April 10, 2014

The females were wives and girlfriends, all white, and a small cadre of white hookers”€”regulars, jealous of their turf, and fond of their Chinese customers, who, as I heard them say more than once, “€œreally know how to treat a lady.”€

The proprietress of the place was an old Irish woman named Mrs. Jones. She was a local “€œcharacter,”€ periodically written up by the city newspaper when they needed a filler story. Although well into her seventies, if not eighties, she took great pride in her appearance, tottering in on high heels a half hour before closing time, swathed in acres of bright pastel tulle (and in winter, furs), wearing an enormous hat bedecked with feathers.

But the place was run by Mrs. Jones”€™ two sons, Gerry and Coleman. They had diametrically opposite personalities: Coleman jovial and easygoing, Gerry a spinsterish control freak. (Gerry has a walk-on part here.) This actually worked well with the patrons and staff in a good-cop, bad-cop way. At closing time”€”10:30 most nights”€”Coleman would ring a little handbell and call time in Cantonese (“€œgau jung!”€) with a thick Irish accent. Once heard, never forgotten.

When the last customers had left and we”€™d restocked the shelves, cleaned the tables, and washed the glasses, Mrs. Jones would sit us down and treat us to drinks. At this point the local plainclothes police would show up, and would of course be let in and given drinks. We”€™d sit around with Mrs. Jones and the cops (mostly Ulstermen”€”it was hard to make detective in Liverpool if you weren”€™t in a lodge), getting tipsy and listening to cop stories. No one has better stories than cops.

Well, I got friendly with one of the customers, an ex-seaman from Shanghai who ran a local fish-and-chip shop. His sister in Taiwan had a son, aged 15. The law in Taiwan was that males of 16 or more could not leave until after completing compulsory military service. Could I find a local private school that would take the lad? I made inquiries and got the boy out. In gratitude the sister invited me to Taiwan as her houseguest.

After that, Kipling kicked in: “€œIf you”€™ve “€™eard the East a-callin”€™, you won’t never “€™eed naught else.”€ By such little accidents is our life course set.

Is The Nook still there, I wondered in some idle Internet browsing? Barely. It’s being turned into a museum. I doubt I”€™ll rate an exhibit, but if they want to copy this off and post it on the wall, I have no objection.    



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