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Patrick Fenton

Farrell's Bar & Grill, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

Almost Home

The only sign of life out there in Jersey land was the well-lit rest stops named after dead poets that would occasionally flash by. As she drove through the darkness and loneliness of the Jersey Turnpike she started to think again of the Brooklyn boys she grew up with in the 50‘s. How many were even still living? Were they happy with their lives? What ever happened to them? Irish boys, the lot of them. First generation. Some of them tough as nails. Some of them mysteriously hearing “the calling” to become Catholic priests.

She often wondered what happened to Billy Coffey. At 16, he dropped out of Manual Training High School in South Brooklyn, and hung out for a while with members of one of the local street gangs, “The Jokers.” One night he even went to a gang fight with them in the Long Meadow over in Prospect Park. But there was another side of him that attracted her to him, a sensitive side. He wanted to be a writer.

Janice Joyce was three years older than him. She thought about how she used to drive him around Windsor Terrace in an old Ford she had. She was a little wild back then, punched holes in the muffler with an ice pick so people would hear her coming. He was just 17, and running around with a fake draft card. He always had a paperback book in his back pocket, Jack Kerouac, “The Dharma Bums.”

There was something shy about him, but she remembered the night the two of them drank some beers in the back room of Val’s Bar on Prospect Avenue. They sat in one of the red leather booths, talking over a pitcher of Rheingold Beer while slow songs like “Dream” played over and over again on the Wurlitzer and cigarette smoke filled the air. The two of them slow danced to it. And later on, they walked over to Prospect Park and climbed the long rows of steps to the top of Lookout Mountain where you could look down on Windsor Terrace. And she thought again, about how he wasn’t shy when he kissed her. He rolled down the hood from her parka and held her face in his hands, and he whispered he loved her.

She started to think of titles of some of the books he had read and tried to get her to read. Then she started to say them aloud. It was a way of staying alert as snow flakes whipped across the windshield and melted into the darkness of the turnpike, leaving a boring calm over her eyes. “A Stone For Danny Fisher,” The Dharma Bums,” “Marjorie Morningstar,” “The Amboy Dukes,” “Nine Stories“ by J.D. Salinger, “You Cant Go Home Again” by Thomas Wolfe, “Battle Cry” by Leon Uris, “From Here to Eternity” and “Some Came Running” by James Jones.

He read this mixture of dime store paperback novels that were part classic, part pulp fiction. And it educated him. He never bothered to further his education past a GED. But there was something special about him when he talked. He had a way of looking at things differently. He once told her “somebody with a good writer’s eye has the ability to slow down the ordinary things happening around them so that they could record them. It‘s the ordinary things that count,” he said.

Tonight she was coming over from Jersey to try to find out what happened to him, a failed marriage to a retired NYPD narcotics cop behind her. Before that, she married an Air Force Major and moved to Rantoul, Illinois. That didn’t work out either. Just thinking of it again made her say aloud, “fuck Rantoul, fuck him.” She hated that one so much she couldn’t even utter his name. They were married three weeks when she shoved a cake in his face and walked out.

She had heard that Billy was divorced, and that he was living alone. He became a cop. Her cousin Ursula who worked as a ticket taker in the Pavilion Movie Theater on Bartel Pritchard Square told her this. Ursula never married, and had spent her whole life working at the same theatre since it was called “The Sanders.” That was back in the days when they used to have matrons patrolling the aisles. Ursula did that for a while and she hated it. Then after she died, Janice never heard anything else about him. Occasionally she would see his by line in the Daily News, feature stuff about bars and neighborhoods, about ordinary people. She was glad that he got to write. She thought of writing to him at the Daily News often. But she never did.

There was only one Irish bar left in their old neighborhood now, Farrell’s Bar on the corner of 16th Street , and it served as a sort of information center for anyone who was born and raised there. Ursula had told her that she heard that he lived somewhere out on Long Island, but he still came back to Windsor Terrace. She had seen him many times walking down 9th Avenue, a small pad in his hands.

