Ireland 2008

Wednesday, August 13th

When someone wins $25,000, they are expected to attend a friend’s wedding in Ireland.  The following excuse doesn’t hold much water:

“I’m a starving artist.  I can’t afford to fly over to Ireland.  Believe me, if I could starve my way over there, I would do it in a second.”

So, due to my well known earnings, there was no way for me to turn down my former college roommate Dara’s wedding invitation.  Of course, there was also the fact that it would be a wild honor to take part in my good buddy’s wedding.

In the morning, I called my doctor’s office.  I had been feeling sluggish the past few weeks and after three blood tests, he had some news to share with me.  It turns out I have Mono also known as “Kissing Disease”.  Sadly, some rudimentary math made it clear to me that I did not contract this sleepy disorder from any brutal make-out sessions (unless the incubation period for Mono is one year).  I don’t know how I got it but I’m sure it was in the lamest fashion possible.  When I wasn’t looking, some ant with Mono probably spit into my cereal.

Dr. Burns informed me that I could still leave on my trip, but I would not be allowed to drink or stay up late…and no horseplay!  That’s correct.  He actually wielded the serious medical term “horseplay” in our conversation.  Well thank goodness I was never really one to play with horses in the first place.  Their large size and terrible manners make them lousy playmates in the sandbox.  I think the only thing I was allowed to do was to sit under a tree and be sad.

After this unsavory news, I picked up a check from my good chap Thomas in Dorchester and headed over to The Other Side Café in Boston to make lunch with a fella known as Dave Walsh.  He was back from LA to successfully propose to his lady Colleen.  With well-built sandwiches in front of us, we discussed the industry of professional laugh-making among other lighter matters.  To ensure proper digestion, we embarked on a chat-stroll through the Back Bay.  I bid farewell to this freshly engaged guy and he bid farewell to a historically single guy.

Once home, I gathered my things and publicly transported myself to the airport.  I walked on to the plane and took my seat next to a lovely young woman whose name escapes me.  She had just finished her PhD in a biology-related field and was on her way to England to complete a five-year research project.  The purpose of this project would be to see how global climate change would affect plants.  I told her that global climate change would indeed affect plants and that she should save herself an expensive airfare and five years of her life and just stay home.  She did not comply so we were forced to exchange in more lovely conversation (lovely young woman = lovely conversation).

Thursday, August 14th

Curse this flight for leaving Boston so early in the previous evening.  Due to the flight’s relatively short duration, I was now at Shannon Airport at 5:20 AM.  To be in a town with little activity in an airport on the decline at 5:20 AM in the morning is to bury your head in the sand in the Beach of Lost Hope.

All I could do was to stumble around these Halls of Boredom in a chocolaty daze until it was time to pick up my golf cart-sized rental car.  These cars keep getting smaller every time I rent one.  My Toyota Yaris was little more than two mopeds welded together, side by side.

The next part I love – a guy that drives automatic in America that has had no sleep now gets into a manual shift auto that requires left-handed shifting and drives on the left side of the road praying that his fatigued mind doesn’t lead him back to the right side of the road where oncoming bad times await him.

Fortunately, I made it to my B&B (bed and breakfast) in O’Briensbridge, a small village outside of Limerick on the Shannon River.  This location was just 3-4 miles upriver from where the reception and ceremony would be in Castleconnell.  The name of my B&B was the Scapaflow House and it was run by the friendliest of ladies named Antoinette.  Even though I was massively early, she still took me in, cooked an Irish breakfast and let me have a room.

Are you familiar with an Irish breakfast, friend?  It contains a fried tomato, sausage, Irish bacon, eggs, brown bread and blood pudding.  Although blood pudding does indeed contain animal blood as a main ingredient, it is tasty.  Most B&B’s include this breakfast in their rates so I do feel compelled to tackle these deadly meals that even in a small fractional dose could give a Blue Whale a fatal heart attack.

After this diabolical feeding, I went upstairs and napped for a few hours.  As a precaution, I set an alarm so I didn’t sleep too far into the future…so far that I awoke to a world where the President was a bug…a lady bug!

I pulled myself out of such a deep sleep that it felt as though I was that very same lady bug president trying to pull herself out of a bed of flypaper.  But if I was truly this lady bug president, I would make a new decree that from this point forward, all female lady bugs will still call themselves lady bugs while male lady bugs will call themselves fella bugs.

I walked down to the Shannon River and decided to walk along a path on the river’s edge.  On my journey, I ran into this Turkish guy that was fishing with a rod so ridiculously long it looked like he stole a flag pole and attached a reel to it.  I don’t know if he was expecting to catch a saber tooth tiger or the entire year of 1989 in there but he seemed to have been over-equipped for this fishin’ mission.  Fishin’ mission!

Later on, I drove to Dara’s family house in Castleconnell for a grand dinner.  This beautiful old house built in the 1700’s was situated right on the Shannon River and would also be the site for Saturday’s reception.

One of the first lads I ran into was another Boston College alum known to the world as Mark Francetic.  Along with his charmworthy wife, we soon found ourselves dangerously involved in a discussion about George Michael.  Mark told me about the concert of said performer that he recently attended and how he saw Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.  I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite for tennis hall of famers to attend George Michael concerts.  Either way, it’s pretty weird.  Whipping caution into the wind with great force, I confessed my like of George Michael.  For Mark, he has a lovely wife to guard his image.  For a single, heterosexual male like myself, I must exist precariously and far out on the limb of this Wham Rap tree.

Along with his fiancée Christine, Dara appeared finally at the house, as he was delayed by an afternoon pub experience.  It was great to see the guy and even better to enjoy my introduction he gave to his other friends and family members.

“You see this guy!  He just won 25 grand by dancing in his underwear!!”

I looked around the party and it was loaded with people that were loaded and it made me laugh that among a crowd of people where 25 grand is what they would spend for fancy pants, they still were amazed at my absurd accomplishment.

Also floating around the dinner party was Chris.  Chris is a good friend of Dara’s from San Francisco and dynamically appears in my 2004 San Francisco journal.  We reviewed the more noteworthy contents of our lives over the past four years and joined the rest of the group on a walk to Guerin’s pub.  Here I bathed in fine conversation, traditional music and against my doctor’s orders, one pint of precise Guinness.

