In the television commercials, no one ever falls off a cliff. This would be bad for business. In the commercials, no one crashes his car into a snowball stand, or hits a parked car and sneaks away drunk.
And nobody, in the delightful beer commercials filled with bikinis and bonhomie, ever drives his car into a fence on Frederick Avenue where a post crashes through the front windshield and removes a kid's face.
What we have here are not beer commercials, but a series of true-life tales that happen to revolve around the drinking of beer. They would be cautionary tales, except no one seems to be paying any caution.
And yet, in one little group of Catonsville friends, we have a string of tragedies that started on that balmy night last July 21 at the edge of a cliff at Patapsco State Park and continued through last week's burial of a kid at Crestlawn Cemetery.
And every one revolves around the drinking of beer, and no one seems to have gotten the point yet.
Go back to last July. Go to the edge of a cliff overlooking the Patapsco River, maybe two miles into the woods off Frederick Road and 60 feet over railroad tracks that tunnel into a hill.
Eight or nine guys are there that night, drinking beer out of cans, although everybody but a 19-year-old Catonsville Community College student named Ned and his girlfriend have gone home by 2 in the morning. Sitting at the edge of this cliff, Ned stands up, turns, loses his balance in a beery haze and plunges 60 feet.
His girlfriend runs for help. An ambulance crew, running with a stretcher through the woods, gets him to Hillcrest Elementary School, from where a state police helicopter gets him to Shock Trauma.
It looks very bad. An arm is broken. His jaw is broken in three different places. His bladder is lacerated. His pelvis is fractured in seven places. His hip is broken. One leg is lacerated to the bone. An orbital bone over one eye is broken. Bones are broken across his face, and most of his teeth are shattered. His heart is swollen and inflamed.
Before dawn, he will die but the doctors will bring him back to life.
''It's a miracle he survived,'' Ned's father was saying yesterday. ''No brain damage, no paralysis, no death.''
And nobody paying enough attention, either.
Ned spent more than a month at Shock Trauma, where his friends managed to sneak in and visit. Then he was moved to Montebello State Hospital for therapy, where his friends visited him virtually every day and night.
''It was remarkable,'' his father said yesterday, ''because Ned had three other patients in his room. All were motorcycle accidents, all alcohol-related. Up and down that hall, you'd see all these patients with alcoholic-related accidents, drug-related accidents.
''And Ned was saying, 'Yeah, it was the beer that did it to me.' His friends all knew it.''
And yet, the message didn't sink in. The drinking continued, and sodid the troubles.
Four weeks after Ned's accident, one of his buddies from that night on the cliff got into his car. He'd been drinking. Driving his car along Edmondson Avenue, he lost control and swerved into a snowball stand, hitting a bystander and wrecking his car.
Four weeks later, another friend, having had too much to drink, got into his car and wrecked it when he crashed into a parked car, and then he ran from the scene. This was a kid who'd visited Ned almost every day in the hospital.
''What does it take to get the message across about drinking?'' Ned's father asked yesterday.
It's tough to tell. His son's finished at Montebello now but still getting outpatient therapy at St. Agnes Hospital. He's off crutches but still limps when he walks, still has to go through reconstruction of his teeth, still talks of the drinking that sent him off the side of the cliff that night last summer.
A week ago, eight of the guys -- including Ned -- stopped off for a few beers at a place near Mount St. Joseph High School. They left about 1:30 in the morning in separate cars.
On Frederick Avenue, driving west from Irvington toward Catonsville, a fellow named Craig lost control of his car. He drove into a fence, where a pole went through his face.
As he lay there with the life running out of him, Ned ran back and cradled his friend's head in his lap.
''We had about 17 of the kids over my house the other night,'' Ned's father was saying now. ''You wonder, for openers, why nobody carded these kids at this bar. Not one of them's 21 yet. But why were they there in the first place? When do they learn the lesson?''
''Maybe they don't,'' Ned's mother added. ''At that age, they think they can live forever. And maybe that's why they never seem to listen.''
A sense of invulnerability is one thing. Add to that the party spirit imparted from all those beer commercials, the ones with the bikinis and the bonhomie. Nobody ever falls off a cliff in those commercials. Nobody gets into a car and loses control. Nobody loses a life, or takes one.
Those things only happen in reality.