The Faces On The Bar Room Wall

 

Around 1983 or 1984, Paul Hennessey, my training partner and best friend, decided to start a new tradition. I'd been telling him how every year when I was young, my brothers and I would go out a week or so before Christmas to buy presents and raise a little hell. Christmas wasn't a particularly good time for Paul. He usually got depressed during the season and would end up working holiday shifts for his co-workers so they could be with their families. Paul came from a family with two other brothers, Dave the eldest, and Mike, in the middle. Their dad was an alcoholic, not the physically violent South Boston Irish type, but of a more mellow nature. However, and alcoholic is still an alcoholic and holidays at the Hennessey house weren’t very much fun. The Hennesseys lived in a three floor two family house on Silver Lake Place. At the time of this story, Paul’s mom (we called her ‘Bub’) lived on the first floor while Paul occupied the second and third floors. Terry and I lived in a gray Victorian on Essex St. across from Silver Lake Place.

"You see his doorway?" Bub would say, "It’s a damned turnstile. The women go in, the women go out; it never stops."

 Paul was a modern day Casanova with a failing for the ladies, that didn’t catch up with him until in his mid forties he had a child by Susan. Needless to say, Jean, his fiancée, was pissed.

 Anyhow, Paul had humbugged his way through most Christmases until he found out his depression, although the initial cause was nurture, was now chemical in nature and all it took were some meds to turn him into the lovable Scrooge at the end of ‘The Christmas Carol’.

That was the year I proposed going to Boston for the day. The Friday of the week before Christmas would be THE DAY. We’d both take sick days. The plan was to take the commuter rail from Lynn to North Station in Boston. From there, we’d take a bus to Allston-Brighton to the New Balance factory store and check out running shoes. Then we figured there were 23 bars from the store to Faneuil Hall marketplace in Boston where the journey would end. From there, we could stagger to the subway for the short hop to North Station. Or, we could get a bus from Haymarket Square that would take us to within five blocks of our homes.

Paul was social by nature and invited everybody he knew to come with us. And, as usual, it was just the two of us lined up that Friday in Market Square, Lynn waiting for the train. I noticed Paul carried a flattened out grocery paper bag.

"What’s that for?"

"It’s a surprise."

"For when?"

"Right now." And with that, he opened the bag and brought forth an 8 in. by 12 in. portrait that was very familiar. It was a blown up version of a portrait of Paul, Lois Cashman, and myself in running gear. We had just finished our first race 6 years previous. We looked like hell and out of shape. Paul and Lois had signed their names under their pictures. Paul took out a pen and told me to sign under my picture.

"Now what?"

"As soon as we finish rummaging around at New Balance, we’ll try to find a frame for it."

"I’m in so far. What’s the punch line?"

"The punch line is that this portrait, once framed, is going to find its proper place of honor."

"And that would be?"

"Between the portraits of Bill Rodgers and Steve Prefontaine at the Eliot Lounge."

For those too young to remember the Eliot lounge, it was located on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Hereford Street in downtown Boston along the route and near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The proprietor, Tommy Leonard, was a guru of the running craze during the ‘70s and ‘80s and his lounge was a meeting place for the elite runners, their proteges, fans, and wannabes.

"You have high aspirations. How’re we going to pull it off?"

"That's where you come in. I leave details to you. After all, it’s my idea."

"Thanks."

Finding nothing of interest at New Balance, we started off to downtown Boston, and, after gracing two bars, toasting Sam Adams with a couple drafts of his own, we found a small shop that sold picture frames. Then we went to a hardware store for a roll of industrial grade tape that was sticky on both sides.

We arrived at the Eliot lounge with a glow but still had our wits about us. On marathon day, it was wall-to-wall people at the Eliot but in the early afternoon of the second week in December, there were only 10 people scattered around. This was going to make the job harder.

"OK, here's the plan." I said, "We’ve... rather, you've got to create a diversion."

We sat at the table against the wall where two 36 in. by 42 in. autographed portraits of Bill Rodgers and Steve Prefontaine were hung with reverence at this shrine. Across from our table was the bar. Tommy Leonard was holding court with six young runners in their early 20s.

"Go and order two beers from Tommy. When you get there, walk away in the opposite direction from where we're sitting. Drop both beers so that one glass falls on the other and shatters. I leave the rest to your imagination and Thespian abilities."

Paul warmed to the idea. I opened the bag part way and affixed the tape on about 6 different locations on our portrait that we had framed earlier.

"OK, Shakespeare, do your stuff and remember, I’ll need about 45 seconds."

Paul walked to the bar and ordered two drafts from Tommy. He took about eight steps away from the bar and dropped both glasses. The contents of both spilled all over the tile floor.

"Damn, I’m sorry!" He yelled, "What a mess!"

All eyes were turned on Paul who took off his T-shirt and, on his knees, was mopping up the beer with it.

"Here, let me get that." Said Tommy who appeared with a broom and bucket for the broken glass. Paul picked up his beer soaked T-shirt and walked towards the men’s room.

"I'm going to rinse this out" he told Tommy.

"No sweat, accidents happen. John, fill up two more for him, on the house."

Paul came back to the table with two more beers and sat down.

"It looks great!"

"I had to eyeball centering it but, you're right, it does look good there – as though it were always there."

The holidays came and went. We told everyone about our photo hanging in the Eliot. Friends and acquaintances reported back for the next year that it was still there.

False fame had finally found us.

 

Epilogue

 

Two years later, they redecorated the Eliot lounge. Lois reported on a visit that summer with friends that she had noticed the picture was gone. A couple weeks later, Paul and I attended a charity function there. It was run by the Boston Beer Striders. Bill Rodgers and Steve Prefontaine still graced the wall opposite the bar. On the wall at the far end of the bar was a portrait of the irascible Jock Semple trying to stop the first woman from running the Boston marathon. Next to that, our picture had been rehung.