I’m a couple of days late with this one but that’s no news — I’ve been running slow ever since this pandemic lockdown became the new norm. As, I’d imagine, have you. In any case, here’s a musing on St. Patrick’s Day, a fete about as relevant to its purported national celebrants as Columbus Day is to the Italians. Neither honoree brings untainted esteem to his respective land. Not that anybody on Earth throughout history can claim to be untainted by human foible, weakness, or outright assholiness, but, for pity’s sake, there have to be some standards. I draw the line at genocide and slavery. How about you?
Anyway, here’s Neil Steinberg, from his blog:
My sympathies to the actual Irish. Being Jewish has its downsides, true, but at least we don’t have to put up with a lot of crude expropriation of our religion (by people other than ourselves, I mean). I wouldn’t want to walk to synagogue for Yom Kippur through a crowd of rowdies swilling Manischewitz from blue and white plastic cups, wearing fake beards and rubber noses and big black foam Borsalino hats, chanting, “Re-pent! Re-pent!”
It’s the intro to a reprint of his 2015 Chicago Sun-Times column about that year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. I love the image of Jews getting bombed on Manischewitz and marauding down Chicago’s streets. Woody Allen would have had a field day portraying that imaginary event — that is until he self-immolated due to his own human foibles, weaknesses, and outright assholiness, emphasis on assholiness.
Steinberg’s piece brought to mind Mike Royko’s hilarious column, years ago — many, many years ago — about Mayor Richard J. Daley’s annual embrace of his Irish roots on this March slosh-fest.
Daley, the first of the two so-surnamed Windy City pharaohs, every year led Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade down State Street, wearing a green top hat, strutting with a shillelagh, and festooned with an emerald sash proclaiming him the Grand Marshall and implying he was this nation’s King of the Irish. He’d be accompanied by one or more Irish-American celebrities like Pat O’Brien. Daley never grinned more broadly than when he led those parades. It was as though all the cares of running a big city through challenging times had magically dissipated as tens of thousands of already inebriated revelers roared when he and his party passed.
I recall being amazed as a teenager, witnessing so many people half in the bag already at the parade’s 11:00am start time. Within an hour many of the sloppy, polluted, grinning parade-goers would have begun to take offense at some imaginary slight or another and the fights would start to break out. The cops usually waited until the combatants had punched themselves nearly unconscious before wading in to restore the peace at seemingly every downtown corner. Hey, the cops were no dummies; they knew fighting drunks rarely were constrained by the sight of their blue uniforms and likely would take big swings at them. Better to wait till the pugilists were on the verge of mutual kayoes before putting their own noses and chins on the line.
Royko wrote his piece in 1972, a few short years after civil rights leaders and prominent black activists and celebrities began to embrace their own roots. Prior to the late 1960s, the dominant media portrayals of blackness were either cartoonish, wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky buffoons who were likely to break out in song and dance at the drop of a hat or, less so — much less so — pomaded, hair-straightened, exaggeratedly well-behaved Negroes whose speech more resembled that of Oxford dons than actual southern emigres to the northern cities of the Rust Belt. The embrace of Black pride was refreshing to many and alarming to the vast majority of white people who’d been quite happy indeed in the knowledge, fast slipping away, that “those people” knew their place and kept to it.
By ’72, Black power and Black pride were watchwords, causing some people to swell their chests and others to run and hide in the basement. By that year, anybody with a finger in the wind was aware that the United States had become not one nation but two. In the words of of the Kerner Commission Report, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” The report was the result of the establishment of a commission set up by President Lyndon Johnson in response to the countless riots of 1967, the “long, hot summer,” that devastated cities big and small across the country. The commission found that urban blacks had long been denied basic rights and privileges afforded to whites and so, naturally, many of those black people were boiling mad and ready to tear down whatever citadels they could.
Yet, every March 17th, Old Man Daley proclaimed all Chicagoans Irish even as a significant population of the city was hard-pressed to consider itself American. Daley liked to crow that everybody loved the hell out of each other in Chicago and our shared local roots made any divisions between us — skin color, religion, political party affiliations (no, let me amend that: Daley had little tolerance for Republicans, but I digress) — magically disappear. St. Patrick’s Day was the No. 2 holiday on Daley’s yearly calendar, second only to Election Day. Everybody in Chicago, Daley preached, came together on March 17th.
As Royko wrote 49 years ago:
Few days are as festive and joyous for all Chicagoans as St. Patrick’s Day.
Although it is an Irish observance, people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds take part because, as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:
“Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”
And to a visitor, that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everyone wears a touch of green, whether they are Irish or something else.
The Chicago River is dyed green, and green water spurts from the fountain at Civic Center Plaza.
Regardless of what they usually serve, most restaurants add corned beef and cabbage to their menu, and some put green coloring in the beer.
But the true spirit of the day can be seen at the great parade down State St., with a green stripe painted down the center of the road.
Royko went on to write that the Mayor would lead Puerto Ricans down State Street every San Juan Batista Day. He and all his fellow marchers would wear the pava, a Puerto Rican straw hat. Restaurants would serve roast pig and boiled green bananas. Daley’s cronies would crack, “There are only two kinds of people: Puerto Ricans and those who wish they were Puerto Rican.”
Of course, Mayor Daley never led any Puerto Rican Day parades, nor were most restaurateurs even aware of the existence of Puerto Ricans in their city. But Royko, in his fertile imagination, went on. Every January 15th, he wrote, the Mayor led a parade of Black people celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday:
[A]s Mayor Daley is fond of saying:
“Everybody in Chicago is an African on Martin Luther King’d birthday.”
And to a visitor that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everybody is wearing an African dashiki.
Again, that never happened.
Royko doesn’t stop. He cites Hanukkah, writing:
Although it is a Jewish observance, just about everybody else joins in, because as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:
“During Hanukkah, everybody in Chicago is a Jew.”
Finally, Royko gets to the kicker. He concludes, “When you think about it, these special days, which every ethnic group has, are one of the reasons the people of Chicago get along so well together.”
See, that’s the punchline. Because in 1972, the people of Chicago didn’t get along so well together.
And the funny/tragic thing is, the divisions between us, not only in Chicago but in the United States and the world for that matter, have only become more stark.
It makes me wonder, what if Mayor Daley I was alive today? Would he lead a parade up Broadway on Chicago’s North Side to mark Gay Pride Month? And would he proclaim, “Everybody in Chicago is gay on this day?”
Even better, would he proclaim, “Everybody’s trans on this day!”
Oh, well. Drink up. Let’s not kid each other: that’s the whole idea of St. Patrick’s Day anyway.