Wednesday, August 15th
In April of this year, it became my manly intention to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland, followed by a cool down in Ireland. I say cool down because the first week spent in Edinburgh would be dipping my body and soul into the Fringe Festival, an enormous festival that lasts the entire month of August and one that hosts some of the finest comedy, theater and music a creature can find.
This year, my friends Dave and Chris Walsh are performing in the festival in a show of their own design. Other Boston natives bringing their own shows to Edinburgh are Wendy Kinal, Andy O’Fiesh, Brian Longwell and Jimmy Tingle (even Scotland had to feel what it’s like to get tangled with the Tingle).
Upon leaving the house, I said my goodbyes to my roommate Ali’s pristine pooch, Poncho and drove to my friend Tom’s granite shop in Dorchester. Tom shares space with a demolition company which makes for an interesting atmosphere. Here I would leave my car for two weeks among granite slabs, demolition machines that could be in any of the Terminator movies, other brutal construction vehicles and a slightly higher crime rate. Upon reflection, perhaps not the best place to leave my car for any amount of time but let’s hope for the best on that one. Tom drove me to the airport where we exchanged genuine and rugged hugs that were laced with goodbyes.
As I waited to board my plane, I realized that people applaud either something they like or due to the absence of something they detest. I was fortunate enough to observe the latter after some chucklehead walked through a security door that set off an unending alarm. The alarm’s inability to stop combined with the fact that the pitch was so high that it would cause a dinosaur to lose the ability to create offspring made for an annoying endeavor. Once a Level 17 Genius who had the proper training in turning off an alarm was located, the foolishness came to an end and people began to applaud. I did not applaud for I can not tolerate such things. People that applaud simply when a noise stops deserve to be placed in the same terrible room that houses people that applaud after a movie has ended.
Thursday, August 16th
Due to my cheapness, I had to digest an 11-hour layover in Shannon, Ireland. It seemed like the right move at the time of my flight booking but now I had to pay for my previous actions. I decided to take a bus to Bunratty, a nearby town that boasted an interesting castle. It was seven in the morning and I was the first person on the bus, eager to pay the driver with my crisp, new 50 Euro dollar bill. The bus driver did not hide his disappointment at the disproportionate ratio between the small bus fare and my large bill. After grumbling, he magically produced the change. Right after me, a woman approached the driver. Judging from his reaction, I think she handed him a 10,000 dollar bill.
The bus driver was ripped. “I’m not a bank!”
No matter how the woman defended herself, all he had to say was, “I’m not a bank!” At one point, he became so flustered that he said, “I’m a bank!”
I was starting to see some deep, psychological repression bubble up. I think as a child this bus driver so badly yearned to be a bank. As he grew older, he realized he could never be a bank. While all of his friends were completing their dreams of becoming fireman and lumberjacks and cardboard box-makers, this man was crying into his pillow, knowing he could not be a bank. The only way to cope with the pain was to tell people, “I’m not a bank!”
Once in Bunratty, I walked around this little town aimlessly, trying to find an open restaurant or café, looking like the village idiot. It began to rain so I took cover underneath a little alcove, outside a pub. I looked around me and saw cigarette butts and a few half-filled pints of beer. It amazed me that even though this area was exposed to the outside elements, I could still smell old, stale smoke.
When the pub owner came outside, I asked him for a good place to eat and he kindly directed me down the street to a hotel. I soon found myself face to face with an Irish breakfast buffet. I showed my edible adversary no mercy. A buffet is no time for manners or restraint. You eat like this is the last culinary request you’ll be making before going to the electric chair. My father would sometimes say, “Take all you want. Eat all you take.” I did so.
After breakfast, I entered the Bunratty Castle complex. The manor dates back to the 1200’s and the castle to the 1500’s. Surrounding the castle were various cottages, shops and other structures that give visitors a taste of this past life. Inside many of these buildings were people dressed in outfits of the time. The great thing was that most of them didn’t even try to stay in character.
For example, the gent that was dressed like a court jester said, “Okay guys, check this out…if you were a lad back in the day, you would get paid to marry your spouse. When this happened, they put all the woman’s gifts and possessions in this big wooden chest. So she might have her CD’s and Xbox in there. Guys, check this old chest out. It was built in the 1500’s. It’s pretty sweet.”
With the lack of sleep catching up to me, I passed out on a picnic table somewhere in the castle manor, hoping that other tourists would confuse me for another, terrible character employee of Bunratty Castle.
I eventually made my way back to Shannon Airport and boarded a plane that brought me to Edinburgh. After figuring out how to make it into the center of the city, I got on a bus, disembarked and walked over to the apartment that was headquarters for the Walsh Brothers, Andy O’Fiesh, Wendy Kinal and her performance partner Barbara. I was surprised by the American spaciousness and European finery of the place. There was enough room for all of my characters to live here and have families…comfortably.
Barbara gave me a well-executed tour of the “flat” and then led me over to Andy’s show. I was now effectively reunited with Wendy, Andy, Chris and Dave. I was giving out man hugs like a squirrel giving out nuts, a generous squirrel that had no more use for nuts.
Now would probably be a good time to mention the nature of Andy’s show. It is a show filled to the brim with nature. The title of the show, The Naked Comedy Showcase, suggests that nudity is a prerequisite of the performers and it is.
