Thursday, March 18, 2010

New York City Living: With the Luck of the Irish

This was written on Saint Patrick's Day morning:
Foto by tgw, New York City, 2005
Saint Patrick Rid Erin of Snakes. His Faithful Followers, However, Were a Total Failure at Ridding New York City of Snakes. Bealtaine bhfuil tú gach luck na Gaeilge. Tá gloine de Óir Jameson's a thabhairt duit go léir.
Ah the Gaeilge are parading up Fifth Avenue--gayless this year I assume, though with a billionaire Jewish mayor in office you don't hear much pre-parade rumors anymore about St. Patrick's Day Parade squabbles, like are the Irish Gays and Lesbians going to be allowed to march?...or are the Irish Honoraries going to pick an old IRA terrorist as the parade's marshal this year...or an American-Irish teabagger?...or will there be a contingent of child-molesting Irish Catholic priests in this year's march?

Two thing's I won't be doin' t'day are, and these are for sure they are: first of all, I won't be attendin' the parade nor will I be watchin' it on the telly...and another thing's for sure, I won't be settin' foot within a mile of my favorite Irish Pub--though I could probably sneak into the dining room and hang with the staff while the rest of the joint was getting sloppy drunk, but, no, not even that. Hell, it's not that I couldn't mind be'n handlin' a couple'a shots of Jameson's Gold...or even a 12-year-old Jameson's, mind you. I'm not picky when it comes to Jameson's Irish whiskey. Why I even like the 5-year-old.

I'm a excommunicated Scotsman because I'm an Irish whiskey drinker and not drinkin' the blood of Jesus Christ himself they bottle in Scotland as Scotch whiskey. I hear me elders railing at me with so many brrrrrrrrs in their voices you have to listen carefully to understand them (i.e. Groundskeeper Willie on "The Simpsons"): "I suppose ye dunno eat haggis either, yew traitor to yeer klan...nor do yew put on the kilts, I assume, yew disgrace to the tartan of yeer father, a proud Campbell he were now spinnin' with disgrace in his grave."

My apologies to my Scottish forebears. In the defense of my Scottish side of my mixed-up family, I have drank myself stupid on Scotch before. Plus, I dated a young woman back in Dallas who drank a fifth of Teachers every day of her young life. Because of her addiction to Scotch at such a young age, she passed out every night after we made love--stone passed out--like a light--in another world. Thus she caused me to abandon her for her roommate, who became my first wife. What that relationship to Scotch whiskey has to do with my dishonoring my Scotch ancestry I can't tell you--I simply in a extemporaneous way thought of it while writing on this and thought I'd throw it in to add a little spice to the brew. It also gives me a chance to maybe bring it up again at a later date and expand on it.

Hell, I just got hit with another Scotch-drinkin'-woman story, again from my Dallas days.

I knew this woman, not a lover but a coworker--too old for me then--besides I suspected my girlfriend at the time was having a Lesbian affair with her--anyway, the first time they assigned me a case with this woman, she started calling me after work, after dinner, to talk about the case we were working on or to gossip about a rumor flying around the office, whatever. The first time she called me, we were talking along at a rapid clip when suddenly it seemed like the phone went dead. I clearly remember my reaction: I hollered into the phone...and nothing came back but silence. I hung up. I went off. Got a beer. Made a sandwich. Then decided to call my babe--yes, the girl I thought was having a Lesbian affair with this telephoning coworker. I picked up the phone and, damn, the line was still dead...there was no dial tone. I punched the god-damn phone buttons like hell trying to get a dial tone. Nothing. "Hello!" I hollered into the phone. Nothing. "Hey, is someone on the line? HEY! HELLO!" Nothing.

I cursed like a pissed-off sailor. I stomped the floor like a maddened woman. I picked up the phone several times but each time there was no dial tone. Finally, in angry desperation, I tried one more--again no dial tone--EXCEPT this time I stayed on the line long enough to think that I faintly heard something back in the deep distance of that what I thought was a dead phone line. Out of curiosity, I pressed the receiver hard against my ear. I listened with intent. It was breathing I was hearing. Yes, someone or something breathing. I could barely hear it but what I heard I knew was breathing.

