by Andrei Codrescu
He presided, he directed, he ruled, he snarled. From his perch at Molly's Window, which is where I mostly saw him, he listened indulgently to the speculative thrusts of the Gang, paid slightly more attention to opinion derived from inside info, and gave his full ear to inside info itself. Like everything that went by the Window on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, including a variety of humanity that would have made both Goya and Picasso shriek with delight, one couldn't be sure of the exact percentage of B.S. Monaghan alone seemed to know. People vied to be in the Window Gang, but few could stand the Chief's tests, which to the innocent must have often seemed rough, illiberal, crude, or so deliberately provocative as to preclude any rational response. Many of the applicants got caught between a grin and a grimace, after which they applied elsewhere.
The Chief, or the Godfather, or El Jefe, as he was sometimes called, pushed language brutally. When it came right down to it, his acts belied his Irish gift for making English behave like a tart. He was a self-proclaimed agnostic but had priest friends. He derided local politicians but invited them to tend bar on Thursdays. He could be merciless about moochers but lent money to his friends (and ran them down for being unreliable no-good bums). He applied spicy adjectives to certain women, but showed them medieval courtesy. He railed against people who cadged drinks, but bought them for everyone. His arsenal of scorn got more withering toward the end, even as his detachment grew. Since he knew everyone, everyone stopped, eventually, by the Window, to pay respects. Jim remembered them all. Their high positions, fine clothes and trophy wives didn't fool him. He recalled fondly what they had done in their obscured pasts and were discreetly doing even now. Among those paying homage one could find politicians, judges, cops and journalists. Some of them were his genuine friends, even Window Gang members, but most of them were just checking to see if Monaghan still remembered. They probably worried about his notes. Was he writing a memoir? If only. I regret not having interviewed him for ten or so hours, as we once discussed. A gold mine lost. No matter. There will be Monaghan stories traded for years.
He was maestro of ceremonies for great parties, like the Washington Mardi Gras and Molly's Halloween Parade. One year he made me King of this grand New Orleans event, an honor that will be hard to top. We discussed logistics. He said, "I don't know what to wear. Maybe I should go naked to let everyone see how big it is." He had on a straight face, almost mournful. The carriage I rode in nearly overturned when the horses bolted, but it was a magical night, filled with otherworldly lights. I think Monaghan was wearing a funny hat and his usual clothes, but I remember him saying something like, "Romanian commies! They scare the horses!" Or maybe that was another time. He was fond of that "Romanian commie" business. This year, his last, he and his wife Liz took a long trip to Europe and visited Romania, among other countries. When he came back, he said to me, "Now I understand the way you are." And then told a story about some scam that was quite funny, sort of.
Monaghan's last rites were a jazz parade through the French Quarter, ending at Molly's on Decatur, where his ashes were placed behind the cash register. Drinks were half price, as "per decree of the dead Emperor," as Charles Broome, Window insider, put it. "He may not make money on his funeral, but he wanted to be damned sure he didn't lose any." Crusty old Irish anarchist, who trusted nobody, loved almost everybody, was most certainly loved by a great many, he took the world for what it was, but was no man's fool.
This article originally appeared in the Gambit on December 25, 2001