Chance, Chancer, Chickalito, Chachi, hard-chaw, Checkers, Cheerio, Chaplin, me oul’ Chestnut, King Canute, Charlo (a nice Dublin name), Nancy, Nonce, Nuisance… the only thing known for certain about Chauncey—the only thing you could call a fact—was that his first name was Chauncey. But a name is just a sound with potential, to be played with, rolled about the mouth, and spat out. Potential for mockery or praise, it can put someone back in their place, or can lift a body’s spirit.
The only thing known for certain—the only thing you could call a fact—was that his first name was Chauncey.
But it undoubtedly was not, for what Irish mother of the 60s would add to the imminent pains and impending sorrows of their newborn by christening them with the unlikely name—if it could be called that—of Chauncey. Of course, since little or nothing else is known about Chauncey as fact, we daren’t say for certain that Chauncey was Irish-born, or even that he was christened, though it is generally agreed that he was born, and in the usual fashion, which would also suggest the involvement, and so existence, of a mother.
Chauncey was known by frequenters of the Dublin pub as the frequenter but patron of none. He was never seen to buy a drink or let a drop roll past his lips. He would visit, in any given day, forty to fifty public houses. (Though the apostmentioned month-long survey of Chauncey’s dérives through the city record a one-day high of ninety-three visits and a low of seven, the mean being forty-two.)
Such a visit might consist of a split second head-in-the-door job where Chauncey would perch, scan, and flit away before his presence was registered, his dark beady eyes searching.
In certain pubs he engaged in habitual, customary, even ritualistic behaviour. In The Ferryman on Sir John’s Rogerson’s Quay he would scrutinise—on the rare occasions that he called by—an original Harry Clarke print of a knight on horseback riding into battle. He would only enter Keogh’s having travelled east from Grafton Street, eyes fixed carefully on the concrete. He’d breeze into the snug, ignoring all customers, and peep out through the window he’d just passed, taking in a perfect scope of Anne’s Lane. He’d peep out from behind the frosted glass as if he’d been followed, as if trying to avoid detection. Then he’d dash upstairs and slyly glimpse down Duke Lane, or if feeling particularly confident (or particularly nervous), he’d pull a small vanity mirror from his pocket and poke it out the Duke Lane entrance.
The last pub of any day was approached slowly and tentatively. More often than not it was a northside pub and oftener again one that lay in the far corners of the north inner city: The Moy, The Welcome Inn, the bar of Jury’s Hotel. He’d rummage about for the first national paper he could get hold of and trove ruthlessly through the obituaries.
(The still-to-be-mentioned surveyors collected all but three of these newspapers and unearthed one of a very few conclusive pieces of information: that as a rule Chauncey circled only the names of those who bore the initials C. M. or S. M. Conclusive, but undoubtedly meaningless given that every second gombeen in the country is a Séan or a Stephen, a Sarah or Siobhán; the countryside is dripping with Murphys, Mangans, Mahons, Maguires, Mooneys and sopping with Mc after Mac.)
The day in question is a special day in the life of Chauncey; it’s apogee. And he is looking for someone in particular. An affiliate. A man named Deasy.
A severe easterly shunts Chauncey in the door of The Long Hall. He gathers his great coat about his waist and legs and marches purposefully towards the two clocks—one set proudly into the Victorian partition, the other hanging dolefully from the dark wall adjacent.
It is the ninth pub of the day, and one of only two or three pubs he always visits, for matters pertaining to the ritual.
The barman is puzzled for a number of reasons; firstly, Chauncey is a good seventy seconds early. Secondly, he’s left out the opening move of his routine, he hasn’t tapped at the window to wait for the barman to beckon him in. Hence, his earliness. Now he’ll be seventy seconds a bag of nerves.
‘Sweet mother of…’ baulks one dumbfounded regular, ‘would you look at the time and he’s in already.’
