Tag Archives: brendan behan

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

An Rogaire Dubh

I walked into the pub some 15 minutes later. The light from the street lamps that seeped in through the window was swallowed up by the black-brown wood that furnished the bar, reclaimed from some abandoned church in Tír Chonaill. Even with the candles set around the pub, it managed to be darker inside than out. Still, there was something comforting about the smell of body odor, beer, and musty old wood. Far Derrick sat atop a stool at the far end of the bar, and judging by his volume, he’d been there for a while. I wondered if he climbed up on the stool all by himself or if he had someone to help him. Adam was behind the bar like he always was. We used to go to hardcore shows together at the Cambridge VFW. Technically Grey Ellen was the owner of the bar, but Adam was the only one who ever seemed to work there. He had a Kennedy brother tattooed on the back of either fist so no one liked to bothered him with too many questions. I reached across the bar and shook his hand and said, “Give me a Tully, neat, and a shot of Chartreuse for the small fella down there,” nodding my head towards the end of the bar.

“It’s a little early for a ‘Treusing, don’t you think?” Adam said hesitantly. Chartreuse shots were usually reserved for folks who’d already got too drunk, a parting gift before they got thrown out, at which point they’d usually boot the ‘treuse back on the street. But it was also a holy spirit made by monks, and the Good People weren’t so good at holding that kind of liquor.

He handed me a collins glass with a three-finger pour and I said, “Either way, I’m cutting him off.”

I stood back and watched as Adam brought the shot to Derrick. Adam looked over at me and pointed but Far Derrick clearly didn’t care who’d bought him the drink. He tossed the shot straight back and as soon as the sweet green syrup hit his tongue he spit it right back out and started coughing violently. Smoke poured from his skin and he gasped for air between the chokes. Fortunately An Rogaire Dubh was one of those bars where no one seemed to care about the other customers. He slammed the rest of his beer back to wash away the taste. “Awright, who the fuck was that?” he said as he wiped the back of his arm across his mouth. He turned his head to the left to identify the mysterious benefactor that he’d previously chosen to disregard. I brought the whiskey the lips as I raised my other hand, waggling my fingers in  a mocking wave.

Far Derrick let out a deep heavy sigh and turned back to face the bar. He knew that he’d been caught. He coughed again, then motioned to the bartender and said, “Bud Heavy and a shot of Jack. And fuck the both of yous.”

An Official Message From the Boston Police Department: If You Got Arrested at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade – You Probably Did Something to Deserve It

“Congratulations. You’re our first customers today who haven’t come straight to the bar to order Irish car bombs.”

“But…it’s only 12:02.”

“…”

“And you guys don’t open til noon.”

“Yeah.”

“So you’ve only been open for 2 minutes.”

“…”

“And there’s no one else here.”

Yeah.

“…”

“…”

“…Oh.

“Yeah.”

My First Bar Friend

Sometimes I see him on the street, and our eyes will meet briefly before darting away, the way you look at that girl you hooked up with that one time and it was totally weird and you never talked to her again. “Do I say something? Do I wave?” you wonder. “Does he even remember me? Does he know my name?”

I think of all times we spent on barstools at the local pub. He was always there when I was, and one day, we just struck up a conversation. I think he asked about the book that was I reading, then he bought me a round, and we started talking about girls and bands and everything else that guys talk about once they’ve had a couple beers. It’s not all that unusual, at a bar like that. His name was Paul, and at the time, he had just recently moved to the neighborhood. A former Navy SEAL, he was going back to UMass Boston to finish his degree in Anthropology. Said he was part of the team that took down those Somali pirates. I told him I was impressed with the shot they made over alternating waves; he said the shot was easy, anyone could have done it, and he was a little irked that he was on the shift before the one got the shot, because those guys got all the glory.

I don’t know why I remember that. I don’t even know if he was telling me the truth. I’m not even sure what I might have told him about myself, or what he remembers of it. Other times, we’d both be at the bar with our friends. We’d shout “Hey!” and high five, introduced our friends to one another in hopes of triggering the other one to remind of his name: “Hey, this is my buddy Chris” “How’s it goin’, I’m Paul” and so on. We’d get excited every time the blonde behind the bar would put on London Calling — as if it was such a rare coincidence that we both liked The Clash — then we’d turn and watch the Sox game in silence, only turning to each other to say obligatory things like, “Youk was in a funk, but man, he’s got it back,” or “Beckett’s gotta sit for a few more games, they should pull him out and get Papelbon back out there,” and of course, “Let’s go, Papi!” If the game went well, then he might buy a round of PBRs for my friends as well as his. We’d shoot the shit some more, then say good night like we’d been bros for the longest time.

I don’t even think we’re Facebook friends.

But in those hazy, drunken moments in the low, musty lighting of the bar, you’d swear we were the best of friends, and at the time, perhaps we were. So when I see him now, I can’t help but feel some strange sense of camaraderie, fueled by nostalgia for nights that I hardly can remember.