Where everybody knew my name once

Brophy's Dugout Sports Pub

Brophy's is kind of a dive. However, it's a dive bar that has interesting characters roll in and out of its doors almost every day. At night, the party is turned up and all sorts of people show up for a good, raucous time.  Bar food is served and smoking is more than welcome. Live bands play on most weekends — call for details.
(from metromix.com)
There's a sort of secret society among regular drinkers.  The Shriners have their fezzes, the Masons their rings, and maybe we drunks only have gin blossoms and eye bags, but it's the same thing.

When I was first hired at the Wave 102.5 many, many moons ago, the engineer and the music director used to take me downstairs to Brophy's.  It was called Gamble's then, and the owner was a young guy named Tom Brophy.  Anyway, McGyver and Donnie B and I would sit in our booth, and we'd drink beer and commiserate about how horrible things were at the station.  I was 22, and I was absolutely thrilled to be working in major market radio.  The studios they bitched about looked like sci-fi heaven to me, but they bought me beer, and I listened supportively.  That was the beginning of the circle of beer: McGyver and Donnie B paid for my beers, because I was young and broke at the time.

Years later, I'd moved up into a pretty good job, and I took a young, high-strung news guy down to Gamble's to drink.  We all went there, almost every night.  We'd drink our beer and relax, joke around and complain.  Gradually, I came to know the staff and many of the other regulars, and I started going there on non-work nights.  My friends and I would go there for lunch most days.  It was close and cheap, and the food was amazingly good.  Especially Fridays: grouper sandwich day.  Still, the best grouper sandwich I've ever had.

Tom Brophy was the owner and proprietor, and he worked about 800 hours a week.  He'd be there for the lunch crowd, then wander back in about 9 to help close.  Gamble's/Brophy's was a little raucous.  I fell in love a few times in "my booth," with a soul-mate coworker, a Canadian summer intern, with Sherry the barmaid.  Tom Brophy was one of the nicest, most cheerful guys I've ever met.  If you were a regular, he'd let you pay your bill with a personal check–I know, right? Allowing drunks to write checks?–and if you were a little short till payday, he'd let you run a tab.  He knew we'd pay him first thing come payday.  He knew we'd pay him, then sit there and spend more.

Tommy loved being Irish, and he went all out on St Patrick's Day.  They opened at 9 AM, and everybody started drinking.  Green beer, sure, but Tommy and Sherry used to spend each March 16th night whipping up green Jell-O shots.  Gamble's was only licensed to sell beer and wine, so they gave the shots away to us regulars.  I'm a big guy who drank a lot–my tolerance was pretty damn high–but two giant Hacker-Pshorr drafts and five Jell-O shots, and I was cake. 

When I moved to another station, I switched bars.  It was hard to leave the crowd there, but our new bar was right next to the new station, plus they served liquor.  Yay.  Lots of the ensuing decade is blurry, but I remember running into my Gamble's family in odd places.  I'd be at Bennigan's drinking vodka with my new bar friends, and Tom Brophy would pop in for a beer.  I always bought him one.   I owed him.

Eventually, I moved to another station in the same building as before.  I'd get off the air at midnight, and I'd be in my booth by ten past.  I'd have a few beers and chill, order a sandwich to go, then return to my cave to drink whiskey.  "Interesting characters?" Oh, sure.  They were there late-night.  WE were there late-night.  Sometimes, Tommy and Sherry would drive across the bridge to Tampa, where bars stayed open till 0300.  The Green Iguana was right across the Gandy Bridge, one of the straightest roadways in Florida, thank God.  Because the Iguana staff knew Tommy and Sherry, they'd close at 0300, then lock the doors and drink with us.  Again, they couldn't sell alcohol after 3, but they could–and did–give it away. 

One night, after I'd imploded sufficiently that I stopped going to bars, I was without a car and wanted a drink.  I took a cab to Brophy's, and Sherry was there.  We hugged and kissed, and she asked if I wanted to go get a drink, "a drink" meaning shots and liquor, not just beer.  She drove me to Dave's Aqua Lounge and Liquors.  We sat at the bar, catching up, and she asked me about some of my old friends, the gang I used to drink with at Gamble's years ago.  "C's married with a kid; E's married with five daughters; CC's married with a kid.  They've all moved away.  What about Drunk and Insane Erich, Tommy the Cook, and Bud Light Dave?"

She looked at me sadly.  "Erich passed out with a lit cigarette, and burned to death.  Tommy the Cook drowned in Aruba, and Bud Light Dave got liver cancer and died."

Sad. 

Another time, I was on a date and ran into Molly the barmaid at this other bar down Fourth Street.  We caught up a little.  She had to get back to her boyfriend, and I had to get back to whatever girl I was with.  I remember Molly's name, and that Juan the Ecuadorian was our bartender (there was also a Juan the Puerto Rican in our society), and that Juan made these amazingly powerful shots called "Key Wests." I drank one pint of Bass Ale, and four shots.  Of course, his shots would fill an iced tea glass.  He didn't charge extra–and he was heavy on the 151 Bacardi component–because he knew I'd tip him exorbitantly.  After all, we were friends from Brophy's.  And Bennigan's.  And Lord only knows how many other bars. 

OH! And it was Halloween! I remember that now.  Molly was dressed as a belly dancer/gypsy kind of thing, and she wasn't wearing a bra.  I kept looking at her tiny naked breasts beneath that blue silk, and she kissed me goodbye on the mouth.  It pissed off her boyfriend and my date.  I remember that. 

I couldn't tell you what girl I was with or how or when I got home, but I remember my bar people.  I remember those almost delicious Key Wests–like fruit juice, but with a malathion and jet fuel finish.  I can't remember the point to my being there.

