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.)


  1. You know what I like about your work? There are many things, but today's piece particularly strikes me. You write with such a strong sense of place. Very nice.

  2. You know, McG's is the perfect place for a story involving an anthropomorphic red glass ashtray.

    But more than the ashtray, one thing I really liked about this piece is that it actually verbalized one of the underlying themes in so much of what you write. Specifically, in the first paragraph you note: "One could live an entire lifetime between Northern Liberties and Fishtown, he thought."

    Needless to say, you seem to effortlessly create characters and stories to routinely demonstrate how one would fill such a lifetime.

  3. Thanks, Karen, for the kind words. McGlinchey's may be the only true dive bar left in that part of Philadelphia.

    Mike D., I know you're an email subscriber, so thanks for hopping over to the site to post your thoughtful comment. It's fun for me to hear from a fellow Philadelphian that you liked the line about living life between those two neighborhoods, and that you seem to enjoy the ways in which these pretend people spend their days.

  4. Interesting characters and an interesting story. I guess Annabeth has to learn for herself.

  5. Helen, I loved your comments this week and last week regarding Annabeth, thanks very much for sharing them!

  6. Being utterly from out of this setting, I didn't even realize things like McG's were real. I liked the character's attraction to the place and how they pulled the story through themselves, though.

  7. An amazing story once again. "One could live an entire lifetime between Northern Liberties and Fishtown, he thought" I have had this thought to myself so many times. It was really crazy to see it written in your story. I can picture myself as an out of frame extra in so many of your stories. I feel like I have seen Joseph at JBs before, checking his phone anxiously, waiting to see what Annabeth would text back. You're stories always transport me right there.

  8. One could live an entire lifetime between Northern Liberties and Fishtown -> like how this line sounds in my head. Interesting story!

  9. Lou Reed - the perfect choice for the setting :-)

  10. John, thanks for reading and for mentioning the characters' relationship to the bar. The McGlinchey's of this world can be a lot of fun, but often leave us having anything but fun the following morning.

    Jay, great to hear from you, and I loved reading in your comments that you could see yourself in some of these stories, that's the most fulfilling compliment I could receive on the intermittent Philly based mini tales posted here, and it means a lot coming from a born and bred Philadelphian like you, amigo.

    Sonia, thanks for your comment and for mentioning that line about No Libs and Fishtown, which seems to have struck a chord with multiple readers of this piece. It's interesting to me that a few people commented on that sentence, and I'm very appreciative of this feedback.

    Li, thank you for stopping by, and I'm glad you agreed with my decision to go with Velvet Underground for the first mention of barroom music. Lou Reed's low, soft tones came to mind immediately as I wrote the part when Joseph approached Annabeth's table.

  11. Awesome piece of writing. Really the best multi-sensory reading experience I've had in a long time. Loved the music, loved the people, loved the atmosphere. I've been to places like this and your writing takes me back there in real time. Thanks.

  12. A totally believable and well-dialogued slice of life. I have some sympathy for Joseph, the evening just didn't hold for him what he really wanted from it.

  13. I echo everyone else's sentiments about how amazingly alive you make your setting. I could smell the booze in this one.