Saturday, March 18, 2006
The Wild Rover
I arise today, Through the strength of heaven: Light of sun, Radiance of moon, Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning, Swiftness of wind, Depth of sea, Stability of earth,Firmness of rock.
You could tell it was St. Patrick's Day just by the godawful weather.
It was cold as a bastard last night, but that's a given with St. Patrick's Day. The Irish wouldn't know what to do if they had warm, sunny weather on their most important day.
I'm half Irish (the other half is Italian) so I celebrate on March 17. I wear green and listen to the Clancy Brothers--I love the old Irish tunes--and I used to make a point of watching The Quiet Man, but I haven't done that in a while.
I take it easy on the alcohol since there's got to be more to this day than drinking yourself into a stupor, but I'm certainly in the minority on that score.
My father had a stock line he used to say every year at this time: The St. Patrick's Day parade marches up Fifth Avenue and staggers down Third.
I Love A Parade
When I was a student at Hunter College I went to one of the more infamous parades, where the streets were clogged with drunken lowlifes. At the foot of Central Park, one loser had climbed on the back of a horse's statue to play cowboy.
I remember seeing a cop climb halfway up to pull the jerk down, then he shook his head and came back down. The schmuck wasn't worth the effort. I walked by a group of white kids, and of them was slapping this rather dazed black man, who smiled as if he wasn't all there.
"Come on, boy," the kid snarled, intent on starting a fight, "I'm smacking you in the head..."
"Let it slide," one of his companions said. And I kept walking.
I got on the subway at Fifth Avenue and there was another drunken teen-ager, smirking as he urinated against the wall. People looked in every other direction as they entered and exited the station.
"I'm sorry," the kid drooled as he pissed away, his unit in hand. "I'm sorry..."
The parade debacle was all over the news that night and, of course, people demanded that something be done, so the cops laid down the law the following year. So much so, that the parade looked like a police officer's convention with blue uniforms everywhere you looked.
A local news reporter interviewed one stiff who complained the parade "was like an Orwellian nightmare" and it seemed as if he had just learned that expression five minutes before the cameras started rolling.
And every year, outside Hunter, an ancient black lady used to sell "erin go braugh" flags. She never spoke, never made a sales pitch, and the only part of her that moved was right arm, robotically waving a little green flag back and forth, back and forth.
The Minstrel Boy to the War is Gone
My most memorable St. Patrick's Day was the one in 2002, the first parade after 9/11. My sister and I found a prime spot right outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we could dash in when necessary to use the bathrooms.
We saw Mayor Giuliani and the police commissioner, Bernie Kerik, and the crowd went crazy. They were heroes to me back then, though a lot has changed since.
Firefighters from around the country came to the parade to show solidarity with the New York City Fire Department, which had suffered so terribly back in September.
I saw shoulder patches from California, Tennessee, God knows how many other places. I had tears in my eyes as I cheered them on.
Over the years, my sister and I have gone to see the Chieftains several times and last year we took my dad to see "Riverdance" at Radio City Music Hall.
We sat in the dead front row, so close we could the sweat flying over the dancers' faces. It was a hell of a show.
My dad suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and his condition has deteriorated dramatically in the last 12 months. We didn't think he'd be up to a night in the city, so we took him out to dinner last night to a local restaurant in Bay Ridge.
On the way, we ran into my cousin and his wife, who don't leave anywhere near this place. I confess I wasn't too happy at first, as I wanted to take my dad out, bring him home and be done with St. Pat's for another year.
But they meeting up with my aunt--my dad's sister--at the same place, so we got a table for six and made an impromptu family occasion of it. This sort of gathering usually doesn't happen until Christmas, but none us is getting any younger.
You know, it worked out just fine. Even though the restaurant had the worst Irish singer it's ever been my displeasure to hear, we had a good time.
We sang along to "Cockles and Mussels" and "It's a Great Day for the Irish", three bloody times, and then the singer thankfully took a break--probably to park cars, his full-time job--and the restaurant played music on the sound system.
I got into the spirit of things when they played "The Wild Rover." For those of you who don't know it, the song tells the story of a drunken carouser who's going to change his evil ways and live the good life.
The chorus is rousing, as you sing "it's no, nay, never"--and then clap your hands four times--"no, nay, never, no more, will I play the wild rover, no, never, no more." It's a great song, and unlike a lot of the Irish tunes, there's hope here, as the guy has survived to tell his tale.
It's a pity the recorded music put the live singer to shame, but, hell, this wasn't Carnegie Hall. My dad was pretty quiet for the most part, but once I saw a flash of his old temper, as he suddenly rose halfway out of his seat and snarled toward the window behind me.
"What are you looking at?" he said angrily.
I turned and saw nothing, but my aunt said some guy had been looking through the window. Yeah, and so?
It's not unusual to peer into a crowded place; I do it because I want to see if I'm missing something. But my dad took it personally for some reason and it was disturbing to see that old time rage coming back.
We simmered him down and enjoyed out dessert. When we were ready to go, I led my dad out to the bar and had him stand in a corner while I got our coats.
The Summer's Gone, and All the Flowers are Dying
It was tough, as I waited for the coat check girl, watching my dad stand in the corner, old and frail, looking lost and confused, while younger people yelled and laughed around him. I was worried some drunk would bump into him and knock him over. He's not the wild rover any more.
I was getting angry at these boozing idiots, didn't they see that old man right behind them? But honestly they weren't doing anything to him; they were just having a good time.
We walked my dad through a blistering wind to my sister's car and got him home. Then my sister went to a few local places in a fruitless search for Irish music.
I think St. Patrick's Day is being watered down and the old songs are being slowly forgotten. I hope I'm wrong, but I feel like the day is being reduced to green beer and plastic shillelaghs and precious little else.
At the end of "The Wild Rover" the narrator says he'll go back home to his parents and beg for their forgiveness. He sings, "And, when they've caressed me as oft times before,I never will play the wild rover no more."
I never did much roving, much to my regret, and my dad is all we have left. I'd give anything to have my parents caress me again, like they did when I was child. But I know I was lucky to have them for as long as I did.
You could call it the luck of the Irish.