“All the world’s a stage,
“And all the men and women merely players;
“They have their exits and their entrances;
“And one man in his time plays many parts ... ”
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
W. Shakespeare, A.D. 1623
On and around St. Patrick’s Day, many of us choose to play the part of Irishmen.
In Bartow, St. Pat’s Day — last Sunday — is second only to Halloween on the Calendar of Lesser Holidays.
Bartow’s St. Patrick’s Day Unparade — an appropriate name as befits the super-casual nature of the event — is testimony to the concept that when the object is fun and foolishness, rules and organization are about as essential as bicycles in a goldfish bowl.
The event was introduced by Jim O’Connor, one of Bartow’s most fun-loving city managers, and Bill Goddard, a city commissioner. It dates back 25 years or so, give or take 15 years.
The first parade, in which I was honored to participate, consisted, if memory serves, of one police car; one fire truck; one beauty queen (the Rose of Tralee) riding in a green convertible; a green pig named either Patty O’Pig or Paddy O’Pigg (historians disagree on the spelling); and a dozen or so friends of O’Connor and Goddard, who became O’Goddard for the day.
Though few in number, the participants outnumbered the spectators, who, without the wailing sirens of emergency vehicles, probably would have been unaware of the parade.
The Rose of Tralee was selected at the Rose of Tralee Scholarship Pageant, chosen the night before the parade at Davis Brothers Lounge. The amount of the scholarship was as vague as the rules of the pageant.
Patty/Paddy was dyed green, and her manifest destiny was to become guest of honor at a July 3 barbecue honoring a succession of congressmen: Andy Ireland, Charles Canady and Adam Putnam.
Eventually, Lance Romance joined the retinue, offering an equal opportunity romantic counterpoint to the Rose of Tralee.
Patty/Paddy was dropped from the line-up after an anonymous caller threatened a disaster in downtown Bartow one year if Ms. O’Pig/O’Pigg remained in the line-up. It wasn’t worth the chance.
The arrival of the Citrus Cinderellas added a new note of glamour, exceeding even that provided by the Rose, with a junior auxiliary known as the Citrus Cinderella Wannabes.
The Cinderellas, with their outfits of orange, green and yellow — citrus colors — including fishnet stockings, brought about the need for a security presence in the person of the Homeland Security Force.
This organization, which preceded the national force of the same name, consisted of most of the able-bodied men from the Homeland community south of Bartow, and those few outsiders who were honored to be deputized by them. One year, I was accorded the privilege.
In the past few years, a group of man’s best friends joined the event in the Mutt Strut, and a Golf Cart Brigade from Floral Lakes added itself to the motorized units.
A troupe of 15 to 20 belly dancers has added a new measure of talent to the event.
In recent years, Jennifer Daniels has been parade marshal — probably because nobody else wanted the job — and as last Friday’s parade formed up at Nye Jordan Park, she strode around barking orders about the sequence of motorized and marching participants.
Nobody paid any attention to her, which neither surprised nor distressed her.
The parade started 20 minutes or so after the scheduled time of 5:30, possibly a new record for punctuality.
About one block into the parade, the debutantes riding on the Big Arsh Potato Queens float beckoned to me, inviting me to join them in the one unoccupied chair on their cargo trailer. I bravely declined, mainly because the trailer was moving too fast for me to jump on.
One block later, gasping for breath, I accepted their invitation as the vehicle came to a brief halt, and helped fling the traditional moon pies and left-over Mardi Gras beads to the throngs and multitudes who gathered by twos and threes along the parade route.
The Big Arsh Potato Queens welcomed me to their midst, costumed, as they were, in outfits that ranged from a serpent to the new Pope (“I’m Catholic, and it’s an exciting time,”) and declaring me to be either one of their own, or their mascot, or the Big Arsh Potato King.
As Shakespeare predicted, I have played many roles; this was a new one.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. “Big Arsh?” The official explanation is that it was a Suthun pronunciation of “Big Irish.” That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.)