Still Holding the High Ground

Cannons at Gettysburg

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”   General George Pickett’s reply when asked some years after the war as to why his assault on Cemetery Ridge failed. 

Recently, I found myself once again patiently absorbing that all to familiar diatribe from one of my patrons about the imminent fall of America because of the current state of our politically divided house. As a bartender in fairly good standing with the profession, I am expected to patiently listen and not offer much in dissent, ascribing to that time-honored philosophy that states that the customer is always right. But as is usually the case, I opted to give up the high ground and take a step down onto my ever handy soapbox.

When confronted with the pessimistic view of the future of our republic, I normally counter with a quick history lesson that begins with those contentious compromises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and ends on the fields of Gettysburg in 1863. This year marks the 150th anniversary of that defining battle of our Civil War.

On the third and final day of the battle, July 3rd, General Robert E. Lee ordered Confederate forces under the command of  General James Longstreet to attack the Union center lodged on Cemetery Ridge. After an impressive, yet mostly unproductive exchange of artillery fire, Longstreet gave the reluctant nod. And under the blistering heat of the afternoon sun,  three divisions of Southern infantry led by  Maj. Gen. George Pickett, Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew and Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble began the ill-fated ascent toward death and destruction. Of the 12,500 men that followed their general’s lead on that day, over four thousand would be wounded by Union steel and fire, and another nearly twelve hundred sons of the South would soon join their other fallen comrades under the blood soaked soil of Pennsylvania farmland. 

On July 4th , Robert E. Lee remained readied on the battlefield assuming his Northern counterpart, General George Meade would attack–but the guns remained silent. While many historians cite Meade’s cautious nature when explaining his inclination not to press his advantage in the aftermath of Pickett’s Charge, I would like to believe that there may have been a more transcendent reason for the quieting of hostilities on that particular day, something akin to the Christmas truce of 1914. There are those sacred days that serve to remind us of the possibility of  achieving that greater potential for good as both men and nations.  And those days should always be honored as intended by those that have gone before us.

America still holds the high ground.  

Have a joyous 4th of July!!! 

Blue Tag    

Posted by: Chris Poh

 

Terms of Engagement

Cowboys at the Rusty Spur in Scottsdale, AZ

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a bit of time with the latest book to make it to the top of my perpetual must read pile before my somewhat languid brain loses its ability to even process the written word. In this particular instance, I’ve actually given an author’s efforts something of an in-depth dabble as opposed to my usual cursory perusal. Certainly this amounts to the highest of praise for John Fabian Witt’s Lincoln’s Code. This excellent narrative examines America’s role in defining the rules of government sanctioned armed conflict, with an emphasis on Abraham Lincoln’s input on the matter of trying to bring  fair play, dignity, and perchance even a touch of charity to the bloodied fields of combat. While I do not discount the sincere intent of those who throughout history have endeavored to bring a modicum of humanity to the battlefield, there is that ever skeptical side of me that questions their underlying motives–whether it be the likes of Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington or any other supposedly enlightened and regarded individual. 

I’ve always suspected that the call for order and civility in the midst of organized carnage is as much about justice as it is about those that started the fight trying to avoid retribution and the hangman’s noose when the fog of war finally lifts. And then of course there is the political practicality of having something left above ground to exploit and govern after the fallen have been properly placed below ground. Perhaps the only thing that might appear to be somewhat more disingenuous or hypocritical than our attempts to codify the institution of war is our attempts to codify the institution of marriage. But at some point during the current session of the Supreme Court, those erudite legal minds seated in chambers across the street from the U.S. Capitol will consider doing just that.

While I understand the level of discomfort expressed by those who argue against gay marriage on moral and religious grounds, I have come to my own conclusions based on personal experience. During my time behind the bar, I have established close friendships with a number of long-term committed gay couples. In all instances, these loving people have fostered  positive changes in environments that normally would have been less than accepting of any homosexual individual prior to them quietly working their way toward establishing regular’s status. In fact, their  presence helped to bring about a greater degree of acceptance, patience, tolerance and kindness toward all clientele, no matter what their gender, political persuasion or sexual orientation might be.

