Some vignettes you never forget. A snapshot of something that captures an occurrence in sync with your good antennae. No particular reason. It just clicked and you remember it. Such an occasion was my very first visit to the Bell-In-Hand pub and the nature of the relationships subsequently formed. It was adjacent to the building which housed my job from hell. I was in the weeds, walking with my head down, ignorant of the interior of the place except for its allegedly possessing the longest bar in town. Accordingly, I was ready to love it at first sight.
One morning, 11 a.m., I could stand it no more. Files were spread on my desk to feign activity. Specifically, however, my thoughts were on the thickness of my window, a fact quite relevant when analyzing, and indeed contemplating, the feasibility of hurtling through the damn thing. I was familiar with jumping, as in out of my skin. My Boss was out, making an unnoticed exit obsessively attractive. Frig it. I needed a drink.
I dashed into the elevator and was bolstered by a non-stop plummet to the street. A direct left turn and there I was, staring at the door of one of the most fabled watering holes in Boston. I entered and was awestruck by the size of the bar. My drinker's eye immediately appreciated the aura of invisibility which was ready to engulf anyone who chose to habituate the far end of this oasis. The architect had definitely been an alky (remain on board, that word is my creation) who had devised a way to protect the shores of his brilliance from even the initial stages of booze erosion.
The early hour, notwithstanding, there were about a dozen guys imbibing and I took their measure. They were nattily dressed, no skid row guys, these, and obviously knew each other well, such was the tone of conversation. Within five seconds of my assuming a drinking position, they went silent---not a word. A stranger was in their midst. The bartender, Tommy Reilly, slowly sauntered to where I stood and addressed the outsider.
"What'll it be?"
"Double vodka, straight up, beer chaser."
Absolutely, no reaction. I wasn't playing to impress, this is what I felt like at the time. I thought I picked up a slight stiffening of Tommy's posture, but I couldn't be sure. This was no rookie, he'd been around awhile. He poured the drinks and placed the two glasses before me. I had put a fiver on the bar. I lifted the vodka to my lips and tossed it down, immediately repeating the maneuver with the half-glass of beer. Total swallowing time did not exceed thirty seconds. I turned on my heels and walked out.
I have since been told that the regulars exchanged looks of bewildered favorable impression and simultaneously asked, "Who the hell was that?" In the absence of premeditation, I had passed the test of initiation and, after a few more visits, was accepted as one with whom you could talk. Each one had his own story and shared a common denominator: they were good guys who enjoyed the sauce and each other's company. The group had been created by a positive force of nature. Some were family men, some weren't. They were good people who had come together, perhaps by fate, at this particular bar which became their meeting site. There was definitely a little magic going on. Allow me to tell a tale which examples it all.
I had long since established my bonafides. It was the end of a winter work day and it began snowing like hell. I had made arrangements with my daughter, who had gone to a downtown movie that afternoon, to meet me at 5:30 in front of my office building. By 6 pm, it was zero visibility because of the storm, and she still hadn't shown up. I called the theatre to see if she was waiting for me there, but nothin' doin'. I had been at the bar since 5 pm and in the following hour had explained to the guys the reason for my angst. Now, it had come to resemble a blizzard. Suddenly, one of the men yelled' "The hell with it! Let's go! We'll retrace the steps between here and the movie place!" And without even thinking about putting on his coat, he ran out the door, followed by the rest of the lads, similarly unclothed, as they all made their way, as best they could, to the theatre. As I ran with them, I took a mental snapshot of these kind-hearted men, motivated by pure goodness, sloshing their way through the snow, yelling my daughter's name. Sure enough, don't you think they found her? About halfway to the mark. She had been making her way to us and screamed with joy when they grabbed her. And them? You'd have thought they hit the lottery. Impervious to the weather, they were like miners rescuing trapped co-workers from a cave-in. They were so damned happy! Pure as the driven snow. Strangers, not so long ago.
And when good fortune came my way, having just gotten the job of a lifetime, I ran down to the bar for a celebratory drink and told Tommy the news. He just looked at me for a few seconds and then he smiled. Let me tell you something, Dear Reader: when an Irishman, with a heart of gold, smiles from his soul, turn off the lights. You don't need 'em. He brightens the sky and warms the North Pole. And when he told the others, it would have been impossible for an outsider to select which one of us was the beneficiary of great news. I lost track of how many subsequent rounds were on the house.
They've all since passed. But my memory of them is, and shall remain, clearly focused. The many laughs we shared. The good wishes for happiness that permeated the air. The outside world would become temporarily blocked out. Stress was left at the door. The bond between us was friendship. Decent, solid people. May they all rest in peace. What a group.
It has been said that to have a friend is to see the face of God. Well...................