It was the moment I have wondered about on occasion, that moment when your death has reached the time it can be said without doubt to be impending. The upside, I guess, was that I’d had a good two hours of writing fueled by pints of good old Guinness.
This happened my third night in Dublin. In order to deal with any jetlag problems, I’d arrived three days before my Rick Steves’ tour would begin. The first full day, yesterday, I’d intended to walk to the National Museum and then to the Guinness production plant about seven miles away.
Unfortunately, I’d got caught up in the museum for most of the day, although able to view only about two-thirds of the holdings, so I decided to forego my pilgrimage to Guinness until the next day. Wending my way back through the city, I arrived at my bed and breakfast near dusk. About 200 yards from my destination, I noticed a pub and looked in to get an idea what kind of a crowd might be there on a Friday evening.
It was cool, dark, and surprisingly empty. I went back to my room, grabbed my laptop, and returned to the pub. Sitting at the nearly empty bar, and of course ordering up a pint of creamy Guinness, the ale you can eat with a spoon, I began to type, recording thoughts about what I’d seen that day, lines for poems, stories, the usual.
As I continued to type, and sipping into my third glass, I suddenly heard an, “Excuse me,” from further down the bar. Looking up, I perceived an older gentleman, also enjoying the National Beverage, and from his accent and the appearance of blending in quite compfortably with the décor, I assumed, correctly, that he was a Dubliner, a potential Joycean character to be sure.
“Where might you be visiting us from?” he asked.
I should mention here that, in addition to looking Asian, I always wear Aloha shirts when I travel or, for that matter whenever I leave my house, 24/7/365 as it were. I’ve worn my collection from the northern tip of Norway all the way down south to Antarctica. You might say that I am Aloha shirts, and Aloha shirts are I.
“I’m here from Hawai‘i,” I said.
“I had a feeling,” he said. “Don’t see many shirts like that around here.”
As they often do on my journeys, my shirts had broken the proverbial ice.
I nodded, raised my glass to him.
“What are you writing?” he asked.
“Oh, just about things I saw today.”
“Well, I walked around and made my way to the National Museum, and once I got there, I spent most of the day. I’d wanted to make it over to Guinness, but there was so much to see at the museum I never made it.”
“Pah!” he said. “You didn’t miss a thing. That Guinness is a horrible place, all touristy and whatnot. It’s crowded and it’s noisy. You’re much better off sitting here drinking a pint. It’s the same Guinness without all the bother. This,” he said, holding up his glass, “is the real Ireland.”
I told him I’d planned to go back to the museum in the morning to finish seeing the rest of the place, and then make my way to Guinness. I thanked him for steering me away from wasting my time, saying that there were many other places I wanted to see anyway.
That next day, as it turned out, I spent so much time checking out things on the way to the museum that I made it in there late. I also had misjudged how much more there was to see. By the time I finished up there, I needed to head back to the bed and breakfast, a good five miles away.
It was still only late afternoon when I arrived, so I grabbed my laptop and headed to my new favorite pub. Tonight, Saturday night, the place was a little more crowded, but I can write with all kinds of noise and other distractions going on about me, so this was no biggy. My friend was not at the bar, and there was no stool available. A native, he probably knew to avoid frenetic Saturday nights here.
I ordered my pint and found a booth. I began typing. The place was filling up, and definitely, the noise level was rising. Nevertheless, I went to the bar for another, sat back down and kept writing. Then I bought one more.
About halfway through this glass, I noticed a large group of 20ish- to 30ish-aged men come in and sit at a table on the floor over to the left of me. There were maybe twelve of them and they were not just noisy, they were definitionally raucous. And as the Guinness flowed, so did their volume and laughter levels rise.
These men were wearing uniforms. I couldn’t tell if it were football (American soccer) or rugby, or what it might be that they’d just come from playing, but whatever the sport, it obviously required that you be muscular and large. You know, like The Rock.
In these very loud and getting louder gentlemen who were built like Dwayne Johnson, I’d met my match. I could no longer concentrate on my writing, and the Guinness was not helping my artistic output at this point.
So, draining my glass, I packed up my laptop and stood. I’d taken two or three steps toward the door when I heard the fatal word I thought might be the last I ever did hear.
“Stop!” said one of these professional wrestler types, pushing back his chair, standing, and holding out his arm toward me.
All of his buddies fell quiet in an instant. I kid you not, at least in our few square feet of space, you could hear a pin drop despite the surrounding din.
I gulped. This was it. My life would end here in Dublin, a victim of some kind of Asian hate crime.
I turned slowly to face this drunken fellow. “Yes?” I said, foolishly engaging him, when really I should have been trying figure if I had a chance to outrun them. Which I would not have been able to do.
All the others stared at me. I swallowed hard.
“Is that a genuine Aloha shirt?” he asked.
I blinked. “Ah, yes it is,” I practically whispered, my mouth so dry I barely choked the words out. Tripped would best describe my utterance, not trippingly.
Turning toward his friends he said, “You see I told you!” They all exploded in laughter and cheers.
He turned back to me. Is this the way the world ends? I wondered, whimpering in my mind.
“Are you from Hawai‘i, then?”
“I am,” I said. “I’m here for a tour.”
“Well enjoy Ireland then,” he said. “That’s a beautiful shirt.”
I thanked him and headed out. I was still a little shaky walking the couple hundred yards to my place, but I’d pretty much recovered myself by the time I sat down on my bed.
I thought about how easy it would be to die while I was on one of my trips. How lucky I’d probably been these last couple of years, traveling the world as much as I could now that I was retired.
And then, in the spirit of Aloha it hit me. I got up, took off my palm-tree patterned shirt, put on another one that was more about flowers, and headed out the door and back to the pub.
By now the place was rocking at volume 11 in full Saturday night mode. I made my way toward the table of athletes. Definitely they were now about the loudest group in the place.
I stopped several feet from the table, not quite sure how to approach them. The man who’d accosted me had his back to me. As I was standing there, a few of the men facing me stopped talking and looked up at me. I wondered if maybe I was unrecognizable to these quite inebriated others now that I was wearing a different patterned shirt. Had I escaped death once only to find it now? Did Daniel, once escaped, in the spirit of Aloha go back in, all warm and fuzzy, to play with the lions?
The ones who’d stopped talking apparently said something about me to the man I’d come to see. Their head gestures toward me got him to turn and look my way.
Our eyes met, his were glassy and unfocused. I held out the shirt toward him, the one he’d admired.
“Oy!” he shouted, realizing what I was doing. They all started cheering as he jumped up. I helped him put it on.
“It’s a perfect fit,” he shouted, slapping me on the back.
Thank God I wear most of my shirts baggy. I hadn’t thought about what might happen had the shirt not fit him.
He had one of the group get up and shoot a picture of the two of us in our Aloha shirts, then offered me a pint.
Knowing I had to be up at the crack of dawn to go meet up with the tour, I declined.
I wish now I’d at least asked them to take a picture of the two of us using my phone, so I could have a memento of that moment of Aloha. Goodwill need not be a hard thing to earn. That’s definitely one of the most memorable moments from my travels over the past few years.