Slapped with a libel suit after an appearance on a talk show, Malachy McCourt crows, "If they could only see me now in the slums of Limerick, a big shot, sued for a million. Bejesus, isn't America a great and wonderful country?" His older brother Frank's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Angela's Ashes, took its somber tone from the bleak atmosphere of those slums, while Malachy's boisterous recollections are fueled by his zestful appreciation for the opportunities and oddities of his native land.
He and Frank were born in Brooklyn, moved with their parents to Ireland as children, then returned to the States as adults. This book covers the decade 1952-63, when Malachy roistered across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, but spent most of his time in New York City. There his ready wit and quick tongue won him an acting job with the Irish Players, a semiregular stint on The Tonight Show hosted by Jack Paar, and friendships with some well-heeled, well-born types who shared his fondness for saloon life and bankrolled him in an East Side saloon that may have been the first singles bar. He chronicles those events--and many others--with back-slapping bonhomie.
Although McCourt acknowledges the personal demons that pursued him from his poverty-stricken childhood and destroyed his first marriage, this is on the whole an exuberant autobiography that pays tribute to the joys of a freewheeling life.
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Malachy McCourt, barman, actor, raconteur, is Frank's (Angela's Ashes) younger brother. He is married and lives in New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
There was always the story in any gathering in Limerick. Be it boys, girls, the men, the women, bald facts were considered cold and inhuman; therefore all storied events had to be wrapped in words. Warm words, serried words, glittering, poetic, harsh, and even blasphemous words.
So the cold evenings were made warm with myths and tales of dirty doings and derring-do, and horrific yarns of the tortures of hell awaiting the evildoer. We the children sat in darkness, shivering in horrored delight, having been told we had two ears and unready tongue.
My father, Malachy, and his chums, Mr. Meehan, Mr. Looney, and Mr. Moran, spun out the silver-gold yarns and, by sheer eloquence, made our miserable surroundings disappear. And my father would sing his patriotic odes to Ireland, like the one about Roddy McCorley going to die on the bridge of Toome. My mother sang droopy love songs like, ``We Are in Love with You, My Heart and I.''
Death brought a silence to our house. First Baby Margaret Mary and then the twins--Eugene at four, and Oliver, four-and-a-half. Poverty killed them. My father left, to go on a lifelong drinking binge, never to come back, and I hated him for depriving me of him. It was many years before my mother sang another droopy love song, because she sank into a deep depression and love fled into the damp, grey Limerick sky, never to return.
The poor will always be with us, it sez in the Bible, and having had the strange privilege of being born into a not poor, but poverty-stricken, family, it became my passionate intention to be always with someone, but, by the living Jesus Christ, I would not be poor or poverty stricken.
I did not like being damp all the time. I did not like being cold and wet in the winter. I did not like looking in windows of shops filled with meats sweets biscuits breads, and my eyes bulging, the mouth aching for the chance to chew on something substantial. I did not like being eaten by fleas, gorging themselves on my bitter blood. I did not like having lice and nits in my hair my arse my armpits my eyebrows and every seam of the trousers and gansey I wore. I didn't like the boils and pimples on my small epidermis, not to mention the shame of scabies and ringworm. I didn't like having badly patched clothes and broken boots that Van Gogh would have sneered at. I didn't like having caked shit in my trousers because they couldn't be washed for the want of a replacement to wear while they were drying. I didn't like being made fun of and sneered at by the upper classes, who had tea and buns in the afternoon and electric light in every room.
I have never liked the smell of the newly made, newly varnished coffins that were brought in to take away our dead forever.
I was a smiley little fella with a raging heart and murderous instincts. One day I would show THEM--yes, you rotten fucking arsehole counter-jumping stuck-up jumped-up whore's-melts nose-holding tuppence-ha'penny-looking-down-on-tuppence snobs. I'll go back to America where I was born and I'll fart in yer faces.
And I did.
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