I did, however, abide my doctor’s advice of getting to bed somewhat early so I left the pub by 11:00 PM and restored myself with sleep.  Good night, children.

Friday, August 15th

At the breakfast table, I was joined by another guest, an Irishman in his fifties named PJ.  PJ spent at least one night a week at the Scapaflow House since his job of providing farming supplies brought him to the area frequently.  After witnessing PJ’s breakfast strategy, I never wanted to eat again.  He would put two runny eggs on to a plate and mix that in with some yogurt.  His final step would be to unload almost a full jar of jelly into this wicked stew and stir it around quickly.  Stranger than being the type of person that would consciously decide to eat such a mess was the way he may have stumbled upon this recipe.

I imagine he created it but who, in any sort of a trustworthy mental state, would think, “These eggs are wonderful but they’re lacking something.  Yogurt!  That’s it!  Oh, that is pristine.  But another ingredient that will complete this experience lurks in the shadows.  What is it, I wonder?  Of course!  An entire jar of jelly will surely take this dish to where it needs to be.”?  Watching PJ’s frighteningly foul routine scared the urine out of my body.

After my bitter sweet breakfast, I drove to the Shannon airport.  It seems that in my sleepless stupor of the previous day, I left my credit card at the Hertz Rental desk when I was picking up my whisper of an automobile.  I collected my crucial piece of plastic and as I drove away, I realized that if the higher-ups at Hertz had any brains, they would immediately call up John Mellencamp and ask his permission to use his classic hit in a commercial and change the title to “Hertz…So Good!!”  I envision people in the commercial who speak terrible English with huge smiles on their faces, pumping their fists, singing, “Hertz…so good!!!”  As an aside, I love that John Cougar Mellencamp removed the “Cougar” from his name at the point in his life when he started to look like one.  With that long hair and tough skin, he might attract some frisky drunk college boys in a dark bar.

The weather yesterday was decent and actually involved sun.  Today was filled with far more clouds and rain.  In terms of the weather, I was warned that Ireland’s current summer had been brutal.  Roads were constantly flooding and crops were being destroyed due to heavy rainfall.  I therefore decided early on to be a guy whose travel desires would not be deterred by rain.

It was this personal declaration that led my Toyota Matchbox Car and I north along the Shannon to the nice little town of Killaloe.  I walked around, looked at an old church and headed north further along the Shannon as it became Lough Derg.

At one point, I noticed a small sign on the side of the road that read “Nun’s Island”.  Perhaps an unexplored island full of wild, native nuns?  I had to investigate.  I drove over half a mile on a very narrow road that ended at the shore of Lough Derg.  About 100 yards away I could see a small island with some sort of old ruin in the center.  Tied up to a dock on my shore were two faded yellow paddle boats.  Written in black marker on the boats was a note that directed interested parties to call a phone number should they want to use the boats.  I didn’t have a cell phone and I was a far away from a public phone.

I looked out towards the island and I could not see any nuns but who knows?  Maybe they were hiding, waiting.  I looked at the paddle boats and then around me and I saw no one.  Who would know or care if I took one of the boats across?  In terms of the importance of this potential scientific, cultural and religious discovery, my mild and temporary boat theft would matter little.

All of the sudden, several cars started to appear within minutes of each other.  And these cars had people in them!  And these people got out of their cars and started walking around.  The odd thing was that they didn’t seem to be connected to each other.  It was as if all these touristy peeps just popped up out of nowhere to spoil my wonder.

Bummed out, I took one last look at the magical Nun’s Island and saw some sort of landing on Nun’s Island that would allow for adventurers to secure their floating vessel to.  This meant that pioneers and adventurers probably had already reached Nun’s Island.  This lukewarm consolation provided me with a tad of relief and allowed me to leave the site a little easier.

I traveled north again, finally making it to the top of the Lough and drove south all the way back to O’Briensbridge.  I cleaned up and met the rest of the gang at the Limerick Country Club for dinner.  Our next stop was Guerin’s for more pub-related activity.

At the pub, I began speaking with Mark.  Since he was one of two best men, he had to put his speech together for tomorrow night’s reception.  He asked me to review the work he had already done on the speech.  Mark shared some funny Dara moments and touched upon the existence of Dara’s long hair when we were all at college.

When I met Dara, I too had long hair and was gearing up for a semester in Galway, Ireland in a few months.  Dara was pleased to hear this and urged me to keep my long hair for my trip.  He fortified his advice with tales of traveling to many Irish villages with his drinking buddy.  He claimed that many lasses in these small villages found Dara’s overabundant hair inventory to be very attractive while his short-haired friend was dismissed like some leper dipped in skunk juice.  Sadly, I did not heed the counsel from the Celtic Fonzie and cut my hair so I was never able to determine the validity of his strategy.

I gave Mark a hefty thumbs up for his speech preparation and said goodnight to him.  All that remained for me this day was a short drive back to my B&B and hopefully a journey laced in sleep.  Good night tenderonies.

Saturday, August 16th

Last night’s sleep took a long time for it to be true.  It was also peppered with the sounds of what felt like dozens of idiotic dogs barking.  I will do my best to refrain from rambling on about my genuine and acute disgust for barking dogs but know this – we must elect a President of the Universe to wipe out this all too common of an issue.

After a breakfast that included a wonderful meal, an Irish couple defecating on George Bush and one more final round of witnessing PJ’s abysmal slop, I walked north along the Shannon.  The weather gave me clouds and more light rain.  The walk gave me an up-close look at the Shannon River’s hydroelectric dam.  Approaching this large structure through the woods gave me the feeling of being a spy that needed to blow up the dam because it was now under control of some evil dude nation.  Not finding any explosive devices on me or the ability to recollect such an agenda, I enjoyed the view and walked home.

Once back, I took gold in the event of napping.  When I came back to life, I readied myself for Dara and Christine’s wedding.  I put on my suit and walked out the door.  Right when I reached the end of the driveway, I heard Antoinette open the door.

“Chris, come here.  Let me take a look at you.”

