Originally published in the Irish Examiner
An email, on a Sunday, from the Director of Public Prosecutions stops me in my tracks. Now, at the best of times, I suffer from non-specific guilt. Meaning I have the self-condemnation you’d expect major drug dealers to experience, even though all you’ll ever get from me is an elderly Disprin. Because of that guilt, if the DPP is after me, I figure I deserve it and move straight away to hope for the odd visitor when I’m behind bars. I’ll probably be the only offender to express remorse before even learning what offence I’ve committed. It takes me three panicked readings to work out that this message actually comes from DPD, a courier company, rather than the DPP, and is demanding I pay customs fees up front on my purchase. It doesn’t specify what my purchase is, but I figure it’s the extra-large ironing board cover, bought as an investment in the future — some post-pandemic day, I may need a crisp shirt. I pay up with some relief.
Somebody has sent me a heavy machine for filling my air with salt. It comes without a card, a note, or a compliment slip and I have not ordered a salt-spewing machine. The outside of the heavy box tells me it will cure my asthma and improve my life in vague but important ways. I live by the sea, which makes the ambient air so aggressively salty that even stainless steel in my kitchen rusts. Technically, it is not possible to rust stainless steel, but my kitchen says otherwise. Point being, since I live in a salt-saturated environment all the time, why the hell would I want an electronic yoke to make things even more saline?
Text from a friend: “The surgery went well and I will deliver limbs to you as soon as it’s legal.” Even a card-carrying medical groupie like me is slightly floored by the notion of amputated limb delivery. Turns out it’s from a friend who does tree surgery.
Some bloke who shall be nameless (because he had enough troubles this week) has lost the chance to follow the fearsome Rose Hynes as chair of Shannon Airport and its fascinating surroundings. He’s lost his go on this particular roundabout because someone looked up his Twitter account and found he had said bad things about Travellers. Now, he said these bad things six years ago, which makes one wonder why no vetting programme alerted the minister before the minister found out himself and had to ring the nameless bloke and take back the invitation. It also makes one wonder why, on mature recollection, he himself hadn’t expunged the comments.
The amazing thing about social media sharing is how free of consequences it appears to be, up the moment when it drop-kicks you into obloquy or obscurity. The trainers in the careers clinic of my company, at least one of them, at least once a week, watch as people going for posts or promotions go grey about the gills when asked about anything controversial that might be on social media, uploaded by themselves or by a friend. Every time people go on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of the newer platforms, a flashing notice should appear, like the way a leaflet falls out of your new medication, warning that “in rare cases, people taking this medication go stripey, lose the ability to swear, grow feathers, or find their left elbow has developed mange”.
The social media warning notice should say something like “CAREFUL NOW! What you post in anger this minute — what you get off your chest right now — could come back to bite you, careerwise”. And if anyone suggests outspokenness is good, when it involves references to Travellers, the answer is that, quite apart from losing you a prestigious board position, such outspokenness never solves the original “problem” it purports to address but, instead, serves the negative purpose — intended or otherwise — of encouraging people who didn’t know they had those bad feelings until they were publicly expressed by someone else.
I suspect my sister of passive aggression although, in fairness, this is not her normal gait of going. Normally, she’s quite upfront about her aggression. As her younger sister, I developed the habit of ducking when she entered a room suddenly, although time has mellowed her somewhat, plus reduced the power of her throwing arm. The suspicion of passive aggression comes because she’s taken to lending me books that weigh a ton. Last week it was the latest Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) and this week it’s Fredrik Logevall’s JFK, the first massive volume of two on the assassinated US president. My wrists are so sore from holding these tomes at reading distance, I’m liable to wince if you shook hands with me. Not that you would. Not that you could.
Like Robert Caro’s wondrous multi-volume biographies of LBJ, the 800-page book about Kennedy challenges everything the reader ever believed about the assassinated president, and does the same for perceptions of his father: Joe Kennedy, the antisemitic money-making bootlegger and philanderer who dragooned his children into being echoes of himself. Logevall’s book establishes that, while the older Kennedy was undoubtedly an antisemitic philanderer, no evidence proves he was a bootlegger, and he actively encouraged analytical thinking on the part of his sons (not so much the daughters) to the extent of encouraging them to take up stances directly opposed to the positions held by their father. His worst parental sin was committed — as are so many parental sins — with the best of intentions and on the best medical advice. It was having his daughter Rosemary, who had a severe learning disability, lobotomised in the belief the then ground-breaking surgery would improve her mood and reduce her violent tantrums. In the event, the surgery destroyed Rosemary, erasing all the progress made by effortful special education over two decades and leaving her virtually speechless.
The biography, which stops where John F Kennedy decides to make a run at the presidency, also disproves the myth that JFK was a shallow, ill-informed writer and orator largely created by better minds and better writers. It’s well worth the painful wrists.
My son delivers home-made brown bread. What a time to be alive.
This week, top of the PR jobs nobody wants is looking after US senator Ted Cruz, who abandoned his stricken state of Texas in order to take a sunny break in Cancún. At the best of times, looking after this man’s reputation wouldn’t be that appealing, but file under “Impossible” the rescue task, if only because this ten-gallon eejit left his poor little dog in his freezing home, looking sadly out the front window at photographers. When Texans have neither heat nor light and you’re their senator, the canine instructions apply: “SIT. STAY.”