When I turned 21, the age when the morally upright Uncle Sam decided I could handle booze, I was abroad in London. It’s a city that proves gloomy enough without an unwelcome birthday. London’s nickname is “the Smoke,” which is appropriate because it’s very gray and because I sometimes found it was hard to breathe there.
It was April 6. As the clock approached midnight, I downed some Stellas at a sparsely populated café. A few of my moneyed friends had left London the day before to go skydiving in Lucerne, Switzerland; I was mostly broke and completely alone.
When I sobered up, I found myself aboard a train to Hollyhead — a seaside town in Wales. From Hollyhead, I bought a roundtrip ferry ride to Dublin. I boarded the vessel and promptly fell asleep in the first available chair, mumbling about a Portrait of Dorian Gray. I awoke with a dry mouth aboard the ferry. I got up and stepped carefully: the floor was littered with bodies; each was asleep or hoping to be. It was around five-thirty in the morning when the sun smudged the sky, polluting the cragged Irish coast with a sour orange.
F. Scott Fitzgerald would introduce himself at parties as “one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation.” While I’ve sort of fallen in love with the phrase, I’m not as brilliant a drinker or writer as he was. Anyway, I needed something of an introduction (as I knew no one and had no plan) so I went with a typical Irish greeting: “What’s the craic?” [Read more →]