I’m sitting with my son on the patio of a way-too-cool bar on Dawson Street, Dublin. Just off a plane from Boston this morning, we spent the afternoon touristing around the city center, until our resolve, and legs, packed it in – the cranky-time-zone-reboot-nap not really doing it. Now, we’re content to retreat to this narrow bar-patio, people watch and imbibe refreshingly cold drinks, while around us Dublin buzzes.
Young professionals – grey-suited-white-shirted males; grey-suited-peach-shirted-or-summer-dressed females – unleashed from their desks, dart into bars and cafés for quick-hit-revitalization; libidos and credit cards, primed for summer evening action: They quick-step-off-on enormous, green-double-decker buses, barely letting these Dublin-originals lurch to a brake-screeching stop: Suit jackets and summer dresses fly backwards in youthful-self-made-wind, as they rush for the bus; to catch up to a friend: Rushing for the sake of youthful rushing, they duck-dodge between long groups of plodding-pointing-half-yelling Americans in tourist survival, backpack-water-bottle-hiking-cane gear: A homeless man picks his way along – sixty-hard-something-years old; greasy-blackened jeans, no shirt; fish-belly-grey-purple-splotched torso; beet-red-deep-wrinkled face; fogged-in-eyes – holding out an empty, battered coffee cup.
By happenstance, and proximity to Hoggis and Figgis Bookshop, our touristing ended here at this Dawson Street bar. The patio manager – a tall-bald-self-possessed African man, in a one size too large, black tuxedo and an unbuttoned white shirt – is bemused-indifferent at our politeness in asking if it’s ok to sit outside.
“Seet, seet,” he says kinda-smiling, waving one massive hand toward the patio, but carefully-indifferently, barely looking at us. “Pick iny seet you liking – iny.”
We pick the only seats left, jammed between a large group of Irish millennials and two fortyish looking women. The women turn out to be French speaking, and thus poor marks for eavesdropping, but the millennials, well, it turns out they’re Dublin Posers in full bloom: A particular Homo Sapiens’ social-subgenus – Hibernica Capitis Falsarium – that this Eavesdropologist has not studied for decades.
The young women, all fashionably dressed, to suit their fit builds, skillfully made up and coiffed to hide any overly prominent facial features, have very well defined roles for social occasions in this subgenus: Most sit quiet-nervously-stiff, tittering when necessary, while the alpha-female, with faux-big-girl-gravitas, dispenses hackneyed advice about how to fool parents-girlfriends-bosses, or, most importantly, how to cure “killer hangovers.”
The men are all skinny; no arses at all; their, appropriately, skinny jeans attached to their hip bones via thick brown belts; clean-trendy-haircuts; faked-tanned arms alighting from designer tee shirts. They are, most importantly, voluble interrupters, cutting short each others stories of “a craaazy noight, madness, madnesss I’m telling you, and then she had the audacity to ask me to … .”
“Yer lucky she didn’t snap a pic of you, and put it for de whole worrild to see,” a thickset young Poser woman interrupts; her body language screaming boredom at one too many male-glory stories. “You’d have ben in roight shite then, that little willy of yours skipping all over SnapChat.”
There’s a couple of titters, but an awkward stillness settles over the group.
“I don’t agree with dat sort of stuff,” the tale-teller says, setting his needs-the-double-chin-to-be-intimidating-jaw in a show of physical dominance. “Dere’s plenty of women I coulda tooken pics of, … .”
He glares at his interrupter, his eyebrows raising just a smidge.
The waitress arrives, a slim, young Eastern European woman, with impeccable, but accented, Dublinish, and breaks the Poser-ice with a pleasant, eyebrows raised smile, as she leans toward them.
“Would any-one loike an-nod-er drink?”
My only previous experience with Dawson Street, confirming my unmitigated-redneckedness, was buying the street in the Dublin version of Monopoly – and it wasn’t even a particularly good earner, being one of the purple streets!
Thirty-two years ago, I left Ireland, or more correctly stated, left the ‘Whest’ of Ireland – from Shannon Airport, naturally – having been in Dublin so few times I might not even need to remove the second sock to count them all. The only two Dublin locations that I knew well enough to say I could find them, were: Heuston Station, our point of excited arrival and anxious departure: And the Palace Bar, on Fleet Street, where beer-bellied-nicotine-stained-fingers Cavan barmen would, for 65p, serve a sixteen, and sometimes even a fifteen, year old a pint of Guinness the morning of a rugby international match.
For a solid sixteen years of two-week-three-weekend-trips to Ireland from Boston, I never got any further into Dublin than my brother’s house in Castleknock. This was not with any malice-a-forethought, but simply because we lived in a crowded city, and the joy of a trip to Ireland is to visit the vibrant countryside. Then, the kids got old enough to savor the differences between American and European cities.