I laughed at this request and had no choice but to walk back for her enjoyment.  I even added a graceful spin to my presentation for her supplementary amusement.  Antoinette smiled and exuded a sense of pride that is often detected in a mother seeing her son off to his first prom.

Miraculously, the rain stopped for the ceremony and the cocktail function afterwards.  A spot of sun even willed its way into our celebration from time to time.  The ceremony took place at the local church in Castleconnell.  For music, we all got to listen to one of Ireland’s most prominent harpists, Janet Harbison.  During the course of the ceremony, she had the stunning and welcomed audacity to play “The Rose” by Bette Midler.  With a single song, Janet ensured all of God’s angels were present in this highest of romantic rituals.

After we all filed out of the church, we walked the quarter mile or so to Dara’s family’s house for the reception.  After cocktail hour and pictures, we made our way into a large tent for food, drink and whatever other merriment was to be found.  It seemed like once the last person entered the tent, a steady rain began to fall.

With hurt feelings, I looked around at people enjoying a fresh keg of Guinness.  To restore my good nature, I allowed myself one pint and later on, a cigar.  I don’t know if my American naughty license is valid in Ireland but I’m sure acting like it is.

After savoring fine food, music, Mark Francetic’s fine speech, conversation, and the most involved and elaborate outhouse I’ve ever seen, I decided to head home as my Mono was calling.  It was a great night that deserved a great sleep.  Until tomorrow, mysterious peeps.

Sunday, August 17th

After eating, I settled the bill with Antoinette.  My plan was to now drive three hours east to Bray, a coastal town that was just south of Dublin.  My purpose was to visit a friend of mine I had not seen 12 years.  Chris Kane is a gent that, even though we went to Boston College together, I did not meet until we were both studying in Galway in 1995.

Before I left my B&B, I brought my map out so Antoinette’s husband John could take a look at my potential route.  As this happened, I realized a funny thing.  It’s interesting how comfortable many people feel drawing on your map as they give directions.  John started to fire away his thoughts, “Well, you want to take the N7 to Kildare…” and as he did, he carpet-bombed my poor little map with all kinds of lines, circles and X’s that gave my once pristine document the look of a four-year old’s treasure map.

I didn’t care that much, especially because I got this map from Hertz…So Good! but what if I really didn’t want him drawing on my map?  What if I was going to add this map to the “maps I’ve gotten from car rental companies” quilt I was assembling back home?  Where would I be then?  I never understood why people assume it’s okay to start scribbling like someone in mid-seizure on your map.  John’s intentions were pure and for the best so I was not even the least bit annoyed but I feel the occurrence of this event obligates me to reflect on this remarkable phenomenon with you.

Once in Bray, I drove along a beach front road with all kinds of shops restaurants, some fast food spots and amusement-based joints.  At the end of this road was my hotel for the night, the Crofton Bray Head Inn and Bray Head itself (a very large hill).  The road was busy and cars fought to find parking.  The Bray Head Inn capitalized on this congestion by charging non-guests to park in their lot.  The gatekeeper guarding this precious resource was an old man in a bright neon green vest that ominously waved all passing traffic into the lot.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, this ancient creature with his rhythmic, comatose, beckoning wave perfectly foreshadowed my time at the Bray Head Inn.

I pulled up and told him I was a guest.  A small trace of disappointment flashed on his face as he realized no toll would be collected from me.  A slightly awkward silence followed as he tried to compute my immediate parking destiny.  Finally, his human circuitry reactivated and he was able to supply me with instruction on where to place my Barbie Doll car.  I thanked him for his help and he ambled back to his parking post.

I walked inside to a very large, dark and musty lobby.  I could tell that this 130-year old building was originally well-built and boasted of fine craftsmanship but years of neglect, tasteless modifications and poor management left a very creepy and eerie feel to the place.  The odor throughout the building smelled like the locker room of Team Puberty.  To be more precise, if Team Puberty had a really big game, went back into their locker room, left all their dirty laundry everywhere, and then had someone professionally seal of the room, and then opened it up 40 years later, that’s what the Crofton Bray Head Inn smelled like.

I approached the front desk and noticed that A) no one was there and B) there seemed to be no way to get behind the desk (the desk area was in a little cubby that was surrounded by a counter, two walls and a stair railing).  Finally, a young German man walked over to the desk and with excitement, I watched and wondered how the hell he was going to get behind the desk.  He headed for the side where the stair railing was, grabbed the upper handrail and flung his body through a small opening created my two removed posts like the Duke Boys whipping themselves through the windows of the General Lee.

He popped up from behind the desk and asked, “Do you have a reservation?”

I laughed to myself thinking I wouldn’t need one since I felt to be the only guest stupid enough to risk their life in this massive old structure.  I was asked to pay right there (also weird) so I gave him my card.

He grabbed my card and stared at it as if he were a gay man that only played checkers and had just been handed a deck of playing cards with naked ladies on them.

“Ohh…you pay with card?  I have never done this before.  I’m not sure what to do.  Let’s see here…”

I bit my tongue and avoided saying anything that would make him feel worse than the situation already had done on its own.  Besides, I was still so impressed that he was even able to get behind the desk.  That step alone probably took weeks of training.

He eventually pulled out some sort of card machine and figured out what to do.  I then ask him how I could make a phone call.

“Do you have phones in the bedrooms?” I asked.

“Uh, I am not very sure…”

“Well, do you have a pay phone somewhere in the lobby?”

“Uh, I am not very sure…”

He finally told me of a phone he knew of down the road and showed me to my room.  We walked up a large staircase that lead not just to another floor but more odor.  We then walked down a hallway, bumping into old furniture since no lights were on, traveled up a somewhat scary elevator, down another hallway and finally into my room.

My room was a tad creepy but not too bad.  The bathroom was actually presentable and what really amazed me about it was the haunted soap.  On the bath tub and sink was your average small, thin hotel soap but it was unwrapped and standing upright on its very thin edge.  I didn’t tell the Bray Head Inn this but I would have paid double for my room had I known this haunted soap awaited me.

I unpacked a few things, didn’t see any phone in my quarters so I headed outside to call my friend Chris on a pay phone.  I called up the fella and he told me he’d be down in 10 minutes.  While I waited, I walked the strip looking for a simple little convenience store and with much frustration, found nothing.

