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THE ADVENTURES OF MR. MORAN
Long, late and in need of lodging, we pulled into the village of Westport and found a street lined with Bed and Breakfast signs. Turned down at two, I walked to a third and found a vacancy. When I turned to deliver the good news to my wife Terry and daughter Rebecca waiting in the car, I was confronted by three men, two of whom held up an elderly individual. On closer inspection I saw that blood ran down the side of the man's head, and, though dressed in a suit, he was disheveled and far, far gone with alcohol.
"Is this where he has a room?" one asked me and I told them that I did not know. I helped carry the limp mass to the door. With a shrug the men abandoned the old man to the house. I followed the staggering figure through the front door and hollared "Hallooo" to attract the owners, to which the old man, turning in circles at the enclosed end of the hallway, responded, "Hallooo!" I pointed the man out to the lady of the house who frowned, then scushed her youngsters inside their door, so as not to witness the alcoholic atrocity.
My memories of Ireland are more short scenes with bit players than any fleshed out, complete dramas:
Once on a countryside drive south of Dublin toward the seaside town of Wicklow, my companion, a co-worker from New Jersey who had once spent an extended amount of time in a severely enclosed space, and I turned west into the hills. It was as though we had stepped back in time, crawling over thin roads past men working peat bogs, past thousand-year-old stone fences and fields. Past thatched-roofed cottages, a whisp of peat smoke spiraling from their chimneys. As I marveled at the Tolkien scenery, my erstwhile companion suddenly announced, "Okay. Sick of THIS shit."
I once threw myself into an Anglo-Saxon rage at the incompetence of the factory workers I needed to train. Ranting and raving in the maintenance office to a Murphy who merely endured my tirade with a sheepish Celtic grin, he finally raised his hands: "Dun, Dun...this is Ireland - no one gives a fook."
Like many overseas, the Irish harbor the generalization that all white Americans hate all black Americans. In that same office, with an audience of four who each morning eagerly asked of my previous evenings adventures, I regaled them with my attempt to learn how to endure Guinness. Our beer of choice was Smithwicks, pronounced 'Smiddicks,' which was somewhat lighter than Guinness, which, because of its deep color, I had heard locals refer to as 'blacks.'
"Oh, last night I had a good time, did a couple of blacks," I told my audience. I saw their eyes grow wide.
"You did, Dun?" one replied as they glanced at each other in astonishment. "You did a couple of blacks?"
"Yeah," I responded, a bit surprised by their reaction, "and a whole bunch of browns..."
That evening in Westport my wife and I went to Matt Malloy's Pub, owned by Matt Malloy, a member of the legendary Chieftans. Inside was low-ceiling crowded, four packed rooms one behind the other, the last in which the players sat. One with a fiddle, one with a tin whistle. We sat next to them, Guinness in hand, and became enchanted with their soulful, mesmerizing sound, interrupted by a trio of young girls in bright green dresses who came in and step danced for the crowd. An absolutely wonderful sight, though somewhat diminished when we realized later that the world-wide success of River Dance had rendered the performance a simple tourist attraction throughout Irelands pubs. After combing the crowd with silver tins the girls left us to more music, which we absorbed with abject fascination. We noticed a younger player sitting nearby, fiddle in lap, anxious to join in. But the more weathered players ignored him, though he approached them now and again, whispering. At evening's end we strolled two-under-one-umbrella back to our lodging, where we were met by the landlady of the house. I asked of our elderly house mate.
"Oh, Mr. Moran! He fell asleep on his floor. I removed the hot water and iron and anything else he could hurt himself with. Imagine, he has to make a train at six in the morning!" We shook our heads and entered our room, thankful for thick blankets and banging steam radiators.
Short scenes with bit players:
I once thought I saw a man stealing change from in front of me at a table in Madigans James Joyce Pub off O'Connell Street in Dublin. When I looked at the individual across from me his eyes betrayed the truth, and I turned to my new acquaintance and pushed all of my money toward him. "You don't have to steal my money," I told him, "all you have to do is ask."
Once at a table with several middle-aged women, I mentioned that many Americans come to search for their Irish ancestors. "Jaysus!" one responded, "we're sick of you all! Stay home for Jaysus sake! If you want to know where all your relatives are I'll tell ya - they're DEAD! They're DEAD I tell ya, they're all fookin DEAD!"
One night I had the remarkable fortune of entering The Barn Owl, where in the middle of the room stood the brother of famous Luke Kelley, portly in his suit and waving a foaming black pint about as he regaled the tiny pub with his dead brother's famous song, 'On Ragland Road.' The irony of the star's brother, Guinness in hand, did not escape me: Luke Kelley, lead singer of the legendary Dubliners, had drank himself to death.
We awoke the next morning to the mixed blessings of drizzle in Ireland. On checking out, I asked our landlady if the elderly gentleman had made his train.
"Oh yes," she replied, "He was as if he hadn't a drink last night." I must have given the woman a sad, knowing look, venturing the universally held generalization of the Emerald Isle. She understood the implication.
"Do you know why Mr. Moran was here?" she asked me.
"He had not been home for sixty years," she told me. "Left for America when he was a teenager. Mr. Moran came back for his mother's funeral."
And in such ways our generalizations crumble. The Irish, the American; the adventure the same.