The Saint Patrick's Day Parade in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 12, 2005 seemed to be trouble from the start. On Wednesday I went to a meeting for the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) with my dad. We're both members and he's even the webmaster for the state organization and the Grand Rapids (Father John Whalen McGee) division. At the meeting, the group of old men explained that participation in this year's parade would be low. Hardly any organizations seemed to have gotten the invitations and they needed us to call groups from a list to encourage them to participate and perhaps help defray the costs of the parade and be sponsors.
You see, the parade is put on and paid for by the AOH, and after this year's parade, the group would have $-600 until the fundraiser at the end of April. Watching these men work was fascinating. It was obvious that none of them were politicians, businessmen or anyone familiar with following a meeting's agenda. They strayed from the topics, got back on old ones after promising to wait until after the meeting and interrupted each other to talk about other matters: namely my dad telling others that he and my mom are buying a boat, my dad patting me on the back and saying he's glad that I came, or whatever the other curmudgeons said, I couldn't hear. My dad also discussed his website with others, asking if they'd seen photos he'd added, the stories written up, etc. Many hadn't, but I soon realized that my dad's webpage is to him what livejournal is to me. Except, I learned a while ago not to talk about the virtual world in the real world. Oh well, he's still pretty hip for a 60 year old.
The meeting adjourned and we went to Quinn & Tuite's Irish Pub (formerly Pete Brown's Office), owned by local AOH President Billy Quinn. En route, I got a call from my cousin Jeremy, whom I'd called earlier to make sure he could raise flags with me at the end of the parade. He had gotten my call earlier, but couldn't understand me, answering my "Hello?" with a "Who's this? What did your message say?" I explained and he said he'd be happy to do it. And he told me that he was drunk and had just gotten out of work.
At the bar my dad introduced and reintroduced me to everyone, including the Guinness Girls who had us fill out surveys. How many beers and what brand do I drink a month? 3 Old Styles every Sunday times 4 Sundays = 12/month? Whatever. My dad bought me 3 Guinnesses that I could hardly finish and after making conversation with his friend about my potential job in France, he dropped me back off at the apartment, reminding me to double check with my cousin Jeremy that he'd be attending the St. Patrick's Day parade with us and helping raise the flags at the end of the parade. The next day I did.
And on Friday, while watching "In the Realms of the Unreal" at the UICA with Matt, and Tom & Eric oddly enough, my phone rang obnoxiously loud after I'd forgotten to silence it since I'm a boob, my dad left a message saying he'd pick me up on "Saturday at 9 AM so we could go to breakfast first. The parade starts at noon, we have to be at the staging area at 11, so we'll have just enough time. You don't need to return this call." So, instead of going out and partying with Matt, at 10:30PM, I went home to sleep sufficiently before the parade. Instead I borrowed "The Five Obstructions" from George (following his 2 documentary Tuesday a little late, but still watching the same ones) and went to bed at 2:30, just after moving the furniture back in my room so I had a bed to sleep on.
On Saturday my mom called 5 minutes after my alarm went off and told me I had until 9:30 when my dad, brother Lance and cousin Jeremy would arrive. She would go downtown to watch the parade at noon. And she wanted to give me a bit of a warning: Jeremy is moving to California at the end of the month, as I know, and is having a bit of trouble with his on-again off-again girlfriend Lonnie, as I know. They've finally ended it, for good, and after Jeremy got out of work at 11 last night he went to the bar and partied all night, not sleeping. He drove to my parents' house at 7 AM, passed out for a few minutes, drank a few "deuce deuces", peed a few times outside and eventually went inside.
My dad was disappointed and said, "You better not embarrass me. I don't want you to do this if you don't want to. You can sleep all day here if you want." Jeremy insisted that he do it, said he wanted to. But, I don't think he did. My dad has paid Jeremy's dues in the group for the past 3 or 4 years and calls him to make sure he comes. I'm sure Jeremy wants to come, but is just busy and maybe even doesn't want to all the time, I'm not sure. Either way, I think my dad wanted him there more than he wanted to be. I should also note that Jeremy is my mom's sister's son, so it's not like he's my dad's brother's son or anything, he's encouraging another family member to come. Maybe this doesn't matter, but I think the relationship is different this way and thought I'd point it out.
