Wednesday 21 August 2019

John Daly: 'My brush with the law in the Big Apple'

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John Daly

A note to anybody visiting New York this summer - it's never a good idea to ride your bicycle on a Big Apple footpath. I was reminded of this advice last week when the news broke that Corkman Keith Byrne faced imminent deportation as the Trump administration cracked down on undocumented aliens.

It took me back to a summer in the late 1980s when I, having overstayed my visitor's visa, was merrily riding my new bicycle along the cobblestone streets of Greenwich Village.

Pedalling lazily along and eyeing up the theatre that is any Manhattan streetscape, I opted to avoid a traffic jam up ahead by temporarily mounting the footpath around Washington Square. Mistake. No sooner had I wheeled 10 yards on the pedestrian walkway, before that familiar 'whup whup' of a police car siren halted my progress. Dismounting immediately and adopting as much hangdog regret as my features were capable of, I came face to face with New York's finest in no mood for apologies. "Your ID, sir," he demanded. I had none. "What are you doing here?" he challenged.

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It was a good question, given I was working illegally and sharing an apartment with three others in the same boat. I clammed up, as they say in the movies, and got taken to the nearby 6th Precinct House. Directed to a reception area bench, I awaited my fate with an assortment of other miscreants - including an elderly drunk who kept shouting "Damnation!" at the ceiling. My heart beating like a jackhammer at what an almighty mess one small wrong move had cost me, I imagined myself in an episode of 'Hill Street Blues' to calm the nerves.

It didn't. Hours passed as the bench emptied of my fellow felons, and a new batch arrived. Nobody called me. Could I just walk out the door, I wondered, but didn't have the guts. At 11pm, the night shift came on, and my name was finally bellowed from the back.

A sergeant, 60ish, sized me up with a weary look. "Where you working, son?" Definitely not a man to lie to, so I told him. "Who's the senior barman?" he asked. Picking up the phone, he called my manager who, thank the Lord, happened to be working. A muffled conversation ensued - I discovered later he asked one simple question: "Is this kid OK?" In America, these four words determine your life.

Putting the phone down, he turned to me and said: "I'm not Irish, but my son's married to one, and she's good people. Now get outta my sight and never come back." I didn't dare ask about my bike, and walked out into the delicious liberty of a warm Manhattan night, crying with relief.

The world has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and New York with it, but I couldn't help hoping that Keith Byrne might somehow encounter the same shred of human decency as I had all those years ago. It's still 'the land of the free' - but it never hurts to have a little bit of luck as well.

Still oddly entertaining

TELEVISION is generally poor during the summer months, and cinema is little better, crammed with endless superheroes and growling lion kings. No better time then for a jaunt to the theatre, and that classic, 'The Odd Couple'.

One of Neil Simon's most cherished plays, this is the female version, with Florence and Olive replacing Felix and Oscar.

One is a manic neat-freak, the other a perfect slob - a gorgeous recipe for comedic repartee.

"I can't even have a dirty dream but you wanna clean it all up!" Or how about: "Don't talk to me about Christmas, will ya? All that sticky, phoney goodwill. I'd like to get a giant candy cane and beat the wings off a sugar plum fairy."

A summer treat that keeps on giving.

Irish Independent

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