The Tarot Reader – a Memory

There was a tarot card reader at this stall. Buried down the back of this indoor market. It was an odd little thing this market. It itself was bury in the back end of Dublin and this tarot stall was bury in the back end of it. The market was filled with noting useful. People selling stones painted like Mexican skulls, some old garb that some girl is trying to shill so she has money to buy more, and a lad selling tea and coffee. That was probably the busiest one. I had a coffee. I wasn’t feeling great that day. There was foolery the night before and I was ploughed with it now. I was feeling like the cork board bottom of me had given way and all the compassion and self-warmth I had had fallen out on the floor like a gush of vomit through a brown bag. I felt like shit basically. Like the type that deserves nothing bright to happen to them. Bones rattled, brain cramping and guts dirty with grit and scars. I was hopping around like a loon probably pissing everyone off and I felt that. I felt how much I was pissing everyone off and there was nothing I could do cause all feelings where dropping out my arsehole. And any that survived I’d stub out with my foot like a still lit smoke. I had a wander around. I’d done the rounds of the stalls a few times already. And I’d no spending money, so was the last pair of eyeballs the vendors wanted. But there was some band on in the middle of the market. A live band. They’d play and you’d shop for craft tat. It was an idea, I’ll give that to them. But I didn’t wanna get involved in that. So I wandered down to the tarot card stall. I peeked in at the standard issue middle age woman. Her stall hadn’t been that busy and I felt bad for her. I felt bad for myself too. I had that clacking of shitty brain cells going on so I trundled into the stall. 
“I don’t have any money but… but what’s my fortune? Like in general?”
She took a brief glance at me.
“You’ll have a good life.”
“Really?”
“Yeah”
I dug for something in my pocket but there was hardly anything. I’d just be insulting if I gave her a twenty cent coin. So I just pulled my hand out and gave her the thumbs up, said thanks and left.
A good life. That’s what she said. If she was looking for money she’d have given me a lead-on fortune that’d get me curiosity. She just had one look at me. And I wasn’t looking good. I was a drunk and shit stained mess. But she said I’d have a good life.
Sometimes I imagine that’s true. Sometimes. 

The Death of the Deal and the Burrito Fallacy

There was a point there, back in the doldrums of the recession, where a few of my friends were giving College another bash. I was too, having put an end to my “gap year” after the fifth summer. I was doing Animation out in IADT Dun Laoghaire and was bringing my own struggles with me to that. My friends were in Trinity and I’d meet up with them when I got into town. We didn’t have enough money to do anything but hangout and, if we could, get a chicken fillet roll. The magic number was two quid. There was the main Centra on Dame Street that was leading the charge. It must have been a loss leader because the Londis and Spars could never match that price, besting only €2.50, and usually with caveats like only tomato and lettuce. And Centras further out of the city centre were never €2. But in their two shops, Dame Street and Temple Bar, you buy a roll with plain or spicy chicken and any two salad toppings and that was including cheese. Maybe they made the money back hoping you’d buy a drink, crisps or a bar. But me and my mates could only ever make the two quid and that was enough. The two euro roll was there for many days when we would have gone without. I used to always think “why’d you get anything else?” After a while the city got back into an upswing and the prices went up. Me and my friends had long since dropped out of college at that stage as the delis were rejigged to be more artisan and other fad food chains popped up as we gentrified. It seems like the best deal in town is no longer the best deal in town. They have convinced us to buy something else. Or we have convinced ourselves to buy something else.

