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Steve Rushin pens the pint-essential Guinness book

March 17, 2010 |  9:42 am

Welcome back, Steve Rushin.

In the world of sports writing, there’s no better wordsmith than Rushin, the longtime Sports Illustrated columnist who stepped away from the magazine three years ago to write books and spend more time with his wife (former WNBA star and current ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo) and their kids.Pint-man_200

"The Pint Man" (Doubleday, $24.95) is Rushin’s just-released debut novel and tells of a love triangle among a boy, a Boyle’s – his favorite Irish pub – and the brown-eyed girl he’s courting. No surprise here: The book is engaging, clever and often wipe-your-eyes funny.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we caught up with Rushin on his tour to get the lowdown on his latest creation, a Guinness book in the truest sense:

What was the inspiration for "The Pint Man"?

I lived in New York for nine years and I met my wife in an Irish bar in Manhattan called Dublin House. Our first date was at another Irish pub called the Emerald Inn. And there is a third Irish bar in there that sort of formed a Bermuda triangle of bars -- I was always in danger of going in there and never coming out.

So I really wanted to be able to write about those nine years, be able to write them off on my taxes, and have gained something positive from them besides just a beer gut and liver damage. I just wanted to write a novel that conveyed the experience of those years spent frequenting  -- or more like constanting in my case -- those various Irish bars on the west side of Manhattan.

What sets Irish bars apart?

It's kind of like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: you can't define it but you know it when you see it. Every place calls itself an Irish bar now, but many of them opened yesterday and are sort of Disneyland theme park-type of Irish bars. The ones that I love all have been around forever, you have to pump the sunlight in there from somewhere far away. I was photographed at the Old Town bar in New York, which was opened in 1892. But the photographer couldn't get me to show up on film because it was so dark in there. So we eventually had to go outside. And that's what I loved about that place.

They had urinals that were installed in 1910. The owner called and said this summer they were celebrating the centennial of our urinals, and I want you to come back for the celebration. That's the closest I'll ever come to a Nobel dinner. That's my equivalent. It's the 250th anniversary of Guinness too, so there's some kind of synergy in these two great anniversaries.

In the Old Town they still have an old phone booth at the bar as well. If those walls could talk, the number of times that somebody called home from that phone booth to say they were working late and stuck at the office. It's just a classic old-school place.

So what’s special about urinals? You seem preoccupied with them.

I worked at Sports Illustrated for 19 years, and I feel like I've gone from journalism to urinalism. That's the arc, no pun intended, of my career. Whether they admit it or not, I suspect every man remembers the first time he stepped up to a urinal, and it was usually at a sporting event.

I remember being at a Giants-Dolphins game at the Meadowlands. It was a few minutes before kickoff and everybody was really anxious to get to their seats. This little 6-year-old was next in line at the urinal. Everybody was watching because they were waiting to see which was the next one to open up. He ended up on his toes because he was trying to reach this thing that was a little bit too high for him, and finally the crowd was going, "Come on you can do it! Come on kid!" And finally he was able to go, and the crowd started chanting, "Go! Go! Go!" When he finished it was like this great moment. It was kind of like the "Mean Joe" Greene Coke commercial or something. He was so proud, and people were high-fiving him as he went by.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he said his first time was at Yankee Stadium. When he stepped up to the plate, as it were, his uncle slapped them on the back and said, "Don't eat the mint, Jim.”

But I'm not alone in that fascination. Hemingway had a urinal taken out of his favorite bar, Sloppy Joe's in Key West {Fla.], and installed in his backyard in Key West, where it still is. You can see it when you take a tour of his house. It became like a drinking fountain for the cats. Unsuspecting cats, obviously.

Your book is clearly testosterone-infused. It’s there an appeal for women?

Well there is a love story that's part of it. It's kind of a normal love triangle between a guy, a girl and a bar. There's always an awkward moment when you have to introduce -- and I had to do this with my wife -- you have to introduce the girl to the family. In my case, living alone in New York, the family consisted of your knucklehead drinking buddies at the bar. If they don't approve, it can be a tough sell.

He's a guy who doesn't get drunk on beer so much as he gets drunk on words and books and wordplay and anagrams and ponds and spoonerisms and that sort of thing. So I think anybody who likes books and likes words and likes reading and is a word nerd will find a lot in it over and above the urinal writing.

So are there a lot of word nerds out there?

Yes. It's fun because as I go around now, people tell me their favorite anagrams and palindromes. A guy came up to me the other night in New York and said, "Satan oscillate my metallic sonatas." People said that kind of stuff to me in bars previously but the guy didn't know he was saying a palindrome. So that's been fun. Usually when you're in a bar in New York and a guy comes up to you and starts talking about Satan, I duck and cover. But in this case I'm loving the people who are coming up and telling me their favorite palindromes and spoonerisms.

What’s your target audience?

If you've ever had a favorite bar, or fell in love with a bar, or have been under a bar, I think it will resonate. From the letters I'm getting, it's already resonating with people like that.

Bars are both literally and metaphorically in my blood. My father's father opened a bar on Market Street in San Francisco called Jack's. When he ordered the neon sign it came back misspelled with an F, so he just called the place Fack’s. And that later became a nightclub where Lenny Bruce and Sinatra and Louis Armstrong and people like that played. He no longer owned it at that point but he opened it in 1947.

And then on my mother's side, they were all baseball players from Cincinnati. My grandfather played catcher for the New York Giants in 1926 -- Jimmy Boyle -- one game for John McGraw. His brother Buzz Boyle played for the Dodgers. And all these guys when they moved back to Cincinnati, when their careers were over, opened bars. So that's why I called the bar Boyle’s in the book.

It's a book that celebrates bar culture, celebrates literature, the connection between beer and drink and writing and Ireland and Irish writers and Irish pubs. I just wanted to mash that all up and tell a story and celebrate words and beer and urinals and bars and Ireland.

-- Sam Farmer