Revere Beach, Massachusetts. A Monday afternoon, around 1 pm.
Facing the Atlantic Ocean, across the flat grey expanse of Revere Beach Boulevard, an old bar stands. Its sign reads "Shipwreck Lounge," the two words divided by a silhouette of some bygone passenger steamer, forever fixed in white plastic. The sign is dull in the sunlight, but at night it is a beacon shining out onto the boulevard when the winter winds pick up along the beach. Sand, settled for a time in the still afternoon, lies in small piles against the base of the building and in the cracks of the wide sidewalk. It spills, dotted with cigarette butts and splintered glass, through the chain-link fence surrounding the dirt parking lot next to the bar. The lot is empty, save for some leftover snow and a clean white Cadillac. A smell of saltwater and wet sand hangs in the air. The boulevard is quiet and empty; all that is heard is the low sloshing of waves and a subdued murmur coming from the bar.
Inside the Shipwreck Lounge.
The air is thick with the talk of eight or nine men, mostly past sixty years of age. Animated and uproarious, they sit around the curved mahogany bar. They wear stained shirts or sweatshirts and worn winter coats. The bar itself is immaculate, its polished lacquer reflecting the midday light, bright yet muted as it is during New England winters. The barstools are particularly arranged. Sturdy and unmoving, they support their boisterous patrons. A jukebox and blinking keno machine stand against the back wall. The wall adjacent is coated with picture after framed picture - in each stands a man with white hair, a tanned face, and a golden chain around his neck. With the same vague and fixed smile on his face, he poses with different groups of people: celebrities, famous athletes, friends and family, old Revere mafiosos.
Two men, Mikey and Al, sit at the bar facing each other. Wearing a Kelly green sweatshirt and blue jeans, Mikey clutches a Coors Light, a jovial expression on his face. With each high-pitched chortle and mouthful of beer, his ruddy complexion is made redder. Facing him on the neighboring stool, sits Al, a more reserved manner. He wears a cap and props up his bearded chin with one hand while holding the other loosely around a diet coke. They talk back and forth.
By the long windows, empty stools spanning away from him, sits the man in all the pictures—he is known only as Nino. Lifting his glass with a sunspotted hand (slowly, rhythmically), he sips a martini straight up with an olive. He reclines in the only cushioned stool, a red chair atop the same painted-black legs as the others. He is partially turned away from the men at the bar and appears to be observing the sea. Still, except for the steady lifting of his martini, he is illuminated by the window light, white hair and white tracksuit gleaming spotless in contrast with the others' coats. There’s a glint from a golden-colored chain, just visible at the back of his neck. The bar is loud, but an aura of silence surrounds Nino.
MIKEY: When I die, I want one word written on my tombstone—“colorful.” You remember that? That’s from Butch Cassidy.
AL: Oh, you’re coluhful alright. (He laughs, 3 deep chuckles.)
MIKEY: (Taking a swig from his beer)No winners here. You’re just jealous, I’ve lived a colorful life and you’re living as dull as—
AL: (With a snort to interrupt, slightly irritated.) Hah! Oh yah, you lived a real coluhful life, doin’ LSD, smokin’ pot and whatevah else. I was off servin’ this country in the United States Air Force.
MIKEY: (Voice rising. Speaking jokingly.) Do I have the floor now? Do I have the floor? You served?! If you can call gettin’ drunk in London serving this country… (Laughing, a high-pitched, quick cackle.)
AL: (Irritated.) Do you have the floor? You always have the floor! Give someone else a chance to talk. You get a few beers in yah, and you don’t shuddup! Do I have the floor now, huh?
Music becomes apparent, peeling out from the scratched Rowe Compact Disc Jukebox against the wall.
Born down in a dead man town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
'Til you spend half your life just covering up
MIKEY: (Singing along to the chorus. Swaying on his seat.) Boooorn in the U.S.A, I was boooorn in the U.S.A!
AL: As you can tell, he’s not a singer.
MIKEY: (Slightly offended, fairly tipsy.) Do I have the floor now? You can’t have the whole floor.
AL: (Mocking.) Do I have the floor now? You can’t have the whole floor. You have that stool you’re about to fall off of.
MIKEY: (Sneering. Speaking like an orator, a priest giving his sermon.) There are only two types of people in this world….the Irish (Pauses for effect. Al snorts.)…and those who wish they were. (Both laugh, Al’s contrived, Mikey’s raucous.)
Suddenly, a shrill shriek from outside the bar is heard. A tall, pale woman with red hair held high in a ponytail squeals in greeting to the female bartender as she enters. Her name is Kathleen. She walks into the bar in a flurry of shrill and honeyed words, talking at those nearest her. She is loud and magnificent, as if she’s the guest that everyone’s been waiting for—but an understated shakiness beneath her words indicates that perhaps her showiness is more of a shield. She breezes into a seat near the entrance of the bar and, plunking herself between two beer-bellied men, she barks at the bartender, not unfriendly, “Honey! The usual, please and thank you babe.” Al and Mikey, diagonal across the bar from her, look up.
KATHLEEN: (Yelling from the other side of the room.) Hey! Journalist! Get a load of this, I could tell ya some things…(Speaking in an exaggerated Boston Irish accent.) Mothah was a Catholic, Fathah was a bankrobbah, six brothahs all bankrobbahs. Blah blah blah!”
Mikey and Al look at each other, eyebrows raised. The men around the bar laugh. Nino turns his head slightly. Kathleen already has a drink in her hand - vodka with a splash of cranberry juice in a large plastic cup, no ice.
The afternoon has turned to early evening. The bar has become crowded.
Sipping her third or fourth vodka cranberry, Kathleen has moved to a stool by the corner window, away from the bar and its growing number of patrons. The wall filled with Nino's pictures looms behind her. Kathleen's thin lips are wet and her large eyes glassy above her prominent cheekbones. It’s apparent the drinks are made strong here—she slurs her words and at times moves violently, the tendons in her neck twitching involuntarily. She will rapidly flick her nose with her forefinger, a habit instilled from years of addiction. Her skin is surprisingly clear, her cheeks full. But the lines around her mouth and across her forehead, the somewhat translucent quality of her well-powdered skin, give away her age. She leans against the varnished wood of the window pane, her pale Irish face framed by tightly pulled-back red hair. She tilts her cup and spills slightly on her purple v-necked shirt. "Shit, shit, shit," she murmurs, brushing hastily at her breast. She gives up wiping her shirt and crosses her thin legs, reaching over for her drink again. As she leans over, the large, framed Frank Sinatra poster behind her, signed with silver ink by the man himself, becomes fully visible. The poster reads in large gold letters, “We’ll Make You Feel So Young.”
