Art by Farrell Brickhouse
Somehow, I ended up in Boston a few years back on a blackout bender, which led to a detox and a halfway house and AA and well you get the picture. I had wrecked my life in New York and now was cleaning it up in Boston. But I liked my job cleaning houses, and I liked the idea of cleaning up my life. Living in a single room, trying to make enough money to get by, maybe get a car in a year. Doing the meetings.
As we approached the giant mansion in Brookline that needed a final fluff to make sure all the previous owners’ crap was out of there, my boss Leon said, “Yo, it’s Tom Brady’s house!”
I Googled it. Sold. Purchase price: thirty-three million. Built in 2015, about ten thousand square feet, on five emerald acres, with a giant swimming pool, a luxury sundeck, organic vegetable garden, a recreation room you could wreck yourself in, a playroom, a gym, a spa, a wine room big enough for twelve Guatemalan newcomers to play cornhole comfortably, an eat-in chef’s kitchen, and a spanking new barn with a yoga studio and—anyway, Tom Brady, the master of the castle, was long gone to Tampa with his wife and kids, and the Super Bowl was happening in less than two weeks with Brady and the Buccaneers jousting with the Chiefs.
Leon and I scoured the house, polished the floors, dusted the mantelpieces and moldings, vacuumed, picked up all the tiny scraps of this and that, out of each room, fast and efficient as Tom Brady running a two-minute drill. In a kitchen drawer I found three Chinese fortune cookie slips promising me “opportunity around the corner,” “a bright future in a new field,” and an admonition to “remember that luck is a product of hard-work and a positive attitude.”
I laughed out loud and pocketed the tiny messages as a souvenir. Luck, thy avatar is Tom Brady.
It’s normal that I hate the Red Sox and Red Sox fans and the Patriots and Patriot fans and the “Patriot Way,” and, let’s face it, not only did I resent paying a penny of taxes in Massachusetts, and every time I heard a Boston accent it felt like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I hated Tom Brady. Yeah, I was sober, but definitely not happy, or friendly. Other people’s success made me feel so bad about myself I wanted to throw myself in the Charles. I shared about it in AA.
So, I’m cleaning the garage at the old Brady place and there in a corner I find three medium garbage bags full of old clothes with a tag saying TAKE TO GOODWILL.
One of the perks of the job is finders-keepers, if the people have moved out of the state or are dead. But at TB12’s I wasn’t expecting much. It looked like a lot of kids’ clothes. But you gotta look carefully, ’cause you never know. Once, I found a small diamond wedged in a corner of a drawer of a dead woman’s dresser. I sold it for a grand. I kind of felt bad, you know, not sharing the money with her family, but I gave Leon his five hundred bucks, so, I mean, I’m not a saint. Certainly not a Saints fan, though I once dated a girl from New Orleans who made good gumbo and bad voodoo.
Anyway, two bags of kids’ clothes and a bag full of old socks, but good ones, like special Peruvian alpaca socks and good wool and I dunno, lots of big socks. Tom Brady had not only left the building he’d left his socks. Like he was done with cold weather for good and—
“Hey, Mike! Let’s go!” Leon yelled. “Quittin’ time.”
I grabbed the bags and found my way out to the kitchen where Leon has the freezer open and he’s poking in the cold and finds a bottle of Grey Goose.
“Whatcha got, bro?” he asks, plucking the bottle from the fridge.
“Clothes,” say I. “You want the kids’ stuff?”
“For sure.” Leon Morrison was a father to three. He was half-Black and half-Irish.
“I’ll take the socks… Hey Leon, don’t drink that.”
“Put a sock in it, Mike.”
He gunned the Goose, made the appropriate noises, danced a Black Irish jig, grunted with satisfaction, and with reddening eyes stuffed the bottle into one of the Brady kids’ clothes bags and said, “You’re driving, honcho.”
Leon drank some Brady vodka on the way back to town and waxed philosophical about luck. I dropped him off in Somerville, left the van there too, locked behind a fence, and took my bag full of secondhand socks home on the T, that’s the train, what the heathens here call a subway.