Take the Burrito that spread like a rash through out the city. It was the same demographic, students and young city workers, that wanted something for lunch that they could take, walk or sit in the park and could eat quickly and fill them with enough variety. But a burrito goes for around €6.50 to €8.50 plus. Now you’d need the guts of a tenner instead of a two euro coin. And what your getting for that is a tortilla, rice and beans, which are all very cheap. You also get your chosen meat, which could be the cheap offcuts that have been stewing in a hotplate all day. And then what we get excited about when ordering is the hot sauce and salsa. And that’s only a few drops or a spoonful. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste nice but it should it cost that much? Burritos are traditionally peasant food. What we’re paying so much for is down to having to supplement the branding, the advertising, the increasing rent. And no longer are competing stores trying to undercut each other for the best deal. It’s about the “experience” now. How authentically we must feel sitting in these dark wooden alcoves with the Mariachi music playing on the PA. And it’s no longer about getting the deal out to the most people and having a neverending queue out the door. Don’t advertise big, advertise smart. Engineer social media campaigns and strategic advertising to the right clients. The yuppiess and city trendies. Those who think it’s a good deal. Those who feel like they’re slumming it. Those that will believe what they’re told. The internet is flooded with natter of the best burrito, lists out of ten different restaurants, clickbait hot takes and other forms of native advertising. To get us all thinking that “this is what we’re thinking”. And a lot of people want to have an opinion if they think everyone else is having an opinion. And soon we’re eating expensive burritos and having little debates about the taste of beans, rice and stringy warm beef.

The other thing that’s happened is that as the economy, allegedly, picked up and there was a bit more money in the pot we graduated ourselves. I used to think that “why’d anyone eat anything else than a €2 Chicken Roll?” and that if I had six quid in my pocket then couldn’t I have a Chicken roll 3 days in a row. Or even 2 now if I was really hungry. And that’d still leave money in my pocket. But we don’t do that. If we have extra money we progress ourselves to the next tier of consumption. They’re not set in stone and the categorisation is under ongoing analysis. Roughly say you might graduate from Aldi/ Lidl to Dunnes Stores, then to M&S. Or you might drink whatever is cheapest, the Spar brand American Cola, and it’s fine cause it’s something to drink and your main impulse at that time is thirst. For less than a euro you can quench that and get a sugar hit. But then say you get a job or run into a bit of luck, you don’t buy the American Cola and pocket the difference and put that towards something better. You tell yourself that you deserve the “named” brand. The famous Coke-a-Cola. It’s twice the price but it fits in better with what the world is like. The signs, the ads, the jingles, the cups at the cinema, what you mix your rum with, what others are drinking. It’s coke, the original and the genuine. The life story you’re living and writing day to day is starting to look more legit, more like everyone else’s. It’s a step forward,and you can pretend you’ve always been standing there. The American Cola is yuk, mank, rotten. You can rile yourself up with how much you hate it. It’s a plagiarism and a fake. Fuck that. You’re better than the imitation and you deserve better, anything else is an insult. But the tier goes up again. There’s the drinks that break €2.50, these fancier drinks with their real exotic fruits and health benefits. Because now that you’re making real money you need to be giving yourself what’s best for you. Coke is sugary trash. It’s bad for you. You need to look after yourself because you’ve got a reason to live longer: money. Others will lie on the sofa and drink coke and let their bones and teeth rot away. Wasters. You’re out looking after body and mind. Being the best. And it goes up. There’s no upper limit to the price of something. All you have to do is tart it up and give enough reasoning and if it sells than you’re right. If you charge a fiver for iced tea and people buy it than you picked the right price. Only then the thought willl creep in to the seller’s mind that maybe they’d have paid six euro. The seller won’t be happy with a sale. They’ll be cursing themselves for the money they could have made. And they get into an arms race, chancing your arm and with picking the right marks. And work has been tough, you might as well enjoy spending. And, as opposed to the best deal which can only go so low, there’s always something better to buy. You can be better from buying better.

Perhaps there still is something out there like the €2 chicken roll that the young kids are eating and filling themselves up and enjoying with a cheap off brand coke. And then getting back to kicking about with fuckall else to do but plod the streets and make each other laugh. Perhaps it’s just an unprofitable passage that isn’t worth the sellers time now that they’re all focusing on rinsing the gentrified. I’m at a stage now where I’m unfamiliar with town that I feel so bombarded in the vast delis now that I get flummoxed into over paying because I can’t brave the embarrassment of asking for the prices of things.

And isn’t that the perfect state they want us in.

