Monday, March 19, 2007

The Day the Beer Went Flat

From Tim's slightly twisted mind:

It was three days after Saint Patrick's Day in the town of Shahannery Falls, and the horror of what had happened three days earlier was starting to sink in to it's residents. The informal weekly meeting of the town's most prominent citizens at O'Riley's Bar & Grill was the quietest it had ever been, as no one was willing to be the first to open the discussion about what was surely the most shameful event to ever occur in this once-prosperous mining town, settled by, and still comprised of ninety percent, proud Irish immigrants. John Griffin mumbled something about the weather and all numbly nodded in agreement, their minds on anything but the weather right now, for their very manhood, perhaps the manhood of Irishmen the world over was in question because of what had transpired on St. Paddy's Day this year in this small town. The men continued to make small talk and sip their beers, which was a sure sign things were not going to return to normal anytime soon. Then Mark Cavanaugh, the biggest, strongest, manliest man in town, the man who had gone to Germany once and had thrown an 83 pound stone farther than anyone ever had before to set the German Steintossen record, cried. "Did none of ye read the damn paper when ye signed it?" he moaned. " Got in line behind everybody else, I did" was the general response that murmured through the crowd.

Three days earlier, at 9 A.M., the townspeople were buzzing about, getting ready for the one event that stood above all others, in the minds of most inhabitants. The Saint Patrick's Day Parade. A chance to come out and proudly display their Irish heritage. The beer supplied by Jake O'Riley was free, green and available even at this hour of the morning at the makeshift beer tent. It was the one day when people wouldn't be talked about for drinking at such an early hour, and in fact, usually made the parade a lot more fun and interesting when almost fifteen hundred half-tanked Irishmen turned out to march. It was traditionally the largest parade in this part of the state, and that was saying quite a bit for a town with a population of barely four thousand, and much larger communities to the south and west.

Unknown to most, a new entry to the parade was to be added this year, one which was to be much smaller, but would, hopefully, draw statewide attention due to the fact that the main sponsor of it was friends with one of the news producers for channel 5, one of the states largest tv stations. The Shahannery Falls Gay Rights movement was in it's infancy, and not getting much of a foothold in this conservative town. In fact, most people didn't even know of its existance. Its membership of seven people had, until now, kept quiet about their organization out of fear, mainly. Most people in the town could not imagine there could really be persons of their sexual persuasion in their town. James Fitzgerald, one of the members, recalled his school days, when they had called him queer, homo and fag to taunt him, not ever believing that he really was queer. He might have gotten killed if his true nature was known, such was the mentality of the town. Today, James - Jimmy was what his friends called him- was excited because finally he could come out of the closet, so to speak, without fear. A little fear maybe, but Huston Howely, the organizer of their movement, had been promised coverage from his friend at channel 5, plus there was a busload of supporters coming to march with them from nearby cities and towns. There would be close to fifty people marching in their group, and with tv cameras rolling, surely there would be no violence.

Two weeks before the big event in city hall, Huston Howely filled out a public organization permit - so his group could set up a booth- and handed it to Mayor Lorigan, who passed it on to his secretary without glancing at it as he chatted with Huston. The mayor was slightly acquainted with Howely, who ran the marina at Westwind Lake, although he didn't know him very well. He always struck the mayor as odd, but anytime the mayor met one of the biggest taxpayers in town he felt obliged to make small talk with him. He didn't recall the man ever setting up a booth for his marina before, but the more people who entered the better. After Howely left the office, the mayor's secretary, a pretty but slightly dull daughter of one of the councilmen, asked the mayor about the permit. "You sure you want him to put up a booth?" she asked, glancing at the name of the organization Howely had written. The mayor grunted a "sure, he's ok", not knowing what she was talking about but not caring either because Janice Garrett was coming out of her office and crossing in front of his window, flashing lots of leg and cleavage on her way to show a prospective buyer a house. Dori shrugged and typed out an approval form and put it in the outgoing mail to send back to Howely.

