(Interested in purchasing When the Lights Go Out? Get it here.)
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
"When the Lights Go Out" - Chapter Two
(Author's note: When I originally conceived this story, it was rooted in the idea that, sometimes, life isn't about celebrating the best of times. It's about survival, overcoming the worst of times and the strength you can summon in those moments. This message seems appropriate on a day like today, one when many in America and elsewhere are terrified of what comes next after the events of this morning. But thankfully, many find the best version of themselves when faced with calamity--and there are now tens of millions facing this same calamity. Hopefully, those of us in the aforementioned category can eventually take a deep breath and determine how we can work toward a better tomorrow for ourselves and our children. Until then, here's the second chapter of my second novel, When theLights Go Out.)
When my world went goodbye
I took a look inside
To find what kind of truths
I’d face or try to hide
-“My New Dawn” by J. Nolan
After my parents died, my family joined every October for their memorial mass inside Uncle Finn’s South Buffalo parish, St. Stephen’s. He’d conduct the annual service, donning his green Celtic vestment as he commemorated Colleen and Thomas Nolan, the faithfully departed. He’d echo their names over his congregation, who’d bow their heads and pray for God’s blessings upon those Colleen and Tom left behind. We accepted these sentiments every year.
It was the fourth Nolan memorial mass. I stood at the end of a pew next to my sister Meg and her two boys, six-year-old Mickey and newly ten-year-old Brendan, just a few hours into his birthday. After the service, we’d head downtown to balance the morning’s somber beginning with an afternoon celebration of Brendan’s birthday. Until then, we had to endure the mass and prayers, as well as the memories the mention of my parents’ names would elicit.
“And this is the Gospel of the Lord,” said Finn.
“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
After I took my seat, I dangled my right Doc Marten boot into the center aisle and slouched into the corner of the pew as surrounding parishioners nestled into their seats, awaiting the always-intriguing homily of Father Finn.
No matter how many Sundays I saw him in that flowing vestment, his life’s designation always seemed odd to me. My mother had told us of the heartthrob Finn was in his youth, how he spent very few Friday nights throughout high school or college without a date. When Meg and I were younger, we witnessed his popularity in person, before he became a priest. In his early and mid-twenties, he occasionally brought women—ones he said he’d met through volunteering at St. Stephen’s or working as coordinator downtown at St. Jude’s Community Center—to dinner. Devising activities and community outreach efforts appeared to have scored him an attractive date or three. When he reached his late twenties and announced his decision to enroll in the seminary, these memories of his popularity with the ladies made his vocational direction that much more confusing. Yet soon enough, there he was, patrolling the altar of our neighborhood parish as the noteworthy Father Finn.
Only in his early forties, he appeared and acted more like a gregarious corner tavern bartender than a respected priest. He stood tall and burly, with wavy salt-and-pepper hair tickling the eartops that flanked his round Irish head. As St. Stephen’s young and exuberant pastor, he made the most of his hours on the altar. In that time, he’d stress selflessness, love and community. He’d speak of how we all must honor God by reaching our potential not only spiritually, but also socially and professionally. He stressed compassion at every turn, especially when considering all sides of controversial wedge issues like abortion, gay marriage or divorce. Even in the face of intense dissention and diocesan backlash, he’d openly discuss difficult topics to elicit sincere and rational thought within his parishioners. In front of a weekly standing-room-only crowd, Father Finn used means neither conventional nor boring to regularly dismiss attendees inspired and contemplative. And if the number of these attendees weren’t as great as they were, if they didn’t ante up and stuff those collection boxes every week, the diocese would have removed him years ago.
“Okay,” he began, strolling off the altar with a gold Celtic cross stitched at the center of his vestment to represent St. Stephen’s surrounding Irish-American neighborhood. “Who here listens to the great Neil Young? C’mon, let’s see some hands, people. Don’t be shy, get ‘em in the air.”
After a simmer of commotion around us, I raised my hand, as did Meg and Brendan. Before Mickey followed, he looked at me to make sure he’d listened to Neil Young before. I nodded, so his hand went up. With arms rising around us, the church was buzzing. Unpredictable sermons were one reason Finn was so wildly popular with St. Stephen’s parishioners. He often referenced topical examples from music, literature, film, and sports to relay the day’s message. On some Sundays, he would even play pop songs on his acoustic guitar or the choir piano and sing whatever lyrics helped facilitate his message.