Mark Baldwin 2018

“Tonight We Are Young”

Tonight We Are Young

I use to always get a laugh out of myself with that song “We are young” by that band from a few years back with the un-format-friendly name “fun.”. It was very sure of itself against the fact that it had nothing much to say but with great roaring sincerity to say it. It’s about a bit of a piss up and he’s having a fit of pathos. The chorus went, with a great swell, “Tonight, we are young, so let’s set the world on fire”. They really hammer that at you, willing it to be the battle cry of the millenials or some shit. And perhaps it was. It could be what keeps some people going. Resonating with the perfectly for pivotal moments of their development of character. I’ve got some daft songs that share moments with me that I keep secret to save from the mob dismissing them

The “Tonight We Are Young” song though always gave me a giggle, perhaps in the face of that. I like anything that’s so stupid and so sincere. Makes you feel alright for not having a clue about anything. When you struggle everyday it’s tough and feels fruitless. But when look at someone that very confidently acts like they have the answers it can make you feel very worthless. But if you look long enough and see that they’re no closer to answers than you it can encourage you on. Like someone celebrating they’ve won the race when they actually have more laps to go. It gives me a smile, a little buzz of warmt. If I was in the race I’d not win but I’d at least keep my head down and keep running.

Another thing was that the lad in the band is going on about being young when he looks like he’s had more than a rough paper round. It turns out that he was 30 when that song came out. And I’m 30 now. I know that’s it useless to act like our age should garner sympathy from anyone, we’ll all be every age in a row until we die. That’s how it works. But I starting to worry am I being that daft and cringey now. I write a lot from that passage of my life like it mattered. It feels more interesting than now. I’m trying to make distance now with going hard and just staying home. And the mundanity of it isn’t inspiring anything worth writing about so I’m drawing back to the pool of that time. The hedonism, the spontaneity, the fullness. I’m not a complete saint now but I’m trying to take writing more seriously. It’s the business end of the season. But I worry I’m staying too late at the party and should I just move on with life. And no one wants to be the oldest person at the party.

    When I was at the other threshold, turning 20, and I’d be at parties and still taking it all in. But there’d always be the odd older lad there on his own and it was never really clear who he was. Just an auld bloke that likes to party. I was at one before, it was a birthday and we were going from a few cans in the estate into town. I was very fresh-faced and not very versed with the whole drink before, on the way, at the place and then after the place. I did take to it in my own time and became such a pro that I’d just skip the fannying about with leaving the house and just stay in getting pissed. Earlier this year I couldn’t me moved from the warmth and lack of nonsense of your own gaf. I was very tired, passed the point of the crammed smoking areas, the queues for the expensive bar and the prattle of kids.

But back at 20s it was all ahead of me. I remember we were waiting for the bus and this was at the time when I’d not even had bus money. €2.10 I think it was into town and I’d not even had that. Then there was the tenner in to Whelan’s and the fiver for the nitelink back. And then I’d still have to work out how to blag drink. So I wasn’t too sure what to do as we all waited for the last bus out of dodge. There was about fifteen of us. And as I drifted with uncertainty on the fringes the auld lad was telling me I could go back to his house on the promise of drink and pills. Just me and him like. I weighted it up then. I wanted the drink and the pills and I’d no money for all the other plans of the night. If one route works out more than the other than shouldn’t you go with that?

As I look at it now maybe he was just tired of all the fannying about too and he’d rather just chill and liked the shite I was coming out with. But it could have been anything. It could have been sexual but I could be thinking too highly about my young arse. The rest of the group ended up doing a whip around to cover us and we headed into the pub and it was all grand. Save for a few more times where he’d tried to coax me back to his gaf. He was barely coherent at that stage and would laugh at his own mumbles, in his own little world. He mightn’t have even been that old. He could of been 29 or something. But He was much older than me and he’d clearly been through the ringer and the motions too many times to count.

