It's not about the house.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Greatly Exaggerated

Some of you out there may not know that Johnny used to be a sesiún musician – which is kind of like a professional except you get paid in pints instead of pounds (which are kind of like dollars except worth something). He did this for lord knows how long back home in Dublin, pawning his guitar every Monday, getting it out of hock with Friday’s paycheck, playing and drinking for free all weekend ’round the city, then pawning it again on Monday to get drinking money for the week.

He’s Irish, what can I say?

He also played (and painted) his way through all of Europe, plus Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and I-don’t know-where-else – and it was the reason that he first came to America. He and a buddy from back home (let’s call him Buddy) were on their way to Australia to live, permanent-like, and they’d lined up a few weeks’ worth of Boston sesiúns on their way. They sold off or gave away all they had back home in Dublin and planned to have a real piss-up in Beantown before starting the rest of their lives walking upside down and eating vegemite instead of marmite sandwiches. Which blech, on both counts, but anyway…

Instead, Buddy stole Johnny’s guitar, plane ticket, and traveler’s checks and disappeared.

Thanks, buddy!

So Johnny was stranded. He had a room at the Y, but really nothing else, and no way to pay for that the next time it came due. Then, one day, he was walking to his room when he heard somebody talking on the hall phone. “John Conroy? No, I don’t know no John Conroy! There are 350 people staying here, you think I know them all?” He was big, and he was working himself up to a good lather at the audacity of whoever was on the line, but Johnny just tapped him on the shoulder, said “John Conroy, nice to meet you” and put his hand out for the phone.

It was another friend – a real friend – from his sesiún days. Gerry had been in Boston for a while, and when he heard through the Irish grapevine that Johnny was on his way through, he called all over town until he found him. (Although, technically, I’ve heard a few different versions of this story. In one, Buddy was still with Johnny when Gerry called; in one, Johnny had left the phone number for him somewhere. But I’m sticking with this one because it’s the best, because it’s the first one I heard, because nobody can seem to agree on what really happened, and because it makes Gerry out to be that much more of a hero. Yay, Gerry!)

Gerry gave Johnny a roof and lined him up with a job (yes, an illegal one, but what choice did he have?). Eventually, they both got their green cards, married beautiful American ladies (ahem), bought houses, and settled down. Gerry even had a couple kids. They lost touch over the years, but in the past month or so they've reconnected, and it turns out he only lives about four miles down the road.

They’ve been hanging out a lot these past few weeks – playing music, drinking beer – and in the course of one of these musical conversations Johnny happened to mention that another guy they knew from their sesiún days had died. We’ll call him Jay. Jay made a life for himself (and a lot of friends) as an actual, professional musician: he played all over New England and, sometimes, still back home. They hadn’t seen him in donkeys years, but they remembered him fondly, and it made Gerry sad to think he’d passed away.

So Gerry, being a hero, got to work.

A few days ago, he called to say that he’d alerted the Irish grapevine and there was a benefit in the making. This is what musicians do. No insurance, no security, so the team rallies when one of them needs help. You’re always seeing signs at bars around town for this benefit or that one, sometimes to pay for medical bills, sometimes to give a sort of safety net to a grieving widow. Now Gerry had started the ball rolling on one for Jay’s family, and he was looking for a bit more detail from Johnny’s source.

Johnny didn’t have a number for the fiddle player who’d first told him the news, and after a couple fruitless calls to information, I went to the 'net. Still nothing on the fiddle player, but after an hour of searching I did find a phone number for Jay. I also found, oddly, that there are a lot of teenaged black girls out there who share his name, but this phone number was definitely his. It was going to be awkward, but it had to be done, so Johnny called.

The widow answered.


“Hello,” says Johnny, “My name is John Conroy, and I’m calling about Jay LastName?”

“Ah,” says she, “He’s playing a gig up in Portsmouth at the moment. Would you like his cell phone number?”


Apparently the fiddle player lied. Typical. Never trust a fiddler, I always say.

So now obviously the plan is to go ahead with the benefit and bring Jay in as a secret, surprise guest. The only question is what to do with all the money. Can’t give it to him, that wouldn’t be right. And, considering the pass-the-can nature of these things, it might be logistically impossible to give it back. There’s always charity, but that, too, seems wrong. People thought they were donating to a family, they might not want their dollars going to save some stupid seal. No, it seems to me the only way to handle this situation is to treat it like the proper Irish wake it tried to be.

Drinks on the house!

And there’d better be a damn good sesiún, too.


jen said...

you could always write a coffee table book about Johnny, and he could do the illustrations.
I would buy it. and drink coffee on it.

pork luck said...

I just love irishmen. Especially the ones who arent really dead.

Chris... said...

Sounds like another tricky Irish way to get some free drinks!! Ach aiy wee jimmy..

Khurston said...

please pronounce sesiún?

EGE said...

JEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU'RE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'LL TELL HIM YOU SAID SO!!!!!!!!!!! HE'LL BE SO GLAD YOU'RE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Pork! -- The dead ones aren't so bad, either. They're usually good for a couple of drinks, anyway.

Chris -- You got that right, brother!

Khurston -- just like it's spelled: "gig" (ha ha! kidding! really it's "session" -- which, for Irish, is pretty darn close to phonetic)

Chris said...

Hey look at my picture, I just set this up.

EGE said...

Chris -- I almost didn't look at your picture, because your comment looked like it might be comment-spam. But then I did.

You, my friend, are a dork. But I heart you anyway.

jen said...

Im such an IMMENSE loser that I thought you'd never speak to me again!
I heart you and Johnny, as always!

theotherbear said...

Hmm, you could always give the money to the Theotherbear Benevolent Society

EGE said...

I don't know, TOB, by the time I bought myself a ticket to deliver it in person -- and one for Johnny, because it wouldn't be fair -- there might not be anything left!