As Joseph jumped up the subway steps at City Hall, he marveled at how long it’d been since he last set foot near Rittenhouse Square. One could live an entire lifetime between Northern Liberties and Fishtown, he thought.
Even now he only came this way out of necessity, on a rescue mission he feared would become nothing more than reconnaissance, said fear stemming from the following text message exchange with Annabeth after she didn’t answer either of his calls:
Joseph: When you coming to JB?
Annabeth: Probably not but come to McG!
JB stood for Johnny Brenda’s. A bar stool there having cushioned Joseph’s backside for the previous three hours, he and Garret and Suki waiting to hear from Annabeth about when she’d be joining them, Joseph felt toasty during his midnight trek on the Market-Frankford line. At first Joseph thought McG meant McGillin’s, but then he remembered that Billy was a smoker, so it had to be McGlinchey’s.
Joseph strode through McGlinchey’s doorway and spotted them right away through the smoke filled haze. They sat in a booth on the left side of the bar, Annabeth beside Billy, a young guy with long hair Joseph had met a few times seated across from them. Joseph cringed, swallowed his pride, and sat next to the guy whose name he’d never remember.
“Hi,” he managed a smile as he waved at them all.
Annabeth looked in his direction, a devilish face, cigarette between her left index and middle fingers. Billy exhaled and shook Joseph’s hand. The young guy, who’d been jabbering away as Joseph joined them, said, “Yo dude,” and then kept talking. Music blared, an old Velvet Underground tune, Lou Reed’s voice floating indiscriminately among the crowd, through the smoke.
When the kid stopped to breathe, Joseph said, “I’m gonna grab a drink, anyone in need?”
Billy answered, “I think we all could use one.” The others nodded. “Shot and a beer, you choose.”
A tall, slender bar tender with tattoos in various places, the one of a diamond on her left breast in particular catching Joseph’s unwitting eye, asked, “What can I get you?”
“Four Miller Lites and four shots of Jameson.”
He paid the fifteen bucks he owed and left a five dollar tip, carried the drinks back to the booth in two trips.
“Thank you much,” Billy said.
“Yeah, thanks dude,” the young chatterbox offered.
“Since when do you smoke?” Joseph asked Annabeth.
“From time to time,” she said airily.
“I didn’t know.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Joe.”
Joseph caught a smirk on Billy’s face.
“Excuse me,” Annabeth said as she rose. She looked back at Joseph and winked as she entered the Ladies room.
The music changed and now Nick Lowe sang, ‘Cruel To Be Kind.’
Raising his shot glass, his Yoda tattoo purposefully visible to the others, Joseph indicated for them to raise theirs. The three men threw back their Jamesons.
“So Billy,” Joseph managed to start before the kid could talk again. “You head back to Chicago at all?”
“Naaahhh,” Billy drew out. “No way to get back. Besides, Philly’s been too much fun.”
The long haired kid stayed quiet for a refreshing few moments and Joseph heard the music say, ‘it’s a very very very good sign’ just as Annabeth returned from the restroom.
She sat and pushed her shot over to Joseph. “You want mine too?” She asked. “I don’t need this.”
The whiskey went down the hatch and Joseph felt his buzz kick up a notch, watched an anthropomorphic red glass ashtray throw a punch across Billy’s face. He knew then it was time for him to head home.
“Well I was just in the neighborhood so wanted to stop in for a drink, but I gotta go.”
Annabeth eyed him quizzically, knowing he’d actually just been four neighborhoods away.
Goodbyes were said and Joseph hoped he’d catch the train before it stopped running for the night, save the eight dollar difference between that and cab fare. He decided not to call Annabeth for a few days, give her a little space.
(Listen to the original version of Nick Lowe's 'Cruel To Be Kind' here. For a live version performed with Wilco last month, click here.)