I'm not Irish and I never will be, but I don't see why this should preclude me from having fun on a holiday that seems to focus only on being drunk and giving new meat a try. I couldn't tell you the meaning of St. Patrick's Day; from what I gather, it's a day when people of Irish descent see green, drink green and color their hair green with wacky Halloween hair spray. Sounds like my kinda occasion, but alas, there ain't an ounce of Irish blood in my family. I won't let that stop me from getting into the spirit of things, and neither should you. Today's article examines some of the finer points of Saint Patties' Day -- points that anyone can enjoy. Hey look a lepreeeechaun.

One St. Patrick's Day treat the Irish can't keep to themselves is McDonald's "Shamrock Shake" -- a "triple-thick" green-dyed milkshake mostly composed of enough ice cream to kill an adult bear. "Triple-thick" could best be described as "wood-like;" people who ordered this stuff had to expend so much energy digging and pulling at that spoon, it didn't really matter if they gained 40 pounds from eating it since at least half of 'em were muscle. More importantly, it's all so pretty and green. Pistachio, almost. Pistachio without the nuts.

Originating at McDonald's restaurants in Ireland, Shamrock Shakes were eventually brought here for the St. Patrick's Day season. Far fewer restaurants participate in the promotion these days, so they're pretty rare in some cities. Rare milkshakes. The best is when people head in to McD's the day after St. Patties, trying to order one. The staff considers it a crime. Only an idiot would dare ask such a thing. And you're disgusting for wanting a triple-thick milkshake anyway. Yeah, so forget the shakes -- the best part of the deal was the McDonaldland character charged with promoting the dyed clay: "Uncle O'Grimacey."

More elusive than Mac Tonight and twice as obscene as Mayor McCheese, Uncle O'Grimacey was the rarely seen relative of regular purple Grimace. Following suit, Uncy is a gumdrop-shaped mass of Hell, updated with fuzzy green fur and a vest that looks like a converted potholder made by poor families who couldn't afford clothes. And his walking stick looks like a big piece of shit.

I'm sure he's still out there in some form somewhere, but I haven't seen O'Grimacey...ever, really. I remember the professor who invented Chicken McNuggets, I remember when Scrooge used those very same McNuggets to overcome a lifelong habit of misery, I remember when Birdie gave Ronald eighteen different haircuts in a fruitless endeavor since he ended up keeping the original hairdo at the end...but Uncle O'Grimacey? That golden goose. What a special creature. What a perfect solution for my proposed McDonaldland chess set. They didn't want the opposing teams using the same characters, and now my Grimace bishop finally has his anchor. This is going to make me rich.

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It's me Lottery's blasted Pot O' Gold! Dunno if these are exclusive to my area, but I doubt it -- if you don't have these particular scratch-off Lotto cards, chances are good that you have something similar. Something green, with lots of clovers. Under unforeseen circumstances, players can win insane amounts of cash as the Leprechaun leads anyone who matches up their numbers correctly to the end of the rainbow. Where ye find me lucky Pot O' Gold ye rats. I bought five tickets at two bucks each, won five bucks, and reassured myself that losing only 50% of your cash on the Lotto is better than what normally happens. Then I set the cards on fire in protest of their not being a single Leprechaun caricature on any part of them. They died.

This green beer thing is pretty amazing. Usually serving to mask the bars' shittiest beers under the guise of holiday tradition, there's few in the world who can resist the tinted wonder. The taste remains the same, but for whatever reason, drinking green beer is an infinitely more rewarding experience than drinking the regular kind. Maybe it's because you could aim your dick at a Roger Rabbit doll and reenact that scene where Christopher Lloyd's big gun shoots "Dip" at him after drinking three or four.

So traditional and synonymous with the holiday has green beer become, you can even find the stuff in supermarkets sold by the bigger bottlers. The biggest! If socializing isn't your strong suit and you're not really down for hitting the pubs on St. Patrick's, just use regular food coloring to turn your own stock green. Nowhere shall man be denied his green beer, Irish or not. The home-based solution is particularly attractive, for on a whim you could sweeten the pot with blue, red or purple beers as well. Saint Patrick really had his finger on the pulse of society's increasingly broadening tastes. You could say he's lucky.


Now, St. Patrick's Day is big, but it isn't exactly a huge holiday. Companies aren't as willing to recklessly abandon their products' familiar forms in favor of something more holiday-themed. Our example today: Hostess SnoBalls. There's a version of those things for every holiday from Christmas to Halloween and beyond -- but nothing for St. Patties'. This gives the seedy underbelly of the junk food biz to creep up and try to usurp a piece of the market with shameless takeoffs on popular products, posing as "special holiday treats." These "Shamrock Snacks," by Mrs. Freshley's, wouldn't be more convincingly similar to Hostess SnoBalls unless they grew mouths and told me they were Hostess SnoBalls. Mrs. Freshley is a bitch.

If you peel off the layer of coconut-drenched marshmallow and discard the hidden cupcake, the skin works well as grass tarp in dinosaur dioramas. Plus, they stick to just about anything you throw 'em at.


Hmmm. You know that face Donkey Kong makes when you spray that insecticide up his ass in the third game? Don't the Shamrock Snacks look exactly like his eyes? Sort of that half-crocked mix of revulsion, confusion and just being an ape? I bet Mrs. Freshley intended for things to be this way.

