The Ghosts of Irish Writers

INTERIOR, RADIO STATION STUDIO – MIDNIGHT
RICHARD, the DJ, sits at a table in front of a microphone. ULYSSES, the guest author, sits opposite RICHARD in front of a second microphone.

RICHARD
Top-o the mornin’ to y’all, this is Richard Dickson Junior coming to you from KBEU in beautiful downtown Beula, Alabama, with The Book Hour, where all you book lovers out there get to hear from some mighty fine authors about their latest great undertakings. It’s just after midnight, which means it’s officially Saint Patrick’s Day, so this morning we thought we’d go Irish on yuh. My guest tonight is Ulysses R. Stoner the Third, and his book is The Ghosts of Irish Writers. Ulysses, welcome, that’s a name we don’t hear around these parts much. Dare I ask where it comes from?

ULYSSES
Hi, Richard, aloha. I just came back from a trip to take pictures of ghosts in Hawai‘i, so I’m still in the island head space. Yes, a lot of folks ask me where I got my first name. Of course it’s from my dad and his dad before him.

RICHARD
(curious)
Right, right, the Third. I get that, Ulysses, but I’m wondering as to where exactly the actual name Ulysses might come from.

ULYSSES
Oh, that, auwe – that’s Hawaiian for oops – Don’t worry. It’s not from the General. My great-grampa was a big admirer of James Joyce.

RICHARD
James Joyce, I see. He a famous relation of yours then?

ULYSSES
Oh no no no. He’s the writer.

RICHARD
(puzzled)
Oh, a writer. Would I know any of his work?

ULYSSES
Well yes, it would be Ulysses. He wrote Ulysses.

RICHARD
Ah, of course, I get it. Well, this book of yours is super spiffy lookin’. I wish y’all out there in radioland could see this beauty of a coffee table book. Tell us about it, Ulys — say, Ulysses, would you mind if I call you Mr. Stoner?

ULYSSES
What? Oh, no, well, I wish you wouldn’t, Richard. When I hear Mr. Stoner, I’m always looking over my shoulder to see if my dad is there. Or maybe even my grandfather. I never know, you know. Please, just call me U.R.

RICHARD
(relieved)
Fine, U.R., then so tell me about this book. By the way, for you out there is radioland, U.R. kindly give me a free copy of the book so we can both see these pictures at the same time, him being across the table here. U.R., shoot.

ULYSSES
Well, as you say, it’s a coffee table book. What I did was, I’m following in the footsteps of my father and my grandfather. They were both ghost photographers, like me.

RICHARD
Ghost photographers, U.R., that’s fascinating. So they take photos of dead folks’ spirits is it?

ULYSSES
Well, they used to take photos of ghosts, Richard. They’re both deceased.

RICHARD
Oh, of course, I’m sorry to hear that. So please go on, U.R., you take pictures of ghosts.

ULYSSES
Yes, all of my books are collections of ghost photos, and each book has a theme. So this one is about the ghosts of Irish writers.

RICHARD
I see, U.R. And how did you decide on Irish writer ghosts for this book?

ULYSSES
As I say, I’m named for that novel by James Joyce, so I always kind of wanted to do a book on the ghosts of Irish writers.

RICHARD
(warmly)
Well good on you, U.R., and just in time for Saint Patty’s Day too. So as I say, U.R., this is a beautiful book. I like how all the photos are old-timey black and whites. I guess that’s good for ghost shooting, what with them being old and all as well.

ULYSSES
Yes, that’s right, Richard. I mean my phone, just like everyone else’s, automatically takes color pictures, but my dad and his dad before him only photographed ghosts in black and white, not having cellphones, so I use a black and white filter for all my shots.

RICHARD
That’s great, U.R., and so does that mean anybody could take ghost pictures since we all got phones on us all the time?

ULYSSES
Oh, well, no, Richard, I don’t think just anyone can shoot a ghost’s photo. I believe it takes a special person, someone like me, where it’s in the genes, you know?

RICHARD
I see, U.R., so it’s a genetic kind of gift. Okay, I can see that, I guess. Now this cover. I wish all of you out there could see this cover, folks. It’s a gorgeous black and white shot of a headstone with the moon just up above and behind it. That is the moon, right, U.R.? It’s kinda hard to tell with black and white.

ULYSSES
Right, right, Richard. It’s the moon all right. It would be too hard to photograph ghosts in the daytime.

RICHARD
Of course, U.R., I should’a known that. And this is the grave of – who is that? I guess it is powerful dark. The writin’s real hard to figure out. W.B. Yeats. Is that right?

ULYSSES
(apologetically)
Yes, it’s Yeats’ grave. Sorry it’s so hard to read. I’m not able to stand very close to the graves when I’m waiting for the ghosts. I don’t want to scare them away. And you know how it is with phones. At least my phone anyway. When you zoom in it gets all blurry with the pixels breaking up and all.

RICHARD
Sure, sure, U.R., I hear you on the pixel problem. But you know what I can’t see anywheres? I’m hunting all over this cover, and I can’t figure out where’s the ghost at.

ULYSSES
Yes, I know, I’m sorry about that, Richard. Yeats was one of the ghosts I never saw.

RICHARD
(surprised)
Huh? Never saw? Why that’s too bad, U.R. So, just curious. Then why’d you use that photo for the front cover again?

ULYSSES
For two reasons. One, he’s an Irish writer people might know, and two it’s one of the better photos in the whole book, in my opinion.

RICHARD
Uh huh. I see. And Yeats, right, he wrote that famous Grecian vase poem, didn’t he?

ULYSSES
No, Richard, you’re thinking of Keats. Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” and “Leda and the Swan.”