‘Jays, he’s a bit premature today; we might draw a bit of jabber out of him yet,’ responds his neighbour. But no word from Chauncey. He paces up and down the bar, wearing away the carpet, eyes down, the odd bite of the nail.
Of the two clocks only one is working, the other being in permanent stasis. Twice a day both clocks tell the correct time. Chauncey, by the mysterious inner machinations of his own timepiece, is daily drawn to observe this rite.
(At least daily, for was rumoured—and only twice doubtfully-substantiated— that the jangling mass of keys that hung from Chauncey’s hip unlocked the door to any number of pubs throughout the city. That he would, having read the obituaries, slink away from the bar and go in search of a convenient pub to doss down in. Chauncey, although not necessarily loved by barmen, was trusted and respected by publicans. Another ‘affiliate’, Charlie Chalk, owner of multiple pubs throughout Dublin city and environs, was alleged to have patronised Chauncey’s work. Some rumoured that they were stepbrothers. Others rumoured otherwise. Others again declined to rumour, but they thinly spread.)
Chaunce is still pacing. The reverent atmosphere in the bar catches the attention of others present.
‘How’s the Chaw?’ gives another patron. ‘What news from the big bad?’ Chauncey does not reply. He has pulled up to the clocks, his eyes oscillating hypnotically between their two faces. Twenty seconds left in it.
‘Oh, Jesus, would you stop,’ continues his non-conversant in mock reply to nothing at all, ‘sure you can’t trust those boys in Leinster House. Someone has to set things right, Chico—you might be just the man!’
‘Would ya whist!’ says the barman, Mr Garry (two r’s—as in Kasporov). This is a pub where the barmen are always tightly rigged out in black, the barman being the closest relative to the undertaker. Particularly so in a pub like this. Mr Garry is not taken by attempts at wit, except his own far superior efforts.
A Dublin pub in late-afternoon dusk-light is a solemn place, and the barman is the keeper of such solemnity. Particularly in the celebration of this daily sacrament. Particularly today.
Despite his unusually early entry, Chauncey is calmer than you’d expect, everfocused on the clocks, as one moment draws nearer the other. With just fifteen seconds in the difference between the two, Chauncey’s left arm draws up by the face of the broken clock. The arm of the living clock draws closer and closer to its partner’s. With ten seconds to go a long, grey, waxen finger extends from his hand and hovers over the glass. Here we go.
‘E.T. phone home,’ gives another wit from the deep beyonds of the lounge, but nobody marks it.
Silence falls and silence reigns. Seven seconds. If the wives of the two cronies at the bar could see their husbands’ faces, never more serious. Focused. My god. Men who have seen this rite a hundred times or more, but today a holy mood pervades. Five… four… and though there could have been no more than six or seven people in the bar (and because the essence of story-telling is to spout an unacceptable but accepted lie), half of the Dublin pub scene have since claimed to have been in The Long Hall that Tuesday afternoon (the other half claiming attendance at The Library Bar later that evening) on what was to be Chauncey’s last day (it is said) in the city.
Three… his eyelids flicker frantically. Two… and nobody passes air. One, his finger draws back like a cocked gun. Tock. For an instance, both clocks share the time and down hammers Chauncey’s finger on the face of the static clock.
Well? All who were present (and all who weren’t) swore to seeing some degree of motion. Some claim merely to have seen a single, minimalescent jerk-forward of the second hand (although it’s well known to tellers and hearers of this story that the broken clock in the Long Hall is without a second hand). It’s generally agreed that the room suffered a strong smell of incense.
Another theorist claims to have witnessed two full and furious rotations of the hour hand. This man, who’s since been put well outside of his mind by drink, and relies solely on his way with words and the benefactions of others for the continued feeding of his habit also claims, to this day, as a result of the rotation of the hands, to be living one full day in the future. He is generous with tips for horse races the following day (Throwaway in the 3:15) and football matches (United to win, Rovers draw). He is never wrong.
