Back in the summer of 1986, I attended the Notre Dame Law School’s summer program in London and I managed to go on quite a few bus tours. That’s one of the nice things about England; you can see an awful lot of it within a three-hour drive of the capital. One weekend, a busload of us visited Bristol, and we toured the cathedral. For the record, I found my classmates to be a very pleasant bunch (we had several students from Baylor Law school we affectionately referred to as the “wackos from Waco”). There’s only one of them I wouldn’t want to see again. That exception was a guy from Berkeley Law School who, I understand, had graduated from Harvard as an undergrad. (That sound you hear in the background is the three Yalies on this mailing list laughing.)
His name was William Holman, and he was a real piece of work. He was about 6’6” and was morbidly obese. He was at least 100 pounds overweight. He had unruly hair, a bad complexion, wore extremely baggy jeans. (He looked like he stole them from Dumbo the elephant. ) He smoked unfiltered cigarettes and was given to wearing unbuttoned white dress shirts over t-shirts with either obscure or obnoxious slogans on them. While walking through the cathedral, I discovered, to my horror, that Holman had picked that day to wear a t-shirt that proclaimed, in large letters, “born again atheist.” At this point, let me say that while I am not of the Anglican faith, I believe in showing a modicum of respect. If I walk into a synagogue, I will certainly put on a yarmulke. In a mosque, I would take off my shoes. If this had taken place in the United States, I would have, perhaps, not been so outraged at Holman’s swinish behavior. However, we were a group of Americans in a foreign country and I take a great deal of pride in being a good ambassador for my country.
I was doing a slow burn, working up to a full boil. It occurred to me both that Holman’s behavior in wearing such an obnoxious t-shirt was beyond the pale and that the man was such a pig that if anyone said anything to him, he might just make a scene that would make the whole sorry matter a whole lot worse. I thought the next day’s Sun might bear the headline; Yabbo Yanks in Bristol Cathedral Brawl. I pondered that dilemma for a moment, then I realized that when the summer program was over, I was planning on paying a visit to a couple of whom I am very fond. The man of the house is a career United States Marine who spent four years as a drill instructor. The thought occurred to me that I might recount this incident to them. It then occurred to me that I might tell my friend that a fellow American so utterly disgraced himself before not only his classmates but before the whole world and I was too chicken**** to do anything about? How would a Marine drill instructor handle the situation.
Armed with that thought, I walked over to Holman until I was so close until my mouth was two inches from his ear. I snarled, “You button that shirt up. You look like a caricature of an ugly American tourist.”
He replied, in a goofy voice, “Oh, yes, sir.” And he buttoned up his shirt. It’s just as well that he did, because I was so livid that I was ready to Holman through one of Bristol Cathedral’s walls. Immediately thereafter, two of my classmates came over to shake my hand and pat me on the back for my cojones. Less than a minute later, the resident rector came out to greet us, said a few nice words and even offered one of those oh-heavenly-father-help-us-to-be-good prayers. At the time, I was quite skeptical of signs of divine approval, but that sure appeared to be one.