Yesterday, Mike, Dunndee, Laurie, and I joined Amanda, Jason, Zia, Josh, Michelle, Clay, and several others for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Southie.
We began the day at Sub Terra, where, over coffee and donuts, the four of us watched the bulk of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Roast and Political Breakfast in South Boston. Even after seven years in Boston, I’d not known of this custom until this year, but I think it encapsulates one of the things I love about this town: no one here takes himself too seriously. From matters of sports to politics, everyone is willing to laugh and poke fun at himself.
Senator Jack Hart of Southie secures his candidacy by hosting a breakfast the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Southie, during which local politicans get an opportunity to roast the mayor, governor, and any other local political figures they feel deserve it. Afterwards, they all are invited to march in the parade — and those who are gung-ho or sober enough by the time the afternoon rolls around do so. (I am told that in past years the mayor and governor have jumped into the harbor or the Charles on this day as well, to prove that the bodies of water are indeed clean enough to swim in.)
Not having known about the roast before this year, I’d not tuned in before, but, sure enough, there’s a live broadcast on television, and we watched the bulk of it in the Sub Terra living room. This is how it goes: Jack Hart takes a minute to thank and point out members of his extended family who are in attendance, then he introduces the next political roaster; they do their bit, with inevitable inerjections by Hart, who is always stading just a foot behind the speaker, mic in hand, ready to save any jokes that don’t go over well, or step on them if they seem to be getting funnier than his. Hopefully the speaker gets applause (not a tall order in a room full of Boston politicans drinking mimosas), and then Hart steps in and announces the traditional Irish shong he and his compatriots will sing while the network cuts to commercial. The band strikes up the tune, the politicians sing, and when the song is over the cycle repeats itself again: Hart greets more members of his extended family, announces the next speaker, et cetera, et cetera.
Surprisingly enough, many of the roasters are incredibly funny and witty, though there are always a few who bust out the lamest jokes without the slightest sense for comedic timing or delivery. Inevitably, there are certain themes which keep cropping up in the jokes levied against the guests of honor. The major topics this year included Mitt Romney’s hair and his apparent unfamiliarity with Massachusetts, Menino’s insistence (against all tacit codes of urban New England winter conduct) that Bostonians not use chairs, brooms, or other objects to reserve their shoveled-out parking spaces, the decline of Irish (and concurrent surge of Italian) politicians in the city, the Kerry campaign, and, of course, the Big Dig.
Due to the obvious state of inebriation of most of the guests (but particularly the mayor, whose ruddy face and langorous manner of speaking make him appear drunk even when sober), we introduced a new definition for “Menino” in the A-Side lexicon:
Menino adj. (slang): Drunk; utterly shitfaced. As in “That one jawn was totally Menino last night.”
Luckily, we had occasion to use this descriptor many times during the course of the afternoon, which we spent at the corner of Telegraph and Gates in South Boston, watching the parade itself with Amanda, Jason, and their friends. After meeting up with the crew, we had a quick tour of some Southie sites featured in the film Good Will Hunting. By the time we returned to the corner, the crowd was beginning to amass in earnest. We hung out, wandered around a bit, chatted with folks in the crowd, and, once the obligatory police sweep for alcohol (a half-assed formality at most, since everyone is standing around with Solo cups full of the foamy stuff) was over, we opened some cans of Molson Canadian into paper cups left over from New Year’s and toasted the day. As it is an accepted thing that people will be flagrantly flouting the open container laws on this day, the policy is one of don’t ask, don’t tell. The understanding is that spectators will pretend not to be drinking alcohol, or at least be courteous enough to disguise the fact, and the police will pretend that they can’t tell that everyone is drinking alcohol. It’s a happy arrangement.
And so we stashed our duffel bag full of cans and cups underneath a nearby parked car, and made trips every so often to crouch down by the wheel and refill our cups. “Happy New Year!”
The parade was long, as usual, and filled with pipe and drum bands, fire- and policemen from all over the country (often drunk, often sporting an equally drunk Southie girl on each arm), impressive municipal vehicles, people dressed as minutemen and firing muskets, JROTC crews, high school bands, and local politicans. The atmosphere is one of happy chaos: the parade isn’t the most regimently organized parade you’ll ever see (though part of this is certainly due to our spectatorial position on a very steep hill, which the poor drunken firemen must descend on foot, with no small difficulty), and onlookers will often just start walking in the parade. There was one (drunken) faher with a cable-knit-sweater-clad toddler who kept walking through the parade, joining up with sections and guiding his poor son right through the middle of the marching (if you can call it that) as though it were a barn dance and not a parade at all. Early in the parade, a crew of policemen rode by on horseback, and one of the horses took a magnificent dump in front of where we were standing. One of our crew then took it upon himself to point out the mess to every parade member who might potentially step in it. Most people thought he was a raving lunatic, I’m sure, or just drunk. However, the mid-parade street-sweeper fellow, an obese man on a golf cart with a vacuum hose, shovel, and receptacle, got a huge cheer from the crowd for cleaning up a larger mess further down the hill. “It’s the one day tha guy gets cheered for,” someone pointed out.
It’s a long parade, several hours in fact, so I’ll let you look at the pictures for a better idea of how things went. It should be noted that Dunndee bought a rather spectacular hat — or, rather, a hat with a rather spectacular button affixed to it.
My photos are here; LB also has pictures up here. Enjoy!