We, my ex-husband and I, did drugs. The drugs had taken over my life, my depression had taken over. (Eyes grow wide, a flutter of a tear just behind them. Puts her hand to her heart.) I was addicted to crack cocaine. It’s like, you get high at night, but you’re still fucking high the next day. Michael - that’s my ex-husband - had stopped getting high. And I didn’t.
I had bad demons from my childhood. My family is all bank robbers. My mother left my dad. He was a good man, but he was a bank robber. My mother packed up all seven kids and said fuck you. My father couldn’t win her back. My mother didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. But I couldn’t talk to her. Seven kids, I guess she didn’t notice…And, y’know, she had to worry about my dad being a bank robber. So my mother said fuck this - though she didn’t really swear. She would fricken die if she could see me… (Becomes upset. Tears begin to fall down her cheeks.) She packed us up, all seven kids, and said her children won’t be surrounded by this and the next day she got us a place in the projects. My mother raised us with good values…no one was on drugs but me. I was the only daughter. All brothers. I was thirteen when I started using. (Then, as if to herself) I was the only one on drugs.
(Wipes her eyes. Resuming.) My father went to jail, all my brothers went to jail. They got into murder, whether it was by accident or not. And my mother was so kind, she is to this day. She would go out on the streets and fight for every one of us. She’d knock on doors at night and say, (imitating an Irish accent) If my fuckin daughter—well, she never swore, she was so damn Catholic—if my daughter Kathleen's in here I will fuckin hurt you, I swear! (A short laugh.) I was in a track house at the time. She came down that day, I jumped out the window and she fuckin beat me to the punch. She grabbed my hair (Grabs own hair, jerking her head) and said you need help. (Starting to cry all of a sudden.) She worries about me. She’s worried about me right now…
(A deep breath.) Four years ago, I was buying coke—cocaine. So I was sitting in this bar in Somerville. It was, like, noontime, fucking noontime. I know when to put my back up, but that day, I dunno, maybe I didn’t care. But I had stolen $150 off of my ex-husband and I’m sitting there, and now I’m feeling the guilt. So I start drinking. I was waiting to buy cocaine, but there was no one in the bar. So anyway, these five men walk in and the bartender’s like, Kathleen not good, not good (Imitates the bartender shaking his head, swiping his hand back and forth across his throat.) But I was like I’m fine, I’m fine. So I looked over at the men and went like this (Flicks one nostril with her forefinger.) Like I said, I had 150 bucks I’d stole off my husband and he thinks I’m meeting the girls—or whatever lie I told him. And so 7 pm I buy it. About 9:30, this girl that I partied with, (aside) who is really no good. I definitely know she don’t give a fuck about me. Y’know she was just… (Reflects.) somebody there to party with.
So, anyway, then I open the bag of coke to snort a line and it cuts my face open right here (points at fine scars by her right nostril.) It was fuckin’ glass. So I’m spitting, spitting blood. I come out of the bathroom and two of the men were sitting there. They say, come outside, we’ll fix it. So I go outside and we walk to the corner, a cross street of Broadway in Somerville. They dragged me around the corner and there were three of them waiting for me. And they did this (Rolls up her sleeves to show long, thin scars across her arms. Lifts her shirt to show similar scars on her side.) And I lay there until 5:30 am until… (choked up) a bus driver saw me and thought I was a dead dog.
Al walks up.
AL: (Unsmiling. Eyebrows raised.) So what’re you telling my pal here?
KATHLEEN: (Eyes clear quickly. She tilts her head playfully.) I was just talking about how great you are.
AL: Don’t you tell anyone anything good about me, I don’t wanna ruin my image.
KATHLEEN: (Eyes widen in real or fake dismay.) You helped me feel good about myself!
AL: (Not concealing annoyance and some anger.) You’re missing the point. I have an image. I wanna be called an asshole, I want people to say that guy’s an asshole.
KATHLEEN: (Teasingly.) I would nevah call you an asshole!
AL: (Shortly.) Well, we gotta work on that with you then.
KATHLEEN: (Pouting.) Are you mad at me?
AL: Why would I be mad at you? (Walks away without waiting for an answer.)
KATHLEEN: (Rolling her eyes.) What a fuckin’ phony. (Continuing where she left off.) I’m only clean eight weeks. Though I took two percocets earlier today (Lifts the drink in her hand towards the window as if she’s going to toss it. Eyes well up.) So that ain’t clean… (Then, listing each quickly, like an invocation, as if speaking the wrongs would relieve her of them.) I skipped my therapy this week. I’m with an abusive man right now that humiliates me and is unkind and I lie for him. My aunt…my aunt’s a junkie but she’s in a methadone clinic. Now I owe a lot of money. I’ve become very religious. I went to church with my grandmother the other day. She’s wonderful. She’s 102. Fucking beautiful, fucking hilarious. The other day she goes, (again speaking in a dramatized Irish accent, imitating her grandmother in church.) My granddaughter Kathleen, she smokes the crack cocaine… if anyone’s gonna rob me, she will! And I’m standing right behind her and she whispers to me, you know I didn’t mean that sweetie. (Laughs zealously at the memory.)
A woman enters. She has bleached blonde hair and wears all black, a leather jacket over a tight black tank top and tight black jeans. Thick, dark eyeliner rings her blue eyes. She and Kathleen squeal their salutations to each other. Nino is no longer by the window or in sight. The loudness of the bar becomes apparent.
A GIRLFRIEND: Look at you Kathy, honey! (Kiss each other’s cheeks.) You’re lookin’ hot. (Eyes narrowing, turning from Kathleen.) Look, kid, you can’t be whippin’ out a recordah and notepad in a place like this y’know? These aren’t good people. These are rough people…And people who grow up rough don’t trust.
