I need to go back and add yesterday’s server-maintenance delayed post, but it will be up. Meanwhile, today, I’m giving you an excerpt from my novel-in-progress.
Help me get to the Night of Writing Dangerously! I only need about 16 more people to throw $10 at the pot!
Anyway, this is told from the point of view of a reporter character who is doing a series on a Congressman and would-be presidential candidate, and in this bit, goes to interview the Congressman’s son.
I meet up with Joey Breen at the bar of a well-known hotspot in the Castro here in San Francisco. He’s the bartender, and as he’s filling drinks, he’s answering the questions I put his way. Joey is Joseph Edmund Breen, the second son of Jack Breen, and he’s here in San Francisco not only because it’s where his job is, but it’s because it’s where his heart is.
“Dad wasn’t too happy when he found out I was gay,” Joey says as he wipes the bar in front of me. “But that’s a common story here. Parents are just kinda funny that way.”
The story he tells me is one similar to that of many other gay men and lesbians I’ve talked to over the year. Parents that weren’t too thrilled with the idea at first, but came to love them after some time had passed. In Joey’s case, it was when he brought Brandon home. Brandon is the man he is now married to, and Joey met him soon after he had moved to San Francisco. “My dad met Brandon, who grew up on a ranch in Northern California, and found they had a lot in common with each other.” He smiled. “Heck, Brandon was able to give him some tips on how to improve beef quality.”
But things changed when the Change happened. Joey found himself and Brandon both among the many victims of that day, and when they awoke, the world would never be the same. The two counted their blessings that they were in California, where the authorities did everything in their power to keep chaos from happening, but were concerned when they could get the news and saw the rioting happening in other parts of the countries. “That first six months was something else,” Joey says, after he serves a drink to another customer. “The phones weren’t working, so I couldn’t call Mom and Dad to see how they were doing. I couldn’t get to Colorado, obviously. I don’t know what to think. For six long months, even after we’d found that Brandon’s folks had made it through the Chaos, I didn’t know whether I was going to have to bury them or not.”
I asked him if this meant that he was psychic. He nods, somewhat shyly. “It actually helps in my job,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to see if somebody’s had one drink too many now. There’s something that’s just completely obvious about inebriation.” He smiles, and takes a moment to help another customer.
It’s easy to see that Joey Breen is obviously the most popular bartender in town. When he gets busy, other people come up and tell me how much they love coming here. A few even mention that, while this place once was a gay hangout, under Joey’s watchful eye it’s become a place for everybody. “People just don’t get upset at each other here,” one man tells me. “You ask somebody if they’re interested in you, and if they’re not your orientation, they just say that, and nobody gets mad or lays in wait. It’s kinda magical.”
Another person told me, “When Joey says you’ve had enough, then you’ve had enough. I think one guy tried arguing with him, and half the bar went and carried him out to the street. Didn’t rough him up or anything, just removed him from the bar.”
When Joey gets back to me, he brings me a drink. Ice tea, hint of lemon, slightly sweetened, and no alcohol. He laughs. “I know you like a bit of gin in it,” he says. “But I figured since you were working, you’d appreciate not being boozed up.” He has the same charm his father had, but without the malevolent edge.
I ask him about his father. He sighs. “I don’t know what to make of him now,” he says. “He changed when he got into politics, and I’m not sure how that happened. One minute, he was Dad. A Republican, but a lot of people in Colorado are. Wasn’t so sure about the gay thing, but he came to accept it.” Joey sighed. “I never told him about the psychic part. Somehow he found out. We got in a fight about it.”
Just at this point, somebody comes over. “Is he harassing you, Joey?” he asks.
“Naw,” Joey says to the newcomer. “He’s just asking me questions; we’re talking about hard subjects. It’s okay.”
The newcomer looks at me with a wary gaze. “Okay, Joey, but if he starts bugging you, let us know. We’ll take care of it.”