What a loser, I think to myself. What a loser. Some people get Super Bowl rings and supermodel wives and I’m left holding a bag full of socks. Tom Brady’s old socks. Finders-keepers? How about losers-finders? losers-keepers? losers-weepers? How about all of the above with a side order of self-pity? How about an AA meeting, Papi?
I get to the room, make some franks and beans in one pan on the hot plate and eat that while listening to the sports news, the Super Bowl Brady chatter on the radio; then I wash my plate and the pan and drink some cold instant coffee from the morning and shave and get ready to walk to the meeting in the church basement three blocks away.
Before leaving, I think about the bag of socks. I empty the bag on the bed. They’re nice socks. Clean. And what’s this, here’s a blue beanie with horizontal stripes of red and white with a red pompom and the old Patriot symbol, the guy hiking the ball. That’s kind of cool, I think. Maybe it’s—
Tom Brady’s hat?
“I didn’t tell Lacy it was Tom Brady’s lucky hat. The one he used to wear in interviews on the podium after special victories. She might take it. Then dump me. I’m not stupid.”
I hate the Patriots. I hate Boston. I hate everything, including myself.
Just go to the AA meeting.
Then I’m staring at the hat and I’m getting this feeling like I gotta put it on.
I put it on. And this is the God’s honest truth, at that moment, I felt really happy. For the first time in twenty years I felt okay. It was a strange moment because as I said, I hate the Patriots and Brady and all their success and I hate Boston accents and why not go to that AA meeting and share that, yeah.
So I go to the meeting, wearing Tom Brady’s hat. It’s nice and cold out and the hat is great but when I get to the meeting it’s hot in there and everyone is wearing masks cause of the Covid and I’m hearing nothing and thinking only of three things, girls and booze and money.
I bolt out of there after a few minutes into the pure free cold and I end up in a dark dive demolishing rum and Cokes, meeting Lacy, a blonde secretary from Swampscott, who takes me to an after-hours joint where they have gambling, and we play roulette and I win big. I turn a hundred and forty dollars into three thousand five hundred and twenty.
Lacy and I get home by dawn and things work out pretty well for us over the next week.
“Mike,” she says on the third day. “Why are you wearing that hat all the time? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without it.”
“That is true, Lacy. I love my hat, it makes me happy, it’s my lucky hat. I can do anything in this hat. I can drink liquor safely, gamble with luck, and wake up and go to work and have a good-looking girlfriend like you who has a better job than me and who is gonna take me for a walk on the beach in Swampscott. Maybe I’ll meet your parents some day.” Lacy looks at me with horror. I read her mind. “I’m not taking this old guy to Swampscott.”
I didn’t tell Lacy it was Tom Brady’s lucky hat. The one he used to wear in interviews on the podium after special victories. She might take it. Then dump me. I’m not stupid.
True, I’m not young, and I’m not particularly good-looking, not in the best shape, not even smart or fun or charming or rich or responsible, any of that good stuff women want, but all of sudden, wearing that hat, those first days, women everywhere started smiling at me. All of them. For the first time in my life, they were making conversation out of the blue, on the train, in the stores, and at first I didn’t know what to think, but then I just went with it and chatted them up and got numbers and called and made lunch dates and was still seeing Lacy at night and partying but, wow, what a week!
What a hat! A lucky hat! I was drinking and winning, winning with girls and winning money—wearing Brady’s hat! I love every single one of you!
I bet my roll, five grand, on Brady and the Bucs to win. Guess what? They did, doubling my money.
I rubbed my lucky hat—our lucky hat—and thought, God bless Tom Brady. And this hat. I’ll protect this hat through thick and thin and thinner and—
Life stayed really thick, really good. For Tom Brady and for me. And I wore the hat everywhere. I slept in that hat, made love in that hat. Took the hat off to shower but kept it on the towel rack and put it back on immediately after. Leon and I bought a second van, hired more people, and within a year we had five cleaning trucks specializing in move-outs and dead-people cleanups. We were busy bees and I rocked that hat.
Lacy was gone but so what. I was meeting and dating and meeting and dating and happy as a clam who hadn’t been thrown in the chowder. As long as I had the hat, life was good. I could take an Uber to Swampscott and walk that beach any day.