“Now, you’re all probably wondering why I’m asking you about Neil, a guy born just a smooth drive up the Q.E.W. in Toronto,” he said. “Because as we sit here today and remember the lives of my sister Colleen and her husband, Tom, I remember my own things about them. Personal things, like how much the two of them—particularly Colleen—loved to listen to Neil Young. I’ll never forget the stack of his albums she had. If he recorded something, anything, she had it.”
After The Goldrush. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. On The Beach. Zuma. Tonight’s The Night. I glanced down the pew to Meg and smiled. We remembered all the albums and their jacket covers. We remembered how many times my mother spun each on the rickety turntable in our living room.
“Yesterday, I’m over in the rectory, thinking of Colleen and Tom and what I’m going to say today. This is the fourth year we’ve done this, so you’d think this whole exercise would get easier with time, right? It doesn’t,” said Finn. “Whether you’re a priest or a plumber, losing a loved one is never easy to handle. As the years pass, the severity of the pain associated with their absence varies from tough to tougher. And some days, man, the pain is downright excruciating.”
About midway down the center aisle, he stopped walking and talking to scan the crowd, to look over the pews of men dressed in blue oxfords and Notre Dame sweatshirts, women clad in barn coats and khaki pants.
“Unfortunately, there is no universal answer to alleviate this pain. There’s no prayer to say, no spell to cast and no drug to take it all away. As long as you remember the loved ones you lost, remember how much they meant to you, how much you miss them, there’s going to be a sting right here,” he said, pointing to his heart, “and right here,” he said, clutching his stomach.
At the end of that sentence, I peered down the pew at Meg again. Looking forward to Finn, she was biting the inside of her mouth, holding in her emotions as best she could. Despite her efforts, a single tear slid down her right cheek, causing me to look away before I duplicated her reaction.
“Over these past four years, I can assure each of you that I’ve felt that sting many times, too many times to count. But the only way I’ve ever been able to alleviate that sting, that pain, is to do something that made those lost loved ones happy; something that made them sing or dance or laugh. Though I may be hurting, they’re the ones who are gone, the ones not around to bask in the things we can enjoy every day,” he said. “So yesterday, I played a little Neil Young in the rectory, for Colleen and Tom. I turned it up nice and loud, even opened a window or two to get the music out to Okell Street. One of the songs I played was a little number called ‘Long May You Run.’ Has anyone heard it?”
A few nods and smiles greeted his question. Most faces seemed frozen, anticipatory of where Finn was going with all of this. Waiting, they watched as he walked back up to the altar and over to its podium.
“If you haven’t heard it, you’re about to hear it from me and my old Fender here,” he said, reaching under the podium to pull out his chipped and scuffed acoustic guitar. “When I think of my sister and her husband, I think of music like this and the happy times they spent listening to it, together. I also think of Colleen playing this song over and over again when we were younger and—”
He stopped to let a laugh slip, then paused to scratch the back of his head and gather himself. Before he could let his own tears slip down his face, he inhaled and looked up through St. Stephen’s ceiling, then back to his waiting parishioners.
“Now, if I can just get through this song in one piece, maybe I can give the two of them something to smile about as they look down on us all, okay?” he said before another deep, composing breath. “All right then.”
He tossed his guitar’s leather strap over his shoulder, and applause erupted throughout the congregation, a Catholic oddity that was a mere regularity at St. Stephen’s. After he tossed a harmonica harness around his neck to perform some of the song’s most memorable instrumentation, he got another rousing ovation before he strummed and sang about things to do in stormy weather, about changes that have come. I didn’t look to Meg throughout his performance. I didn’t need to. As I absorbed every sound that soothed from Finn’s Fender, I knew we were channeling the same memories of our smiling parents. The same nights when they danced around our kitchen together to this same Neil Young song. Instead of turning to my left, I bit the inside of my mouth and enjoyed those chords as they bounced down side aisles and off stained-glass windows.
After Finn clipped his last note, he talked about how some of the song’s lyrics connected to his points about the pain of loss, about honoring our lost. This elicited more nods of recognition and understanding, then a shower of applause at the sermon’s end. In the entire diocese, St. Stephen’s was the only Catholic church where cheers after the homily were expected and accepted. But in the entire Diocese of Buffalo, there was only one Father Finn Leary. With him, you always expected the unexpected.
After mass, I headed downtown to the corner of Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue with Meg and the boys to find the sunlit interiors of Jim’s Steakout, a downtown Mecca for loyal bleu cheese and hot sauce-soaked chicken finger sub disciples like Brendan. After local taverns’ nightly last call at four a.m., Steakout routinely became packed with intoxicated loyalists, hungry for greasy wings and subs. Thankful that no one from that crowd was still hanging around, we huddled into a wooden booth for Brendan’s birthday celebration. Every Nolan was present—except one.
