Hash Browns and Hooligans

By Judy Berman

A four-on-one catfight in a garishly-lit eatery with tinny Muzak in the background is certainly a far cry from vicious attacks by roving thugs that you see on the nightly news.

Yet the five-woman brawl in the suburban eatery was a disturbing incident. It left me wondering how far it would have gone if restaurant workers, customers and Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies had not been there to stop it.

The reason for the outbreak is even more unsettling. The four women apparently just didn’t like the fifth woman’s looks.

What the restaurant lacks in atmosphere, it sometimes makes up for in free entertainment. This night, it was: “hash browns, but hold the hooligans.”

On a bleary-eyed weekday morning, some people are drawn here for the good, hot coffee. Fewer still for the food.

Most go there because it’s one of the few places that’s still open after the pubs close.

This setting is a familiar one to fans of the movie, “The Diner” (1982). In the movie college-age characters hang out at their beloved diner as they struggle with their passage into adulthood. The struggle here in this diner is real as well.

A typical overnight eatery
A typical overnight eatery

I take in the confrontation and suspect all five might have had a run-in earlier at some bar. Or maybe too much booze led to the overflow of insults that led to the assault.

One of the four women, a brunette, made no effort to conceal her contempt for the blonde who was waiting on a bench with two guys until they could be seated at a table.

The brunette, dressed in black, looked like she was itching for a fight. She verbally slammed the blonde for the way she looked and dressed, and for being with the two men. Any patron near them could overhear the steady stream of insults. The blonde said nothing.

But when the blonde and the two guys got up to go to a table, the blonde accused the women of being jealous.

Suddenly, the restaurant floor became a tangle of bodies. At first, it was only the blonde and the outspoken brunette. Within seconds, the brunette’s friends joined the fray, and all four of them were outside the blonde’s weight class.

When the going got tough, the blonde’s companions got going. They disappeared into the woodwork until the fighting was over.

Bystanders tried to break up the fight and pull the women on the floor apart. The brunette continued to kick the blonde while she was on the floor. Then, someone gave the brunette the bum’s rush outside.

Moments later, the brunette returned and renewed her attack on the blonde and on a man who had tried to pull them apart. Before police arrived, the brunette and her friends continued their scratching and gouging.

One of the girls delivered sly kicks to the blonde on the floor who was getting the worst of the mismatch.

A man who tried to end the fight earned a few bruises for his efforts from the brunette who jumped on his back and began pummeling him. The arrival of the men with badges didn’t initially dampen her ire, either.

The stories woven on how and why the fight broke out depended on the author of the moment. The deputies were doing their best to sort it out outside so the restaurant could get back to business – some of which it had already lost.

Two handfuls of blonde hair by the restaurant’s doorway were the only reminders of the brawl.

Coffee in a cafe - 2004

The blonde’s companions remained in the background during the questioning, just as they had during the fighting. The man who tried to stop the fight and tend to her injuries comforted her until the two guys decided to join the blonde.

Wild things run free and unchecked. But one Friday morning, years ago at 3.a.m., they were only a few feet away.

Have you witnessed an unsettling experience while dining out … or shopping?

 Music Video: “Whole Lotta Shakin Going on” Jerry Lee Lewis …. (1964 live performance) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dC0DseCyYE

Photo: Diner (not the one I ate at) – taken 2008 in Maine by Svetlana Miljkovic http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Denny%27sdiner.jpg

Photo: Coffee in a  Viennese café in Vienna, Austria – taken in 2004 by Andreas Praefcke http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Cafe_Braeunerhof_Wien_2004.jpg/640px-Cafe_Braeunerhof_Wien_2004.jpg

  1. This is happening frequently these days. Or maybe we just didn’t hear about it. People are so wound up it doesn’t take much to blow the fuse. Around here it’s the “disrespect” thing. In court their reason for killing someone is that they “disrespected” them. Seriously? Way too many guns which don’t belong in bars. Way too much bravado (which doesn’t belong in bars either). And what about those weenie companions? I would dump them for sure.

    1. Kate … These alcohol-fueled (or drug fueled) brawls do happen too frequently. This incident, though, happened in 1989 – shortly after “The Wilding” in Central Park in New York City. (Folks learned much later that the five kids arrested were not involved in the attack on the jogger.)

      This confrontation would have been a disaster in the making if guns were involved. I agree about dumping her “non-macho” companions. 😉

  2. Wow! What one will see at a famous diner (I like that movie, since it is about men being ‘real’ in their discussions) at 3 a.m. and ‘live to talk about. . .’ Judy, you are a master storyteller! Smiles!

    1. The diner’s name might be well known, but I’m sure it does not want to be known for the occasional fight that happens there in the wee hours. Thanks, Robin. Some day my people watching skills might get me in hot water, but this time I was just on the sidelines taking it all in.

