Luck of the Irish: My Night As a Pogue

[Author's note: this is a little story about the kind of thing that happened to people in the late '80s, a time that seems long, long ago and far, far away...I thought one or two of you might enjoy it . . .David]
-David Meyers

I was at home reading when the phone rang. It was Randy, saying that Joe Strummer was touring with the Pogues, and that the Clash guitarist might show up at Phyllis' Musical Inn after their show that night at the Vic Theater.


I called Sara at the restaurant where she and I worked, told her the news. She told Jim, our bartender friend. They said let's go, hurry up.

I put a Clash album on the record player. Loud. Singing "I'm so bo-o-ored with the U. S. A." at the top of my lungs as I got dressed. I put all of my five dollars in my pocket and sped over to pick up Sara and Jim.

We sauntered into Phyllis', found one empty table, and parked ourselves at it. I think we all felt like star-gazers, but what the hell, it's Joe Strummer, not Madonna. We talked amongst ourselves, occasionally looking over at the door.

A guy come over to our table from the bar, a guy named Clem. He shook our hands, saying, "Listen, I love your music. I know you guys must be pretty tired, but would you play a song for us after while?"

Sara looked at me uncomprehendingly. I racked my brain, wondering why Clem thought we were tired, let alone why he might want us to go up on stage and sing a song in the first place. I'd been sitting quietly at home only an hour before. Maybe he'd heard my crooning to the Clash album?

When I looked over at Jim, I saw mischief in his eyes, I saw his snot green plaid shirt with the top button buttoned, the black jacket and tousled hair. I thought of my own tousled hair. Suddenly it became clear as the waters of the Liffey: nestled as we were in some little dive on Division Street, Chicago, our 15 minutes of fame had just begun. We were Pogues.

Clem asked us what kind of shots we wanted. I started to see myself as Clem must have seen me. I turned discreetly towards the wall and hooked the top button of my shirt.

The back of my brain began to tingle, it formed strange, broken words I couldn't really understand. All of a sudden they came tumbling out, in some half-assed Irish brogue: "'Ave you gawt a jug of Jameson?"

Jim chimed in: "Ay, Jameson! I'll 'ave Jameson!" Sara smiled obliquely, unbelieving, saying nothing.

Clem went to fetch the bottle of whiskey, and the three of us looked at each other wide-eyed. Free shots!

We all kept hush, wondering how what was happening was happening. Jim always looks vaguely Irish, and I could feel a gap forming between my two front teeth, and Sara—Sara, my girlfriend—a groupie?

Then I couldn't remember how to spell my name, was it S-E-A-N or was it S-H-A-N-E?

We tried on our new-found accents, like trying on a pair of very stiff shoes.

People were beginning to look at us. Whispering in their neighbors' ears. When they started pointing, discreetly at first, fear crept around our table.

Clem came back with the bottle, and poured out four shots. Lucky guy!, I thought, drinking shots with the Pogues in his own bar on Division Street in the U.S.A. He poured out four more, we tossed them back.

Leaning towards Clem, I muttered, "Listen, mate, we'd love to sing a toon for yas, but our throats is a bit tyred, you know." Clem understood.

"Maybe we could sing for yas loiter," offered Jim, the shoe in his mouth slipping over the water from a brogue to a sabot. "And how's about another spill from the jug?" Clem poured out three more; Sara was slowing down.

The whiskey helped us fill out our roles a bit. We smoked like rock stars, laughed as only Pogues can laugh. People were starting to stare, but no one dared approach. Clem begged us for a tune again, but I couldn't think of even one song I knew all the worlds to. A tin whistle from hell was ringing in my ears, how could I possibly sing? Just then, Jim said to Clem, "Can't do it mate, gawt to get go-in', gawt a gig toomarra up in the Mota City."

We were off the hook for the moment. Until the band, Tribe, looked over at us, offering their guitars and drumsticks for us to use. The pressure was reaching a crescendo, and we made a beeline for the door. The phony accents couldn't hold up much longer, and all those leering fans, and now the band looking to us. . . .

We laughed hysterically as we drove towards Jim's apartment. Too bad we didn't have the nerve to carry the charade on, but we really couldn't sing. Joe Strummer hadn't shown up, but we had a good time anyways.

Then, something snapped in my head again, in a different part this time. Why the hell not carry the charade on, somewhere else? Sara looked doubtful (groupies often do), but eventually she saw the limelight, and we headed over to the Lizard Lounge.

Joe the bouncer recognized us first, our accents and tousled Pogue hair tipping him off. No cover charge for us? Great. Shots? Sure, 'ave yas got Jameson? One of the waitresses took a liking to Jim. Told him we should go to a joint called the Riptide later on, they had a four o'clock.

"A four o'clock whot?," asked Jim coyly.

Joe poured out some shots for us. We downed them and took off. Jim wanted to go to the Dearborn Social Club, in the Rush Street area, of all the unlikely places. It felt good to be normal, non-Pogues again, no one recognized us there. But those tinglings started in my brain again, and I asked the bartender if he couldn't stand us three drinks for the price of one, "You see we just gawt to 'merica, Ir-r-rish you know, don't 'ave much green. Thanks, mate." No problem.

Next stop, Exit. We considered; this was going to be a tough nut to crack. Exit people might actually know what a Pogue looks like. We sat in the car, debating. Finally I climbed out, and went up to the doorman. "Listen, Oi've gawt a Pogue with me out in the cah. We'd loike to come in, but we'd loike to keep it real low key. Alroite?"

Alright. Sara parked the car, Jim donned sunglasses. The doorman waved us in inconspicuously, waving the $5 cover charges at the same time. He saw to it that we weren't bothered during our stay, and we danced a bit to get some of the whiskey out of our systems. No one recognized us though, so we got bored and left. On the way out I slipped the guy a few bucks. "Thanks for the good work, mate."

We headed over to the Riptide in Bucktown. By now we'd had so many shots, felt so many stares piercing our veneer, stardom was wearing thin at three in the morning. Jim didn't even care that his waitress from the Lizard Lounge wasn't at the Riptide, and the folks in the bar didn't give a fuck who we were. We had to pay for our beers.

Jim started singing and yelling at the top of his lungs, slamming his beer bottle on a tabletop. Sara yawned as I half-heartedly tried to quiet Jim down. We weren't appreciated any longer, it was time to call it quits.We stumbled out to the car. I threw my beer bottle towards a dumpster, it shattered with a crash on the pavement.

Jim climbed in the back seat, and Sara turned the key in the ignition, and the engine warmed up. I heard a knock on the window; some guy and three of his buddies from the bar. He asked if we were looking for trouble. I rolled down the window to say no, puga mahon, I don't know what trouble you're talking about, but his fist bopped me on the forehead before any words, Irish or not, could get out.

Sara quickly put the care in gear, and we pulled away, leaving our assailants behind. So much for stardom, I thought, a vague throbbing working its way through the whiskey and beer in my head.

We all laughed (although I only laughed half-heartedly, otherwise it hurt), and dropped Jim off at his apartment. Sara said something about the bubble being burst. I guess that's how stardom works in America, one minute you're loved, and the next thing you know you've got a bump on the head. Jim called the next afternoon. "Better cancel Detroit, ay mate?"


I checked my pants pocket for money. I still had two dollars.


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