Walking the streets on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City is akin to walking into an insane asylum in which all the inmates have been starved for days, denied all their medications, punched about the head a few times, then painted green and released from their cells. Also, someone has pissed in all the corners.
One memorably chaotic St. Patrick’s Day I acquired a sidekick—a thick black man who had painted green shamrocks on his dark cheeks—by the name of Ronald. Ronald approached me while I was buying a beer in a hot, smoky bar on the Upper East Side. His Yankees cap was turned to the side. He woofed like a dog at random moments. It was odd.
“Yo, my man, buy me a drink,” he demanded. Then woofed.
I looked him over. There was nothing menacing in his demand. No implication that if there were no witnesses he would have ended the sentence with “…or I’ll stab your eyes out with my erection.” He just sounded like he was used to getting all sorts of things in life simply because he asked for them. I was all for this behavior, but I wasn’t about to hand over my drinking money for nothing. I looked down at the cigarette dangling from his fingers. This was after the NYC smoking ban, but, putting it mildly, the rules are somewhat lax on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Hook me up with a cigarette,” I countered. I didn’t smoke, but I figured this just might be the night I started.
Ronald licked his lips and did a quick reappraisal. His eyes narrowed in cunning thought.
“I only have one left,” he said, his hand casually going to his chest pocket to pull the flap over an unopened Marlboro pack. His eyes never left mine.
“I just watched you cover that new pack.”
“That’s for my girlfriend. She just had this abortion and now she can smoke again,” Ronald said, playing hardball. I respected the angle, but I wasn’t about to cave.
“Smoke again?” I asked. “It’s not like you were worried about the health of the fetus.”
Ronald opened his mouth to reply, but shut it quickly and looked down to think.
“Good point,” he conceded.
Ronald pulled out the pack, cracked the seal, and handed me a cigarette. I turned, paid for his beer and just like that, the evening was off and running.
I spent the rest of the night smoking the cigarettes that Ronald traded me for beers. I was laying out more money than he was by far, but I really dug the guy’s exuberant, maniacal energy and complete lack of respect for personal space. Without warning he would toss an arm around the closest female to giggle and bark in her ear. The poor woman would summon up a weak smile while her companions looked away, pretending not to see. College girls were cat-called and grabbed at. Girlfriends were hit on directly in front of their boyfriends. Most people didn’t know how to deal with Ronald, I realized. No woman is prepared to find herself clapping along with Irish dance music one second, and the next smothered by a jabbering lunatic asking her for a beer while eyeing up her breasts.
I will say this about my friend Ronald: while he was certainly acting like a loon his manner was so warm that his vibes were nothing less than inviting. He simply wanted people to buy him drinks and party with him. He was a legitimately nice guy and a perfect example of exactly the sort of unpredictable experience that life in a place like New York will throw your way. I haven’t done the research, but I feel confident when I say that a New Guinea tribesman will never spend this sort of night with a man like Ronald.
At one point we shared a deep moment, unexpected given the surroundings but that just goes to prove again how these things happen. We were pretty well boozed at that time, and I felt that the energy for the evening had past its peak. St. Patrick’s Day was dying out, even the most pickled of us getting worn down and unable to continue the violent Irish merry-making.
“I wonder if my girlfriend is ever going to want to keep one of my babies,” Ronald said. “I think I’d like a son”
“How many abortions has she had?” I asked.
“Jesus,” I said. “Don’t you guys use condoms?”
Ronald looked at me in disgust. He shook his head slightly.
“A black man don’t want to go using a condom. That don’t feel right.”
“Well, a white guy don’t want to either,” I offered.
Ronald nodded at this with respect. We slapped five. He tried to end it with some elaborate push/pull maneuver with his thumb, but I messed it all up. He laughed at me.
“You sure are white, God Cousin,” he said. Ronald had taken to introducing me as his God Cousin. He never explained what it meant, but I believe that it was a sign of affection. I hope it was anyway.
I was listening to Ronald woof and bark his way through another bagpipe-laden folk song when I noticed movement in my peripheral. Ronald and I both looked up as a beautiful blonde girl in a green dress approached us. She gave Ronald a wary look as he glared at her, then she turned to me and smiled.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” I said. Man, did she have some deep blue eyes.
Ronald woofed at her. The look on her face let me know almost immediately that if I wanted any good to come out of this situation, I needed to make Ronald get scarce in a hurry. I fished in my pocket and pulled out my last crumpled ten dollar bill.
“Ronald, buddy, why don’t you get us another round of beers?” I slid the money across the table.
Ronald blinked at me, smiled that charming smile of his, then snatched the money up and bolted into the crowd. The blonde and I tracked him with our eyes as he ran right past the bar without missing a beat, then disappeared through the front door out onto 1st Avenue. I thought I heard him cackling and woofing as he went.
“I don’t think he’s coming back,” the blonde said.
I waved it off and pointed to the chair that Ronald had just vacated. She sat and we started a conversation that would last for the next three years.
It was the beginning of a whole new story, and the end of another one. The beautiful blonde was right, it was the last time I ever saw Ronald. Sure, he stole my money but when I look back at that day, the green tinted madness of the city and his socially inept gaiety, I can’t help but think of him with great affection. Affection, and the hope that his girlfriend gives Ronald the heir that he wants. A lil’ Ronald running loose and wild and doing his daddy proud would give me the hope that along with green clothes and drinking and vomiting and violence, encounters with larger than life New York City characters – like the Ronalds – could become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition of its own.
Brian Quinn, a Staten Islander, is a member of The Tenderloins comedy troupe with whom he wrote and produced a Tenderloins television pilot for Spike TV. Currently, he is finishing his second novel and also can be heard on the "Tell Em’ Steve Dave" podcast, which is part of the View Askew Smodcast network.