KATHLEEN: (To her friend) She’s ok hun. (Then, rotating on her stool) Does Nino know you’re doin’ this? Have you met Nino? You gotta be careful around him. He acts like he’s fuckin’ Sinatra (she jabs her thumb at the Sinatra picture behind her.) But you’re in with Al, so you’re ok sweetie, you’re ok with us.
A GIRLFRIEND: Oh, she knows Al? (Now comfortable, she talks with exaggerated excitement, twisting her hips back and forth.) So Kath, let’s get this pahty goin’! We lived in the 80s and we’re still livin' in the 80s, baby.
KATHLEEN: (Pouting her lips together and blowing a kiss to her friend. She calls over to Al) Al! Get ovah here!
AL: (Taking his time to walk over.) Hello lovely ladies, how’s it goin’ ovah here?
KATHLEEN: (Slapping her hand on his shoulder) Al! So yah finally come ovah here and say hi. (Her girlfriend looks on.)
AL: (With barely hidden sarcasm.) Of course I did, anything to see you!
KATHLEEN: Y’know I love ya Al. You’re the best! This guy helped me kick my addiction. He helped me give up crack.
AL: (Lowering his voice. Irritated.) Look yah can’t say that here, I gotta reputation I’ve gotta maintain. Ok, uh, well if you ladies need me I’ll be right over there (Points to where Mikey is sitting at the bar and laughing loudly. Rejoins Mikey.)
KATHLEEN: (Snorts. Rolls her eyes.) He’s such an asshole. He’s such a losah.
Kathleen and her girlfriend begin gossiping and joking loudly. They flap their hands at each other, eyeing the swelling crowd out of the sides of their eyes. Mikey continues to laugh and sway drunkenly. Nino is nowhere to be seen. Al appears fed up, and stands by the jukebox looking as if he's about to leave.
AL: (Quite irritated. Reprimanding.) You can’t trust these people. Kathleen's a junkie who will rob you blind. That’s the way these people are. But I see you sitting over there, your eyes all wide, that understandin’ look on your face, and I gotta worry about you… ‘Cuz Kathleen, she’s a liar.
Act 2. “If You’re Not Having Fun You’re Not Doing It Right, Right?”
Shipwreck Lounge. A Wednesday, around 10:00 am.
Mikey swallows large gulps of beer periodically. Al leans against the bar watching the keno numbers. Two other men sit at the bar at each corner stool. One of them wears a slanted beret and swirls a glass of white wine . Hushed and mild, they are all turned slightly towards the wide windows. The muted morning sunlight is cast onto their rough faces, evidence of lives spent working outside in unsympathetic New England weather, on shipyards and railroads, or as carpenters and painters. A faint scent of tobacco smoke pervades the quiet atmosphere. It’s a beautiful day in Revere.
MIKEY: (Reminiscing, looking out at the beach across the wide street.) Yah, I remember we used to go to the Revere rides when we were little kids…
AL: Yah…(Slowly draws air in through his nose as if he’s breathing in the old scents of grease and burnt rubber on the roller coaster tracks, how they'd simmer in the summer heat.) You went there when you were four, five, six.. (Beginning to smile.) Then when you got to be older, when you’re a teenageh, you’d go to Swampscott and Nahant to pahty and stuff. (Eyes far away, immersed in the inconsequential rebelliousness of youth.)
MIKEY: (Smiling, eyes on the waves.) Oh ya Swampscott…
AL: All the billionaires from the cocaine era are living there now… I know ‘em.
MIKEY: Man, ya, you look at those rich people’s houses and say ‘Oh, I wish I lived there.’ Fuck them (Laughs. Begrudging.)
AL: (Deflated slightly.) Yah…(Straightening his back. Speaking in an embellished Boston Italian accent.) We could make them an offer they couldn’t refuse!
(Then, changing the subject.) Y’know Nino's apartment on Winthrop point? It’s this big apartment, beautiful place, beautiful view. But it’s weird y’know? It’s fuckin’ sterile, it’s desolate. No pictures, no decorations. No nothin’. Like a fucking hospital.
MIKEY: (Seems not to be listening. Sips beer.) Well you could make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Have ‘im sleepin’ with the fishes…(laughs to himself.)
AL: (Raises eyebrows. Unsmiling.) Already drunk Mike? (Looks out the windows. Then, not really to anyone.) Though it’s a good point.
Pause. No one is speaking. All that is heard are a few taps of glass against wood. A snort to clear the nose.
MIKEY: (Pointing vaguely out the window) I used to go to church over there. I knew God had plans for me! (Laughs. Then, putting on a serious face.) Right now though, y’know, we’re looking right at Ireland…where all the good people come from.
AL: (Scoffs tiredly.) Who are those people? Name a famous scientist from Ireland, I’d like to hear that. Us Italians, we influenced the world, art, architecture, food, music… But those Irish…yah, you know all the crazies.
MIKEY: (Chortling in his particular way.) OH, you’re funny!
AL: I rest my case… (Looks again out the window, away from Mikey.) I remember in high school a coupla guys and I stole the Christ child. It was the funniest thing.
MIKEY: (Still laughing) I learned to drive a car in the Macy’s parking lot by the freeway, that mall that used to be a farm.
AL: (Jokingly, with more energy) Mikey, you remember we used to go down to that one strip joint?
MIKEY: (Smiling innocently, but with a roguish air about him.) Oh, no no, I was probably helping the priests at the monastery!
AL: Oh, but then you found out drinking was better.
MIKEY: (He bursts out laughing, wobbling on the edge of his stool.) Well, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right, right?
Winthrop Beach, MA. Mikey’s home, a single-story slightly ramshackle house built right up against the sand. Around 11 am on a wintry Thursday.
The rough wind brings the smell of the ocean into the unkempt living room, which is full of old things, left behind things, from a passed life. The briny scent blends with marijuana smoke swirling up in the hazy light. Old Sioux wood art and dream catchers from when Mikey lived in North Dakota hang on the walls. Framed drawings and pictures, some unknown artifacts, lie stacked on the ground. Strewn on a small bedside table are a few faded postcards. They depict pastoral New England landscapes from the 1800s: a slightly emptier Winthrop Beach, some other scenes of quiet seashores along the New England coastlines. A large picture frame leans against the wall - Revere Beach in its glory days, glittering with newly painted buildings and crowded shores.