My mom said she just wanted to warn about all this and know that my dad wasn't that happy. Jeremy was about to leave behind his whole family and (ex) girlfriend of 3 years to live out a dream in California. The family is a bit worried since our track record, as a family, isn't that great when "going out west". My mom's brother Richard's daughters got screwed up when they went out. Her uncle messed up somehow too. And Jeremy's dad went out there in the early-mid 70's and did lots of heroin and speed and ended up losing all his teeth. He cleaned up though and lived the rest of his life as a great man, actually, but died of Hepatitis two years ago. The point is, Jeremy is nervous, everyone around him is nervous, and he was still going to do the parade, drunk.
I sat on the couch waiting for my dad and heard him honk outside and do a U turn to park beside the building. I threw on my boots, didn't think to grab a hat or gloves, and went to the truck. When I got in, I saw Jeremy asleep/passed out in the other seat.
My dad was anxious and we took off to eat a breakfast buffet at the Days Inn Hotel downtown. Nothing was said of Jeremy's state on the drive, but we did hear his Nextel go off with a, "What it is, motherfucker?!" We couldn't find the phone at first and wondered where the voice came from. I saw the phone on the ground and Jeremy continued to sleep. We parked in the back parking lot of the hotel. And Jeremy awoke with a jerk. He seemed fine, and we walked in. Once inside he talked to me about my "luscious hair" or something and I could barely understand what he was saying, fully realizing how drunk he still was. We sat down and saw the other AOH members, most were wearing Irish wool sweaters, unintentionally matching.
At one point a man with bagpipes stood up and played and someone's daughter, who's in one of the Irish step dancing schools, went up near him and began to dance. People clapped to the beat and, well, it was ridiculous. Don't imagine a crowd of 100 or even 50, or even 30. There were about 20 of us in a section of the restaurant at Days Inn Grand Rapids. Lance and I went up to get food and ended up taking all the eggs, without realizing it. Jeremy came back after us with a plate full of bacon and potatoes.
We laughed at the thought of eating that much bacon and he said, "Oh, funny is it? Take all my eggs and make me get my Atkin's Diet here. Yeah, really funny." We apologized and kept on the lookout for the arrival of more eggs. My dad motioned to Jeremy to finish the milk he'd ordered for him, and Jeremy said, "Oh, milk. Well, thank you. Didn't know it was mine." He promptly drank the whole thing and whispered to me, "I did that so your dad wouldn't get pissed. Here's a college lesson for you, don't drink milk after consuming a lot of alcohol. It curdles in your stomach and, well, you'll see what happens, buddy. Hey, will you come outside with me while I smoke?" I laughed a little, realizing his drunk voice sounds like Eddie Murphy's impression of his dad drunk.
We went to the front of the hotel and he smoked and explained everything, himself. It made me feel less like he's some irresponsible kid shirking his responsibilities and drinking and more sorry for him and this situation. He went drinking last night because of Lonnie, of course. Yesterday her ex-boyfriend and the father of her 5 year old daughter, who loves Jeremy and whom he has been helping raise, or "babydaddy" as Jeremy called him, got out of prison. "So, she thought she'd chill with him yesterday. I didn't really understand it, but he's Lonnie's daughter's dad, barely, so you know. But they decided to chill at 11 o'clock. Eleven o'clock, c'mon. That's bullshit. It hurts me to love her." So, he went out drinking and didn't want to stop.
He felt guilty that he'd done it and disappointed my dad, but he told me, "Kevin, learn from me. No matter how much alcohol you drink to drink away your problems, your problems will still be there when you sober up. While you're drinking, though, man they do not exist. Well, they do, they're just 5 times better." He continued with saying how it hurts him to leave, but there's too much negativity here. He doesn't want to see his mom cry that he's leaving, like she has been, and she has Hepatitis B too, and is getting sicker, he doesn't want to leave our grandmother. "She won't be around much longer, I don't want to miss any time with her, man. It's tough being a Burton (our grandmother is Mary Burton)." I first thought he said "burden" and finally realized what he said and thought how funny it was that so many in our family could say the same phrase, swapping out Burton/burden as they please...
"I turn 26 on Monday, man. This is life." I forgot that his birthday was coming up. I then remembered that our grandfather died on his birthday about 17 years ago and was buried on St. Patrick's day...
When I was in 2nd grade, Jeremy was my role model. He would often babysit Lance and me and we'd all joke around. He was hilarious- the funniest person in the world. He'd impersonate my dad, who often had a temper, with an, "Alright, goddammit!" That's all he'd say. He'd get his voice really low and say, "Alright", almost like Ace Ventura starting to say "Alrighty then", and continue with "goddammit", holding the d. We'd tie stuffed animals to the fan and watch them fly off. We'd make prank phone calls and had lots of fun. I had a school picture of him when he was in 10th grade and made a bet to shave off one eyebrow for $50. He did it. And that being the only picture of him I had, I wrote "My Role Model" on it, making my parents laugh to no end. But I was serious. I looked up to Jeremy more than anyone else. He was my real role model. Unfortunately, he dropped out of school in 11th grade and didn't get his GED for a few years. He graduated from Olympia as a nurse's assistant or whatever 2 years ago and has been working at a mental hospital near Allendale and will work in another one in Los Angeles.
