I love the Irish. I love everything about them. I love the music, the drinking, the fighting, the way they can sleep eight family members in a twin bed like a litter of puppies. From The Book of Kells to Shane Macgowan, their art has lifted many earthbound souls to realms celestial. Their service, both public and military, to this country is immeasurable. Those hard-working, hard-drinking, lyrical lunatics have brightened my world and lightened my load. They have picked me up (sometimes literally) when I was at my lowest. No drunken regret, when confided to an Irishman, will seem as bad.
“Ah Marius, sorry tah here about yar troubles, but dere’s no need tah beat yourself up. I remember when I…” From there he’ll launch into a tale of drunkenness that will magically make your shame lift. “Pissed thah whole dance floor.” “Wiped myself off on duh mudder-in-law’s curtains.” “Barfed guts on dere wedding cake.” “Crawled into thah casket and passed out blind.” He’ll laugh and shrug, what can you do? Indeed.
I am convinced that during the Dark Ages, the Irish saved Western civilization, just so they could kick it in the ass today.
My best bars were always Irish. Guinness is the God of Beers, and when every third pint came free with a knock on the bar, it didn’t come closer to heaven for this thirsty lad. I pounded my pints down a bit faster than the micks around me. People would shake their heads and smile. It’s actually considered bad form to glug one down quickly, unless you’ve gotten a call on your police radio, or the bar is on fire. I was told to slow down, that a pint was meant to be enjoyed. I figured I could enjoy it more once it was in my stomach. I wasn’t using some trick like opening my throat, either. It was more like opening my soul and pouring it in. Now you see it, now you need to get me another. I spent a lot of time standing around, drumming my fingers on the bar, waiting out the excruciatingly slow process required to pour another.
One of my proudest moments as a drinker came when I was visiting back home. I had been drinking at Biddy Mulligan’s, my old neighborhood bar in Queens. One afternoon I walked in and ordered a Guinness, and they told me they were out. What?
“How can you be out of Guinness?” I asked, incredulous at even the possibility.
“We weren’t expecting a certain visitor from New Mexico,” the bartender explained. Apparently, I had single-handedly drank them two days short of the delivery.
“Next time send a postcard warnin’ us of yar arrival,” some guy said. He held up his bottle of Budweiser and looked at it. “Please.”
That night, people would come in and order a Guinness, only to be told the bad news. The bartender would answer their angry queries with a thumb over to me, The Lithuanian. They called me The Baltic Black Hole. I had earned the right to sit there. I was okay by them. I’ve been sober for a while now, and shouldn’t be proud of stuff like that. So I won’t admit it.
The Irish make the best drinking buddies. Great storytellers, sympathetic listeners, talented musicians, generous with their coin, drink, and fists. They’ll fight someone for you just so you can finish your beer. They’re useful, too. Besides making good father confessors and bar room therapists, you can use them as crutches and leaning posts, or better yet, as battering rams. They don’t mind being used as a weapon. That hard head is more of a blessing than a curse. They’d rather not be left out of any melee, whatever their contribution. The only time you’ll see an Irishman on the sidelines is if he’s a cop doing crowd control, and that must just kill them.
I’ve watched old guys, frail as twigs, square off against much younger and stronger guys. The crowd usually steps in to save them, but damn it, they were ready to throw down. You’re just not going to find that kind of fire in some old fart WASP in golf pants. I overheard this white-haired goat tell an upstart punk one night, “I’ve broken more men than cowards you’ve chased, Paddy.” They’re all poets, I thought, they just can’t help it. Sure like to kick ass, too.
Irish-Americans make for dangerous playmates, but when you get to tumble around with the mischief-makers straight from the Emerald Isle (the imported, pure, uncut shit) you’ve got to really step up your mayhem game. You are now playing among some of the world’s elite. Wear a loose shirt so so it will tear easier when you’re grabbed. It’ll also give your liver room to grow. As a drunken maniac, I always felt like a man without a country. Then I discovered a country I felt I belonged in. I met Dez.
He was a wiry, strong little elf, with a choke-hold that could black you out right quick. (He put me to sleep a few times during our scraps together) We’d throw each other around the room in full-on cage match savagery, and then stop to take a break and drink a beer. We’d sit there drinking, he would console me over my problems, make me laugh, make me cry, wish me better days, then cuff me across the ear and we’d be on again. It was the full Irish experience. Strong stuff. Not for the timid.
One morning, I was having breakfast with Dez and his family, who were visiting from Tipperary. His father was talking about someone back home, a young guy that was helping him lay bricks. When he went by in the morning to pick him up for work, “Sean’s fadder came out and gave me thah wave-on.” Everyone nodded. I asked what that was. Dez explained that if the person that’s supposed to be picked up is too poisoned to work, someone will come out and signal to the driver to go on without them. In Ireland, it is so common to be too hung over to go to work, that the whole explanation has been abbreviated to a simple hand gesture. They even have a term for it, The Wave-on. How unbelievably fucking awesome. I especially like how other family members will come out and perform The Wave-on for you. That is so beautiful, so decent, it kind of chokes me up.
Later in the conversation, the mother recalled an anecdote about Dez’s younger brother, who got so drunk one night he came into their bedroom thinking it was the john. He opened up his father’s closet and pissed into his boots. “And it was me favorite pair!” the Dad said, and everyone just laughed and laughed. The whole family was teary with hilarity. Okay, let me tell you, I’ve gotten my family fairly inoculated to my shenanigans, but that’s not how that story would have been retold. It would be refered to, if at all, as “The Incident,” and maybe how it proceeded another rehab visit. It would not be a happy ha-ha tale to regale your company with. In Ireland, they laugh off things that would make you want to kill yourself in shame over here. You can really cut loose over there. You can be yourself.
I made a mental note, “Going to Ireland would mean my death. Hold off, for now.”
I have yet to make that pilgrimage. I’m still in a holding pattern. I’m not sure I’m ready for Ireland sober. I’m not sure Ireland is ready for a sober me. I’m not as easy to choke out.
At the heart of the Irish is heart. Bigger ones you won’t find. They are fierce friends, loyal, brave, compassionate, cheerful, and funny as the devil. I can’t think of a better brand of human. These divine madmen, under all their craziness, pour out more love than you could ever drink. As an outsider, I am eternally grateful for their taking me into their tribe, at least for that little while. My life is richer because of it. So in honor of your great snakecharmer, St. Patrick, I raise this phantom pint. I salute your entire race. You blessed sons and daughters of Eire. Thank you for existing. Cheers!