Mikey and Al sit joking in the kitchen. It’s piled with papers, notes Mikey has written to himself, thoughts preserved before they float, forgotten, out of an unreliable mind. Used cups line the counter. An empty tequila bottle and the cardboard from a six-pack of Negro Modelo sit next to the smudged stovetop. A joint, half smoked and discarded, lies on the tile counter beside an incense boat. Taped to the wood cupboard is a tattered and stained strip of paper. It reads:
Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things -
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear, nor mountain heights
Where bitter joy can hear the sound of wings...
AL: (Poking fun) Darkest day of my life when we met a mere 6 months ago…I was working in the bar early in the morning and I got this banana-head knocking on the door, trying to get a drink before we opened…
MIKEY: (Chuckling, remembering.) Oh ya, it was last summer ‘cause I was going down to the beach to get breakfast on a Saturday morning. Especially in the summer I like to go down there and get the paper, eat some breakfast at the Bagel Bin, then I walk down and have a beer and a Bloody Mary at BK’s and then Ash’s, y’know—the four doors of hell (laughs.) One at a time, down the line, and then I usually end up at Shipwreck. So Boston Bob, y’know, Boston Bob, he’s in charge of everything—
AL: He ain’t in charge of shit!
MIKEY: (Laughing, ignoring Al.) Well, one morning he says what’re you goin’ over to the Bagel Bin for, Nino makes food here every weekend! So on my way down the boulevard the next weekend, I’m walking down and I remember Boston Bob said to get breakfast at Shipwreck. So I stop by and the door’s locked! It’s like 9 am right. So I give it a boom, POUND (gesticulating a punch at the door.) I’m just surprised y’know—asshole tells me to come over and then they lock the doors. So, then I hear a hey! And I turn around and I say, it’s Mike, not hey.
AL: Ya and so we’re not hitting it off at this point.
MIKEY: (Smiling and nodding in agreement.) And he goes, we’re not open! And I go trying to explain what Boston Bob—
AL: (Interrupting.) And I go, I don’t give a fuck what Boston Bob says! (Laughs. In a cheerful mood.) Or something to that effect.
MIKEY: (Chuckling.) Ya, well, anyway we became friendlier after that.
The room goes silent. Mikey looks out the large kitchen window. Al gets up to go watch TV. Suddenly looking around the room, Mikey seems to become aware of and then embarrassed by the clutter. He begins to talk, perhaps to distract from it.
I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I can remember that day like yesterday…when I met Bonnie, my wife, in Dickinson, North Dakota. I was working there for some years as a carpenter. We were all playing pool, drinking. Having a good time. She and her friend were talking to us and I ended up staying over at her friend’s house—nothing romantic happened or anything (waving a hand in reassurance). That next morning my car broke down so Bonnie came over to help because her friend had to go to work. Bonnie was a cattle buyer, so she had jumper chords, flares, and all that because she drove so much. When she tried to jumpstart the car, though, it didn’t work. So instead we had lunch, and we hit it off (Smiles, nostalgic.) You just knew…
Pause. He jumps to another scene within his own life, seeming to enjoy the chance to reminisce without interruption.
When I was 16, I was in church every day. Where I grew up—Melrose, Mass.—it was a real Irish Catholic neighborhood. The school was here (holds out left hand, in a fist.) and the church was there (holds out right fist, beside his left.) You’d go in downstairs, and that’s where the confessions were. My father was really Catholic. My mother was a rascal (laughs.) She was a great lady, she was just nuts y’know. My parents divorced after 29 years of marriage. When my mother left my father, she moved down to Shipwreck, y’know the apartments next to the bar. It was 1977. Nino didn’t own it then. She moved into Shipwreck with some guy. And then she left him and lived in an apartment on the ocean. She was a fun-loving gal! (He chuckles, shaking his head.)
Long pause. Turning towards the window, his face falls. Eyes are faraway. He returns to Bonnie.
It’s still hard…It’s just amazing…it’s been a long time, seventeen years…since Bonnie passed. It’s tough to seize. In the early days, people weren’t very empathetic. Magic Johnson’s still alive. It was about the time that he came out…(stutters) about his AIDS, that she was getting sick. The doctor said, y’know, Bonnie’s gonna die. I’m just an emotional guy y’know. I’m not afraid to cry. It’s amazing how it’ll hit you though… (He looks away, face wet with tears, feeling the roughness of his hands. Then, contemplating.) It’s about trust though, it’s not about love. Love helps but if you don’t trust somebody… (shoulders sag) there ain’t no point. She died here y’know (He pats the smooth wood table with the palm of his hand, then leaves it there to rest)…I’m not lonely, though…I’m lonesome. (Reflecting.) I’ve got plenty of friends, but I’m just lonesome...I’ve always been a drinker. Y’know, it’s a social thing. Bonnie had some substance abuse problems but she stopped drinking in ’85. And then that’s when we started having trouble because I was thinking thank god she got help, I don’t need help. It was just getting to the point where I was always blowing up and she was saying, what’re you blowing up for? So I tried it. And I didn’t drink for five years. (A heavy wateriness comes to rest at the bottom of his eyes.) But after she died I just started…nipping away… (Tone and demeanor suddenly become forceful, but underneath it feels he is close to falling apart.) I’m an alcoholic. I know that because of the emotional issues involved with it. (Shakes himself. Insistent.) It makes me a better fellow, it makes me a jolly good fellow! (Laughs. Pauses. Becomes serious.) You’ll never understand it. Drinking is something that is part of the culture. My culture. The way I grew up…American citizen, Irish background…My dad was definitely… (he cuts himself off. Then, with some crossness.) I told you, I’m an alcoholic. (Pauses. Reestablishes a smile.)….I’d rather be an alcoholic than a Republican any day of the week, guaranteed! (Laughs shortly. Then, stumbling over his words.) And so, that’s how…and I’m not dismissing it like…(Finally, with purpose.) I drink because I like the way it makes me feel and that’s simple as that. I’m 63 years old y’know. It’s my life y’know, I’m here… (Grows silent. Then, self-justifying. Despairingly.) Am I a bad man? Does that make me a bad man? I didn’t think I’d make it to thirty y’know…(Reflecting. Becomes sorrowful.) It comes in dribs and drabs...
