Thursday, April 4, 2019

"A Bock for Old Joe"

Nobody could ever understand a word old Joe ever said. When he spoke it sounded like an old Model T revving its engine a block away in the rain. But this didn’t stop him from talking to anyone who happened to sit next to him at Bob’s Bowery Bar. And whoever he was talking to would nod, and say, “Sure, Joe,” or “Yeah, you’re right, Joe. Absolutely right.” And Joe would make a sound like an old Model T engine on its last legs, a block away, on a snowy night.

One night old Joe went to sleep on his cot in the flop, and the next morning he woke up dead.

He approached the steps of God’s house, up on the hill.

St. Peter sat there on the porch at a little table with a big ledger in front of him.


Joe made a sound like a dying Model T, around the block, on a night thick with fog.

“What?” St. Peter said.

Joe repeated the sound, but louder, as if the Model T was parked right out front.

“I can’t understand a word you’re saying,” said St. Peter.

This went on for a while, and finally St. Peter got fed up. He picked up a small note pad, and scribbled something on it with his quill pen. He ripped off the page, folded it, and handed it to Joe.

“Take this, go through the door, give it to the man you’ll see in there.”

Five minutes later one of the docents led Joe into a barroom not vastly unlike Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Sit anywhere you like, bar or table, and a server will be right with you.”

Joe always liked to sit at the bar, where he could talk to people, and fortunately there was an empty bar stool.

“What can I get you, sir?” said the friendly bartender.

Joe said something, but the bartender couldn’t understand what Joe said, even after he said it four times, and the guy on Joe’s left said, “I think he said Rolling Rock.”

“No,” said the guy on Joe’s right. “I think he said a bock, he would like a bock.”

The bartender leaned a little closer to Joe.

“Is that what you would like, sir? A bock?”

Joe made a sound like a cow belching.

“Just give him a bock,” said the guy on Joe’s left. “Because this is driving me crazy.”

The bartender gave Joe a pint of draft bock, and Joe made a noise like a stopped-up toilet finally flushing. But, whether he had asked for a bock or not, he accepted it, and drank it, and so for the rest of the eternity a bock became his “usual”.

A Bock for Old Joe, and Other Tales of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall; a Handi-Book paperback original, 1954.

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