Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wearing of the green day

Since today is St. Patrick's Day, I thought I would share a bit about it. It is a great holiday to observe, even if it only means being in a parade. Genealogically speaking, St. Patrick's Day is a day that has little to do with my family history, which has a great deal of Russian, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish lineage. There are, of course, many devout Irish Jews, some whose family lines can be traced back for centuries. One of them, Rabbi David McLashley, married my first cousin Sharon in Los Angeles three years ago. Believe it or not, he actually lived in New Orleans and attended my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, back in the 1970's, when he was but a mere lad. But when one considers the history of Ireland and its religious and political split between the mostly Catholic Republic of Ireland and the mostly Anglican section of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, Jewish influence seems infinitesimally small. Nonetheless, Rabbi McLashley is a testament that there are Irish Jews who are proud of their heritage. I recall riding in a St. Patrick's Day Parade with my Uncle Harold many years ago. He never passed on an opportunity to parade. A bona fide Shriner from the clown unit, Uncle Harold was in fact my dad's very good friend and not a blood relative or related to me by marriage. He was a playful rapscallion and a great pal to a young impressionable youth. Unlike most of my parents' friends, he was a confirmed bachelor. He seemed to have a procession of different girlfriends, all of them very attractive. Although he might be considered morbidly obese, this silver-tongued rascal was light on his feet and a very good dancer. Many a night would he and my father hang out at the Fountain Bay Room of the old Roosevelt Hotel. My Uncle Harold would ask a young lady to dance and tell her he didn't know how. After a difficult time on the ballroom floor, stepping on her feet slightly, he would return her to her table. As the music was starting again, he would ask her to dance again, much to the lady's chagrin. "No, I think you taught me how to do it right," he would insist. Of course, on the second time, he would skillfully oil her around the dance floor and she would realize she'd been scammed. Most of the time, the ladies would laugh and catch on that he was a lovable scamp. From there the evening would take on new dimensions. It was rare that his face would be slapped or that the ladies in question wouldn't want to get a bit closer to this very charming and somewhat dashing figure. When Uncle Harold dressed up as a clown, he wasn't necessarily interested in making a good impression on the ladies. He was being his irrepressible self, entertaining kids and making people laugh. He particularly enjoyed blowing up long, skinny balloons and twisting them into all sorts of animal shapes and designs to delight the children. As part of his clowning, he picked up an old jeep that had been lying dormant for some time. He painted it a horrific shade of vomit green and putrid yellow and for several years invited seven or eight people to join him in the many different Irish parades which followed Mardi Gras. One evening I recall being in the parade held in the Irish Channel. My gym coach, Johnny White, happened to be in the crowd that night and he knew I wasn't Irish. "Smason, what are you doing in this parade?'" he bellowed. The sign on the jeep read "Irish Luntzmen," a reference to the fact most of the occupants in the car were Jewish. I turned to the coach and I said to him, "Coach, you've heard of Irish stew, well, I'm Irish Jew!" I don't believe he was impressed because the next time he saw me in class, he uttered his most famous of phrases: "Smason, take a lap." Another time in the Metairie St. Patrick's Day Parade, usually held the Sunday before March 17, I was dressed in a full E.T. mask. Don't ask me what E.T. had to do with being Irish. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. The mask was very large, but very confining and gave me limited view. It was hot inside, but had lots of room in front, extending at least two inches out from my face. Thank goodness, because at one point on the parade route, a drunken reveler called out to me, "Oh, E.T.?" As I turned toward him to give him a pair of beads, he reared back and slugged me in the mask with his fist. The force behind the blow had me land inside the back of the jeep as it moved on along the street. My mom was in the back with me and after helping me get righted, proceeded to launch several epithets at the man in question. Why he did what he did I'll never know. Maybe he didn't like aliens. Maybe he was by nature combative. Whatever it was, I'll never forget how lucky I was his fist only glanced off the rubber mask and that he never made full contact with my face. Perhaps that is what they mean when they say "the luck of the Irish." Or do you think I'm merely kissing the Blarney stone?

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