The start of Chapter 14 --
So there I was, driving away to nowhere. Again.
Typical behavior. Typical of me to bolt first and think later. That's always worked so well in the past. Which is why I get myself in these stupid situations.
Come on, Shea! Get a grip.
I found myself driving down Madison. It's not the main drag in Lakewood. In fact, it's more like the back door. Some small shopping strips. Empty storefronts. Apartment buildings dating back to the 1920's.
And bars. Lots of bars. Mostly Irish bars. Faux pubs. Which makes sense, since Lakewood is an old Irish neighborhood, hence the presence of my own green-blooded family.
I passed a couple of them, but then I saw Tara's Throne. There was a sign out front that advertised live music and I remembered that guy I saw when I was out with Rich. The Irish singer. Finn. He said that he played here regularly.
It was a Wednesday, so I easily found a parking space on the street in front of the bar. It was also a warm, beautiful evening. The last of summer. The first of September. I should have been heading over to one of the gay bars or clubs on Detroit. Going over to be with my own people. To dance. To get drunk. To get laid.
But these are my people, too. The Micks and the drunks and the singers.
I heard the music before I even walked in the door.
"Farewell to you, my own true love.
I am going far away.
I am bound for Cali-for-ny-ay,
But I know that I'll return one day.
So fare you well, my own true love,
And when I return united we will be.
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me,
But my darling when I think of thee."
This was what I needed. Maudlin, cry-in-your-fucking-beer, Irish songs of lost love and soul-wringing pain. The Irish are great for that. They're never happier than when they are completely miserable. I ordered a glass of Harp, found a table -- it wasn't hard, the place was almost empty -- and waited for the rapture to kick in.
I have to say that as a performer Finn was good. Maybe better than good. He had a strong voice, a classic tenor, but with an edge to it, so it wasn't too sweet. The songs he played were typical open mic fare -- the blues, Clancy Brothers, Everlys, classic Dylan, Bob Marley, Neil Young, a Beatle song or two, even an old Pink Floyd number done with a sly smirk -- but they fit the place. Songs for an Irish pub, no matter where in the world it was located. And he peppered his originals into the mix in a way that seemed natural. And told jokes and stories about his life. All bullshit, of course, but they gave him a distinct personality. Yes, Finn wasn't lacking in personality.
He was also fiendishly attractive, especially when I'd been drinking.
"Well! My friend from the Spider," Finn said during his break. He slid into the chair next to me. "Shea, right?"
I nodded. "Right."
"Well, Shea, what are ya drinking?"
"Harp," I said. I was almost finished. One glass of beer was about my limit.
"What's that? A wee glass?" Finn sniffed. "That's for ladies, son! Let me get you a man's serving. Two pints of Guinness! Over here!" he called to the bartender.
"Your friend doesn't drink for free," the bartender grumped.
"I'm payin'!" said Finn. "Put it on my tab, my good man."
"Really," I protested. "I'm fine here."
"Nonsense," said Finn. "It's my treat. I have to cater to my fans, after all."
I accepted the Guinness, although it's not my favorite. It's too dark, too thick, and too foamy; it reminds me too much of my family, my childhood, and all the things I was there to get away from. Memories too dark, too thick, too foamy.
"So, did you come here tonight just to see himself?" asked Finn. If I hadn't been so certain he was straight, I'd have thought he was coming on to me.
"Of course," I lied.
"Ha! I knew you were a fan!" Finn seemed almost giddy. "But these weeknights are killing. This place doesn't pay shite and they won't let me pass the hat. But I'm going to be hostin' an open mic over at the Phoenix on Detroit starting next Monday. Do you know the place?"
The Phoenix was a local coffeehouse chain, a kind of low-market Starbucks that attracted a motley assortment of aging hippies, skateboarding teenagers, and people on disability who had nowhere else to go all day. "Sure, I know it."
"Brilliant!" Finn said with enthusiasm. "You should come over. Didn't you say you lived around here somewheres?"
"Not far. I grew up in Lakewood."
Finn nodded. "A lot of bars here. Better than the East Side. Things are too spread out over there. It's harder to get around when you don't have a car."
That surprised me. Cleveland isn't an easy place to maneuver without your own transportation. "How do you get to gigs without a car?"
He stuck up his thumb. "I hitch. Or I bum a ride. Or if worse comes to worst, I take the fuckin' bus. But I can't afford a car. I spent all of me savings to get to the States, so I live on what I make as a merry minstrel." He glanced around the empty bar. "Which isn't much."
"How long have you been in town?" Now I was really curious.
"Since the start of summer," he said. "I came over because I met this girl in Ireland last year. Blonde and comely as a young willow, with eyes like blue mountain pools! She was from some suburb here; Beachwood it was. Before she went home she told me to come over the ocean and visit her. So I did!" Then he laughed. "I don't think she expected me to really show up on her doorstep, but when I did she took me in -- for a few weeks. Then I met some other musicians and I'm crashing at their place down by the university. Thought I'd stay here through the winter and then see where the road might take me. Maybe to California. Or Nashville. Seek my fortune. But I need to save a little money first. And..." he lowered his voice. "I need to stay a step ahead of the coppers. I've slightly overstayed my welcome, not to mention my tourist visa."
"Great. Does that mean some guys in black suits and sunglasses are going to come through that door and drag you away?"
"They might." Finn didn't seem too concerned. "But they'll have to be fast. Because I'm a fast son of a bitch!"
"I bet. But if you're going to stay in Cleveland all winter, you better have a warm coat," I warned him. "Those winds off Lake Erie are brutal."
"So I'm told." Finn shrugged. "I'll find a warm place to land. I always do. We Irish are noted for charming our way through life with an empty pocket and a winning grin." He showed me his large, white teeth and I had to laugh. "See? It even works on you. You should see how it enchants the ladies. But a bloke with a face like yours must know a bit about how to get around the fair sex."
I looked away. "Not really."
"Ah! Nursing a broken heart is it?" Finn leaned over. "I can tell. I can always tell! A wee drink and a song should fix that up. Or make you forget her for an evening." He looked up and saw the bartender signaling. "That means I need to get my arse back up on that plank of wood they call a stage and entertain the masses." He stood. "Masses! Are you ready to be entertained?"
"Just get up there," said the bartender. "More music and less comedy, if you don't mind."
Finn bowed. "Your wish is my command!" He clumped up onto the stage and took out his battered Gibson. "This song is for my lovelorn friend, Shea."
He launched into a jaunty tune that was vaguely familiar.
"Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep,
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin': 'This is my message to you!'
Singin': 'Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.'
Singin': 'Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!'"
Then I remembered. Bob Marley. Except Finn's version didn't sound remotely like reggae. It sounded like Finn: Irish and quirky and more than a little weird. And sexy. Way too sexy.
He grinned at me while he was singing. I could see how that grin worked on the ladies.
I thought about sticking around to see if Finn needed a ride home. But I knew that was a no-go. The last thing I needed was more frustration.
I pushed the half-finished pint of Guinness away and slunk out of Tara's Throne before I could change my mind.