In the text of his Second inaugural Address, Lincoln reminded us to act in accordance with the words of Matthew 7:1, “let us judge not that we be not judged.” It is time to award all who choose the bonds of steadfast love an equal place at the bar–in hopes that we all may be granted an equal place at that eternal table.

Posted by: Chris Poh

Blue Tag

Chasing the Green Dragon

Paul Revere's Ride

Other than my regional attachment and loyalty to those gentlemen from the South Bronx that don the pinstripes, I’ve always held the city of Boston and its feisty spirited citizens in the highest regard. The town that is the very embodiment of our founding cause also played an important role in my own personal quest for identity and independence. During my formative years, the ultimate extension of the boundaries of that restless suburban teenage rebel was a road trip to Beantown. Once I got over the elation of having put over two-hundred miles between myself and my parents point of view about proper public behavior, I would on most occasions give into that more circumspect side of my personality.

So following a few much appreciated pints of Watney’s Red Barrel at the now defunct Pooh’s Pub over on Kenmore Square, I would let my legs carry me across town and down those same cobble stoned streets and alleyways that wore away the  boot heels of British Regulars, local militia and Continental soldiers alike. After enduring some rather chilling blows off the Charles River in the course of my fall and winter perambulations, I was grateful that Henry Knox’s  artillery perched on the Dorchester Heights had not permanently removed all traces of English culture from the city after the strategic departure of William Howe’s  troops in March of 1776. Nearly 200 years after the end of the siege of Boston, and long before there was a Harpoon IPA or a Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig, at a time when most future New England craft brewers were still pilfering an occasional Narragansett from their father’s basement reserves, it was an English ale that fortified my constitution as I chased history’s ghosts down the path of partisans and patriots.

During my last visit to Boston, myself and David McBride, a fellow student of America’s falling out with King George the Third, decided to indulge our love of colonial history by taking some pre-Christmas cheer at the Green Dragon Tavern. What could provide a more authentic setting to ponder the merits of  rebellion than an old brick pub with a sign outside the door that read, “Headquarters of the Revolution 1773 – 1776.”  Unfortunately, this was not the same public house where the likes of Hancock, Adams, Warren, Revere and other prominent Bostonian Freemasons and the Sons of Liberty conspired against the Crown. That particular tavern, located on another site, ceased to provide comfort and safe haven to its enlightened clientele in 1854. And while the current Green Dragon is an absolutely eye-catching pub that always offers its patrons a  friendly and inviting atmosphere, it was not quite the eighteenth century touchstone that we had envisioned, so we instead focused our journalistic attentions on the Warren Tavern in nearby Charlestown. That particular trip was over two years ago, but the current tragedy and needless bloodshed that has befallen the people of Boston as a result of the Marathon Bombings led me to reconsider some our own past cause oriented actions.

When we think about the American Revolution, we tend not to recount the carnage and immense suffering of those who fought, and those who were the unintended victims of the conflict. The telling of that glorified story has always tended to skip over the gruesome and less than honorable aspects of our nation’s founding. And until the advent of modern photography, no one other than the direct participants and witnesses could fully grasp the realities of war. That is why an  Alexander Gardner photograph from Antietam is much more likely to present an honest unsanitized accounting of events as opposed to artist John Trumbull’s depiction of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The camera seldom lies–but the artist’s brush is always subject to a desired effect or particular point of view.

Then there are of course the points of view of those on either side of the struggle  to consider. British authorities and loyalists referred to the Sons of liberty as  the “Sons of Iniquity.” Even Benjamin Franklin was uncomfortable with  the more extreme behaviors of  some of his compatriots. Throughout human history, the cruel and sadistic  have justified their atrocities by echoing the words of some greater cause–God, freedom, liberty and justice. And while I suspect that I would have been among those plotting the uprising at the Green Dragon had my soul’s time and space been eighteenth century Boston, I would have stood in forceful opposition against any individual that tortured and murdered those whose loyalties simply remained rooted on the other side of the Atlantic. All too often, one man’s celebrated dissident has become another man’s terrorist.