(A short pause. Subtly changing the subject) You think like...do I have enough money? I’ve been a liberal Democrat all my life but…(eyes start tearing up) but we’re broke. I see those yachts right up the street there (waves his arm vaguely). Who’s buying those yachts y’know? People can’t find jobs and I see more yachts go in every year… (Becoming more upset. Tears slide down his cheeks.) I can’t get my hands around that. The country’s in a mess. I just don’t see the fairness. I mean, friends of mine are living in the street because they got nowhere to go. I got lucky. I just got lucky. It’s simple as that. I mean I worked hard for 30 years but…(trails off. Wipes eyes as Al walks in.)
AL: Y’know this really is a nice spot you got here, Mike.
MIKEY: (Sweeping both arms in front of his belly, cradling the view.) This is paradise baby.
AL: (Speaking in a cheerful tone, masking something that seems like true concern.) So, what’re you talking about Mike? Some Irish bologna? Do continue with your story, please.
MIKEY: (Laughing, a touch wearily.) It may be some malarkey all right, but it’s not a story. It’s my life. (Then, attempting a cheerier tone.) Next time don’t come over so early in the morning, I’m not at my best in the morning.
AL: (Trying to lift the mood. Thumping Mikey on the back a little too hard.) Well, when are we supposed to come over? You’re not your best in the morning, you’re not your best in the evening…(A half-hearted laugh.)
MIKEY: (Fiddling with a used slice of lime on the table. Crinkling his eyes along well-worn laugh lines, forcing a characteristic cackle.) Like I say, when life gives you lime…drink tequila.
After a few more laughs, the day has turned to evening. Mikey bids Al goodbye, waving as he slides the screen door shut. The evening light grows dimmer, and the silhouette of Boston is bold across the harbor. Al unlocks his Jeep Cherokee with a click and watches the fading light, golden on his face.
Act 3. “It Is The Way It Is.”
Shipwreck Lounge. A crisp winter morning, around 7:30 am.
The sun is just beginning to rise out of the eastern sea. Al sits at the bar looking up at the TV as the deep golden light starts to pool at the foot of the barstools. Kevin, the bouncer and cleaning guy, a corpulent man of about 40 years old with a babyish face, sits by the windows in the cushioned chair that Nino usually occupies. He sips from a Coca Cola can. The clock ticks, loud in the hush of morning. Kevin has finished cleaning and Al has finished his duties as bar manager, both tasks that begin at 6:30 am seven days a week. The Keno machine, newly emptied, blinks brightly, its numbers reset. The booze and bank have been restocked for when the bartender arrives at 10 am, and the previous night’s cash has been counted and wadded up, slapped together with a tan rubber band. They wait.
Al taps his fingers on the bar. The freshly polished wood shines darkly in the reddening light. Kevin stares groggily out the window. Al plays a keno card, and the numbers read out slow—all losers. “Fuck” he says to himself, not all too concerned. He waits for Nino to arrive to check his calculations on the new bank. Kevin waits with him so Nino will know that his bar was scrubbed to perfection today, as it was yesterday, and the day before.
KEVIN: (Finishes his Coke. Speaks with a lisp that makes him sound younger than he really is.) The sun’s usually redder than this.
AL: (Folding his arms in front of his chest and squinting into the light.) Is it? I don’t even notice it anymore. (To himself, checking his watch, annoyed) Where is the sonuvabitch… (To Kevin, who is resting his head in the fleshy palm of his hand, looking grumpily out the window, waiting to spot Nino returning from his morning walk.) What’s up Kev? Somethin’ up?
KEVIN: (Speaking in his quick way) Nah, nothin’, jus’ tired…it’s too early. (Stretching and sighing thickly, then settling his head back down in both hands.) I can’t wait to get back in bed. (Pointing briefly with a jab of his chin, moving to get up from Nino's chair.) Here he comes.
AL: (Sitting up. Sardonic.) Ah, the man himself? The ole sonuvabitch has arrived? (His eyes follow Nino's progress as he travels the length of the windows.)
Enter Nino. He glides into the room soundlessly, walking swiftly for a man of a little over 80 years old. He wears large white sneakers that shrink his already thin legs. His royal blue gym shorts stop a good few inches above his leathered knees. His white Adidas jacket matches his white hair and crew-cut cotton shirt, unmarred except for the thin golden chain that dips just below the neckline. Thick square sunglasses cover his eyes. His mouth is slightly turned up in what appears to be a small smile, but it is too cool and aloof to be felt cordially. He strides past Kevin, ignoring him completely. He glances over towards Al, who has stood up now.
AL: (Showily, with a raised voice. In a rush of movement.) Hey, Nino, my man, how’s it goin’!
Continuing to walk fluidly towards the back of the bar, Nino nods slightly in greeting or simple acknowledgement of Al's existence. Al waits for him to pass, raises his eyebrows at Kevin, and follows Nino to the back of the bar, down to the “money and booze” room, where last night’s haul waits to be verified.
The bar is silent. The clock continues to tick steadily. Kevin leans his head down once again onto his palms, eyes half-closed. Time passes…
Then the low indistinct babble of Nino and Al is heard. Soon they emerge into the sunlit room, neither speaking anymore. Nino opens the back door without a word, stepping across thin remnants of snow towards his white Cadillac just outside. Al turns in the opposite direction, back towards the bar where Kevin is now sitting.
AL: Ok, well we’re done here. Anothah day, anothah dollah… (Then with a satirical bow, a rehearsed graciousness.) And thank yah, good to see yah, Mr. Kev.
KEVIN: (A grin on his round face.) No problem Albie. We’ll do it again tomorrow.
AL: (Putting on his coat. Smiling dryly.) Yawp. And then the day after that too. Ciao.
Beachmont neighborhood, Revere, MA. 5:00 pm.
Formerly an elementary school and now a retirement home, the red brick building that Al calls home rests atop a hill in the center of Beachmont, overlooking the crescent-shaped shoreline of Revere Beach. Within it, Al’s small and tidy apartment smells of something good cooking, and it is lit by a warm light. A spicy pot of Boston beans simmers on the stove. Pork chops brown in the oven while the TV plays in the background, a familiar noise. Pictures hang neatly along the entranceway. A New York Yankee poster hangs above the kitchen table catty-cornered from a clock in a miniature nautical wheel. Al is talking about when he was a kid, about how every Friday and Saturday the kids from east Boston would come over to Revere to fight or how he and his buddies would go over there to fight just because it was something to do on a Friday night, just because it would be something to talk about come Monday morning.
