“You don’t know Archie Moore’s?” Patrick Shaw, a gangly, balding man whose lanky build became forcibly hunched by the squatness of his black Nissan Altima, asked this with childlike incredulity. The month was June, and in this mild-mannered New Haven summer, Patrick was my boss at the disability nonprofit Marrakech Inc. — and, as I would discover when I interviewed him nine months later, a man of God most Christians could only dream of.
“Archie Moore’s has the best wings in all of New Haven!” Patrick exclaimed in protest of my ignorance. How could I not know Archie Moore’s — which was, according to Patrick, the center of the world, and more importantly, of New Haven? On Saturdays when Patrick isn’t working at Marrakech, you can find him behind the counter at Archie Moore’s, a staple of New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood since 1898. In fact, Patrick has been bartending since he turned 18 in the 1980s, and he started bartending at Archie Moore’s at age 23.
A few weeks into the summer, the other intern, Hazel, and I decided to visit Patrick at his beloved Archie Moore’s. Hazel and I must have looked a funny sight. Seated at the bar, we were two diminutive Asian women and the only people in the entire restaurant under age 40. As someone younger than the legal drinking age, I felt distinctly uncomfortable atop the wooden bar stools. But as soon as Patrick saw us, his face lit up with warm welcome. “Oh-lay, oh-lay, oh-lay-oh-lay,” he sang in his endearingly nasal voice, rattling the cocktail shaker in his hands like a maraca. “Mai Tai, Mai Tai!” Munching on bar snacks and stealing sips of Hazel’s Mai Tai, I reflected on this man who interrupted work to demonstrate brain teasers and, when we later asked for the bill, handed us a receipt with black zeroes printed next to each item. I often characterize Patrick as a competent version of Michael Scott, the fictional boss from the popular sitcom The Office. They can both be goofy, two off-key singers that enjoy commanding a room with their cheesy humor, but Patrick possesses a kind, gracious humanity that most people I’ve met cannot come close to matching — never mind the fictitious character of Michael Scott.
You see, Patrick is nothing like the people in my life who claim to be good and God fearing. I grew up attending church services at a Chinese Christian church in Boise, Idaho. When I was younger, church services were merely boring. I remember the pastor’s five-minutes-too-long prayers in Chinese — a tedious and muddled chore for a child only half-fluent in Chinese. But as I grew older, I began to understand more Chinese and also more of the quiet rottenness that seeped through those Sunday services. I saw my church for the ignorance and hatred that they buried in Bible verses and self-righteous sayings. I saw the old white men with their Chinese wives and “I Love Ron Paul” bumper stickers in the parking lot. I saw the collective shunning of a divorced woman, whose second marriage was attended by exactly nobody from the congregation. I saw the crestfallen rejection in the faces of friends whose love became twisted into pleas to “pray the gay away.” Since coming to college, I’ve thanked the Lord that I can finally stop being forced to go to church — hallelujah, indeed. I have never actually minded God Himself (or Herself?), but church was something else entirely. Those diehard Christians were so full of shit.
Our interview was scheduled for a Sunday. I thought about Patrick’s insistence on meeting in downtown New Haven, which was, compared to Archie Moore’s, far closer to my dorm. It was no hassle at all, he maintained, since there was free parking on Sundays. Another small instance of thoughtfulness by Patrick Shaw, I thought. I arrived to the coffee shop 10 minutes early, but Patrick was already there. Sitting at a table tucked in the back, I wondered what we would discuss.
“So … you just want to know my life story or something?” Patrick asked, cracking a wide-eyed smile. And so, taking a sip from his coffee, he began.
Patrick was born in the Bronx in 1962, but moved to East Haven when he was three. His father was one of the earliest employees of Metro-North, the train most familiar to Yale students who commute from New York to New Haven. His mother was a waitress, which is why Patrick had bartended from a young age. “Everyone in my family, when we turned 16, we got jobs at a restaurant,” he noted. Patrick grew up in a crowded family with eight kids and said that he was somewhat shy as a child.
At this point, Patrick paused. “I was — I’ll be very open and honest, okay? I was abused and molested when I was five, and that also played a role in me not putting myself in vulnerable positions.” I sucked in a breath at hearing the raw, biting pain of his past. But Patrick kept talking, continuing through his life, to high school, to bartending (which he credits with helping him come out of his shell), to Christianity, which I quickly realized played a much larger role in Patrick’s life than I had ever anticipated.
