by Alex Kachmar
‘When I turn 29, I’m gonna put a bullet through my head.’
And that’s how I meet Shamus Kelly.
I stroll into Klapper’s Pub with my buddy Sam Brown and we sit down at the back corner table next to Karl Gruber the German and Michelle his girl. Klapper’s has become a second home for me since I moved to Boston and I know most of the people here. Walter from Jersey is here and so is my fellow writer friend Pete Mora the converted Muslim poet and beautiful French-Canuck Susan Blanc who I haven’t seen in a few weeks’she had mono’and we sit and talk and order pitchers of on-draft Kronenberg. Klapper’s has everything on draft, over 112 drafts, and what they don’t have on draft they have in bottles, perhaps the greatest selection of beer in the world. The choice of music when I walk in is Violent Femme’s ‘Confessions,” a great song, and I get to hear that disturbingly beautiful piercing voice of Gordon Gano, the direct descendent of Lou Reed. I dig it. I dig all the music they play and why I’m using the phrase ‘dig’ I don’t know but I like it, I dig the sound of it, it’s from before my time but from a great time, the 1950s. I was born too late like ole’ Miniver Cheevy and perhaps I use their language to keep them alive in desolation with me, but I do dig it all, the loud yet melodic noise of the California hardcore scene of the 80s, Bad Religion and the Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks, and the pure raw sound of Charles Thompson a.k.a.. Black Francis a.k.a.. Frank Black, leader of the Pixies, timeless cool music that you feel flowing through your balls’I dig it all.
And then they play this beautiful yet obscure B-side track of my favorite musician Beck, ‘Brother’ is its name and it’s a beautifully sad song with incoherent and irrelevant lyrics but it doesn’t matter, it’s Beck, I dig it, and Gruber the German just finished the beer so I go to the bar to order another pitcher of Kronenberg and there sitting on the corner stool is this odd-looking creature with a full beard and shaggy uncombed blond locks, and his eyes are hidden behind a pair of dark shades. He’s no taller than 5’6′, I can see this despite the fact that he’s sitting, but he’s burly and plump, a good two-hundred pounds. He’s smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and when I walk up to the bar and stand next to him, he exhales a series of doughnuts, takes off his glasses and looks at me’his black eyes are confident and venerable, not in the least bit occupied with despair or gloom, yet this odd-looking man stares at me with those black eyes of his and in a soft but assertive voice, he makes that oddly prophetic statement: ‘When I turn 29, I’m gonna put a bullet in my head.’
Desolation is desolation and it’s the same whether you’re alive or dead, I learn this from Shamus, he goes on to tell me an abridged version of his life story’he’s a sad man with deep black eyes and he’s a writer, only a writer can be this insane. He grew up in South Boston in a large Irish family of seven, four brothers, and by the time he was sixteen, he was done with school and worked full-time on the docks’and every night he would come home to his small dirty apartment and he would lock the door and turn off the phone and read for hours, everything from Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy to Chaucer and Clemens and Hemingway, all the geniuses of literature, and all he dreamt about was becoming a writer. And so he began to write during his free time. On weekends he would never leave the apartment other than to buy groceries and he stopped talking to his family and his friends for that would have only distracted him, and after a few years of undergoing a treacherous schedule consisting only of manual labor, reading, and writing, exactly two weeks after his twenty-second birthday, he was done with his first novel, his only novel, a four-hundred page manuscript full of ‘truth and beauty’ that contains all the secrets and meanings of life, and the only conclusion it comes to is that there is no meaning or substance to life, it’s just an aura of desolation, an irrelevant occurrence of time and time itself might not even exist and therefore life is not even worthy of being called an irrelevant occurrence of time. And the day after he finished this novel, he quit his job and moved to a small village two-hundred miles west of Mexico City where he hibernated for a year, he just slept and ate and cleared his mind, it took him that long and he hasn’t read a book since nor has he written a single word, and he never will again.
He prayed a lot in Mexico, in his opinion that was the only thing worth doing, and though he grew up an Irish Catholic, he never believed until Mexico’his family was too busy for religion, they worked seventy-hour weeks and sometimes more and when Sunday came around, all they wanted to do was rest. But in Mexico it didn’t matter what day it was, Sunday Monday Tuesday it was all the same, and at the center of his small Mexican village on top of a steep grassy hill was a tiny wooden church with no doors or walls, just four stilts supporting a pyramid-shaped roof with a crucifix at its tip, and in the back left corner was series of candles, each row slightly elevated above the previous, and next to the candles in the back middle of the church was a beautiful golden and magenta altar made by one of God’s angelic Mexican artists, Orozco perhaps, and everyday no matter Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, the people of the village would come to the church, all of them at different times, the Mexicans, the Aztecs, the Aztec-Mexicans, men, women, children, babies, and they would kneel in front of the candles and cross themselves and pray and they would leave a peso in the drop box, and then they would walk to the altar and kiss the golden visage of Jesus and the next day they would do the same. They were sad people with poor sad eyes, both the Mexicans and the Indians, and the saddest one of all was an old, tiny mestizo woman of ninety-years age who wore a black shawl and a faded white dress and she had wrinkled brown eyes and walked barefoot and something was not right in her life, something wasn’t right in all their lives, and they prayed everyday at that sad church and even the dank dusty wind that blew through the church was sad; but it was a beautiful sadness. Shamus realized that if life is but a mere irrelevant occurrence of time (or it might not even be that), then one must hope and believe that there is something else somewhere, perhaps above or below on in the ocean or space, something far greater and more powerful and supreme to human existence where there is truth and beauty and meaning and peace. And so the Mexicans prayed and Shamus joined his village mates everyday at that sad church and he prayed too. And now he will spend the next year of his life traveling throughout the world hoping to find all the poor praying Mexicans, just to see them and know they exist. He figured he would start in the city where he was born and eventually would end up in his sad Mexican village where he will die in peace. He tells me this over a beer.
Shamus finishes his beer and leaves a tip at the bar, then walks out of Klapper’s like the odd-looking ghost that he is, an irrelevant occurrence of existence. I rejoin my group at our back corner table and sit quietly drinking my beer envisioning Shamus’ journey throughout the world, days spent praying at Morocco and Algiers and India and Tibet and Brazil and Russia, and then I envision the day years later when word reaches me that Shamus did put a bullet in his head the day he turned 29 in his sad Mexican village.