(With bravado.) I went through the Revere school system. At 18, I got into a fistfight with my history teacher. He was just an asshole….but I guess I was just a punk kid. I got voted 'the wittiest' but that just meant I had a fresh mouth. So I got in a fist fight—he insulted me, y’know, your mothah must be a pig or something. Whatever it was, it set me off. I got kicked out of school in 1965... Vietnam and there was the draft goin on. So now I’m out of high school, I’m 18 years old and what am I ready for? To be drafted. So I’m in a panic. Everyone’s getting their draft cards. So I went to the Air Force recruiter and he said, we’ll take ya. So I became an air traffic controller in the Air Force. The first place they sent me was Enid, Oklahoma. (Scoffing) How’s that for a place? You look this way and see grass and wheat and that way and see grass and wheat (turning his head one way and then the other). And at the time, I’m a teenager fullah piss and vinegar and all there is to do is go to the A&W root beer stand! (Laughing.) Y’know it sucked! I was there for about a year… and then I heard that they were gonna take guys and send ‘em to ‘Nam. So I went to personnel, the guy happened to be my roommate, and I said I gotta volunteer for Europe and he said no problem I’ll get you something. So within three or four weeks I get notification that I’m gonna go to London. London in the 60s? I figured I did the right thing. (He laughs fondly.)
Al reminisces about London for some time, happily telling stories of debauchery with his buddies, of falling in love with a beautiful young woman or two - or three. He speaks of his adventures traveling on the weekends, how one time he and his pals managed to take a Catholic bus tour through Italy, a journey that brought him to his first taste of marijuana - a joint passed between him and a G.I. from California whom he had just met as they strolled through the Vatican gardens, watching the smoke whirl away into the blue sky. Inevitably, though, his stories of London come to an end, and his mind returns to Revere.
[After his war service] I worked all my life… I worked shipyards, apprenticeships, railroads, for the government… and then someone got me involved in some easy money. (Matter-of-factly) Y’know, I go break my balls for $300 a week when I could make $3,000 in a second. So what do I do? I took the easy route. I sold some drugs. Cocaine. That was the drug of the day. Pretty soon I started working with Nino, ‘cuz back then we hung around the Shipwreck—that’s how I met the guy. He didn’t own it yet, he was a painter. He was always an asshole though…(He stirs the beans slowly.) Nino is like two people. If you’re desperate he’ll always give help, but only when you really need it. If you’re talking to him face to face like a normal person, he’ll treat you like shit. (Pauses, worked up.)
(Then, with a breath.) Anyway, business started rolling, we were making fifteen to twenty grand a week. That lasted almost 11 years y’know…but I lost it all. I gambled, I got divorced, I had 3 kids to support. And in ’92 I went to jail for five years. An old girlfriend—she was a fuckin’ nutso (old anger reemerges)—she framed me. I got arrested at Shipwreck and that’s when me and Nino fell out…I was renting three apartments there at the time, one for my den of iniquity as I’ll call it, one I used to store the stuff, the other I was living in…(He seems lost in his own head. Face is flushed. Then, reflecting.) I can’t say I wish I never did it. I just wish I learned the lesson earlier, y’know? But I have three kids. I can’t work on seventy-five percent pay when someone else is making one hundred percent. It didn’t make sense to me. How do you deal with that? (Shaking his head. Then speaking in fragile vindication) But I’ve had things in my life that no one would have. I mean, we had learjets and butlers and maids. My kids didn’t want for anything… I was a boilermaker in a shipyard y’know what I mean? I went from a boilermaker in a shipyard to butlers and maids (Cheerless. Then, with certainty) but I would never go back to it. Five years in jail is enough for me. They ain’t locking me up for the end of my life…
A long pause.
Al stirs the beans, which are now popping and bubbling in the pot. He turns the fire down to a simmer, dips a spoon in and lifts some beans to his mouth. Gives a satisfied smacking of the lips. A man's voice, crooning richly in Italian, peals out from his iPod speakers, clear above the din of the TV. He walks past the pictures on his bureau, past framed photos of family and family dogs; a small photo of his father, wearing a neat suit and a bowler hat - smiling. He takes out an album full of his partying days in London and his drug-dealing days with Nino. It is tucked next to the albums of the rest of his family pictures, in the cabinet of a small bureau. This particular album though, is full of images of young G.I.’s smiling toothily in blissful drunkenness, rosy faces of young men who are relishing the fact they don’t have to think much about their futures. It’s also full of images of him and Nino in gaudy white suits and blue snakeskin jackets, golden chains, and aviator sunglasses, faces flushed in a similar way, but maybe with a little more anxiety, a little more desire to turn away from the camera and look behind them. Hanging in the kitchen there’s a cheeky “PARKING FOR ITALIANS ONLY” sign, and across from it, above the dining table, hangs a wooden paddle with the words “Shipwreck Lounge” painted delicately in blue.
(Looking at the paddle. Speaking slowly.) You know, I’ve enjoyed my life pretty much anyways. Everything I do now, I don’t care. I don’t care anymore. My friends I got I care about, my kids I care about. But I got no schedule, you know. (Somewhat angrily) I wake up at fuckin’ 6 o’clock in the morning, get down to the bar by 6:30, do my two hours, and then my day’s free. (Drained, a nearly indiscernible sag of his shoulders.) I just can’t deal with drunks. Drunks and junkies. I never could understand…there’s just so much life to live. It’s just fuckin…they’re just stumblin their way through it. I smoke a joint, eight, nine o’clock at night, so by ten o’clock I’m asleep. So I’m not out there hurtin’ anybody…(Pauses in worn out frustration. Then, dispirited.) But try working at a bar for 15 years and you’ll learn how to hate. All I observe are people getting mean and nasty after drinking. That’s all I see…(Weary. He pauses, stirring the beans distractedly. Then, as if to himself.) They’re company. Mikey’s a friend but he gets nasty when he’s drunk. (Reconsidering) I don’t have friends, they’re just company y’know? (He mulls over the sudden glaring awareness of his own melancholy.) I’m negative right now… there’s nothing that makes me positive. I dunno. Maybe I’m just soured. (A disheartened shrug. Then, returning to himself, reconciled once again to his well-understood reality. A pronouncement.) It is the way it is.
