featured image by Carolina Barros

It happened by chance one morning in October last year, the day I attended my first job interview. An incident that planted in my mind an idea that became my philosophy for life.

I was already up, washed and dressed and by myself on the worn two-seater couch in the front room—the one without the telly. Despite my effort to wedge the draught excluder at the foot of the door, the Carrols and Major stink from the kitchen managed to get right up in my face; perhaps to remind me why I was here.

My Da had just come off another busy night shift at the warehouse, meaning he’d be full of the banter; chain-smoking, slurping his tea, yapping away to my Ma. And she’d be up for the chats too. Cloaked in her ancient dressing gown, a fag stapled to her lower lip, she’d be bending the ear off him about Mary—her seldom happy work mate she packed shelves with at the supermarket—while howling up the stairs for my two younger brothers to get ready for school. I just wasn’t up for it that morning, preferring seclusion instead of a heady atmosphere of cigarette smoke and gossip. Besides, I needed the relative solitude the front room could afford me to settle myself and to prepare. Or at least try to.

The bus that would take me from Swords into Dublin City Centre for the interview was not due for another two hours. I took the opportunity in the meantime to go over my notes. Interview preparation: the dos and don’ts, proper etiquette, typical questions and model answers, as well as a short paragraph on the company itself. The thing was, though, each time I tried to read down the A4 page of notes, I couldn’t make it to the end. I’d lose my train of thought, let my mind wander, and have to go back to the start to try again. And then, when I started anew, the result was the same.

It was the ding-ding. It was the gerrup. And it was wha. All of them were putting me off, thwarting my efforts.

I rose from the couch.

The room’s window looked out to the little patch of weeds my Ma vainly dubbed the “garden.” Beyond it and the pockmarked road lay the opposite row of identikit houses, which, combined with my row made up one of the seven streets of the housing estate I’d spent all 22 years of my life living in. If this greyer than grey view wasn’t enough to sap my motivation, the elements were doing their bit, too. Gusts of wind harassed the windowpane, throwing up leaves and litter. It rained on and off, with the occasional ray of sun poking through the heavy clouds. A dreary half-arsed affair, the weather not being able—or just not being bothered—to decide what to do.

On my right, behind the couch, the old wooden bookshelf. Crammed with useless faff; keepsakes, novelties, as well as the odd book.

I sloped over to it.

The few books there were of the queasy melodrama romance type my Ma couldn’t get enough of. As if four or more hours a night glued to her favorite soap operas didn’t do it for her. Obviously not, judging by the outlandish yet predictable cover art. A wedding couple at the altar, the groom holding a knife behind his back. Two middle-aged women laughing heartily with their heads thrown back, swinging their shopping bags. A lone woman atop a lighthouse gazing wistfully at the sunset.

I began to defocus, allowing my mind to wander yet again when something caught my eye. A book lurked behind a framed photo of my older sister and her two young children. It wasn’t adorned with the sickly pastels of the other books. No. This one was jet black. And the title—its lettering fashioned down the cover’s left margin in blood red font—had me curious.

“The Antichrist.”

I picked it up.

Its author was a Mr. Friedrich Nietzsche. A quick scan through the first few pages as well as the blurb on the back cover told me this was not one of my Ma’s books. It was written in the last century by the author, a controversial German philosopher, in which he criticized Christianity. Definitely not my Ma’s. Or my Da’s, for that matter, as the sum total of his reading amounted to the sports section of the tabloids. I could only guess that the book belonged to my sister. She had gone through a Goth phase in her early teens. Sometimes she’d bring back dark, edgy items she found in the art shops of George’s arcade; a skull pencil sharpener, a miniature Ouija board, or a book with a provocative title and artwork.

With the ding-ding, the gerrup and wha still conspiring to keep me from my notes, I took The Antichrist with me back to the couch. I hoped that having managed to grab my attention, it might enable me to read a whole page without pause. From there, a path could be forged back to my notes. I skipped the introduction written by a Mr. H. L. Mencken, preferring instead to go straight to the author’s preface.

The very first line this book belongs to the most rare of men had me sitting up straight. A strange assertion indeed. My plan worked. Appreciative that I could read the whole page in one go, I decided to read on, believing that I owed Friedrich Nietzsche the courtesy.

When I arrived at the words The End of bold and enlarged font, I drew in a deep breath to reap the kind of exhilaration that comes upon breaking through the water’s surface after a lengthy swim up from the deep. And when I exhaled—this exhausting yet satisfying sigh—my whole body purged itself of 22 years of ding-ding, gerrup and wha. I had never been so engrossed, so utterly fixated on a piece of writing. And never had I felt so elated, so appreciative; grateful for it having enabled me to structure, to add context, meaning and understanding to the inklings I’d struggled with all my life.

