“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
It’s been a month since I last wrote here. Time has slipped by again, and with it things have changed. Gone are the slow burning evenings and the last leaves of Autumn. If I stand at my front door, I won’t hear the distant sound of children playing or feel the fresh October breeze against my skin. I won’t see the the rooftops glow that red-gold that they do when the lazy sun sinks down behind them.
Because now it is Winter.
Now the night winds are hunting, and everyday at 5 O’Clock the sky turns murky blue like someone has bruised it. Lately, I can sense the quiet air; the kind of frozen spell that greets you leaving a pub on a hushed Christmas Eve.
Why does any of this matter? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because this is home, and it is regular. It’s always been this way here.
But, perhaps this time it’s different. Perhaps this time, I’m different. Possible?
Tonight I’m standing at my window. High above me, I can’t see the moon behind the clouds. But I have seen it. I’ve seen it shine on the other side of the world.
I can still see myself sitting in Irish Outreach in June, tentatively opening an email from the YMCA. It’s short and to the point. It simply reads “Can you make an interview here at 14:30?” I look at the time on the corner of the screen. It reads just over a quarter past One. I have no idea where “Overland Avenue” is, but every bit of me knows if I’m going to make it there I should have been gone ten minutes ago. Rather than sink into my chair in defeat, I bring up Google Maps and get the directions. Less than a minute later, I have the blind luck of catching a tram, and suddenly this operation begins to come together. An hour later, I run staggering into Toby Wells YMCA, with just over five minutes to spare. I have absolutely no idea what part of San Diego I’m in; in fact, I’m only half certain this still is San Diego. But I’m here, and though utterly unprepared for this group interview, I am confident I can see it through.
Interviewing in front of seven people (with two others who wanted the job as well included) should have been the first sign that this wasn’t going to be easy. I stayed oblivious, for a while at least. It didn’t help that my two competitors just so happened to be the most qualified camp leaders I’d ever met. As they confidently listed out lifeguard qualifications and past experience, I began to feel I should have just stayed in my chair in Irish Outreach. But, life has a funny way of looking out for the underdogs. As it turned out, we all got the job, and though it was far from my new accommodation, I had two weeks to figure it out before camp started on June 16th.
But what about Macy’s, you ask?
Well, I still had that on the go. I know, it sounds hectic to me too. Looking back on it, Macy’s were only offering me a twelve hour contract to start, and realistically I could not have predicted how many hours this summer camp was going to offer a week. All I knew was my friends Katie and Aine had just landed a job with the YMCA (though at the far closer Mission Valley Centre), and as I microwaved my Taquitos (see picture below..) or flicked through the pages of a book, I couldn’t help but wonder how much fun a job like that might be. I had never worked in a Summer Camp before, but even I could see “Laser Tag” and “Soccer Tournament” sounded more enjoyable and a lot let stressful than “How to deal with an Active Shooter situation”, which was literally part of my training for Macy’s. I won’t lie, I’d say my 10 hours of training with Macy’s was the only time my heart was really in it as far as they were concerned. For the first two weeks of June, I worked a solid twenty hours there while I waited for camp to start. With two months rent due UP FRONT, money wasn’t exactly flowing for anybody and so those two weeks folding shirts, greeting customers and asking did people want to sign up for a Macy’s card were worth every minute.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one in Macy’s. Fiona (and later Katie) had both managed to get as far as I got. Fiona would ultimately go on to become part of the Sea World crew, but those first few weeks in our homely apartment 2130 belonged to phrases such as “That’s the magic of Macy’s”. We didn’t have to exaggerate it either. Work with Macy’s really was Gossip Girl meets Suits, with my entire working day focused around promoting that product to the wealthy customer. I had people buy a new pair of jeans, two shirts and a tie and drop 400 dollars easily.
I’ll never forget my first night on the job, where I was left alone to close up no less than three registers. I could barely remove a security tag at this stage, but here I was counting out thousands of dollars in the dark of “Men’s Furnishings”. I just about managed to do a passable job, but by the time I got out of there I was going to have to get the 23:00 tram back from Fashion Valley to Rio Vista. I was hungry, covered in sweat from running up and down stairs and fit to lose it with whichever room mate pushed first. But that was the thing about my first ever room mates-they were golden. I came home that night, took a bottle of Bud Light Platinum out of the fridge and sat around with these ten other young people. I can’t remember if that was the night the infamous 2130 spooky stories started, or the time we watched Top Gun, or the night all 11 of us slept in the one room despite there being room to fit five in the bedroom next door. But that was our living. You’d have a shitty day at work and you’d come home to Adam singing Chris Brown, Greeney firing a beach ball off Mark’s head and all the girls camped in front of the one mirror/wardrobe chatting, drinking and getting themselves dolled up. And we needed that.
Our nights out were too numerous to count, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t savour every one. Somehow eleven people showered, dressed, ate dinner and got the drink out in less than an hour. Cans of Four Loco and a bit of Justin Timberlake on the laptop. Every night was a new drinking game dispersed with whatever crazy story somebody had at work that day. I can honestly say I vented a lot about Macy’s to the tune of Rock Your Body. Some random trio always had to take our FOB cards for the security door ( though one night Fiachra did somehow manage to procure all three), and you damn well had to make sure you came home with one of them if you wanted to get back in that night. Keys for our door were a priority at first, but I can honestly assure you in the end leaving the door unlocked was the best option. Two months with no break-ins if you discount the few times I had to climb through our back patio to unlock the door from the inside.
