You from around here? he asks in a half-interested voice. I
grew up on 19th Street. Over where the factories were before they tore them down
for the expressway, she says. My mother used to drink in here. I
remember that up there on the wall, right above the cash register, there used
to be a picture of President John F Kennedy. She points to it. The
Daily News put them out after he was killed. Sold them as memorial plaques.
Is that right? he
says. He pitches out the soda and pours himself a short glass of Budweiser from
the tap. Then he throws his head back as he drinks it in one gulp. Hes too
young to remember any of this, she thinks.Every Irish bar along 9th avenue
hung them up. The week he died, they unplugged all the jukeboxes and every day
everyone just sat and watched his funeral on television. It was black and white.
I heard that, he says. I wasnt around here then.
He turns and stares out the window onto 9th Avenue. Except for the occasional
whine of car tires spinning in the snow, the coughing sound of a snow shovel on
concrete, the streets are quiet and empty. The two of them become a part of the
empty stillness of the bar, caught in the long, back mirrors like characters in
an Edward Hopper painting. The only sound coming from the jukebox as the Black
47 music plays on. A part of her felt like she was home again. A part of
her hoped that Billy was still living alone. Then she thought for a moment, Christ,
I must be crazy at my age coming back here to look for an old boyfriend, driving
in the snow. Whats a matter with me? Then she shook the thought out of her
up at the old wide faced clock over the bar. Its 2 a.m. Time passes slowly
as she stares at herself in the thick, plated mirrors that have lined the back
bar since the 1930s when Farrells first opened. Time hasnt been
too rough with her, she thinks. Thank God. But still, she warns herself, better
start taking it easy on the whisky, darlin. She had seen what it did to some of
the women she grew up with around here. How their faces became puffy and bloated
remember when Farrells was known for staying open until 4:A.M., even if
it was empty. A last stop for waiters and bartenders. Do they still do that?
she asks. I dont know about tonight, he says. The snow
is starting to really come down. Im just pinch hitting anyway. Not the regular
She decides to ask him about Billy.
Billy Coffey ever come in here?
Coffey the cop? (A pause) He died. One night his car veered out of control, skidded
out on the turn at 15th Street and rolled over Bartell Pritchard Square.
Christ. She grabs the bar with both hands. One of her knees started to shake
and she was afraid it would buckle. When was this?About six
months ago. Somebody said that he had been coming from the McFaddens Brothers
Post on 18th Street. He was one of those guys who would come back for wakes or
reunions at Holy Name School. In and out, that type of guy. They still talk about
tight to the bar.
Give me another scotch.
he asks as he puts it in front of her.
She drank it down quick, and then she pushed some bills into the well of the bar
and started walking towards the front door. As she painfully made her way past
the long empty space that led past the bartender to the door she felt like she
was walking through all the years of her life in Windsor Terrace again. In her
mind, fragments of Irish music were playing somewhere along 9th Avenue tonight,
fragments of songs were pealing out of the doors of the old Irish bars that once
existed on every corner of nearby 17th Street where Billy Coffey grew up.
lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely round
the fields of Athenry
She could hear the lyrics in her head,
and imagine them drifting above the rooftops.It was as if he really hadnt
said to her that Billy died. Couldnt be. Christ it seemed like only yesterday
that they drank together down in Vals Bar. It seemed like only yesterday
when he was 17 and she was 20. How old could he have been when he died, 62? People
live much longer than that nowadays she thought, and she wondered if living longer
was a good thing.
She didnt know if she wanted to be around to
try to figure out whats it all about. Too much time to start thinking that
life just dont make a whole lot of sense most of the time. Too much time
to actually start to understand that there really isnt a hell of a lot to
it. So you damn well better enjoy it. When she grew up here, the old-timers worked
like dogs over in the factories of 18th Street. Worked almost around the clock
some nights until things got slow and they laid them off. Then they went looking
for part time jobs in places like Pete Smiths Funeral Home, picking up the
deceased, working as pallbearers. And it was enough to get you by.
They went quick those Irish old-timers. Most of them were damn lucky if they hit
70. You could hear them talking death in bars over whiskey, ah, Jesus, Alphie,
when you hit a certain age they start dropping like flies. The hard work,
and the smoking and the heavy drinking caught up to each of them. Not to mention
all the other trouble and strife that comes with living.
they seemed happy. Always quick to give you a smile, and say, great day
for the race, isnt it? And if you said, what race? They
would give you a quick wink of the eye, and say, the human race. Maybe
it had something to do with their belief in the Catholic Church, their strong
faith. Who knew? Herself, it seemed like her faith got weaker and weaker. And
it bothered her.
God, what made her think of all this? She was depressing herself now, but she
couldnt stop. What made her come back here? What would it have been like
with him? she wondered. All those years she hadnt tried to get in touch
with him wasted.
The Scotch had kicked in now, and she had this surreal feeling that if she walked
through the snow up 9th Avenue the old Irish saloons would still be there. That
whole, hurly burly, Irish corner of 9th Avenue and 17th Street in the 50s
would come alive again, loaded with the working-class detail of a Ralph Fasanella
painting, the loud jukebox sound of Frankie Laine singing That Lucky Old
Sun bursting out the open doors of bars.
Looking up at the red,
neon Farrells Bar sign swinging in the wind and the snow, she
thought of the crowd she grew up with here, Tommy McLaughlin, Tommy Purdy, Ritchie
Lang, Frankie Powers and his brother, Bengie, Jackie Laux, Molly Brown, Eunice
Murphy, Alice Murray.
Then she turned and looked into the haze of the snow blowing down 9th Avenue.
She could see the red brick steeple of Holy Name Church in the distance, and for
a moment, she wanted to run to it, and all the while, she had this strange feeling
that although most of them were dead now their spirits never left 9th Avenue.
They were still part of it. She could feel it. Brooklyners, Billy
Coffey called them after Joyces Dubliners.
The bartender stared out at her from the window of the empty bar. She could hear
the Celtic rock sound of Black 47 coming out of Farrells and fading into
the quiet of 9th Avenue.
.oh I should watch out
say that he's a real hard case
Should I take me chance or say "no thanks"
Ah what the hell, nothin' ventured nothin' gained
Oh Mammy dear, we're
all mad over here
Livin' in America
And as the music played,
she thought again of the choices she made a long time ago when she was young.
Too bad, she thought. She was almost home.
the Author Writer, Author and Playwright, Patrick
Fenton, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in the Irish working-class
tenements of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn on St Patrick's Day, 1941.
a writer, Fenton's stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications
including the New York Times, New York Newsday, New York Magazine
and The Daily News. As a noted Kerouac scholar, Fenton's stories, "The
Wizard of Ozone Park" and "Drinking
With Jack Kerouac in a Rockaway Bar" are eclectic bookend
perspectives of the great American author and his stories "Confessions
of a Working Stiff" and "Stoopdreamer
and Other Brooklyn Stories" a roadmap of his coming of age
as a NYC Irish-American blue-collar Joe.
a Playwright, Fenton's "Jack's
Last Call: Say Goodbye to Kerouac"
is a poignant look at Jack Kerouasc's last days in Newport, LI as he wrestled
with his misconstrued career. Click
Here To Learn More About "Jack's
Last Call: Say Goodbye to Kerouac."
Other Patrick Fenton Writings . . .
Here To Read Drinking
a pint with Behan and Kerouac -
A story by Patrick Fenton
Here To Read Going
Home - Squaring the Irish Circle
- A poem by Patrick Fenton