Among the performers that night was none other than Chris Walsh. In the audience that night was a man so moved by Chris’ performance, he felt compelled to buy Chris a drink after the show. After this information was relayed to me, I walked over to Chris and said, “Some dude wants to buy your penis a drink.”
I then walked out to the bar area and was introduced to a 60-something year-old, gay English chap that was thrilled to be talking to the Walsh Brothers. I was thrilled to observe this event from the periphery.
Later on, a fella from LA joined our group by the name of Kirk Fox. He was the co-winner of the Best Stand Up Comedy Award at the Aspen Comedy Festival and on August 28th, will be filming his “Comedy Central Presents” special. Although a co-winner, he was a sole owner of a mustache that was more exciting than a knife fight. This mustache could have a career of its own. Forget “Comedy Central Presents, Kirk Fox”, I want to see “Comedy Central Presents, An Amazing Mustache”. I want to see what that mustache can do with 30 minutes of premium stage time. A lot is my guess.
The other winner of the Best Stand Up Comedy Award at Aspen was none other than friend and Boston comic, Shane Mauss. Here you think I’m going to tell you about how delightful the Scottish culture is and how moved I was when I felt my first breeze in Edinburgh and then I lay down a stimulating comedy connection like that. Heavy.
Kirk sure was an interesting pile of dude. Besides being equipped with his bold, varsity mustache, he could lay down the industry talk like no one’s business. No one! I actually picked up a few interesting tidbits from the man.
On the way home, Wendy and I had a hand stand contest which helped usher in some late night hunger that was cured by some late night take-out. It was close to five in the morning by the time we discovered sleep.
Friday, August 17th
And yes, I woke up at one in the afternoon today! Nothing like grabbing a bowl of cereal as the sun begins it descent and defining it as breakfast.
I left the apartment with Chris and parted ways with him near the Edinburgh Castle. After doing some professional strolling, I received a call from D Walsh who requested my services at the show that evening. To be accurate, he requested the services of Future Queer. Ecstatic at such an international opportunity, I accepted on the behalf of Future Queer. To my knowledge, he has not yet transmitted the secrets of the gay future to this Scottish city.
I hung up the phone and left the cemetery I was walking through, a weird place to discuss Future Queer’s itinerary. I rushed home, ate quickly, assembled Mr. Queer’s wardrobe, pondered how I would be able to secure FQ’s grey mustache over the beard I’m currently growing, solved the dilemma, and rushed over to the venue. The Walsh Brothers show was at a place known as the Underbelly. An interesting structure built into a combination of the earth and a bridge, the theater space was actually a cave. Ironic, I thought, that such a highly advanced life force like Future Queer would be dispensing his wisdom in a cave.
Dave and Chris performed a great show and I did my part which was an honor and a rock-steady experience.
After the show, the three of us walked over to the Gilded Balloon so Chris and Dave could perform in Andy’s show. While the lads did their gig, I went to another theater downstairs in this large, fascinating student union building that hosted several shows, to watch two American comics: Kirk Fox (the heroic mustached-warrior I met the previous night) and a former Boston comic that now resides in New York City, Mark Maron.
After enjoying their show, I walked back upstairs to watch the maniacal musical comedy of a Scottish man named Phil Kay. An incredible heap of energy and life that was skilled at creating good improvised moments. Phil was fun to talk to and watch but hard to be within several feet of for more than a few moments. He told me that during the entire month of the festival, he was camping at night. This clearly made for a distressing lack of showering that in turn made for a potent and laser-like odor force that shook you to the core.
But the best show I saw at the festival, hands down, was a last minute decision that was urged by Chris Walsh. It also took place in the Gilded Balloon, in a tiny space called “The Wee Room” and the name of the show was “Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds The One Man Rock Opera”. Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds was an odd duck, wearing only shoes, dark socks, a Speedo, some kind of scarf/tie arrangement and white face paint. He too owned a great mustache but his was in the style of some kind of Peter O’Toole, Three Musketeers affair.
When you walked into the room, on the tiny stage were several, low-quality, electronic Casio music devices, three of which were placed on an ironing board. This brilliant and quirky creature performed the weirdest, most original songs I’ve ever heard: “When We Generalize, The General Lies”, “Determining Your Personality By Knowing Which Rocky Movie You Like” (I may have the title wrong but I’m sure you get the essence), “Feed Celebrities To The Third World”, “We Didn’t Need It But They Made It Anyway” (a song that discusses the foolishness of inventions that uselessly combine two oddly matched devices, i.e. an ashtray with a toilet.)
During one of his songs, the great Doktor’s keyboard broke so he asked if anyone could execute a beat box into a mic. Dave encouraged me to share my beat box talents, talents that were honed during the Fat Boys era. I raised my hand and Dr. Coke invited me down. I sat near him on stage and took the mic.
This was a pristine moment. So much so it felt like it was planned by some greater force. I beat boxed like no one was looking, like I was all by myself in a room, 20 stories underground. The results were marvelous. If the show wasn’t already an amazing experience enough for Dave, this sure added an extra layer of enjoyment to the show for him.
My only fear in watching this show was that nothing else in the festival would entertain me like that. This was fear was realized.
Dave and I left the Gilded Balloon and went home. Good night.