Sons of Liberty at the Green Dragon - Artist Unknown

Sons of Liberty at the Green Dragon – Artist Unknown

Thankfully, on American soil, the vast majority of  our  insurrectionists and iconoclasts have exercised a fair degree of restraint when voicing their displeasure with the status quo. For the most part, the rule of law, ethical standards, and our governing principles have prevailed, thus sparing the general population from the terror and senseless loss of life that is all too common on so many parts of the globe. But there have been those periods throughout our own history when some of our more self-serving malcontents have inflicted undue amounts of harm and hardships on our fellow citizens. Among those singled out in these campaigns of targeted terror were women, Blacks, Native Americans and homosexuals. And all too often, these extremists and assassins operated with impunity because the institutions of government, law enforcement and religion turned a blind eye–in effect providing cause and cover to this brutal criminality. It was only after those institutions were pressured to assert their legal and moral authority to prosecute and marginalize those guilty of such heinous illegality, that these waves of domestic terrorism finally subsided.

While we may never fully understand the motives of  Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,  it is important that those that may have influenced their ideology clearly stand in condemnation or be held accountable for their culpability. For it is only the unified voices of moral clarity that will make possible the peaceful pursuit of life, liberty and happiness as envisioned by those that raised their tankards and consciousness at that ever elusive Green Dragon.

Sign at the Green Dragon Tavern - Boston,MA

Posted by: Chris Poh

Blue Tag

Our Papal Addendum or Just Perhaps a St. Malachy Moment

Coat of Arms of Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

Coat of Arms of Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

Internet theorists are already trying to find that potential link between Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and the so-called  prophecies of St. Malachy, the 12th century Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland. The alleged pontifical prognostications, that supposedly foretold the identity of each pope from 1139 through to the Apocalypse,  emerged from the shadows of the Vatican’s clandestine archives nearly four-hundred years after Malachy’s demise. Interestingly enough, the conveniently discovered accounts of those visions may have been used in an attempt to influence the outcome of the second conclave of 1590. The seemingly spot-on predictions seemed to suggest that one Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli was preordained to take the reins in Rome. As it turned out though, Simoncelli was passed over in favor of  Pope Gregory XIV. And after that the papal forecasts become murky and lacking in any real details–leading many scholars to believe that the Malachy prophecies were a forgery. Of course it’s always easier to call the race after it’s been run. But here is something that I do find rather intriguing. 

The previous blog posting was published a full 12 hours before the choice of the conclave was made public. After considering several photographs of the sculptures and artworks at Pacem in Terris for that particular piece, the image of St. Francis was decided upon as a last-minute change. Was it coincidence, divine inspiration–or just another excuse to partake of the holy waters at Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub?

Taps at Yesterdays Pub in Warwick, NY

Taps at Yesterdays Pub in Warwick, NY

Posted by: Chris Poh – follow us @ Parting Glass Media

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Another Flock in Search of a Good Shepherd

 

Sculpture of St, Francis at Pacem in Terris - Photo by Luz Piedad Lopez

Sculpture of St. Francis at Pacem in Terris – Photo by Luz Piedad Lopez

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep… From the song “Good shepherd” by Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane) 

As the world awaits that rising plume of white smoke signaling the selection of a new pontiff, one might wonder why a species so dominated by secularism is still so enthralled by the somewhat byzantine rituals and vagaries of the Vatican. By now you would think that we would not be looking to an institution so rife with scandal and controversy to reset the moral compass. And yet there is that aspect of the human spirit that causes us to hope that those foundational organizations that are central to the well-being of society, whether they be governmental, educational or religious, will at some point rise above those inherent corrupting forces that challenge all of mankind.

As to my own personal search for the “good shepherd”, I chose a path that would not lead to Rome, but instead  to the small village of Warwick, New York. My place of spiritual reflection would not be a  marble covered cathedral, but rather the restored ruins of an old stone mill. It was here that the late author, painter and sculptor Frederick Franck would construct and create Pacem in Terris–a trans-religious retreat and sculpture garden honoring  the work and humanity of both Albert Schweitzer and Pope John the XXIII. Although himself an  agnostic, Franck had developed an affinity and a deep respect for the Pope while sketching the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.  