Al stirs the beans with more vigor, hums along to the music. He turns off the stove and tastes them. Adds salt. He tries the beans one more time, nods and taps the spoon conclusively on the rim of the pot.
(An explanatory tone, speaking matter-of-factly.) Everyone gets fired in the bar business eventually. No trust. Everyone thinks everyone’s stealing. Eventually Nino's gonna think I stole something. He does it his way. He used to be a bookie, now he thinks he’s fuckin’ Frank Sinatra. (Scoffs, nodding his head.) He always thought he was Frank Sinatra… Y’know, every Sunday he gives the homeless guys around the bar twenty bucks, then he cooks a big dinner in the evening for all the drunks. He may fly to Florida for the week sometimes, but he always comes back to Shipwreck to cook a hot meal—and to drink himself. (Snorts to himself, incredulous. Then, shaking his head.) But you don’t wanna be on his bad side…
A contemplative pause.
His lips are thin, teeth pressed together. Suddenly, in a gust of movement, he takes the pork chops out of the oven and sets the tray on the stovetop. He presses on the browned meat with a finger, makes a small grunt in approval.
(Directly.) Have you ever done the same thing every morning your whole life? (Then, with a sigh) The world is open to you when you’re young and then it closes up fast on you when you get old…(Shakes his head. Then smiling anew, pointing to a gap between his teeth, his fake tooth taken out for the day) My only problem is I got a bad tooth. Looks like one by one they're just going to die. Once you lose a tooth they all start loosening up. Another one is cracking in the back and I might have to have it removed. I've been trying to get a hold of my dentist - but that's like pulling teeth! Aging sure is a wonderful thing! (Laughs, a deep genuine sound. Then, shrugging) But hey you just work through it, pretend you don't have all those problems...(With pride) Us New Englanders, we aren't rude like people say. We're just gruff. My definition of gruff is: a little hard, a little mistrusting, a little lovable and definitely someone you want in your foxhole in a fight!
Al laughs again, a common sound to those he welcomes into his home. He sets the table, placing two plates down with generous portions of pork and beans on them. He bustles around placing another portion of the still steaming food in a tupperware: lunch for the bartender, a homecooked gift he brings both of the women every day they work. The table is comfortable and homey, its placemats woven with images of ships at sea, nautical wheels, and lighthouses standing quaintly along the jagged east coast shoreline.
(Chatting while cutting a large piece from his pork and topping it with beans) All these things 20 years from now you'll look back on them and laugh. (He cuts the rest of his pork into small pieces, sliding them around the plate to soak up the juice from the beans.) I got a lot of stories to tell. Y'know it was such a struggle articulating stuff as a young guy...writing down what I wanted to say. Looking back now I wonder if maybe what I had was dyslexia. One time my mother bribed me for a bike if I got honor roll at school (shaking his head, snorting to himself. Then, nodding) But if I could write about some of my escapades, I'd make Tom Jones look like a children's book. Ah! (Holding his forefinger up) I got the title: (clearing his throat dramatically) 'The Women in My Life and the Constant Chaos of Being Me.'
Al lets out another deep laugh, wiping the last remnants of food from his plate and dabbing his mouth with his napkin. After some time, when dinner is fully digested, Al decides to go get ice cream at Twist and Shake on the parkway. He sits on the beach wall across from Shipwreck, overlooking the dark water speckled with the reflections of lights from passing cars. He tells more stories as he savors his vanilla ice cream on a cone. He talks about his cousin who drowned in these very waters: an all-American baseball player who was going to play for Missouri but his boat capsized while he and a friend were fishing, drunk, at night. Only his spine was found by passing lobstermen. He tells a story about how when he was a kid he touched a shock machine and it made his hair stand straight up. His dad told him 3 times he wouldn't like what the machine would do but Al wanted to do it anyway so 3 times he got shocked and 3 times his hair stood straight up on his head. His father laughed about it until the day he died. He reminisces about old Revere with its rides, how there used be these long piers you could walk out on. He talks of more serious things, how he can't find anyone to love, or relate to, how he doesn't like eating alone.
One of the bartenders is smoking a cigarette outside Shipwreck. She's almost hidden by the fat shadow of the sign, which glows blue in the night. Mikey's inside. He's wearing a bright orange shirt, his eyes and face are red, his words slurred and incoherent. After a quick hello inside, Al walks along the boulevard. How busy it is this Wednesday night. Colombian families pass, speaking to each other in Spanish, Muslim women in traditional hijabs push strollers and talk back and forth. A young girl skateboards by. Old Irish locals sit eating ice cream at a small table outside the Twist and Shake, laughing loudly. Old women in long night dresses and young men in tank tops sit drinking beers on their respective apartment balconies. Dogs bark. The air is unusually warm, like a summer night. Al is philosophizing as he walks, stolling leisurely down the boulevard in his Yankees jacket. He's talking about how wisdom is just the ability to adapt and change, how he’s still a kid at heart. Perhaps there’s a fine line between being wise and wide eyed, and perhaps that’s how Al gets up every morning to do the same thing at the same place every day, because he’s maintained a child-like resiliency, and kept his heart more open to the world than he likes to let on.
(With a soft smile on his face. Musing.) There’s something that’s always baffled me… You always come back to the same spot. I’ve been all over the world, I’ve been all over the U.S. But I’m most comfortable here. Now, why? What’s here that I couldn’t be comfortable in London? What’s here that I couldn’t be comfortable in Italy? Maybe we’re like ducks or something, and we go back to our nesting area… I don’t get it, but I notice that all the time. There’s very few people that you grew up with that live in different places. They might live 5 miles north…But they always come home to Revere.
Shipwreck Lounge. Some day in the middle of the week, some time in the afternoon. A near-cloudless day outside.
Mikey and Al sit at the bar, talking. A low melody from the jukebox is heard. There are a few other patrons scattered across the barstools. A general murmur carries on.
MIKEY: (A faint smell of marijuana. In the middle of a thought.) I do like people, believe it or not. With a few exceptions… (Looks at Al with raised eyebrows, a half-smile.)