Of course, like the thousands of other times that Chauncey ‘touched the clocks’, nothing happened. The mood settled instantly and Chauncey was ushered out by a cry from the back of the room: ‘E.T. fuck off’. But it’s important for the sake of posterity and for the continuation of the story in the Dublin pub, that something did happen. And so it did.
(Incidentally, the so-called ‘touching of the clocks’, the only fixed and timed happening on Chauncey’s route, did The Long Hall a roaring late-afternoon trade—particularly on a Tuesday, and more particularly on the anniversary of the last touching—but all this, of course, only after Chauncey’s disappearance. What used to be a stalwart watering hole for the hardened pub-jockey is now replete with fauxcoholics and day-trippers. A new Dublin literary journal, The Touching of the Clocks , rose and fell in thirteen months sometime in the early naughties. It’s also been leaked that U2’s next album will be entitled ‘Touching the Clocks’. The above mentioned theorist will give you good odds).
Other names given Chauncey:
Reverential: The Holy Ghost (Chauncey is a great man for people claiming to have seen him when, in fact, they haven’t); Moses (of course, a great walker); Lazarus, Methuzelah (not very original here, a name most middle-aged Irish men respond to); Zacchaeus (Dubliners have always been hard on those tight with their scratch, though to be fair to Chaunce he never found much use for it); Peter (there was the time that one soused fool claimed to have seen Chauncey walking on water; it was later established that he was, in fact, standing in a shallow puddle, but the name enjoyed a period of fashionability); Bud (after Buddha, another great man for the walks).
So Chauncey is looking for Deasy. Deasy is a man who is enormous. At the time in question, while Chauncey is searching the streets, Deasy is sitting opposite a blank-faced gentleman named Anatoly Karpov. Karpov and Deasy go back years. Apparently. Unbeknownst to Chauncey, they’re just across the road in The Library Bar of the Central Hotel, a chessboard laid out on a low-set table between them. Karpov wets his lips between moves with a neat double vodka, the cool fucker. Deasy’s pint is going stale.
The reason that so much and paradoxically so little is known about Chauncey is largely down to one Benedict Kylemore. Let’s go back a few years further, back before the era of Bertie as Taoiseach, just preceding the ubiquity of the mobile phone.
Kylemore, undergraduate of Theology at Trinity College, has set up office for the day in the quiet carpeted rooms of Neary’s, Chatham Street. It’s a dark afternoon in the last days of Michaelmas, first year. He is sitting alone upstairs excepting the presence of a patient barman, when Chauncey bursts in the door with the usual sense of submerged panic.
Without any attention to the person of Kylemore, Chauncey empties the sugar bowl of its cubes onto the table between them, counts out eight white cubes and pockets the rest. The barman’s eyes are fixed, his mouth flat as a dustpan. Chauncey arranges the cubes carefully in a row and indicates to Kylemore to choose one, which he does unhesitantly with a simple motion of the hand. The barman lets out a breath that appears to have been held in since his exit from the womb. Chauncey blinks mournfully and nods in purse-lipped appreciation. Finally, he turns to the barman and nods him some recognition, and shuffles on off down the stairs.
Up to this point, Kylemore’s knowledge of Chauncey had been gleaned from a part-remembered story and an uncertain sighting. By Hilary term of his fourth year, Kylemore was a true Chauncey aficionado. He saw in all of Chauncey’s movements some theological significance, believed that each act was a benediction, each step a prayer; he was of the opinion that his life and wanderings were a kind of urban pilgrimage. Of course, he most certainly wasn’t of this opinion, but it served as matter for the usual pseudo pub-theoretics and he’d finish his ever-more-leadránach proselytising with the insistence that ‘it certainly warranted a more rigorous study’.
With no other ideas for a final BA thesis, and heading for a certain Pass, he organised a group of fellow student-cum-cronies to aid him in some research.