I lay the book down beside me on the couch as if it were a newborn baby or a deadly scorpion; careful not to disturb it. Thankful, yet slightly fearful, for what it had done for me. For an indeterminable moment, I stared out through the window beyond the grey to the truth.

The rumba beat of my phone’s alarm clock sounded. The bus would be there in ten minutes. I grabbed my notes and headed into the kitchen to fetch my tie.

“Well look who it is, wha? Mr Accountant! Gerrup out of it,” said my Da, bellicose and hoarse; the big red face on him. He sat at the kitchen table with my Ma, propped up on his meaty elbows. The ashtray overflowed.

“You’re not still goin’t’dat interview, are ye? Story, like?” said my Ma, raising a cigarette to her mouth. A big weary yawn, jaded. She was slouched back in her seat in her off-pink dressing gown. Her hair a nest of rats to her shoulders.

“Look at here you. Ding-ding, wha? Ding-ding…” My Da had his right hand raised and pointed at me, holding up an imaginary dinner bell. A common occurrence. “…dat shite’s not for us. We’re working-class people, remember? Gerrup out of it, for fuck’s sake.” His crankiness only due in part to the fact that it was his midnight.

Normally I interjected. I would argue my case with them. But this time, I felt a peculiar yet scintillating detachment from them and their ire. I was beyond their reach, stood behind the safety barrier watching two monkeys squabble over a deflated beach ball covered in hay and shite.

“Sure didn’t I fuckin tell him dat?” My ma cranked her neck round with great effort to look directly at him, flicking some ash. “The working class don’t be goin’t’dat accounting shite. It’s not for us.”

“Don’t I know? Sure how many fuckin’ times have I told him, wha?” his gaze fully on my Ma now. “He’d be better off back at the warehouse. Handy number, wha? Ding fuckin’ding wha?”

I spotted my tie. It had been hard to locate it through the acrid hew caused by so many cigarettes. I grabbed it and ran out the hall door, my Ma and Da still shouting—monkeys flinging their own faeces at each other—when I slammed it behind me.

What is good? Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man.

What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness.

What is happiness? The feeling that power increases—that resistance is overcome.

This will to power was Nietzsche’s central premise. Although he never quite managed to articulate it, I took it to mean that humans are at their best when they are empowered. Therefore, anything that diminishes this empowerment is evil. And this evilness springs from weakness. Nietzsche asserts in The Antichrist that Christianity is our chief power diminisher for the patheticness it condoned, nay encouraged. However, what I got from it was any ideology that reduces, subverts, denies or impedes our will to power is evil.

I consider life itself instinct for growth, for durability, for accumulation of forces, for power: where the will to power is lacking, there is decline.

To think that all this time it was my own flesh and blood—my Ma and Da—whom were the main culprits. It was they who were steadfast on diminishing my will to power, owing to their fixation on me being working class. Their own definition of the term, that was, replete with its ridiculous limitations and phony absolution.

 …closing one’s eyes upon one’s self once for all, to avoid suffering the sight of incurable falsehood…in it nothingness is deified and the will to nothingness is made holy.

Their insistence that that was my lot; my whole life being laid out before me. To join them in their will to nothingness. They were the reason why I had always felt this frustration and confusion. This thing clawing at my back, pulling me down, making me lead a rather impaired and powerless life. Nietzsche helped me see this; to see the truth. My parents were weak. They stood in the shadow of Larkin and Connolly, claiming working-class status for themselves because it was convenient; God forbid they take a long hard look at themselves and their own shortcomings. What had made them this way? I could hazard a guess. But whatever it was, it was for them. It was their life. Not mine.

I drew in a lungful of dewy giddiness—Halloween was just around the corner—as I dodged leaf-strewn puddles through the estate, demonstrating a distinct lightness to my stride. A nod to the strength of my convictions. For even though they’d done their damnedest to deny my will to power, it, with the help of Nietzsche, had just been restored. The ding-ding, gerrup and wha were not for me anymore.

No more.

I turned left onto the Rathbeale road, leaving the housing estate behind me. The bus stop was just up ahead. And two of my former warehouse workmates—Johnno and Big Mackie—were there. It was then that I first noticed the chill in the air, a shiver up my back. I stumbled and looked around, but my feet took me straight to them.