“It’s a real shame she couldn’t be here,” said Meg of my expectant wife, Dana. “What happened again?”
“She got called into work,” I said, frustrated as I straightened myself up in the bench and took a sip of my Dr. Pepper. “Guess the staff’s post-work drinking got out of hand last night and left a few waitresses violently ill this morning. Her boss called frantic at around ten, so she has to serve through lunch and dinner. She sends her birthday wishes, though. She really wanted to be here, and felt worse about having to miss the mass.”
“Should we go over there and say hello?” she asked before sipping her Diet Coke.
“If you were three months pregnant and exhausted, would you want people to come visit you at work?” I asked. “Trust me, we’re better off here. She was pretty pissed this morning, so we should definitely give her the day to cool off.”
Meg smiled while extending a sympathetic hand to my shoulder. After I took a deep, composing breath, I looked out one of the restaurant’s windows to see a young couple walking up Elmwood together. Both in black T-shirts and exposing their tattooed arms, they wrapped those limbs around each other’s waist as the strolled through the crosswalk at Allen and kissed on the opposite corner. Together on a Sunday; together to laugh and touch and feel in front of strangers, in front of passing motorists and mountain bikes. For a brief moment, I imagined myself on that Allen corner, clutching Dana absent of inconvenient obstructions that intruded on our lives. There’d be no Sunday shifts, no tables to wait on. There’d be no other place to be than that street corner, holding and touching and kissing within our own black-and-white photograph. Absent this desire, I let the couple walk from my view and continue up the avenue. I instead turned to focus on my reality, one that sat my nephews across the table from me.
“Okay, boys,” I said, extending my knuckles to both their fists for a bump. “Are we ready for a birthday lunch or what?”
“Yeah,” they said, then reached around their Cokes and connected with my fists.
“So, what are we ordering? Brendan, since you’re the man of the hour, I think you can do the honors and start us off.”
“How about a large pizza with extra pepperoni, waffle fries with gravy, and a chicken finger sub for me?”
Quieter than Mickey, Brendan had sandy blond hair and freckles across his face, marks poached from his mother. Thin but growing, he was already the star forward for his youth hockey team, the Hawks. Though emotionally reserved, the slick lefty was all heart on the ice, shining with grit and hustle when he’d fly after a loose puck and ignite a breakaway. After he’d flip a wrist shot over the shoulder of an opposing goaltender, he’d skate along the boards and flash a wide grin underneath his wire facemask. Once the season ended, he’d spend proceeding months repetitiously shooting an orange street hockey ball at a tape square on his battered garage door. Meg grew tired of making him come into the house at nightfall, so she had a garage spotlight installed to shine on Brendan and his target. She said it helped him see the square better, but I think she wanted a brighter view of the kid, a way to keep him closer as she watched from the kitchen window. Growing older and ordering saucy, scalding chicken finger subs, he was growing up fast. Meg knew it.
“And who do you think is going to eat all this food, mister?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I added. “You think the Mick’s gonna eat half a pizza himself?”
“I could do it,” said Mickey, sitting up straight and putting his small hands on the table. “I went to my friend’s house last week and had three pieces of pizza all by myself.”
“It was a sheet pizza, Mickey,” Brendan said before leaning forward to dismiss his baby brother’s significant achievement. “Those pieces are smaller, so they don’t count as whole slices.”
“Yes they do,” screamed Mickey. “Mommy, tell Brendan they count. They count!”
With floppy brown hair tickling his eyebrows and covering forehead freckles, Mickey was feisty, tough and shorter than his brother. The kid looked like he’d be a fighter one day, the type whose forearms would breathe out of black rolled-up sleeves in the doorway of a downtown tavern. Though only in the first grade, he didn’t let Brendan push him around. Dealing with his mother was a different story.
“Michael Patrick Nolan, you will lower your voice right now,” Meg calmly scolded, with dark eyes opened wide and use of the boy’s full, baptismal name. “Do you want me to take you out of here before we order even a slice of pizza?”
