Doug couldn’t keep from wobbling no matter how hard he tried. Stiffening his muscles or relaxing them produced the same result on his attempts to normalize his walking, in fact he resembled a small sailboat caught in variable seas with a strong starboard wind across its bow. His shoulder bag disconcertingly added to his stress upsetting his balance. The wide berth he noticed that other pedestrians were giving him as he navigated westward across Broadway and towards 6th Avenue, served as further proof of this affliction. This predicament he found vexing as the day had been lovely and he had felt good being in it.
One pint too many, or maybe the addition of the several Irish whiskeys to the pints poured him by the affable Dublin refugee barman (aka “drink-serving terrorist”) that were stood him in appreciation of Doug’s long time custom (aka “fishing for larger gratuity”) and grateful for the company of Doug and his pals on a slow Saturday afternoon. Doug and his chums were all members in good standing of the Empty Leg Association, and fully paid up. After all, Doug had not been back to his old neighborhood in quite a while and though the plan had been to rendezvous at O’Faolain’s with the fellas and then to repair elsewhere to have an adult lunch over which much shit would be shot, and heading homewards in the early evening sporting a pleasant, civilized, buzz. The rendezvous was successfully and punctually made but the action plan stalled there.
That original plan died pretty early in the afternoon and at a half-past three pm David (aka "the Englishman"), was the first to fall by the wayside blaming his early exit from the festivities at O'Faolains on the weekend train schedules (and his not seeing any solid sustenance on the horizon) up to Westchester where he was visiting with the in-laws. I stepped outside to see him off and watched him careen his way up the street to the corner of Lafayette and hail a yellow cab heading uptown to Grand Central.
Jumbo (bless his poor sainted mother) was so-named by Doug for the size of his planetoid-girthed noggin, and next to him at the bar Ian MacLeod (aka Mac, or Piss-Face or “MacLoud” no one ever called him Ian) also possessed of a sizeable bonce - the terror of many a woolen pull-over. Both were made of sterner stuff (aka alcoholic tendencies) and with D’Artagnan gone, the three remaining Musketeers turned again united in purpose(“All for one!”), towards the rail. After a few pulls at our jars, Mac and Doug took one of the many regular and mandatory trips out to the sidewalk to indulge their nicotine habit.
Mac fired up a Winston with his Ronson and commented on David’s recent departure, noting “He can’t put them down like he used to, can he?”
Doug grunted a laugh in agreement, drawing flame to his Marlboro from the proffered lighter. “Well, Mac… he’s married, and trying to stay that way, certainly it’s not been so long that you’ve forgotten?” Mac produced a brittle laugh in response.
The foot traffic was constant in both directions, it being Saturday and we being in what’s now called (so-named by real estate weasels) the “East Village”. The demographics and appearance of the people passing in what was the Lower East Side had certainly changed since the years Doug had lived only a few short blocks away from where they stood returning to this place from Eire (yes, brilliant, right - he leaves NY and goes not to London, but Ireland whrre everyone he met asked him “What the feck are you doing here man?”) where he had tried to crack the music business in Dublin and Belfast and spent most of his time eking a living writing pop music criticism for pennies, tending bars but mostly drinking at them. Doug’s own long-suffering patient wife had made the journey over and back with him all the while retaining her patient, pleasant demeanour and her affection for Doug in spite of his several, erm, imperfections, let’s call them. True to Doug’s uncanny sense of (bad) timing, Dublin was swinging and the Republic of Ireland were now booming, money was flowing like the Guinness at Hogans or Bruxelles and the rest of the world now paid Ireland attention it had never received before. So of course, where was himself now but back in the Big Apple, which had turned sterile and become yupped-out and expensive all the way from the Spuyten Duyvil down to Battery Park, and from Hell’s Kitchen to Loisaida. “Home sweet home -the bollix”, thought Doug.
Here I will pause for a comment on Guinness Stout. Those who hate it I can never hope to convince of its merit. Those who like it but who have never drunk it in an establishment that takes the dispensing of this delightful beverage seriously, have an epiphany in store for them. A proper pint is poured by a professional barman with care into an immaculately clean glass which must be shaped a certain way, or else the result for me is sullied. It cannot be ice cold as would a lager be stored but neither is warm Guinness desirable. When you order a proper pint of stout(the mother’s milk, motor oil, porter, black gold, etc.) the first taste is so delicious and physically pleasant it takes great willpower not to pour back the entire glass in one go. The texture is delightful, the flavour at once slightly bitter, yet slightly sweet, creamy, cool and calming. My suggestion to those in the rural or suburban USA who think they like Guinness to go to New York for a weekend check into a hotel and visit as many Irish-owned bars as you can. This will be your schooling and if you like it still and desire more, go home and plan your trip to Ireland. The Guinness in London is pish, unless you find a place like the Finsbury Park Tavern that serves Dublin Guinness and not the inferior English stuff. The perfect accompaniment for Guinness they say is oysters but I believe it is whiskey but gentle reader, that is a story for another day.
Jumbo joined them outside as they stood and smoked looking across at the few remaining brownstones and tenements on the north side of the block. Jumbo hated cigarettes but enjoyed a different type of smoke inhaling quickly one deep draught then bashing his lit number against the tenement wall and turning back into the bar followed closely by the other two.
The fresh pint of porter stood waiting for Doug and Jumbo’s Bass Ale and Mac’s screwdriver had both been refreshed. Behind their glasses stood three empty shot glasses and the barman grinned his evil little grin at them from the other end of the long bar as Doug (keeping his eyes fixed on the amiably malevolent, ginger-headed, pint puller) toasted his pals’ health and prosperity again and it was somewhere about this time he lost track of the time and the running count of the drinks he’d had, losing himself willingly in the pleasure of the good company that he had often missed when away from the place.
Mac related to them tales of his ex-wife who had mentally gone off the rails in a spectacular fashion in spite of his best efforts to help her and which he continued even after they had separated and by contrast Jumbo only recently married to a woman with no misconceptions, mentioned his wife not at all, but as ever was keen to tell us about some book by minor talents like Banks or T.C. Boil he’d found at the Strand or at Shakespeare & Co. hailing it as “Groundbreaking!” or “Evocative” or “Seminal!” or some other overwrought adjective he liked to apply to books he enjoyed especially if they were by William Butler Yeats his idol and literary inspiration. Mac who followed recent fiction as well as possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of music of many genres and eras would say he too had read it and usually politely deem it “All right, I guess” and switch the topic to something he found particularly stimulating.
Doug too loved books of fiction but had a peculiar bent that he always felt he had missed too many great works from the past and was therefore un-interested in modern or current fiction. He would read non-fiction and recent history but music for him had halted when the Pogues split again preferring to investigate rhythm and blues, jazz, country and western ever more deeply.
Darkness began to descend on the late summer Manhattan streets and the three stalwarts settled up their tab tipping the beverage banshee at a rate of about 60% of the total bill for being so free with his boss’ liquor. They turned left out the door following the path David had blazed some hours earlier. At Lafayette Greg bade the others farewell and headed south to catch the F train to Brooklyn and some bars nearer his flat as Doug headed west walking quickly and waving to Jumbo as he grabbed a cab uptown.
After a trek which felt like he had done the Rongai route up to the summit of Kilimanjaro but in fact encompassed only 2 avenues and 5 streets of the Manhattan grid on a pleasant late evening, Doug spied salvation in the form of the entrance to the PATH train and the promise of transport home.
The PATH train to Hoboken ratcheted into the sweltering station and Doug increased the pace of his weaving to get as far forward in the train as he could.