It was HER. That drunken broad! Yes, it was this coworker. She had passed out while talking to me. I told my girlfriend about it and she said, "Get used to that. Frankie has a drinking problem. She sips on this cheap Scotch every night after she gets home from work...otherwise she can't sleep. So, yes, she does pass out on the phone a lot. She once fell asleep talking to me and when I woke up the next morning she was still on the line."

Believe it or not, it got so bad, I finally changed my phone number--though I also did that,too, because I broke up with the girlfriend who I thought was having the Lesbian affair with Frankie--and, oh, by the way, I did it, too, because I got married...and moved with my new wife to New Orleans. In New Orleans, like a good Scotsman, I drank Presbyterians--that is until one night drunk in the Vieux Carre, I discovered Planter's Punches, what they called Hurricanes in New Orleans.

The irony of the above Dallas lush-girl stories--those unrelated to my being excommunicated from the Scottish honor rolls for drinkin' Irish whiskey in a public place and claimin' to be a Scotsman at the same time--while all these Scotch-drinking women were cruising through my life, I was drinking CC and 7s: Holy Loch Ness Monster, a bloody Canadian whiskey, eh! Holy Jesus, do you know where I can find some haggis around here?

My mother's brother, my Uncle Uncle, while with the US Navy in WWI, while docked in the Port of Glasgow, had jumped ship and gotten lost in Glasgow because he said while sailing into Glasgow harbor and looking out over the Scottish landscape...especially at the distant mountains...he knew what he was looking at was HOME. He lived in Glasgow until his money ran out, then he turned himself into the US Navy and they shipped him home and gave him an honorable discharge--we weren't at war and so a sailor jumped ship to live in Glasgow a few weeks--"He was probably drunk out of his mind with some Scots whore...boys will be boys, you know." Uncle Uncle used to tell the story that he met this Scotsman in a bar and they went on a tear--a rip-it-up--and ended up in this dude's Glasgow tenement room--broke and with nothing to drink but milk. Uncle Uncle said the Scotsman said, "Wood'ya be likin' to try what we wee Scots call a poor's man's whiskey?" Uncle Uncle said he'd try anything as long as it got him drunk. The Scotsman pour a glass full of milk and then took it over to a gas jet, turned on the gas, and then held the glass of milk up to the gas jet. He handed it to my uncle and said, "There yew go, drink it down as fast as yew kin." My uncle said his head felt like a it had been hit with a brick. He said he had a roaring headache all that night and half the next day with the Scotsman claiming all along that all he needed to repair himself was a little hair of that gas-jet dog that bit him.

I started drinking Irish whiskey back in the late 70s when I was an everyday-everyhour patron at the bar of a downtown Manhattan establishment called the Ear Inn, which is still in business today.
The bar at the Ear Inn: The bar's the same (that bar was the bar when the Ear was the Green Door); the stools look the same; the Three Penny Opera poster hung somewhere else; the painting or whatever that is in the upper left is new to me--looks tacky--there used to be an old Ford Woody station wagon beer placard in there somewhere--my seat for many years was down at the left far end of the bar, just barely showing in the photo--back in the corner just diagonally across from that glass of red plastic stirrers there on the bar.
The day the Ear Inn opened I was there. It was at a point in my life in New York City where I was once again just out of a divorce and on my own, deciding to try a totally improvisational way of living. For the first time in 10 years I was free as a Bird solo. I was making $500-a-week easy as a copyeditor and I had just moved into a brand new loft--a converted butter and egg dealer's old 5-story building with great old plate glass windows from wall-to-wall and ceiling to ceiling in every loft and a grand old iron fire escape running from just above sidewalk level all the way up to the top loft on the 5th floor. Plus, soon I learned the building's owner had converted our roof into a field of marijuana plants--planted in old olive barrels he got from a wholesale olive dealer over in SoHo. This was before the "fashionably nouveau riche" discovered SoHo loft living and decided what a fabby high-society street West Broadway could become--Victoria's Secret started on West Broadway--the streets then lined with beautiful 19th-Century cast-iron fronted factory buildings, with loading platforms out in front--why the sidewalks in Soho used to be so wide--with wholesale food people all over the area, too, a big fruits and vegetables wholesaler right up Spring Street from us, a big cheese wholesaler over on Greene Street where you could go and find old cheeses they'd put out in the garbage a certain night of the week--sometimes whole wheels of cheese, which we'd take back to the Ear and clean the mold off of them and then slice 'em up into wedges--perfectly good cheese.

