"Normally when I walk by this building there are a bunch of people that
are totally inebriated hanging out the window. I know that's a
stereotype about the Irish, but nevertheless we Jews around the corner
think this," New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said during a speech at the
American Irish Historical Society.
A Quinnipiac University poll found 52 percent of voters had heard about it and were not sure if they took offense. Forty-five percent said Irish Americans should “laugh it off.”
The Irish should brush it off, especially if they insist on naming bars all over the Northeast with names like “Quigley.” Time was, everyone drank, especially the northern Europeans — English, Irish and Russians — but the Irish seemed to do so with greater personal pride, as if it were something we were particularly good at.
I’d worked on 31st and Madison for years, and it was a bloody sight on St. Patrick’s Day. Bloomberg grew up where I did, in the tribal Boston region where the Irish were the dominant political life force. Jews were, in my father’s phrase, “better to work for than Protestants.” The French, however, “could not be trusted,” and therein lies why they fight at hockey games. It was a vastly different time. I’ve a friend whose mother was born on the same street as mine in Massachusetts, and her grandfather was born in the same town in Ireland as my grandmother. She made the comment recently that back then it was considered odd to marry even another Irish person who was not in your parish. And in the church, if 1,000 people were present, at least 200 would be blood relatives.
The old ethnic neighborhoods with their cultural idiosyncrasies can still be found in Detroit and Chicago but less and less in Boston and New York. Bloomberg presents himself as somewhat behind the times. He still lives in the day of “Miller’s Crossing,” when all the ethnics must answer to the Irish, as they did in Boston, New York and Chicago, because there were more of us. He might tune in to “Mad Men.”
Matthew Weiner’s mastery of the times is akin to that of Gogol or Turgenev, and the elegance and truth of the craft unprecedented in superb troupe acting by Bryan Batt, Myra Turley, Joel Murray and so many others. Our American condition is masterfully represented there as it is: a vast metamorphosis for every individual lucky enough to be here. What you were will disappear and what you will become has not awakened yet. You are like the Texas masked man, alone in his desert between past and future, and that moment is identified in this masterpiece as a moment of the new creation when the central character quits drinking and smoking. It is as if he comes out of a trance and awakens for the first time, sober, American and only that, in all its potential, joy, danger and unpredictability.