I eventually went up to an ice cream stand and the woman working there told me there was something of a convenience store a couple blocks away called “The Ideal Store”.   What an obscene misnomer that turned out to be.  The Ideal Store was literally a small, hot closet with nothing but chocolate milk, soda, packaged ham, heartache and a huge step-like display of candy bars that was as big as and resembled a section of bleachers from a stadium.  What the heck do people in this beachside Bray community eat?!  Sand?  Hopes of a someday supermarket?

I walked back to the hotel and waited for Chris in the lobby.  As I walked in, I looked to my left and saw a pay phone, almost visible from the front desk.  Should I have gotten upset with the German hombre for not knowing of this phone when I asked for it earlier?  No.  With all the lights constantly off in the building, he probably had no idea it was there.

Chris eventually appeared and I told him I had not seen him in what felt like a lad’s age.  Along with his dog, we decided to walk up Bray Head.  This turned out to be a dodgy experience since all the rain placed a waterfall on the path we were climbing up.  Undaunted, our journey and our conversation pressed on.  This journey, by the way, installed some attractive ocean views for us.

When we reached bottom, we walked along the beach and Chris told me a story of how he was walking his dog along the same beach several months ago, early in the morning, when a pack of young terds started throwing rocks at him.  Amazing, I thought.  Some people’s desire to harm others is so primitive and innate that they will see someone they don’t even know and think, “I have to hurt a complete stranger who’s out walking his dog” and then literally grab the first object they find nearby and start hurling it at you.

I then showed Chris the inside of the Bray Head Inn.  He actually heard rumors of the hotel’s grotesqueness and advised me to cancel my reservation when I told him where I was staying the day before.  I told him I needed this experience to evolve as a man in the world.  He was laughing his guy-arse off as he walked through this creepy experiment.  He also was so moved by the haunted soap he took pictures of it.

We then got in his car and went back to his place so I could say hello to his wife Jen and their new baby boy Milo.  After some effective chatting, Jen dropped the two of us off at a restaurant where Chris and I ate and discussed hilarious stories not fit for public consumption.  Jen picked us up later and dropped me off at my hotel.  Jen, who grew up in Bray, looked in through the windows at the breakfast area.  She commented on how that room used to double as a nightclub back in the nineties.  She always marveled at how she used to see people throw up all over the place and then the next day see people eating their breakfast in the same room.

I laughed but now the reality of me having to sleep in this place started to set in.

“I sure hope this place isn’t haunted.  I don’t feel like dealing with that tonight.”

They told me to call them if I got scared and then laughed as they drove off.  Tender.

I headed back to my room and watched “Brokedown Palace” with Clair Danes and Bill Pullman, a movie so potent and moving you can buy it on Amazon for 1 cent (the last I checked).  Good nocturnal tidings.

Monday, August 18th

Risking such things I hold dear to me like my life, my reputation, my ability to trust food ever again, I elected to eat a full Irish breakfast at the Crofton “There’s a Strong Possibility You’ll Die in Your Sleep” Bray Head Inn.  As I waited, I was nearly blinded by the light that came from my life flashing in front of me.  As I wondered if I would at least make it to the parking lot before the morning food buried me in death, I drank the smallest glass of orange juice I’ve ever faced.  It was literally a shot or the same volume you would use if it was mouthwash or if you were preparing a bath for a flea.  The food came and I ate it like a lad with nothing to lose.

I went back to my room and my vitals seemed okay.  I grabbed all of my belongings and while I walked down the long dark hallways, “Hotel California” started playing in my head.  This melodious mental incident was uninvited and freaked me out.  As I made my way through the maze of hallways and doors and stairways and stench, I began to pick up the pace.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be trapped in this haunted time bomb of a hotel, a time bomb whose fuse was lit 130 years ago and would burn for eternity.  Once outside, I breathed in a mixture of air, freedom and relief.

I then drove through the Wicklow Mountains to a well-known monastery named Glendalough.  I wandered through old ruins and cemeteries.  I then decided to do a 5-kilometer hike that took me up alongside a series of mountain river waterfalls.  Due to the excessive rain, the falls were wild and uncouth like their artificial relatives that reside in water parks.

I continued my soggy, rain-ridden journey through a forest where I was greeted by two deer.  One stopped and kept checking me out.  Dirty deer!  In addition to my creature-universal charm, I think it was due to the fact my pants were exactly the same color as their coat.  After carefully studying the deer’s body language, I was able to come up with this translation, “Is that my good friend Slim the Deer?  Why is he wearing a black jacket and holding an umbrella?  Why is he standing upright on two legs?  Why do my droppings look like Coco Puffs?”

This pensive deer eventually moved on and I entered thick, dark woods and climbed up a small, steep path that had been turned into a stream.  At the top, everything opened up and I was gifted with supersonically good views of Glendalough’s Upper Lake.  I walked along a cliff, passed by a well-behaved group of horned goats (rams maybe?) and descended to my point of origin.

Back in the car, I drove south to my next stop, Kilmore Quay, and checked into my B&B.  Kilmore Quay is a very small, peaceful fishing village in County Wexford and provided more of the quiet nourishment that my American soul desired.  A more tangible nourishment was soon found at the great restaurant of Silver Foxes.  During my wonderful meal, a strange bug dropped out of nowhere onto the window sill next to me.  Stranger was that it looked like there as another bug attached to the back of it.

Grossed out by this potential scene of bug sex, I smashed this bug entity.  Grosser still than this insect porno was this white fluid that exploded from the bug/bugs.  I then ripped off a small piece of my napkin and placed it over the bug(s) like people do in movies (with other humans, typically).  I didn’t do this so much out of respect for the dead as I did for the hope I could put this vile and bizarre event out of my head and get on with my meal.

I then pursued a therapeutic stroll around the small village and went back to slumber.  Tomorrow, we chat again.

