Monday, February 13, 2012

When I was 11, my mother put me on a train in Galway (GAUL-way) and sent me to a boarding school in Ballyfin, close to Portlaoise (Port-LEE-shuh), and about 100 miles from home. I had to make a train change in a town called Portarlington and then negotiate taxi fare to the school with a cabbie and four other boarders.

I think that in today's America, that would constitute child abuse. For me, it was a huge adventure, made all the better by my own sense that nothing would ever go wrong for me. Mind you, over time - and in the immortal words of Monty Python - "I got bettah!"

Portlaoise is the site of Mountjoy Prison - yes, Mount JOY Prison - which, back in the day, was where the Republic of Ireland kept its IRA prisoners. Prison though it was, the IRA prisoners found it adequately congenial that its decor was not improved by the smearing of feces on its walls. This, by comparison with Her Majesty's Prison Maze. (I am an Anglophile, but I take perverse joy in the screwups of others.)

My best friend at Ballyfin was a kid by the name of Lawrence Augustin. His father was the head trick-cyclist ("psychiatrist," for those of you with no Cockney) at the lunatic asylum in Portlaoise. Yes, we keep our IRA prisoners, our Roman Catholic boarders, and our lunatics in close proximity. They are sometimes hard to distinguish.

Larry's dad was Indian - from India, mind you, rather than, oh, Wyoming. His mother remains in my memory as one of the most beautiful women I ever met. Blonde, pale skin, always perfectly coiffed and made up. To me, she remains a sort of Marilyn Monroe who matured and had children. Matronly and glamorous at the same time. What man would not swoon?

Larry's dad had pursued his profession all over the world, even into South Africa which, at the time, was apartheid. Larry himself had all sorts of insights into what it was like to be darker-skinned in a milk-white society. He hated the childish - and we *were* children - jokes about things like the upcoming movie "The Hair on a Black Man's Ass - In Technicolor." For myself, I loved his company. Though a boarder, he got to go home often, and would invite me to come along. I was fascinated by his mother and the hospital where they made their home. His father was too bookish, too male, and too involved with his patients to be of any interest, but the change of scenery was a brilliant vacation.

By the way, I never had to ask permission from my parents to leave bounds in the company of Larry's parents. Back in the day, adults had pretty much identical standards, and they cooperated.

When I was 17, I bought a ticket from Shannon to JFK to go looking for work in the USA. I stayed at the YMCA on 34th and 7th, had a run-in with the Moonies, ended up working in Asbury Park for the summer (Beach close by, *library* close by, funny screaming Greeks all around me - I LOVE GREEKS!, and I learned to cook!), and walked through Hell's Kitchen after dark (42nd Street Bus Terminal to Y at 34th and 7th) at the end of the summer on my way back to Ireland and college. God truly looks out for drunks, children, and the Irish.

Joined DEC in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland immediately after university, and was sent to work on the DHU-11 project in Reading, Berkshire, UK. Saluted smartly, and got on another plane. Irish boy in the big British city. LOVED IT!!! LOVE THE BRITS!!! I went to work in the UK with a thick Irish accent, right after the IRA had blown up Mountbatten off Sligo, and the Horse Guards in Hyde Park, and was never treated with anything but forbearance and courtesy. For that, I love the Brits more than I can ever say. I am eternally grateful. In my experience, the Brits are a classy people. I actually work on my internal/eternal Brit every day, as a way to becoming closer to God. Yes, yes, I know, they're pretty much a godless people, but the whole culture - the patience, the queue-forming, the stiff upper lip, the long bearing of the white man's burden - this is a nation and culture of Christians, even if they've forgotten it.


BTW, this shit is copyrighted, so reproduce at your peril...

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