Eggs, crackheads and an apparent death on a trip up the El.
“What time do you close?”
“We’re a fucking bar. What time do you think we close, jackass?”
Anytime you call Billy’s Chili Pot Inc. on the phone, a drunk customer seems to answer. This makes it difficult to get questions answered about the place. For instance, does Billy’s Chili Pot actually serve chili? I’ve heard it doesn’t. Oh, it does? Twelve kinds, you say? The most popular is Jim Bob’s? What’s in that? Spice and everything nice, but mostly Jim Bob? What’s that mean? [click]
Billy’s is a shitshack a considerable ways up Frankford Avenue, a scary Market-Frankford El ride to the Oxford stop. A trip this far up the El isn’t advisable, and around Billy’s you’ll generally find either people looking to cop serious drugs or seeking to be murdered by someone looking to cop serious drugs.
That sounds like wild hyperbole, but all the proof you’ll need to see it isn’t is to actually get off the El at Oxford, and start looking for the place. It’s like night of the living base heads out here. Women tweaking on meth or high on crack dance in front of cars as they try their best to drive by. Still more folks with itchy skin dart in an out of abandoned storefronts, and appear from out of nowhere right in front of you from behind the large cement columns holding up the El. It’s a goddamn crackhead obstacle course.
As such, you’ll feel a heaping helping of relief once you make your way into Billy’s dingy, smoky inner sanctum. It’s an oasis from the madness outside. An oasis that does indeed sell chili (out of an old crock pot). But not tonight. Tonight they’ve got boiled eggs for 35 cents, which they serve in a Styrofoam bowl with a shaker of salt. They’re grossly overcooked, all gray and green hard yolks, but my friend Brian eats one and lives to tell about it the next day.
Bartender Mary is sweet enough, possibly because she never has to answer the phone. Pints of Lager are $2 during Phillies games, and the 15 or so old drunks around the bar each look like they have a dozen or so already in them. I buy four for my party, and pay with a twenty. This illicits an “Oooooh!” from a guy with an uncomfortable eye on my wallet.
He’s Irish, and speaks in such a thick, drunken brogue (forgive the redundancy) that everything he says is completely unintelligible. Mary tells him not to be a bother, and he clams up.
I take a seat in one of the few booths in the back, so as to not have the smell of Brian’s egg bother anyone too much, or the smell of any of them bother me too much. There’s a shuffleboard bowling game in the very back end of the bar that doesn’t work (and won’t any time soon), and a Harley-Davidson pinball machine that does.
Hanging on wood-paneled walls are about 30 years of softball plaques commemorating various Billy’s Chili Pot teams over the years, everything from First Place to Thanks for Showing Up. I look around at the old timers nodding off at the bar. Nothing about them suggests they could field a team worth watching, but who knows? Maybe there’s magic in that crock pot.
Then, suddenly, a very loud THWACK. One of the old men has fallen face-first onto the floor and has been knocked out cold. My back is turned to him, so I don’t see it. Instead I catch the expression of concerned horror on my wife’s face. A man this old, this drunk, taking a fall this hard: We all wonder for a hard second whether or not we’ve just heard someone die.
A couple men stumble to his aid like it’s old hat and ask if they should call him a taxi or an ambulance. One of them doesn’t wait for an answer before abandoning his fallen comrade for a game of Harley-Davidson. He drops in some change, and begins playing pinball with the unconscious old man still out cold between his legs.
After a few spooky minutes, the man finally comes to, but doesn’t seem to understand a word being said to him (and not just because it’s the Irishman doing the talking). He stumbles out into the wilds of the night, nearly falling again before he gets to the exit.
“There’s no way he’s going to make it home,” a man observes.
Thinking about it, I start to feel sick. But it may just be the smell of Brian’s egg.
Calendar: October 7-14
Calendar: Sept. 30-Oct. 7