Most of New York City's printing plants were in this area, too--this was a time when you could get a job so easily in Manhattan, especially for the kind of editing and proofreading work I was qualified to do. All the printers used what were called VIP proofreaders (Very Important Proofreaders) who supposedly had to know printing terms and measurements and agates and picas and column inches and banner positioning and font sizes and the different font styles--all graphic arts were done by hand then--cut and pasted up dummies that were then sent to the printer by a bicycle messenger where it was reproduced on a 4-color press--nothing computerized yet--though by '82 IBM was putting out the first PC capable of desktop publishing running on the original DOS operating system--the one Bill Gates stole from the small Seattle firm he was able to buy for chicken feed.

Due to the nature of the work in this particular downtown area, there were tons of workingclass bars--like those printers were big drinkers and they had their bars over on Hudson Street or Varick Street--in fact, there were workingclass bars on every corner and in the middle of the blocks all around that area. The Seaman's Union Hall was on Hudson and Spring and there were bars around the Seaman's Hall that catered to the heavy drinking seamen and dock workers and divers and tugboat crews that started drinking at six o'clock every morning when all the bars in that area opened, including the Ear Inn, which had replaced one of those tough seaman bars, the Green Door, but was anything but a workingman's bar. The workingmen thought of the Ear as a Hippy bar or a Faggot bar--a lot of gay truckers (and there are a lot of gay truckers, folks) used to come in the Ear thinking it was a gay pick up bar. It was an artsy-fartsy-plus bar--the only workingclass you found in the Ear was usually the out-of-work class--artists, musicians, poets, sculptors, performance artists--the wackiest of the avant-garde of the time--the wacky ones going in far afield cultural directions from the mainstream, from a gang of minimalist leftovers to a bunch of Columbia School of Music rejects to a little gaggle of white blues musicians and our coexisting rock and roll neighbors and booze guzzlers. All kinds of drugs flowed freely throughout that wonderful old neighborhood we entitled BLOHO--little packets of Mexican horse; tons of Yippy-delivered varieties of pot; tinfoils of rock cocaine; bottles of hash oil; and one night, one glorious wonderful night, a guy we called a name similar to Ivan the Terrible brought in a bag of schrooms and a bag of LSD tabs into the Ear and passed 'em all around--especially to a bunch of German performance artists who were upstairs over the Ear bar celebrating the success of a performance piece by their hero--I can't remember his name now, but I remember him and his group. He had just crucified a lamb at sunset or some such shit on one of the Hudson piers, this when those old saggy piers were still all along where the Chelsea Pier area is now. What a night! Oh what a night! I'm sure nothing like that goes on in the Ear now--it's a respectable joint now--high-priced high-art food and patrons who are having no money problems at all at the moment. [I have not been in the Ear for several years--the last time with an old Ear pal who lives in Seattle now. We were so disappointed, we swore we'd never set foot in this Ear Inn again--and we haven't.]

