My second of 10 sojourns to Ireland was a summer-long storytelling tour of the island that was certainly one of the highlights of my life. I kept copious journals recording my remarkable experiences. When I read them in 1996, I realized there was a book in it. So I wrote one. Took about a year and a half, but it was time well spent. I am a much better writer as a result, and let’s face it: anyone can begin writing a book. It’s an achievement to FINISH writing a book. I never attempted to publish, as travel writing is like milk: it has an expiration date. The Ireland I describe in this book no longer exists. Little more than a decade later, it is almost an historical document. But it’s good. I like it. It’s fun to read. That is enough. It would be even better if people would read it. Books like having readers. It makes them happy.
– – – JULY 30th, 1994 – – –
. It came as no surprise, when I woke on the day I had to bid farewell to Toad Hall- the home of my heart, to see the digital clock on the mantle reading an unambiguous 8:01 AM. Coffee, shower, shave and we were off.
. My patient Mother waited for my flight with me- in a large, generic restaurant at Shannon Airport. There was little more to say. Arline Liley knew how much the summer had meant to me. She was aware how much I loved her and Paul, and how much I would miss Celtic life, from the distance of my workaday world in California. I began to feel a little apprehensive about the time between this good-bye and our next hello. This time, when my boarding call sounded, there were no tears. There was little doubt I would be back, as soon as I possibly could. Never again would long years pass, before I would cross the sea to my German-Irish mum. A lingering hug, a quick kiss and I walked up that long tilted corridor towards my future.
. Over the course of many bleary butt-numbing hours- Aer Lingus flight 107 successfully traversed the wide Atlantic and the glassy sea below gave way to frigid land. I was tired but not yet obliterated. Unless I could manage to finagle some shut-eye on the cross country flight to San Francisco, I would be facing at least a 22 hour day! But I find sleeping on any jet difficult at best. I sat over the wing, as I always seem to do, and the dull roar of the engines gave me a wicked headache. I was cranky from hunger, because my vegetarian meal consisted of one mushroom crepe I could not bring myself to eat. (I’ve rarely met a mushroom I didn’t loathe.) After two free beers, I watched a thoroughly unexciting sequel to a mediocre film, but did serve to divert my attention for a time. My head was getting fuzzier by the minute. My watch told one story, but my brain told another. When our 747 began to bank to the right, it seemed like the wrong direction to me, but I knew it signaled the beginning of our descent. Next obstacle- the perpetual holding-pattern over New York: Calcutta with money. Can’t say I was thrilled about negotiating J. F. K.- but aside from missing my flight by sheer minutes in a God-awful humidity that just made one want to engage in either homicide or suicide- the airport wasn’t nearly as horrific as I knew it could be, from previous experience.
. Safely aboard the next flight west, I had five hours and eight minutes to contemplate the extraordinary period I had just passed through. My thoughts kept returning to that final meaningful chat I shared with Paul, when he grilled my about my Irish encounter. I had been floored by the depth and quality of my step-father’s inquiries. These were queries that made me think. They weren’t questions I had thought to ask myself. I didn’t know how to answer at the time, groping for an articulate response. Now, I had to ask myself objectively: was it worth taking three months out of my life, and spending virtually all my savings to come? Did I see what I wanted to see- do what I’d hoped to do?
. ‘Well’, I thought- ‘what better way could I have spent my time?’ In taking-off for the entire summer, I managed to escape the claustrophobic madness of Santa Cruz in the crazy tourist season- not to mention avoiding a workplace that can get unbearably hot and stuffy in the warm months. As for the expense, I reckoned that I would have spent about the same amount per month anyway, had I stayed home. I might as well spend my money in punts as dollars. (The big difference in Ireland of course, was that aside from the gravy of my three paid gigs, I was not earning as I spent.) The airfare set me back some, but it was a manageable debit.
. And then there was the other side of the equation: the personal level. What had I hoped to get from the expedition- both personally and professionally? Paul’s question made me realize that I didn’t really gave that issue much thought before I left. Like most people, I have live what the philosopher Kierkagaard called: “a life of quiet desperation”. The opportunity to GO was more than enough. The summer wasn’t all it could have been, no doubt. It surely wasn’t as consistently magical as my first trip, a fact I attribute mostly to Tina’s conspicuous absence. (Though for any of life’s adventures, the first time is usually the best.) Professionally- that too could have been better. (Three gigs is hardly a ‘tour’.) But truthfully, I didn’t really give it that much effort. The jabbering jobs I got came easily. Performing wasn’t really my focus. BEING THERE was all. There were things I’d hoped to see in Ireland that I never got around to: the mound at New Grange for one, and the medieval city of Kilkenny- but then I hardly explored the rich legacy of Ireland’s antiquities at all. That would have to wait for my next trip to the Emerald wonder of the North Atlantic. Would there be a next time? (Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear shit in the woods?) I had little doubt. But there was so much more of the world I wanted to see. After that tantalizing taste of the professional storytelling life, I was ready to go anywhere on the globe that would have me! Perhaps I would follow the enthusiastic advice Lars offered me on that train to Dublin- and investigate the theatrical opportunities in Prague. If I was going to get really serious about performing, it was time to move to a city like San Francisco, (or God-forbid: stinky El Lay), and find an agent willing to offer me a dotted-line on which to sign. Whatever came next for me, I felt confident I was only now entering into the greatest period of change my life had ever known.
. I wish I had the words to answer Paul’s thoughtful questioning more fully. I sure enjoyed getting to know him so much more intimately. (I stand by my controversial assertion: Paul had become such a curmudgeon!) He noted that we’d spent more time together the past three months than we did altogether in the decades we’d been aquatinted. And it’s a good thing we did! Paul had grown so frail and doddering, it was clear his flame was flickering. I was concerned not so much for how many more years he had ahead- but more about how much happiness whatever time he had left would bring. It was absolutely heart wrenching to see him suffer so. Hearing him say things like: “I’d rather die now than loose any more of my sight!”, was the worst kind of emotional torment.
. As we descended into South San Francisco, a flush of emotion overtook me. I marveled at how strange and wonderful it would be to see my tender lover again after a whole season of painful absence. When the pilot made the announcement that we’d actually arrive early, I was stoked! Every minute sooner was one minute less I would have to wait to be back- rollin’ in my sweet baby’s arms…
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