Countdown to St. Patrick's Day
Why I feel this way about a place that I have never even been to is a huge mystery to me. My paternal grandparents were from Londonderry but only one of them was actually Irish. My grandfather was of English parentage. Listening to them describe the place did not exactly paint a very flattering picture either. They described Londonderry as an industrial wasteland where a man had to show up early on the docks to get a day’s work in, if there was any work to be had. In his experience, Ireland was much more grey than green and if I considered the people he described to me from there, it was filled with shiftless drunks, ill-tempered and morose who entertained one another through random acts of callous thuggery and cruelty. Actually, Londonderry sounded a lot like my grandparents’ house in Detroit at Christmas time.
Anyway, neither of my grandparents spent much time there. They married very, and likely illegally, young and with one being Protestant and one being Catholic, they somehow wormed their way aboard the first potato boat to New York before anyone learned they got hitched. They arrived just in time for The Great Depression and somehow ended up in Kentucky to begin their new lives wallowing in alcoholism and domestic violence. I haven’t dealt with that side of the family in over ten years so why I identify so strongly with their heritage is beyond me.
On top of all that, I was adopted at birth so I have no biological ties to the land either. When you put it all together, I very likely have no Celtic blood in me at all. Still, St. Patrick’s Day is to me what Easter is to fundamentalist Christians and up until I had kids, I celebrated the holiday with an ecclesiastic fanaticism that one would be hard pressed to find outside of the Sunni Triangle.
Now, when I was in my early twenties, I had no moral reservations about drinking at the crack of dawn. Even now, in my late thirties, I have no real objections to the practice. Unfortunately, my employer does so I rarely get the opportunity to participate in any early morning imbibing. On St. Patrick’s Day however, I used to down two bottles of Guinness before I even bothered to brush my teeth. After I was out of the shower, I had another one with breakfast and I have had as much as three more waiting for my fellow revelers to arrive to start the day.
By the time we had reached the Olde Shileleigh, Detroit’s only authentic Irish pub (which ironically is located in Greektown and owned by an African-American), I had normally already killed more than a six-pack and waiting for the doors to open at 7:00am, possessed more of wobbly swagger than the inebriates that were forcibly ejected out of those same doors barely four hours before.
Once inside, the real carnage began. Those lined up outside before the sun dared to come out were the hardcore fanatics and they did that so that they could seize seats on the 2nd floor of the bar. This is where the authentic Irish bands were playing, those from the Gaelic motherland or at least able to fake the accent well enough to make us believe it. These musicians were typically big chaps, hardened and muscular, roughly hewn and barbarous in appearance. They were frightening looking folk and would have been very intimidating had they not been playing accordions, violins and penny-whistles, the very instruments played by kids who got beat up by those marching band ruffians in high school. Had they been American, they likely would have been on the bottom of the food chain in school but in the Olde Shileleigh, these men were GODS.
Various intoxicants work better with different types of soundtracks. Marijuana works best with punk rock or heavy metal. Hallucinogens such as LSD are most potent when done to Pink Floyd or something played by Elmo and The Sesame Street Orchestra. Pabst Blue Ribbon is best served with something by Merle Haggard. To properly enjoy a pint of Guinness in a public place however, one must be listening to an off-key version of “Wild Colonial Boy” or “Mari-Mac” sung slightly off key by a raging drunkard who looks like he would be just as at ease swinging a bar stool as he would be swinging the bow of a violin.
By nine in the morning, we are well passed the point of being pleasantly buzzed and hurtling headlong towards full blown intoxication. Our blood alcohol levels are approaching potentially lethal levels and odds are that at least one person in our party has already blown chunks all over the bathroom wall. Drinking any more at this point would be nothing more than foolishly irresponsible, so here is where we get into the Crown Royal whiskey. For those of us whose stomachs are not up to this level of abuse, we’ll cut it with Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua. Then we’ll order corned beef and cabbage.
