You think holidays are about vacations or sales binges? Oh, but they’re so much more. Each offers its own opportunity to commit what on any other day would be a crime. Consider St. Patrick’s Day. While public drunkenness could get you hauled to the hoosegow on, say, March 16, wait a day and you’re simply celebrating.
That’s why, circa 1982, it was the worst day of the year for me to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum is on New York’s magnificent Fifth Avenue, the route of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Its broad steps create a popular spot from which to view the passing panoply of dignitaries, bagpipers, marching bands and such.
Yet the museum’s immediate neighborhood isn’t the place to grab a celebratory green beer. Watering holes suited to hoisting a few pints to the old sod are few and far between. So parade goers well-primed to warble boozy renditions of “Danny Boy” have mostly traveled there after already drinking in other parts of Manhattan, the outer boroughs, or the suburbs.
With no thought about the parade when planning my visit for that day, I found myself threading past alcohol-fueled revelers on my way up the steps and into the museum. I was there to visit my friends at the Costume Institute, where I had served as in intern back in the mid-1970s. The space was a basement-level rabbit warren, but the institute’s workrooms included a band of huge windows about six feet off the ground. From them, plenty of light shone across a table where I recalled mending a gossamer gown once worn by Katharine Hepburn, preparing it for the show “Glamorous and Romantic Hollywood Design.”
While chatting with my former colleagues, the sounds of the parade bounced betewen the Museum and the Hotel Stanhope across the avenue, people’s voices and laughter filtering past the booming of drums and humming bagpipes. Several men hooted aloud, probably sharing a joke and, tapping on the large windows, waved to invite our attention.
Before we had time to do more than wonder why they’d bother inciting a quartet of museum workers to look up at them, they’d arrayed themselves in a line and, quick as leprechauns, unzipped their pants to unleash their synchronized streams—six arcs of greenish, steaming fluid splashing the windows. This prolific display didn’t soon enough dissolve into a half-dozen erratic rivulets as they nearly fell to the ground laughing.
Public urination, on any other day a misdemeanor, on March 17, 1982 became a six-man salute to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland.
Erin go gag.