    There were many others auld heads throughout the years. Maybe they were newly single and were back out on the piss after years in a relationship, or back from living abroad and had just came home after years, or they just didn’t care and liked to party and there’d always be young kids to bleed into the many phases of a sesh. And really who’s to judge us but ourselves.

Drinking and nights out isn’t really a big deal. Even the most boring and cautious people can feel spontaneous and get stories to tell from messy nights out. It’s one of the draws of drinking. It pulls out the carefree person inside you. And it’s a riot when you’re young. But as you get older and you are expected to care, about work, about the family, about your life and about yourself, the draw to pull out that carefree person becomes a much bigger. Perhaps I’m missing it and I’m trying to trying to dig deeper into it than there is. I’m just bored now. The job is ebbing at me and my little jabs back I have is in recalling the times when I’d not a care and lived on a whim. They try to get talk corporate jargon to me in the office, all prim and proper, and not know about the states I’ve been in over the years. I just hope I’m not as much a laughing stock as “fun.” the band. Telling old stories of when I was young like I know what the fuck I’m going on about. I don’t know. But sometimes they’re better stories than the ones when you stay at home and watch panel shoes. I’m hesitant to stop being the wisest baby instead of turning 180 to be the noob grown up. I don’t know. You know just give me a second I, I need to get my story straight.

Mark Baldwin

“Nothing Shocks Me”

“Nothing shocks me.” I heard that back at about ten years ago. It was an American girl, I don’t remember much about her, a friend of a friend. We were holed up in a student flat after a midweek night out and it focused us all on trying to disprove it. For the next few hours as we waited for the first bus we argued with her that she was, in fact, capable of being shocked.

I didn’t go to college but I drank with students at that age. We’d been to a Nite that no longer exist in a venue that’s changed owners a few times and danced to music we’d be embarrassed to admit now. After we headed back with our friends’ who were in NCAD. A good few of us piled in to the shared bedrooms of the purpose built accommodation on the edge of the city. It had thick walls and harsh angles. There wasn’t much going on, we weren’t going to kip there so were waiting it out til the buses started. We smoked out the small gap in the windows and used empty wine bottles for ashtray and listened to burnt CDs. The internet was ever present at the time but it was in terminals that you sat down at and not in our pockets. We kept the music and chat low trying to not disturb the straights in the rooms over. We’d been louder and had been cautioned the weeks before. It was pretty tame and of little note.

Then the American girl said very proudly that “nothing shocks me”. With all the jaded apathy of a craggy New York cop. It was a weird shell to drop on the conversation. We were talking about Queens of the Stone Age and other tripe before hand. Me and my friends all turned on her to dispute it. I think it was the pride with which she said it that irked me. It had that air of “I’ve seen things that would make YOU sick” but she wouldn’t blink an eye. I couldn’t get over it. It seemed like a premature grasp at maturity. We were young and on still pulling the seal off of the reality of life that was hidden from us as children. That era where you’re doe-eyed to the big bad world. Perhaps life for her had been tough and she’d to grow up fast. I was a late bloomer sure enough but I still doubted her claim. I didn’t feel that was what she was getting at.

What I was getting was in relation to that craze at the time, and today, of nasty images being circulated. You’d get tricked and click on an attachment only to see a load of old blokes sucking each other off. It’s a cheap prank because even though you wouldn’t rule out that old lads in the world suck each other off. You’ve probably not gotten to the point of reflection and set out to find images out of curiosity. And you definitely didn’t think you were just going to see it when you clicked an image called “lemonparty.jpg” on the PC in you parent’s kitchen. “You got me” you say when you see the sender and they can feel like the Prankmaster General. But the craze got too popular and in the race to forward the image on to all your mates many people got send multiple times. And as a result got very blasé about it. After you’ve seen it a hundred times the thrill is so long gone that you’ve forgotten if there ever, really, was any feeling. You start to think that you’ve gone beyond shocked. That you’d frankly love to be sent something that gave you any feeling in your numb body. Clicking through slideshows on rotten.com chasing a kick as good as your first time. But there’s nothing and you eventually give up and decide that you’ve passed it. You’ve plunged earth and seen the bottom and now you have gone beyond caring.

