I just read in the papers that Saturday was Saint Patrick’s Day. I have to assume that’s true because, being a good Irishman, I started drinking on Friday night and slept all day Saturday. Still, several days later is as good a day as any to reflect on the “Luck of the Irish.” And speaking of drinking…
I am 62 years old, although most people say I only look 61. In the late 1960’s, I was your typical long-haired, pot-smoking, anti-war, five-credits-a-semester college student on Long Island. And, worse, I was the president of a fraternity where drinking on the weekends was basically required. We’d usually start off with “Open Keg Night” on Friday, then gravitate to more serious stuff by Saturday afternoon. Come Sunday night, the frat house looked like a scene from “Night of the Living Dead.” To this day, I can recall the feeling (and smell) of the beer that had soaked into our lime green living room carpet. Starting Monday morning, we’d sleep through our classes all week and start drinking again as soon as we could.
The scary thing was that in those days we would get totally “soused” and then jump into our cars for some burgers at Lee’s Diner or to go have a conversation with the clown at the Jack in the Box. Yep, we drove drunk.
In fact, it was not unusual for me to drive a bunch of my frat brothers around town, beer cans openly exposed in the car and then the next day not even remember how I got home. It was an incredibly scary feeling struggling to remember where we went for food, what girls were in the car, what I might have said to those girls, and what route I took to get home. Through the haze, I would remember swerving from lane to lane and tossing beer cans out the window (the parkways used to be totally littered with cans, food wrappings and other items).
One night at 3 a.m., driving alone and drunk on the Robert Moses Causeway, I came across a Volkswagon Beetle in the middle of the road, upside down and spinning on its roof like a top. No one else was around as I pulled over to the curb. I slowed the spinning down, peeked inside and observed a young man shoved against the car top, no seat belt (we never wore them in those days), obviously drunk. And I swear that I counted at least 20 empty cans of beer surrounding him. He seemed unharmed and when I saw in the distance the flashing lights of a police car, I jumped back into my car and sped off. I was not interested in sticking around in my drunken state. I’ve got a million of these terrible stories.
Of course, I now consider myself extremely lucky that I never got caught by the police, killed myself and my friends or, worse, killed another innocent driver. How I never wound up hitting someone head-on is a mystery to me.
On this Saint Paddy’s day, I am thinking about how lucky I have been.