I read about Michael McCourt again this morning in the Chronicle, another piece that lauded that sweet Irish bartender who died two weeks ago. While I was fixed on the newspaper account extolling his life, my mind’s eye was busy fishing up images: the time Bob Goar and I went to the Washbag (Herb Caen’s name for the Washington Square Bar and Grill), especially to see the by-now famous Michael McCourt.
When we walked in, I saw the lineup at the bar: four men, any one of whom could have been my father, dressed in good, smart, narrowly-striped shirts topped with golf cardigans, pale yellow, sky blue, very East Coast, very New England, as was my father. Their ruddy faces were shaved very close and their hair, what was left of it, was cut short and showed neat comb lines.
The men expressed a jolly, jaunty camaraderie with each other. They were nicely at home in this bar, at home with McCourt, who was trading chit-chat with them to everyone’s pleasure. Bob and I stood there watching, grins on our own faces because we were both absolutely where we wanted to be and wanted a special-dispensation fairy wand to be able to allow us to continue to be there forever.
McCourt, plump, white-haired, walked over to us with a big smile and said something funny. My mind’s eye sees our lips moving but can’t hear a word we said. He took our orders and I asked him about movies, having heard him mention a current film to the natty men. He told us to, by all means, see the Steve McQueen movie, “Hunger,” about Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender. We promised we would, with perhaps more enthusiasm than was necessary, as it caused us to be beheld for a moment by the others. He divided his time up equitably between us, on the short L of the bar, and the my-fathers, on the long end.
So here’s the newspaper in front of me with its account of Michael McCourt and his immigration from Limerick, Ireland, and it also mentions his brother, Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes.” The part about Frank throws up images so soft they could almost be drawn in charcoal, of the tiny room the brothers slept in, in Limerick, where they struggled to grow up. I see those two, and their other brothers, Malachy and Alphie, and the baby sister who died, crammed into that crowded, poor room.
All of them appeared in my mind as I read Carl Nolte’s tribute to Michael.
And quickly following that congregation of hardworking and cheery McCourts, was a snapshot, a glimpse, of Eanlai Cronin, my new acquaintance in Adair’s workshop, she of the marvelous, melodic Irish voice, both in speaking and in writing. Books then proceeded to line up in my head, the ones on the shelf I reserve for all things Irish, including Roddy Doyle’s novels.
I thrust back to 1999, when Jenny and I went on the Coach & Castle Tour that left Dublin from a bus stop in front of the post office on O’Connell Street where the Easter Uprising took in place in 1916. The tour guide, who said, “I’ll be your droiver,” pointed to the post office building and when we were all aboard, he gave us a short historical nugget about the battle. He started up the double-decker bus and off we went to see the sea.
After we’d looked down from the narrow, curving road’s height to take in the raw, chill ocean, a roiling blackish-blue, we went on to the castle and sat in the cold on hard little chairs for a short lecture, where I sketched the window treatments high up on the castle walls to take back for the gang at Calico Corners. There was time left over to buy souvenir postcards and Irish linen handkerchiefs while the rain came down steadily outside. And then, shivering, we piled back onto the bus to drive forth, our goal being to get a taste of real Guinness right there in the famous brewery.
All of this, all of these images, gifts from the past, gifts from real life and from books I’ve loved, sights and textures and warmth and chill, a salad so odd in a restaurant on McConnell Street that I drew a picture of it when Jenny and I got back from that bus tour…all of these things rose up and crowded my mind’s eye when I read that lovely article about Michael McCourt.