Joey laughs after the newcomer walks away. “This has really become my bar,” he says. “They all worry about me.” He then cleans a spot in front of me. “But you were asking about my father.” He stares down at the bar again, and rubs the same spot. I decide it’s a case of nerves. “This was after he got elected to Congress,” Joey said. “I didn’t exactly know that Dad had ambitions towards such a thing, but apparently he did. Anyway, Mom called me and said that her and Dad were having problems and she wasn’t sure how much longer the marriage was going to last. So I decided to go out there and have a chat. I took some time off from the bar, left Dookie in charge, and went to Colorado.”
I can tell this is obviously painful for him by all the sudden glances of concern coming our way. Joey takes a deep breath. “He wasn’t Dad,” he finally said. “He was some stranger I didn’t know. The father I had was a conservative; he believed in things I didn’t really believe in, but he never said that it was his way or the highway. He loved us. He might not have understood us, but he loved us. The man I found myself talking to? He wasn’t my father.”
He paused and then looked over his shoulder. “Hey, Dookie!” he said. The other bartender ambled up. “I’m going to take Patrick here in the back room. I think we’re getting a bit too much emotion in the air for people to have a good time.”
Dookie nodded, and with that, Joey picked up my drink and motioned for me to follow. We end up in a cozy little space nestled between kegs of beer where somebody had set up a little office. Joey looked around at the place. “It was a lot of hard work and sweat to get this place,” he said. “Brandon and I saved up for a while to be able to buy it. It helped that I’d worked for the guy who used to own it at another bar; this one was giving him problems and I think he wanted to get rid of it. It was a bad scene. Cops showed up once or twice a week. I’m proud to say, ever since it’s been my place, the cops haven’t been called out once. ” He laughs. “Of course, a lot of that’s me.”
I was amused that he knew just how much of a sway he had over his clientele. He nods. “I don’t make a big deal out of it because I know a lot of people don’t like psychics. It’s just, I feel protective about this place, and I guess it infects everybody that enters here.” He drums his fingers on one of the casks near him.
“Anyway, you were asking me about my father. I don’t know if I can call him that anymore, and it hurts. Mom’s moved out here now, she wanted to be closer to Sarah and I – Sarah’s my sister – and I think she wanted to be away from that thing that was my father.” He sighed. “I don’t know if you felt it when you went to interview him, but there’s something in him that wants to enslave every psychic he gets close to. I don’t know how I managed to escape, but I’m not exactly going to go back and find out why. One close call is more than enough.”
I wondered about that darkly malevolent presence I had felt when I had acknowledged my psychicness to Jack Breen. To have confirmation from his son that I hadn’t been the only one to feel it made me almost sorry I had decided to write a series on Breen. It would be several more months of being uncomfortably close to him before I could put down my pen and go onto other things.
I end my conversation with Joey on one last question. If his father ends up running for President, would he vote for him? Joey takes a moment to think. “Five years ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal yes. Blood is thick,” he said. “But after the fight, I started to look into his beliefs. I’ve read the Psychic Control Act he keeps pushing, and if that passes, it’s the end of my bartending career. And that’s the end of this place.” Joey sighs. “I’m not stupid. I know that my abilities are the only reason this bar has been such a great place to be. Nobody’s uncomfortable here, and that’s a hard thing to find in this world. But because it’s my ability…” He trails off, a tear in his eye.
He then gathers himself together. “It would have to go. And with it would go the special thing we have happening here. And that’s completely wrong.”
He takes a deep breath. “So no, even if he was still my father, I wouldn’t be able to vote for him simply because of that. I don’t know what to do about Somatics. I know they need to be protected somehow. But how do you protect some people from bad, and still keep the good? If I had an answer for that, I wouldn’t own a bar in the Castro – I’d be somewhere else, making a lot more money.” He laughs suddenly. “But on the other hand, there’s no place else I’d rather be other than behind my bar here in the Castro, making a safe place for everybody.”
Such places are rare in this world. I make a note to stop by Joey’s bar the next time I’m in San Francisco.
–Patrick Sullivan “A Simple Bartender” (as found in The Man Who Would Be King)