LONERGAN’S   WAKE


The band played with the ardor of a  group of Scotsmen attacking a free lunch. The bunting and posters were hung in a lavish array of red white and blue. The beer flowed like water and some few noses were already as red as fire hydrants. The crowd was animated and expectant.


From the podium, the speaker was finishing his introduction and bringing his oration to a blustery conclusion. Beyond the first few rows, no one could much hear him, but they nodded and clapped in the right places.


Sure, twas' the Devil himself that was among them. His smile was Arctic in its' warmth. The calculating rascal looked, to me,  like a great white shark deciding  upon whom  he would bite into next. His tones were warm enough, quiet like a rattler about to strike. It was the eyes that gave him away. They were dead, cold as and lifeless as stone.


Michael Riordan Hennessey, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District, held court effortlessly. Like most delusional paranoids, he imagined that the flock was spellbound before him. The quiet whisper of his banter  seeped slowly into their collective psyche. It was only the professional pols who were immune. From a life time of habit, they  focused  but the merest fragment of their attention on his words. Their main energies were spent surveying the gathering and determining the next recipient of their  charms. They cheered the loudest though, when he was finished, from long practice as drum beaters. They were as pilot fish, surrounding a shark and feeding off  the remains of the   plundered carcass.


We were gathered here to honor one of our own, James Patrick O'Connor. “Seamus” to his friends, he was a prince of a man, who  we  thought could help us along nicely. You had to keep your wits about you at these events. The line between a wake and a rally was a fine one. The major difference was that it was easier, at a wake, to work the principal honoree. Also, he couldn't deny how close of a friend and supporter you were or claimed to be. His inability to flee was also considered a plus. The rest was pretty much the same. Sometimes, we drank a little bit more at the wake and were kinder to the honoree', not always, but usually.


Tonight was no different. Himself, the grand  James Patrick O'Connor was again running for Mayor. Nothing warms the cockles of a supporters heart like thoughts of how the great man could help you after the election. To some, it was quantifiable. So much money, so much time, equaled a job at a certain level. The efforts of others grew geometrically, in their own recollection, within days of a victory.


The aura became one of the last train leaving the station. Everyone wanted to be on it. " Sure your Honor, I've got the grandest nephew who will work like the devil for you", began the plea . " Myself, I'm not in need of anything. Well, maybe a small job, with a decent rate of pay, of course, but the nephew, he's in need. Can you help us your honor?" And on it went.


Those petitioners who were successful, were usually  not happy either.  They imagined the payoff larger and sooner in coming. They were also resentful of the success of others. " Sure, the lad only hung a few signs and did little else, compared to ourselves ", would be the whisper. And on it went.


If you had a dark sense of humor, the characters could be the stuff of much enjoyment. Sometimes, the great man himself would be holding forth on a subject. He would turn to me  and with a wink, speak favorably of one lad or another. The admiring listeners would mumble their agreement and add what " a darlin' lad"  the subject was. Without missing a beat, his honor  in the next breath, would mention some grave failings  that the same lad possessed. The chorus instantly assented, with a " and sure, the lad is too fond of the barley.” More than a few minutes of this sent me ruefully on my way. His nibs, who was mightily amused, never let on what he really thought. He learned more from listening to the reactions of the Greek Chorus. Only the twinkle in his eye gave him away.


Tonight, however, the joke was on him. He was basking in  a  self satisfied  glow from the warmth of a  multitude of cheering  acolytes. He went on his way  that night, with grand thoughts of enthusiastic  and faithful admirers. We sighed with relief and dodged another bullet.


His nibs had given us twenty four hours to put on the rally. The faithful were invited, the hall decorated and the preparations laid. No one had bothered to check the date, however. It was a weekend heavy with First Communions and Graduations. These were important clan gatherings in an Irish Catholic Community like ours, not to be missed.

Twenty minutes before the Rally, the place was empty. A wake held during the Super Bowl would have generated more enthusiasm. Never at a loss, the lads fanned out across the area and emptied out every gin mill within a two mile radius.  The lure, to all who would listen, was  promises of free beer at the rally. His nibs, as was his custom, showed up an hour late. By that time, the place was packed with an enthusiastic, if red-eyed throng of supporters, cheering lustily  for the great man.


The gossip level was at fever pitch during these affairs. In small groups, throughout the hall, the knowing wink and the careful whisper conveyed some small secret or another.  More than likely, the information had already been published in the paper that week. It didn't matter, it was grist for the mill and fodder for the blowhards.


You could learn a lot at these shindigs, if you listened carefully to who was saying what. You also had to know who was related to whom and in what political camp they were currently housed. It was a  musical mosaic of Babel, that could play a recognizeable tune to  the discerning ear.


It is a never ending chorus that changes with the political winds. We used to call it the "Buffalo Shuffle", in "A  Weasel Minor.” The chorus sang it with vigor, and to be fair,  as much sincerity as those directing  the whole hot aired symphony.


A gauntlet of  earnest handshakes  and a  litany of  requests, accompanied my  slow and easy departure. Like wild beasts in the jungle, you knew enough  never to run,  show fear or hurt before the  watching eyes. Twas' another performance, scripted well and good. There would be many more  like it  in the never ending drama.


                                           -30-


  J.X.M

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