Friday, May 11, 2007

A Fine(d) Place To Smoke

A few weeks ago, a Lithuanian Club on Pittsburgh's South Side was fined for violating Allegheny County's on-again, off-again no-smoking law. I don't like being around people when they're smoking, and I purposely avoid smoking establishments on the rare occasions when I go out. It seems that the smoking restrictions ought not to apply to a private club. This one, however, often holds charity events and whatnot, which means that the public may participate. And that makes it a "public house" in the same sense as any other bar on the South Side. Here's a little history: The building that the Lithuanian Club inhabits was, around 100 years ago, the neighborhood's German Turnverein. Several of my ancestors were German-born or ethnically German American-borns who lived on the South Side.

My grandfather was the son of a German immigrant (who was a saloon keeper), and on his mother's side the grandson of German immigrants. He was baptized at a German church in Pittsburgh, and grew up in a bilingual household. At the time, the dominant "foreign element", if you will, on the South Side was German. Many churches and businesses conducted all of their affairs in the German language. During the First World War, this ethnic community was more or less forced to assimilate due to social pressure. At the same time, a new wave of immigrants took over, so that by the time I was born (long after my family left that neighborhood) most Pittsburghers equated "South Side" with "Polish", or generally "Slavic". For a while, both the Slavic and German elements mingled in some minor discomfort...and therein hangs a tale that my father told me.

When he was a little boy, his parents visited the home of some Lithuanian friends and took him along. Alcohol was served. My grandmother, being a responsible parent, did not partake. My father was little enough that he leaned on his father's broad shoulders and relaxed until he started to fall asleep. He wasn't the only one falling asleep at that table. I do not know what they were drinking, but my grandfather tossed back one glass after another, and his hosts did the same. One by one, the Lithuanians dropped off until every last one passed out from the booze. My grandfather was not fazed in the least. The last thing that my father remembered before falling asleep and needing to be carried back home was his father telling his mother: "These hunkies are all drunk. Let's get out of here."

That sounds like the perfect excuse for the Lithuanian Club to get out of paying the $16,250 fine that was levied by the County. At present, it looks like a reduction in the fine is likely to happen. Why not try to get rid of the whole thing? "I'm sorry, Mr. Health Department Inspector, but we were drunk and didn't know what we were doing. It's not our fault that we can't hold our liquor like a German." In college, friends of mine told me that cops would cut them some slack when they were being noisy because the kids were drunk. Why not do the same at the Lithuanian Club? If people were drinking, they could be excused for being noisy and smoky. No fines, no punishments, and promise not to smoke in the Club anymore.

Then everything would just be (forgive me)...hunky-dory.

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