Tuesday, August 19th 

Once awake, I grabbed another enemy of the heart breakfast.  After settling the bill and packing my car, I made a brief stop at a small toy store to buy a desperately generic GI Joe type of action figure for my buddy Matt.  Matt is a crazy big fella that builds and adores toys.  Before I left, he requested not only a toy from Ireland but a rock.  The second ingredient of his request would be achieved shortly after I placed my figure in my car and drove west along the sea towards Hook Peninsula.  Matt’s mystical rock was discovered in a small beach in the little village of Cullenstown, I believe.  You have no idea the great joy it gives me to have a friend that asks me to procure a toy and rock for him before a journey.  Only a brilliant mind is capable of such requests or a cave baby.

As I drove out onto Hook Peninsula, I made a stop at Tintern Abbey.  This abbey was built by Cistercian monks about 1000 years ago.  The highlight of this magnificent slice of history was an entertainingly awful educational video in one the abbey towers.  The funny thing about the video’s location was that it was in a room that was hard to find and vaguely described to me by a woman in the reception area:

“Somewhere in the tower, you’ll see a door that looks to be locked but isn’t.  Just open this door and you’ll see another set of stairs that leads to another closed door.  Open that and enter the room.”

She didn’t tell me what was in this room or give me any reason to seek it out.  Usually, museums are very clear on all of the areas visitors can go and why.  Maybe Tintern Abbey simply wanted to reward visitors worthy enough to find the quasi-hidden chamber with pure delight.  Or maybe Tintern was under some legal obligation to show this terrible video but was ashamed of it so they crappily hid the video hoping visitors wouldn’t find it but could claim it was on display if the video’s producer asked of its whereabouts.

What was in this room was further proof that the best comedy is born from people that don’t mean to create comedy.  I found the door she spoke of and walked up the stairs to the other room.  I spotted a television monitor with a green button.  As my hand approached this correctly colored button, I looked around.  The room was empty.  The moment was right.

I pressed the button and was given perfection.  On the screen was a dorky-looking bookworm of a guy who pretended to be researching something at his desk.  He obviously spent some time laying out some important looking books although I was so distracted by the most ridiculous and fake monocle he wore that my mind registered little else.  With the acting talent of a pile of sticks, he displayed a sense of surprise once he saw me and greeted me with an accent that was either English or an Irish guy pretending to be English.

Like so many things in life, the greatness of this video was achieved by the little things.  A perfect example was the detectable and subdued excitement he gave off throughout the whole video.  The thought of portraying a historian on camera was making him giddy and it was making me psyched.  Another was his falling out of character by pulling out the monocle, talking for a while, a cut and then back to him talking with the monocle in place.  And speaking of cuts, they were terrible.  They would fade out awkwardly and come back to an unnatural reentry into the topic at hand.  Since this was a one-camera shoot with no other content between cuts, you technically didn’t need any cuts.  Clearly, they were only there because he either rambled on a sleep-producing tangent or forgot what he was talking about.  Either way, I thanked God for their presence.

And what did he talk about?  I have no idea.  Not just because the content was staler than death itself but because I was too busy treasuring the man’s aura and the poor quality of the project as a whole.  He could have been divulging the secrets of women, speed and burritos and I would have never known.

I left the abbey a stronger man and decided I was ready for Europe’s (and probably the world’s) oldest lighthouse that resided at the tip of Hook Peninsula.  Once there, I climbed along the rocky shore.  I came across several “blow holes” that were preceded by warning signs.  Although a term that sounds like unsavory slang for a certain human place, the signs referred to these often grass-obscured holes that ranged in width from 3 to 6 feet.  Most of them were about 25 feet deep and had ocean water on their bottoms during high tide.

At the bottom of one of the blow holes, I spotted a beer keg, clearly the result of some young toughs and a drinking session.

“Hey Jimmy, I’m done with my keg.  Watch me chuck it into this stupid blow hole!”

A crash is heard.


I drove on past Duncannon and to the ferry of Ballyhack.  In terms of driving, I couldn’t help but think how Irish roads provided its drivers with so many near collisions.  The roads are tight and wild.  Little room exists for errors in this arena.  My small bit of comfort was remembering I have an airbag although I would hate to use my airbag since it probably hurts.  I bet it feels like the winning blow of the most severe pillow fight imaginable…like if someone taped a pillow to a Louisville Slugger and just let it rip into your face.

An eight-minute ferry ride took me to County Waterford where I drove west to the seaside town of Dungarven.  A large, 198-year old brick structure known as the Cairbre House would be my sleep camp for the night.

I was greeted by a friendly o’fella named Brian that showed me my room and made me some tea.  As I sipped and savored, he marked out on a map and gave me an overview of practically every restaurant in the large town.  He then left the room and returned with a menu for every restaurant he just described.  Not only was it a large number of menus but the menus were real menus you would get at the restaurant, not just a paper handout.  Did he go to each of these restaurants and casually steal each menu?  Was menu collecting a hobby for Brian?  A disorder?  It was a marvelously strange and welcome experience.

I settled on the Mill Restaurant and was body slammed by an absurdly elite meal consisting of pork, squash, potatoes, fries and a dessert that could destroy the band.  It would not be an overstatement to say that deep, forgotten places of me were awakened by this meal.

With a stomach that was packed and stacked with delight, I noodled around Dungarven’s streets in efforts to take in the lovely town.  I drove home then to the Cairbre House (which, by the way, is Gaelic for Care Bear House) and watched an interesting program on the Discovery Channel about a Scottish guy that was attempting to break the overall time record of riding a bike around the world.  I thoroughly enjoyed this program and I invite you to do the same.  Good night.

Wednesday, August 20th

Let me tell you, this morning’s breakfast can only be compared to a first date that exceeded all expectations. Lips kissed when it was thought that only hands would be held.  Shared dreams of future romance were expressed when only conversations of laundry were expected.

The meal was constructed of salmon that was smoked locally, free range eggs, fresh Irish brown bread, and vegetables and herbs that joined in from Brian’s Care Bear garden, literally a dude’s length away.

I thanked Brian for his hospitality and journeyed southwest along the coast into Helvic Head and on to Ardmore along roads that Americans would classify as footpaths.  Once in Ardmore, I went for a beautiful scenic cliff walk that took me along the coast of the town.  This walk took me past Declan’s Well and when I finished the hike, I drove over to Declan’s Church.  Not only was this the site of old church ruins, a great stone tower and a cemetery, it was also the site of my lunch.  Well done.