“Ah well, would ye look at dis,” said Johnno, that way he whined every word out through his nose; yelling, so he’d be heard over the traffic. His shoulder jabbed Big Mackie, gesturing at him to look my way. “It’s bollox. What d’fuck are ye bleedin doing with that shirt on ye and…ah here, you’ve got a tie on ye there n’all. Are we off to the courthouse? Wha?”

“Nice one, Johnno,” I said, just trying to play along with it. Now that I had arrived at the bus stop, I could see he had that quintessential Johnno look about him. It was in his eyes. Not an innocent cigarette and coffee for breakfast, but still-a-bit-drunk type of look. More of an up-half-the-night sniffing glue, slept on the kitchen floor then a spliff for breakfast type of animalistic glare. His wiry frame, wound up tight as a piano string, shook with the jitters. The chance of him reefing the tie off my neck to strangle me with it was real.

“So what’s the story then?” he said, his two bloodshot eyeballs pulsing away to the rave going on inside his head. “How come we haven’t seen you in the warehouse in d’last while? Too good for us now with yer shirt’n’all?”

“Yeah bud,” said Big Mackie, cracking open a can of Dutch Gold. Judging by his slurred voice, it wasn’t his first. “What d’fuck like? Don’t be tellin us you’ve gotten notions about yerself. Too good for us working-class types now, are ye?” He slurped from the can, keeping his gaze fixed on my tie. I was certain if I told him the truth, he’d soil it with lager and spittle out of spite.

“Not at all, lads,” that chill running right through me again. I’d folded my page of notes in half, then half again, but only managed to wedge it so far down my shirt’s breast pocket. I needed those notes. With Johnno’s gaze forcing me off-guard and Big Mackie’s heft depriving me of oxygen, I stupidly raised my hand to them.

“And what’s dis then?” said Johnno. He snatched at the page, unfolded it, and held it aloft so Big Mackie could see it too. “Ah here, what the fuck is dis ‘Junior Financial Accountant—Interview Notes’ doin’n’your pocket?” His gaze darted about the page as if he was lining up a fly to whack. “Eh, story? What the? Why the…just who in the fuck do ye tink ye are?” He gawked at me with those two bulging eyeballs of his, indignation doing a fire dance in his pupils.

Before I could come up with something that might appease his sense of betrayal, Big Mackie got in there first.

“Sure didn’t I be tellin ye dat? Gerrup out of it.” He tilted his can of Dutch Gold towards me. “Mr Bollix here’s grown a big head on him. Too good for the working class now so he is. Isn’t dat right?”

…it has taken the part of all the weak, the low, the botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism to all the self-preservative instincts of sound life…it is all hatred of the intellect, of pride, of courage…it has corrupted even the faculties of those natures that are intellectually most vigorous, by representing the highest intellectual values as sinful…

In fairness to them, it wasn’t just my parents. It was Johnno and Big Mackie too. They also harbored distorted notions as to what it meant to be working class. Although Nietzsche’s fury was directed at a corrupted Christian ideology, my own contempt—with The Antichrist enabling me to realize it—was with all those who’d co-opted the working-class identity. For these two lads, just like my parents, labeling themselves working class was the perfect cover story.

Their “instincts of resentment” against those who were well constituted led them to invent another world in which the acceptance of life appeared as the most evil and abominable thing imaginable…of course they don’t call themselves the weak; they call themselves “the good.”

“Not at all, lads.” I held up my hands to them. I’d never actually seen Johnno in a scrap, but there were stories.

“C’mere to me you…” said Johnno, my page of notes scrunched up in a white-knuckled clench. He paraded in front of me, all arms and legs, the way an MMA warrior psych’s out his opponent in the moment before the referee shouts FIGHT! “…the big fuckin head on ye.”

Over Johnno’s head, I spotted a taxi. I double-stepped past Big Mackie to hail it down. In I went, leaving both lads by the bus stop perplexed, to face yet another shift at the warehouse.

“Where are ye off to?” said the taxi driver, pulling away from the curbside. He glanced at me in the rearview mirror. If he noticed my disheveled appearance, he didn’t mention it.

“The I.F.S.C., please.” I struggled with that kind of wooziness that comes with such a close call, the fear shuddering through me. I caught Johnno out of the side window. He had his fist raised to the taxi, displaying my page of notes; evidence of my treason. No doubt they’d pin it up on the canteen wall amongst the selected porn mag rip-outs and football posters. “I have a job interview with InsaTech. Connolly Station would be a good place to drop me off, thanks.”