AL: (In jest) Why are your eyes getting redder?
MIKEY: (Holding his beer bottle, tapping its base on the bar, looking slightly dismayed.) I dunno. That’s just me y’know? People say that all the time. That’s who I am.
AL: (Raising an eyebrow.) Well, no… that isn’t who you are.
MIKEY: Ya, ya it is. (Then, an overplayed boast) I’m mean when I drink, and I drink all the time! That’s a statement from a friend I had back in North Dakota. (Chuckling.) He was a character…slept in cars at night. You’d wake up in the morning to go to work and he’d be sleepin’ in your back seat! I was 25, and he was probably 45 at the time…(trails off.)
AL: (Dryly.) Oh ya, how far’d he get?
MIKEY: (Ignoring Al. Recalling.) He was a great horse shoer. He knew animals, he knew horses big time. But he loved his tea…(Takes a swallow of his beer. Then, with energy, he sweeps his hand across an unseen view of Boston.) You know that city across the harbor? I was a big part of that.
AL: (Rolling eyes, but starting to smile.) He built it…he built it…
MIKEY: (A pleased smile.) Well I had a little bit of help.
AL: (Poking fun.) Ya, you put in all the heating systems.
MIKEY: (Taking him seriously.) Well…not all of ‘em.
AL: (Slightly annoyed.) Well, I don’t think you built all the buildings either but we might as well play this game.
MIKEY: (A bit pompous.) My name is on a lot of ‘em.
AL: (Energized.) All written in the men’s rooms though—Dial me for a good time! (A bellow of laughter.)
MIKEY: (Chuckling, not offended.) The ironworkers when they’re putting stuff up, they’ll always sign their names in the beams—Y’know to a girlfriend, or a daughter, or a grandmother or whatever. They’ll put a shamrock or somethin’…or a map of Italy—What is that, a boot? Who wants to live in a boot? (Laughs.)
AL: (Not all that amused, but smiling with pressed lips.) Yah…
MIKEY: (Emboldened.) Booted outta every place they went! So they ended up living in a place that looks like a boot! (Chortling.)
Suddenly, Nino strides in, back from his late afternoon walk along the length of the beach. All become hushed within the bar. Some men look down at their drinks, others glance for a moment in his direction, eyes purposefully neutral. He and Al make brief eye contact, both nod—but barely. Nino takes off his sunglasses as he moves towards the back door. His eyes appear remote. Nino exits. Chatter resumes.
AL: (Jutting out his chin at Mikey.) Mike, you ever heard of Hadrian’s Wall?
MIKEY: (Sets down his beer and wipes his mouth. Starts to smile.) Oh here we go…
AL: (Keen on having a light-hearted fight.) That still runs right through your whole fuckin’ country, man, built by the Romans.
MIKEY: (A good-natured snort.) What is this, Mr. Peabody’s School of History? Rocky and Bullwinkle’s history?
AL: (Holding his hands up, palms facing out.) I didn’t wanna say anything, but, here’s this little fuckin’—whatchamacallit—“boot?” Well, they conquered the entire known world at the time.
MIKEY: (Feigning interest.) Is that right!
AL: Well, how far did the Irish go, huh? Just down to the pub? (Guffaws.)
MIKEY: (Taking a short sip of beer, becoming slightly less amused.) Perhaps but…
AL: (Cutting him off) Let’s get down to the pub! Well, Italians built pubs all over the world! They built ‘em.
MIKEY: (Making a joke to avoid Al’s jabs.) You know what the difference between God and Bono is? God doesn’t walk around Ireland pretending he’s Bono. (Laughing.) C’mon Al…he doesn’t get it, see.
AL: (With an unenthusiastic shrug.) I don’t get it.
MIKEY: (Unworried by Al’s lack of interest.) Did you ever hear the one about the talking dog? So, this guy picks up the newspaper in the morning and it says talking dog for sale, 10 bucks! He’s all amazed, so he calls the guy. (Imitating a phone with his hand) He says I read you got a talking dog? I’ll be right over. So he goes over, knocks on the door, guy opens the door, so where’s the talking dog? Guy says, he’s in the back yard. So, he goes out back, sees the dog, walks up and says hey how ya doin? Dog goes, not bad, how are you? The guy’s amazed, Wow! You can talk! This is unbelievable. Dog goes, well, I just got back from Afghanistan. I was over there workin’ with the, y’know, security forces. I’d go into the terrorist camps cuz, y’know, what’s a dog gonna do? So I piss on a coupla fire hydrants, pick up some intelligence, go back, tell our guys what’s up and, y’know, that’s how we defeated the terrorists in Afghanistan. So the guy’s like, Wow! Wow, that’s fuckin’ unbelievable. I’ll be right back. He goes back in the house and says, that’s quite a dog you’ve got there. How come you only want ten bucks for him? The guy says, ‘Cuz he’s a fuckin liar, he’s never left the back yard!
(Mikey howls with laughter, Al raises his eyebrows, barely concealing a grin. Mikey continues, wiping mirthful tears from his eyes.) The dog’s a fuckin liar… (A florid complexion. Then, nodding knowingly.) And, y’know, a lot of people in life are like that…
AL: (In agreement.) In fact you Irish have a word for it—“blarney.”
MIKEY: (Correcting him.) Malarkey is what we say. Blarney is a good storyteller, malarkey is when you’re full of—as the Italians like to say—“bologna.” And how do ya get bologna outta (spelling out the word) b-o-l-o-g-n-a. That’s bologna? That is bologna!
AL: (Waving his hand dismissively. Mikey laughs.) Nah nah nah, we don’t have bologna. We have (with a dramatized Italian accent) mor-tah-dehh-la, mortadella!
MIKEY: (Talking over each other.) Mortadella? Morta what? Nah, all they can do is mix the mortar and lay the brick.
AL: We built this city! Italians built this city!
MIKEY: (Blowing air through puckered lips) Pffffft! Get outta town!
Mikey and Al continue their banter. The light within Shipwreck Lounge grows dimmer as the sun dips just below the horizon line. From outside the bar, a low hubbub remains discernible. Hazy figures are seen, thick silhouettes moving about within the wide window frames. Small waves, indifferent and steady, wash up against the flat beach and billow away from there, the bar across the boulevard.