The northeast is positively crawling with Irish-Americans but I was 25 by the time I finally met somebody who came over from the other side. She was a nurse, one of many in the Manhattan hospital where I worked. They all knew each other, of course but they were socially divided over who came from the north and who came from the south. The north girls regarded the south girls as rubes and clods.
Anne, my co-worker, was a fascinating creature. It was agreed by all that her most outstanding features where her large green eyes and her habit of leaning towards you and speaking at a low volume. For me, her most fascinating mannerism was that she said em instead of um. This happened frequently and it was always as an introduction to a sentence.
In the Irish-American community of NYC, it was a thing to be envied if you dated – or even personally knew – a man who came over from the other side. The Irish-American secretary for the department we worked in had a brother who was in a relationship with Anne and somehow because of the secretary, I was at more than few parties and gatherings where there were many genuine Irish people freshly arrived. And so I can tell you with some authority that the men were heavy smokers and the very definition of chauvinism. They were much smaller that their Irish-American counterparts, puny even.
This was the 70s so maybe they grow them bigger now.
The men were good looking and had better coloring than the women. Maybe it was just this set of people but the men had auburn hair and rosy cheeks but the women had hair that wasn’t quite pale brown and wasn’t quite pale red and their faces had no coloring at all.
Anyway, it all came to an end (for me) due to two major events. The first thing that happened was that Anne broke up with the Irish-American secretary’s brother. Right after he built a loft bed with a built in desk and dresser for her. I question the timing. (We all had studio apartments in those days and Anne’s was L-shaped so the loft bed contraption upped her social standing no end. That plus the fact that it was in Manhattan and not Queens. All the other actual Irish people lived in Queens.) The breakup made awkward ripples among the party guest list.
The second thing that happened was that at one of the parties, an Irish man came up to me to make awkward chit chat and then asked if he could call me. It was respectful and almost formal the way he did it. At the time, I didn’t notice the daggers that the Irish nurses were shooting at me. Frankly, I hardly gave it a second thought. He was a handsome but puny rosy-cheeked moth flitting around my roaring Big American Blonde flame. But we did have coffee or something once – or maybe not I really don’t remember – and then I was hospitalized with hepatitis shortly after.
He came to visit me in the hospital carrying a pot of golden chrysanthemums. I remember his tweed sports jacket and how thin his ankle was when he sat down and rested his foot on his opposite knee. He was almost slumped sideways when he sadly told me he couldn’t bear hospitals or sickness and he wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. And that was the moment I realized that he was into me. I was kind of surprised.
Later I found out that all the Irish nurses hated me for siphoning off one of their better prospects and taking him out of circulation.
Looking back on it now, I wonder if he was attracted to my beauty, my poise, my Americaness. Or did he see me as unlovely and desperate enough to respond to his attention and repay it with marriage? Was he really into me? The thing was that all the Irish women in this set had very good jobs and all the men were un- or under-employed. Possibly/probably in the country without a visa and they counted on blending into the Irish-American landscape of Queens until they were able gain a firm foothold here one way or the other. Maybe that’s why he looked so sad and upset when he told me he wouldn’t be seeing me – that my American robustness was not what he thought it would be. Perhaps I was not sturdy enough to provide the support he was looking for?
I can’t remember his name.
Anyway. Too ra loo ra loo!