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Flatbush Flashback

Why Bloomsday?

Funny thing, the unconscious. Somehow you know things, but you don't know how you know them, or even that you do know them. That's what happened when I was looking at the calendar, trying to select a day for the New York Beaver Street launch. I knew I was going to have it in on a Saturday in June and I knew I was going to have it at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street.

June 16 jumped out at me.

Yes, I knew it was Bloomsday, named for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the James Joyce novel Ulysses, which takes place in Dublin on June 16, 1904. I was in Dublin once on Bloomsday, and participated in the daylong festivities, which included readings from the book. So, I figured: Bloomsday, Irish bar on Beaver Street, people will read from the book—perfect.

But I didn’t realize until yesterday how perfect it was. That’s when I remembered something I’d known all along: In 1920, a literary magazine published an excerpt from Ulysses that contained a description of Bloom masturbating. He’s at the beach, pleasuring himself as he watches a young girl, leaning back and revealing her “beautifully shaped legs.”

Joyce describes Bloom’s orgasm: “And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely! O so soft, sweet, soft!”

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice considered this passage pornographic, took the matter to court, and succeeded in having Ulysses declared obscene and banned in the U.S. for 13 years.

Beaver Street has not actually been banned—though in the eyes of many attentive readers, Amazon’s failure to make the paperback edition available comes pretty close. And some critics have, indeed, branded the book “smut.” (Happily, most recognize it as literature.)

Bottom line: Celebrating the publication of a “dirty book” in an Irish bar on Beaver Street on Bloomsday is the way to go. And I hope to see you all there for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. It’s free and it could be fun.
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