October Irish American News Column




Mike Houlihan

 I can’t keep a secret.

I can’t help it!  I’m intrigued by human nature and I revel in mankind’s folly and delight in the absurdity of others. Often times I’m happy to join them.

And then when the information is nice and juicy, I spill the beans.

Gossip, rumor, tittle-tattle, scandal, chitchat, and anecdote excite me.

I’d have made a terrible spy.

I’m the Julian Assange of my family. I don’t know exactly where my jones to blab comes from but over the years I’ve been indiscreet with many family secrets.

According to my old man, each of my mother’s sisters was a certifiably loony tune.

Mom’s sister Julia married a Protestant named Harvey with a perennially pained smile plastered on his face. He always looked like he was looking for a bathroom.

Poor Julia was high strung and childless and the happy couple decided one Christmas to take little Mike, me, under their wing.

I was about nine years old and my mom must’ve said something off hand about me going bowling one day and the next thing you know Harvey & Julia arrive for turkey with a present for me: new bowling shoes.

This meant I would HAVE to go bowling with them and I was dreading that day for weeks. Even at my young age I knew exactly where this was headed.

Harvey and Julia were going to glom onto me, the youngest of seven, as their surrogate child and have so much fun over the years with little Mike. If I was smart I would have parlayed it into some dough but unfortunately just being in their company made my skin crawl.

They picked me up one Sunday and we drove over to Schawk’s so I could show them my new shoes in action. I was a shitty bowler but they were worse than me. Harvey wore his pants up around his nipples and that impinged on his follow through.

They kept feeding me cokes and fawning over me until I was counting the frames til I could flee. After what felt like eons I announced, “I wanna go home now.”

They were stunned and as we walked to the car, Julia suddenly broke down in tears and cried, “Why don’t you like us Mike?”

I felt awful then but simultaneously creeped out by the panic of this lonely old couple. I sat in the back seat for the ride home while Julia wept, finally lying, “I’m having so much fun, but I have homework to do!”

Dang, there I go again.

Can’t keep a secret.

My Uncle Eddie was also a blabbermouth.

Uncle Ed sold big-ticket items at Pool World on Harlem Avenue. He was an oddball, that’s for sure, but so was everybody on my mom’s side of the family.

Uncle Ed’s breath was a combination of last night’s booze, cigarettes, and homogenized vomit. He’d get right up in your face at Thanksgiving and ask you a million questions,

“Are ya on the team? How’s school? Who’s your teacher? Do you have pubic hair yet? Are you a Cubs fan?”

And those were just the questions he asked my sister.

I’ll bet he was one of the oldest members on record in “The Annette Funicello Fan Club”.

My sister dreaded any holiday when Uncle Ed would be visiting. He’d have too many Manhattans and try slobbering all over the ladies when leaving. When my sis would pull away from him he’d exclaim, “hey we’re all family.” Yeah maybe that works in West Virginia, Uncle Ed, but not on the south side of Chicago!

My sister used to ask my mom, “How could Aunt Nonie have married that guy?”

Mom would say, “Well, there’s a Jack for every Jill.”

Sis would scream, “He’s an absolutely horrible human being. He’s always trying to French kiss me at Easter.”

And mom would say, “Oh he drinks too much, just ignore him, stay away from him.”

“He’s a perv ma, what does she see in him?”

And mom would sort of smile and gaze wistfully into space, “Yeah, what’s HIS secret?”

Now I get it. Thanks Mom! What’s the fun of having a secret if you can’t tell somebody?

Or in my case, everybody!