The following is part of a novel I started and abandoned years ago, but recent events brought the events described therein to mind, so here is a portion of my squandered youth:
Murphy returned and asked, does anyone want their picture taken with
Frank? The Phoenix is doing a meet the candidate
feature and their guy wants some pictures of the voters meeting Frank.
Jack, the man’s been the councilman
for this ward for the past thirty years, Nunan said. Who hasn’t met him already?
A good point, Sean, but the guy
still wants pictures of Frank meeting his constituents.
I’m from the Seventh Ward, Nunan
Ditto, Amy said. And I’m not going
anywhere near that guy from the paper.
How about you, Mickey, Murphy said.
I’m not from the city, Mike said.
What difference does it make, Murphy
said. They just need some pictures.
Hang on there, Jack, the lad has a
point, Nunan said. I don’t think your
man there will want a picture of himself soliciting the vote of someone who
doesn’t live in the city in the newspaper, not after the stink the reform clubs
made about Martin Meehan last year.
Reminding the public of your sins is not good politics.
Yeah, I suppose you’re right, Murphy
said, just thought I’d ask. He turned
and went back to the candidate, who was having his picture taken with
Bridie. Bill O’Hara stood off to one
side with a drink in one hand, speaking to Tommy Raferty.
Who’s Martin Meehan, Mike asked.
Martin Meehan was the most loyal
Democrat in municipal history, Michael, Nunan said, a Democrat so true blue
that he kept voting for the party’s candidates for years after his death.
When did he die, Mike asked.
1931, Nunan said, and apparently
he’d voted in every election since then.
The reform Democrats became suspicious last year when their man lost the
mayoral primary in the Third Ward by slightly more votes than there were people
living in the ward, if you believe the Census Bureau. The reform clubs looked into the matter and,
lo and behold, not only were there more votes than people, but that a good
number of the registered voters resided, if you can call it residing, in St.
Jude’s Cemetery up on Keaton Avenue. Mr.
Martin Meehan was the most famous of these civic-minded citizens, a man with a
perfect voting record even though the state sent him to the electric chair for
murdering a grocer on Jackson
Avenue during the Christmas holidays. Young Martin—he was only
twenty-two at the time, and him with his father a lieutenant in the fire department
and a brother a priest—killed the man for seventeen dollars and some
change. He ran out of the grocery after
shooting the poor bastard in the head; at the trial he couldn’t explain why
he’d shot the man at all—the grocer didn’t have a gun, so it must’ve been pure
fright; and then, as his luck would have it, or wouldn’t have it in this case,
he ran right into the cop on the beat, who’d heard the shot and came a-running
with his pistol drawn. Martin took a shot
at the policeman and then the policeman took a shot at Martin.
Well, Martin missed and the policeman didn’t;
he hit Martin in the chest, I think.
Even with the bullet in him, Martin still tried to make his escape; he got
halfway down the block before he collapsed from loss of blood. The city sent him to the prison ward at
County General to recover, and then, after a fair and very speedy trial, the outcome of which was never in doubt, the state
shipped him up the river to Sargenton, where they plunked the poor boy down in the
electric chair after a last meal of a buttered scone and a cup of tea and swiftly dispatched him into eternity. And then, having gone to meet
his Maker, Martin Meehan entered politics, an altogether more lucrative and
much safer form of crime.
Stop being gruesome, Amy said.
I’m just giving the lad the facts,
No one asked you for the details,
for Christ’s sake, Amy said, and what difference does it make how they
died? The dead vote in this city and the
dead all vote the straight Democratic ticket.
That’s what’s important, not the particulars of how this one or that one
The particulars are always
important, Nunan said. Isn’t that so,
God is in the details, Mike said.
Oh my, my, my, clichés served on
silver platitudes, Amy said. Whatever
will I have for dessert?
UPDATE: Just one more excerpt:
The doorbell rang.
No one went to the door, and so a moment later the doorbell rang again. Bridie Raferty came down the hall to the
front door and said, who is it? There
was a muffled reply and then Bridie swung the door open.
An old couple came in and Bridie kissed
them both and then loudly called, Tommy, Tommy, come here, the Murphys here.
…hey Jack, how’s it going…
…happy St. Paddy’s, Jack…
…hi Katie, how’s the old sod treating you…
The chorus of greetings was loud and
general, and the man smiled as he took his coat off and gave it to Bridie and
he gave the guests a small wave. His
wife just smiled and nodded.
Amy shook her head and said, you know, I
thought it was kind of strange that nobody’s gone home since we got here. I wonder what they all want.
Free food and a favor will bring the crowds
out like nothing else will, Nunan said.
Ain’t that the truth, Amy said.
I’m sorry, I’m missing something here, Mike
said. Who are they?
Jack Murphy is the chairman of the
Democratic Party district committee for this ward, Amy said.
Is that important, Mike asked.
Is that important he asks, Nunan said. Indeed it is, Michael, indeed it is.