      1. I am also amazed the men did not interfere with the rather mean women fighting. Talk about a ‘cat fight!’ You are right, I guess the diner’s not wishing to be famous and it was not released in your article about the name, but the Onondaga Sheriff’s department may have released a Police Report, which some papers carry… Smiles to you, Judy for being in ‘the right places at the right time,’ ha ha! I still admire your taking your family to the bridge where the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was super cool, too.

  3. This could be a true Chic Flick aka Cat Fight movie, Judy. And of course the blonde’s companions bolted when the women hit the mats. This was an excellent post.

    Did you ever have to break up fights between high schoolers in the halls? In my entire 30 years I only had to break up three, and only one involved a handful of girls. It was by far the worst, and it took serveral teachers, one custodian, and a hall monitor to end it. I remember the principal–a retired Army man–saying if only teenage girls with anger issues could have been drafted, Viet Nam would have been a different scene. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Marilyn. The fight wasn’t fun to watch, but writing about it was.

      I have broken (or attempted to break) up one fight involving middle school girls. It’s difficult to do when you’re trying to avoid touching anyone for fear of a backlash from the kid or parents. The fight was knock down on the floor, hair pulling madness. At least one other teacher tried to intervene. (About a year ago, one of our teachers was knocked out when she attempted to break up a fight.)

  4. I guess it could have been much worse–kind of a scary thing to witness though. Did you work nights then? I don’t remember much about the movie Diner. I may have to re-watch it one of these days.

    1. I don’t think I was working nights then, but my husband was. So, one night a week, I’d join him and his friends after work. Sometimes we’d end our night at an all-night restaurant.

      About the movie, “Diner,” I think it’s more a guys’ movie. There were some good parts. Great cast of characters.

      1. I was wondering why you were at the diner at 3 AM–just because I’m nosy. 😉

        I remember liking Levinson’s later film, Avalon, because it’s a lot like how I pictured my immigrant relatives and my mom’s early life, only in Baltimore instead of Philadelphia.

      2. Thursday night was the start of my husband’s weekend off from work. Sometimes, it was mine as well.

        I’m not familiar with the film, “Avalon.” I’ll check it out.

  5. that is a scary situation, and things can escalate so quickly at that time of night/morning, it’s amazing. i was a cocktail waitress for 5 years and have seen a lot of things go bad quickly. i give credit to those who work those late night shifts –

    1. Beth … My hat also is off to those folks who work the night shift. I remember when I worked in radio and had to be on my way to work about 4 a.m. I’d stop in at the local 7-11 and get coffee. Two times that I did this, I didn’t see anyone in the store – for several minutes. My imagination was going into overdrive because this place had been robbed before. I was quite relieved when the clerk emerged from the back room.

  6. Best line: Two handfuls of blonde hair by the restaurant’s doorway were the only reminders of the brawl. You told the story famously as is your style. I sense alcohol and jealousy as fuel of the plot line here – wow!

    I have not witnessed a cat-fight either dining out or shopping, but I did observe two unsettling experiences at Curtis’ soccer game this morning: a boy on the opposing team had the wind knocked out of him when a flying soccer ball hit him straight in the gut. Moments later a soccer ball hit my right knee. It turned blue and it still aches. Curtis’ team won though!

    1. Thank you, Marian. Those tufts of blonde hair were a strong visual reminder of the evening.

      Actually, I’d think sports events – even for kids – are even more unsettling. Parents and coaches yelling at calls they disagree with, belittling the kids (their own and others), kids intentionally sliding in and spiking the catcher. Awful. I hope you and Curtis are both much better now.

      1. Just for the record – Curtis was not the boy who was hurt; in fact, he scored 2 points. Ian said he felt sad for the boy that was hurt – empathy, a virtue lacking in the hairy hooligans!

  7. Gosh Judy, nothing so exciting ever happens when I go out for dinner! Seriously though, this situation could have been even worse if guns had been involved. Somehow it’s made worse by the perpetrators being women, literally having a cat fight. Hope the diner bans the lot of them – and the two slinking cowards😄

    1. Jenny … Just thank your lucky stars. This happened at a family restaurant. Of course the hour, and alcohol, certainly were factors in the fight. I’ll bet nothing happened to the two slinking cowards, but I sure wouldn’t have been hanging out with them after that night. 😉

  8. What is wrong with people? Fights in a public area always frighten me, Judy. You never know who is carrying a gun these days. Years ago, I was in a restaurant when a fight broke out. Some lunatic crashed his beer bottle on the table and went after a guy with the jagged broken bottle. I ran out of there as though the building was on fire. Those scenarios make you want to stay home and order take out.

