Monday, March 15, 2010

Blue From Green

My relationship with the Irish is complicated. I’m Irish, well, part Irish. A quarter Irish, my mother’s mother. But she married a Jewish man and my mother married a WASP. I was raised Catholic but unlike my friends growing up, I never associated my religion with ethnicity. The mix of backgrounds and cultures you find going to Catholic school is actually a fun part of the whole religious enterprise. I can self identify with the religion as part of my worldview, but for most everyone else who does so, the religious belief is also inseparable from their family’s country of origin.

If you know anything about the history of Catholicism in the U.S., you understand how outside the norm this is. Catholicism was the religion of immigrants back when we were a nation of immigrants and the then protestant majority—Nativists—were trying to suppress the then newcomers. Of course, by mid-20th century, it became in every one’s best interest to oppress people on the basis of skin color, not religion, at least forms of Christianity, but I digress. I appreciate ethnic pride, but I feel none of my own. I just think of myself as an American, that’s how identify myself. I’m not a hyphen. I have nothing against hyphens. But you know, if your grand parents were born here, I don’t think you should still use the hyphen. I mean, seriously, what’s the point? There’s a reason why your immigrant forebears left their country of origin. What’s so bad about saying, I’m an American. Well, you do what you feel is best, but I don’t use the hyphen and I have never felt Irish. And how Irish could my Nana have been—she married a Jewish guy yet remained a devout catholic her whole life. My family is weird, I mean, unique. Isn’t yours?

On Saint Patrick’s Day I wear green. I don’t mind whopping it up some—the corn beef, some beer and whiskey, Van Morrison CDs, toss off some moldy quotes by Yeats. I would try Edna O’Brien or Trevor Howard, but no matter how much I like reading them, they don’t seem to stick as much. I’ve been known to leaf through Dubliners. I’d quote Flannery O’Connor or Fitzgerald, or shoot, the much maligned and under-rated Jay Mcinerny, but it seems that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is about Irish, not Irish-American. A memorial, tribute or appreciation of Al Smith, one of the greatest visionaries among all 20th century politicians—now we’re talking Irish-American pride! But, I digress. Mainly it’s a few drinks and getting a little goofy, wear green.

I’ve never been to a Jersey City Saint Patrick’s day parade, which is held on the weekend before the real Saint Patrick’s Day. I get enough Saint Patrick’s Day to last me all year on March 17th. In recent years with the office gig, I catch some of the NYC parade, have some libations with co-workers. It’s fun. I don’t believe it to be a religious holiday and I feel that not letting the gays march is sheer bigotry, but you know, at this point, what can be done? Boycott the parade has really worked wonders, hasn’t it? Since I’m writing a blog, thought I might glimpse some of the J.C. version.

I don’t really like parades, even the ones I enjoy make me a little uncomfortable. Parades reek of fascism. I love and support and respect firemen, cops, the national guard. I just don’t like watching them marching through the streets like Roman Centurions. Parades are so soviet.

I was out of sorts anyway. The weekend was daylight savings time. A few years ago, somebody had the bright idea of making this time change earlier. It always takes me a couple of days to adjust. I feel tired and out of it. I got in at the end of the parade. The very end. Saw none of it really. Only one battalion of Bag Pipes. Guess I should have went to Lincoln Park not Journal Square. I can’t quite say how lame it was, since I didn’t see it really. Just seemed really lame, a judgment based solely on the dregs.

It seemed very insular. As a comparison, the
Puerto Rican Parade seemed a lot friendlier. Their party was for everyone. The St. Pats thing seemed to be solely for the benefit of the connected Irish. The parade sure seemed for themselves, a celebration of Jersey City’s version of Tammany Hall, or at least what remains of it.

You are either part of this Irish old boy network, which is heavily connected to local politics, or you are not. And, I am not. The Irish depress me. It is part of my heritage and I am indifferent to that heritage. And quite frankly, growing up, the biggest bone heads, the neighborhood bullies, they always seemed to be Irish. Narrow minded, prone to violence, picking on those weak or different. More than the Italians. That’s the way it seemed when I was a kid that is. Some of the most racist stuff I heard when I was younger were from Irish-American adults. Granted, they were the ones who left the cities during the white flight era, and not the ones at the parade, families who stayed. I can’t say I find the Irish-Americans here racist like the ones I knew in the Suburbs. Jersey City Irish are cool, as cool as anybody just about I guess.

