College libraries tend to be ever-so-silent places, so it's little wonder I remember this guy. He and I were sitting across an old, oaken table from each other, my nose deeply immersed in modern French poetry, his in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Dozens of other "bookies" were hard at it all around us. Finals were only a week away.
Suddenly, my tablemate lost his equilibrium. I can still recall the sharp snap of "Ulysses" being slammed shut in frustration. I can still hear the squeak of his chair being shoved back across the linoleum floor. I can still hear the anguish in his voice as he said:
"I just can't figure out what he's talking about!"
To put it mildly, James Joyce didn't write straightforwardly. Like William Faulkner, Joyce sometimes seems to have written inscrutably just for the heck of it. I'm sure linoleum stock soars each spring when another crop of English students has to wade through sentences that are eight pages long.
But don't ever think that there isn't treasure amid all the trappings. In Washington, that's literally true.
Last Feb. 2, on what would have been James Joyce's 100th birthday, the 100 members of the James Joyce Society of Washington hid a case of Jameson's Irish whiskey. The finder (and keeper) would be whoever could decipher a long clue, fashioned out of the literary works of the Irish master.
In nearly eight months, no one has managed to do it.
" 'Tis a scandal," declared Kevin Madden, a professor of English at Georgetown University and president of the Joyce Society, sounding like You Know Who. "Incredibly, given this town's high level of education and general sophistication, no one has found the whiskey."
Perhaps recalling that I judged an Irish Coffee contest last St. Patrick's Day (I'm still recovering), Madden sought my help. I was happy to oblige. Why should those of us who've already read Joyce be the only ones to suffer?
Here's the clue:
"For the treasure of Mr. Joyce's John Jameson Irish whiskey, waters Blooming of thought and life;
"riverrun, past six James' house and Ulysses, your clue north, where colza oil burns or once would.
"Among as a young man and old his name in stone, world without end, directly, absolutely, without question squarely inward to line 7, page 103, three fouronetwo rue; then, norMissme Noreen ask for by name. With all your heart saying
"----Have you something for H.C. Earwicker? and when she asks who's he when he's alone Tell her, for the treasure of Mr. Joyce"
A few footnotes from Madden:
All references are drawn from Viking Penguin and Random House American editions.
There are no typographical errors in the above clue. All capitalizations, and all absent capitalizations, are deliberate.
The booze is still where it was hidden. A search party, composed of Joyce Society officials, checks every few days or so.
Don't bother to call your local Irish bar and ask for Noreen. It has been tried, many times. It's an excellent way to get cursed out and hung up upon.
The booze is in the city of Washington.
If you find it, please notify the society, at P.O. Box 2212, Hoya Station, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 20057. They'd like to offer you honorary membership--and a tenured chair at Harvard for being so clever.
What happens Feb. 1, if no one has unscrambled the clue? "I think we're going to have one hell of a party," Madden replied.
That's one aspect of Joyce that both we and he could understand.