Jack Murphy is the man to go to when you have a problem, that’s who he is, Amy
said. You need your rent paid or your
traffic tickets fixed or you need a city job if you can’t find work then he’s
the man to see. He’ll make any problem
you have go away and go away quickly and quietly if only you’ll show up at the
polls on Election Day and vote the way Jack wants you to.
What if you don’t want to, Mike said.
Don’t be thick, Michael, Nunan said. Who else would you vote for? The Republicans? Do you know if there are there any left in
the city, he asked Amy.
I heard the dog catchers shot the last one in the men's room at the Macy's on Van Voorhis Avenue a few years ago and put him on display at the Museum of Natural History, Amy said, right next to
the dodoes and the dinosaurs. They had to shoot him, poor thing, he was
frothing at the mouth and everything. Terrible.
There you have it, Nunan said. And even if you should take it in your head
to vote for someone else, the secret ballot is only secret between you and the
fellow who’s making sure you’re voting the way Jack wants you to.
They watch you vote? How can they do that, it’s illegal, Mike
Says who, Mike? The cops? The district attorney? The judges?
The district attorney and the judges in this city owe their jobs to the
county Democratic committee, Mike; like it or not, that’s the way things are
done here, Amy said. The law in this burg is what the judges say the law is and
the judges say what the county committee tells them to say the law is and
anyone who starts getting funny ideas about justice and impartiality is going
find themselves killing rats in the subway for a living pretty damn quick. So, making sure people vote Democratic is not
illegal, only vaguely unethical, and then only when the U.S. Attorney and his
grand jury aren’t snooping around the neighborhood.
What utterly appalling cynicism from
someone so young, Nunan said.
Oh, shut up, you, Amy said.
I will, ma’am, Nunan said. My apologies for disturbing you.
UPDATE: Well, maybe one more cut from the cow.
Duffy was ferocious in his denunciations of British rule in the north of Ireland and
equally ferocious in his support for Sinn Fein and the political programs of
the more militant Irish republicans. He
had little to say about the problems of the city or the Fifth Ward, except to
say that he hoped the transit workers would not go out on strike.
Do you think he believes anything
he’s saying, Mike asked.
Oh, I imagine he believes the parts
about Northern Ireland
well enough, Nunan said. There are no
Orangemen in this ward objecting to what he’s saying, and it is always easier
to call other people bastards when there’s an ocean between you and them and
you’re not asking them to vote for you.
Hoping that the transit workers don’t strike is not only a popular view, but damn near
universally held, even amongst transit workers, and if the damn city would sign
the contract their own negotiators agreed to then there won’t be any
strike. You’ll have noticed, Michael,
that he’s said nothing about Paddy Dugan?
No, I didn’t notice, Mike said, but
if you say so…
I do say so, lad, Nunan said. Ah, the
world’s in a terrible state of chassis, as the Peacock says, if Frank Duffy
can’t find it in himself to say something good about the soon to be erstwhile chairman
of the county Democratic committee in an election year. And have you noticed one other thing?
What’s that, Mike said.
Frank’s the only man in this room
who’s sweating, Nunan said.
Mike looked at the fat man
again. Duffy’s face was wet with sweat,
the trickles slowly running down his neck and staining his shirt collar dark
blue. Jesus, he’s sweating like a pig.
Jesus has very little to do with it,
lad, Nunan said. Our Mr. Duffy is not
used to running, either for office or anywhere else, for that matter. What you’re looking at is long neglected
He must be scared out of his mind if
he’s out campaigning this early in the year, Amy said.
To be sure, it must be terrifying,
Nunan said. After all, whatever will the poor man do for a living once he’s off
the City Council; I don’t think he’s had a real job in his life and Paddy
Dugan’s not around to pull his fat out of the fire this year. That’s why he’s
running hard now, I think; the prospect of honest work concentrates the mind
Yes, it does, Amy said.
You’d think a political machine
would have things better organized, Mike said.
You’d think that Mr. Dugan, the
leader of said political machine, would have the good sense to pay his income
taxes, Nunan said, but you’d be wrong, Michael.
‘Tis every man for himself at City Hall these days and that’s a fact.
A shame, that, his being a lamb led
to the slaughter, Mrs. Murphy said. The
poor man means no real harm to anyone, I think, and Jack tells me that he’s done
some real good on the city council.
You don’t follow politics, Mrs.
Murphy, Mike asked.
I do not. I have no interest in the subject and very
little interest in those who do, except Jack, of course. Politicians are a pitiful sort of person,
generally. Oh, I know, there are the
rare exceptions: John Kennedy was one, and Franklin Roosevelt was another as
well, may they rest in peace, but the rest of them I wouldn’t let watch my
grandchildren for an evening, much less run something important. From what Jack tells me of them, I suppose we
should be thankful the floors in City Hall aren’t paved with gold and that
champagne doesn’t flow from the washroom taps.
You should keep those notions
to yourself, Katie, Nunan said, before you give the county Democratic committee
ideas. Once you give them a taste for
luxury there’s no telling what else they’ll think of. The imagination boggles
at the possibilities, indeed it does.
Labels: Democrats, Politics, Roberta Vasquez, writing