For some reason, Venice keeps popping up. Don't know why, don't know how, but in the last few days I've been bombarded with images of Venice. As these things do, the aerial assault has triggered a long-forgotten second-hand anecdote that needs to be preserved.
I've recounted before that my first job out of college was as a recording engineer at The American Foundation for the Blind, recording Talking Books for the blind. The folks who actually read the texts I followed along with, monitoring to ensure the text was followed exactly, stopping the tape when an errant belt buckle or nose-whistle produced an extraneous noise, were from a broad range of the dramatic world. Some were Broadway chorus boys who couldn't kick it up anymore; others were voiceover talents whose golden pipes I still to this day hear on commercials.
One of the most delightful to work with was Jim Sheridan. Then the director of the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, where he directed Irish plays for the Hibernophile set, he went on to become the director of "In the Name of the Father," "My Left Foot," and "In America."
To say that Jim was a drinker would put it mildly. In my penurious state at the time, I could afford the occasional six-pack but not much more. I would watch with utter amazement -- and no small amount of envy -- as Sheridan poured into an 8:30 AM session, his eyes painfully, seethingly red, his head obviously still reeling from the previous night's excesses, which appeared to have ended perhaps fifteen minutes before.
The book he was reading was Myles na gCopaleen's Best of Myles -- to this day one of my all-time favorite books. na gCopaleen is quite possibly the funniest newspaper columnist who ever lived -- his novels, published under the name Flann O'Brien, are no funereal events either -- and these sessions with Sheridan frequently came to a grinding halt with both painfully hung-over reader and bright-eyed young recording tech rolling on the floor.
In the course of these sessions, Sheridan took a liking to me, opening up conversations that sometimes took up the lion's share of our two-hour session. "Fuck da clock, Neddie. We'll get t'rough Myles anodder day," he would observe seraphically. One day, Jim told me about a moment in Venice that left me hiccupping hours later.
Then a young actor in the Seventies, he attended a drama festival in Vienna. It was an enormously convivial affair, and great friendships were formed among the Up and Coming of Europe's dramatic set. One such newly formed friend, at the closing of the festivity, had pressed into Jim's hand a quite large -- and, as we shall see, intimidatingly potent -- chunk of Lebanese Blond hashish. Jim accepted it without much thought. It was, after all, the Seventies.
But the Seventies were also dangerous for traveling Irishmen, mere actors an they be. The IRA was at the height of its depredations, and an Irish passport at a border crossing was a near guarantee of a nasty interrogation, possibly culminating in a cavity search. Jim's next stop was Venice, another theater event. He cadged a ride with another actor -- and the hash didn't even enter his consciousness until he saw the road-sign indicating that the Italian customs shed was a kilometer away.
Well, what would you do at the prospect of a vengeful Italian fist up your rectum? He pondered his two options -- throw it away or eat it. This was a fine chuck o' honey, damned pity to waste it, so down the hatch it went.
Might as well do this famous-movie-director-like. After all, it's how he told it.
Cut to Venice, hours later. A Citroen Deux-Chevaux, an absolute tin-can of a car, recently arrived in town, screeches up at the entrance of a cheap hotel. Its driver emerges, visibly irritated and voluble, walks around to the passenger side door, opens it. From the foot-well of the passenger seat -- not the seat, mind you, but where you put your feet -- a timid hand emerges. Slowly, agonizingly, the hand feels around outside, its trajectory downward, to the ground. Finally it touches the cobblestoned street. Amazed to be touching something solid, it continues to feel around. Finally assured of the solidity of the ground, the hand's owner manages to roll out of the car's foot-well onto the street, weeping with gratitude that the ground, so unexpectedly corporeal, was not a Venetian canal.
Dey don't have fuckin' sthreets in Venice, Neddie! It's all fuckin' water! It's canals, man! I'd spent six hours in absolute fuckin' panic on the floor of that car, completely convinced I was a dead man, trying to reach Venice by land!
I miss that job. I really do.