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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Woof!

MARLEY'S DOG
By GC SMITH


I read a book yesterday, Marley and Me by John Grogan. The book was, I believe, on the New York Times best seller list a few years back. It figures, Marley and Me is a good story, uplifting and it's fun, just what a good read should be. But, I'm not writing to sing the praises of Grogan's book. I'm writing because the very title took me back at least fifty years to the story of a man called Marley and his big red setter, Irish Bob aka Marley's Dog who were constants in McClatchy's tavern. The man and his dog were there when my father, who frequented the tavern only for the Friday night TV fights, brought me into the establishment as a five-year-old kid. Marley and Irish Bob were there through my teen years when Dad and I still came to the place on Friday nights. They were there when I was a young man. They were fixtures.

You have to know a little about Marley and his compatriots, Pennsylvania coal country beer alcoholics all, who wasted away their latter days in McClatchy's place. They weren't always tosspots, they had been miners, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, storekeepers, and yes, even a schoolteacher. Marley had been a church janitor.

The McClatchy regulars made their livings with their hands and their brains. One Orb Meehan dug coal and the grime settled so deep in his pores he was black with a single bright blue eye. The other eye was taken by a flying' chunk of coal from the deep vein that he had been chiseling. The Murphy twins worked on cars and trucks and were as grimy as old One Orb. Billy Toole fixed pipes for a living and always joked that if One Orb and the Murphy boys weren't so cheap they'd install indoor plumbing so they could wash up. Sean ``Red Nose'' Connerty earned his keep as a hatchet carpenter. The structures he hammered together were far from plumb but none ever fell down so I'd offer that as a recommendation of sorts. Shaky McKinney, the storekeeper, shook even before he took to the drink. He shook as a school kid, he shook as a young man, and he shook in middle age. He shook when he made change for his customers. In his dotage McKinney would sit down on one of McClatchy's barstools, his right hand shaking' bad until McClatchy would slide the first glass over toward him. McKinney's palsied hand would snake out, grab the glass and miraculously steady. He never spilled a drop, no never a slip between cup and lip. Brian O'Donnell had taught school for forty years pounding the works of such as Yeats and Behan into unreceptive boneheads. It was no wonder O'Donnell took to the drink.

Finally, there was Marley and his setter Irish Bob. Marley never missed an afternoon or evening attending McClatchy's lineup of characters. Marley would find an empty barstool and Irish Bob would curl up under the stool. Bob never moved no matter how long Marley sat on the chrome and plastic stool. Bob never twitched when arguments on politics and philosophy turned to shouting' matches. He never twitched when invectives were hurled back and forth at ear splitting decibels. He never twitched when the drunks, sounding like chalk screeches on a blackboard, attempted to sing Irish ballads.

Irish Bob slept through it all.

Bob would wake when Marley got off the barstool, cock one eye toward the men's room, and he'd watch and wait while Marley stumbled to the pisser and back to his stool. At that point Irish Bob would lower his head and go back to his nap.

I was there the day Marley drained his final glass, put his head down on the mahogany bar surface and died. McClatchy called Tommy McGillachudy and the coroner-cum-funeral director showed up pronto and hauled the corpse away.

But, what to do with Irish Bob? Who would take care of the big red setter? Who would be responsible? Suggestions were many. Arguments raged. No one could or would agree on any course of action. All suggestions were shot down.

I sat to the side watching with some amusement. How would the dilemma resolve?

On around midnight I could see that McClatchy was losing patience. His normally florid face was now a scarlet blaze. Finally the bar-owner shouted. ``Enough.'' He grabbed a hat from Shaky McKinney's head. ``Okay lads,'' McClatchy, said, ``we're going to raffle off the damn dog.'' He took a sheet of paper wrote some things and ripped the sheet to strips that he folded and tossed into the hat. He swirled the hat with the folded raffle tickets and looked straight at me. ``You, boy, `` he said, ``you're not a regular here, so you do it.'' He held out the hat and I took it. I walked the length of the bar and each of the regulars took a slip. When I reached the last man there was a single folded raffle slip left. ``Shit,' shouted McClatchy, ``I miscounted.'' He nodded toward me, ``Guess that one's is for you kid.''

The regulars opened their slips and each one said ~luck is with you, Boyo.

My slip read, Bob is now yours you poor boy.

Irish Bob and I spent ten years together. He was the finest of friends and I'll cherish our time forever.

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