In a recent phone interaction Jeremy had to help a woman remove a catheter. As we were talking and he was complaining about the people he helps being ungrateful but not even knowing it, I heard a loud "Uggghhhh!" in the background. "Did you hear that?" he asked. He turned the phone away, "Yeah, does that hurt? I bet it does. It must hurt to remove the catheter. C'mere and put your hand on my shoulder and I'll help you, okay?"
Jeremy has never forgotten any of that role model stuff. If anything, it doesn't make him feel good. He talked to me about going to college and France and said how proud he is of me and told me not to be modest. But how could I say how happy I am and everything while he's going through all this, this to my former role model?
"Life is a motherfucker, Kev. Just don't screw up. Life is the choices you make. It's not the choices that make life." I didn't understand this, but knew his heart was in the right place. We went back into the restaurant and joined my dad and brother to go back to the car. On the way out my dad was talking to my mom, using the 2-way feature on his Nextel on too loud, about bringing coffee for the end of the parade. When we got to the parking lot my mom was talking a lot and he kept trying to butt in. When this happens on a Nextel there's a loud distinct tone, and you know that the person is currently trying to talk to you, so you should wait until you hear the infamous "bee-beep" that signals that they're done. My dad didn't care and kept trying to beep her, I found it amusing, at least.
We drove to Veteran's Park to line up for the parade at 11, so we could wait an hour. My dad wasn't going to march. He didn't plan on it because of the cold and his legs bothering him. This bothered Lance and Jeremy. I forgot to tell them sooner. It was cold, very cold. I wore a hat my dad let me use.
and saw a puzzle on a license plate
All I could figure was "W [Bush] (&) C(heney) (are) (H)XC [hardcore] (and) (#)1". We wandered around and eventually sat against the wall of the Children's Art Museum. We soon saw more familiar people gather and all they could do was make the same boring, "At least the sun's shining. It sure is cold. So long as the sun stays shining we'll be alright. I don't think it'll snow..." conversation.
At one point a couple guys approached us- I thought they were homeless at first, then thought they weren't and was mad at myself for thinking so, then thought again that they were homeless/drunk/high- asking innocently about the parade. They saw a Hiberian had a coffee and they asked, "Oh, are there free drinks?" We had to explain to them several times that there weren't. "Listen, man. I'm 33. I know what it's like. You know we all want free drinks man, am I right? Why's that Budweiser truck there? You can't tell me they won't be giving out some beers." "Sorry," I explained, "they're just here because, well, you know. They're in the parade since Irish people are famous for drinking, dude." He didn't seem to buy it and began pestering other people about free drinks and we walked away. Ha!" I heard his friend say, "C'mon man, let's go. They ain't got nothing for us here." Lance joked, "It isn't even 11:30. Who would drink alcohol this early in the morning?" Jeremy said, "Yeah, who would be drunk at this time of day?
Just before we started to march off I called a few people telling them to come watch, though it would be too cold and stupid to do so. Chris McMullin, my most Irish friend said, "Oh, is that the parade put on by the people who turn their backs when gays are in it? Yeah, no thanks." Ha! I unrolled the Irish flag and Lance joined Bill Quinn's son Rory, who looked like he belonged in a Carhartt ad, and helped carry the banner for Quinn & Tuite's Irish pub.
Then Jeremy borrowed my phone and called Lonnie; he left his in the truck. He continued to talk to her for the entire parade. Often times getting upset and shouting. He and I marched beside a piper, a woman dancing and a drummer.
The parade was quite boring, but fun. As was explained at the meeting, many groups didn't know they were invited, and so it was short. There were 2 small high school bands, an ROTC unit, a couple cop cars, a fire truck, a Beer truck, a couple groups (Irish store owners?) dressed Irish-like, the mayor, a State representative, some antique cars, and the AOH. I really regretted not bringing my gloves and could barely hold the flagpole. It was, as Blake would say, "Colder than me nana's cunt." At least it wasn't snowing.
