Over the boom of the juke box playing Dean Martin’s version “Ave Maria,” Don the bartender yelled, “Hey, Chet, don’t you think you should be seeing to your reindeer instead of coming into some bar?” as Chester Bonaparte swayed and limped into The Palais on Broadway that Christmas Eve afternoon.
The whole joint erupted in laughter, even Chet, his chubby cheeks red as the gin blossom nose that provided the pivot point for a face lit by his jolly, if runny, blue eyes, and anchored by his white scruffy beard.
Four hours later, Don tossed Chet for getting humbuggingly belligerent, though still chuckling, with three wise guys from the uptown Brockley Gang, saying, “It’s for your own good, Chester, so you can go home in one piece and make merry, go to Mass, maybe sleep it off and see what Santy brings.”
When Chester stumbled off the bus and then down the stairs to the dark doorway of his basement apartment on Sherman Street, he fell against a jingling package left by his sister Katie, who was an Eastern Airlines stewardess on the Albany to Philadelphia run.
At midnight, the bells of St. Patrick’s pealing up on Central Avenue, Chester lifted his head from the pillow and gave a jolly little laugh at how the empty mini-bottles of Canadian Club, Johnny Walker Red and Smirnoff vodka that he’d hung from a bush he stole from Washington Park sparkled in the flames from his burning kitchen.