I then decided it was time to head north to my next destination of Clonmel.  In addition to being a beautiful town of 16,000 peeps along the lovely River Suir, it is also the home of Bulmer’s Cider, a sweet cider beer (they also make Strongbow Cider).  I remain more or less unaffected by this fact but I mention it for all you alcoholic diabetics.

I checked in with Rita at the Hillcourt House and made awesome with a cup of tea in the family’s living room.  As I wildly dipped my biscuits in my tea, I looked at several graduation photos that hung on the wall.  From the looks of the pictures, some of the children seemed to be graduating multiple times.  I’m not sure if this was due to the pursuit of graduate degrees or if there was perhaps some graduation recall that required the student to repeat the process since the first graduation was defective in some way.  Everyone in the photos seemed pleased so I assume the reason was the former.

I unpacked, showered, dressed and walked into Clonmel center.  A satisfactory meal was dealt with at Tierney’s, one pint of Guinness was liquidated at Mulcahy’s and a walk home executed by Christofella.  Good night time, soldiers of the Sleep Army.

Thursday, August 21st

I ate breakfast, squared the bill away with Rita and motored my way to Shannon Airport.  I pulled into the Hertz Rental Return area and was annoyed when a Hertz employee said I damaged the front left tire of my little hushmobile.  He pointed out a tiny bulge on the sidewall of the tire that measured less than a quarter inch wide by two inches.  It was literally the size and look of a forehead vein…people will notice it but you’re not getting turned down to semi formals because of it.

For this tiny business, he charged me 85 Euros or roughly $127.  I made my distaste known to this Hertz minion and how ridiculous it was to charge someone that much for what was essentially a vulcanized bagel.

“Well, I could have charged you 400 Euros ($600 bucks).”

He really said that.  What a dumb thing to say.

And you also could have eloped with a dead cow but you didn’t because that has nothing to do with the true value of the tire.

Well, I left Hertz with a mild yet manageable case of agitation.  But by the time I was on the plane, the symptoms passed.  Other than the guy next to me spilling a beer all over the place, the flight was peaceful and successful.

Once home, I stood in the sun and passionately asked why it saw fit to desert me in the past week.  There was no answer.

I retraced the steps of public transportation I made eight days ago and returned to the comforts of 83 Willow Street.  And with this fellas and felletes, I bid you the most tender and hairy-chested goodnights I can possibly muster.

Trip to the South 2001

May 24, 2001

Two and a half months had passed since my last journey and I had decided it was time.  The desire to travel is ever present and intense in the heart and soul of the cable salesman.  Much like the service he provides he must subject himself to the spice of life.  What better place than the Deep South?  It is called the “Deep” South due to the area’s fascination with bass guitar, Barry White and swimming pools without shallow ends.

Well, what really brings me here is the wedding between my good friend from my days in Ireland, Ben Gunsberg and Andrea Melnick.  The wedding is to be held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and due to the city’s proximity to my brother Sean’s home in Atlanta, I decided to fly to Atlanta today and drive my brother’s jeep to Tuscaloosa on Saturday.  I then plan to drive back Monday to Atlanta and fly home Tuesday.

Again I found myself in the gate area gazing upon the East Boston wonders and the wonder that is the Mary Kay poster-child flight attendant that went on a tour of a perfume factory, strayed from the tour group, tripped and fell into a vat of their most potent, skankiest potion and was fished out three days later only in time to make it to the tanning salon and hair stylist for highlights.  And don’t even get me started on the women.  Once in the plane, I found myself sitting next to Pete G. who is a runner from a local running club that isn’t the one that I’m on.  We exchanged in delightful conversation about running and Atlanta’s seemingly endless supply of beautiful women.  For some reason we never got to the beautiful men.  Oh well, it’s probably better that way.

I headed through the airport and to Atlanta’s premier public transportation system, MARTA.  My brother Sean picked me up at the Chamblee station and we made a quick stop at his house where I admired his most recent home improvements.  “Well done Number One,” I thought to myself.  In fine Coxen style, he quickly had a female companion by the name of Lauren that was actually willing to meet us for dinner at Apres Diem where we feasted upon fruit and cheese and other individual medleys.  Mine was a delicious salmon and pasta affair.

Lauren was a friend of Sean’s from work and proved to be sharp as a tack and smart as a whip (ouch!).  I often found my garrulous nature to be subdued as her appetite for conversation made itself known to the new brother.  But I do say I was a better man for it as she imparted both human and feminine wisdom (the later of which I so desperately lack) upon us as we moved to an Italian restaurant for drinks as we watched Italian men prepare pizza ingredients for the next day.  Some random guy at the bar who several times spontaneously erupted into authentic Italian singing fits also entertained us.

With this, we walked Lauren to her home and went back to Sean’s house.

May 25, 2001

After waking, my brother and I made provisions to go for a run through Kennesaw Mountain that is located 20 miles northwest of the city.  But before this, we decided to begin the day at an incredible casual restaurant by the name of the Flying Biscuit.  On the way out of the house, my brother decided to videotape the Giro d’Italia, which is a three-week cycling event through Italy.  Just like our father, he saw it necessary to leave the television on as it taped the program (although my father would go to the next step and hang a towel or newspaper over the screen as not to see what was being taped).  As we were leaving, I said to him, “You know, I think you can turn the TV off when you tape a program.”  “Yah, I know,” he replied “but I don’t trust it.”  Wow, I thought, even four years of a Brown University Education and eight years of a career as a software developer will not overcome the tendencies to replicate often-illogical behavior of one’s father.  But hey, I can’t point fingers.  I too eat over the kitchen sink, would rather be punched in the face than have to talk to someone in the morning and someday I also will be trying to break off a piece of frozen lasagna with a hammer and chisel.

In any event, we made it to the Flying Biscuit and savored some non-airborne and creative versions of French toast.  Afterwards, we headed to the mountain and enjoyed a lovely five-mile run through some trails that surrounded the mountain.  I later learned that Kennesaw Mountain gets its name from an old folk song that women used to sing about the men they would be courting.  The name of the song is “Can He Saw?” and allow me to give you some of the lyrics:

Can he saw, can he hammer, can he build me a shack?
Is he strong, is he brave, can he eat a pancake stack?
Does he bathe? No he doesn’t, then he can be my man.
Does he fight, does he cuss, does he have a farmer’s tan?