The resulting survey involved an unlikely team of substandard students, from would-be behavioural psychologists to chaos theoreticians. They stalked Chauncey over the Easter break, noting every movement, every pub visited, constantly losing and re-gaining sightings. The pubs of Dublin’s city centre for those three weeks were alive with walky-talky bullshit.
The rate of attrition amongst the surveyors was high with only Kylemore himself lasting the full three weeks, busy mainly with recruiting and re-recruiting researchers, and eventually relying on pub regulars for information on sightings and activity, all of which was about as credible as a tabloid horoscope.
The results of the survey were collated into maps, histograms, scatterplots, charts of every shape and hue—all infinitely meaningless. Kylemore struggled for patterns in the numbers, to see correlations between one set of data and the next, but nothing conclusive emerged. Only what was already known—that Chauncey began on the south, making the majority of his visits on that side; hesitating in his move north, but generally finishing there. It issued a full list of his quirks and foibles, listing what rituals in which pubs.
The maps also confirmed Chauncey’s parameters of activity: from the Pimlico Tavern in the south-west to the Gingerman on the south-east; on the north-east Mother Kelly’s on Gardiner Street, and the Belfry on Arbour Hill completing the board. Check your map, a perfect square.
In a desperate attempt to flesh out his thesis, Kylemore, in the last days of Trinity term, scurried from pub to pub with a Dictaphone to collect the lore of patrons who claimed to know him best. Here we find information of greater substance and interest, and even lesser truth. For example, and significantly for Kylemore, it was said that when Chauncey got a view of the city from the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse, he never returned to Neary’s again since it was revealed to him that Chatham Street (though not Chatham Row) fell just outside the invisible lines he’d drawn for himself. It was also opined that Chauncey’s tapping of the clocks was never intended to set the broken piece in motion, but rather to keep it in stasis, the logic being that two working clocks in such close proximity may unnaturally hasten the onward rush of the call for last orders.
Oddly, despite the number of people keeping tabs on Chauncey over the three-week period, nobody managed to follow him coming or going from his wanderings, though it’s not difficult for a sober man to lose any number of drunken acolytes in the dark of night. But the more likely reason for this failure and the survey’s failure in general, is that nobody—perhaps not even Kylemore—wanted to know the truth, for how many good stories are born of facts?
Many other truths of Chauncey’s life could have been easily ascertained had the will been there. A birth cert is not difficult to locate, school records, a social insurance number, a doddle for any amateur PI. It’s also fair to assume that had the will been there, had the signs been read astutely, one should have known why Chauncey was, on the day in question, in search of Deasy.
Literary: Behan (this is ironic, since the Chaw was a tee-totaller); Bloom (walks, pubs, a queer fish generally, etc.); Healy (after John, a man of the streets, and a gent); Christy (Chauncey was a dead ringer for Christy Brown as played by Daniel Day Lewis), Kurtz (a very intense man, not to be approached generally); de Selby (although Chauncey says little, he gives off the air of a great scientist-cum-philosopher. It’s certainly preferable to believe such a thing); Corley (again ironic, Chauncey is never known to have approached a member of the opposite or same sex with any untoward intentions); Mr Smith (after Winston of Nineteen Eighty-Four fame, Chauncey generally gives the impression of one pursued).
Deasy. Deasy was the sort of fellow who though not well liked, was always well received. It’s a mysterious thing to happen a man. He kept a small office up a number of flights of stairs on Middle Abbey Street, doing the books—part-time mind—for a number of pubs around town, a tidy little earner.
A small table was kept for him at the back of The Lotts Bar where he spent the remainder of his day playing games in a small and uncomfortable chair, supping away gingerly. He sat beneath an enormous mirror that continuously threatened, and was often willed, to fall. And though he generally entered the pub around 1 pm, he was respected and disdained in equal measure for his ability to leave the pub at 8 pm strictly. ‘He has tremendous will power,’ it was said of him, which automatically put him into the category of ‘cute whore’.
