On St. Patrick’s Day in my elementary school you were supposed to wear something green. If you didn’t, everyone had the right to pinch you. So far as I can remember, this was the only opportunity to pinch another boy and not get pounded.
But there was a caveat: if it turned out you were in fact wearing green, you got to punch the pincher. And hard. They had to stand there and take it. This is the fruit of a thousand years of cultural evolution.
For a while, it was my strategy to wear some small, inconspicuous green thing, like socks. Green bait. Then I could spring the trap and get a free punch. While I thought I was awfully clever, what usually happened is that I forgot it was St. Patrick’s Day altogether and arrived unprepared, in my brown corduroys and hot pink Alice Cooper shirt.
The paradigm shifted the day I pinched Brian Cooper, the school bully. He turned to me flatly, his gap-teeth slowly revealing themselves as he grinned. “Green eyes,” he said, sounding like he was eating sandpaper. His green eyes narrowed. He punched my shoulder so hard that it bumped my ear. Time slowed and the world went silent as I thought, I have green eyes.
No more worries. No more having to remember what day it is. I had been handed a genetic free pass on this Irish holiday.
Ironically, my green eyes come from my Scottish heritage. Scots and Irish, they’ll pick a fight over what green is.
So this magic superpower came right before junior high, wherein suddenly all kids are too cool for fun. They reply to everything with “Whatever.” Too cool for pinching, for sure. I’d lurk in wait like a panther. Lurk. Wait.
When I was a kid I was baffled at how adults often couldn’t tell you how old they were. “Give me a sec.” You’d see their eyes roll around while they air-counted. Meanwhile I knew it was 37-1/2 days until my next birthday, when I’d finally be seven. They’re blasé like that about St. Patrick’s Day too. On March 17 you offer “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” and they’re likely to say, “Oh yeah? Is it? I guess it is. Huh.” Or they know only to go drink green beer with the other old folks, and if they get pinched they figure it’s just because they’re in a bar and that’s what you put up with, or thanks to #MeToo they don’t put up with it and call the bouncer, who is not impressed by my Green Eyes defense.
The rest of the St. Patrick’s traditions left me cold: the boiled food, the green glitter outfits. Even the story about “wear green because leprechauns can’t see green and if they see you they like to pinch” is a little weak, especially in comparison to the next holiday, where Jesus gets stabbed and hung and buried and dies and then comes back from the dead and pushes away a ten ton rock using only his mind, then flies around and can appear or disappear at will. OK, leprechaun.
Kid or not, didn’t we all want to fly? Or be invisible? Or bring pets back from the dead? The closest I got to a superpower was having green eyes, and I discovered it one adolescence too late. Getting punched? I didn’t need St. Patrick for that.