Honorary Irish

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!


Guinness Is Good For You!

Wreckage, wreckage everywhere…still a lot to drink!

My television was constantly blaring World War 2 documentaries.  I figured it was an appropriate soundtrack to the destruction and chaos around me.  The night before, my friend from Ireland, Dez, had tried to break a Negra Modelo bottle on a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  He wanted to dramatically punctuate an anti-American diatribe he was delivering. It was the 4th of July and he was drawing some serious stink-eye from the other patrons, but that just eggs an Irishman on.  They’re all closet demagogues, anyway.  Show me a rabble that needs rousing, and I’ll suggest an Irishman on his 9th beer.  They’ve got charisma.  The accent makes their words carry weight.  It doesn’t take much for a Celt to swing my vote for madness.  They make mayhem seem more lyrical.  Their drunkeness is of the old-timey-hanging-off-the-lampost-singing-Danny Boy variety, sometimes coupled with good-natured bare-knuckled fisticuffs.  It’s charming and lively.

I knew Dez liked America all right, but because he had an attentive audience,  he couldn’t resist poking at the wasp’s nest.  He loved when events went “toh-tahlly wide-o,”  and bodies started to tumble over each other.  Now, he was on a roll, getting all Michael Collins on the crowd, but using the C-word a lot more. When he reached the climax of his rant he swung the bottle down hard. It thunked.  He quickly tried to save the moment and banged the bottle down again, but it remained intact.  He tried one more time to no avail.  Feeling that he was losing his audience, he sat down defeated. The waitress came by and took away the empty bottle.  We continued to drink, but now more quietly.

The next night, as we drank at my place, he expressed his amazement at not being able to break the bottle.  He picked up another bottle of Negra Modelo and (I swear) barely tapped it on my small table.  This time the bottle exploded showering every square inch of my tiny inefficiency apartment with slivers of brown glass.  “Well bravo, old boy,” I told him. “Just a pinch off in the timing department, eh?”  I wasn’t too upset.  The place was already covered with broken glass from when I had gotten locked out and decided to punch out what I thought was a small pane of glass in the back door.  That small pane turned out to be a full door’s worth of glass, carefully disguised behind a faux frame fraudulently dividing it into what appeared to be small individual squares.  The final result of this decorative deception was spectacular. It was also too daunting a mess for the hairbrush and flattened Tecate box I was using as a broom and dustpan, so I just left it.

The average alcoholic learns to tolerate a lot of things normal people wouldn’t stand for.  An entire apartment covered in broken glass was a small thing.  Just ignore it like the bullet hole in the toaster,  the deadly mold growing in the bathroom, and the burned taxidermy owl in the oven.  If there’s still a bunch of 16 ouncers hidden in the toilet tank, everything is fine. Let the Nervous Nellie’s from Squaresville dither in a thither with their brooms sweeping up little spills.  Alcoholics have real problems–problems that can only be cleaned up by direct impact with the Meteor of Oblivion.

A few weeks later, Dez called me. He was all exited.  He thought a bomb went off in his apartment.  All the windows were blown out from the inside, but he wasn’t sure what happened.  “Protestants?” I asked.  “Ah Jayzus,  dere’s no way tah tell.”  When I got there the place looked like a scene from Londonderry during  the 70’s. Every single window, seven in all, were smashed from the inside.  He had been outside working on his van when the place blew up.  Strangely, everything inside was fine.  Not even the bong had been tipped over, and we knew how little it took to spill that bitch.

Never having stuck around long enough at a crime scene to be able to investigate one, we were at a loss while poking around for clues.  If there was anything different, it was the new fresh smell the place had.  Finally, he found a ruptured can of deodorant behind the radiator.  We figured out his cat, Scabby, had knocked over the can on to the radiator where it heated up until it blew. The concussion was enough to force all the windows out of the panes, but not to knock over the bong.  It was an impressive lesson in physics, especially for Scabby, who would not come out from under the couch.

It was Saturday afternoon by then and felt like it was too late to go to a glass place.  A Santa Fe summer storm was blowing in fast so we decided to get trash bags and tape them up around the frames. They didn’t have trash bags at the liquor store we went to, so we decided to ride out the weather. We sat there drinking beer after beer while the wind and rain blew in from all sides.  The curtains were flapping around like mad ghosts. Occasionally, lightning would illuminate the whole place.  It was very cinematic.  “I feel like we were on a haunted pirate ship,” I announced.  “Aye, aye Cap’n,” Dez mumbled before his chin took a dive into his chest.

The next morning, the carpet was soaked.  The book shelves had crashed down across the glass coffee table, breaking it and the bong it supported.  The art posters were torn and curling up. The stereo was ruined, important court papers soaked in bongwater, and the cat was gone.  None of this was due to the elements.  It was the spontaneous bouts of kickboxing we’d erupt it.  The irony here was that the place had survived an aerosol bomb explosion, and a howling storm, but couldn’t survive us.  We assessed the damage as we looked around for leftover booze.  The damage was considerable, the leftover booze scarce.

The problem for the alcoholic with paying The Piper is the discriminatory loan shark interest rates he seems to charge us. Our escape seems to cost more.  Unfortunately, as much as it costs  in wreckage, both material and emotional, we keep paying.  The vig is big, but the options seem worse.  Until we run out of resources, get incarcerated, or die, we don’t stop.  Healthy people don’t get that.  Why would they?  Hell, even we don’t get it.  At this point, the wreckage was piling up, but I could still drink my way around it.  It would be a little while longer before the big hammers started to come down.  Their shadows hung over me as I swept the pieces of the bong into a snow shovel with a paper plate.

Dez, feeling tired.