Saturday, August 18th
Another late awakening. I’m beginning to realize I am getting sucked into another way of life. It’s impossible to avoid being sucked in by the massive festival monster. You are constantly meeting new people and seeing new shows that start around nine in the morning and go until five in the next morning. The normal logical workings of time don’t seem to be able to penetrate Edinburgh during the festival. Before you know it, the sun is rising and you think, “I should secure some sleep.”
Once showered and fed, I walked to the Scottish National Museum and enjoyed its gifts for a while. I then met up with Dave and Chris at the Underbelly. Future Queer again made a riveting appearance and so did Barry Tattle. The Tattlesnake ended the show with romance-laced remarks and a delicate song.
The three of us walked up to the Gilded Balloon and as Andy began his show I peeked at the audience. Sitting by himself, in the back corner, completely NUDE, was the same human specialty that bought Chris a drink two nights earlier. Now, I should also mention that this same chap was also at the Walsh Brothers show a couple hours earlier. So essentially, our poor Chris was being dude-stalked by a 60-year old English fella.
We all then walked over to the Pleasance Dome which would be the site of a show titled, “Lunch With the Hamiltons”. The Hamiltons were a husband and wife team in their 50’s with quite a back story. The husband was a conservative Member of Parliament that was involved in a nasty scandal that ended his political career, something to do with illegal payoffs and bribes.
Soon after, his wife did quite well in an English version of Last Comic Standing. With this new popularity, she and her husband started a television show in England that they were now bringing to the Edinburgh Festival. Since they were doing a late night version in Edinburgh, they decided to dip the show into a naughty sauce. The Hamiltons got wind of Andy’s Naked Comedy Showcase and invited him onto their show.
The first guest was a New Zealand comic named Jarred Christmas (a funny guy I had the pleasure of talking with at the post show party). Nothing too risky with Jarred, just some friendly, cheeky conversation. Next up were “The Boys In The Buff”, four annoying guys that danced and sang as if they were in a bus bound for some miserable cabaret hell. They undressed all the way to their underwear in hopes of teasing the audience. Mrs. Hamilton pointed out that the purpose of this tease was to drive people to “The Boys In The Buff” show where complete nudity would answer all of our fantasies! I felt about as teased as a devout Mormon on a game show that almost won a two-year’s supply of gin, coffee and gambling.
They sat down with satisfied looks on their faces and seconds later, Chris and Andy walked out, completely naked. So here are these fancy, hair brush patter boys trying to be so cute and clever, trying to create an insatiable and mysterious hunger for nudity and Chris and Andy throw a flaming locomotive into their lame strategy. At that point, Chris absolutely kidnapped the show from the Hamiltons and did not surrender it until eight minutes later. He paced the stage with wild energy and began to climb into the crowd…an action that sent a shockwave through all 150 members of the crowd.
This was followed by an insane demonstration from the two guys of Puppetry of the Penis. With the show now at such a frenzied level, the Boys in Buff tried to recapture some magic with another daring song. This time, a song whose theme was about their nipples – gag me with a rusty, anthrax-coated, electrified spoon. As much as I don’t have a need to see a bunch of naked hombres frolic around, the entire show was surreal, especially when Andy and Chris took instruction from the Puppetry Fellas and demonstrated their new skills to the crowd.
We then hung out at the post show party in a bar until very late, made our way back and ended up talking in the kitchen until the sun came out. It wasn’t until 7 AM that we found slumber.
Sunday, August 19th
Alright, I woke up at 2 PM. I’m not going to try and get around that fact or lie about it. I’m not going to tell you, “Today I woke at first light and spoke to the morning birds in hushed tones and ate early berries.” No, I slept away half the day.
When I moved into the kitchen, Chris showed me an online review of their previous night’s show on a site called Chortle…and I made the review! And they hated the show! And they hated both of my characters too! They actually named my characters in their detest-filled recap and managed to screw up both names. Here is part of the review:
“Then there was some hideous stuff from Future-Gay, with a crinkly wig that made him look like the Jack from a pack of cards, talking about a future where gays ruled the world, created gay babies and the straight resistance worked underground.
… and their mate along for the ride, singing the audience out as pastiche crooner, Barry Talent from Bermuda.”
I’m very psyched. I’m in Edinburgh only a few days, I get some nifty stage time and then my performance finds a home in a 1-star review. Perfect.
Soon after, Dave returned with his girlfriend Colleen who had just flown in from home. The four of us then made our way to the Underbelly where we had to unfortunately cancel the show due to a small turn out.
After Andy’s show, we all checked out Henry Rollins who performed a 70-minute piece that that included several of his wild travel stories in the Middle East.
Well, good night.
Monday, August 20th
I enjoyed a live, in person wake-up call from a Dave Walsh this morning. The purpose of this assisted introduction into the morning was to enjoy a tour of the city. The tour was lovely and no one got hurt. My brain encountered new facts.
After performing in the Walsh’s show and watching a well-known Irish comic by the name of Sean Hughes, the entire group walked over to the Bongo Club to watch a cabaret show. This show was nuts. There was a guy that did these dreamy things with these glass balls that were the size of baseballs, sliding up to six of them all over his body at one point. Then came an amazing set by Ann and Jonathan, friends of the Walsh Brothers. This married couple performed a piece where they acted as an obnoxious, newly-wed couple that demonstrated their warped love for one another through dancing and other juicy stunts. At one stage, they would take quick bites of bananas and spit the pieces high in the air as the other would catch.
