Fellow New Yorker Pete Hamill has always been a hero of mine. The ex-editor of both the NY Post and NY Daily News, Hamill is also a fine novelist, and his autobiography A Drinking Life details his long, painful journey to sobriety.
Pete’s brother Denis is also a writer, known for hard-hitting, progressive columns in the News. But this week he went off the rails.
In a righteous column titled Unfair to Pour, Denis Hamill disparaged the MTA’s ban on drinking alcohol on the subway. Seriously. While he couched it in terms of a double standard– the MTA serves alcohol on both Metro North and the Long Island Railroad, but not the subway– Hamill was clearly cheerleading for allowing booze on all.
“I think (serving alcohol) is a nice service and a fine revenue-sharing idea,” said Hamill. Really Denis? I’ve ridden the LIRR on weekend nights with drunken teenagers screaming, cursing and throwing beer bottles across the aisles. If it’s a “double standard” to avoid this happening on our subways, then I’m all for it.
The MTA only decided to ban serving drinks on the LIRR between midnight and 5 a.m. after a number of its conducters were assaulted by drunks on the train. If anything, drinking (let alone serving) booze should be banned from all public transportation, but for some reason Hamill doesn’t see it that way.
He loads his double standard case by implying that the MTA is discriminating against poor New Yorkers with this ban, and that “to this day the MTA doesn’t allow you to drink a Mountain Dew, let alone a Tullamore Dew, on the subway.” Untrue. The law states that no person can carry an open container onto the subway, but once you’re on you can open the container and drink your soda– but not alcohol.
Hamill makes it clear that he has “nothing against stressed 2012 Mad Men belting martinis going home to Smithtown,” only that the practice shouldn’t be banned on the subways. What about when these sloshed businessmen get off the train, jump into their cars and swerve to their homes, endangering everyone else on the road? Nope, doesn’t seem to bother Hamill at all.
Why might that be? Pete Hamill wrote not only about his own battle with alcohol but of his dad constantly coming home drunk. Alcoholism tends to run in families, with some members doing something about it, while others live in denial.
In my old job as a trade reporter, I was having a nice conversation with a middle aged secretary about writers when the discussion turned to my admiration for the Hamills. Her smile suddenly froze on her face, and I asked why. She rolled up her sleeve and showed me an old but still very noticeable scar on her forearm.
“See this? It’s from a beer bottle hurled by an angry, drunken Denis Hamill in a Brooklyn bar many years ago,” she told me.
Maybe she made it up. Or maybe it was a one-time youthful indiscretion. Maybe it has nothing to do with Denis Hamill’s very peculiar column. But something is definitely amiss here, and the reaction to this column was best summed up by Kevin O’Sullivan’s letter to the editor of the News.
“No reasonable person would think that it’s a good idea to allow alcohol on the subway,” wrote O’Sullivan.
Does anyone disagree with this statement beside Denis Hamill?