I had a Irish friend who said it always snows on Saint Patrick’s day – well, it snowed overnight but isn’t at the moment, and I sure wish it would, if only to put a chill on this drunken jerks staggering the streets. People line up outside the bars in the morning for an AM pint and just keep going, guaranteeing that they’ll be a bunch of looped people by noon. And since the wearing of the green falls on a Saturday this year, there’s more than the usual bunch of college students and others that don’t have anything to do, and the crowds are even greater and (if possible) the IQ level lower. Listen, I have nothing against a good Bacchanal, but that’s it, the old festivals were spring celebrations that had a sacral and ceremonial element that, after that good old Christianity has demonized the natural world, we now totally lack. In Ireland people mostly go to church, not bars on St. Paddy’s day, and even when they do, they have at least enough of a group folk culture to sing appropriate songs together. Americans can barely summon a chorus of the Budweiser song – they just shout, barf, fight and pass out more than usual to celebrate the day. Even though my father used to say our family didn’t have one drop of Irish blood, I’m not anti-Irish – the teachers that had the most influence on me were named Joyce and Murphy, and I still love James Joyce, Sam Beckett, Van Morrison, and Gregory D. Anthony, not to mention those several Irish lasses who always seemed to get under my skin in a way nobody else could. It’s just that Irish culture in America has been trivialized in a way that’s unworthy of that great civilization. I remember how, when we went to the epic street fair in New York City for the bicentennial July 4, 1976 all the others nationalities had tables with food, clothes, folk art, etc., but all the Irish had for sale were shots of Irish Whiskey and IRA buttons. The people of Dubliners and The Mabinogion deserve better.
I’m not against alcohol either, even though I hardly drink at all anymore. I realize that the sacred fermented grain beverage was an important part of early civilization, perhaps even the reason that mankind decided to stop being hunting nomads and settle down to agriculture in order to safely cultivate the ingredients. When I was in college one of my goals was to become the champion drinker in the place – I’d go in the dim bar after class and hoist a few, eat dinner, then go to work in the dining hall pit washing dishes to sweat it off, then go back out and drink until last call. One day I discovered that my drinking cronies in the bar would go into town for dinner and have a few cocktails there, maintaining unbroken inebriation, and I realized I just didn’t have the stuff to be a true alkie. My real revelation came after college, in the usual dingy apartment shared with a fluctuating group of dingy roommates. I had just come back from the party store with a case of Carling Black Label, dumped it on the table in front of the thirsty hordes when I had an epiphany, in the form of a sudden attack of Sartresque nausea – I didn’t want to drink it, it just made me sick. One of my cronies had a motto "outlast the supply," and I realized at that moment that it was impossible, that there was always another beer after, and another after that. It was an endless road that didn’t lead anywhere, there was no framework, no revelation to it. I really turned on drunkenness when I was a parking lot attendant outside a Comedy Club near the river in Minneapolis. I’d watch intelligent, convivial people go in and emerge a few hours later a mob of noisy, hostile idiots. If you’re not drunk too, you can really see it for what it is, a depressant that only too often brings out the worst in people. As I finally emerged from my youthful self-absorption and begin to be able to see myself and gauge my mind with some objectivity I could literally experience the fog, the slowness and stupidity that came over me with each sip.
And of course it’s socially acceptable, commercialized to death. College students are even more into it these days, and the culture, while condemning every other form of intoxication, especially those with spiritual overtones, celebrates drinking openly. Another friend once said, after going to a large outdoor rock concert recently "It was so much more fun when everybody was stoned." I’m not a huge fan of the Hash Bash here, which has been concertedly and largely successfully marginalized lately, – those quiet crowds of yore of gentle, simple mostly small town youth who descended on us, moving in uncertain herds, unable to understand DON’T WALK signs, confused about most everything, presented no great argument for the legalization of the weed, but at least they didn’t fight, urinate against buildings, break windows and make so much dumb noise.
Which puts me back on my usual hobbyhorse – how de-sacralized our lives have become, how devoid of meaningful ritual, or indeed ANYTHING meaningful that’s not connected to making money. All around me today are the decaying, rotten remains of what was once a great cathartic, chthonic pagan fertility ritual, now reduced to a pile of Guinness colored puke and a bad hangover.