Out of collegial regard for John McLoughlin I attended the roast in his honor, or dishonor, the other night at the Desmond, and I don’t know when I’ve felt so out of place. I believe I was the only person there who was not Irish Catholic from Troy.
Hanging out with McLoughlin on a story, like at a trial, for example, with time to kill, is an affair that I always enjoy, but this roast in a banquet room at the Desmond, attended by the Troy Irish mafia, along with some honorary members from Albany, was something else.
Right at the outset I got the false impression that poor Johnny Mac was dead, and I was about to bow my head and dab my eyes, when it dawned on me they were just “piping him in,” as the saying goes, meaning he was being accompanied into the banquet room by a bagpiper producing the fingernail-on-a-blackboard skirl that I always associate with police funerals.
“Alas, alas,” I was in the middle of thinking, but he was perfectly alive, lurching his bulk forward to take his oratorical medicine. I stood and applauded with the rest, though I wanted to use my hands to cover my ears.
From there it only got worse. There were not only priests in attendance, but bishops — Howard Hubbard and David Ball — to mark McLoughlin’s retirement from Channel 10, where he was so long a stalwart. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a cardinal put in an appearance, and I must say my respect for McLoughlin diminished accordingly.
The priests prayed at the beginning and they prayed at the end of this grueling event, as if it were a Mass or maybe a political convention, and after the final devotional words had been delivered in the form of a benediction and I thought all was complete and I’d be able to get out of there, a tall gent with a resonant baritone voice came theatrically striding through the crowd, toward Johnny, singing “Danny Boy.” Danny Boy! That slurpy, embarrassing Pablum of Irish sentimentality! “The pipes are calling from glen to glen,” and all the rest. I was about to let out an appreciative laugh, figuring it was a sardonic part of the roast, but they meant it. The crowd of hundreds stood in reverent silence and soaked it in.
Steve Coffey, the lawyer, was there to recall that he had grown up with McLoughlin not just in Troy but specifically in Griswold Heights.
The same with Father Doyle of the Albany Diocese, who noted, “Everyone on the East Side of Troy is related. They can’t prove any crime there, because everyone has the same DNA,” which was supposed to be a joke, though clearly he was onto something.
In this crowd Paul Vandenburgh, the radio gabber who is a native of North Troy and is not obviously Irish, was an outsider, though he did his manful best as one of the masters of ceremonies.
Bishop Hubbard, also from Troy, noted that McLoughlin had an uncle who was a priest in the Albany Diocese and both he, Hubbard, and the priest-uncle had graduated from LaSalle Institute, a Catholic school in Troy.
You couldn’t have found a more ingrown group if you had attended a quilting bee in an Appalachian hollow a century ago.
I personally hail from Saratoga Springs and work in Schenectady, and I felt like a visitor from a lost planet, especially when I reflected that I rarely attend vespers.
The roasters were either television people, politicians or priests, which is to say, people who have in common a love for hearing themselves talk, so you can imagine how the program went on and on.
Doug Myers, one of the hosts, kept making the hurry-it-up sign that is standard in show biz, waving his hand over his head in a circular motion, but to no effect. One especially talkative pair, whom I will not identify so as not to incur ill will, actually had to be hooked off the stage.
You may have noticed that since ending his career at Channel 10, McLoughlin has not only taken a part-time gig at Channel 13 but has also begun writing a weekly column for this newspaper, in space that I have come to regard as my own, so I am on my guard.
One can’t be too careful in this business. One thinks one has friends, but it’s best to keep an eye cocked over one’s shoulder, and that’s what I am doing.
You might suppose that a fellow who insists his retirement dinner benefit Albany’s Center for Disability Services would be an honorable type who would not try to horn in on someone else’s territory, but a person who has two bishops at such a dinner is a person who needs to be watched, in my opinion.
I left the Desmond plotting my next move.