When he finally inherited—the holiest sacrament of the devout drinker—he bought out The Lotts entirely and did a fantastic job of not drinking the bar. Being the cute whore that he was, he kept his position in his chair at the back where he continued to play games, drink evenly, and watch with a keen eye the young lad he’d hired at minimum wage to pull pints.
Deasy had been around town long enough to have a fair-sized catalogue of rumours to his name. He generally played dominoes, checkers, go, or backgammon. But it was said (before such a fact could be checked quickly on a phone) that he had been (depending on the number of pints taken) an expert, master, senior master, or grandmaster in the game of chess. Also, that he’d spent a number of years in Moscow, Budapest, Krakow, (add one yourself if you like), earning him enough in prize money to get by on a part-time wage (the cute whore). It was also said that he’d weighed nine and a half stone until the day he’d retired from the game.
The only chess he ever played nowadays was against our man Chauncey and at the rate of one move a day. The board was always on display at the window by Deasy’s chair. Chaunce would hoh hoh his breathe on the window to inscribe his next move: Kxd5, Qxe5+, and so on.
The Lotts was a pub Chauncey never entered. He preferred to keep an eye on the view of the Ha’penny Bridge from outside, a crucial thoroughfare on his own board. When the time inevitably came, he’d thumb Deasy outside to deliver the checkmate and shake his hand. A true gent. It was on these occasions that Chauncey might engage in a rare conversation, and Deasy was good enough to add to Chauncey’s general air of mystery by keeping shtum.
It must have been here that Deasy let on to Chaunce that a friend ‘from the East’ would be in town for one day only, that there might be the chance of a match. It’s on this day, the day of the final touching of the clocks, that Chauncey is out in search of Deasy.
Political: Collins (mostly for his height, but the military-style greatcoat added tothe effect); Lincoln (for a time at least, when he took to shaving the moustache but leaving the beard); Führer (the many possible reasons include a similar walking gait, teetotaller, the furrowed brow. Chauncey also gave a Nazi-like salute when shaking back his sleeve to check the time); Kissinger (more of an association than a nickname and applied in the post-Karpov era by a perennial drinker at The International who often said that Chauncey had ‘Kissinger’s wit’, using this phrase as if it were in common usage); Padraig Flynn (both cultivated a devilish pair of eyebrows).
Profusely. People only do two things profusely, bleed and sweat. Deasy does the latter in abundance. As he leans forward to shift a hopeless pawn, the shirt on his back reveals a beachball-sized puddle. In an hour’s time only the cuffs will be dry. Intermittently, a punter or two hover over the board but the game is moving too slowly for spectators. Deasy is down a bishop, two knights and a rook, and only three pawns remaining. Karpov thinks Deasy must be sacrificing but really he’s just gone into meltdown.
At The Lotts, the boy behind the bar is sucking up shots in the absence of Deasy’s watchful eye and pouring pints for his mates. Chauncey bangs on the window to beckon him out.
‘Zsat fucker… is been gone all day,’ the bar boy slurs in sambuca breath, ‘and he can shtay gone, you can tell him I’m runnin’ the place, me and the lads here.’
‘Where?’ he repeats.
‘Didn’t say, fat prick. Probably cause he knows I’ll be comin’ after him. You can…’
Chauncey leans in on the young fella slowly, takes him by the wrist, squeezes.
The boy vomits a little onto Chauncey’s sleeve and furrows his brow.
‘A hotel m’be,’ the boy says. Both ignore the vomit. ‘I think he mentioned a hotel last night. Jays, I couldn’t tell you which though, Mr Chance, sir.’
Chauncey gathers his coat in about his waist, and holding it shut engages in a part-hop-part-dash about town. Wynn’s, The Arlington, The Morrison, The Ormond; up the keys, across the Liffey and back down Dame Street; Jury’s, The Mercantile. In his panic he’s thinking, but only half-thinking. He’s thinking of hotels but not of the bars within. Where would you bring a man for a game of chess. And then it comes to him and the knowledge loosens his bowels a little. In two minutes time he’s standing by the door.
