Guinness, Part 2
[Continued from last week]
Gingerly weaving toward City Centre, it occurs to me that I could be stressed at a time like this. Normally, I would be stressed at a time like this. New boss demands a day-early arrival and summons me the moment I’ve landed? And yet, it’s never so much as occurred to me to rush.
I walk through public art that belongs in a museum. Captivating bronze sculptures that nonetheless manage to blend in with their surroundings. Perhaps all of us are gaze-worthy. Every last soul.
Conor’s visible the moment I enter Thirsty Scholar #3, holding court at the bar with a male bartender and two patrons on the edge of laughter. One wouldn’t be far off calling the world Conor’s home turf.
“Champion!” he cries, embracing me as though we’re old college buds. “‘Fraid you’d met the same fate as Morris.”
“No, no,” I say, suddenly picturing myself flattened over cobblestone. “There’s two other Thirsty Scholars.”
“Ah, went there instead? You’d ‘a been more specific I bet, were it me coming.”
“Not a problem. Hope I didn’t —”
He cuts me off to introduce the men beside him, each of whom has an unintelligible accent and an equally impossible name. Conor inquires whether I’ve had a drink yet, I admit that I had a Guinness at each of the Scholars. “See, lads?” he boasts to the others. “Knew I hired the right man. Let’s get a third in yeh. Black stuff,” he tells the bartender.
“So, what’s going on?” I ask.
Conor shrugs. “Another morning this side of the grave.”
“Didn’t you say I should arrive a day early?”
“Aye. Starved for company.” He polishes off the pint in front of him and signals for another. “Raining, was it?”
“I’m alright,” I say, trying to subdue to image of Spud back at the boarder’s, trembling at my feet.
“Grand you got a hike in, first thing. What’d you think?”
“Of Dublin? I like it.” The bartender pours the second phase of my pint. “I think it was Joyce, might have said, it’d be impossible to walk across this city without passing by a pub.”
“Mmm,” says Conor. “True question is, why would a feller pass one by?”
I slide off my jacket, dripping a puddle on the floor. “Some of the pub names I saw were pretty great.”
“Works of art, really. We’ll make the rounds.”
“Should we talk through the meetings?” I ask.
“Stag’s Head is a good pint,” he says. “Bleeding English. Tender Wench, as well.”
The other men nod in agreement.
“Headmaster’s Arse,” he continues. “Judge’s Wig. Wincing Priest. The Wife’s Bits. Banshee’s Leavings. Missing Hours.”
The bartender brings our glasses. The Guinness is still settling in rapid black raindrops.
“Falling Knickers. Teetotalers’. Gravediggers’. The Camel’s Hump. The Donkey’s Teeth. Elephant’s Tusk.”
Conor stares off for a moment, no one speaks.
“Brazen Daughter, depending on the time of day. Daily Nip ‘s another. Local Paper. The Limping Ballad.” He gazes sidelong at his glass, nods in approval, and says, “You can drink that soon as it’s settled.”
We drink and talk and drink some more, edging closer to business before withdrawing each time to another subject of his choosing.
After an indeterminate amount of time, Conor says, “Come on, then. Eating is cheating but we’ve got to strengthen you for what lies ahead.”
Bidding farewell to those who cannot be named, we relocate to a restaurant that by all appearances looks to be a tourist trap. An Irish jig greets us at the door, blaring over the speakers. Conor leads the way upstairs through a pack of frat boys — it’s unfortunate how much we Americans stick out here — to land a table with a view overlooking the river. The menu is the Irish equivalent of a Denny’s, with so many disparate specialties as to render the term meaningless. Flipping through its oversized, laminated pages, one can view the translation of Shepherd’s Pie in not one, not two, but six different languages. Leaning across the polished plastic table, I ask Conor whether Shepherd’s Pie isn’t an English dish by tradition. He cocks his head, and asks in turn where I think the English got their potatoes.
He glances about the cafeteria-like seating area, leaving me to wonder why he brought us here of all places. A waitress scuttles over, with unruly brown curls that bounce above her pale, long neck. Before she can speak, my boss holds out his hand. “Conor Fidelity.”
Eyebrows raised, she accepts it. In a lilt all her own, she says, “Conor Fidelity, is it? Your mother gave you that name?”
“Aye,” he says. “She wanted me to have the option of being faithful or having a bit of fun.”
“And what’s your idea of fun, then?”
“Dinner with you for starters, with perhaps a friend of yours so my comrade won’t feel lonesome his first night in the city.”
“Did you just arrive?” our waitress asks. I answer yes, she follows with, “American?”
I laugh and say, “Thank you.”
She and Conor settle on a time and place for us all to meet as I watch on, spellbound. It’s been so long since I’ve attempted to pick anyone up that the whole exchange carries the allure of magic. Perhaps single life won’t be the exile I imagined.
[To be continued]