Column: An age where everyone is touchy
We live in a touchy age where any ethnic remark is a blowtorch. Your mom might have told you never to talk about politics or religion, but these days, mother should include race and ethnicity in her maternal guidance.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed up at the American Irish Historical Society to do a little schmoozing. After the beating the mayor took on the blizzard debacle, he is busy visiting just about every society that exists in order to do some good-will hunting. Unfortunately, Bloomberg pulled a Jackie Mason and told the Irish crowd that he lived nearby and was used to seeing "people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window" of the society's building.
Did somebody say avalanche?
Some in the crowd actually booed Bloomberg, which was unusual because the mayor stood just a few feet away from them. There were very few Irish eyes smiling, and the ensuing media reports made the situation even worse.
You don't get much more Irish than me, but somehow I am not offended by Bloomberg's ethnic one-liner. I am troubled that it was very lame in the humor department, but the cliched drinking reference is meaningless to me. Consuming alcohol, as we all know, extends to every ethnicity, and the destruction that alcoholism causes is no laughing matter.
Historically, social life in Ireland was built around pubs, at least for men. The culture embraced beer and good cheer. There's no question about it. When the Irish immigrated to America, that culture came with them, so much so that when the police removed drunks from the streets, they called the transport a "paddy wagon," referencing the Irish name Patrick.
Even today, the St. Patrick's Day parade celebrations, at least in New York and Boston, feature a heavy alcohol component that does little to tamp down the cliche Bloomberg embraced. My advice to my Irish brothers and sisters has always been this: It is a great day for the Irish. Don't sully it by drinking like a camel.
My grandfather and first cousin both died from alcohol-related illnesses. But again, those tragedies were not caused by their ethnicity. Booze is a temptation that must be controlled, or bad things will happen. There is no evidence that one group is more susceptible to drinking than another. The abuse of alcohol is a problem for every society on earth.
Perhaps because I don't drink and never have, I chalked up Bloomberg's gaffe to a bad decision. I've said a lot of dopey things in my life, and so have you. The mayor harbors no disdain for the Irish - he was born in Boston, for crying out loud. It was a simple mistake. And as an Irishman, I am very familiar with those.