When I hear the term "exemplary citizen," I'm immediately reminded of my friend Denny O.
As a citizen, he's twice the man I am, holding both American and Irish citizenship.
As for being exemplary? Well, his word is his bond. He's undying loyal. He doesn't cheat.
Among his other jobs, for years Denny taught criminal justice. As a result, he has connections with law-enforcement agencies, local, state and national, but doesn't take advantage of them.
And since he taught criminal justice, he considered himself a role model, and as such obeyed the law to the T. Or at least he did - with one noticeable exception.
The auld flower and the black stuff
It all began with his Irish grandmother, who was independent and functional until her 100th year, when she had to go into a home. She was still perfectly lucid, just frail. She was also philosophic: She accepted giving up her autonomy and living in the home, except for one thing. She was furious that alcoholic beverages were prohibited.
While she'd never been known to be drunk, she was also never known to go a day without Guinness. And when I say "a Guinness," that's exactly what I mean: She'd drunk a Guinness a day, every day, since Woodrow Wilson's first term.
She was not one to suffer in silence, and Denny was not one to see a loved one suffer, so rules or no rules, they struck a deal. Whenever he visited her, he'd bring a Guinness. Since she was no chugger, she'd finish it after he left and bury it under the magazines in her nightstand. Then when Denny came back, he'd bring a full one and take the empty. It was a perfect arrangement all around.
After she was in the home two years, one early morning Denny got a call. His grandmother had passed away in the middle of the night. He went to the home to take care of the paperwork and after he did that, the HR person told him the director wanted to see him.
Denny couldn't stand the director. He thought he was a joyless poop, a self-absorbed bureaucrat and a pompous martinet. That said, Denny was pleasant enough when he went in the office.
The director gave his perfunctory sympathies and then said, "We have a little problem here."
"Oh?" said Denny.
"Yes," said the director. He reached down into a drawer. then straightened up and put an empty Guinness bottle on his desk.
A look of faux shock crossed Denny's face.
"You mean," he said, "you've got people here drinking on the job?"
"No," said the director, completely oblivious to Denny's fakery. "When the nurse came in on her morning round, she found this in your grandmother's hand."
A long silent moment passed. Then the director spoke.
"Since you were her last visitor, I naturally assumed-"
"I know exactly what you assumed," said Denny, his eyes narrowing and turning into death rays. "And you better find something else to assume. Right now!"
I didn't tell you before, but Denny is big, jacked, and has a unique combination of loving kindness and homicidal rage.
The director blanched. Then he decided to pursue a different tack.
"So," he said, "do you have any idea how this bottle got in her room?"
Denny looked deep in thought, and he was. He was thinking of what he was going to say, since whatever it was would be a bald-faced lie.
They both sat there, silent, the director eyeballing Denny, Denny stroking his chin, staring into the middle distance.
Suddenly Denny snapped his fingers.
"Of course!" he shouted. "Of course!"
"Of course what?" said the director.
"Well, you know my grandmother was religious very religious?"
"Yes," said the director. "We all knew that."
"Plus she always complained about not being able to drink her Guinness here."
"Yes," said the director, a bit waspishly, "we all knew that, too."
"Right," said Denny. "Well, last night she told me that since she couldn't depend on her relatives for her Guinness, she was going to turn to prayer."
Turn to prayer?" said the director, baffled.
"Sure," said Denny. "So don't you see what happened?"
"No," said the director. "What?"
"Simple. Her prayer was answered. By The Big Man."
When the director got over his shock, he managed to reply.
"Are you telling me God brought your grandmother that beer?" he said.
"No," said Denny. "I said The Big Man."
"Jesus?" he said, more confused than ever.
"No," said Denny. "The Big Man. St. Patrick, himself, bless his soul!"
Before the director could speak, Denny stood up.
"It's a miracle, I tell you. A God's honest miracle!" said Denny, "And it took place right here in your facility!"
He grabbed the bottle.
"I'm going to the parish right now and have Father Malloy bless the bottle. Then I'll have him say a novena for you and your fine operation.
"Who knows? Maybe this," he said, shaking the bottle, "will be declared a sacred relic."
Then he turned and left.
When he told me this story, I said I was surprised he could spin such a wild yarn on the spur of the moment.
"Well," he said, "I guess my Irish citizenship paid off."
We shared a laugh. Then I had to ask him a question.
"So weren't you afraid of getting in trouble?"
"I dunno," he said. "I never thought about it."
"How come?" I asked.
He started ticking off his reasons on his fingers.
"First, alcohol may have been against the home's rules, but I doubt it's downright illegal.
"Second, all the cops are my friends.
"And finally, it'd come down to my word against his, and he wouldn't stand a chance."
"Why's that?" I asked.
"Aside from my sterling reputation," he said, "I had something the director would never have."
"Which was," he said, a puckish twinkle in his eyes, "the only piece of evidence."