Saturday, St.Patrick's Day, at ten o'clock the seven members of the Shahannery Falls Gay Rights Organization were setting up a registration booth in the courthouse yard, which was the starting point for the parade. Being at the other end of the open yard from the beer tent, no one paid attention to them as they worked. Shaun Cameron had suggested the registration sheet, for some of the outsiders riding the bus in who might want to join up and bolster their numbers. Huston Howely had brought a speedboat which he pulled behind his truck to serve as their float. The members had decorated it the night before, and now waited anxiously for the busload of support that was promised them. At 10:45 some of the men had started to proceed from the beer tent toward the street. Max McGonagle, who looked as if he'd already had too much green beer, stumbled up to their booth. Spying the brand new speedboat sitting there, he walked over to the table, filled out a card and stuck it in the box. "Hey Max" someone said as he was walking away "What's that all about?". "I think they're a givin that boat away. I sure could use that beauty". "Hell, me too!" said his friend Mort, who rushed over to sign up. Soon word spread and most of the men had signed those cards, hoping to be the lucky winner. Shaun Cameron, who was manning the booth, tried to explain the purpose of the registration, but his quiet voice was drowned out by the hearty laughter and talk of winning a new speedboat by the men in line. When Howely realized what was happening he rushed over to straighten things out, but just then a channel 5 van pulled into the parking lot amid loud cheering as anchorwoman Jan Garvey stepped out. Just about that time the police chief, who was in charge of lining up the entrants, was rounding everyone up to start the parade. The Gay Pride float pulled into it's spot and the riders unfurled their rainbow colored banner with the words Shahannery Falls Gay Pride. The meaning of the float was now apparent to a few of the nearby citizens, and gasps could be heard as the parade started it's journey through downtown Shahannery Falls. Worriedly, the entrants riding the speedboat looked around for the busload of supporters who were supposed to be marching alongside them. They were nowhere in sight. As the parade was halfway through the first block of the five block route, people standing on the curb watching didn't know what to make of the speedboat. Was it a joke? Were they making a mockery of this sacred event? The tv cameras seemed to be focused on that one float, so everyone waved their green hats and cheered, most not realizing that later, on the news, it would look like they were cheering the Gay Pride float. When the route reached its end the Gay Pride members quickly gathered everything and left, planning to meet immediately afterward at Jimmy's house. The bulk of the townsfolk, meanwhile, was in a state of disbelief at the intrusion of that gay float, but that was forgotten shortly afterward as everyone gathered in the beer tent to celebrate the day.

At six o'clock the news came on channel five, and halfway through that broadcast the residents of Shahannery Falls recognized their town and their parade. Many jumped with glee to see themselves on tv, but soon the joyous revelation turned quiet as Jan Garvey started talking. "...a community that's obviously very open minded, readily accepting the entrance of the local gay rights float as part of their celebration. The organizer even told me that almost three hundred people signed up to join at their registration booth! An unbelievable outpouring of support from a town that boasts that it's one of the most "Irish"communities in the state."

Oddly, perhaps from embarrassment by the town folks, none of the members of the Shahannery Falls Gay Rights Organization suffered any retaliation for intruding in the parade. In fact, by the end of the week their membership had doubled. Although they still kept to themselves, most felt a sense of pride when they walked down the street. Not necessarily "gay" pride, but the feeling that they dared to do something unheard of and came out of it with a feeling of relief that they no longer had to hide.

All the members of the Saint Patrick's Day Planning committee resigned, and so far no one has volunteered for next year. The weekly meetings at O'Rileys still go on, but they are much more subdued now, and not once - since that meeting right after the event- has anyone mentioned what happened that day.


Blogger Michelle's Spell said...

I loved this post Tim, especially the line about feeling freer than anyone had in a long time. That's something I can relate to! Beautiful, sweet story.

10:43 AM  
Blogger tui said...


12:12 PM  

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