I wouldn’t say I was taken by the night life in America, but when you have no parents, no college and no work in the morning a night out in Pacific’s Beach Typhoon can feel like a concert. And of course, this was San Diego after all, so there was no shortage of big name acts either. Our gang swapped nights at Jason DeRulo or Snoop Dogg, and if there was nothing else on we had utter faith in McFaddens.
McFaddens was a token Irish bar in Gaslamp quarter, and while I’ve never danced in any other “Irish bar” to Usher’s Yeah!, nowhere else in San Diego served one dollar beer on a Thursday. So naturally every J1 student and a share of confused Americans were there every week. Gaslamp Quarter was like a throwback to a Wild West Town, except here you were as likely to find a high-end store as you were a rough and tumble saloon. It had an art to it, that street. It wasn’t tacky or forced. It was a little gem we wouldn’t see in LA or New York. Maybe one day I’ll see it again.
And of course we were out in force now. During our second week in Promenade Fiachra finally reached 21. We celebrated it true American style with a BBQ poolside and drinks all round. The BBQ didn’t get going like we hoped, but we still had our drink. I suppose it was Irish by all respects….
Of course, some parts of the “American Dream” did not disappoint. Every weekend in June we’d rally ourselves out of our sleeping positions on the floor to catch a bus to the beach. Pacific Beach, which had that long Californian Boardwalk and a Pier stretching out into the sea, was our first port of call, but soon we’d spent plenty of time at Mission Beach too (note, half of all San Diegan locations have the word “Mission” in their name). Coronado was a little bit tougher to get to, and I still can’t place it on the map, but the white sands there were the cleanest you could find. It was like a drop of the Mediterranean mixed into the palette of California.
The one I’ll always remember is Ocean Beach. I wouldn’t say it was the busiest, or had the most to offer, but something about the vista there captured you. Sunset Cliffs was only a small walk away, and I guess you’d have to be a fool not to go see what the fuss was about. Five or six of us sat there as the sun dipped into the Pacific, when suddenly a burst of orange and vivid red became a temperate blue. I know we sat there for a while after. In fact, by the time we left I’m sure it was nightfall. But personally, I don’t think the sun ever really sets on Ocean Beach.
While people might think California is the beach end of, we learned a lot about America in those first few weeks. Firstly, the trams are full of crazy people. I wouldn’t say these people were sick, or in need of help. I would just say they had a unusual outlook on life. Everyday somebody had a new story about a “crazy” they had met that day, whether they were trying to chance one of the girls or were shadow boxing for 20 minutes, there was always something.
Of course, settling into Promenade brought its own list of experiences. Firstly, if you are going to shop in America, shop in Food 4 Less. We might have spent a while splashing the cash in Target, but by mid June we were getting that tram to Hazard Centre to purchase what became a very staple packet of salami (started by yours truly), box of rice, box of pasta, tray of noodles. Yes, I said tray.
When brown rice on a disposable plate just wasn’t gourmet enough for us, we happily spent half our wages on America’s greatest fast food. I still don’t think I’ve gotten over the Wendy’s, the Taco Bell, the In N Out Burger, the Sombreros, the Panda Express, the Fro-yo, the Chipotle or the Subway. I can picture us all sitting on the floor of 2130 eyeing each others food in admiration. We may have ate poorly but when we did we ate well.
At this point I was fairly settled in Macy’s. I now knew how to close up registers, and I was regularly smashing my sales figures (it was that bad), but when camp started on the 16th I knew I wasn’t going to last. Now don’t get me wrong, Camp wasn’t easy. Every morning, I woke up at 5am along with Adam and went and made myself a bowl of Rice Crispies. By 5.20 we were waiting for our tram to take us to Fashion Valley. From there we got a bus that took twenty five minutes on a good day to Clairemont Mesa. By 6.30 we were signed in and on the clock. The work day began.
At the beginning, our job at camp was to be there when the kids got signed in. Some would be there at 6.30, and they would expect to be entertained. Have you ever tried to run around with a hyperactive 10 year old at seven in the morning? Have you ever done it with a hangover after getting in at 3am the night before? I’ve never been so disciplined with a job. I might be in agony from the night out, but come 5am I’d be up and on that tram. At the start, the Irish contingent of the Toby Wells staff (all eight of us) weren’t very taken by the camp songs or the spirit stick or the dress-up Wednesdays. For America, we knew this was standard but here at home we’re just not like that. We just got on with our job and slowly made friends with the others working there. As a staff, we were easily 40-50 strong to cover Camp 6.30 am – 6pm Mon-Fri. That being said, myself and Adam had five day weeks, and easily 35 hours once we settled. The last two weeks of June, I worked both camp and Macy’s, which eventually was tending toward a 50 hour work week. At that stage, I knew, things had to change.
Of course me and Adam weren’t the only martyrs. Eimear was working at 5am when she started Sea World, which was as bad as anyone ever got it. Greeney, Mark, Fiachra and the two Fionas regularly got caught for the early mornings, and with Fiona Meade working in Target as well she even made my schedule look empty. Aine and Katie had camp like us and Michaela probably had the longest commute to her work, so over all none of had it easy by any stretch. But, at the end of the day, you’d come home and everyone would be rearing to go. I might have collapsed a few times in those weeks, but despite the fatigue, I kept going. Truth be told, I was kept going by those other ten. At that stage, we had assigned family roles. They ranged from a set of identical twins called Fiona and Niofa, to a crazy aunt and a misfit mother. I was happy to be chosen as Dad. Looking back, I think our group all looked out for each other.
They were good kids.