I'm in Manhattan on the corner of 42nd and 2nd. It's Thursday morning, St. Patrick's Day, America's anthem for vomit and sexual coercion.
There will be moments of calm today, though they will be brief, or on the edge of a far-off borough. Like the Irish Haven bar in Bay Ridge, shadowy and lit with beams of green neon, little corners of conspiratorial-looking old Irishmen speaking in nods and winces. Its owner, Mike Collins, shoulders so wide you are certain he has to walk through occasional building entrances sideways, pointing around the room with bear-paw hands that look like they could pop the stem of a beer bottle off like it were the head of a Pez dispenser. "His parents born in Ireland … Their parents born in Ireland… Parents' parents born in Ireland." He'll go on as long as you let him.
Or after the parade has begun, as you walk down west 45th street on the way toward 5th Avenue, past rehearsing bagpipe circles, one after another, every black inch of asphalt occupied, short men with broom-bristle mustaches, bald heads so round they look digitally rendered, surrounding two guys in the center beating cannon-blasts on the drums, the piercing whine of the bagpipes that sounds somehow triumphant and mournful, a commencement and a eulogy all at once, street cart smoke burning your nostrils like acid, you wandering around in a bubble of this.
If you find yourself in these places, you will perhaps experience a sequence where you are stopped motionless, something like a prolonged sigh, a feeling of being alive in the exact middle of a moment that is messy and ragged and yet all of it somehow synchronized.
And then you will be shaken from this, by the girl crashing into your back to keep from falling onto the concrete, in a shirt that says "Kiss Me I'm Irish Or Drunk Or Whatever." Or inches away, a group of cops, holding onto cigars or their hats or their balls, drinking tall cans of beer from a paper bag outside a place to make photocopies. "Yeah yeah you were trolling the mean streets of Massapequa or fucking New Hyde Park before you got here you little bitch."
If you come to Manhattan on St. Patrick's Day, there are scenes to behold of local-nightly-news B-roll pageantry, but really today is a calamity, a demolition derby of male ego and the limits of human biology. This is America: we build gorgeous monuments, but we're also a people aligning that monument so it looks in a photograph like it's our gargantuan pretend-cock.
And so, I am here at McFadden's on 42nd, a Manhattan dojo for heedless impulses and cinnamon whiskey. From 9 till 11 this morning is an open bar and brunch buffet. The ethos of everyone here is open bar, in a way. All you can eat, all you can drink, tearing apart the very limits of ALL, as a concept. Everything is yours, all yours, forever.
By 10:30 there is almost no room inside. Spare bartenders appearing from nowhere. Guys packed against each other, having conversations with roommates about last Friday, the Friday before that, every Friday, we're never getting the fucking security deposit back lol . Getting a text from a person in their phone as "Boo Boo Kitty Fuck" that says "lmao we r in the cab now." Guys waiting and pointing to the ceiling as the bass is about to drop like they've got a cure for a terminal illness located under a microscope. Guys calling "BRO FIVE COORS???" through the mob to the bartender across the room. A language of "my bads" and "good looks" and "nah it's straights" and "get me back laters." Thick arms, tiny ankles, plastic green leprechaun hats, meticulously configured eyebrow geometry. Our nation's most esteemed congregation of men in fleece outerwear. A tall guy really concerned that his NCAA tournament bracket is getting fucked up.
In the corner of the room, a guy points down at a tower of gray-black sausage and bacon the color of pencil erasers. He says to his friend, "You hungry?" Friend says, "Nah. I'm good. This shit is breakfast" and pounds a plastic cup of Bud Light. Moments later, Friend comes back with a plate of food anyway. It's a mountain of just potatoes. He eats half of one and throws the rest into the trash. Lots of today gets thrown in the trash, everything about this celebration is meant to be disposable. Plastic beads and plastic shot glasses, shattered and kicked around the floor, the girl buying a new t-shirt from the stand on the corner, leaving the old one in a wet brown heap on the sidewalk.
