Drinking at the Fountain

Jill McDonough shares a few memories of the Drinking Fountain, a Jamaica Plain local favorite, in the days before its close.

Nancy won’t let me take her picture. She says she doesn’t look cute enough. I tell her no one has ever been cuter in the history of the world, and she laughs her particular laugh that is too hard to describe because words like “barking” don’t sound ladylike or pretty but her laugh is so loud and sudden and earned that it fills me with tenderness and makes me happy all at once.

There are chainsaw-carved bears on a bench outside, where people smoke. Linda painted their eyes gold. She tells me sometimes she talks to them. She is one of the owners, has a gold necklace that says DRINKING FOUNTAIN. I take a photo of the necklace, say “It’s lopsided.” “Like the owner,” she says. She doesn’t want me to take pictures of her face. I reach out to straighten the necklace, pretending I am pulling her shirt open. She laughs and goes to unbutton her blouse, tilts her head to say “that’s extra.”

The Drinking Fountain, Jamaica Plain

photo by Josey Packard

Lala takes your food order. Her hair always looks beautiful. It makes her happy to see you eat. She brings enormous grilled chicken salads out in a take-out container, because there’s no way you can eat the whole thing. The burgers are like the ones your gramma made but bigger. After you order them, you start rolling up your sleeves, because the burger is going to run down your arms, drip to the bar off your elbows. They will give you extra napkins. You don’t have to ask.

The Drinking Fountain, Jill McDonough, photo by Robert Maloney

The Drinking Fountain, photo by Robert Maloney

In the afternoon the bar is open and the TVs are on. People watching westerns or Family Feud, calling out the answers together. In the early evening it’s local news, a black lady subway driver and a older white guy plumber hanging out together talking about crime or traffic. A woman named Isabella taught me to salsa dance with her on St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody cares that we are gay, nobody asks us what we do in bed. Everybody wants to talk about taxes, cable bills, shout at the TV: “SHUT UP! JESUS CHRIST!”

The Drinking Fountain, Jill McDonough

The author with Patricia Adams and John Demeter

The other night we meet a black guy with blonde dreds, Jacob, who says he’s in town from Connecticut to fetch his girlfriend from Amsterdam when she arrives at Logan. He buys us shots of Jameson and introduces us to the white lesbians who he is staying with. They live on the street. Then a white biker gang comes in and starts fighting with each other until Nancy, wearing the sparkle butterfly hair clips from The Christmas Tree shop, says “THIS IS NOT THAT KIND OF BAR. TAKE IT OUTSIDE AND SOLVE IT AND THEN I’LL SERVE YOU.”

So the bad element leaves and the sweet leather-vested bikers that are left take selfies with the laughing black regulars.

It’s always like that—people sharing pizza or wings or dancing or singing along or giving each other a ration of shit. Patti cashes out the scratch tickets, hugs us sometimes, made us corned beef sandwiches for St. Patrick’s Day, shakes her head when she sees us, saying, “There’s Trouble and Trouble.” We loaned Albert our shop lights so he could see to re-tile his bathroom.

The Drinking Fountain, Jill McDonough

Rosie, photo by Jill McDonough

Gina knew my book got reviewed in the New York Times Book Review because we went in there to celebrate, take pictures of the print copy. And she remembers, asks the next time we see her, “How you doing with your book published?” “Good! Yeah! People are saying nice things.” She nods, shrugs: “Well, you got the brains.” Which is the nicest thing anybody has ever said to anybody. Thank you, Gina.

The Drinking Fountain, Jamaica Plain, Jill McDonough

Gina, photo by Jill McDonough

We all feel ownership of the bar, feel like it belongs to us, which is hard for Linda, who is sick of people asking can I have the fire hydrant, can I have the ladder now that the place is closing down, taking it apart piece by piece. I told her that we all love the place so much we feel like it’s ours. The way you see a famous person on TV and feel like you know each other, like you’re friends.

The photos fall short, like any photo of the Grand Canyon or the moon. But I’m still glad I have them.

Top image by Robert Maloney
Janet ReynoldsDrinking at the Fountain

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