If you are reading this, then it is already too late. I have lost myself and set my identity ablaze. Belfast has corroded the false idols of my unquestioned beliefs in the American ideals of Truth, Liberty, and Justice. This corruption of the soul I believed to be my “self” struck like a blazing flash of lightning satori that left the moveable corpse of my body thunderously shuddering. While my vision of enlightenment struck in an instant, the events that occurred during my two months prior, in Belfast, were what allowed such a momentous revolution of perspective to occur (and yes, your stereotypical notion that all great things which occur on the Isle of Eire are precipitated by Guinness are indeed correct in this instance).
Day Zero (or the day I tore down the walls of the unquestioned beliefs of my childhood) began when my best friend from age fourteen, Kristian, awoke me Saturday morning, the 11th of March. After a wee bit of hot shower meditation and high-fiber breakfast, my consciousness was pulsating enough to leave my dorm, and set sail upon the flowing black asphalt sea towards St. George’s Market in Belfast’s City Centre.
When we arrived at 14:35 all that was left of the famous farmers market were fish/livestock carcasses and a mop-up brigade who wielded their weapons of purification with the confidence only found within true masters of the custodial arts. With the market closed we headed with our bodies slouched, and hands in our pockets to the recently constructed Waterfront Centre. It seems like the alternative-adolescent crowd of Belfast congregated their studded-pierced-tattooed-Mohawk-spiked bodies by the shore to worship the holy sacraments of PDA, skating, chillin, and extreme parkour. Unfortunately along came a pair of neon-yellow female Enforcers of Justice who threatened to bombard these “loiterous” youths with the Fire and Brimstone of their mighty pens and notebooks, if they did not move their adolescent ritual of coming-of-age to a less recently monetarily flooded (and thereby touristy) area. As the police officers walked past, I, wearing the finest of Chinese assembled American labeled outdoors-wear, exchanged a courteous smile and nod to these .40 caliber Smith and Wesson clad Defenders of Peace and Equality. I grinned while muttering some manner of compliment to my law-abiding matriarchs under my breath, eliciting a chuckle from my friend Kristian, and went on my merry way in search of better company amidst the crowd of Belfast.
Then, out of the gray it started to rain. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide: except for Belfast’s most famous public house, The Crown Bar (Est. 1826). We were finally able to push our way past the herd gathered around the waterhole at 17:00 and obtain the black elixir of life that defies the natural laws and order of the universe; falling away from the center of the planet and towards the white-frothy cream at the top (more commonly referred to as Guinness). There was not an open old aristocratic (thereby exclusive and closed off) booth in the place. So with weight on our feet and frosty beers in our hands we emptied our goblets to their temporary resting place in our circulatory system.
With our bodies warmed, we set out into the drying streets in search of dinner. On our walk back Kristian spotted one of the famous Belfast murals depicting the conflict between Catholic/Nationalist and Protestant/Unionist. Consumed by his mighty brew, Kristian wanted to venture into the periphery of West Belfast’s Sandy Row Ulster Protestant Neighborhood. Not being one to turn down an adventure I obliged his request.
We paused at the mural to read:
LOYALIST SANDY ROW
HEARTLAND of SOUTH BELFAST
It was surrounded by the beautiful sights of vacated old redbrick factories protected by walls topped-off with shimmering coils of flowing curls of razor wire. Our odyssey continued down the road, and as we were walking three young boys with buzz-cuts and tracksuits spilled out of a toyshop and onto the sidewalk. “Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!” These nine-year-olds each began to familiarize themselves with the sound, feel, and smell of firing a six-shot with their recently purchased cap-guns as we past. “Bang-Bang!”
Two shops up the road at Take-Out Palace, two middle-aged men were standing on the corner leaning their “wife-beater” blue tracksuits with accenting silver-chains against a new black Land Rover Discovery. As we snuck by and hastily crossed the street, we were came across a crowd of twelve-year-olds running around a Camo-colored ATV driving down the middle of the street. We had seen enough, and ducked down the next corner block to get back on Great Victoria Avenue.
On our left were the skeletal remains of some half torn down cinderblock building that had not withstood the changes of time since The Troubles. Coating the cinderblock-bones of the building was a ghost in the shape of a man, hidden by a black ski mask, black clothing, and an AK-47. In the shadow of this haunted-wall were six children from the age of four to seven and wearing mixed clothes, ranging from Bulls Championship t-shirts to the customary tracksuit, standing between Great Victoria Avenue and us. As we approached they stopped digging sticks into the sidewalk, and looked up at us. I was about to walk past, and looked into their eyes to exchange a smile and “Hello,” but all that I received were mischievous giggles and glaring smiles as I passed by. Right as they were behind me I heard in choir unison “Yankee, Yankee, Naa-Naa, Naa-Naa, NaA-NaA!” I looked over my left shoulder as they danced triumphantly in their End Zone, like six-year-old T.O.’s.
I wanted to turn around and explain to these children how their actions were guided by the ignorance sown into society by the symbols and institutions that rule over the individual. But instead I just turned my eyes to the black abyss stretching out in front of and below my feet, stuck my hands into my pockets, and chuckled at the consequences of such a wacky and absurd idea.