That was the assumption I’d put on her and we spent the rest of the night coming up with scenarios that would surely shock her. “Say I shit into this wine bottle. Into this tiny hole. A big plump shite spilling over the edge.” That wouldn’t change her mind. “But what if I really did it? Like right now. You’d definitely be shocked. Some lads that you hardly know shitting in a wine bottle.” Nothing. We got annoyed that she wasn’t really considering us doing it.

I feel I also took it was an insult, a superiority thing. She being the grown up and me being the baby because I am regularly shocked to my core. And I accept that because I’ve no grasp on how much I don’t know yet. The world, primarily humans, have no end in sight with how low they can go. Every time I draw the line it gets pushed further back. The notion of  “shocked” is in something happening that is so unexpected that it affects us physically. That echoey lightness inside us that can take days to pass. That feeling of having to reevaluate how we look at life as we try to heal the tenderness inside. Feeling that bit raw inside, I think, makes people feel vulnerable and most of us don’t like that feeling and brace against it by trying to exploit it in others. So we get emails sent to us by the joker that’s already beyond the initial shock, lost that feeling and is trying to provoke it in others. The softies, the weeds, the babies. Those that need shocking the most.

But what’s gotten me thinking about this again is that these days I feel like I can’t get shocked anymore. Not talking about internet nasties. But in stories in the press. These atrocities, these tragedies, the political corruption. I’ve gone beyond that feeling beyond it affecting me. The watershed moment was probably on the 11th of September. The first international nasty that was sent to us all. That was just as I’d gone from baby school to the big kids school and it was time for me to grow up. This was the big bad world. Then there was the headlines months after about those American Soldiers in Abu Ghraib following and they shocked me, perhaps even more. There was depravity on both sides. And it just went on like that. In the world of 24 hour news today’s victim could be tomorrow’s oppressor and it just gets so much work to keep up that you just have to stop caring. “Did you hear about the firebombing of that school in Philippines?” Whatever. And I just get on with my day. You can mourn, you can tweet, you can say a little prayer but it’ll change fuck all and there’ll be another thing the next week. I get bored of the news to the point that the sharing or discussion of it now irritates me. “Can you believe the treatment they gave the immigrants?” Yes, I can because there no finish line on the race to the bottom. And perhaps part of it is that I’ve seen enough cycles of it at now that it just feels like a big wheel. Like in a water mill. Shock the ones that haven’t been jaded until they’re jaded and then they can shock the next batch coming through. Making you wanna do something. But there’s nothing you really can do but find out how it unfolds the next day, and the next day. It’ll send your head into a spin until you cut yourself off and just be done with it. But where does that leave you once you’ve  opted out of cycle of shock-propelled action by deciding to stop caring? Honestly I don’t know.

We left that student gaf with the air flattened by our insistence on driving our point home. The friends fell asleep, probably glad to be rid of us. I don’t remember if we seen that girl after. I feel bad now thinking of a bunch of lads shouting disgusting things at her to get her to admit that she was wrong. Threatening to defecate in bottles and all manner of vile things. She probably hated us. Which is deserved. And as I’ve said “shock” can be bled back and forth with “care”. When she said nothing shocked her she could have meant that she didn’t care about anything. She was beyond caring. Which would be handy when having to deal with a prick prattling on at ya.

Mark Baldwin – 2018

Salarymen

I was told that in Japan they have what’s called “Salarymen”. They’re, usually, men that have devoted their whole lives to the companies that they work for. Young men often go straight from college to the job until their retirement and it’s seen as the standard white collar trajectory. I was talking to this guy before who’d worked in Japan for a while. He was Russian and was translating games for Sega. He said he’d see them in their suits and long jackets pouring onto the trains and out onto the streets in the mornings. Then seen chain smoking outside all the skyscrapers and office blocks and then drinking heavily  at hostess or karaoke bars, either with clients or with each other. He said they were like zombies. They’d cut through the city, morning or night, the same paths they’d always made. If you ran in to one they’d just stand still vacantly and wait for you to move so they could pass.

