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Patrick Fenton

Almost Home (Pg. 2)

“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. He’s 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.”

“Yeah, I heard that,” he says. “I wasn’t 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. What’s a matter with me? Then she shook the thought out of her head.

She looks up at the old wide faced clock over the bar. It’s 2 a.m. Time passes slowly as she stares at herself in the thick, plated mirrors that have lined the back bar since the 1930’s when Farrell‘s first opened. Time hasn’t 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 from it.

“I remember when Farrell‘s 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 don’t know about tonight,” he says. “The snow is starting to really come down. I‘m just pinch hitting anyway. Not the regular bartender. ”

She decides to ask him about Billy.

“Does Billy Coffey ever come in here?”
“Billy Coffey.“
“Billy 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.“

“Jesus 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 McFadden’s 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 it.”

She held tight to the bar.
“Give me another scotch.”
“You alright?” 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.

“Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our 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 hadn’t said to her that Billy died. Couldn’t be. Christ it seemed like only yesterday that they drank together down in Val’s 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 didn’t know if she wanted to be around to try to figure out what’s it all about. Too much time to start thinking that life just don’t make a whole lot of sense most of the time. Too much time to actually start to understand that there really isn’t 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 Smith’s 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.

But, Jesus, they seemed happy. Always quick to give you a smile, and say, “great day for the race, isn’t 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 couldn’t stop. What made her come back here? What would it have been like with him? she wondered. All those years she hadn’t 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 50’s 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 “Farrell’s 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 Joyce’s “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 Farrell’s and fading into the quiet of 9th Avenue.

“….oh I should watch out
For they 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.



About 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.

As 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.

As 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."

Also Other Patrick Fenton Writings . . .

Click Here To Read Drinking a pint with Behan and Kerouac - A story by Patrick Fenton

Click Here To Read Going Home - Squaring the Irish Circle - A poem by Patrick Fenton



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