Still, as an unmitigated-redneck, I remained unconvinced.
Dublin was where your car got robbed, where “gougers” (not color coded – due to Ireland’s then all-whiteness – as are the disaffected youth in many other countries) hung out in gangs around gaudy shopping centers, waiting to unleash their crazed-at-the-world anger on whomever was stupid, or, as in our case, unknowing enough, to cross their paths.
It wasn’t until six years ago, when I had to be picked up at the airport on a dark October morning, and driven across a large swath of the city, trying to get to a cancer hospital in time to say goodbye to my sister, that I ever even saw Dublin as a European city.
There we were in the almost-dawn, motoring down Georgian boulevards, blank two hundred year old windows gazing at us with unflinching indifference. We rumbled down built-for-hand-carts-barely-wide-enough-for-a-car, cobbled alleys. We zipped along once verdant suburban, but now tree-lined urban, streets; aging BMWs, Audis, Mercedes (legacies of the then anemic Celtic Tiger) parked carefully-haphazardly in front of what were once comfortably large country mansions, now extravagant city homes.
That morning, in the grey dawn, the streets devoid of humans, travel exhaustion and the emotional stress of the race against time opened the shutters bolted closed by my redneckedness, allowing Dublin to declare itself a distinctive European capital.
Meanwhile, back on the now much better than Monopoly-purple-Dawson-Street, I get distracted by the table to my right – sorry, ‘roight’ – from which the French speaking women have departed, and is now occupied by four men in their early twenties, two sitting, two more standing, waiting for the carefully-indifferent-staring-at-his-phone patio-manager to not-bring them chairs.
The two sitters are working hard on Poser-cool-poses, but are not quite there yet – they’re probably third year apprentice-Posers. Their faces are faux-taut with that pained visage that comes with being sooo-cool, but as they’re still apprentices, they need to busy themselves looking at stuff to avoid making eye contact with mere mortals. One looks at the patio pavement, then at where their drink should be if only the waitress would acknowledge them: The other one, for extra points, is busily involved in the complexities of rolling a cigarette; the paper, waiting for the loose tobacco, resting magically between his left thumb and forefinger.
But never once – and thus I gain the secret art of posing in a Dublin pub – do the third year apprentice-Posers look at another human. When you’re a card carrying Poser, you can’t get caught making eye contact with another person: They might pick up some frail concern for other humans, some potential weakness in the Poser armor, some mere mortal humanity!
No, instead, all of a Poser’s energy must be devoted to – as one of the greatest poets, and a sort of Poser himself, said – “prepare a face, to meet the faces that we meet.”
As a secret coveter of the Poser’s suit of armor – I have long chaffed inside my unmitigated-redneck, Neanderthal suit of armor – I’m crushed to realize that my addiction to people-watch-eavesdropping has permanently ruled me out this subgenus.
Meanwhile, still standing, the first-year apprentice Posers, glance furtive-longingly toward the carefully-indifferent patio manager, who, as he dispenses a carefully-indifferent Poser lesson, disturbs not a single muscle to get them chairs.
One of the standing apprentice Posers – chubby, already balding, white-tee-shirt-belly-bulgingly-tucked-into-too-small-stonewashed-jean-shorts, early twenties, eyes that can’t stop roving – asks faux-nonchalantly:
“Is dat Cuban or Dow-minican tobacca?”
His hands push too deep into the jean-shorts’ pockets, straining everything from his hunched shoulders to the mercilessly-stretched-denim.
“I heared de Dow-minican stuff was really good,” he adds with an almost Poser-feminine titter.
“Nooh, nooh,” the cigarette roller says in a thick Cork accent – thus the need for extra points – carefully not looking up. “I wouldn’t let a … a moleh-cule of Do-mini-can smoke into my luungs”
He stops to complete rolling a near-perfectly-cylindrical cigarette.
“Dis was grown, on an organic tow-bacca faram below en Wexford. Wouldn’t be my ting to have ‘em burning fossil fuels trans-port-hing tow-bacca from da Colonies over here just for me to enjoy an ould smoke. Oh nooh, not at all. Johnny de bareman below in de Blind Pig hooked me up with dis Wexford crowd. I haven’t smoked anudder ting since.”
As an unmitigated-redneck, who fled so far “Whest” that he ended up on the east coast of another continent, my last encounter with Dublin Posers was, rather improbably, forty years ago – in a chess tournament.
On that day, we were very much a social-subgenus all of our own: A successful chess team from the Whest, competing in an All-Ireland schools’ tournament. These were the kind of tournaments that venerated private schools in the Dublin area mopped up with easeful regularity. Our team, St. Gerald’s Castlebar, hot off the redneck-express train the night before, flustered-stressed-rushed out of Heuston to a billeting with relatives or hard-core-Irish-chess-enthusiasts, we somehow showed up the following morning ready to rumble.
