ONE of the more enjoyable aspects of going out in New York is that no expedition ever ends up going according to plan. At some stage in an evening, many people experience that New York moment when they look around and wonder, "How did I end up here, for chrissakes?"
Take, for example, 16 June. Normally, any invitation to participate in the celebration of Bloomsday will send me screaming towards the nearest blazing bonfire, copy of Ulysses at the ready. But this one sounded more promising. Joycean readings by a small group of Irish writers, followed by rakes of pints. No gizzards.
The bunfight was due to kick off at noon in (natch) a bar called Ulysses', which is way down in the snout of Manhattan's Financial District. Assuming that festivities would proceed at an Irish pace, I turned up at 3pm, to be greeted by accusatory stares.
"You've missed the readings, " chided one writer. As a punishment, I was made to read aloud from the collection of letters from Joyce to his missus, Nora.
Now, for the unwary, these missives aren't from the Wish-you-were-here school of writing; these are more Wish-your-bareplump-arse-was-here style.
The choice was stark. Depart or declaim.
One letter later, I left a table of shaken men and went in search of a badly-needed pint.
Ulysses', which is owned by boyish-faced charmer Danny McDonald, was hopping.
Colum McCann was the day's ringmaster, Nuala O'Faolain turned up and read from 'The Dead', and devilishly handsome NYPD detective-turned writer Ed Conlon read from the 'Lotos-Eaters' chapter.
And the pints kept coming. Then, joy of joys, Happy Hour. Free gargle for 60 minutes.
The offices of Wall Street closed for the evening and the wooden picnic tables along the narrow cobblestoned street by Ulysses' filled up with suits loudly yukking about their day. Not to be outdone, the Joyceans started to sing. 'The Auld Triangle', 'Molly Malone' . . . the standard Locked Top 10.
And then the lights went out.
Even by Manhattan's usual extreme weather events, this was a downpour of biblical proportions. The sky went from bright blue to inky black in less than a minute. Then the monsoon started . . .
torrents of water thundered into the streets.
This was where the day was supposed to end. A few afternoon pints and home before there was any danger of a re-enactment of Ulysses' Circe episode. But then someone said something about a bar in midtown, and we were off.
Donohue's Cafe on Lexington Avenue at 64th Street, a cool, dim cave, is run by a solid Westmeath man, Frank, who kept the drinks and the trivia questions flowing . . .
identifying three state capitals named after US presidents had the Joyceans scratching their heads. (Okay, okay, see bottom of column for answers. ) There was a point when I was going to leave and go home. But some unseen transfer of molecules took place, and I found myself standing in a smoker.
A smoker is a boxing-match between cops, which is usually for charity and also makes a pleasant change to have members of The Finest knocking lumps out of each other instead of out of civilian Gothamites.
The cavernous Armory was packed with off-duty cops. The NYPD Emerald Isle Pipe Band opened up, a uniformed cop sang 'Star-Spangled Banner' and everyone stood, fist crossed over heart. Or in my case, fist wrapped around my beer, which was close to my heart.
Several of the 10 scheduled fights were grudge-matches . . . genuine beefs between members of the force, and it was clear that technique took a back-seat to just hammering the lard out of the enemy.
When I realised that the best fight was the sixth . . . a real set-to between two female cops, Claire and Kim . . . I had that moment.
How did I end up here, for chrissakes?
And when boys and girls of the USO (sort of Fame with Sam Eagle spangles instead of leg-warmers) ran on at the interval to entertain the crowd, I cracked. I grabbed a fellow cynic and we fled. Not into the night, of course. Straight back to Donohue's.
Several bars, and one all-back-to-mine later, I reached the sanctuary of my scratcher at 9am in the morning, having gone out 18 hours earlier.
I reckon Joyce would have disapproved, but Nora would have been proud.
Lincoln, Nebraska; Jackson, Mississippi; Madison, Wisconsin.