My friend Hal has the bladder of an old man, so none of us were surprised when he requested a pit stop to use the restroom. We were on our way back from the Cozy Café Hookah Lounge on East First Street, and we decided to swing through an old haunt of ours, a Japanese joint called Oyama. As so often happens when you just want to go home and pass out, we ended up running into people we felt obligated to talk to.
I don’t remember the topic of our conversation with the ethnically diverse but otherwise completely generic posse of UNIS (United Nations International School) preps, most likely because it was about something utterly mundane. I was sitting there playing with my napkin when a scrawny Irishman sporting a look of severe agitation sauntered over to the table. Trudging at his heel like an attack dog was his polar opposite: a burly Italian who was either unwilling or unable to speak.
“Which one of you fellas groped my girlfriend?” he asked, fully expecting us to quake in our overpriced sneakers. We all shrugged. “Maybe you’ve got the wrong table,” one of the UNIS guys offered.
“You saying my girl is lying to me?”
“Calm down, buddy, we’re sorry for whatever happened, why don’t you let us buy you a drink and chill the fuck out?” my friend Robert said, attempting to simultaneously diffuse the situation and maintain his masculinity with an f-bomb. In the brief exchange that followed, we learned that the Irishman and his friends were high school dropouts from Westchester.
The discourse was quite civil; all parties were exceedingly polite. The Irishman, far from angry, had the air of an aggrieved victim, a peaceful chap reluctantly compelled to engage in physical confrontation to defend the honor of his lady friend. He was clearly, on some level, validating a need to prove his manliness and perhaps spice up a dull evening with some fisticuffs. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but sympathize with him over our phony, spoiled-rotten UNIS companions, who were willing to harass a girl they didn’t know to alleviate their boredom. The elitist in me held them to a higher standard than the Westchester riffraff.
“Well, now that we know each other, we should probably get this over with. Step outside boys,” the Irishman said. By this point, his companions had joined the throng of people hovering over our table. Hal didn’t hesitate to point out that we were hopelessly outnumbered. Then he made the mistake of getting in the guy’s face.
“Why don’t you just go back to your table and sit down.” The Italian’s fist flew into Hal’s face. I ran to his defense and was promptly shoved backwards into a table, sending half-filled mugs of beer careening onto the floor.
The waiters, who until then had watched the simmering confrontation from the sidelines, converged on us. Unwilling to risk the fallout of attacking an employee, the Irishman announced: “We’ll be outside and we’re not leaving until you guys come and fight us.”
Out of danger for the time being, we debated what to do. Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of the ’Chesters breaking beer bottles on lampposts.
Until then, we had been relaxed, intermittently cracking jokes about the absurdity of the situation. “All I wanted was take a piss,” Hal had lamented in a deliberately dramatic tone. Now we realized we could be in trouble.
The restaurant owner, understandably averse to having belligerent, broken bottle-wielding thugs causing a scene outside of his fine establishment, saved us the indignity of having to call the police.
Fifteen minutes later, a dark green sedan rolled up alongside the restaurant and a short, stocky man in a hoodie stepped out, visibly unhappy about being called in to deal with rowdy teenagers. Apparently, New York’s finest couldn’t spare a squad car for the job. To this day, we have no clue what he told the angry mob outside. Suffice to say, he wasn’t very effective; after a few minutes, he stepped back into his car and drove away.
We decided that our best option was to try and make a run for it. If that didn’t work, we’d probably get the shit kicked out of us. On the count of five, we bolted out of the restaurant and scattered in all different direction. Hal and I stuck together, running up First Avenue for several blocks and eventually ducking into a hole-in-the wall Mexican restaurant whose occupants were none too pleased with our intrusion. We offered our sincere apologies and left, meeting up with the rest of our Oyama compatriots in Stuyvesant Town.
Hal’s nose was bleeding from his Italian knuckle sandwich and my back was wet from having been shoved into a beer-soaked table, but we were otherwise unscathed, if a little bit on edge. When a squirrel launched out of the garbage can as I went to throw out a beer can (as they are wont to do when tourists with breadcrumbs compel them to forget their place in nature), I was ready to pick a fight. Nothing gets the blood pumping like a good, old-fashioned brawl.