Then came two trapeze ladies whose skill nearly blinded me (temporarily). After the swinging dames, an odd dude name Frank Sanazi sang Nazi-themed lyrics to Frank Sinatra songs. The last act I saw was a woman pretending to be Miss Australia 1964 and her mission was to perform the act that allowed her to win the Miss Australia title 43 years prior. This act was simply whipping two white leather purses around in a choreographed fashion. Simple but oddly entertaining.
Tuesday, August 21st
Colleen, David and I walked up to Edinburgh Castle this morning and enjoyed its interior for a few hours. Lots of old stuff, some spears, a few rocks…those kinds of things.
Afterwards, lunch was secured and then a performance at the Walsh Brothers show. With the show finished, Dave and I met up with Colleen. She told us that when she went back to the apartment earlier that day, there was a strange old man standing on a landing in the stairwell. As Colleen approached him, the man said, “Well, I’ll guess I’ll let you pass.”
Creeped out, Colleen ran up the stairs, opened the door and shut it behind her as fast as possible. A moment later, this old, odd chap was knocking at the door. He then began to scratch at the door and stick his hand through the mail slot. Colleen asked him what he wanted and he replied, “I want to invite you to a barbecue.”
She then went to the window, yelled down to some men standing on the street below for assistance. They went into the stairwell, came back up and shouted up to Colleen that the man was gone. She then left the apartment building, met up with Dave and I, and shared this bizarre tale with us.
In efforts to remedy her understandably heightened nerves, we ordered some beers and food at the World’s End pub. Upon finishing our meals, we then received a call from Wendy, telling us that she couldn’t open the door. The three of us quickly walked to the apartment, wondering if the old creep played a role in this lock foolishness.
Unable to produce and key-related success, we called a locksmith. Before leaving, I looked in the mail slot and pulled out two flyers. The flyer was promoting a barbecue at a nearby pub. We all decided to visit this pub while we waited on the locksmith. I ordered a round of drinks and had a conversation with the bartender. He told me that the flyer was actually a ticket to the event that could only be found at the pub we were now in. So it appeared that this guy went to the pub, picked up these tickets, and came into our building looking for a date. It also appeared that this man may have actually been a resident in Dave’s building since he matched a vague description of a man that lived below our apartment.
Confident with our semi-solved mystery, we enjoyed some beer. I should also point out that the locksmith charged us 80 pounds ($160) to literally stick a device through the mail slot, over to the lock and disengage a locking device that accidentally became engaged when the door was closed. He didn’t even fix or replace anything. What I love most about this is that it could easily happen again and no attempt was made to prevent another 80-pound filled sorrow.
On our way back, we stopped at our trusty, late night take-out place. Andy had the courage to order a fried Mars Bar…a disgusting creation that falls perfectly under Doktor CocaColaMcDonald’s category of “We Didn’t Need It But They Made It Anyway”.
Good night, y’all.
Wednesday, August 22nd
This morning I was greeted by two new visitors: Dot Dwyer from Boston and Denise Robichau from San Francisco. Both of these ladies performed comedy in Boston and scored high in the areas of loveliness and friendliness.
After rapping with las ladies, Dave, Colleen and I decided to climb up “Arthur’s Seat”, a tall hill/mountain that furnished its guests with rock-steady views. On the way up, Dave and I had an odd conversation with a woman concerning what looked to be a rabbit or gopher hole at our feet. It probably didn’t help that I had my shirt off at the time.
We descended this elevated land mass and walked into city centre where we ate a fine meal. After a walk home, some rest and a cleanup, everybody headed to the Walsh Boy’s show. This was to be the last time I took to the stage in Edinburgh with the brotherly fellas.
We then all ate at the outdoor food area at the Gilded Balloon. While we did, “Mess Around” by Ray Charles started to play over the speakers. This caused Wendy to sing and Dave to dance around the table in front of the bar staff and several strangers. Dave stopped and Chris took over and then Wendy and then Mister Me. The great part was when the song ended and we all panted heavily, the bar staff (with smiles on their naughty faces) put the same song on again. We, in turn, repeated the performance.
When Andy’s show finished, we all decided to go on a ghost tour in the city. Before entering the haunted vaults, the tour guide told us to let him know if any of us felt sick or light-headed. As we descended deep into the vaults, we listened to Adam, the tour guide’s sub par ghost stories.
In one vault, he explained that one corner was home to a cobbler “so don’t be alarmed if you feel a chilling sensation in you feet. The cobbler is fascinated with trainers (sneakers)!” The other corner seemed to have a female ghost that seemed to dislike women. The likely reason for this is because it is thought that this particular ghost lost a child in these vaults during her living years and now she was angry or jealous with living women.
Shortly after this story, a woman in our group moaned, “I don’t feel well. I don’t feel well!” She then collapsed to the ground. I thought this may have been a planned event but when the woman stood up and barfed like a cat, I reconsidered my perspective. Pretty weird and ultimately gross. Adam led her out of the vaults while we were to fend for ourselves in the newly christened “Barf Vault”. Chris and Dave’s response to all of this was to take pictures of the vomit. Well done gents.
We eventually went to a cemetery, listened to mildly scary stories and then listened to Adam conclude the tour as a taxi pulled up in front of the grave yard. The beauty came when he said goodbye, hopped into the taxi and took off, leaving the rest of us to suck our thumbs.