What made Meg such a good single mother was the line she drew between playmate and policeman, a distinction that earned her the simultaneous adoration and respect of her boys. In her early thirties, she looked younger. Her brown hair dropped to her shoulders and complemented scattered freckles over smooth, soft skin. She should have appeared more worn, working long hours as a court stenographer downtown. As a woman who’d been left alone to raise two boys, she should have stood angrier, full of a jaded distrust. It would have been understandable. The boys’ father, a loathsome fucker named Billy Doyle, fled Buffalo’s city limits in an F-150 pick-up before Mickey was born and hadn’t been heard from since. Billy and Meg didn’t marry before or after Brendan was born, so Meg attached our surname to her newborn boy. Maybe she did this because, somewhere deep down, she knew Billy would eventually split—and fulfill the underwhelming promise of every guy she drew close.
Meg knew how to be a mother; she was good at it. She was terrible at picking men, and had a tremendous knack for scooping the wrong ones. Before Billy Doyle, there was Joey Braun, a long-haired Lynyrd Skynyrd guy who drank frightening amounts of Southern Comfort—even for a Buffalonian. After Joe came Bobby Collins, a huge fan of Rush, jean jackets and cocaine. He stuffed about a thousand dollars of Meg’s money into one of his denim pockets before eventually landing in rehab. Finally, the quick-fisted Kevin Quinn stormed into Meg’s life to the thirsty licks of Van Halen’s “Panama.” A month into their relationship, Quinn earned a week’s stay at the Erie County Holding Center for instigating a massive drunken brawl inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. Shortly after, he earned the boot from Meg. His incarceration sucked all the promise out of their relationship.
Next to that calamitous trio, Billy seemed God-sent. Unfortunately, while she was pregnant with Mickey, Meg endured while Billy fulfilled his predictable destiny. He left her, split town without warning, and without leaving a forwarding address. If there were any positives to be taken from the situation, it was Meg’s tremendous foresight in legally making Brendan a Nolan, not a Doyle. When Mickey was born, he too became a Nolan, one more to add to Brendan, Meg and me.
When our parents died, we became the final four, the only Nolans left. Meg and I got over the loss partly by putting everything we had into her boys, who needed the love and guidance our parents gave to us. Every day, Meg and I thought about that guidance, thought about the things we’d have to do to honor our parents’ memory. There were the children’s books they read us, the open-air folk concerts they walked us to. There was the night our mother blindfolded us, put us in the car and drove us out to a surprise double-feature at the Buffalo Drive-In. There was our trip to old War Memorial Stadium to see The Beach Boys play, that humid summer night our father danced with us in the aisle. These were the memories we laughed and cried inside of before taking a deep breath and wishing they were each still alive, still around to be grandparents to Brendan and Mickey. With my fatherhood approaching, I wondered how I’d ever approach my parents’ dedication, their selflessness. With two boys already under her tutelage, Meg’s actions were her answers. She handled her boys masterfully, just like our parents would have.
“And Brendan,” she continued, “I don’t care if it is your birthday. You don’t embarrass your brother in front of Uncle John. Three pieces of sheet pizza is plenty in my book.”
“Mine too,” I said to Mickey.
I offered my fist across the table again to meet his kid-sized version before he flashed his tough, first-grade smile. After civility was restored, I went to the counter, put our order in and returned to the booth to settle in.
“So,” I said, tapping my fingertips on the table, “are we doing presents now or are we waiting until after we eat?”
“What do you want to do, Brendan?” said Meg. “It’s your day, so it’s your choice.”
Her sentence was barely finished before Brendan decided.
“Can we do the presents now, please?”
Such polite kids. If I thought Meg would let me, I’d have bought them presents every week. As the dominant male presence in their lives, I wanted to make up for the guy who wasn’t there, the coward who hit the road when reality became inconvenient. She wouldn’t have any of that. No charity for her or the boys. Just familial love, doled out in reasonable portions on weekdays, birthdays and holidays.
“Here’s mine, pal.” I pushed a two-tiered package across the table. First was the small square on top, which he tore open. Holding the gift, he seemed grateful, yet unfamiliar with the disc case in his hands.
“Who is the Sam Roberts Band?”
“Group I’ve been listening to, from Canada,” I said. “Rock and roll, lots of guitar. You’ll love it, I promise you. If it’s nice out this weekend, we’ll take a ride to the skate park and listen to it in the car together, okay?”
“Sure, Uncle John, sure,” he said, politely smiling like he did at some of the other albums I’d given him over the previous nine years of his life. “Thank you.”
“Uncle John, can I listen too?” asked Mickey. “I like rock and roll.”
“Sure thing, Mick.”
