Saturday, March 13, 2010

`Painful and Blinding Fits'

A reader with good taste and a long memory writes:

“My calendar tells me that At Swim-Two-Birds was published by Longmans, Green & Co. on March 13, 1939.”

And a fine antidote it is to next Wednesday’s wallow in green beer and “Danny Boy” (penned by an Englishman, Frederick Weatherly). My fondest St. Patrick’s Day memory combines the squalor of one with the sentimentality of the other. On that morning in 1982 I was riding the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan when three college-age boys entered the car, reeling and bellowing “From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.”

It was 8:30 and the boys were still marginally ambulatory. They sat and sang until one leaned into the aisle and released a long, pressurized spew of green. They laughed and resumed the song until another replicated, in his own lap, the first boy’s hydraulics demonstration. The third held his drink but the green puddles spread down the aisle and under the feet of noncelebrating commuters. By the time I left the train they had resumed singing. Flann O’Brien, of course, was way ahead of them in his first novel, At Swim-Two-Birds:

“Notwithstanding this eulogy, I soon found that the mass of plain porter bears an unsatisfactory relation to its toxic content and I became subsequently addicted to brown stout in bottle, a drink which still remains the one that I prefer the most despite the painful and blinding fits of vomiting which a plurality of bottles has often induced in me.”

At Swim-Two-Birds, the funniest novel in the language, sold 244 copies before the London warehouse holding the first press run was destroyed in the blitz.

[Read Roger Boylan’s appreciation of the great man, “We Laughed, We Cried.”]

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