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St. Patrick's Day at Riley's

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With sincere apologies to, and selective quotations from, Finley Peter Dunne, creator of the immortal Mister Dooley, the Irish barkeep and political sage who first noted that politics ain't beanbag.

Francis X. Hennessey looked even more confused than usual as he came through the swinging doors of Riley's Pub and Hibernian Grill. ("Today's Special: Corned Beef and Cabbage." As it was every day, for Mr. Riley prided himself on the consistency of both his cuisine and politics.) Hennessey headed straight for the bar at the back -- as if he were late for an appointment. He would have taken off his coat if he'd had one, and plunked down a dollar if he'd had one of those, too. Instead, he raised a forefinger straight up to indicate his order: One Cold One.

The dapper if aging Mr. Riley calmly took the dishrag he usually wore draped over his left shoulder like a Scotsman's tartan, dusted off the free lunch, nodded sagely (he couldn't nod any other way, being a sage), and raised his own forefinger to point out the Past Due list taped to the barroom mirror. Hennessey's name led all the rest.

"I'm confused," Hennessey confessed.

"As if I'd ever seen you whin ye warn't," Mr. Riley replied.

"It's all this talk of sequestration," Hennessey said, "or is it defenestration or immigration or some such, with folks jumpin' off cliffs fiscal, physical or otherwise that's got me head spinnin'. What a donnybrook, lollypaloooza and general foofaraw and brouhaha. And here I thought th' prezydential illliction was over, but the Dimmycrats and Raypublicans are still debatin' the grreat issues iv the day in their statesmanlike way by thowin' th' dishes at each other. 'Tis worse thin me last family reunion."

"It'll be over soon enough," said Mr. Riley. "Whin they notice that th' grreat awful complete catastrophe and calamity and end iv th' wurrld ivrybody predicted has come and gone and not a blessed thing has changed. Maybe now we can all get back to th' usual nice quiet fistfights that give pollyticks their dignity."

"I'll dhrink to that," said Hennessey.

"Ye'd dhrink to annythin'," said Mr. Riley. "Ah, 'tis a grreat thing t'be on yer side iv th' bar, Hinnissy. Me, I pour me heart out into mugs and shot glasses, an' th' onny way I can come out even is by dilutin' the marchandise. 'Tis enough to dhrive a man to dhrink.

"Why, Misther Riley," said a shocked Hennessey. " 'Tis a sin t'be complainin' about annythin' today. Ye ought to be settin' 'em up fir the house and wavin' the shamrock-spangled banner, the grand old red-white-and-green! Don't ye know what day it is?"

"Sunday, I think," said Mr. Riley.

"Ye have heard heard of Saint Patrick's Day, haven't ye?" said Hennessey, "or did word of 'im nivir reach County Mayo?"

"I wouldn't be puttin' on airs if I was from Donegal, " said Mr. Riley, eyeing the shillelagh on the wall and wondering if it might could do with a little practice. "Iv course I know who Saint Patrick is -- the Frenchman who came to Ireland and left her so poor not even a snake could live there."

"Joke about annythin' you like," said Hennessey, looking unamused. "But not about Saint Paddy! Or else...."

"Or else what? Ye'll take yer bad debts elsewhere? I've been sarvin' free dhrinks to th' likes of ye fir nigh onto twanty years now, and I've nawthin' to show fir it but the bad company. The closest I've ivir come to seein' any green is on the free lunch."

"Well," said Hennessey, "thank th' Lord fir the color of it annyway, as Mrs. Muldoon said when she heard her sister-in-law had the gangrene."

"The problem with Saint Paddy's Day," said Mr. Riley, "is payple like you, Hinnissy, who feel a solemn oblygation t'be happy once a year. But ye can't ordher somewan t'be happy, Hinnissy. Happiness isn't a command but a condytion. It usually arrives whin ye're caught up in sawmthin' else, like a game of poker or good old-fashioned, leave-your-weapons-at-th'-door Irish free-for-all and general brawl. Happiness is a side dish, Hinnissy, th' cabbage and not th' corned beef.

"I can't raymember," Mr. Riley continued, "whither 'twas George Bernard Shaw or Kelly th' streetcar conductor who said it: Th' Irish have an abidin' sense of tragedy which sustains us through transient periods of joy. 'Tis a great cawmfort, th' Irish sense iv tragedy. It takes your mind off yer troubles. You should cultivate it, Hinnissy, 'tis an art. Happiness is only a craft, like makin' sweaters or writin' fir the noospapers. Takes no real talent a-tall."

"All right," said Hennessey. "Be sad then. Show the worrld what ye think of yer hurtage. Be as gloomy as a Protystant Sunday. Save yer sillybratin' fir th' Queen's Birthday fir all I care."

"Wait a blessed minute," said Mr. Riley, pouring two shots of the house's best. "Don't be tellin' an Irishman whin t'be happy or sad. Not on his own premises. Not on th' day when th' whole wurrld is Irish -- or wisht it was. Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself undistarbed be the facts. Today ye'll have to dhrink op free of charge. Erin go Bragh!"

"And E Plurribus Unum to you," toasted Hennessey in return. "Which I think means: From many to Irish!"

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