Back in Dublin now after 5 weeks in 5 different U.S. states. The Irish summer weather, slushy and cold when I left, is now bright and crisp; perfect for an afternoon watching the swans in leafy St. Stephen’s Green, or an evening stroll down Grafton Street. I’d do both of those things if I could get out of bed before two p.m. – jet lag, you are a cruel, cruel mistress twitching a cat o’ nine tails and spearing my back to the bed with your stilettos. Bitch.
When I’m awake, there’s work to do here in Dublin. Meeting with the portfolio advisor at College, packing for the Next Big Thing, getting my fill of Irish sights before I’m gone. But first, it’s the weekend. I’d had plans to go out for drinks with a classmate but she canceled, pleading exhaustion after an all-nighter meeting a portfolio deadline so that’s her tapped out, and me on one of my last weekends in Dublin refusing to go down without a fight.
So I decide to go down the pub. I choose one near my apartment, a quiet one. I sit at the bar. My legs dangle helplessly from the stool and I look silly, but stay where I am because I feel too conspicuous sitting at a table on my own. The barman – tall, aproned, mustachioed – asks what I want. I want cider but for some reason, I ask him for a glass of Guinness. Perhaps it’s the Last Gasp Syndrome talking – the halcyon days before leaving one adopted city and moving on to the next, when everything seems brighter, more beautiful, more precious. The Guinness arrives and, yep, it’s delicious – frosty, bitter, and thick.
The seats next to me are empty, but the tables in the back of the pub are full. A group of friends is huddled at the back, talking quite seriously. I count them – eight. I marvel at the fact that just a few short days ago, it was me in the restaurant with my own gang of pals and now it’s me here in the pub sitting alone at the bar, nursing a girly glass of Guinness. But I tell myself there’s no shame in drinking alone here in Ireland. After all, it’s the country where the sport got its start.
The barman comes over and passes me a slip of paper. He says: Write down the song you’d like to hear and we’ll play it for you. Your favorite song. My favorite song? Party.
Dear bar owners, my taste runs towards pop so I understand if it’s not the right tone, but Duran Duran? Or Queen – 1970s Queen. Dolly Parton? The Rolling Stones, Ruby Tuesday. Respectfully, L.
I pass the paper back. The barman reads it, and his wife looks over his shoulder. I immediately feel foolish and wonder – am I lonely or drunk?
“Ruby Tuesday,” says the barman. “We can do that.” He and his wife disappear and soon, the first mournful piano chords sound. I smile into my empty glass; “Ruby Tuesday” reminds me of the brief 9 months when Gia and I were bar wenches at K-Dee’s Irish Pub on 2nd Avenue in New York City. “Ruby Tuesday.” “Octopus’s Garden.” “Baba O’Reilly.” “China Girl.” “Under Pressure.” “The Fairytale of New York.” That was the soundtrack of the Irish pub when Gia was getting her Master’s in Teaching and Evaluation at NYU and I was between “real” jobs – freshly laid off from an editorial gig at TV Guide. That was the soundtrack of being 22 and broke and hungry and ashamed.
Well, I’m 30 now and I’m still broke and hungry but I’m no longer ashamed; next week, I’m moving to Italy – my third international move in three years – and I finally feel as though the things I want are within my reach. And “Ruby Tuesday” is still beautiful, but if I hear, say, “China Girl” I might slip into melancholy. Happily, “Hungry Like the Wolf” is next so it’s impossible to sigh. The bubbly synth. The angry guitar slashes. Simon Le Bon’s irrepressible vocal energy. Does no one else understand that “Hungry Like the Wolf” is the freaking JAM?
I ask for another glass of Guinness. There is a man next to me now. He is old, shriveled, his gums knitting together. The Guinness arrives and it is awesome.
“Duran Duran,” says the old man.
“Yes,” I agree. “Duran Duran.”
“Brits,” he says. “I used to live in London. Now that’s a real city. Dublin – we’re just a village with big ideas. Nothing’s happening here anymore. Gone to shite.”
“I like Dublin,” I say. “It’s a great place.”
His toothless mouth twists. “I have a sister out in California,” he says. “I used to be out there meself. Back when I was a young man. I’m 58 now.”
I notice that I keep watching the door.
Who am I waiting for? That’s me being silly.
So I look down at my Guinness.
I drain the rest.
“You were in America,” I say. “The Irish are like Superman out there.”
“All you have to do is talk,” I say. “Lucky you.”
“Well,” he says. “I did have a nice time there myself.”
“It’s not quite the same for us, is it?” I say. “No one ever waxes poetic about the beautiful American accent.”
The bottom of my glass is empty, bubbling with a thin layer of foam, and I realize that whatever noble intentions I might have had to get out of the house on this Saturday night, I’m done.
“You’ll have another,” says the man. “Ah, go on, so you will.”
“No, no, I’m done,” I say. “Thanks a lot, though. Have a nice night!”
And I’m off, out of the pub and down the street, over the Grand Canal – my feet as light as air. There are no swans in the Grand Canal anymore – gone since the spring.
I stop by the Spar mart on the corner and buy a box of Special K – you know, as one does at times like this. I walk down my street in the moonlight, breathing in the green hedges and looking at the old Georgian doors with their heavy iron knockers and then I’m at mine, Number 44, and I’m up the carpeted stairs and I’m inside my apartment. I sidestep the suitcases – my life packed tightly inside – and the bags of clothes I’m donating to Oxfam. My bedsit is tiny and charming, with a small staircase leading up to the loft bedroom. The windows are large and I can see the backyard.
I sit down at my rickety blond wood table. I eat a bowl of Special K.