Thursday, August 23rd
My last day in Edinburgh began with a soft, boy-styled waking delivered by David Walsh. As if preparing for an attack from a legion of ninjas, I readied myself with brutal speed. Our mission today was to visit the chapel in Rosslyn, a village about seven miles from Edinburgh. This is the chapel that plays the final and important piece in Dan Brown’s novel and movie, “The Da Vinci Code”.
As we waited for the bus, there were some musicians on the other side of the busy street playing some very famous, classical, upbeat, cavalry-type song whose name I do not know. The band was good and was comprised in part of multiple brass instruments. Looking to break the monotony of our waiting, Dave dashed across two of the four lanes into a median and started to run back and forth like he was either being chased or chasing someone. At one stage, he started to run alongside a bus whose driver did not see him. The driver then looked to his right, did a double take and was amazed and annoyed to see Dave sprinting alongside him in the median. It was rich.
Dave, Colleen and I enjoyed the chapel for a couple of hours and then ate a meal of moderate delight at a restaurant by the bus stop. We then headed home and I quickly put my things together and headed back out the door to travel to the airport where I would catch a flight to Shannon, Ireland.
Once in Shannon, I gathered my things and found my rental car. It’s really special driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s very hard to undo something you’ve learned your whole life and perform the opposite action. You may as well be asked to reverse your sexual orientation: “In Manlandia, all straight visitors must be gay and all gay visitors must be straight and all bisexual visitors must be placed in a dungeon until they choose an orientation. Enjoy your stay in Manlandia!”
I then found my bed and breakfast, cleaned up and approached the night. My efforts bore Guinness, fish and chips, and some fine live music at the Quays and the King’s Head, two of Galway’s many pubs. I then went home and slumbered heavily.
Friday, August 24th
I woke from a sleep so deep it needs to medically classified or defined. I don’t have the resources to do so, so I leave it to you to diagnose.
For breakfast, I walked into the city centre and went to a small café where I ordered something that looked like a hippy piece of art. It had yogurt, muesli, apples, honey, strawberries and grapes. What a wonderful, messy pile of health it was.
I then made my way to the sports center at University College Galway. As a student here in 1995, I used to visit this place often. Actually, the sports center I knew stopped being used the year after I left which was a good thing since it was very old and extremely outdated. It was literally a half step away from a gym that would promote wrestling boulders and killing people for exercise.
When I walked in the reception area, behind the desk was a man in his early sixties and one of the gentlemen I knew from 1995. Gay is his name and uhh, well…onward. It was great to see Gay (I swear that’s his real name) and catch up. In our discussion, he told me to check out a comedy show happening at the King’s Head. It was a one-man show performed by a former UCG student named Peadar (pr. Pather) De Burca. I thanked Gay for his time, gave him my contact information and moved on.
I decided it was time to walk up to Corrib Village, the place of residence when I was student. I’ve been back to Ireland several times since I was at UCG but it’s always supersonic to stroll up the Corrib River to see the place that helped bring manhood to me. After soaking up some memories in the village, I continued further up the river and into the fields that looked out onto the river and to the opposite side where an abandoned castle stood.
I then headed back to the house, napped and went back into town. Soon I found myself at the King’s Head, enjoying a pint of Guinness and Peadar De Burca’s show, “Why Men Cheat”. It was a show full of characters telling the audience their moments of romantic infidelity. It was well-performed and written and involved the often involuntary participation of several audience members.
My favorite part of the show was the surprise entrance by Peadar. He popped out of a chest that had been sitting on the stage. He literally curled himself up in this small thing and waited for 45 maniacal minutes. As great as it was, he sadly did not get a huge reaction out of the audience. If I stuffed myself into a box for 45 minutes and popped out of it on stage, two people better explode and someone’s hair better turn white and someone better shout out, “My goodness!!”
After the show, I went to Taffes pub and Monroe’s Tavern, enjoying live music at each venue. I then ate a putrid cod burger and went home.
Saturday, August 25th
Well, I did it. I woke up this morning, left the house and did something I try to do whenever I travel alone. That thing is to initiate some interaction with a lady and sort of ask her out.
I went into a café and was served by a flower-like Italian woman. I began to ask what part of Italy she was from and why she was in Galway (initiate some interaction with a lady…). Chiara told me she moved to Galway for the summer to improve her English. She also told me that she is nearing the end of her studies to become a doctor.
I then told her that I would be having a drink at Monroe’s Tavern at 8 PM and she is welcome to also have a drink at that same time in this public atmosphere (…and sort of ask her out).
Mission accomplished, I went back to the house, gathered a few items and drove off to Clifden, a small town located in the scenic region of Connemara. On the drive out, I remembered just how psychotic the driving in Ireland is. People here drive 65 mph or faster on roads that Americans would feel nervous doing 35 mph. The best is when you need to pass someone. The process usually follows this path:
Muster the courage to attempt a pass…begin your pass…see a car coming around the bend suddenly heading right for you…furiously hitting the gas…cursing your car’s inadequate acceleration…wondering if you’re going to make it or crash into the oncoming car with such force that atoms split apart…looking left to see if you’ve passed the car…glancing straight ahead again to see how close your potential fate is…look left…straight again…realize you are so close to the oncoming car you hear the driver’s breath…feeling weak and tiny now…wondering if I’ll make out with a female ever again…one last look left…coast clear…pulling left…living…repeating process ten minutes later.