RICHARD
(impressed)
The second coming? Whoa. A true believer, huh? I won’t expose my ignorance by asking what Leda and that Swan have to do with that big day a’comin, so let’s dive into the book, no pun intended.

ULYSSES
(puzzled)
Huh? Well, okay, no pun taken, Richard.

RICHARD
Oh boy, now here’s a scary one on page twenty-seven. For y’all out there, it’s in a, is it a church, U.R.?

ULYSSES
That’s right. It’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

RICHARD
And there’s some kinda plaque with a figure leaning, maybe, against the wall beside it sorta. Whose grave is this, U.R.?

ULYSSES
This is a good one. I waited a long time for this one. It’s Jonathan Swift.

RICHARD
Jonathan Swift. I know him. He wrote Gulliver’s Travels, right?

ULYSSES
That’s correct, Richard.

RICHARD
And that story about how we should eat kids.

ULYSSES
Well, that is his essay, “A Modest Proposal.” Yes.

RICHARD
I’m amazed they let a guy like that be buried in a church. I mean eating babies, U.R., I’m sure you’d agree that’s not very Christian.

ULYSSES
Ah, as the Hawaiians say, aole, oh no, I guess it isn’t. But anyway, I waited a long, long time for this photo op.

RICHARD
All night?

ULYSSES
Ha ha ha. I wish, Richard. No, I had to wait two months.

RICHARD
(amazed)
Two months? You mean two months non-stop?

ULYSSES
Yes.

RICHARD
(more amazed)
Every night of the week?

ULYSSES
Oh yes.

RICHARD
(impressed)
Now that’s what I sure call dedication to the craft.

ULYSSES
Thanks, yeah, and it paid off. Not only did his ghost finally show up, but he was drinking and singing. I couldn’t believe my luck.

RICHARD
(chilled)
Wow, U.R., that’s real spooky. What was he singing?

ULYSSES
Well, like I say, Richard, I can’t stand too close by. It was really hard in this case, because I had to hide way over on the other side of the church. I couldn’t really hear what he was singing. But I do know what he was drinking, because after he disappeared, I went over there and found an empty bottle of Bushmills.

RICHARD
(astonished)
Wowee, U.R. I mean just wow. Solid evidence, I’d say. Oh, now here’s someone I know, here on page 69. Bobby Burns. No caption needed. He of course wrote that great song we all sing on New Years’ Eve. I think just about everybody in the whole darn wide world knows “Auld Lang Syne.”

ULYSSES
That’s for true and certain, Richard. It may be the most recognized poem in the world.

RICHARD
But U.R., pardon my ignorance again. I didn’t know Bobby Burns was Irish. For some reason I had a notion he was Scottish.

ULYSSES
Well, that’s true, Richard. But as you’ll see, this photo is one of the best in the whole book.

RICHARD
(confused)
Sorry, I can see? How’s that U.R.?

ULYSSES
(excited)
I know it’s not so easy to make out, but there are actually two ghosts. I just had to include it. Two ghosts, Richard.

RICHARD
It’s kind of blobby – I see the building-like thing, a mausoleum, I’m gonna guess – oh yeah, I see it now. Yes, there’s two of um. And aren’t they, ah, are they doing what I think they’re doing?

ULYSSES
(really excited)
You better believe it, Richard. Whoever that female ghost is, Burns is making passionate love to her. I couldn’t leave that one out.

RICHARD
(amazed again)
Wow, now that I see it for sure, U.R., that’s a pretty risqué photo. I might even have to say it was X-rated. Say, come to think of it, it’s too bad you didn’t get a video instead of just a photo.

ULYSSES
I know, Richard, tell me about it. Kala mai – that’s Hawaiian for I’m sorry – I got so caught up in the scene I never thought about doing video. Of course then too, I wouldn’t have been able to include it in a book.

RICHARD
Right, right, U.R. Too bad, though. So is there one in here of your hero, that James Joyce fella?

ULYSSES
Sadly no, Richard. I’ve never been to Zurich.

RICHARD
Ireland?

ULYSSES
No, Switzerland.

RICHARD
Ah, that’s right, U.R. Yeah, I was thinking I’d never heard of any Zurich ‘cepting the one. But Joyce really is Irish, right, not Scottish or a Switzerite?

ULYSSES
Right, he’s Irish.

RICHARD
(curious)
Hey, any of these writers ohs?

ULYSSES
Ohs?

RICHARD
You know, O’Stoner or O’Dickson, like us two would be in Ireland.

ULYSSES
Oh, actually yes, there are some in there. Like Sean O’Casey.

RICHARD
Oh, that’s good then. Wouldn’t be really Irish without a couple of those Ohs in there. Seen O’Casey’s ghost, did you?

ULYSSES
I’m like maybe fifty-one or fifty-two percent sure on that, Richard. Take a look when you get a chance. You can be the judge. I tried my darndest.

RICHARD
Okay, then, a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all you listener’s out there. My first guest has been U.R. Stoner the Third, a third generation ghost photographer, and his book, which I do purely love, is called The Ghosts of Irish Writers, although for my money, the Scotsman and his lady ghost definitely steal the show. Mahalo to you, U.R., like I think they say down south there in Hawai‘i, from all us bibliophiles here in Beula, Alabama.

ULYSSES
Yes they do, and mahalo to you as well, Richard, and aloha to you and to all your listeners. May the ghost of Saint Patrick drive all the snakes out of Beula.

RICHARD
Well thank you for that Irish blessing, U.R. Y’all come back anytime you like. If that Hawaiian ghost book comes together, I’d like to see it. Never been to the islands. Love to see some of it, even if it’s only graves and such at night in the dark.

ULYSSES
You bet, Richard. No luck this past trip, but I’m going back to my little grass shack, as they say. A hui ho means till we meet again. I hope to see you soon.

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