A TOAST…LIKE NO OTHER

My friend Pat Fenton wants to spread cheers to everyone from the neighborhood. Here’s a great piece from an outstanding writer and a better person…

On my wall, above my books in the room I write in, I have a framed original Christmas column Pete Hamill wrote. It’s called “A Garland of Christmas Toasts.” It’s a full-page long, faded, Newsday column dated December 13, 1967. Signed across the top of it are the words, “for Pat Fenton who remembers.” And I do.

It’s perhaps one of the most beautiful, moving pieces of writing about Christmas time that I have ever read. Sad at times, political, sentimental, it rolls across the page like the lyrics of a Van Morrison song. He always started his annual Christmas column with an apology to the writer Jimmy Cannon, who originated the idea and the form as only he could. Jonathan Schwartz should invite Pete Hamill on his radio show and have him read that to us on Christmas day to remind us all of the way we were. And alert his listeners to pour a glass of champagne before he starts. It deserves it.

Here’ a sample of his column: “maybe it’s the beer and the season and the weather, but I could almost swear there was a time when we had a hell of a lot more heroes, and a hell of a lot more laughs. And I’m certain there was a lot more girls.”

It was lines like that made me want to be a writer.

So, with my own apology to him for borrowing the form, here’s to Windsor Terrace tonight…

To Pete Hamill and his brother Denis and to Brian Hamill, and to Bobby Rice, and Judy, and Johnny Kennedy, and to Jacky Malone, and to Steve Finamore from Container Diaries, who records the story of our lives on his Windsor Terrace blog.

Here’s to the bartenders in Farrell’s Bar and Grill on 16th Street and 9th Avenue in Windsor Terrace in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, and especially to Jimmy Houlihan and to Eddie Mills, they all give so much to those who need it. And let’s not forget the memory of the bartender/actor, Danny Mills who also defined what Farrell’s Bar was all about since it opened its doors in the 1930’s. He understood that.

Like Pete Hamill, we all drank there when we were young so long ago, so did our fathers from Ireland, and we all passed through Holy Name Parochial School where our report cards are still on file, hopefully forever.

Glasses up to Malachy McCourt and his brother Alphie tonight. And here’s to Larry Kirwan from Black 47. And to the musician David Amram too, who I learned so much about Jack Kerouac from. Cheers! And to Chris Byrne, another Windsor Terrace boy, whose special bar Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook got tossed around by Sandy, but whose still open for business. And to Lisa McLaughlin who brings the talent there.

It’s Christmas time and we have a few toasts to make. Here’s to all the people of the Queens Supreme Court who I spent a good part of my life with, and how they never once asked me, what the hell are you doing here working as a court clerk when you have a by-line in New York Newsday and the Daily News? Thanks to Tony and Maureen and Jackie, and Ken for putting up with me.

Here’s to my friend Jimmy Breslin, tell him to call me on Christmas morning, and be grouchy again when I don‘t have the answer he’s looking for. I miss those calls. Someone tell ‘Bres’ to write one more Christmas column. Let him write about how he is an usher in a Catholic Church in Manhattan, few people know that side of him. What a great Christmas story that would be.

May that women I shared a turkey sandwich on white bread with one cold evening in front of St Francis Assisi Church in Manhattan, as I was heading off to the old Rocky Sullivan’s Bar on Lexington Avenue to read, who trusted me as I handed half of it to her, be in a warm, safe place tonight. I never forgot her. She was Christmas.

Let’s all remember this holy Christmas night these words out of Newtown from a Litchfield Connecticut newspaper, “this heinous act does not define our town. What does is the love, compassion and caring that we have for one another. Love conquers all, especially evil.”

Along with “Scrooge”, let some cable station run a marathon showing of the movie “Pay it Forward” on Christmas Eve. Forget who is a Republican or a Democrat this night and let the politicians in Washington finally understand that we elected all of you to bring America together, not to divide it. It’s time for that.

Fill up my glass bartender, and let’s drink a toast to writers like T.J. English, Peter Quinn, Peter McDermott, Ellis Henican, C.J. Sullivan, who published some of the best stories about New York ever written in the New York Press, Jim Dwyer, Tom Kelly, Dan Barry, Jack Deacy, Column McCann, and the ones who I miss this year, Bill Reel, Dennis Duggan, Frank McCourt and George Kimball.

Here’s a special toast, a double Irish whisky to an editor from the Daily News that I will never forget working with, Bill Boyle, and his words, “go write a good story, Pat”, as he turned over a nine hundred word assignment to me that I just pitched to him. And , “don’t be too nostalgic.”

And let’s not forget to raise a glass to Brian McCabe, a great New York Detective and a great writer, and to my close friend the actor Jack O‘Connell, and the actor Ciaran Byrne, and to Kira and Nancy down in the Cell Theatre in Chelsea who breathe life in to all that we write with their stage.

Here’s to my friend Sandy Chapin this Christmas, and Pegge, and Jen Chapin, and Josh Chapin, and the memory of Harry Chapin who pointed us all in the right direction in America.

Hey bartender, send a drink down to the end of the bar to my friend, Mort Persky there, one of the editors of one of the greatest efforts to create a new newspaper in this town, New York Newsday, who watched over my words there.

Let’s drink to the memory of President John F Kennedy tonight who made my dad from Galway, Ireland so proud. This one is on me. Raise a glass and remember some of the lessons he tried to teach us when he said: “let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divides us.” So simple.

Let his words be a Christmas card for the world this night. We need it more than ever. None of these things may never happen, but if they did it would be a fine Christmas.

Thanks for the use of the hall tonight, Pete. Merry Christmas.

-Pat Fenton

DANNY MILLS

I came across this tribute to the late Danny Mills who passed away four years ago.

Click here to read what the Mighty Quinn of the NY Daily News had to say about the former Farrell’s bartender.

“Danny was always there to listen to what was going on in your life. The last time we stopped in to see him over the summer, I had cut my finger. On my father’s advice I asked Danny if he had a Band-aid. He just happened to have one in his wallet and he handed it to me.”

-Steve

Hoops135@hotmail.com