Someone in Farrell’s might know how to get in touch with him, she thought. They might know where he was living now. Two hours off the Jersey Turnpike, she pulled her car up in front of the bar. She had heard that the yuppies who had moved into this area in droves, spilling over from more expensive Park Slope which bordered it, called the avenue by its official name, “Prospect Park West,” but to the locals that remained it would always be called “9th Avenue“, or “the Avenue.”

They called it “The Hill“because it stood on the highest point of Brooklyn. In the 40‘s, Irish came from counties all over Ireland as word spread back home that Windsor Terrace, with its Catholic Church and school, Holy Name, that took up an entire city block, was a welcome place for Irish immigrants. But for the past few decades, the yuppies had put their own claim on the neighborhood.

From the street, she could see that the bar looked empty. For a moment, she wondered if she should walk in there. Something told her not to. She brushed some snow off her jacket, and went in anyway. She was coming home.

Inside, there was no one there except the bartender. She walked toward the middle of the bar, stopped, put a twenty-dollar bill up and looked around. Christ, what memories lay here. She was here as a young girl, hardly eight years old. She could see herself walking through the back door, the “family entrance “for the women who lived in the neighborhood in the 50’s. Women were not aloud to stand at the bar until sometime much later.

Her mother would have her help her pull this shopping cart with wheels on it through the back door after wheeling it all the way up from an A an P store on Prospect Avenue. And she would order a glass of beer for herself, and a glass of coca cola for her daughter. Then she would hand the bartender a handful of quarters and ask him to play some Irish music on the jukebox for her. “Ah, you are a grand man, Dan” she would say as the music came on. When she was 12, Janice stepped danced here once on Saint Patrick’s Day.

The bartender, a middle-aged guy with closely cropped hair, watched her as she settled down. She ordered a shot of scotch, and a small glass of Budweiser on the side. The bar looked like it was caught in a time warp. They still had no stools here. She once heard it was because the owners felt that if you couldn’t stand up you had too much to drink.

“Where is everybody?” she said. “It’s the weather, “he answered in a bored voice that told you he wished he
was somewhere else tonight. “For a minute I thought you were closing up.”“I was thinking of it, but you can stay.” He looked up at the clock on the wall. “I’ll probably be here at least another half hour.”

Up towards the front of the bar a large television is playing an old James Cagney movie on Turner Classic Movies. He doesn’t seem to really be watching it. James Cagney’s voice from television as character Rocky Sullivan: "Now I know you're a smart lawyer, Frazier, very smart - but don't get smart with me. See….”

“You mind if I play the juke box?” He shrugs his shoulders and turns off the sound on the television.

She plays a row of Black 47 songs.

“Hear your old grandmother
Recite her immigrant prayer…”

He puts the drinks down, and returns with her change.
“You get a lot of people coming in here that used to live here?” she asks.

He stares at her.“I mean people who lived in the neighborhood and come back. Do you get much of that?”

He shifts his weight around. He’s a big Irishman, has this white apron wrapped around his middle. He’s fielding the question now. You can see that in his eyes. It’s the way he tightens up the lids and stares. It’s like he’s watching the question drop out of the sky like a fly ball. Gives you the feeling that he’s not too sure he wants to answer your question because it might lead to another one. He’s probably a cop or a firefighter, she thinks.

“Yeah. Sometimes. You know how it is. Some people like to visit their old neighborhoods. I suppose. Me, I just want to retire, move the hell out of here. Go over to Jersey, maybe Staten Island. Let the goddamn yuppies turn out the lights when their through screwing this place up.” He walks away and heads down to the end of the bar, and pours himself a glass of club soda from a tap under the bar.

The jukebox plays more Black 47 with Larry Kirwan:
“But hold on, darlin, this time tomorrow
You'll be over the worst
Brooklyn girls just break your heart…”

He puts his apron-covered knee up on the sink well and cups his chin as he stares down at her.


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