Well the song became so popular among the natives that people started to call their mountain Kennesaw.  Due to the fact that these particular people couldn’t spell to well and didn’t much study beyond kindergarten, they erroneously spelled “Can” as “Ken”.  The rest just sort of happened.

On our way home, we stopped at a Whole Food Mart where I encountered, hands down, the best smoothie of my life and one of the best salad bars I’ve subjected my to senses to in recent times.  Once home, showers and relaxation were the order of the afternoon as once again, my brother showed his social rallying skills as he made plans for us to meet some friends at the Treehouse for dinner and drinks.

Upon entering the charming deck area of the restaurant, we were greeted by one of Sean’s friends and former landlord, Mike Curtin.  Accompanying this fellow marathoner and triathlete was his lovely wife Chris, also an athlete herself.  Sean used to live in a house that Mike Curtin had owned a few years prior and one that my friend Matt Doughty and I had the pleasure of visiting four years ago as we were driving across the country.  I recently learned that Mike had moved out of that house and into another nearby.  After asking my brother why, he told me that much like George Jefferson, he moved on up to a larger house.  I thought that it might have been that his former next-door neighbors kept every object that most people would keep inside of their house in their backyard.  If my words dare to be published someday, I will include a picture that I took of the backyard splendor during my stay.

While we settled into the evening, I pursued the awkward task of ordering a “Doggie Style Ale” from an attractive waitress.  “Was that hard for you to order that beer?” she asked with a smile.  “Yes” I responded “Yes it was.”  She was thankful, though, that I did not ask for the beer in the tone of her more immature clients.  With that done, we enjoyed more fine dining and conversation that ranged from track and running workouts to the all-pleasing and entertaining stories of my present and former coworkers.  Sadly there is not enough space or time here to go through them and besides, these comical tales must be doled out on a case-by-case basis.  The evening drew to a close and we said our good-byes.

May 26th 

After a long and pleasant sleep, I carried myself into the kitchen and enjoyed a blueberry muffin.  My brother and I then began a search for a suitable track that I could do a time trial on for the mile.  I performed my usual pre-race rituals partnered with a common case of nerves.  I surveyed this track we found at Oglethorpe University and it seemed just fine so I put on my racing waffles and headed for the starting line where Sean would read off my splits.

I ended up running a 4:37, which perhaps wasn’t so bad considering I had no one to run with but I was troubled by the fact that it hurt as much as it did.  My splits were 66 high, 67 high, 69 and 73.  Not exactly a well run race but something to learn from.

Back at the house, I got my things together, had a quick lunch and hit the road in my brother’s Jeep Wrangler.  Three and a half-hours later, I found myself in Tuscaloosa and promptly checked myself into the Sheraton Four Points Hotel.  I settled in, showered, got dressed and headed for Café Venice for the Celebration Dinner.  Once entering, I discovered I knew no one and prepared for a long torturous evening but I should have known better.  After meeting up with Ben’s parents and Ben himself, I felt as comfortable as an artificially intelligent robot in a show about outer space.  He graciously introduced me to his former college, high school and work friends.  I soon found myself talking to a group of people of the lovely variety.

After finishing a salad, I decided to go to the men’s room where I encountered the token odd person of any journey.  I entered a stall as this fellow was occupying the only urinal.  Although I could not see him, I could hear him repeatedly flush the mechanism with the same rhythm and ferocity of that of a machine gun. While he did this, he would grunt and say “Yup” like so: “Yup…uh hmm…yup…yup, uh hmm…yup”.  As I headed for the sink, I was faced with a man that had scruffy hair, a baseball hat, a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers.  He was not with our party and the rest of the restaurant was closed to the public so he was not a patron.  Nor did he look like an employee.  I have no idea where he came from.  He simply continued to mumble as he walked out of the bathroom never looking at me and I did not see him for the rest of the evening.

Fortunately, this incident did not spoil my appetite as I began to the school the buffet table.  Dessert followed while we were entertained by a slideshow that carried them Ben and Andrea from their birth to present day.  I was even allowed to stand and say a few kind words about the couple.  The evening then drew to a close and I made my way to the hotel.

May 27th

After waking and securing a quick bite to eat at the Atlanta Bread Company, I hit the poolside and casually wrote down some of the previous day’s events.  Time passed quickly and I was growing tired of listening to the snoring hairy fat man that had fallen asleep in the strong Alabama sun so I was forced to leave and prepare for the main event.

My entrance into the wedding grounds was nothing short of comical as I drove between the area where the ceremony would be held and the area where the wedding party originated.  As I approached, I thought I was driving through the ceremony in progress as there were people on both sides of the street and I was running a tad late.  I began to slow down as I saw Ben and thought that he was going to cross the street and start the procession with the others.  I don’t know what I did but first gear was no where to be found so I began to rock in the jeep like John Travolta on a mechanical bull in “Urban Cowboy”.   The best part was that the majority of the party and guests were looking at me and thought I was trying to peel out.  I felt about as cool as a forest fire.

With that behind me, I sat down and enjoyed a ceremony given by a woman preacher in front of a large Magnolia tree.  I feel cool saying “Magnolia tree” but I would have had no idea what the heck type of tree it was if someone didn’t tell me.  Left to my own devices, I would have called it poison ivy or “living wood”.  During the ceremony, several people came to the front and read poems.  This may seem strange to some but when one realizes that Ben is currently studying poetry at the University of Alabama and has befriended many poets, this artistic and literary display made sense.  In fact, there were even poems the night before and in the reception that followed.  If the weekend was likened to a bowl of cereal and the poems represented marshmallows, we would have been dealing with a very sugary bowl of Lucky Charms.  How desperately I yearned to recite my “Can He Saw?” piece before this tortured group of thinkers and feelers.