Once in Clifden, I walked around, bought some gifts for my nephew and nieces, and purchased a Cuban cigar that will work its way into my life in the next few days. I then got back into the car and drove west around the Sky Road, a 12-mile coastal loop that boasted delight-filled views of the ocean.
At one point, I got out of my car, walked down to the edge of a steep hill and saw nothing but fog. It could have been a huge drop-off or merely ten feet to the bottom, I could not tell. I then found a nice rock to sit on and began to scribble and eat a container of strawberries that I purchased in Galway. After about ten minutes, I lifted my head and could now see that I was on top of a tall ridge that spilled out to some houses below and then the sea. It was like the fog moved in and out like a drawer on a cash register.
This experience reminded me of the time that my friend Matt and I were driving from Los Angeles to Boston in December of 1997. We decided to check out the Grand Canyon and arrived in the nearby town after the sun had set. We spent decent money on a hotel and in the morning, drove up to the front gate, paid the ranger $20 and drove into the park. Never having seen the canyon, I was excited to do so now. I rushed over to the edge, looked in and literally saw nothing but cloud. Visibility was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 feet. It was as if the canyon didn’t even exist.
Matt and I looked at each other, laughed our asses off and drove to Amarillo, Texas where we encountered the hugest omelet I have ever seen in my life…on a plate…in a restaurant – it’s not like we saw some wild omelet monster running through a field in northern Texas.
Upon reflection though, we became agitated with that punk ranger that took our $20. I’m sure he knew there was no Grand Canyon to see that day. He could have warned us of our impending folly. Heck, maybe he didn’t know. Maybe there were Indians living in the bottom of the canyon with high-powered, fast-acting smoke machines (like the kind in rock concerts). Maybe they filled the canyon with smoke to screw with the whole institution of tourism and they did it so fast that the other rangers didn’t have time to relay the information to the genius at the front gate.
I then drove back from Clifden to the house, cleaned up and headed to Monroe’s, wondering if the Lady Chiara would show up. I sat myself down at the bar, ordered a drink and began to read my book. It soon became apparent to me that there would be no Italian ladyness in my life that evening. Mildly disappointed, I continued to drink and read (I’m so tough). A meal eventually made its way in to the process as well.
Once the eating and the reading and the drinking reached an optimal level, I left to go for a walk around the city. During my stroll, I passed by a bachelorette party. As I passed by this group of cackling, chattering females, I felt a large net come over my body and could now see that it was indeed a pink net. I could also see that the bachelorette was the culprit. She then put her arm around me so her giddy friend could take a picture of this risky moment. We then made some cute and clever conversation and I told her that I would pray for her marital success. I walked on, grabbed one more pint, read a bit more and went home.
Sunday, August 26th
This morning I made arrangements for a two-day trip to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands located just outside Galway Bay. After breakfast, I packed a few things and drove west on the coast road to a small beach just outside the small village of Carraroe.
This beach was unique since instead of sand on its shore, it had tiny coral fragments. From 40 feet away, it appeared to be sand but when you got closer, you could see that it was actually little fragments that looked like tiny little bones. It was as if thousands upon thousands of little GI Joe figures had a massive battle here many, many years ago and now we were seeing the old, small bones of the fallen soldiers.
The other interesting thing was that there were tiny little seashells mixed in with the coral fragments. Imagine exotic seashells that you’ve seen in stores or have been lucky enough to find, the kind that fit in your hand or often much larger. Imagine all of these shells and now imagine precise miniature versions of them that are 1/8 of an inch wide. It’s like these shells were specifically designed for these fallen GI Joe war heroes. Specifically!
I walked around this area, did some writing, went for a brief swim and spent the next 30 minutes gathering some of these GI Joe gems for a few of my nieces. They are small and lovely…so should their seashells be.
On the way back to the car, I sat down to eat a snack at a picnic table. Moments later, a couple in their 60’s sat down on the opposite side of the table. Soon we began to talk and they introduced themselves as Frank and Dympna. Ironically, they told me that they lived in Jamaica Plain in Boston for over a year’s time in the 1960’s.
Frank also told me an interesting story about how he stopped smoking. Over 30 years ago, he purchased a record that was designed to help smokers quit smoking. He listened to the record, went to bed, woke up the next morning, lit up a cigarette, took one puff, threw the cigarette out in disgust and never smoked again. He also gave the record to several other people but it had no effect.
I asked him if he still had the record and he told me he did not. I would have done anything to get my hands on that record. What the hell did it say that it worked so well on Frank? Maybe the record simply said, “Frank, stop smoking.” Frank then became so horrified that the record somehow knew his name that he thought he better stop. He didn’t want to anger the record. Maybe it knew other things about him that he wanted to keep private. That would also explain why the record didn’t work for anyone else.
I parted ways with Frank and Dympna and gave them one my cards. On my card, it reads, “Chris Coxen…Comic, Actor, Human, Dude”. Frank looked at it and with a wonderful brogue, said, “Look Dympna, he’s a human AND a dude.”
Back at home, I was soon out the door and eating some Turkish take-out in Eyre Square. I then grabbed a couple pints, one at Murphy’s and the other at Feeney’s. On the way home, I popped into a pub to watch four young lads go at it with some jazz. Jazzed up myself, I walked home and jazzed myself to sleep.
Monday, August 27th
I woke up, packed my things and drove to Doolin to board a ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.