Meg and I grew up with the music of our parents, addicted to their Beatles and Bob Dylan records, their piles of Paul Simon cassette tapes. Music was a Nolan tradition, so for every one of the boys’ birthdays, I bought them each a CD or two to go with whatever toys or clothes or sports equipment they actually wanted. What I didn’t give them, Meg played for them, spinning the Grateful Dead’s hazy jams or Neil Young’s acoustical yearn on vinyl in place of bedtime stories. Unfortunately, both were too young to have seen me play the Nighthawk, but they’d heard the stories from their mother. Meg also had a bootleg recording of one of my shows, one she had the bar’s sound guys rip from the soundboard years back. When she played it for Brendan and Mickey, they loved it, so I broke out Deirdre from time to time and played a few of the tunes I used to cover on those Friday nights. On these occasions, I was their rocker uncle. On their birthdays, I was their music teacher.
When Brendan opened the second box, he was as excited as ever. Folded under tissue paper, he found a throwback royal blue and gold Sabres hockey jersey adorned with the name and number of his favorite Sabre, forward Derek Roy. With eyes wide and mouth agape, pure jubilation radiated as he pulled the jersey over his head and slid his arms into the sleeves. A perfect fit.
“So that’s why you wanted to open the presents, huh?” hushed Meg. “You show-off. How am I supposed to compete with that?”
“Sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t. I basked in Brendan’s satisfaction and youthful awe. “I saw it and had to grab it. What do you think, Brendan?”
“Thank you so much,” he said before sliding over to give me another knuckle pound. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
With wrapping paper, tissue and box strewn across the table, Brendan ran his fingers over the stitched logo on the front of the jersey, the raging white buffalo and the crossed swords. When he found the gold stripes on the sleeves, he went over those as well, entranced. He didn’t even look up to see our bounty of food arrive.
“Brendan, you should take that jersey off and put it back in the box before you start eating,” said Meg. “You don’t want to get bleu cheese or pizza sauce on it, do you?”
“I don’t care,” Brendan said, smiling while he puffed out his chest and ran his hands over the front of the jersey again. “I’m never taking this off, Ma. Never.”
Meg sighed, then relented.
“Fine, but tuck that napkin into the neck and put another on your lap. Right now.”
We dug into the pizza and let the birthday boy pound down his bleu cheese-soaked chicken finger sub. Delicious grease coated each pizza slice’s layer of cheese and pepperoni, and dripped from our chins to the tabletop when we took bites. Mickey tried to eat his first slice fast, storing each large bite in the sides of his mouth like a greedy chipmunk. When one side of his mouth was packed, he jammed bites of mozzarella and tomato sauce in the other. He lowered his eyebrows to glare at Brendan through every bite.
“Mickey, don’t be a little pig,” said Meg. “Chew every bite and swallow before adding another. This isn’t some sort of race. Chew. Chew. Swallow.”
While scolding Mickey, she missed Brendan devouring his sandwich, pushing Frank’s hot sauce, bits of creamy bleu cheese and shards of lettuce out the back of his sub roll with every bite. After we finished, our table lay in ruins, with soda and hot sauce and bits of chicken strewn about the tabletop. On the tin pizza tray laid a single pepperoni. Mickey snatched it up, tossed it into his mouth and smiled wide: all teeth. Just as I was about to get up to clear this damage, a large hand from behind me touched my shoulder before a voice joined it.
“You can’t have a birthday without a cake, right?” said Finn in his deep baritone as he held a white and green frosted cake with 10 unlit candles above my head.
“Uncle Finn,” the boys yelled and jumped from their seats to hand out low-fives.
“What do you say, men?” he asked. He always called the boys men. After he handed me the cake, he mussed Mickey’s floppy hair and gave Brendan a pat on the back. Finn was our mother’s only brother, the last close relative we had to share birthdays and holidays with. That morning, he was a popular clergyman. In Jim’s Steakout, wearing blue jeans, a red flannel shirt and his brown secondhand overcoat, he was Uncle Finn. That was enough for us.
“So what is a great uncle to give his great nephew on such a great birthday?”
Brendan shrugged, waiting. Finn reached behind our wooden booth’s wall and revealed a hockey stick with a red bow attached to the top. When Brendan gripped the handle, his eyes lit up wide. Again.
“A buddy of mine at the arena owed me a favor,” said Finn, a smile curling the corner of his mouth. “On that stick are the autographs of every Sabre on last year’s team, even that defenseman who was traded to San Jose.”
“You got it.
“Wow,” said Brendan, his mouth open as he read every name scribbled on the stick. “Thanks, Uncle Finn. Thanks a lot.”