With the ceremony completed, we moved into the Bryce Mansion where we enjoyed a pleasant and relaxed reception that was not bogged down with annoying wedding traditions.  Nor were there any horrifying family rituals to be endured: “Okay everyone, make way for Grandpa Wilson as he performs the crazy Wilson Family Alabama Bikini Dance!”  But when there was no garter belt thrown, I cussed to myself, “Damn it! I wore this flypaper dress suit for nothing!”

Once the dining finished, a talented jazz quartet consisting of guitar, stand-up bass, saxophone and drums entertained us all including Ben’s younger brother Paul who sat in on drums for several songs and displayed his brilliant chops.  So fantastic and aggressive were their rhythms that one couple was swept away by the music and then thrown to the ground as they soon found themselves lying together on the floor, wondering what happened.  This hardened group of musicians must have played through many bar room brawls for they did not flinch during the episode.

If there was one disappointment, it would be that what I am about to tell you produced no lively outcomes.  During the reception, I learned that we were on the grounds of a mental institution although no one would ever know due to the surrounding serenity.  How I had hoped one of the residents would have found his or her way into the mansion to offer a toast.  “Well, having Lucille Ball and that man from the Blistex commercial trapped inside my body has taught me a few things about gypsies and moon pies.  The first would have to be that there are many social benefits to discovering a way of splicing together the DNA of a praying mantis and a toilet seat.  Meeeeeooooowwwww!”

Darkness came and I departed.  Once in my room, I changed my clothes and headed to room 358 for some easy going, late night action with Ben’s fiends.  I enjoyed more pleasant conversation and then returned to my room.

May 28th

I awoke promptly at 9AM in order to meet Andrea’s brother Ted in the lobby.  From there we jogged over to the University of Alabama track where we geared up for a rigorous track workout.  Ted, a triathlete and a gentleman, wished to join me in my workout in order to learn some sprinting techniques.  I offered my humble advice which he showed interest in.  We then indulged in six high-paced 300-meter sprints as the southern heat toyed with us from time to time.  Yes, it toyed with us much like a lumberjack from Kennesaw Mountain would toy with a short stack of pancakes.

On the way back to my room I made an attempt to remove some lactic acid from my muscles with a “Calgon take me away” style dip in the pool.  I then gathered my things, checked out and made a pit stop at Ben and Andrea’s.  We exchanged tender good-byes and I was off to Atlanta.

This might be a good time to throw in a really strange social phenomenon that exists in Tuscaloosa.  As many of you may know, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who had an incredible career, coached the football team at University of Alabama and passed away in 1983.  They have a road named after the man and a museum dedicated to him.  Now all of that is fine and I have no problem with it but some of the locals took it too far.  It seems Paul Bryant had this one hat that he like to wear so some of his fans use this as a symbol of their reverence.  My hotel had a replica of the hat made from crystal while a convenience store had a ten-foot painting of it on the side of the building.  Let’s just hope the next legendary coach of the football team doesn’t decide to wear really unique underwear during his career.

In any event, I arrived at my brother’s house and enjoyed a cookout with him and his friend Paul.  And to keep it real, Paul flew in his buddy Scott from New York.  We sat on his deck; listened to the Buena Vista Social Club CD and allowed a familiar liquid to make its way to our stomachs along with some fine grilled items.  We soon discovered an inverse relationship between the level of our immaturity and the level of Sean’s property value.  All I know is that I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.  Was it Paul’s fake lisp?  Was it the sweet potato pie?  Was it the fact that that I was wearing a tank top and my racing waffles?  Or maybe it was the fact that we knew that Sean’s neighbor who is a sweet old woman and likes to show him where on her body she got a terrible case of shingles was merely a stone’s throw away and still had only the structural metal pipe framework of a shack in her backyard?  Whatever it was, I relished in this state of comical inebriation.

Paul and Scott then pulled themselves out of the evening’s madness while Sean and I secured another twelve-pack of which we barely had two.  When it comes to sitting in a comfortable chair at night in front of the TV, Sean is an old man all the way.  I soon found myself drinking beer next to a gently snoring man while listening to some snooty English sportscaster talk smack about some young punk cyclist who overzealously shot ahead for the lead in the Giro d’Italia.  It was time for bed.

May 29th

Sean woke me up at 8:15 so that I could go to work with him and take his jeep.  I went to his office, said hello to Lauren and headed out as Sean went into a meeting.  As I got in the jeep, I realized that I forgot his keys so I went back to the office and found myself locked out and with everyone in the meeting, there was no one to let me in so I rang the doorbell, left a flaming bag of icky stuff right outside the door and ran away.  Actually, I rang the doorbell and was greeted by a no-nonsense Asian man who didn’t really care to hear that I was Sean’s brother, I forgot his keys and that when I drive Sean’s jeep, I pretend that it is Kit and that I am Michael Knight and that it will be so cool when I attempt to “turbo boost” over the Chatahoochee River.

With keys in hand, I drove over to the Chatahoochee River for a five-mile run and then to the other location of the Flying Biscuit for some organic oatmeal pancakes and turkey bacon even though I clearly requested the turkey and sage sausage.  To digest, I meandered through the freakish delights provided by Little Five Points and then drove back to my brother’s.  I gathered my things and drove to the MARTA station and made my way to the airport.

Once on the plane, I found myself sitting next to a guy that does something that I don’t remember and a woman that decided to still live in the Boston area because she wants to see the completion of the Big Dig.  I shook my head and thought there would be a greater chance of finding humor in an episode of the “Golden Girls”.

As I entered the gate area, my good friend and chauffeur, Thomas Hoffrage, once again greeted me.  He finally complied with my earlier request and this time showed up dressed in a suit.  The reason for this, I told him, is that I like my drivers to look presentable.  You only feel as good as you look, I went on to say.  To be truthful, his elegant attire was due to his recent departure from a work function.

Once in South Boston, I gathered a few things and made my way to my parent’s house in Boxborough to tend to some house sitting matters that required my attention.  On the way out, I tried my hardest to avoid Thomas’ scathing glance that said, “So that’s how it is, love ‘em and leave ‘em!” But I truly believe the South felt the same way about my quick, romantic, hot arrival and departure from its luring clutches.  It must be realized, though, that such is the way of the lone wolf that is the commercial cable salesman.  Good night!