Just two months before his death from cancer, on April 11, 1963 , John the XXIII issued his final papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).  The same man who had saved so many Jewish lives during the Holocaust while serving as the Apostolic Nuncio to France during the Second World War, and who as Pope had worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between the faiths, would now call upon his fellow Catholics and all of human kind to strive to achieve global peace, economic security and international justice. In the midst of the nuclear arms race, Communist aggression, racial inequality and worldwide poverty a truly good shepherd had come to pass–giving us some  reason for hope concerning the outcome of the current conclave.

It was during some of my more contemplative wanderings and moments of meditative seclusion at Pacem in Terris that I would  find myself leaning toward the notion that there are those among us who might just have a more direct line of communication with the divine.  But then my own personal struggle between the secular and the sacred would take hold, and I would find my doubting self in need of some additional solace and inspiration. Thankfully, the village of Warwick is also home to Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub–the perfect place to renew ones spirit while partaking of the holy water.  

Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub - Warwick, New York

Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub – Warwick, New York

Posted by: Chris Poh

Blue Tag

We the Fearful People

S&W 357 Magnum

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In the last few days, I’ve allowed myself to become a party to no less than three heated bar stool discussions concerning the current national debate over the Second Amendment, and the potential impact by way of regulatory legislation on our rather well-armed citizenry–I myself being among our gun-toting populace. As usual those on both sides of the argument are armed with their  statistics, perceived truths and enough claims to the moral high ground that it might appear to the average detached  American that both sides are right. And to some degree both sides are in fact justified in wanting to cling to their much cherished positions on the matter. Because the national discourse of the moment reflects some of the very concerns expressed by the framers of  The Bill of Rights in 1789.

Concerning the Second Amendment, there were those founders who felt that the only way to insure the future freedom and security of the new nation against the possible tyranny of government, be it foreign or domestic, was to make sure that a citizen’s right to own and carry arms was  enshrined in the Constitution. But there were also those equally wise and well-educated men of the time that were fearful of the potential mayhem, mob rule and anarchy posed by arming a civilian population. So like those much revered fellows of the eighteenth century, we find ourselves once again bringing our own exaggerated personal fears in regard to the proper and legal role of the gun in American life.

There are those who live in  fear of  that armed threat lurking in the shadows that wants to take away their lives. And there are those that live in fear of that threat lurking in the legislature that wants to take away their arms. But for better or for worse, we have as much of a right to our fears, no matter how unfounded, as we have to our rights concerning firearms and freedom of speech. So perhaps we would be better off  if both the gun advocates and the gun control people admitted that their passions are more likely fueled by fear than by actual facts. And at this particular juncture in our nation’s history we might consider a respectful dialogue in lieu of demonizing those with an opposing  point of view. 

My own personal instincts on the issue tend to put me in league with those that believe that additional laws banning the use of certain types of weapons will do little to stop the type of carnage recently experienced in Newtown, Connecticut. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others at the University of Texas in Austin, using only a shotgun, an M1 carbine and a couple of standard hunting rifles. On the other hand though, if some of the measures being suggested today, such as using mental health records as part of an overall background check were in effect at the time, that tragic event may have been avoided. Charles Whitman purchased weapons at two separate locations on the day of the shootings. Months earlier he had sought out both medical and psychiatric help, expressing concerns about trying to cope with the suppression of his extreme violent impulses.  

