Wishful Thinking

I once had a beer with Abraham Lincoln. I’ve shared a pint with Charlie Chaplin. Chuck, if you know him well enough. I gawked in utter mystification at the illusionary stylings of the one and only, Harry Houdini. I’ve dined lavishly next to dignitaries, and I have sipped bottomless pitchers of ale alongside city miscreants. How? You may ask… easy! I went to New York city, baby! The big apple. The year was 2013. The place, the specific place…? Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

If you ever find yourself along the lower end of Midtown Manhattan, be sure to head over to 15 East, 7th Street. There, nestled among the tapestry of aging brickwork, you will set eyes upon a quaint little establishment. It’s recognizable by its green signage and blackened entry way. Emerald kegs, each of them hyperbolically swollen and off kilt as if to be inebriated themselves, sit outside; a promise of drunken shenanigans beyond their point of placement. McSorley’s Old Ale House. Neighbourhood watering hole since 1854. It was there that I met and imbibed with the aforementioned men of history. The oldest pub in New York city. A proclamation imbued by hubris—it’s actually written in perpetuity on the Easterly window.


When you first enter through the wood and glass doors, you are greeted by an aged wooden décor and the hefty aroma of celebratory lager. On the floor, footprints stare up at you. They are stencilled in the saw dust that loiters throughout the place. Its interior is narrow and crooked. The wood that binds the place together is old and arthritic. But you can’t call this place a dive. That’s just not accurate. If anything, it’s a portal through time.

Stapled to the walls are overlapping pictures and photographs comprised of varying shades of faded and fading. Depicted on them, when examined close enough, are sailors, loggers, business men and important people of a previous era that has long since come and gone. There are notes beside bucolic frames, explaining the significance of this place. I learned that Honest Abe had drank there. Houdini even left a pair of handcuffs behind as a token of appreciation to McSorley himself. They hang triumphantly behind the bar… still locked together.


You can only order the house ale. And that’s made up of either light, or dark. None of this new fandangle corporate swill that now saturates most modern establishments. From the moment you walk in, you feel a swell of history and time overcome you. From the sensation of sifting saw dust beneath your feet, to the tiny slivers you’ll surely collect should you lean on the bar for too long. It’s an amazing experience. And I am overjoyed that I got to partake in that experience with my best buddy in the world, Drew.

I was in a bit of a rough place, emotionally speaking during that trip to New York. But Drew didn’t mind. He just wanted the pleasure of my company. Life had seen to it that we lived on opposite ends of the country from one another. But each year we tried to plan and follow through with an annual “bro trip!” With he having a young family, and my being a first responder, marred by a fracturing relationship, it made fruition of our plans difficult at times. But, in the spring of 2013, Drew and I found ourselves successfully jovial in New York city! A place that I had always dreamed of going to. I’d seen it in movies and on magazines, and as a kid from a low-income family, it always seemed so far away. So the fact that I was standing with my best friend in the world, dwarfed by infinitely tall buildings that stood all around us, I was about as content as one could be. Even in spite of my introspective tumult.


Back then, I liked to drink. Actually, I had to drink! It was the only thing that quieted the noise of trauma inside of my beleaguered mind. Drew, being Drew, had taken the time to research the intricacies of New York and its offerings. We had spent the day as wayfarers, zealously meandering from landmark to landmark. Taking pictures and stopping to ogle the concrete jungle.

The statue of Liberty was a cool thing to see. Taking the ferry ride and imagining to the best of my abilities at what it must have been like to navigate that voyage all those years ago was a deeply humbling experience. The clap of waves hitting the bottom of the boat as it slowly cut the surface of oceanic expanse engendered weighted contemplation of how frightened many of those people must have been. Seeing Lady Liberty—the promise of something better. My personal hardships felt a little less potent for that brief moment of contemplative reticence.


Drew told me about McSorley’s. Informed me that it was the oldest bar in the whole city. Hearing that, and feeling the call to drink, I was more than eager to make our way there—and so we did.

Now inside, Drew and I procured two beverages each. It was standing room only by the time we had gotten there, so we perched up in a corner of the room and swigged from our glasses as our eyes frolicked around the dusty room. It was during my visual stroll that my eyes captured an oddity hanging above the bar. On a makeshift lamp rail above the bar, was a collection of wishbones. They straddled the horizontal bar, neatly stacked from one end to the other. The peculiarity of such a sight ignited enough of a curiosity within me that on my next vagabond for more drinks, I asked one of the bartenders what those bones were all about…?

He told me that they had been there from the start of World War 1 through to this very day. Being a former military man myself, my ears tightened with intrigue. I asked a few more probing questions. Evidently, McSorley himself, gave the gift of a turkey dinner and an ale to all those readying to depart for the war abroad. The soldiers, sailors and airmen, each placed a wishbone atop the rail as a gesture, a promise of a safe return and the hopes of prosperity when doing so. The wishbones were never collected… not one…


McSorley saw to it that those wishbones never came down. Demanded that they stay seated right where they were as a sign of respect and memoriam of those brave souls whose wishes never came true. Talk about another humbling moment…

I’ve always remembered that story. In fact, I can’t look at a wishbone without feeling sawdust beneath my feet. The smell of old wood and spilled drink join this visceral remembrance. For the duration of our stay at McSorley’s, my gaze lingered on those dust covered bones. I wondered if any of the men who had placed them there were anything like the men that I had known. The men I had served alongside. The men I had lost. The men whose wishes never came true… Starker. Boomer. Wilmot…

This life of ours is a finite thing. A brief, cosmic spasm in the fabric of time. It’s important to take pause and reflect sometimes. To breathe and remember that we are alive. That no matter how hard life can hit, it’s not over. Not until it is. So, best keep on living. To keep on wishing.

My problems began to fade from forefront that night. I enjoyed Drew’s company. We stood and drank as brothers. Our lives and the details within them ceased to exist for a perfect, albeit brief, moment in time. We each drank from our glasses. Gave cheers to one another. To those who were there. To those who were not. And to those who never would be again…

So, it’s as I said; I once had a beer with Abraham, Harry, Chuck and some of the bravest men in the history of our world. That’s one hell of a New York night! No wonder that city never sleeps…


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