Thursday, June 16, 2011

It’s Bloomsday, everyone. And, once again, I’m in the wrong country.

Still, it can be celebrated quite easily from Toronto. Flipping through, though, I realized how much I had forgotten and how much I need to re-read it. The one chapter that’s still pretty clear, however, is “Cyclops.” Unsurprising perhaps, since much of it takes place in the bar, Barney Kiernan’s. And, as you might guess, this bar scene makes it into the new book: America Walks into a Bar.

First off, there’s the mention of anti-treating: “… Joe was talking about the Gaelic league and the antitreating league and drink, the curse of Ireland. Antitreating is about the size of it. Gob, he’d let you pour all manner of drink down his throat till the Lord would call him before you’d ever see the froth of his pint.”

Anti-treating was a movement that gained currency, not only in Ireland, but also in England, Canada and the United States. The basic idea was that buying rounds were what was leading to drunken behaviour and that if buying another person a drink could be prohibited, drinking would be a more staid and solitary affair.

Funnily enough, standing a round is the central controversy at the pub and in this chapter, since everyone thinks Bloom has made a killing at the track earlier that day on a longshot named Throwaway. Bar etiquette demands that a winner has to buy a round, to share the wealth. When he doesn’t offer to, they attribute Bloom’s stinginess to his being Jewish. It’s all fun and games ‘til somebody gets a biscuit thrown at him, which is what happens to poor unwitting Bloom.

When I began working in a bar that could be properly described as a “local,” I realized that Joyce had nailed the interaction. Not surprising, given his keen eye for detail and astounding memory. One guy won a pool – soccer, I think – but snuck in during the daytime to pick up his winnings, thereby circumventing the need to buy a round. That was sixteen years ago. And people still talk about it today. Not kidding.

That was my first clue that there were interesting codes of behaviour being played out night after night in the bar and that they were, in many ways, incredibly rigid. And this is, in part, what got me interested in hanging out in, studying and writing about bars.

Happy Bloomsday!