Oh, and there was the crazy Irish Girlfriend of many years, a live-in. Probably why I cannot listen to Van Morrison very often. She was a huge fan, as was another Girlfriend. Van is great for romance but that can be a burden down the line, after. I find it hard to be objective about ole Van. Not impossible, since he is brilliant. I just don’t play him very often. I’m getting too personal here. I’m sure her problems and our troubled relationship has added to my Irish ambivalence. It has nothing to do with the Belfast Cowboy. Or the Emerald Isle.

The weather is rainy, rainy for days... gray, miserable. Nothing has made me happy lately. The time change makes me tired and irritable. I’m ambivalent about my Irish Heritage. And. since I’m planning to drink some on Wednesday, the real holiday, I hate the fact that I’m going to Journal Square just to take some pictures and see if I can get a good blog out of this.

Local activists were trying to get the tax revolt going, disrupt the parade. Guess it was too rainy for them. I saw no flyers, no protestors. I thought that if I could get a pix of them, it might be fun. I did see the mayor. I’ll probably vote for him again. I vote Democratic. The parade was over, he was talking to some folks lingering around the reviewing stand. Then he walked alone across to the Leow’s. He seemed wistful to me. Irish upbringings tend to foment brooding and holidays always have memories—the welcomed and the unwanted ones—galore. This Irish-American man, Jersey City born and bred has probably been going to this thing his entire life. Now, he’s our almost indicted Mayor. It’s easy to be cynical about politicians, and one might argue, justified. The impulse to enter public service though seems to at least begin as authentically idealistic. I think we all want to do some sort of good, be it art or raising a family or work that is worthwhile. Some folks are inclined towards public service. They enter politics. I felt bad for him, walking alone. He has the cooties now. His administration turns out to be corrupt, even if he was not. That corruption, and a terrible candidate, led to poor voter turn out in Hudson County and now we have a right wing freak as governor and the party that has bankrupted our country has a foothold in our state and a fresh opportunity to finish the job of turning America into a two-tier society. It’s not his fault that the New Jersey Media and the New Jersey justice department only look for politicians who accepted bribes and never investigate much less prosecute the real estate developers and other companies so eager to dole out bribes. It’s not his fault that the political system requires so much money to run for office and there is no sort of public financing or similar laws that might prevent corrupted or at least mitigate the culture of bribery that defines local and state-wide politics. It is not his fault that we have a TV-addled citizenry who get up in arms about a property tax hike but are unwilling to look at our nation as whole, change a tax system that empowers the wealthy or our own state’s arcane system of taxation, including abatements and assessments. So, Healy has the cooties. He’s the poster boy for all that has gone wrong for New Jersey progressives. But the fact is, he is a decent man and Jersey City has done well under his tenure as Mayor. Could things be better—they could always be better—but give the man due credit and start thinking globally before you fly off the handle locally. More people have moved in than moved out under Healy, the place is somewhat cleaner, there are more arts around. To say I digress would be an understatement.

To top it off, I lost my camera case. It is gray and with a memory stick, filled with photos. If anyone reading this has found it, please email me. Most of the pictures have been posted here. Yes, they’re backed up.

So across the river, the oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place on the actual holiday. It’s sort of depressing that we have one here on the non-holiday so everybody can go to the big one. Irish or not, all the bars had the cardboard shamrocks taped up. I went into the lobby of the Loews, where there was a reception of some kind. It was packed, the aroma of beer permeated the air. Everyone in green. I don’t think I ever saw this many white people in one place in Jersey City before. All fair skinned, Irish looking. Let’s face it, the women are beautiful. It occurred to me though, the
Italian Festival had a wider cross section of our citizenry present. The vibe I got here was exclusionary. It was clannish. The worst are filled with a passionate intensity and the best lack all conviction said Yeats of his people. Jersey Irish. I’ve known you all my life. I wish you could fulfill the goodness in your heart but my experience has shown me otherwise. I went home. I hate getting unhappy on a Sunday afternoon.

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