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Drown Your Troubles in Tullamore

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"Fair enough," I said.

"McCain is too old to be president, and Palin is... well, she's in her own world," he said, gazing off behind the bar like he was envisioning the country's future in the liquor bottles. "But Obama's got his own issues.

"The truth is, no one understands much about the government — no one understands midnight laws."

Ah, a lecture on an obscure academic point. Just what you look for from British gents of a certain age.

"For example," Gary said, "did you know you can be sent to war at 50 years old? Mostly noncombat roles, but still."

"That would suck," I said, imagining my dad being carted off to cook omelets for troops in Iraq. Man, he'd be pissed.

"The problem is," Gary said, "that kids don't know this stuff because they don't learn it in school, and guess who controls the school curriculum?"

"The government?" I offered.

"Yeah," he said. "This whole country is messed up."

So who the hell doesn't know that?

Our grizzled old Cassandra, satisfied he'd foretold enough doom within the walls of Biddy Early's, paid his tab and sauntered out. As I tried to parlay Gary's little lesson about hopelessly blundering Americans into a solution for all our problems, Carolyn was suddenly there again, all sharp edges and jarring noise, obliterating my thoughts with her machine-gun voice.

"Stay where you're at and I'll come where you're to," she yelled, as if she'd just had a major epiphany, her responsibility toward her absent aggrieved friend somehow dismissed from her mind. "That's what your story should be called. It's a perfect old Irish saying."

Biddy Early: I fled to the other end of the room and grabbed a spot at the bar, where the brunet bartender offered me a taste of apple cider.

"A lot of the décor here is authentic Irish stuff," Jennifer told me. "The upholstery of the chairs is straight from Ireland. There's also a Biddy Early's Pub in Ireland, which is cool."

"Who's Biddy Early?" I asked.

"I don't know all the stories, but Biddy Early was supposedly an eccentric woman — a witch, maybe — who carried a bottle."

Some internet research later revealed that Biddy Early was an Irish healer and seer whose powers of clairvoyance seemed to have come from a mysterious bottle. There were, of course, dozens of mysterious bottles lined up like soldiers behind Jennifer.

Leaving Early: "Do you think astronauts can drink in space?" Steven, a slim guy with a ruddy beard, asked suddenly, taking a swig of his Carlsberg.

"Well, sure, if they bring alcohol with them," responded his buddy David, a big guy whose glasses and broad grin made him resemble the sort of teasing uncle who'd pull a quarter out of your ear.

"No, I mean, could you actually drink it in space?" He looked at me.

"I don't know, maybe through a tube or something," I suggested.

"What are you drinking?" David asked suddenly. "Is that water?"

"Sprite," I said defensively. "I'm sick."

An hour in Biddy Early had somehow convinced me that multiple shots of the old Tullamore Dew weren't going to help me in my illness.

"Oh, you need a hot toddy," said David, summoning Jennifer.

David ordered me something that he assured would cure my cold, and Jennifer disappeared for a few minutes. Finally, she brought me back a steaming glass that smelled strongly of liquor. "Basically, it's Courvoisier, lemon, and hot water," she said. Courvoisier? Some Irish bar!

"This will cure my cold?" I asked.

"Yeah, and anything else you get for the next five years," Steven said.

Well, I couldn't afford not to drink it. I felt the day wearing on my body and a growing urge to head home.

But my Benadryl would have to wait. A group of drunken rugby players came into the bar and disrupted my quiet evening and warm beverage. One of them, a wiry, dark-eyed fellow, got into my face, tried to flatter me, and then demanded to know if I could tell anything about him just by looking at him.

"Your shirt is unbuttoned, and you're carrying around a boot-shaped mug of beer," I said, edging away from him. "Also, you are uncomfortably close to me. I'd say you're drunk. What can you tell about me?"

"Damn," he said, stymied.

"That's it?" I snapped. The steaming mug of alcohol was making me feel a little better. "That's why you're not a writer."

I got up to leave, and rugby man tried to block my exit. Luckily for him, I didn't have to deploy any Tae Bo on his ass — a push and a mad dash to the door worked fine. On the way out, I passed Steven and David, who shrugged and gave me a pair of Cheshire-cat smiles.

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Tara Nieuwesteeg

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