On The Day, I’d wake early at home in Brooklyn, having had a grand sleep, because I’d made myself stay in the night before with a book or the TV. To my mind, I was in training like fighters. Then, a light breakfast: there’d be Bloody Marys (Virgins for the Pledge-Takers) at the jumping-off location, the Blarney Stone on East 44th Street. Run a rag over the black shoes, pin the Shield to the Summer Blouse (don’t remember it ever being so cold that I had to wear the Winter Choker), pull on the white gloves, adjust the tilt of the eight-pointed uniform hat and out the door. One of us would take his car, leave it in designated parking for ‘Police Vehicles Only’ around the 108th Precinct in Long Island City, grab the Flushing #7 train two stops to Grand Central Station. No one in his right mind, especially a cop in uniform, drives into the City on St. Patrick’s Day.
We marched up Fifth Avenue ten-abreast, feet and swinging arms keeping faith to Finbar’s time. We passed the Cathedral, its steps crowded with the faithful and The Cardinal. Ice skaters abandoned the Rockefeller Center Rink to get a gander at us. People crowded the balconies of East Side residences, hung out the windows of office buildings, ignored the horse-drawn hansom cabs outside the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Central Park. Our route was straight as a die for 42 City blocks, past the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 81st Street. Its steep stone stairway rising to the front door, hundreds of watchers filling its steps, when I looked left and up, I saw the Pyramid of the Sun in the dead Mexican City of Teotihuacan. A sharp right turn onto 86th Street and down to the end of the Parade Route at Third Avenue and 86th. No one was tired; the City lay before us; Irish cops were the Chosen.
Then an unhurried descent down Third with forays to Second Avenue along the way. Like the Pony Express riders in the Old West, we’d stop at way-stations to refresh the horses. Every Irish bar from 86th to 22nd Street received us. McFadden’s, The Mean Fiddler, Ulysses’, Ryan’s Daughter, Hibernia, Finnegan’s Wake, Nancy Whiskey Pub, the Failte Irish Whiskey Bar – to mention a few – and finally Molly Malone’s at 22nd Street, the unofficial end-of-tour, appropriately around the corner from the Police Academy on East 20th Street. We drank for free – “on the arm” is the term of art – at all these places. It was accepted as demeaning to ask a cop in uniform to pay for his drinks on St. Patrick’s Day. But we tipped the barmaids handsomely, sang the old songs gustily, and behaved decorously.
Perhaps I’m mistaken in some of that. After all, it was a very long time ago.