Lastly, the term well regulated was apparently key in the penning of the Second Amendment. And even though the case can be made that rules and regulations don’t necessarily change behavior,  it is those decrees coupled to the force of law that says who we are as a society. We the people might want to consider foregoing a few of our own fears in the interest of domestic tranquility, and the possibility of actually achieving that more perfect union.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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The View on the Way Down Might Not Be Half Bad

Killarney ParkWhile I can be potentially as pessimistic as any American about the ability of our elected officials to shepherd us through these difficult and dangerous times, on this rare occasion, I applaud the combined  political aplomb of both Democrats and Republicans. By keeping a crisis weary nation focused on the possibility of going over the so-called fiscal cliff on January 1st, they have effectively shifted our attention away from the pending December 21st end of the world supposedly prophesied by the Maya. This clever bipartisan manuever will ensure that Americans will press on with their holiday plans, thus insuring a robust fourth quarter in consumer spending. Now as to whether or not Mr. Boehner or President Obama can marshal their troops in order to deal with our long-term fiscal concerns, in the event that the Mayan timetable proves to be no more accurate at predicting the future than my 2011 Worlds Cutest kittens calendar was–is well beyond my powers of prognostication.

I find myself equally puzzled by the prospect of this nation enduring further economic hardships as a result of government inaction caused by the irrational self-serving behavior of a handful of political hacks that have no true sense of either patriotism or public service. So the big question remains, are we better off striking that grand bargain, or would we be better served by taking a leap of faith off that pecuniary plateau?

The results of the November election strongly suggest that Americans long for those compromises that will restore stability and faith in the marketplace. But as is often the case, deals that are acceptable to both parties, while they make for great signing ceremonies, tend to inadequately address our problems. So perhaps a bit of a free fall after the first of the year might not be such a bad thing. I’m all for giving a new Senate and Congress the chance to spread their wings. Who knows, they may even take the nation to new heights.

But just in case they are unable to live up to my optimistic metaphors, and we hit our heads on the next dept ceiling and come crashing down to the canyon’s floor–here is a bit music from our friend Matt De Blass to help soften the landing.

Matt De BlassClick on Matt’s picture or the title to hear his original uplifting Irish ditty – “Bartender I’ll Have What the Man on the Floor Has Been Drinking

Posted by: Chris Poh

Enhance your enjoyment of the Irish Pub experience by following us on at Parting Glass Media.

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A Dress Code for Democracy

Cowboys at the Rusty Spur in Scottsdale, AZ

With less than two weeks left before Americans decide on who will become the 45th President of this grand old Republic, I will once again try to wrestle with the paralysis of the pen that has plagued my armchair political punditry for the better part of this election cycle. After all the mindless and mundane chatter mixed in with a boundless measure of mercurial shape shifting, neither candidate has done all that much to move the ball down the field. And while I must apologize for my overuse of hackneyed sport’s metaphors, as we come around to the homestretch this really does appear to be a bona fide horse race.

Unfortunately, I suspect that if there were not those troubling tendencies that continue to cause a segment of the population to make their decisions based upon race and religion, the poll numbers would be very different. Added to that the fact that neither candidate has adequately articulated a clear or attainable vision of  how one might govern a nation in the grips of  ongoing economic and geopolitical peril–we are left with yet another presidential contest that will be decided by pandering to the disheartened and disenchanted mob on the extremes, and a handful of undecided voters in a few key counties around the country. So it is not much of a stretch to suspect that both parties might resort to a bit of chicanery in order to affect the final tally.

I happened to grow up in an area of New Jersey where the local Democratic machines had a propensity toward bribery and outright bullying if the usual promise of patronage was not enough to swing the vote in their direction. Thankfully, these transgressions against democracy were  mostly isolated local events, and did not have national implications that might determine the outcome of a presidential election. And while I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next gullible Gus, I tend not to believe that our fates have been altered and decided by the likes of the Illuminati, Free Masons, or those children of privilege that perform clandestine rituals while worshipping the remains of Geronimo’s cranium in the darkened bowels at Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. But at this particular moment in time, I might acknowledge the possibility that there was indeed a well orchestrated effort by Republicans to put in place a national policy of voter suppression in those potential battleground states that embraced a majority of like-minded governors and legislators. 