After I pushed the cake to the center of the table, I folded my arms across my chest and turned to shake my head.
“Nice try,” I whispered, “but he can’t wear that stick. I bought him the Roy sweater, so I win this year.”
“Sure, John. Sure.” He put both hands on my shoulders and leaned toward my ear. “But what if I told you my arena buddy got that stick from Roy’s locker? What would the score be then?”
“Um, call it even?”
“Deal,” he laughed, then turned his attention back to the boys. “I see I missed the feeding frenzy, but do you think there’s room for cake?”
Finn headed to the front counter to grab five forks and a plastic knife, then returned to light the cake’s candles with the royal blue lighter he pulled from his pocket. After we sang the birthday song, Brendan extinguished the candles and Finn served each sliced section on a napkin.
“So, did you hear about the gig we booked?” he said, sliding into the bench across from me.
“We slid into a spot for Strummerville, the Joe Strummer tribute night in December at your old stomping grounds, the Nighthawk,” he said. “We go on around 10-ish, after some old ska band called Mustache Tango. We’ve been practicing a bunch of Clash covers, so it should be pretty wild.”
Many things made Finn popular within the St. Stephen’s community, but nothing made him more notable with the parish’s youth and music enthusiasts than his wildly entertaining side gig. In local wedding halls, bars and the occasional downtown rock hole, Father Finn Leary was the only Buffalo priest who punched keys for a rollicking, non-denominational, piano-infused punk rock band called the Nickel City Kings.
In the years before he entered the priesthood, Finn was a normal, scruffy guy who played piano for a variety of local bands. After working with the city’s youth at St. Jude’s during the day, he spent his nights toiling in the smoke-filled bars and clubs that shook with Buffalo’s rock and blues acts of the late 1980s. He was just a passionate musician, one tinkling ivory keys behind gravely vocals and spastic guitar work; one trying to emulate the work of his vinyl heroes like Richard Manuel and Roy Bittan.
That was before Finn’s moment, before the transformational minutes of an event that led him away from his nights as a side musician and toward his unforeseen spiritual calling. He never told me the specifics of those minutes, the exact details of a scene that transformed his existence. All he ever said was it was as if a light switch was flipped on, as if his situational darkness was lifted and illuminated by an idea that seemed so right, so absolutely necessary. And so began the merger of the piano man with the priest, a union that instilled Finn with a duality that unconventionally augmented his position as the latter. His whole musical presence made him more relatable, more human to his parishioners. But for Buffalo’s tattooed barflies, jukebox armies and blues junkies, they could care less about Finn’s odd spiritual balancing act. As long as he was around to mash those black and whites, to hit those keys with the same fervor as he had before he donned the blacks and white, he’d have crowds to bask in his rhythmic presence.
“We picked up a new bass player, this big Jamaican named Neko,” said Finn. “Guy’s got a decent handle and a phenomenal stage presence. He just stalks his stage corner, slaps his strings and swings his dreads. The kids at our last show loved him.”
“Nobody threw a shoe at him?”
“No one,” he said, laughing. “But honestly, how many bands have lost two bass players to shoe-induced injuries? It has to mean something, right?”
“Punishment from the Almighty?” I suggested. “Maybe he’s not a fan of the new material.”
“If the good Lord wanted to break up the band, he’d have to break my hands.” Finn held up his palms up and wiggled his fingers. “Also, our new songs are brilliant. Imagine Mick Jones riffs married with Billy Joel keys. You’d pay to hear that, right?”
“That’s why you have to come out to the Strummerville show,” he replied, then slapped the tabletop for emphasis. “We’re going to slide in a few new numbers among Clash covers, so it’s going to be great. Bring Dana and we’ll make a night of it.”
“I’ll get back to you on that,” I said before slouching in my bench. “Dana will be almost five months in by then, so it could be dicey. She’s been having a tough go of it, carrying the pregnancy through school and work. I could use a few prayers for the two, er, three or us. Please.”
“You got it, kid,” he said, then reached across the table and slapped my arm. “I pray for you guys every day, but I’ll put in a special call to the boss tonight.”
He always referred to God as the boss.
“By late December,” he said, “you’ll be relaxed, the little Nolan won’t be stirring, and the wife will be begging you, pleading with you for a night of top-rate piano playing at the Nighthawk. Priest and uncle’s promise.”
“Tell the boss I give my best,” I said, smiling. “And say hello to my parents, too, will you?”“I always do, John,” he said. “I always do.”
(Interested in purchasing When the Lights Go Out? Get it here.)