-after-losing-my-last-hundred-on-a-horse kind of there, but I’ve definitely experienced that feeling of having Messed Up that hits like an avalanche and robs you of reason. I’ve felt that horrible, unrelenting anxiety close over me. I’ve had moments that made me want to vomit because in the panic of the moment I feared I’d dug myself a hole that felt like it might be a grave.

The man’s gaze flicked blindly over his cans and his packet of cigarettes. It bounced across the plants stacked next to the door, ricocheted off the bottles of Jack Daniels behind the till, and finally came to rest on the cashier, who stared at him with ill-concealed disdain.

“That’ll be €21.90,” the twenty-year old said cooly. His eyes met mine for a moment and the faintest flash of a smirk crossed his face.

There was a strained silence as the man nodded to himself and pulled change out of his pockets, counting out the exact amount. He handed it to the boy, and picked up his things. He stood for a moment, as if waiting for something more – help, maybe, or absolution – then nodded once last time and dragged himself out of the shop. The cashier and I watched him leave in silence, then I placed my items on the belt and gave the guy a small smile.

He started to scan my items and shook his head. “Not even 12pm,” he said to me in a half-amused, half-disgusted tone of voice.

“Irish people, huh?”

He caught me so off-guard that I simply stared at him. I tapped my card against the machine, picked up my stuff and walked out without saying a word.

Afterwards, I kicked myself for not having said anything, but I was so surprised at the number of assumptions he made in that moment that I was struck mute. Consider for a moment that to make that throwaway comment he had to have thought:

  • That all Irish people are alcoholic gamblers
  • That I am not Irish
  • That I agree that all Irish people are alcoholic gamblers
  • That I feel justified in judging strangers based on two-minute interactions

I mean… None of those things are true.

I’ve touched on the fact that I don’t look Irish before, but I think that’s the first time somebody has felt comfortable enough assigning me a background that they’ve dragged me into a conspiratorial bit of casual racism against Irish people. It would be more understandable if this had happened abroad, but we’re in Ireland! Not a huge leap to think I might be Irish despite not looking the part.

Anyway.

I haven’t seen the gambler since.

The cashier still smiles conspiratorially at me anytime I go to the shop.

How should I have handled this? Have you ever had anything like this happen? I’d like to somehow slip my Irishness into conversation next time I get caught at his till, but I now actively avoid him if I see him working. The whole thing just makes my skin crawl.

I hope the gambler is okay. I hope his panic passed. I hope he’s backed off from backing horses.

 

 

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Wise Men Say…

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There is one teeny, tiny thing I neglected to mention in all of my rambling about Mexico.

I got engaged. We got engaged! There was an engagement?

Basically, what I’m saying is that there was a very happily accepted proposal, and I know that makes it sound a little like a business deal, but in actual fact it was both completely unexpected and eerily perfect, and not at all like a business deal.

More like a movie.

Or a telenovela.

I don’t talk about Scrubs much here because Scrubs is quite a private person, but we have been together for… a while. A long while. About eight years now. That sounds like a veritable eon, but it really doesn’t feel like it. The other day we were out having dinner and across the way from us a couple were sitting, sipping cocktails, having an awkward first date.

“Yeah, so I play the oboe,” the girl said.

“Oh right. That’s interesting.” Said the boy, sounding not at all interested.

“It’s quite time-consuming.” Brief pause as the boy digested this bit of information. She forged ahead. “I also play hockey.”

“Oh?” Said the boy. “Like, on grass?”

“Yeah, on astroturf. Sometimes we play on gravel though.”

Scrubs and I locked eyes over our potato wedges.

“Thank God we never had to do that whole thing,” whispered Scrubs, sounding like we narrowly avoided death by immolation or radioactive waste. I nodded in grave agreement.

It’s true that we never had that awkward first date. Timing, or kismet, or any number of factors combined to create a moment in which we simply connected like magnets. At the time that my world collided with his, I had passed through phases of singledom; I had been sad and lonely, then disappointed and bored, and (eventually) made it to the promised land of consummate enjoyment. After a rough patch of heartbreak I had finally discovered my happy place. I had found my groove, and I was making the most of it; everything was fun, and light-hearted, and there was a lot of dancing to bad music (there is still a lot of dancing to bad music but these days it’s mostly in the comfort of my own home). Then, that one night, our little world bubbles bumped into each other for no more than five minutes.

“I know you! Or … I know someone that knows you?”

“Yeah! I was on foreign exchange with someone you know!”

“I have to go, but we should meet up sometime?”

“Yeah, for sure!”

…and that was it. It sounds ridiculous and impossible even to my own ears, but I still vividly remember sitting in my taxi home, tipsily thinking about him and feeling absolutely infuriated. I remember having this clear gut instinct of, “This guy is going to be Something Serious with a capital S, and just when I was starting to have so much fun! Why did Something Serious have to come along now? Why couldn’t I have had a bit longer to enjoy my groove?”

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Just like this, except that Scrubs is younger and better looking… And I’m not a man.

Worth it, though.

We never really went on a first date. We simply met up to hang out one day and then just… were. I found a new groove, a better groove than I’d ever even dared to hope for, and we’ve continued on like that up to now.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting the proposal at all. It blindsided me to such an extent that I didn’t really have a serious think about what it truly meant until afterwards. I think I was in shock for the first couple of days. It took me a minute.

One night I lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, and thought long and hard about it. I realised that even though I’d always felt like we were in it for the long-haul, this was actually a Big Deal; this was an official, public, no-screwing-around, it’s-you-and-me-against-the-world type promise. I know that may seem obvious. It is obvious. I mean, that’s really the whole proposal question when you think about it. I needed a moment for it to sink in though. I needed a moment to turn it over in my mind and examine it from every angle. Now not only am I an adult, but I’m an adult with a fiancé! I still can’t say it out loud without turning red.

Nothing has changed. We are the same as we were before. Nothing has changed, and yet something has. Before, I knew that we loved each other and now, I KNOW it.

… But I already knew it, so what’s the difference?

I can’t tell. There is a difference but it’s something so tiny and sharp that I can barely figure out what it is. Something so miniscule it’s invisible but I can feel it, so I know it’s there.

I could write a long, long post here about Scrubs. I could write about the many reasons why I love him, and how he makes me a better person, and all the ways he makes me smile. I could write about how I still feel the same about him now as I did that night that he threw me off my groove and knocked me right into a different (and completely unexpected) lane.

I could write about all of this and more, but as I said before, he’s a private person. He would hate that.

So I didn’t write about it.

Not in so many words.