Patrick didn’t grow up in a Christian household. His introduction to Christianity began with catastrophe at 25 years of age: In 1987, Patrick was in a car accident. After making a “miraculous recovery,” he eventually returned to bartending, but something felt missing. “I was not satisfied with everything that I had been satisfied with before,” Patrick said. “It was like, ‘Is this it? Is this why I lived?’” Patrick ended up quitting bartending for railroad work, trading his mother’s line of work for his father’s.
It was on the trains that Patrick’s life changed. Before going to work one day, Patrick decided to read the Bible for the first time. Later that day, Patrick met four Yale students riding the train alongside him, who asked if he had ever read the Bible. “So I go, ‘Hey, I just read it this morning for the first time ever.’”
This brief conversation on the train sparked something within Patrick. “I was examining their lives and examining my life and thinking about my car accident and thinking about my purpose for life and just thinking about the coincidence of reading it that day and then that night,” Patrick recalled. “So then I just started taking the Bible more seriously, reading it and applying it and going to church. And then I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this.’ For some reason, I was never willing to take a chance, to step out of my comfort zone. But I ended up quitting the railroad, just so I could go to church on Sundays. And that was a big decision.”
Patrick ended up moving to White Plains in New York to lead Bible study groups for teenagers. But in White Plains, Patrick explained, “I ended up being extremely,” he paused “depressed, I guess. Like, suicidal. I would drive back to Connecticut a lot, so what I tended to do was look for trees I could smash into.”
“I never really dealt with my issues from my childhood, my abuse and stuff,” Patrick confessed. But through his newfound relationships within the church, Patrick met another person who had also experienced child abuse. Because he had never been able to really talk about his abuse, Patrick found their conversations cathartic. “Those were things I planned on taking to the grave. And I had now talked about it, so that was a breakthrough.” Their conversations empowered Patrick to go to the hospital to seek mental health treatment. At the hospital, he was also able to learn more about the impact of his head injury from the car accident.
However, Patrick’s faith has wavered through the years. “I haven’t always been a spiritual powerhouse,” he admitted. “I started to get attitudes and bitterness and resentment, so I actually left the church.” Patrick recalled his “attitude” when a minister wouldn’t make eye contact with him. But when Patrick later went to Montreal to visit Claude, a friend from his Christian past, he learned from Claude that the minister’s father had committed suicide.
“Claude’s crying as he says this. And I’m like, who am I not to forgive? Who am I to judge people? So he don’t look me in the eyes? We’re not all the same type of people,” Patrick declared fervently. In that coffee shop, the sounds of dishwashing clanging in my left ear, the Yale athletes conversing noisily to my right, I thought I could hear the whispers of Patrick’s God, this kind-hearted deity who gifted Patrick with such clarity and purpose.
“It gets better,” Patrick continued. After returning from Montreal, Patrick went to the hospital to investigate some pain he was feeling. “I find out that I have shingles, I’m HIV positive and I have diabetes. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I found all this out after coming back from Montreal. If I found out all this before, I would have killed myself.”
Patrick decided to share his health updates to Facebook. “Because if you feel any shame or any guilt, then you’re not believing in God’s grace,” Patrick explained to me. “And that’s the whole point of it all, is to truly realize, that it’s gone, it’s forgiven. And so, just by being open and vulnerable, it allows so many people to deal with things.”
Openness and vulnerability: More than telling funny stories, mixing cocktails, or singing raucously, these are the things that are central to Patrick’s being.
“Secrecy and all these negative things are woes used to make me suicidal,” he said. “I’ve attempted suicide, been in the hospital twice with extended stays for depression, just because I kept it all inside. Once you are more open about it and vulnerable, honestly, it’s like, what’s going to happen? It’s not a big deal. We make it into a much bigger deal than it has to be.”
To Patrick, being open and vulnerable are inseparable from his Christian duty of loving wholeheartedly.
“Love one another, because love comes from God,” he said, again and again. I don’t know about Christianity, but I sure as heaven and hell believe in Patrick Shaw.
Kathy Min | firstname.lastname@example.org .