Saint Patrick's Day is just around the corner. We'll celebrate the holiday by wearing cheap plastic shamrock pins that say "Kiss me, I'm Irish" and by drinking unwise amounts of green beer(1). (Green, of course, in honor of the color of fresh Guinness -- you know, before it's shipped to the United States, turns black, and gets that funny taste.) In Chicago(2), they'll even dye the river green to help celebrate the day.
Or so they claim.
Personally I'm a little skeptical of the proclamations of a city that has more voters per capita than capita. After all, this is the same city that blamed the Great Chicago Fire on a cow. What makes the whole "bovine firebug" theory suspicious is that in various newspaper accounts following the fire, the cow's name was reported as "Daisy", "Madeline", and "Gwendolyn". Now I suppose it's possible that Mrs. O'Leary's cow had a couple of aliases... Or even that Daisy was a member of a three-cow arson ring. But maybe the reason no one can agree on the cow's name -- and I know I'm going out on a limb here -- is that the Chicago reporters were "taking certain liberties with the truth", as we like to say in the newspaper business.
In any case, I suspect that Chicago councilmen use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to dump any toxic waste the city has lying around into the river and merely claim it's green dye. It would be a lot easier than filling out all those EPA forms AND it would explain the mysterious appearance of the Zebra mussels in the Illinois River -- which are clearly mutated quahogs(3). (The official explanation that Zebra mussels "hitched a ride" aboard a freighter from Europe is obviously a cover-up. Zebra mussels have no thumbs. But I digress...)
Celebrating St. Patrick's Day should be about more than just drinking yourself to the point where you can see leprechauns(4). We should stop a moment and remember the true origin of the holiday: to commemorate the man who drove all the snakes out of Ireland and into Congress.
Not much is known about St. Patrick(5). Apparently he was kidnapped as a teenager and brought to Ireland where he was enslaved as a shepherd(6). After a few years, he managed to escape back to England where he subsequently took up the family business -- he became a priest, like his father and grandfather(7). (Think about it.) Later in life, he felt a calling to return to Ireland, presumably to exact revenge on his kidnappers in the form of hour long masses in Latin -- without kneelers.
No, no. I'm kidding of course. He returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the natives to Catholicism. While there, legend has it that he stood on a hill and drove all the snakes into the sea. Since science has now proved that there never were any snakes in Ireland(8), it is now believed that this is an allegorical reference for driving druidism from Ireland. Druids, as everyone knows, are very skinny, have scales, and slither on the ground so it's easy to see how people would confuse the two.
Be that as it may, St. Patrick is now an official patron saint of Ireland along with St. Brigit and Columba, who may or may not have been portrayed by Peter Falk on TV. I've been drinking "a wee bit" of Guinness to get into the proper mood for this column and my facts may be somewhat confused at this point. But as I was telling my leprechaun friend here, the facts are not what's important. What's important is that you have a very happy and extremely snake-free St. Patrick's Day.
(1) Hint: That would by any amount.
(2) City motto: "Vote early, vote often."
(3) That's a clam for those of you who weren't forced to read Moby Dick in the 10th grade.
(4) I.e., just shy of unconsciousness.
(5) Other than he didn't like snakes...
(6) How exactly does that work? "Now listen up, laddie. I want you to watch these bonnie sheep all by yourself out here in this field far, far away from everyone else. And you're nah allowed to go a-running off just because no one can see you out here. Remember, you're a slave. Got it?"
(7) Okay, technically his father was a deacon, not a priest. But his grandfather was a priest and it's funnier this way.
(8) These are the same scientists that told us about the hitchhiking Zebra mussels, by the way.