In which I become ensnared in the St. Patrick’s madness on a train ride home.
I’ve never much liked St. Patrick’s Day. As time passed, I’ve never much liked it even less. Before the last few years, my main objections were not just about public order and drunken rowdiness, but also that our country hardly needed these vestiges of clannishness anymore in an era when everyone, it seems, is determined to prove that they’re part of a special group. They forget they’re already part of a special group, the few people on the planet lucky enough to live in freedom in the United States. More gratitude and humility, less chest-pounding tribalism, please.
When I bought a house north of New York City and became a commuter, I began loathing St. Patrick’s Day, because once a year I’ve had to share a train ride home for an hour and a half with drunken, foul-mouthed, rowdy 20-something hooligans. Last year, my evening train was delayed when fights broke out among them. This year, it was much worse. The hooligans fought us.
And to think that I’d left work early to avoid the drunken mobs. But the drunks were already in force on the mid-afternoon train, using abusive language and harassing passengers — including a mother and father with their three young children. The kids’ father, who looked about my age (early 40s), yelled at the green-clad goons at the outset of the trip to watch their mouths, and they complied for a time, but I knew that we probably wouldn’t get through the whole ride unscathed, and resolved to myself that if trouble started, I’d help out. In the meantime, I watched through the window of a connecting car as another group of green punks mouthed off and harassed the woman conductor as she tried to collect their tickets. She was 50ish and stood her ground, though the stress showed on her face.
Midway through the ride, all hell broke loose with cursing and shouting behind me. I got out of my seat and went down the car, where the father was already confronting the main ringleader and his soused girlfriend. They were yelling at him, just feet away from his wife and children, to “f-off” and that it was “motherf—ing St. Patrick’s Day.” The girlfriend kept up a steady stream of gutter language and boorishness herself, providing another exhibit in feminism’s long march back to barbarism (“Look ma! We’re brutes now, too!”). Over the last several years, my patience with this kind of thing has been exhausted. I told the guy that he was a drunken punk who was bothering the whole car, that there were children and older passengers and people who just wanted to get home, and that he should calm down and he’d get home in one piece. He said “make me,” and then the father said something, and he took a swing at the father, or me, I’m not sure which; a melee broke out with those two mainly trying to get at one another, and me trying to support my new ally. In an instant, it seemed a dozen or so people were involved, creating a crush something like a standing football pileup, pinning bodies against me and restricting my movement; but I saw that the ringleader was still trying to get at me or the father if he could reach one of us. I could also see clearly that he had his fist clenched and intended to punch me if he could just free his arm. I knew then that if I could get enough space with one of my arms, I’d smash him in the face first, since that was clearly his design on me; but having limited movement, I only managed to clamp my right hand down on his face in something like a “claw hold” (my knowledge of which I owe to the ill-spent hours of my glorious 1970s youth watching the claw master himself: Baron von Raschke). The claw hold worked out better than I could have dreamed, as the punk could not seem to get my hand off. Squeezing as tightly as I could, I was able to shake his head up and down vigorously, back and forth, preventing him from throwing punches, as his head bobbed to and fro and the mash of people jostled us around. I should admit here that my execution of von Raschke’s claw hold, after a lifetime out of practice, gave me considerable pleasure.
The punk was soon wrestling with a burly guy, who I was later told was a plainclothes cop (and armed). He had apparently struck the cop and made him bleed from his ear, putting himself in line for a felony charge, if I’m not mistaken. The punk’s girlfriend was also throwing punches, but she was soon restrained by an impressive young guy who had been seated in the row ahead of me with his friend, both of them dressed in green but otherwise allied with civilization. He corralled her like a gentleman, recognizing that she was a woman, not a man. He wouldn’t win any points for that among hard-core feminists, who resent such deference unless it takes place in corporate human-resources departments, universities, or White House Councils on Women and Girls.
Meanwhile, the pile had shifted ground, and I’d become blocked off from it and found it harder to see what was going on. But the train car was in an uproar as passengers implored the fighters to stop. The car shook as the train throttled forward at full speed beside the Hudson River. I heard the screaming little girl behind me, in her mother’s arms, and her crying siblings, and then I and some others tried to move them further up the car away from the melee, which by now had achieved a weird kind of stasis. The father still looked like he wanted a piece of the punk, but by this point he’d rejoined his family. The conductors seemed to have vanished, and I wondered how we would restore order but miraculously, we soon screeched to a halt at our first station stop. The doors opened, and — just like in the movies — there were the cops. One of the conductors must have radioed ahead.
One cop asked me what the goons had done, and I said they were drunk and disorderly and starting fights, and then a shout went up from the car, sounding mostly like the women, urging the cops, “Get them off this train! Scaring children, bothering people…” The police hauled the green-clad hooligans off the train, except for one or two outliers who had been in their number but not participated in the chaos. One of them, looking like a perfect fool with dyed-green cornrows for hair, had been among the losers taunting the woman conductor earlier. Now for some reason Dweezil, as I’ll call him, looked at me and said, “Sir, I’m so sorry.” I told him to sit down and shut up, that he and his friends were gutless punks, that they ganged up on people when they had them outnumbered, that they were real impressive tough guys who taunted women conductors when their backs were turned. He protested his innocence and I said, “Sit down. You are done for the day. Nobody wants to hear more from you.” Some people in the car laughed and clapped; I’d made more friends in ten minutes than in four miserable years of high school. Two older people thanked me — a lady who asked if I was OK, and an old man who said: “Thank you for doing what I can’t do anymore.” I told him it was about time I did something, and he said, “The kids today…the lack of respect… the way they act…” He looked distraught. The family had gotten off the train when the cops had come, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to them. But a new camaraderie prevailed in the car the rest of the way home. Some of us compared notes and filled in pieces of the story, much of which I hadn’t seen. Even the parts I remembered seemed a blur.
Next year I’ll work from home, though there’s really no refuge. Last weekend, a pre-St. Patrick’s Day “pub crawl” overran my little town, and another set of goons decorated our Main Street in shards of broken bottles. The police had to come make arrests for disorderly conduct, and another goon woman took a swing at a cop and now faces felony charges. Towns seem to find these pub crawls effective for bringing in revenue, which they surely are — but then the revenue goes back out paying for police, legal processing, and clean up, not to mention the social costs of turning already-troubled small towns into benighted dystopias for an evening.
If I had absolute power for a day (and you’d better hope that day never comes), I’d suspend public funding and parade permits for all of these ethnic routs. The nation’s broke, right? Good. Spend such allocated money solely on parades for Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day, all unifying events that rarely see such thuggish behavior. Those latter two holidays also have the virtue of celebrating people not for their bloodlines, but their deeds. Those can’t be honored enough, especially now, when so many Americans, myself included, will never know the first thing about what suffering American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines endure. And of course, the more we’re aware of others’ suffering and sacrifice, the less likely we are to act poorly.
A few military parades, in fact, would do Dweezil and his cohorts a world of good. They ought to thank the people who make it possible for them to live safely in a land where, chances are, the most trouble they’ll ever have is running afoul of some weary middle-aged guys who’d finally had enough.
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