The lounge of The Central Hotel was from Chauncey’s point of view an unfortunate choice. To enter the bar he’s got to swing through two sets of double doors, pass hotel reception, mount a set of stairs and pass through a further set of double doors. A fierce amount of finger-twiddling and pacing goes on at the corner of George’s and Exchequer Street before Chauncey finds the courage to enter; then it‘s head down, coat-tails blazing.
Doors, doors, stairs, doors. He raises his head to see an enormous figure squeezed into a tiny antique armchair; its legs appear to be trembling and a small, wet patch has seeped through to its outer lining. Beyond this figure is the broadeyed elephantine face of Karpov.
Something odd comes over Chauncey. He slouches over the bar and chit-chats with the tankard of a bar lady. He opens up. Blossoms. Orders a Powers and a pint. He hovers over the board and chats to Karpov, admires the evening light resting on the table. Compliments the Guinness but recommends a Beamish next. He smiles. In seeing Karpov, in knowing his chance has come, a lifetime of frustration is relieved in a queer moment of grace.
Deasy, reduced to a mere puddle of a man, is too overtaken to notice the turn in Chauncey. You could germinate seeds in his armpits. Chauncey helps Deasy out of the chair, puts a cushion down to soak up the meltwater, and resets the board. Karpov is disappointed by Deasy’s deterioration over the years; perhaps he expects a similar standard from Chauncey.
Karpov looks down at the board and sees the same forty-eight tiles he’s seen a hundred thousand times before. For him, the blank black tile of e1 is as it ever was. But in the same square Chauncey sees the low afternoon light gaze through the snug window of The Hairy Lemon, and onward down South William Street to the dimmer rooms of Grogan’s, its smell of cigarette smoke masking the natural sweat-and-onion odour of its clientele. He knows its bottle-necked bar, its aptly placed back door acting as escape route into e2.
Chauncey knows to sacrifice central pawns, leading Karpov into the pub-heavy c3 and c4 of the board. He’ll entice his knight with an opportunity to fork at The Lord Edward, sacrificing his rook at The Fountain on Meath Street, drawing attention from the side-street attack on his queen, who’s been sipping away on a hot toddy in the lounge of the g7-Gresham all afternoon.
Karpov looks at the board perplexed, the same forty-eight tiles but all so unfamiliar, the same pieces but all strange faces. The broad avenues of the board begin to narrow. He’s homesick.
His king is too laden down with heavy-sitting pints to see the danger, and the husky drawl of two regulars has captured his remaining rook’s attention. Karpov sits back in his chair and calls for a vodka, and another, and another.
Before taking the final move of the game, Chauncey absentmindedly roots around for a daily national, flicks to the obituaries. As if solving the last clue of the simplex he circles the name of one Christine Mahon. C. M. The king is dead, long live the king. Karpov calls for the rest of the bottle and a brace of shot glasses.
For the record, these happenings come to me second hand from a friend of mine who claims to have been in The Library Bar that evening. I’m a regular of Mulligan’s of Poolbeg myself and was enjoying a pint there on the evening in question; being the plain, honest fellow that I am I wouldn’t knowingly tell you an untruth.
I’ve no doubt that this was Chauncey’s last day in Dublin, however. A friend of mine spotted him getting the mailboat to Holyhead the following morning. Another living in London wrote me days later to say she’d sighted Chauncey boarding a train at St Pancras. I’d swear to have seen him only a couple of years ago in the south of Spain. It was his face certainly, but he was cleaner cut, no beard, and dressed in navy linen. He looked monied.
And though the mailboat was long since discontinued by the time of his departure, and though the friend’s letter was dated the day before the meeting in The Library Bar, and though it’s thought, more plausibly, that Chauncey inherited an aunt’s house in County Meath and can be found sipping away peacefully in his local, no one would dare entertain such a notion. And so the story goes.