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Jewish World Review
March 17, 2004
/ 24 Adar, 5764
When Americans pretend to be Irish
A real-life lesson in multi-culturalism
It's what always happens when you try to be something you're not. I'm not really Irish, nor are most Americans.
A few years ago my friends and I visited a new Irish pub in a bad section of downtown Washington, D.C. To be sure, "Irish" is the hot trend in restauranting these days, and Guinness has become the trendy beverage for young professionals who patronize fake Irish pubs with the hopes of being authentically Irish.
Our group included my friend Bergen (half Irish), my cousin (half Irish), Bell (possibly half Irish) and a woman we just met who looked like Paula Jones (of the Clinton-era scandals and also possibly half Irish). We sat at the fake Irish pub drinking Guinness and trying to be authentically Irish, when Bergen ordered up a fresh round of pints. That's when the disaster occurred.
At this point in our tale, you should know that Paula Jones was wearing a white sweater her favorite white sweater, which she paid $80 for at BeBe's in Chicago. You should also know that my friend Bergen, apparently in an effort to capture the attention of this lass, knocked a full pint of oil-black Guinness onto what quickly become a chocolate-white sweater.
I, having five sisters, knew we had to get that sweater soaking in something or it would never see whiteness again. Bell ran off to get a bucket. I got the manager to supply a free Leprechaun T-shirt, so our guest could change. My cousin decided to tremble visibly, while Bergen was clearly saddened by the loss of his full pint.
Somehow we managed to get our female guest dry, get her chocolate-white sweater soaking in soda water we set it on a table behind us and restore equilibrium to our outing, so that we could resume our efforts to be authentically Irish.
That's when all heck broke loose again.
Our tale now shifts its focus to the drug dealers openly plying their trade across the street. We watched them through our window when, suddenly, a half-dozen police cars came screeching in from every direction. So curious were we about this scene, we forgot about the sweater. Thus, we didn't notice the busboy who, having picked up the bucket in which the sweater was soaking, proceeded to fill it with dirty glasses, silverware, greasy napkins, etc. while busing a row of tables.
Thankfully, my cousin saw him and began shouting at him. This caused the busboy, who spoke no English, to also begin trembling visibly. But at least we headed off his subsequent actions, which would have involved the swabbing of dirty tables with an $80 chocolate-white sweater from BeBe's in Chicago.
But there wasn't time to savor our success in thwarting the busboy, as another crisis was under way. Our guest became overcome by great itchiness, an affliction, apparently, that results when Guinness dries on the skin. (Sunburn she received during a recent vacation also contributed to her malady.) So loudly did she complain (at this point she had passed through the "denial" stage and was well on her way to "anger") that our attempt at being authentically Irish was in jeopardy yet again.
I quickly applied my problem-solving skills to this latest code-red situation. I began searching the pub for mayonnaise, which, I then thought, would remedy her itching. It wasn't until afterwards that I realized my muddled thinking was brought on by an abundance of Guinness, and my efforts to rub mayonnaise all over her skin had more to do with my needs than hers.
It was about then that the cook came running out of the kitchen, shouting about shots being fired in the ally. We weren't sure if he meant shots were being fired at that moment or they had been fired before the police showed up. But it didn't matter to us. Our group rose in unison, grabbed our sweater bucket, hailed a cab and got the heck out of there.
My real Irish friends tell me that on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, most people go to Mass, take in a parade, then enjoy the rest of the day with family nobody gets out of hand like we do here. No, we Americans would rather pretend we are authentically Irish by getting rip-roaring drunk and singing "Irish" tunes, such as the Unicorn song.
Which illustrates my point perfectly. The Unicorn song was written by Shel Silverstein. He was Jewish.
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© 2004, Tom Purcell