As the ferry rolled by Inishmaan, the middle of the three islands, I sat outside on the deck, writing. A few feet away was a couple looking at the island which was only a few hundred yards away. I looked above their heads and saw a seagull flying. Were I a true man, I would have screamed to the couple and pointed to the bird, “Look! A bird! We have to be near land now! If you see a bird, land is always nearby! We’re gonna make it!!”
I walked up to the upper deck and observed a very stout, thick-legged woman…in spandex. I wondered if she worked for the ferry company. I wondered if her role was “The Punter”. A role that would demand she take those gorgeous thick legs and punt the passengers to shore.
Once on shore myself (without the aid of The Punter), I rented a bicycle and checked into my bed and breakfast. I eventually got on my bike and rode south. I found a nice, remote beach that soon felt the wrath of my American chest hair. This wrath was augmented with a swim. When I got out of the water, a black and white dog came over to greet me. I saw a woman sunbathing (more accurately, cloud bathing) and assumed the dog belonged to her.
After playing catch with the dog a few times, Bub (my name for the dog) became quite attached to me. When the cloud bather began to walk off the beach, I asked her if the dog belonged to her and she said no.
When I left the beach, Bub followed me and became a solid companion as I hiked out to some sea cliffs. Before going on foot, I rode my bike over this amazing, natural field that had the contour, grass and sand traps of a manicured golf course. The grass was short and thick like that of a putting green and there were several sand-filled craters that also had large holes in them. When I saw rabbits running all over the field, I realized these were rabbit holes or Eddie Rabbit holes as I like to call them.
Bub and I walked far out to the cliffs and enjoyed some great and thrilling scenery. On the way back, Bub actually led the way. When I returned to the road, I said my goodbyes to Bub, hopped on my bike and took off. It was a tad sad. Bub kept chasing me as I rode away. I felt like such a high school jerk, “I don’t ride with nerds! Later geek!” It was just that I didn’t want Bub following me back and getting lost in the process.
After showering back at the house, I walked into the village and looked for a bite to eat. There were a few places to eat and they were all expensive. I ended up going to Supermacs (Ireland’s version of McDonalds) and ordered 15 Euros ($23) of food which is downright disgusting but the food quality was decent and I was hungry.
As I ate, a young woman began to mop near my table. Taking this as a subtle cue that she wished to talk to me (I don’t care that she worked there and needed to mop near my table), I struck some conversation with her. Here name was Kate and she was a Polish student working in Inishmore for the summer. As she mopped on, she was more or less hit on by an old, creepy Scottish dude. For some reason, this guy started speaking to her in Spanish which confused her. He then literally asked her when she got off work. She said eleven and walked away.
At this point, this guy was trying anything to get her back to his table. He dropped some ketchup on the table and motioned to Kate and pointed at the ketchup, wanting her to clean it up. Thankfully she did not. When he was finished with his meal, Old Creepy pushed his tray a few inches away from him, looked in Kate’s direction and said, “I’m finished”. He then waited for her to come pick the tray up as if Supermacs was a 38-star restaurant. Kate did not comply and he eventually evaporated from Supermacs.
I then walked next door to a pub, ordered a Guinness, brought it outside to the patio that overlooked the small harbor and smoked my Cuban cigar. What a perfect, humble combination it was. When I travel, these are the equations I yearn to complete:
Guinness + Cuban cigar + early evening + pristine view = rock-steady
Tuesday, August 28th
After a beast of a breakfast, I rode my bike along the coast rode, stopping along the way to see old churches, beaches and even seals. When coming across a beach with a handful of folks swimming, I dismounted my bicycle and did likewise.
From there I checked out a stone beehive hut, an old fort, Seven Churches (very old church ruins) and rode my bike on a cow path that took me to the very end of Inishmore. There I enjoyed a light snack while watching two fisherman row a boat with a broken engine back into shore. Broken engines are lame.
I headed back in the opposite direction and made a stop at the famous fort, Dun Aengus. This is one of Ireland’s most renowned forts due to its dramatic location and its origins that date back to 1100 BC. Dun Aengus consists of multiple concentric semicircles whose walls end at the top of very high sea cliffs.
It amazes me that once inside the fort, there are no warning signs or guard rails to keep you from walking off the edge of the sea cliffs. It’s like some kind of test. If you go into this fort and walk off the edge, you don’t deserve to be a tourist ever again…or an alive human. I kept riding back towards town and saw yet another fort. All these forts were cool but not nearly as cool as the forts my brother Sean and I used to build out of blankets and pillows.
When I finally made it home eight hours later, I cleaned up my act and went to a pub named Ti Joe Wattys. It was there I ate an enormous, guy-styled meal whose volume superceded the volume of my head.
I then walked back over to a pub overlooking the harbor and drank a Guinness outside. A few minutes later, I ended up meeting one of the weirdest dudes I have ever met to date. His name was Martin and he asked if he could take the seat next to me. After discussing the boring stuff like politics, world affairs and optometry (that’s Martin’s line of work – I don’t make it a habit to discuss optometry with anyone), we got into far grittier matters.
When I told him that I perform comedy, he asked me if he could tell me some jokes. Martin proceeded to tell me several morbid jokes, all concerning the theme of dead babies.
“Chris, what’s worse than finding a dead baby in a trash bin?”
“What’s that Martin?”
