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Ben Sen

Ben Sen
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New York, N.Y.,
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December 31
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I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford

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MARCH 14, 2012 12:57PM

A St. Patrick's Day Valentine

Rate: 15 Flag

     I was born with an Irish surname.  It's the kind of name they give black cops in the movies as a joke.  On St. Pat's Day my father and grandfather left the house with their green ties flapping in the frosty Michigan March wind and felt the-luck-a-the-Irish at the end of the day if they made it home in one piece.

     I went to Catholic school where most of the priests and nuns were Irish; we all ate corned beef and potatoes on the 17th and tried to kiss the girls when those same priests and nuns were looking the other way eating their corned beef and potatoes.

     I had a certain pride in it, I'll admit.  The fact the Irish were looked down upon as a servile brutish race, the "last peasants of Europe," fighting the last communal war (at least with guns) between Catholics and Protestants only came later after I broke from the fold and started to read books not on the approved list.

     Nobody ever called me a "mick" though I sure heard enough "micks" call other folks names.  The word "Catholic" originally meant "universal" and I'll give them that--or give it to the few who actually believed it as my family did.   It didn't hurt that my mother was Italian and converted to the faith when she married my father.  She became more "Catholic" than any of them in the true meaning of the word.

     Somewhere in the middle of the 70's, I got stuck after traveling around the world for a year and couldn't find work.  I'd been a patron at one of the  oldest Irish bars in NYC and happened to walk in the same day somebody else walked out.  He was a nasty fellow who used to spit in the ale when they didn't give him a tip.

     As was the custom, I was given the lowest job in the house--clearing tables, watching the door on Friday and Saturday night, and cleaning the toilets.  For those who don't know, however, among working folk the bar business is very glamorous--no heavy lifting--you get to bring happiness to the thirsty and food to the hungry--and get paid for it.  What more can an Irishman ask?

     The bar was half-staffed with Irish "from the other side," and American/Irish like me.  Hence, it was a meeting ground and my first real opportunity to learn something about the gang from which I sprang (minus my mother, of course.)  At the time, and for two generations before it was owned by Americans but that changed while I was there.

     The place started to fill with revelers two weeks before Paddy's Day and by the big day the line was half way around the block by the time it opened.  I could tell it was coming by the knot in the pit of my stomach.  It meant basically running from dawn until dusk carrying mugs of ale to patrons committed to total inebriation.  I  learned two words I haven't heard since: a "lubny" was a person so far gone you could no longer make sense to them, and a "momock" made the lubnies look staid. 

     Our "technique" was to fill the place up, let the crowd drink their fill, then close it down and kick them all out, clean up the vomit, scatter fresh sawdust, and start over again.  We called it "amateurs" night.  The big problem was when fights broke out.  My approach was to try to spot the trouble makers before the fights began, and "escort" them to the door, but the Irish born Irish preferred letting the fights start and then joining in.  There were differences in our togetherness, or as a wise young friend once said, "they wouldn't be steriotypes if there wasn't something true about them."

     One year, I had the termidity to write an article about it for a local newspaper pretty much telling it like it is--or was.  That was about the time my relationship with the boys from Tipperary took a turn for the worse--only it was a guy from this side of the Atlantic who screamed "how could you!"

     It wasn't long after when one of the Irishman bought the place.  He'd acquired the funds by pouring drinks that were mostly foam and pocketing the difference.  He was also usually the first to spot a wallet under a table, remove anything green and sympathize with the poor devil the next day when they came looking for it.  I'd worked side by side with him for about four years by then, but still was a novice to the ways of the former denizens of the Emerald Isle.

    He put in a new system of keeping track of what went in and what went out--so nobody could do to him what he did to the prior owner.  The money was still good enough so he had no contenders.  But the purpose was one of submission, like dogs in the park.  Since I was waiting tables at the time rather than working the taps, he had to come up with something else for me, so kept insisting I left marks on the glass when I cleaned the pictures or the windows.

     Finally, I couldn't take it any more and said: "There's nothing on that glass.  You're just busting balls."  I didn't know at the time he had a cousin recently arrived from the old country he wanted to give my job, but suspect I'd have said it anyway.

     "You're fired," he said.  "Get out."

      "You can't fire me," I said.  "It's against the laws in this country for a reason like that."  And kept working.

     It took him by surprise.  After all, I was the first person he fired as the new owner and he knew his motivations. "You better talk to your attorney," I advised him.