As we got near the end my dad joined in (far left)
He gave us instructions for raising the flag, "Smartly and without hesitation. Now Jeremy will raise the Irish flag. So that means... Jeremy, get off of that goddamned phone. Kevin will start when I give him the cue, and a moment later I'll let you know you when to start. You can't start it until after the American flag goes up." Jeremy quickly called Lonnie back and continued to argue. A minute later we were at Calder plaza.
People who had watched the parade joined to hear some speeches and whatever. This old lady had a horn...
Lance got hot chocolate.
Jeremy kept talking to Lonnie.
It started to snow. A lot. Then my dad got "Hi, I'm Mike, from the County" to unlock the boxes so we could raise the flags. My dad brought a pitiful American flag and a small Irish flag, the one I carried in the parade. As it turned out, we'd be using the American one already there and take down the county flag on our left. A green-bearded bystander saw what was going on and promptly alerted us, "You know, you aren't supposed to have any flag to the left of the American flag." My dad let him know, "The way these are displayed, toward us, yes I can see that. But technically they're being presented across the street and the American flag was already on this pole. It's how the city does it." "Umm, sure. I'm just saying..." he said. I remember this guy vividly from last year's parade.
I didn't take a picture of him this year because I didn't need to. He was wearing the exact same outfit. He sure is proud of being the 1988 Grand Marshall, I can tell you that. Later my dad said, "He's a good man, actually. Yeah." Jeremy helped me bring the American flag down and he held an end since it was acting as a sail. When my dad wanted Jeremy to attach the Irish flag to the next flagpole he said, "Nevermind, he's on the phone. His heart isn't into it. Lance, you're doing it." I held the rope, waiting and when Catholic Central High School's band began playing The Star Spangled Banner I starting raising it. My dad kept saying, "Faster! Faster!" I went faster, but not too fast. He'd explained earlier in the week that you don't need to raise it slowly and finish only when the song is done, but it shouldn't be done too fast. Apparently, I was going too slowly, so he ran over and took over, raising it up fast. In the middle of this, he was yelling to Lance, "Go! Go!" But Lance said they instructed him not to start until the Irish national anthem. But my dad didn't hear him and kept saying, "GO! GO! GO! GO!" Finally, he understood, and I stood, facing the flagpole and not the crowd, as I failed to raise the flag.
Finally, Pat Woods, "The Bard of Armagh" began singing the Irish national anthem, and Lance began raising the flag. It wouldn't go up any higher at one point and my dad didn't understand, and I giggled.
Then the speeches began. Everyone thanked each other, made proclamations, prayed, etc. I saw this bizarre inflatable thing, possibly having to do with Notre Dame?, and made stereotypes.
My dad's friend and long time Hibernian Mike "Mick" Lane accepted applause for being Grand Marshall. He's famous for being long-winded and telling long stories, long jokes, and going on and on, etc. People commented from the audience, "I got a stop watch going!" and "Tell us another one, Clancy", commenting on his Irish nature to tell stories. Mike sat on the front of the stage and invited the children to the front and he told the story of St. Patrick.
My dad and his friends all started laughing to each other and making jokes about how "he's so full of shit." And how funny it was that he was inviting kids to gather 'round as if he were some storyteller at Christmas. My mom said they were like junior high kids poking fun at a friend.
That's about the time Georges came by. And we watched the Irish step dancers.
Shortly after, Lance pointed out that one of the bums who wanted free booze had followed the parade, probably still looking for the booze. Sorry dude, the only free drinks we have are hot chocolate and coffee. Lance drank so much that he had to let it out in the parking garage before we left.
And now, my parents are on their way to get me and take me to Quinn & Tuite's Irish Pub. Goodnight and remember, the real St. Patrick's Day isn't until next Thursday, aka Tom/Beth/Anthony's birthday and the next Pseudo show...
So I just got back from the pub and I saw my speech therapist from 2nd grade with Justin and Lance's 2nd/3rd grade teacher. As it turns out, my parents see them about twice a year. My speech therapist, whom I haven't seen since 2nd grade, was surprised to see me. So surprised she gave me a shot of Jameson and was happy to see me down it fast. Odd. Her husband said, "She just wants you to start slurring again!" Okay, I did not slur my words. I had a slight problem with the letter "s". I recently realized it's similar to Adam Arkin. You might remember him from "Hitch". Yeah, if you listen carefully, he has a slight "s" problem. That's what I had. Then George came, as did Jeremy. We were all considerably more sober. Jeremy also told me that Lonnie had been planning on getting back with her ex the whole time he was in prison. While Jeremy and I drank, Lonnie was with him at Club North down the road. The jailbird's name: Jeremy.