Back in the early ’80s, my pal Nan and I spent an afternoon at the Federal Reserve, hoping to learn more about job opportunities for ourselves, as we were nearly finishing up our last term at business school.
Nan had a connection at the Reserve — a friend of her folks from the Beverly neighborhood. It was he who was good enough to give us a tour of the Reserve and also introduce us to those in charge who may have some sway in pulling strings to get each of us a job.
He was a nice fellow, but for the life of me, I can’t recall his name or what he looked like. I do recall tidbits of our conversations though. It went something like this…
Him: “Did you girls go to the Southside Irish parade last weekend?”
Nan smiled: “We sure did… it was great!”
Him: “You bet it was! Me and my pals checked out every bar on Western Avenue. It was an awesome time. In fact, I didn’t get back to work until this morning!”
Later that afternoon on the train ride back to Beverly, I naively asked Nan… “If he went to the parade on Sunday, why didn’t he get back to work until today? I mean, it’s Thursday already!”
Nan winked at me. “It was a good parade!” she laughed.
Which brings me to another parade story. Fast forward 20 years and I found myself living back in Beverly, with a house conveniently located on Artesian (one block west of Western Avenue). The nice thing about the house was its location to shopping, transportation, the Beverly Art Center, and walking distance to several parks.
What was also interesting about that house was the commotion that passed by it every year in mid-March. It all started the Saturday afternoon before the parade officially began, when folks would start slowly cruising down Artesian, searching for an open parking spot. If they got lucky and found room, the driver would park his or her car. But just as quickly, another car behind would pull up, while the driver in the original car jumped into the second car, and off they sped.
Quickly I figured out the sneaky maneuvers… these people were pre-parking before Parade Sunday, when parking up close to the Western Avenue parade route was impossible.
A few of my neighbors were a little miffed over our block being taken up by strangers’ cars. For the most part, it didn’t bother me, since I had my own garage, where my car stayed quietly until the annual shamrock shindig was complete.
After living on Artesian for over five years, I was more than educated as to what went on during the parade. Parade-goers started early, as I’d notice early in the morning, just as I took in my Sunday paper and sipped from my first mug of coffee. The first few fellas to march past my house at half past seven always carried a cooler on their shoulders. Nothing like starting early. By then, I was sorry I hadn’t added a wee bit of Bailey’s to my cup of joe… just to get me in the mood.
As the next two hours went by, one might have thought the Western parade extended to Artesian as well. The sidewalks were filled with individuals dressed in their Southside Irish jackets or any other green-hued apparel they could find. The males sported tweed caps, while the females wore navel-exposing t-shirts, as they shivered in the 50 degree weather. Mardi Gras beads ruled the day, along with KISS ME I’M IRISH buttons tacked onto every moving part.
But what the heck! The sun was shining and we were all tired of Chicago winter. If we were lucky, the ground even joined in by popping up small spouts of tulip leaves and purple Crocus. Needless to say, everyone was happy to be outside, yelling to one another, singing, sipping and generally enjoying the first signs of springtime.
That particular year, my daughter and I invited a few friends over. My pal and her two daughters arrived with a large platter of corned beef sandwiches, courtesy of County Fair. Along with our homemade oatmeal cookies and Irish soda bread, we had more than enough to serve ourselves.
Our group stayed near the house, where we could easily view the parade from my backyard. However, we knew from experience that the more interesting parade was on my own front sidewalk. It was evident the passing families with their wagonload of kids had every intent to view the parade. For the other groups of young adults, it was a different story. It seemed many of them were determined to drink themselves under a table before 3 o’clock that afternoon.
The morning went on, and my new beau — Dave — stopped by that morning as well. Being raised in Cicero, he was no stranger to shenanigans from neighborhood folks. Still, he was awed by the sheer number of people strolling past my tiny home.
Dave became even more bewildered when an overserved gentleman suddenly decided to take a nap on my front lawn. The poor fella wore an authentic knit sweater and plastic green hat, along with countless green and orange beads draped around his neck to add to his festive attire. He lay his empty beer cup in my grass, turned a few times like a tired dog, and plopped down on my front lawn chair.
Dave watched and chuckled before he attempted to wake the guy up. “Hey buddy, you doin’ okay?” he asked, shaking the man’s arm.
We received an incoherent response from the gentleman. He was breathing fine, but nothing he mumbled made any sense to us. He ignored us completely and dove into a deep slumber in the chair, head tilted to the side, eyes closed. Meanwhile, his jaunty hat stayed perfectly perched atop his slumbering head.
This unexpected scene gave Dave had an idea. He ran up the two front steps and into my house. Dashing inside, he had grabbed my digital camera and was already back outdoors before I knew what was happening. I approached the front door, and watched the scene unfold…
“Step right up, everyone! For just five bucks, you can get your picture taken with the drunken leprechaun!” Dave shouted to passersby.
A couple of girls stopped and giggled. “Why not?” they agreed, before forking over a ten-dollar-bill to Dave, who slipped the cash in his front pocket.
By now he was incentivized to continue his scheme. “That’s right, good people! Take your picture today with a genuine drunken leprechaun,” he barked. “Only five dollars and you’ll have a souvenir to cherish forever.”
Wouldn’t you know it, his scam was making money, hand over fist. It seemed everyone walking by truly loved the idea. Groups of friends laughed at the situation before they each took a fiver from their pockets and handed it to Dave. Each individual would crouch next to the sleeping drunk, while Dave snapped a picture. I simply stood there watching, wondering if I had hooked myself up with a con man from the town of Cicero.
Ultimately though, the rest of us girls felt compelled to take advantage of the day. “Grab the plate of sandwiches,” my friend called to our daughters. “And the desserts too. We’re gonna sell them for ten bucks apiece!”
The girls followed instructions and in less than 30 minutes they had over $200 among themselves, simply by selling sandwiches, cookies and soda bread to the hungry strangers. When the last of the food was sold, they walked back into the house, all equally proud of the fast money they earned.
They were followed in by Dave, who was grinning from ear to ear. He had a wad of cash in his hands and just kept laughing to himself over and over.
“What’s so funny?” my pal and I finally asked of him.
“Five bucks apiece for a photo with the drunken leprechaun,” he giggled. “Thing is, none of those folks are ever returning to pick up their photo!“
Thank you for reading — PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST.
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