This story starts with my father, James Patrick Byrne, who was rather skilled with his fists and even more skilled in his ways of not using them. Until he got Grace Burke’s acceptance of marriage, he was a young (19) professional boxer who had an early reputation for the flooring ability of his wind-up-and-throw punch called “The Mary Ann”. Grace, however, (unlike Rocky Balboa’s “Adrian’ ) told him “you fight, I walk”. So love straightened James Patrick out, vertically speaking. He gave up the profession.
But, he passed on what he had learned about defense through his two boys, my older brother, Dick, and me.
The two most important lessons he had passed on were:
1. If you are standing face to face with some angry fella and the odds were very high that a fight was about to ensue, you should grab the opponent from the back of his head, yank him toward you, and butt your forehead squarely into the bridge of his nose. His point was that this pre-action action would usually end the need to fight and only one of you would be hurt.
2. If you are being approached by strangers who you feel quite certain intend you harm or, at best, a thorough mugging, immediately act totally crazed in whatever way you can create through gibbering and flailing. He had learned that criminals and muggers do not like to deal with crazy people, probably because there is uncertainty in the situation and they prefer knowing the outcome of their planned actions.
Move forward about a half century to Moscow in the new Russian Federation, at approximately midnight in the month of May, 1994. I had just been dropped off by my assistant Veronica’s friend (who she was staying with while we were in the city) just two blocks away from my hotel, The Rennaissance Moscow, at 16 Olympiski Prospect that was on the other side of the Olympic Sports Center that was built for the 1980 Olympics. No events were underway so the Sports Center and the street were void of people. I thought.
Not so. Three men were standing quietly on the steps surrounding the center and, after I spotted them, I also noticed that they had started walking and were coming my way on a trajectory which would intercept me at about mid-block, substantially before I would be in shooting (or shouting) distance of my 5-star hotel. Knowing Russian crime was popular and that included mugging apparent foreigners. Somehow, when faced with dire emergencies, people can dig deep into their past for solutions. I thought of James Patrick’s 2nd advisory a half-century before and then noticed a three-globe lampost about midway between me and the oncoming Sports Center Trio. So I started a staggering run towards it, shouting incoherent threatening curses at the lamppost. The trio stopped, apparently puzzled, and watched as I reached my objective and attacked the innocent lampost, kicking it with my boots and pounding it with my fists and all the time screaming at it in some repulsive language that I had never spoken.
From the corner of my wild eyes, I saw the three gesticulating towards me and blabbering in Russian to each other. I only understood they laughed about something “piani!” (piani meaning drunk) and, as my father said they would, they walked right by me and my stoic adversary and off into the distance. Slowly, I eased up my madness and staggered crazily down the block, straightening myself out, to appear sane, only as I entered the lobby of the Radisson. Adjusting my tie and smiling like an American, I said a cheerful, “Dobray Vecha!”, to the elevator operator as he took me to my floor. But, I felt it was a “Good evening” only after I had double-locked my door.
After washing the blood from my knuckles and the stone from my stomach (with three “Stolis”on the rocks from the mini-bar), I climbed under the covers and said, “Goodnight and Thank You”, to James Patrick Byrne, smiling from his cloud in the heavens high above the Former Soviet Union.
You see children? Father Knows Best.