“An interview? Doin a bit, wha?” He spoke in that quintessential North Dublin accent. According to the driver ID card displayed on the dashboard, his name was Patrick Boyd Reilly. I couldn’t tell whether his mugshot was recent. But the bumfluff tash perched on his upper lip matched the version I had glimpsed in the rearview mirror. He turned the car around, heading for the turn-off at Watery Lane.

“I suppose I am. I’m trying to anyway.” I could taste the words in my mouth. Too much time spent swallowing them down, to hide them from my Ma and Da and my workmates at the warehouse. Now I had this urge to spit them out. “It’s for a junior accounting role in their accounts receivable department. Ye see, I registered with one of these professional accounting bodies, passed some of their exams—the easy beginner one’s—just so I could put it on my CV, you know? ‘P.Q.A.—Part Qualified Accountant.’ That’s the reason why I got called for the interview, anyway.” Maybe it was the encouragement proffered me from having read The Antichrist. Whatever it was, I was ready to tell the world what I was about.

Beyond the pine fresh interior, this world—my world—had changed. No longer would I see it as my Da wanted me to. A revelation. And I had Friedrich Nietzsche to thank.

“Gerrup oura’dat,” said Patrick Boyd Reilly, letting his flat accent off the leash. A cheek-laden smirk reflected in the rearview mirror. “Sure fair fucks to ye. Us working-class people have to do a bit’o dis and a bit’o dat, wha?”

Here we go again. For fuck’s sake.

The taxi turned left onto Watery Lane. We passed a few clusters of semi-detached houses, then a chemical plant, onwards to Fingallian’s roundabout. From it, we headed northwards on the R132 to the Donobate exit, where we joined the M1 that would take us all the way to Dublin city and Connolly station via the Port tunnel.

“What do you mean?” I dithered whether I should engage in conversation with him, but I was curious. I wanted him to elaborate; to explain what being working class meant to him.

“Sure ye know yourself, bud,” his hands slack on the steering wheel. “Whatever you’re havin…it’s all part of d’game, wha? Like right now, I do be doing this taxiing game; a few fares off the meter and what not. I make north of 50 grand a year, so I does. And d’other ting is I got dis apartment in Skerries…” he twisted his head ‘round to look right at me, the sides of his cheeks pinched high “…I got two Polish chefs livin’n’it. The fuckin rent I do be chargin’ them, wha?” He was a ten-year-old boy who’d just let off a stink bomb in the principal’s office. Delighted with himself. And even more so that he could confide in a co-conspirator about it.

He turned back around. “And you be doin this Instant Tech number whatever d’fuck dat is. Sure gerrup,” he said.

“Ah yeah, sure don’t I know,” I said, humoring him. I put on an accent for him too. “They don’t make it easy for the working class, do they?”

“Exactly, bud. We’re working class, ye know?” He gnashed at me in the rearview mirror, getting excited. He pointed his left middle finger at the windscreen. “So fuck them n’all’n’anyway, wha?”

It is only those who are at the bottom who seeks their salvation in it…all the instincts of decadence all the cowardices and weaknesses of the soul find their sanction.

I wanted to ask him did he not deem these two Polish chefs to be working class, too. Surely they were also “doing their bit” just like him, therefore could have done without being ripped off by their greedy landlord. And, come to mention it, since when were landlords “working class?” A man like himself earning 50 thousand Euro a year from his taxi business plus who-the-hell knew how much more from his property investment—a source of unearned income no less—was far from working class. Did Patrick Boyd Reilly really believe he was grafting to make ends meet in the spirit of Rashers Tierney—an honorable man whom, despite the occasional misdeed, retained his solid moral grounding? How deep did his delusions go? I could only surmise that this working-class identity of his was a justification, an excuse.

The taxi picked up speed now that we were on the motorway. Cars, vans, and lorries got covered in a spray of grimy rainwater they kicked up from the asphalt. It made it impossible for me to see their occupants. All these people, faceless, hidden.

“To be honest with you, Mr. Reilly. I don’t consider myself to be working class. Not anymore.”

And that was that.

Not another word was spoken on the drive to Connolly station. Only the rhythm of the taxi’s windscreen wipers disrupted the quiet truce between us, Patrick Boyd Reilly’s code of conduct enforced by the taxi regulator preventing him from saying what his silence suggested. I used the time remaining to prepare for the interview, no longer needing my page of notes—Johnno and Big Mackie were welcome to them—as it was all clear to me now. I applied for the job because I wanted to push through the narrow confines of what my working-class identity would allow. Mostly, though, I peered out through the side window, taking in my new world.

About Carolina Barros

When not teaching, Carolina makes art, plays bass and illustrates. She lives in the Western U.S. Her website is here.