Now, I have been told that the Irish-American staple of corned beef and cabbage is virtually unheard of in Ireland. In my opinion if the Irish have any sense at all, they will keep it that way and remain blissfully ignorant. I can only assume that Dublin pubs are just like their American counterparts on a Paddy’s Day morning in that the air they contain is heavy with the stench of stale cigarettes, spilled beer, fermenting perspiration and gangrenous vomit. The Irish can take my word for it that they do not need to add the sickeningly sweet odor of copious amounts of flatulence produced by mixing Guinness and boiled cabbage as well. On many a March 18th, I have sent musk oxen running for fresher air at 200 paces and according to the wives of my Gaelic drinking companions, I am not alone in this ability. One buddy swears that he once blew a gaping hole in his underwear, scorched the sheets, shredded the mattress and left streak marks on the box spring after treating himself to a third helping of the delicacy during the celebration of 2001.
At eleven o’clock, there are few of us left standing. Some have been ejected from the premises for either groping the waitresses, passing out at the table, urinating in something other than an approved waste disposal receptacle or for fighting with the husband of a woman that they finally convinced to join them in the parking lot for a midday tryst. Those of us that remain know that our time at the Olde Shileleigh is short and realizing that the last one conscious is going to have to serve as the designated driver, we kick our consumption into overdrive. It is time to play the Limerick game.
None of us remember the origins of the Limerick game since it was likely conceived during a blackout period, but it has evolved into a standing tradition. First, the person at the head of the table picks a topic. Then, the person next to him has to make up a limerick on the subject on the spot. If he can’t he has to buy the table a round of beer. If he can, the next person has to as well, and so on until somebody screws it up. In the rare instance that everybody makes one up, the table votes on who had the best and the winner guzzles a beer bought by his friends. A typical round sounds like:
“Make one up about Sean’s beer mug!”
“Though he thought the idea was quite dumb,
Sean filled up his beer mug with rum,
Then he heaved with a sigh,
And in a new way to get high,
Stuck the damn thing right up his poor bum.”
“Sean…had a…uh…new…uh…way..to..g-g-g-g…Aw, fuck it. WAITRESS!!!”
Not that the next guy is always stupid, but I have an unnatural ability to come up with a Limerick while hopelessly smashed (plus my constant drooling while drunk) that has caused some to think that I am borderline autistic.
By noon we are out in the parking lot, passed out in someone’s minivan. Usually the car belongs to one of us, but as evidenced by events in 1997, that is not a hard fast rule. That was the year that we lost Mike Donnelly, who called us at four o’clock in the afternoon to tell us that, having passed out in the back of the wrong vehicle, he had been driven to the opposite side of town and needed someone to come pick him up and drive him back home.
After a quick snooze in the parking lot, we would typically leave Detroit and find a house in our neighborhood to pass out in for a few hours before embarking upon round two. It was during the second round that our girlfriends and wives would join us. They used to come along for the morning round as well but they started boycotting the early session in 1999 once our kids started being born. They guessed that one of these years the whole group of us was going to end up in jail and if that happened, someone needed to be available to take care of the children. In addition to that, nothing irritates a colossal hangover like a crying child so by 2002, the women had abandoned the ritual altogether.
I gave it up myself in 2004. I had planned to go that year but something happened that caused me to miss it. I planned to go in 2005 as well, but missed it because of something work related. In 2006, I didn’t even try. I had three kids at this point and had been neglecting my drinking for months. St. Patrick’s Day is like any other sport in that if you do not properly train for it, you are risking serious injury by participating in it. This year, in 2007, no one in the old group is going and I regretfully have to mourn the passing of the era. I will likely spend the day with the kids, doing things around the house that do not require extreme levels of intoxication nor carry the risk of severely spraining my liver. I just might get up before dawn and kill a couple of Guinnesses to toast my past life however.
Who knows, maybe I can give the wife the slip and take the older ankle-biters to the pub as well. They’ve never been to a bar before and I could sell it to the wife as a learning experience. Hell, if I fall back into old habits while we’re there, they could possibly learn how to drive that day as well.
So since I’m now forced to live vicariously through others, what kind of debauchery are you planning to honor the patron saint of the terminally alcoholic?