    1. Jill … The tension alone was stressful. A friend of mine, who was there that night, said I had predicted that a fight would break out. I’d forgotten about that. I was too focused on making sure I stayed out of harm’s way.

      Thank goodness no weapons were involved. Take out would have been a sound idea. 😉

  9. Wow, this was an actual experience of yours, Judy? How difficult it would be to see a woman getting kicked and beaten.

    In November, I was in a food court at a mall and suddenly a teenage girl raised her voice to a friend. There were 4 at the table. The angry girl stood up. The one she was yelling at stood up. The angry girl yelled right in the other’s face, and she yelled back. I thought it was going to get physical, but it never did. I was paying for my salad and ask the cashier to call security. Security showed up. He himself, was scrawny and shaking in the face of the angry girl, who turned her yelling on him. The only reason it stopped was that the angry girl suddenly left the situation. It was a relaxing meal for me, I can tell you that!
    Diana xo

    1. A friend of mine (and Mark Bialczak’s and Jim McKeever’s), Mark Murphy wrote on FB that he remembered that night. He said I had predicted that a fight would break out. I forgot all about that. 😉

      Diana … I was very upset when I saw that one girl kicking the blonde when she was down. Later, she tried to blend into the crowd. I think I told the deputies about her involvement. But it’s so long ago – 1989 – that I can’t say for sure. The rest I’d written down at the time.

      1. This is the type of standoff that cops dread – domestic violence and a break out involving tempers fueled by alcohol or drugs. They often do turn on the cops – the common enemy – when the cops try to break it up. I’m glad you tried to get a saner voice involved and that security guard was spared any harm. 😉

  10. That’s an alarming kind of company while you eat your meal!! 😯 I’ve never experienced anything like that, although I have heard of many incidents similar to this in the city where I live. A lot of the worst events like that tend to go on in the early hours of the morning when everyone is headless drunk! 😉 And some cases have been so bad people die.

    It amazes me as to how upset people get over little or nothing. I’m thinking “Surely there must be something worthwhile to get upset about – but that’s not it – surely? It feels a lot like dog behaviour!

    1. Suzy … We hadn’t been seated yet. All of this happened in the lobby while we were waiting to get a booth. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured and no weapons were involved. Adding guns or other weapons to alcohol would have been just awful.

      Yes, the confrontation was very much like snarling dogs.

  11. It seems it was a whole lot more than it appeared . I have found within my own family if a argument starts from no where we all have a saying ‘Step Back’ and check the resins behind it …fatigue , hunger or thirst . If it’s none of those we beat each other verbally …no I”m joking , by that time we have forgotten what the argument was about to begin with .

    1. Cherry … If only everyone would take a page out of your family’s ‘saner ways to resolve differences’ book, then we might all get along. I don’t think these gals put a lot of thought into their actions and reactions. 😉

  12. I do apologise for the spelling error of reasons pressing send before I finished they are sensitive chaps these computers…much like us humans.

  13. I am always amazed to hear about real live fights in public places. You must have been shocked as well. I thought Americans taught their children that civilized people should not act like that.

    1. It was a shock. This was a restaurant near our home and I hadn’t witnessed something like this before. Some parents do. These folks, if they were taught better manners, apparently forgot them. 😉

  14. We spent some Thursday nights together at diners in Onondaga County, didn’t we, Judy? That was the start of my weekend, too, and the “double slide” meant breakfast after beer after the bar closed after work ended. I don’t remember this fight, though. I must have gone right home instead this week! 😉

    There was a boozy element of suspense, tension, something lound waiting to happen at the place across Salina Street, as I recall, Judy. I remember one night a loud guy yelling in my face right at our table for no reason at all — or maybe it was because he said I was talking too loudly. He got in my face and I just sat there staring right back at him until Kingpin stood up and told him to get the hell back to his own table and mind his own business. And he did! Phew. I certainly wasn’t going to do anything other than sit there. Were you and Dave there that night?

    This was a great story here. I believe the skirmish was alcohol-inflicted, blow-by-blow. Diner, indeed.

    1. Mark … I don’t remember that loud guy. Must not have been there then. I can’t remember who all was with us the night of the catfight – Mark Murphy, Rick Moriarty, Steve Cannerelli, maybe John Mariani. It was a crazy night. 😉

  15. This story just sickens me. Imagine that the brunette might be somebody’s mother. And the beat (no pun intended) will probably go on. So disturbing. And those two “friends” didn’t leap to her defense? How utterly appalling!!!!

    1. Barbara … Let’s hope the brunette learned some place along the way that ‘violence is not the answer.’ As for the blonde’s two male companions, I would’ve dumped them on the spot.

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