Initially, some of the Dublin players, teenagers who looked more like us – jeans-jumpers-sneakers-scruffy-hair – than the hardcore private schoolers – shirt-tie-pants-black-shoes-short-back-and-sides – were friendly. But, as soon as we started beating them, they began to see us as a threat to their competitive-egos, and withdrew to the traditional tribalism of city versus country: Dub versus Cultie.
On the Sunday afternoon, as we milled around nervously before the final – we did everything nervously that weekend, until we stepped off the Heuston platform onto the train, clutching faux-gold medals – one of the apprentice-Posers, who had been friendly all through the Saturday, now back in the company of his wanna-be-Poser-peers, yells across the room towards me:
I look back blankly, too confused and naïve to be insulted.
“Aren’t youse all named ‘Paddy’ down dere?” he scoffs, to a titter of nervous-maybe-the-Cultie’ll-start-swinging laughter.
“Come ‘ere,” the Dawson-Street-alpha-female says way too loudly: She’s trying to salvage their summer evening from dissolving under the tale-tellers ongoing broodiness.
“I hear de Aviva tickets are gowin’ on sale in a week or sow.”
“Jaysus,” a lanky male, full-blooded-Poser crows, his shoulders stretching back, both gangling arms rising up slowly. “After what Jonny done to dem Austray-lians, de’ll be loike hens teet. I’m glad I got me da’s for whenever I need ‘em.”
A few shoulders slump, some eyes avert; but he’s in full flight, hands closing in a loose, I-own-this-now, clasp behind his head.
“Sure, de ould fella’s ony interested in making a fewl of ‘imself in de befores and afters – wouldn’t know a rugby tackle if it, … if it, …, hit ‘im beh-tween de eyes.”
The waitress returns with a round bottle of clear spirits on a tray.
The Aviva-ticket-holder, breaks his passive-dominance stance, leans forward, grabs the bottle from the tray, peers closely at the label.
“Dats de one,” he nods, slowly, sagely. “De best damn gin in Oire-land!”
I flick back to the apprentices, but they’ve disappeared, without leaving behind so much as a waft of Wexford-organic-tobacco-smoke.
The tale-teller’s-interrupter stands suddenly, flattening her short summer dress against her arse with both hands.
“Awhright, I’m off,” she says, with faux-cheerfulness. “Rachel just Wha’sed-me, she’s oh-ver in Kehoes drinking durty pints of Guinness,” she forces out a titter, “wid her country-cousin from de tax office – she’s actually gas.”
She gives one final, extra-faux-cheerful smile, grabs her phone, unlocks it with one thumb, picks up her bag, clasps it deliberately, then starts to leave to a chorus of metal-chair-dragging-screeches, a smattering of barely-bothering-to-look-up “good-buy, good-buy, good-buys,” and an ostentatiously shoddy air hug from the alpha female.
She stalks out, heels stabbing the patio pavers, waving to the patio-manager, who, with the evening finally cooling and the nighttime crowds arriving, has been battlefield-demoted to doorman. His shoulders squared, he holds the door open for an aging, Poser couple: The male in a so-dark-grey-it’s-actually-black suit, his mid-section amply filling the suspendered-pants and white shirt, his double chin quavering as he slowly steps along: The female has one of those, hard-earned-ugly-faces, gained by generations of rich-bitter living; she more than fully fills a fashionably-unfashionable cream colored, is-that-a-sail-or-a-dress; on her head an undersized pillbox hat, slightly askew, off which hangs some netting in an apparent attempt at a veil.
The once-patio-manager-now-doorman bows, carefully-indifferent, as they pass.
I watch a double-decker swoop to a sudden-screech-stop at the curb, pedestrians stepping sideways with this-always-happens-but-I-never-get-used-to-it shock.
The bus unloads fresh, young recruits for the assault on the Dublin summer evening.
A Euro-dad – fluorescent yellow flips, electric blue shorts, burnt-orange tee-shirt – strolls along, a lit cigarette in one hand, his toddler’s hand in the other. The little girl tight-rope walks the curb line, oblivious to the now reloading bus.
Next to me the tale-teller rises fast-dramatic out of his seat.
“For reel!” he says, way too loudly, hands held up as he releases a nervous laugh.
Then he backs his no-arse arse into Aviva-man, holds his arms out, like he’s being crucified for a lack of coolness, his face contorting in mock-pain.
“And dis is me own mum, I mean I’m doing dis to me own mum!” he arches his back, for more effect, staggers, almost falls into Aviva-man’s lap.
The young women titter on command.
“You bet-her tell ‘er someone date-raped yer drink,” the alpha-female throws out, unleashing a chorus of loud-titters.
“Me owen mum!” he throws his hands up and snaps his head back, with the bacchanalian-wild-abandon of a Dublin Poser, full-frontal-posing on Dawson Street.