But I digress. St. Patrick, for those of you who may not have heard, was a British boy kidnapped by Irish pirates in the fifth century, escaped from them after six years of watching their sheep, an unattractive job given that sheep, as a rule, tend to be lousy conversationalists and smell bad to boot, and returned home, there to become a priest and eventually a bishop. But he never forgot Ireland and the Irish, much as he might have tried, and he soon he received a call from God to return to Ireland and convert them to Christianity; whether the Almighty chose to use Sprint or Verizon for the call is lost to history. That the Irish had no burning desire to be Christians at that time did not trouble the Lord or Patrick one whit; if converting the heathen depended on what the heathen wanted at any given moment, nobody would be a Christian or a Democrat today and large numbers of cannibal tribes all over the world would have starved for want of a juicy missionary (preferably Southern Baptist or Assemblies of Christ—for reasons that do not bear examination they taste the best, while Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians taste the worst. There’s something about Calvinism in all its guises—one suspects the malign influence of predestination—that adversely affects the taste of the missionary) to tide them over the rough economic patches.
But be that as it may, Patrick did return to Ireland, and in one of the greatest works of conversion in history, managed to convert most of the population before he died on 17th March 493. In all of that time, though, most historians agree that St. Patrick never wore a funny hat, unless you count a bishop’s miter as a funny hat and, let’s face it, many people do, and he certainly never wore a tall green hat that said Let’s Saint Party Dudes or Erin Go Braless, which, while certainly ecumenical in their spirit, do not really embody the Christian message of faith and salvation that Patrick was trying to impart to the Irish. As with these young dopes, Patrick was not always completely successful in getting the Irish to understand the fine theological points of the Christian faith. There was, for example, one tribal king who boasted that he had killed one man every day of the week for many years until his conversion to Christianity, whereupon he killed one man on every day of the week and then two on Saturday, so as to avoid profaning the Sabbath. Clearly, cultural lag was a problem that Patrick had to deal with, but what is remarkable about the man is that he did what he set out to do and he did it without the use of force. Patrick did not have an army to enforce the Irish to comply with Christian doctrine; he had to convince them that Christianity was a better idea than their old ways.
And so he did, not that this mattered to the young dolt found on the station platform here in our happy little burg with beer in a bottle of Pepsi. There is something a bit unseemly about anyone so young drinking beer before nine in the morning, I think, and only someone so young and already three sheets to the wind would try to convince a cop that he was, in fact, drinking a Pepsi. In a sober state, the young man would have realized that while Budweiser and Pepsi are both liquids meant for human consumption, they do not share a common color, a fact known to a good many policemen. In short, in order for this subterfuge to work, our young bacchanalian should not have tried to transport Budweiser in a clear bottle of Pepsi. The Metro-North police officer, no doubt a man much acquainted with beer in all its guises, did not believe the young simpleton’s story for a New York minute and the beer made its probably predestined way from the bottle unto the train tracks, to the great consternation of the young man and his friends.
I did not see this young man again, but I did see thousands more like him. I also watched the beginning of the parade, or rather, I watched the backs of the heads of people watching the backs of the heads of the people watching the backs of the heads of the people actually watching the parade. And I certainly heard the beginning of the parade, with its pomp and circumstance, bagpipers and drums; no one except the profoundly deaf could have missed the opening. But even after the crowd thinned just enough to let me get up to the front, I did not stay for long. Watching uniformed pedestrians only has so much in the way of entertainment value, even if you toss in the baton twirlers and the bagpipers, and I think it says a lot about a culture that thinks an instrument that does a credible impression of a hog screaming in pain is in some way musical. There are no Mozart concertos for the saxophone, you know, primarily because there were no saxophones when Mozart lived; Antoine Sax hadn’t invented his eponymous horn yet; but the bagpipe did exist when Mozart was alive and for a long time before and after he was alive too, and there are no Mozart concertos for the bagpipe, either. There’s a reason for that, I think. People neither need nor want musicians to remind them of how their sausages get that way.
So eventually we wondered away from Fifth Avenue, in order to provide sustenance for the horde of related only by marriage munchkins and to watch the hordes of green-clad knuckleheads who’d come into the city to get drunk. Many had already succeeded, like the dolt behind me that insisted on shouting, St Patrick’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, over and over again in my ear while I was trying to buy myself a pretzel, as if the rest of us didn’t own a calendar or couldn’t figure out for ourselves why a lot of fat guys in skirts and funny hats were causing a racket while walking down the middle of Fifth Avenue.
After buying the mob of not really related to me kids hotdogs and sodas, we all toddled off to Bryant Park to consume them, where the littler ones the sis-in-law put on the carousel while I tried to keep the bigger ones from drowning each other in the fountain. They stopped long enough to watch two Chinese guys scream at each other at the corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. This lasted about ten minutes or so and drew the attention of most of the people in that area of the park. To be honest, I was hoping that the two guys would start beating each other’s brains out; I am easily entertained. But they didn’t; either they weren’t interested in pursuing the argument or they wanted to go march in the parade, but after a bit they decided to go their separate ways without letting anyone know what the contretemps was all about in the first place.
All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually we returned to Grand Central, there to return to our happy little burg. The knuckleheads had not arrived in force, but there were enough of them, including one so totally wasted he couldn’t get off the train under his own power and whose friends were going to leave him on the train. He staggered forward at the last moment and tripped and fell on nothing at all, a problem many intoxicated people face. A young woman in an NYPD Police Academy uniform had to keep him standing upright for long enough for her to get the dummy off the train. As we pulled out of the station, everyone onboard the train got to see this young dolt laying face down on the platform with his friends standing around him laughing like crazy at his predicament. For all I know, he and they are probably still there and this was only around five in the evening. I don’t really want to think about the kind of night the conductors had when the rolling tide of intoxicated adolescents showed up later that evening in full puke mode.
And so it went, the great day for the Irish. I suppose you know your ethnic group has made it in America when you can indulge grotesque ethnic stereotypes in public and no one bats an eye about it, even in these politically correct times. It was a bit of a disappointment too; I really wanted to see those Chinese guys beat the crap out of one another. You can’t have everything, I guess.