The lonely battle of the chatty yellow bench
On public benches people rarely talk to strangers but new yellow benches in Dublin are inviting you to do just that, writes CONOR POPE
‘BY SITTING on this bench I am open to conversation with a complete stranger,” reads the carefully stencilled black sentence on a bright yellow bench at the corner of one of Dublin’s least fashionable Georgian squares.
This simple message appeared in Mountjoy Square last February and six months on it continues to beg questions. Who put it there? And why? Why is the bench yellow when all the surrounding ones are black? Why haven’t the council insisted this rogue bench goes back to black? And most importantly: does the sentence make a difference? What happens when you sit on the bench? Will complete strangers follow its orders and have a conversation with you?
There is only one way to find out.
“Do you have any skins?” asks the man in the grey tracksuit. I’ve been sitting here for an hour and he is the first person to talk to me. Everyone else seems too busy to sit on this bench on this sunny afternoon. Or maybe they would like to sit down but are too wary to sit beside a stranger, even if that stranger is doing his best to look affable and not at all bonkers.
I must seem puzzled by his question so he helps me out: “Rizlas, man, do you have any papers?” I’m all out of skins – have been since I was a student, in fact – so I shake my head and fully expect him to shuffle on. He doesn’t though. Instead, something strange happens. He reads the sentence, slowly and aloud. “Jaysus, who ever put that there must be awful lonely,” he says as he sits down beside me.
He introduces himself as Mark.
Over the next 10 minutes, Mark opens up. It turns out he’s the lonely one. “I’m from Finglas, unless I’m applying for a job, then I’m from Glasnevin,” he says with a throaty laugh which suggests he’s smoked a few too many rollies in his 37 years on earth. Right now Mark has no job. He has no address either. He has been homeless for several weeks, since the acrimonious breakdown of his relationship with the mother of his two young boys.
“I’m staying at a BB near here most nights,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s grand. The owner is doing me a favour by only charging me 15 quid a night when there are rooms available. It is better than the hostel I was in. There were so many needles in that place. Sleeping beside junkies. It’s not for me. When I can’t get a bed I sleep in a park off Benburb St. It’s grand cos it’s nice and warm out right now but Jayziz, the Luas starts awful early and it’s really f***ing loud.”