Monday, March 22, 2010

24 Hour Patty People

Even though I've lived in NYC for quite some time now, before this year I had never attended the St. Patrick's Day Parade. This time I was determined to drink in the atmosphere, and feel the very essence of the “Emerald Isle” and witness the grand Irish procession making its honking, squawking, bag-piping way up 5th Avenue. And what better place to do that than outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was built to commemorate the glorious day when Mr. Patrick chased the snakes out of Manhattan. (As I understand it, he herded them down 9th Avenue with a squeegee and a traffic cone, and through the Lincoln Tunnel to the wilds of Weehawken, New Jersey.)

I really didn't know what to expect at the parade. I usually spend St. Patty's Day deep in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, staking out the Nethermead in hopes of catching a leprechaun. (It hasn't happened for me yet, but once I did see a black squirrel.) I do know that Ireland is verdant and charmingly rustic, and I was looking forward to a cultural treat. For that reason I was a little surprised to see so many people celebrating the patron saint of Irish Americans adorned in such a gaudy sort of greenery.

Ahh, but this is America, and here when you want to find the perfect attire for an ages-old tradition, you never need look further than the nearest Rite Aid.

This being both a parade and New York, the scene was doubly crowded. In fact, it was so crowded that I could scarcely see the actual proceedings.

If you look very closely you can just make out the top of the pipes amidst the crowd, sticking up ever so slightly into the air like the bamboo breathing tubes of a Viet Cong regiment surreptitiously moving up the Mekong River.

I even tried crossing the avenue to get an actual glimpse of the approaching marchers, but I hit a lull and all I could see was cops and photographers.

Not one to remain flustered for long, I resolved to instead make green-tinted lemonade of the situation, so to speak, by shifting my focus to the spectacle presented by the spectators themselves. And how fortuitous, as the real parade was happening all around me. No sooner had I so resolved than I discovered I had been standing arm's length from a Leprechaun! Right in front of the Armani Exchange store!

I moved around for a closer inspection, but it turned out to be just a monkey in a velour outfit. Shame I didn't get that picture, but I had to duck for cover when he started throwing green poo.

Undaunted, and even a little invigorated by the shrieking, excremental excitement, I opened my eyes to the wonders around me.

Perhaps this green, glowing, humanoid was the living essence of St. Patrick. Or maybe an Irish superhero, here to oversee the safety and contentment of all! However, the lack of a mighty Guinness emblem on his chest suggested otherwise, and I concluded he was in fact a human glowstick, making his way across town to an Irish-themed rave.

At the realization that no spandex-clad hero was going to protect us in the event of riot (this isn't Boston, but with so many out-of-towners anything could happen) I nearly paniced. But a quick scan of the surrounding rooftops revealed that the vigilant eye of law enforcement was looking down upon us.

When the president comes to midtown each year for the U. N. General Assembly there are Secret Service agents, even sharp-shooters stationed on rooftops. I wondered if these guys were packing any high-powered rifles. I zoomed in for a closer look.

Their aim may not be so good, but at least they were keeping in the spirit of things.

As I made my way through the teeming green masses, which swarmed the streets in all directions well beyond the parade route, something began to occur to me. Most of these people were not paying any more attention to the actual parade than I was. Considering all the beads, silly hats and plastic party cups, most of these people were here to take part in what has become Manhattan's Mid-March Mardi Gras.

Further to that, most of these people were also going to have to forge a note to explain why they missed driver's ed and health class.

Eventually I needed to get back across 5th Avenue, but heading back through the epicenter things were becoming wilder and crowdier. It got so that I could barely move in any direction. And there, in the eye of the storm, I nearly tripped over what might well have been the true spirit of St. Patrick.

Apparently I hadn't learned anything from the monkey incident, because once again I moved around for a closer look.

Some people will use any excuse to drink and get rowdy in public. Who am I to find fault if people want to play faux-Irish for one day and have a good time? I guess my issue is that if you're going to adopt a pretense to get loaded, you could have a little bit of respect for the tradition you're crashing—at least enough to go with liquor appropriate to the occasion. No, Jameson doesn't go as well with Sprite, but if Captain Morgan and a green Jamiroquai hat is the best you can do, why not save yourself the commuter rail fare and find a frat party in your own town?

Anyway, apparently I wasn't the only one who'd been disappointed. On my way out I saw the elusive glowstick guy again, looking as lost and defeated as I was.

Not only was he de-hooded, but he'd also been stripped of his backpack and other adornments (maybe he was robbed by a real Irishman) and was being led by the hand, presumably back towards Grand Central Terminal. I tried to follow him to confirm this, but moments after this photo was taken he disappeared Sasquatch-like into the forest.

Now that the St. Patrick's Day Parade is over, all the truant high school students have gone back to their suburbs, and the shamrock necklaces and green feather boas have been returned to the attic until next year. The added protection of roof-top cops is gone too, and this could be a problem, as the Isle of Manhattan faces a new threat: coyotes!

I don't now what his rates are like these days, but considering all the reverence we've shown him over the years, maybe St. P. can come back and chase out these roaming, semi-predatory scavengers. I've even got a squeegee he can borrow in my basement.

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