Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tony - father and career alcoholic in a Manhattan bar

Also, global warming and how to look young

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday 29th April, 2008. "That's Men - The best of the 'That's Men' column from The IrishTimes" is published by Veritas.

“I am a career alcoholic,“ Tony declared.

I had ducked – alright, walked deliberately – into an Irish bar near the Ground Zero site in Manhattan to escape from the rain and a cold wind and to have a drink while I was at it.

Tony materialised beside me with a bottle of Bud in his hand and a smile on his face. He was dancing lightly to the music and he continued to dance in place as he talked.

He established my name and country of origin, introduced himself – he had what I take to be, in my ignorance, an Italian-American accent – and then made the announcement about his career as an alcoholic.

“It makes me feel good,” he declared. “What else matters?”

I agreed. He was in that state of elation which, in some people, can turn ugly in a second if you express a point of view different to theirs – especially if they have a lot of alcohol on board.

Tony was in good shape for a career alcoholic. He was fifty years old, he told me but I would have put him in his late thirties. His hair was jet black and this, he assured me, was entirely genuine and without benefit of a hair colour. He was only a little overweight and he was light on his feet. Maybe the dancing kept him fit.

It has been a while since I’d been to the barber’s and Tony spotted this. “Lose the hair,” he advised me. “It will take ten years off your age.”

He spoke very fast and with a thick sort of accent so I couldn’t figure out everything he said. For instance, I could not make sense of his explanation as to why he, personally, knows global warming is real (he had moved seamlessly from my need for a haircut to environmental issues). “See this burn mark?” he said, putting his hand to his forehead, as he explained how he knew global warming was for real. There was nothing there but I said I had seen it anyhow.

Then he moved on to his main topic for our encounter, namely his ex-wife, “the evil one”, and how she had unsuccessfully tried to get his kids to say he had molested them.

“I am telling you this because you are elder,” he said. I am definitely going to lose the hair, I told myself.

He took out his wallet and showed me photographs of his kids. All were graduation photographs, three boys and a girl, all looking happy and proud of themselves. It hurt him, he said, that their mother had tried to turn them against him.

“You’re a good listener,” he said. Not bad, I suppose, when all you’re trying to do is avoid an argument.

I was wondering how I was going to get out of the conversation and leave with politeness when two young women, maybe in their twenties, came into the bar and sat down at a table. Tony danced over to them and started to chat them up. The young women laughed it off but Tony’s attention had definitely turned in their direction.

I said goodbye and left.

It struck me that Tony seemed to have the ability to create company for himself. He was a man whose whole life was a performance for an immediate audience. Well, whose isn’t – what I mean is that Tony’s one-man show is more direct and up-front than most of us manage. Clearly, from what he told me about his wife, not everybody in his audience is a fan.

Then I remembered last Christmas Day when my wife and I went to a bar on Second Avenue for a drink in the evening. This was an Irish bar too, and their prices certainly lived up to the name. But the other Irish thing about it was the number of men who sat up at the counter, alone, drinking, talking to nobody. It was a somewhat depressing sight for Christmas Day.

They could have done with Tony in there to brighten up their evening. I expect he is still dancing in the bar in Manhattan, chatting women up, explaining global warming and showing pictures of his kids to other customers. Good luck to him. I hope the career works out.

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