fredag, juni 30, 2006


The apartment was a bit toasty yesterday early evening so I ducked out to have a gin and tonic at Frost's cabana bar and squeeze in some more writing. The large patio was packed, but a waitress I knew told me a seat was open on the far side of the bar. I looked, and indeed a seat was open, but it was pushed back into the plants and loaded down with the handbags of three women who had somehow managed to make their narrow frames fill out a space that should accommodate five people easily. Something about the way they seemed to be sneering at one another in conversation--tense subject?--dissuaded me from seeking that spot.

So I popped across the road. The outdoor tables were full so I elected to sit in the now-thankfully-smoke-free air conditioning of Costello's.

Across the bar sat three of the regulars. Man 1's mouth was moving, yawn-like, but his voice was nearly inaudible. Man 2 was leaning close, listening intently. Man 3 seemed unengaged with it all. He sat with his arms folded and flat cap tipped and his eyes idly watching the Red Sox broadcast.

"But what seminary did you go to?" Man 2 asked.

Man 1 made more of those yawning motions.

"What school?" Man 2 asked. "St Thomas? St John's?"

Man 1 shrugged and uttered something.

"You've got to let that go," Man 2 said. "It don't make no difference what you do in life. You say you never did a hard day's labor. So what. You just work hard at what you do."

The argument continued with Man 1 apparently making the case that he'd been useless in life.

"It don't make no difference," Man 2 said.

"Nope," said Man 3. He excused himself for a pee.

"I can't hardly hear you," Man 2 said.

Man 1 finished his whiskey and leaned toward Man 2, balancing himself on the empty bar stool between them. His hands shifted his balance and his head bent when he tried to speak. He seemed to be climbing over the stool, or attempting to, but he was just in too terrible of a state.

When Man 3 returned he was full of life, but trying to end the conversation. He began reminding Man 1 of himself. "You went to St John's," he said. "I know that about you. Next week you'll be 70."

Man 1 smiled and held up his hands, amazed.

"You told me about it," Man 3 said.

"I told you," Man 1 repeated. "Yes."

Man 3 and Man 2 went further, discussing quickly where their families were from in Ireland and where they emigrated to in the US, what year. They told Man 1 where his family was from, when they'd emigrated. Man 3 told Man 1 the Saint Paul parish in which he (Man 1) had worked for a time as a priest.

Then Man 3 went away and Man 1 began to cry into his hands. "Please tell me, please tell me," he was saying.

"Now you've got to stop that," Man 2 said. "You just need to sleep."

"Please tell me, please," he said.

"You've lived well," Man 2 said. "Just go home and sleep it off."

Man 1 folded into his hands again.

Soon enough, the bartender got into it. He demanded the ex-priest drink some coffee to sober up or accept a ride home from him. When the ex-priest went to talk to Man 2 again, the bartender got loud. "He doesn't want to fucking talk to you anymore, Jim! You've got to sober up and get the hell out!" When the man gave resistance, the bartender said he was two seconds from taking him straight to detox. "You want that? You want that today? Finally?" But the priest calmed down.

Finally, he left. The bartender followed him out and across the street. When the bartender returned, he started to tell those of us who had witnessed this a little about the former priest. The man lived just a few blocks away. The bartender knew the route he always walked home. He knew what the other bartenders in the neighborhood knew about the priest's drinking habits. He told us how many drinks (two) it took before the priest fell apart each time.

Man 3 and Man 2 took seats next to one another again. "He's some sort of defrocked priest," Man 3 said. After a moment he added, "I don't know what he did."
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