Last night, I stopped by the 7-Eleven after work to buy some barbecue sauce.  They had a crew in there stocking, and I overheard one lady say something about, "He was really young.  All the Brophy's people are in shock."

Aw, fuck.  Not again.

I asked who'd died.

Tom Brophy was 45 years old, just a few years older than I.  He had a sudden heart attack two weeks ago, and he was dead before he hit the floor.  He left two kids behind, and a jillion people like me who are sickened by the news. 

I haven't set foot in Brophy's since I quit drinking, nearly 3.5 years ago.  I don't go to bars.  I don't risk it.  I don't trust myself, nor should I. 

During my bar years, I saw lots of cautionary tales.  People like Drunk and Insane Erich, who was completely 'faced by sundown each night.  He was a mess.  I saw lots of people who'd lost control, and I vowed never to become one of them.  I don't think anyone ever intends to.  I did, whether I wanted to or not. 

Tom Brophy wasn't.  He drank here and there, but I never saw him drunk–well, only on St Patty's Day or when they hosted a golf tournament.  He was a really nice guy, one of the few in the pantheon of bar owners.  I think he just did it because he loved his people, the same way Oskar loved the theater in "Fanny and Alexander."  Just not in Swedish, and without subtitles.

For me, the hardest part of the last 24 hours has been trying to remember more of my times at Gamble's.  I remember sitting there in my booth, reading "Tropic of Cancer" and "The Naked Lunch" while I drank.  I remember leaning against the pool table, kissing various girls, or making out in the parking lot.  I remember how Tommy would lead a pack of us down to Dirty Moe's Oyster Boat to do shots before returning to our beers.  I remember the daily lunch specials: Monday was burger day; Tuesday and Thursday chicken sandwiches or chicken salad; Wednesday was wings; Friday, the aforepraised grouper sandwich–truly the reason the Creator invented both the grouper and tartar sauce.  Gamble's/Brophy's had awesome food, so I don't feel remiss in toasting his memory with a Philly Cheesesteak and a Coke Zero instead of Jameson's Irish Whiskey or one of those pretty, yet deadly, green Jell-O shots.

Every day, I'm grateful I survived my bad decade with enough intact synapses to function.  It's a miracle I can remember what I do, and a blessing perhaps that I don't remember more.

In looking back, mostly I remember Tom Brophy's smile, and that he always made me feel comfortable and welcome there, even if I'd bounced a check to him or behaved like a complete jackass. 

I wish I could remember more, but his smile–that's enough.

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13 Responses to “Where everybody knew my name once”

  1. Oh Tom, I'm so sorry. (((hugs)))I'm glad he left you with happy memories, though — and I'm sure he would be delighted at the lovely manner in which you have detailed your reminisces, where he seems to have had an honoured place.(P.S. Off-topic, but please tell me you're doing that NaNoWriMo thing. Your writing is too good to be passed up for an opportunity like that.)

  2. Sorry to hear about the loss of your old friend.I hope I go out that way… quick and painless. My dad's friend recently found out he has Lou Gehrig's disease, so he has about 2 years before he suffocates and dies that slow death. There is no way I'd wait around for that.

  3. This is a wonderful piece.

  4. Your story made me shiver a bit. Your list of friends who died of alcohol-related illnesses and accidents sounds a lot like mine, only they were newspaper reporters and writers. It convinced me that the stereotype of the two-fisted hard-drinking scribbler had to go: too many of us were poisoning ourselves because of this fantasy based on the biographies of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. (Which should have warned them off, I think. I sure don't want to end up with a shotgun in the mouth while dying of writer's block in Ketchum, Idaho.)But I am so sorry about your friend Tom Brophy. And I am so glad you are here today.Hope you didn't give up the grouper sandwiches, though. Those do sound good.

  5. It's a romantic way to die, until you're actually doing it. As far as grouper, it's almost impossible to find real grouper anymore these days. NOAA has instituted strict catch limits, resulting in lots of tilapia sandwiches. Good, but not the grilled blackened or fried grouper of my younger days. When we can find it, it's still nummy.

  6. ALS would not be in my top five ways to go, either. What a sentence to have to carry with you. I can't imagine what I'd do–stockpiling meds, maybe? *shivers*

  7. I'd close the garage door and start the engine, crank the stereo, drink a few beers, and reflect on a good life. And go out on my terms.

  8. i'm sorry, tom… those memories sound like good ones, though.xoxo

  9. It's a romantic way to die, until you're actually doing it.As far as grouper, it's almost impossible to find real grouper anymore these days. NOAA has instituted strict catch limits, resulting in lots of tilapia sandwiches. Good, but not the grilled blackened or fried grouper of my younger days. When we can find it, it's still nummy.

  10. That's a good idea. It would probably be more efficient with an old, pre-catalytic converter car and good old 'Merkin leaded gas, though.

  11. Thanks, Su. I'm just getting a little tired of having to write remembrances of friends. I might try NaNoWriMo. I took a stab at it last year, but I got a late start, plus I hadn't gotten over my extended writer's block. We'll just see. 😉

  12. Got my eye on a '66 Mustang. Bad ass, and the CO factor is there if needed down the road.

  13. Sorry to hear of your loss, but good to hear the memories.I used to have a recurring nightmare… eerily similar to your scene from the night before this post.In the middle of any random dream I'd overhear a conversation between strangers about this person who had died… and slowly I would realize it was my best friend (who was really dying far away in Finland… just kept getting better and then worse again… for like 5 years. – eventually his wife phoned me the same night he died to tell me). But that was my horror and nightmare for years, so I know that sinking feeling of 'oh no – not him'.

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