While the idea of having to provide a valid photo ID in order to exercise ones franchise in these times of heightened security threats and concerns about illegal immigration seems reasonable on the surface, take it from someone who has spent over forty years in the tavern trade–if you want to discourage certain clientele from gaining access to the bar simply initiate a dress code. The call for top hats and tails after six will certainly eliminate  those whose resources limit them to Levi’s and Stetsons. This allows those in charge to be selective without appearing to be discriminatory. So in the case of massaging voter turnout, one need not suggest something as offensive as a poll tax in order to statistically impact an election. Consider this political engineering a type of dress code for democracy.

Heard's Brigade at Re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth

And now that some thirty states have enacted some form of voter identification law, it is more important than ever that we rise above our collective national inclination to sit out the game when someone attempts to make the path around the bases a little harder to negotiate. We owe it to those that have lived up to a much more serious code of  dress and decorum from the fields of Concord to the streets of Kandahar. Honor their service and sacrifice–Vote!

Posted by Chris Poh

Once in a Blue Moon

Neil Armstrong - Apollo 11 Mission - NASA Photo Public Domain

Black boy in Chicago
Playing in the street
Not near enough to wear
Not near enough to eat
Don’t you know he saw it
On a July afternoon
He saw a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon
                                From the song “Armstrong” by John Stewart

It seems both appropriate and bittersweet that we have honored the achievements, and marked the passing of Neil Armstrong on the occurrence of a blue moon. I was fifteen years old during that momentous summer of 1969 when we placed two men in the Sea of Tranquility, as a third crew member orbited  Earth’s only natural satellite. But truth be told, I was much more interested in that which transpired among the sea of humanity that had landed on Max Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York. But within those two very different events there was a common measure of human potential. In the midst of generational conflict, civil unrest, political upheaval and a brutal war in Southeast Asia, we could still overcome our shortcomings and failures to achieve greatness. And there was a collective appreciation of those accomplishments that transcended our differences. 

As I listen to the  current political dialogue during this summer’s presidential campaign, I wonder to myself if these times could even produce the likes of  Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong, or for that matter even a  Crosby, Stills and Nash. Currently our national discord certainly seems to have a decided edge over any possibility of  national harmony.

After the Apollo 11 Mission, I remember spending a bit more time peering into the night sky. There was a time when even my old Gilbert 80-power 3-inch reflector telescope found its way back to the front lawn. The small bits of light in the dark silence rekindled some of that wonder and awe that was lost to the self-absorbed ways of adolescence. Today most of my celestial gazing seems to be limited to those long walks back to the car after closing some pub. Unfortunately, like so many of us I find my self spending too much time in that mundane inner space  where the light of the heavens is obscured by incandescent pollution and our own pointless incessant chatter–a place where humans tend to only react according to their own individual self interests–a place that is the source of both our internal and external strife–a place of big egos and small ideas.

Over the next several weeks there will be the usual clarion calls from both sides of the political divide to join them on the road toward the reclamation of our American potential and preeminence. Our eyes will be bombarded with the well orchestrated persuasive partisan messages coming to us by the light of our  computer screens, smart phones and television sets. But in reality, we need not look  any further than into the light of our children’s eyes, or into the light of that endless night sky to understand our place in human history. It is those illuminations that will fire our intellect and imagination–and allow us to leave our footprints on the path to a better America. Let’s just hope that we can make those small steps toward another giant leap sometime before the next blue moon.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Reaching Across the Divide

It has been some time since I have made any contributions to this particular forum, in fact, the last word came from my cohort and compadre, Ed Petersen, who back in April again posed that vexing question: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Now after having endured the close of yet another presidential primary season, the beginning of the main event, and the first two days of the Republican’s gathering of funny hats in Tampa, the prospect of getting along seems as unattainable as ever. But in the interest of promoting our policy of  defusing the prevailing air of pessimism, we will continue to voice our own unique brand of hope and optimism.

The following piece was recently published in our new online publication Parting Glass Media:

Having spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern affords them special considerations.

I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small-scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind. And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues. Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by economic self-interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.

During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and able-bodied pool of affordable labor.

The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the form of an ever-increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey. The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of America’s promise.

As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who would be impacted by such actions.

Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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