A DJ is playing songs now. "Work It" by Missy Elliot. "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child. It is an atmosphere of anticipation, of a moment's potential to become a bigger moment. When is Dave coming, is he bringing Charlotte, what song is next, how many lukewarm mozzarella sticks can I fit in my mouth till they start charging me, what bar is next, you want more shots? Wait for me I have to go shit at McDonald's. Text Brendan is he meeting us, my battery's at 14 percent.
"Hollaback Girl" comes on and everyone in the bar starts nodding and lurching, making that universal this-beat-has-a-dirty-diaper face. Bon Jovi and Billy Joel and Justin Bieber and cuz-I-see-some-ladies-tonight-that-should-be-havin-my-baby (baby), not just songs they know every word to, but a vibe they could sketch from memory with their eyes closed, all its little grooves, the predictably mediocre American lagers and the length of train rides from White Plains, waiting their turn on the mechanical bull at Johnny Utah's. Guys weaving to the bathroom like a military campaign. Drunk never changes; we love it because it is the dumbest, happiest, most loyal friend we've ever had. The whole day is like this, at McFadden's and Johnny Utah's on 51st, at Connolly's and O'Lunney's in Times Square, downtown, in Brooklyn. Even in pockets of the city where it's peaceful, where things don't feel plugged to a valve of Creatine, you can see, in the distance, heading toward you, a herd of something loud and green that is.
Lots of today gets thrown in the trash, everything about this celebration is meant to be disposable.
Around 1 I go downtown to McSorley's, the oldest bar in New York City, a place that until 1970 didn't allow women inside. Everything is fogged in copper grime the same color as the lager, sawdust on the ground. Every day, the same cheese plate: cheddar and American.
Outside, a young guy in a Joe Namath jersey is being told to wait because the bar is at max capacity. "We spent $20 to come downtown for this fucking place?" he says. He's backing into the road now. A car behind him has to wait. On the sidewalk next to him, a girl on her phone, revising plans with someone else. "Don't even bother, stay where you are, we're coming back—we're outside some shitty place it's got, like, shit all over the floors."
It's about 2:30 and I go back up to the parade route. A swarm of guys linger next to a mailbox in front of the Wells Fargo near the corner of 45th and 6th. They're all drunk and hot-wired and bumping into each other sort of half-on-purpose, like their brains are playing a loop of Jerry Bruckheimer trailers, like it is absolutely essential that they either cum or smack something in the mouth to survive. A reporter and a cameraman from BET walk up to them. They all lunge for the microphone.
The reporter asks them, "Do any of you guys know who St. Patrick is?"
They pause to contemplate. A second passes. A kid with a stringy black beard leans in, "Man nobody gives a fuck who he is. We're here to get drunk." They all howl. One of them tries to grab the microphone foam like a tennis ball.
The reporter says, "Is St. Patrick's Day a holiday only white people can really enjoy?" They all say YOOOOOOOO! for 18 minutes and then put their arm around one of their friends, who looks Hispanic. Joke's on you, BET segment.
In the street, behind the cameraman and the reporter, a stump of a young man walks by and shouts IRISH LIVES MATTER. The two girls he's with grab his shoulder and laugh, like, omg ur so bad! Stump Kid struts the rest of the way down Sixth Avenue like he's William Wallace.
Maybe you think it's unreasonable to condemn the rabidly recreational habits of white people on this day, the Caveman Olympics. But here was a truth, all day in midtown: People spitting something vicious at strangers who are unknowingly blocking doorways, at sweaty bouncers with rules to follow, cab drivers who can't do it guy I'm going to Queens sorry, at girls with inhibitions, at guys with more accentuated triceps, at red lights, barricaded side-streets. Guys roaming with no repercussions, guys aware of that eminent no-repercussion-ness, young white men block to block like whack-a-molers looking for someone to make feel small and breakable.
The BET crew leaves, and the guys start to drift toward the intersection, looking for something else. Eventually, on train rides home, they will sleep, but not yet.
Image source: Behar Anthony/SIPA via AP Images
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