Yet, in the end, there can only be one true champion of St. Patrick's Day. Someone who personifies everything that is just and good about the holiday. Many would consider the generic leprechaun a fine candidate, but times are changing and those sick trolls are becoming cliche. We've already seen a strong contender in Uncle O'Grimacey, but I doubt the Irish would want to pit their holiday against Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny using a McDonaldland reject with a walking stick that doesn't reach the floor. In an almost gift-from-God way, the real icon of St. Patties is an Ireland-bred Carvel cake known as...


COOKIE O' PUSS
You remember Cookie Puss, don't you? Carvel's cake from outer space has long been a staple of the company -- an oddly shaped fellow with ice cream saucer eyes, nose cone and a hidden layer of cookie crust deep below his folds of tube-pressed vanilla. A freak, basically. Around St. Patrick's Day, Carvel dusts off an old favorite and casts "Cookie O' Puss" out upon society: he's just the same as his cousin, just greener. Green sprinkles, green candy eyes, nostrils -- if this is what it takes to be Irish, we're all just one bad batch of clams away from polka night at the Red Cheek Inn.

Cookie O' Puss is the holiday's true patron saint, and instead of paying your respects by whining about not getting the day off from work, you just eat a lot of cake. I'm pretty sure those green icing frills on the sides are supposed to be Cookie O' Puss' arms -- nearly degenerated over the course of his evolutionary process because really, cakes can't hold anything.


Then there's that whole bit with the dyed flowers. "Mom, I bought these because I love you, and because you're Irish." Different florists show varied degrees of detail with their selection of green flowers -- some seem downright natural, others are merely drenched with sticky stainy food coloring and pawned off to the highest Irish bidder. The flowers sometimes end up as festive corsages for the three people within the culture who indulge in something classier than drinking beer all day on Saint Patties'.

I shouldn't neglect to mention the wonderful lot of novelty four-leaf clovers, usually sold near the cash registers at card stores. Earth's impulse item, I guess. Personally, I see no problems sticking with the less expensive tradition of finding a regular clover and tearing at the leaves to make it look four-leafed. Don't act like you've never done it.

Perhaps the simplest of all St. Patrick's pleasures is one that's available year round -- General Mills' "Lucky Charms." Irish to the core, Lucky's collection of oat shapes and marshmallows make for an easy way to feel in tune with the season.


Actually, up until about a week ago, I was even seeing a special version of the cereal specifically meant for St. Patrick's Day. Because we live in a perverse culture, General Mills couldn't bring themselves to literally call it what it was -- a St. Patties' concession -- instead going for the cheap cop-out "Special Edition" title. Don't let words fool you. The box is giant and green, and the usual marshmallows have been replaced by green clovers in all shapes and sizes. It's obviously a St. Patrick's glory. Even if you can't locate the all-clover batch, regular Lucky Charms will do just fine. In the latest variety in a long string of odd promotional gimmicks for the brand, Lucky Charms now arrives with marshmallows that reveal secret symbols when placed in milk...


Wow, that's a lot of marshmallows. Like 400 at least. Another strong point of Saint Patrick's? On top of all the public drunkenness stuff, you can get away with dressing awfully silly. Sprayed-green hair, weird necklaces, T-shirts with terrible slogans -- I once saw an Irishman carrying around a little pennant reading "Green N' Proud," a fact that would've been more the focus of ridicule if the guy wasn't throwing up at a street corner at the time. If Cookie O' Puss was allowed to join in the fashion fun, I'd bank on a "Eat Me, I'm Irish" bib. Sadly, Cookie O' Puss isn't allowed to wear anything. The old woman at Carvel assured me of this.

The greatest accessory of holiday celebrators? Green hats!


See? Green hats. Sometimes cardboard, sometimes plastic -- there's even the end-all-be-all...styrofoam green hats. The hats are a great way to prove your boundless loyalty to everything Irish, or if the Joker was your favorite Batman villain and you mistakenly thought he wore green hats. He didn't, so I hope you're Irish.

We've only just scratched the surface in this article -- there's plenty of reasons for non-Irish folk not to be completely apathetic towards Saint Patrick's Day. Green beer, cake, shakes, Lotto cards -- it's practically Christmas-level fun. I urge everyone to experience at least one of the things shown above during this rarely exploited holiday season. It's not like we have anything better to do.


One last thing -- if you're living in a city that doesn't carry McDonald's Shamrock Shakes, fear not. You can make 'em yourself. They won't come in a limited edition cup and you won't hear anybody behind you debating between "#2 or #3?!!," but the option is still there.

You'll need: two cups of vanilla ice cream, a cup of milk, a dash of mint extract and some green food coloring. Mix everything in a blender, shake it up shake it up, and viola! You've created your own Shamrock Shake. I didn't have any ice cream on hand, so to demonstrate, I had to do the unthinkable. I killed Cookie O' Puss. Much like people swear they hear the crabs screaming as they're boiled, I'm absolutely positive the thing was crying while being slaughtered. I thought he'd be okay with it. I didn't cut anywhere near his eyes.


They never come out looking as pretty as the McDonald's version, even if your homemade Shamrock Shake contains the spiritual essence of St. Patties' ice cream icon. I'm just glad to have found another use for the blender besides rock-splitting contests with friends meant to determine which of us bought the best blender. I never win.

-- Matt (3/16/04)
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