We were up in The Bronx, just off Bainbridge Ave, we’d gone to see a play, The Country Boy, crowd of us from Queens, two cars full. It was a bitterly cold night, wind chills in the minus numbers, with a real feel factor of ‘fucking cold.’ Bainbridge was great back then, chock full of Irish bars, The Roaring 20s, or De Niro’s as we called it on account of one of the barmen bearing a passing resemblance to the great actor; The Villager that never seemed to close and only really got going after 4.a.m.; Fiona’s just off the Ave, where they gave me pints of water and told me to drink it upside down, to cure my hiccups then filled me full of Jamies; The Blackthorn, home of The Monday Club – you all know what a Monday Club is, I’m sure?; and The Innisfree where the Guinness was real good.
We’d had a few in Queens before heading over, a great mix of young and old, native and immigrant, drinker and, nah, we were all drinkers. It was a wild time. We came out of the last bar and made our way to the Arts Center where, as they loved to remind you, ‘You really are off Broadway.’ Off Broadway was good, the plays there were great and on more than one occasion they’d held up the start of a performance after actively encouraging the audience to go get a few pints to carry them through to the intermission. It was theater how I thought theater should be. Tony, a house painter, hardline socialist, Dub, heavy drinker and hopeless romantic had told me before of impromptu theater in the bars back in Ireland and I used to think that was real theater, that was how it should be, take your story to the people. The arts should not be the preserve of the well off. Tony was a good guy. I liked him a lot. He had charisma. We walked past the homeless guys sat on the corner smoking and huddled under blankets. Jesus homeless in New York and you choose to sleep in The Bronx? I looked around and Tony had gone. I asked his wife and my girlfriend, who were walking behind, if they’d seen him. Behind them he reappeared clutching a case of beer which he gave to the guys on the street.
His pace quickened and he was soon beside me again. I’m ashamed to say, the look on my face obviously required an explanation.
‘Jesus Johnny lad, we’d surely need something to help us through the night if that were us sleeping there.’
None judgmental compassion.