I’m fascinated by the images of them getting messy drunk every night of the week. Those “pod hotels” that were world famous as the smallest hotels aren’t actually for tourists. They’re for Salarymen to pass out in and then head to work first thing in the morning. As an alternative to sleeping on the street or on a train. Home wasn’t that important. They’d support their families. But the main thrust in life for them was the betterment of society. It was through their dedication to the company that they were able to benefit society as a whole. It wasn’t just on being happy with your lot. There’s no individualism. They give all their life to the company. And in return the company would give them a salary. And strip back everything else about them that makes them human. Although that’s what I think.

We mightn’t have a name for it in the Ireland but we definitely have salarymen and salarywomen here. Though we try to blend it in with individualism where we spend the salary on stuff for “ourselves”. Food, clothes, holidays, movies, concerts. We get the best and we get the latest. We’ve been working hard all week, we are not going to miss out what’s to have. Yet the creep goes from what we can spend from working to working for what we’ve spent. That loan for the car, the exotic holiday, the spectacular wedding, the overpriced mortgage. Work for time you work. And spend for the time you’re not working. Spend a little after a day’s work. Spend more after a week’s work. Splurge after a years work. Let the debt spike up. And we’re happy to do it. Maybe the salarymen are happy to do it. Maybe they’ve just come to terms with it, that their life will be that office, those people, that commute. And they just get to it. They’re helping the company that is doing something bigger, contributing to the tentpoles of the economy and the society. Here we hate our companies. We don’t care what they do. We bad mouth them while we work. We take their money and we run. But always come running back for more. Work and spend and hope they balance out by our end.

In an office job I’m working at now there was talk about this six horse accumulator that had won the night before. 20 quid would have gotten €62,000. The fact that it had been won let us all believe that we could also win. And we all started to dream. My dream was, and still is, to quit the job. Just not turn up the next day. Stay in bed and try stretch it so you can live on little and you’d not have to work for a few years. But I was the only one. Everyone else was talking about it going on the weddings and the deposits for the mortgage. If they won sixty two grand most people would go to work the next day. The money propels the spending forward. It’s not a prize at the end it’s a boost forward. The race still to be run.

My ideal self would be having enough to be able to work on creating stuff and experiencing what others have made. But I got carried away with that lifestyle. I had a show, a cartoon called Ends Meet, on tv a few years ago and I lived the dream. Only the dream ran out of petrol and now I’m working in a call centre in an industrial estate. I fantasise about being able to quit everyday. Yearning for the second that I can walk out the door and never have to listen to a customer get snippy with me at nine in the morning. I hate the company. I won’t even admit to my artistic friends what I’m doing. The money is just going towards me not having to work there. I get home worn out and I’d rather just relax when I get off but if I do nothing creative then all I’ve done that day is work for the company. And I hate the company. I’m not going to give myself 100% to the company. I have to leave something for me. A few hours of making something that I’ll enjoy and can try to get me out of the job again. I’m working so I can hopefully work really hard again on something I’m passionate about. The TV show took the best part of three years , from pitch to airing. And there was no clocking out at 5pm every day like there is in the job now. And I’m reconditioning myself into thinking that it’ll all be better once again, the early mornings, the repetition, the drawn out decisions, the stress that you’re making the wrong decisions. The weight of it all will be better because I care about it.

Maybe that’s what the Salarymen do. They care what they do and that helps them do it. Is it better to take the money and have the decency to have gratitude to the faceless corporation that’s giving it to you? Accept my role in the day to day, week to week, year to year. Be proud of being that necessary cog in that mammoth machine. I could just adopt that thinking. I should go to work and slot in and help the bigger cogs turn. It’s me there and I’m helping something bigger than me. And be proud of that. Focus on my purpose. And if anyone gets in the way as I head to the office in the morning. I’ll just, politely, wait for them to move aside and continue on my way without a fuss.

Mark Baldwin 2018