The pedestrian who makes the toddle a couple of blocks south from Penn Station on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan may, if he is alert to such things, spy what was in 1982 the best little Irish pub in New York: the Molly Wee. I carefully restrict my contentious assertion to that year because I haven't been back there in twenty years, having moved on to other places and other times. But in 1982, that was the spot Where Everybody Knew My Name.
I was living in a ground-floor sublet on 28th Street at the time, fresh out of Kenyon and miserably rent-poor -- no, that's not strong enough: I was a rent-pauper. But when a paycheck came in that wasn't already garnisheed by the landlord, I would gather up my roommate John, the gorgeous redheaded colleen who would grow up to become Wonder Woman, and a few other of our circle of cronies, and assemble there to gather wool and get on the outside of the bartender Seamus' Olympian hamburgers and some Guinness.
Seamus was a publican's publican. I was just reminiscing about him with Wondie, and she remembers him as fondly as I do. "He protected me when I was in there," she said. Nobody ever hit on her or did the disgusting things men do to attractive women in bars -- not on Seamus' watch. Once I heard a commotion down at the other end of the bar: a drunk commuter, passing time before the late train left Penn Station for Islip, forgot himself and announced pugnaciously to the world, "Oh, yeah? Well, you don't have to be Catholic to be Irish!" Seamus leaped over the bar -- he was no gazelle, this lumbering, meaty man -- and executed the first and only bum's rush I've ever seen performed outside the comics pages or a Thirties farce -- left hand to the back of the coat collar, right hand grasping firmly the seat of the pants -- and the hapless inebriate crashed out into the Eighth Avenue pedestrian traffic. I don't think the matter under discussion was what caused Seamus to move so fast and so efficiently; I think he was far more offended by the potential breach of the peace.
By 1984 many of us had come to recognize the connection between Manhattan rents and our inability to eat regular meals, and we decamped for the greener pastures of Park Slope and environs. I'm given to understand that nowadays you can't touch the place, but in those days it was blissfully affordable compared to Chelsea. Our connection to Seamus and the Molly Wee slowly faded, but in those magic few moments in October of 1986 when the Mets made it to the World Series, we made it a point to gather the old gang together and watch Game Six in our old haunt.
Somewhere in the early stages of that unforgettable game (for readers uninitiated in the history of baseball, it's agreed among the cognoscenti to be one of -- if, indeed, not the -- greatest, most melodramatic ballgames ever played), the redoubtable leftfielder Mookie Wilson came up to bat. It was a rock-solid tradition among Mets fans that when Mookie batted or made a play in the field, you yelled "Mooooo!" at the top of your lungs. Which is what I, there in the stool under the TV I'd arrived an hour early to claim, did.
Seamus whirled about behind the bar, his face flushed and his eyes flashing. He pointed an outraged finger in my face. "Nobody boos moy Mookie!" he snarled. "You boo moy Mookie in moy bar and you'll foind yourself out of here on yer arse!" Timidly I tried to explain the custom -- a little surprised that he hadn't noticed people doing it before. He turned away from me, plainly disgusted, and began washing glasses.
Some five minutes later, he gently put a shotglass down next to my beer and poured a shot of Old Bushmill into it, quietly rapping the bar with a thick knuckle as he withdrew. That, in all his humane benevolence, was Seamus.
That whiskey was going to prove a problem. It's well known that people who are terrified of flying will occasionally try to allay their fear by drinking heavily during a flight. But the alcohol has no effect, because the terror and tension and fight-or-flight adrenaline far outstrip it. Of course, the instant the plane touches down and the poor bastard begins to feel safe again, the booze comes on like a blow to the back of the head, and the attendants have to pour him off the plane.
Game Six had exactly that effect on me. For the hours it took to play the game, I, and the rest of the Mets fans gathered at the Molly Wee, were tense, silent, concentrated. Knocking it back, of course, punishing the Guinness pretty hard -- but the game was too dramatic for the beer to have much noticeable effect. During Mookie's epic at-bat in the tenth inning, down to his last strike, the entire season riding on his bat, heroically fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch, the adrenaline and tension were unbearable. I think I drank three shots of whiskey during that at-bat alone -- to absolutely no avail.
I do remember the ball down the first-base line trickling through Bill Buckner's legs. I do vaguely remember the sight of Ray Knight crossing the plate, fighting through the gaggle of ecstatic Mets who met him there. I have the dimmest vague, dreamlike memory of standing up to go pee. After that, all is as dark as the grave.
They told me later that I volunteered to go out and hail a cab for those of us returning to Brooklyn. That part I believe. What I do not believe is that I was seen racing up the middle of Eighth Avenue, barking like a dog at the top of my lungs and challenging cars to fights. That just seems out of character.