Continued... Three Men by Frank Murphy
Floppy Ears was born in the north of Ireland. He didn’t speak of Ireland much, but once I heard him say that his family came from Ballymena. To which my father said, “You must have had it rough.”
Floppy Ears was bone thin; my mother always tried to feed him or advise him, “not to drink on an empty stomach.” When he was persuaded to go to the table, he praised my mother’s cooking but ate very little. His arms were muscular, and when he played his guitar, his veins looked like strands of rope pulled tight. He served in the war and was wounded in Italy. I think my father was proud of his friend, but also a little envious. My dad tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor but wasn’t taken. Floppy Ears never spoke of his time in the army except to mention somewhere he’d been, some city he’d seen.
Sometimes, on a weekend, weather permitting, Floppy Ears would come over and he and my father would go into the backyards of our neighborhood and play for the few coins people threw down from their windows. One night, towards the end of the war, they tried to get on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts program, returning hours later, drunk and very happy. Although they didn’t pass the first audition, Arthur Godfrey invited them to view the program, an honor and a reason for months of self-congratulations.
What I most remember about my father and Floppy Ears is that there was a lot of laughter when they were together, and I don’t remember my father laughing much. Even when I saw them together clearly stone drunk, they were holding each other up and laughing. It was good to see. But that’s why to this day I am puzzled by the furious fight where they were suddenly shouting curses at each other. As the argument grew more intense, they moved the fight outside swing furiously at each other. We were outside of the old Greyhound Bus Depot in Manhattan, me trying to separate them and getting knocked down in the process, crying, tasting the tears and snot dripping down my mouth as I begged them to stop.
It was the first real fight between adults I had ever seen. Until then, the only fighting I ever saw between adults took place on a movie screen. But the two men rolling on the sidewalk in a drunken brawl looked nothing like the cowboy fights I saw in the movies. Cowboys throwing punches do not get tangled in each other’s overcoats or roll on the ground clutching each other and tumbling over the sidewalk, nor do they sit looking sad and bewildered in the gutter after the fight. Cowboys in the movies do not have sons who sit beside them on a curb feeling embarrassed and afraid. They don’t have a child trying desperately to comfort the sobbing man who was their father.
Floppy Ears got up and placed a hand on my father’s shoulder, looked sadly at me for a moment, and then walked into the bus station. He never came to our house again. Oddly, neither did Walter MacClaren.