When I first started attending services at the Ear Inn bar, the bartender was an American Irishman from the potato fields of Long Island--back when it had potato fields. He and I immediately hit it off--our attitudes were the same--"Live and Let Live"--let me do my thing and you do yours and we'll live happily 'til we die. Since I was the first one in the door at 6 every morning and the last one to leave the bar at 4 the next morning (two hours sleep, do you believe it?), this guy and I became fixtures in the Ear. After he got off his shift at the bar, he'd come around on the other side over by me and he'd drink the rest of the day and into the night with me. We both at that time were heavy into Bass Ale--and the Ear had in on tap, so that's mostly what I drank--no hard liquor, or if I drank the hard stuff it was Hennessey or a Cuba Libre con Castro. I liked rum, but rum made a madman out of me. It was rum that brought out the wolf in me the first time. Rum not only made me look like the Wolf Man, it made me run out in the middle of the street and start yowling at the moon, whether there was a moon visible or not or whether if it were visible it was full or not. Rum turned me into the Howlin' Wolf--"If you hear me howlin', howlin' for my darlin'/Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh...ohhhhhhhhhh...a oooooooey!" And the Howlin' Wolf was still in vogue in those days and my friend the Brooklyn guitarist with whom I formed my first New York City band, the Fabulous Swilltones, had the Ear boss man put a Howlin' Wolf record on his old Rockola juke box and it stayed on there until the Mafia made him get rid of it because they controlled the kind of juke box you had in your bar in those days--and the Mafia replaced the Ear's old Rockola with a big very tacky Seeburg stereo set up that played whole albums--shitty music, but you couldn't argue with the Mafia--you could request certain albums be put on there but you still got a lot of Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valli and the Beatles and the Rolling Stoneds and Johnny Mathis--pop shit. The Mafia also controlled cigarette machines and video games in bars in those days, too--both soon to grace the otherwise bohemian Ear.

So one day my Irish bartender friend (he was actually a first-class leathercrafter--he made cool horsehide brief cases and he made me a very nice horsehide barrel-shaped shoulder bag--all of which were in high fashion) said, "Hey, Wolfie, you ever had a Depth Charge?" "Well, I know what you mean, but, no, I can't remember ever having one." He called the bartender over and ordered two Depth Charges--"What kind'a whiskey you want?" My Irish friend said, "Give us shots of Murphy's." And that Depth Charge was my first-ever shot of Irish whiskey--dropped into my pint of Bass Ale and slugged down--watch out, don't swallow the shot glass--at one time they were called ponies--"Give me a pony of Irish, please."

After that one drink of Murphy's, my Irish friend and I made Murphy's the official Ear Inn bar whiskey--and soon all our crowd was swilling Murphy's by the case--the swilling of Murphy's one afternoon in the Ear being the source of the name for the Fabulous Swilltones. And Murphy's Irish Whiskey became the best-selling whiskey in the Ear Inn until one day Murphy's Irish Whiskey was no more.

for The Irish Daily Growler


Marybeth said...

Oh yes, the Ear Inn. Nice photog. Spring Street in the seventies. I was there too. And how did we never meet? I stuck my head into the Ear when I was in NYC in June and Michael Jackson's music was blasting through the air everywhere. That part of the world is almost unrecognizable. It exists only in my memory and yours, and the other people who knew it then. There's a big glass monstrosity slammed up against that little building now. It's horrible.

I avoided all the Irish pubs yesterday, too, and I'm a former competitive Irish step dancer and all that shit. My circle calls "depth charges" "Irish car bombs". I think they're the same drink. I could be wrong there. I think these boys here drop shots into pints of Guiness. Gets you similarly fucked.

Now as far as St. Pat ridding Ireland of snakes, I don't think there were any snakes in Ireland to begin with. Ahhh...

One of my Irish chums from NYC once sent me a letter with a hand decorated envelope showing snakes carrying picket signs declaring "Bible Unfair to Snakes". Lots of Irish don't think the coming of Catholicism to Ireland was such a good thing.

Marybeth said...

I left out a detail there. With St. Pat at the top of the envelope in a commanding stance, arm out-stretched, finger pointing towards the sea, ordering the snakes "out!" And cute snakes at the bottom of the envelope protesting "Genesis Unfair to Snakes", which indeed it is.