And then early in 2022 Tom Brady announces his retirement and that week I lose two thousand on the ponies and crash the newest van. I have my first hangover since I started drinking again and even experience one of those troubling erectile moments you hear about other guys having.
And it got worse. The IRS came and seized all the vans and all the equipment because it turns out Leon hadn’t paid taxes in fourteen years and I had to move from the new apartment to the room again where life is gloomy and doomy and dark.
And yet still I rocked the hat. In for a dime. In for a dollar.
A month later, Brady says he’s coming back! Hosannah! He’s reversing the retirement, it’s a mulligan, a do-over, and I think, okay, things are gonna get better. But sorry Papi, for me it’s all gone wrong, for him too, and by the time football season rolls around and his wife has bolted back to Brazil and the divorce is final, I get arrested for public urination and spend a night in jail and the next week get mugged for my last dollar and my teeth knocked out and my left hand broken and I wake up in a public detox.
I hear a nurse standing above me. “He won’t let anyone take his hat.”
“Take my hat,” I said.
“Please, take my hat.”
“Are you sure?”
“No,” I said, tears streaming down my face. “Don’t take it.”
So I kept the hat and went back to my room.
I didn’t have any money so I had to give up the room and the hot plate.
But I kept the hat.
I gave up the liquor, the gambling, and even swearing. And the women gave me up, it goes without saying but I’ll admit it.
I kept the hat.
I got a tent, a sleeping bag, I have a lot of great socks. Tom’s old socks. I panhandle for money. I eat fast food. I wear the hat. I even rooted for the Patriots.
Brady and the Bucs get clobbered in the playoffs. They sucked. But I was eating every day and sober and even though I was sleeping rough on the streets, in a tent, I was alive, right? So I kept the hat, and I wear the hat, because, heck, I believe in Tom Brady. I believe in second chances.
He announced his retirement, again, this morning. It’s just temporary. Ole Tom needs a rest. Teaching us how to win at life is hard work. And isn’t that what Tom has been teaching us, all of us? How to win gracefully, how to lose gracefully, how to be the best we can be, without joining the army or marines? Didn’t he teach us magic?
To believe in second chances, third chances? In fifth sixth and seventh chances?
That hard work and a positive attitude breeds luck. Where had I heard that before. Belichick?
I reached into the fob pocket of my jeans and brought out those three little slivers of wisdom, the Chinese fortunes I’d found two years ago back in Brady’s kitchen, the ones I treasure, promising me “opportunity around the corner,” “a bright future in a new field,” and to “remember that luck is a product of hard-work and a positive attitude.” The Patriot Way.
So I get up, put on Brady’s hat and socks and I go to work. The Patriot Way.
And as the time ticks on and the dimes and the dollars roll into my cup and the people pass me by saying such things as, “Love the hat, bro!” I say, “Don’t you worry, Tom’s just taking the year off. He’ll be back. He’ll come back.” And if he doesn’t, well, he’s like that character that other Tom, Tom Joad in that book we read in high school.
On those cold winter nights in Beantown, Tom Brady’s hat keeps me warm.
It’s doing its job. The Patriot Way.
Spring / Summer 2023
Michael Guinzburg is a native New Yorker living in Los Angeles. The titles of his novels are Beam Me Up, Scotty, Top of The World, Ma! and The Plumber of Souls. He is the writer and director of the 35mm feature film Hollywood Seagull (2013). His books have been published in multiple countries and languages.
Farrell Brickhouse (b. 1949) graduated from Queens College and is an alumnus of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has taught at the School of Visual Arts since 1980. His first solo exhibition was with the pioneering gallerist Julian Pretto in 1978, and he has exhibited with Max Protetch Gallery, Pamela Auchincloss Gallery (both in NY); John Davis Gallery (Hudson); Fred Giampietro Gallery (New Haven); and Life on Mars Gallery (Bushwick). His work can be found in private and public collections including the Wadsworth Atheneum, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and California Center for the Arts Escondido. In 2018, Brickhouse left New York for Montauk where he worked as a fisherman until 2019. He currently lives in Hudson, NY.