     I don't know if he did or didn't, but it became a standard routine between us.  He'd come up with something I was supposed to do, I wouldn't do it because I already had, he'd fire me and I'd keep working.  Apparently, I'd won some respect because I stood up to him, but in the final analysis that is never enough.  In his lexicon, the bad had to be punished, and the bad were those who didn't do what he wanted them to whether it made sense or not. 

      The Irish I learned are persistent; he wore me down.  One day, I simply got tired of it.  This time when he fired me I took off my apron, threw it on the bar, and walked out.  I had a child by this time and it would take years before I'd make the money I was making there.  My time in the Irish bar business was over, and you know what--I didn't miss it--I still don't.

    But Happy St. Patrick's Day nonetheless. 

       

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And Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too! I've got some Irish in there, too, but I never got to experience the "colorful" St. Patrick's Day drinkers, as the Irish in my family apparently came over & became hardcore Baptists. (And I like the throwaway line: "Somewhere in the middle of the 70's, I got stuck after traveling around the world for a year & couldn't find work.")
This is great. I too am Irish. My Mom always spoke so glowingly of the Irish, and I was an imaginative child. I realize now I actually thought they were kind of magic!
Kathy:

yes, similar myths were present in my family, and learning the "wee" people had tales was disconcerting. i've been all over the world, but still not to ireland. i think a lot of people are still around who live in the myth.
My brother and I hitched around Ireland in the early 70's. It was during the violence in Northern Ireland. We were too young too worry about it. One woman in the North said we did look Irish and that we should be careful. We met an IRA man on the run.

A lot of people still talk politics. The weather was lousy, it rains a lot and changes a lot.

Seeing such a small Island without a lot of resources, and all those Catholic families, I think that was their main problem.
We enjoyed it, it was a great experience.
Having been a bartender myself for the last 16 years (and 8 years back in the 70's), this post had me laughing at the truisms you depict. I hadn't thought of SPD as "amateur" night as we in the business out here assigned that moniker to New Year's Eve, but you're so right! Truth be told, any holiday (with/without an actual observed day off) brought in packs of revelers. The Irish twist adds much more authenticity to the play, though. ;-}

The bars in which I have served have not catered to a largely Irish demographic, but come SPD, there has always been the territorial debate between Jameson's and Bushmills!! The Catholic vs. Protestant rivalry of booze. HA! (Of course, everyone drinks Guinness without a quibble.)

Fine piece. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

~R~
Really dear remembrances of back in the day! Love the Irish - funny, warm & devilishly smart. R
A good story to share over a pint or two.

A few years ago, on March 17, I was trying to explain St. Patrick's Day to a friend visiting from mainland China as four of us sat down to corned beef and cabbage and a few pints of Guiness. I tried to enlist the aid of others at the table, but we realized that among us there wasn't a drop of Irish blood. There was a Pole, an Hungarian, and me, a French/German/Ojibway mix. Not one of us qualified in any way to enlighten our foreign visitor, so after dinner we retired to an Irish pub and allowed the revelers who claimed to be Irish further confused the poor man. He decided the Irish were a lot of fun, but more into levity than honesty.
There's enough Irish in my family that I've seen too much drinking. Also got the persistence, for better and worse.
ah...this was great. really really great. brought back some memories. I'm surprised they gave you such a hard time about writing the article, but then again, back then people were really tight lipped. Today, any advertising is good adveritising.

I'm not Irish by a long shot, but I am by injection as they say. You know, I wrote a poem you might like couple of years back. I think for st paddy, I'm gonna to repost it in your honor. :)
Great story with some excellent details. Amateur night is coming up, and there will be pubs full of lubnys and a few momocks no doubt! :)
We Funks are from Killarney and I grew up with the wee people, I did. Here's to ye then!
Very colorful... I enjoyed this!
Great story, Ben. I am part Irish too, but never worked in a bar. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you! Rated.
great story. it's great that you just kept working.

a friend of mine in Korea wanted to quit his job but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Finally he let loose a few choice phrases to the new office manager who promptly said, "you're fired."

Which was funny because English teacher were in short supply and the school had spent a lot of money flying him over there. The school owner came to him and said that she hadn't had the authority to fire him, so he wasn't fired after all. He laughed. "Kay fired me, so I'm leaving."

We had fun imagining the dressing down "Kay" would get from the bosses. "No more firing the teachers." A lot of English teachers quit, but I think my friend was the only one fired.
OH My all good thoughts and wishes for you to. This is jusr marvelous,I will try to be more persisitent from now on...
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