“Finding a dead baby in ten trash bins! Alright, Chris…what’s funnier than a dead baby?”
“You’ll probably tell me…”
“A dead baby in a clown outfit!”
These are merely a few of the macabre gems he hurled at me.
It gets better…
“So Martin, what brings you to Inishmore?”
“Uhh, how is that?”
“I collect spiders. It’s my hobby.”
He then tells me that he holds the world record for gathering the greatest number of spider species in Ireland, 320 (there are 410 total within Ireland, roughly 20,000 in the world – way to be Martin). He told me of the great excitement when coming across a species he had not yet encountered. I imagine this excitement must have been similar to the excitement I was feeling towards my discovery of the human species now known as Martin the Spiderfella.
To Martin, spiders were more of a currency than money. To prove my point, two things:
1. He told me that the day before, he was overturning rocks on an old wall by the main road. Upon looking under a rock, he found a penny dated 1871.
“Wow,” I said. “That has to be worth something. Did you take it?”
2. Supposedly, the Irish government pays him 1000 Euros a day ($1500) to collect spiders.
“Amazing,” he told me. “Children starving in the world and I’m getting paid 1000 Euros a day to collect spiders.”
Then came the perfect chance for me to test Martin’s spider prowess. Crawling on the wall, a foot away from me was a spider.
“Quick Martin! What kind of spider is it?!”
He took off his glasses, put his face one inch from the spider, studied it for a few seconds and rifled out some longwinded, Latin, scientific name with such ease, you would swear the spider was one of his children. Martin then whipped out a tiny test tube from his backpack, stuffed the spider inside of it and placed the sample in his backpack that was full of other spider samples.
“Excellent!” he proclaimed.
As an aside, when Martin said “excellent” (which he did a lot), he said it exactly like Mr. Burns of The Simpsons. The great part is that he doesn’t own a television and he swore he never saw the show.
“Martin, have you ever seen Spiderman?”
“A must see for someone in your profession.”
Then a lad from the Irish Navy walked by us and asked if we had seen his friend. Martin, who was well on his way at this stage, convinced PJ the navy guy to sit down and have a pint with us. Off the shore, we could see PJ’s boat.
Martin adamantly held up his phone up! “Let’s call the other lads on the boat! Get them over here for a drink!”
PJ declined the offer and Martin retorted, “Fine! Let’s go over to the boat!”
All of this was too rich and decadent. Did I deserve such a brilliant human encounter as this? I didn’t know but I was willing to take my chances.
Twenty minutes after PJ left, I watched Martin stumble his way to Ti Joe Wattys where we listened to Irish guys play American country music. The lead singer, complete with a brogue, had learned to sing exactly like an American country singer. Odd. Odd enough I decided it was time to leave the bar, the country music and Spiderfella.
Wednesday, August 29th
My last day in Inishmore started with a sturdy Irish breakfast and a ferry ride back to Doolin. Before reaching Doolin, the boat stopped at Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. The tide was so low that when the boarding ramp was placed from the ferry to the dock, it was at a 45-degree angle. What would have taken the boarding passengers a total of five minutes to board ended up taking over 30 minutes.
They looked like frightened creatures nervously scaling their way down a steep hill. Small children had to be carried down by the crew like bags of groceries. Every once in a while, you would get a tuff (tough person) that would bomb down the ramp just to prove to the world that gravity and fear are for pukes.
With the tide still low in Doolin, the ferry didn’t even pull up to the dock. It remained out in the harbor as small 12-passenger boats shuttled us to this crumbly, concrete stairway that brought us to the top of the pier. The experience had the flavor of an unarmed version of the landing at Normandy in World War II; the big boat stays off-shore while the soldiers quickly land on shore with smaller motorboats. Thankfully, I had no German army trying to shoot my head off when I reached land.
I then drove up the road to my hostel and checked in. The man at the front desk, David, gave me some advice on a good walk nearby so after getting settled, I drove north to a small beachside village known as Fanore. I was now in the part of Ireland known as “The Burren”. For the most part, The Burren is a vast area of exposed limestone but it was not always this way. Centuries ago, farmers cut down trees and small shrubbery which led to massive erosion. Whoops.
My walk took me on a large loop up on to the large hills that overlooked Galway Bay and back down to where I parked my car.
I then drove back, cleaned up and walked to O’Connors pub for Guinness and music. Sadly, there were no spider collecting oddities to interact with so I went back to the hostel and slept.
Thursday, August 30th
My last day in Ireland and the last day of my trip. It began with a meal and a drive south to Shannon Airport. Once in the Shannon area, I looked for a gas station. As my search lingered on, I began to grow agitated at the lack of gas stations. For a moment, I yearned for the American accessibility to gas. Why am I right outside a decently-sized airport and made to feel that I may as well be looking for an aardvark furniture store? I finally found some gas, returned the car and boarded the plane.
When I landed in Boston, my buddy Tom picked me up in his big grey Dodge pickup. Few things are tougher than getting picked up in a big grey pickup. Whether you’re getting picked up from the airport, karate lessons, a grocery store, or prison – big grey pickups do it with toughness. If that wasn’t tough enough, I gave Tom a bottle of 12-year old Jameson for his troubles. Pickups, whiskey, me…things were getting so tough I almost passed out.
I grabbed my car at Tom’s shop, thanked him for his driving and headed back to 83 Willow.
Thanks for reading.