There are any number of tonsorial establishments here in our happy little burg I could go to, but I’ve been going to German’s Happy Haircut and Hand Gun Emporium for the past thirty years and I will continue to go so long as German keeps the place open. German offers all manner of hair styling for men, for those that like that sort of thing, but most of his customers, like me, are just there for the regular haircut or for the ammunition. As the name of his establishment indicates, German also sells firearms and ammunition for said firearms. He has samples of his wares on his wall, and so it is that next to pictures of the newest in men’s tonsorial fashions one can also get a look of every manner of small arm from a small two-shot derringer designed for the women’s trade to a .44 magnum and a wide variety of shotguns, rifles, and targets with the head of Fidel Castro set squarely in the bull’s-eye. As you might imagine, German loathes the current leader of Cuba, hates him, in fact, with every fiber of his considerable being, hates him with a passion that may not make him happy but always gives him something to talk about with the customers. In life, el maximo lider de la revolucion may be a lousy pendejo, to use one of German’s tamer epithets for the man, but as a conversational icebreaker Fidel is second to none.
On those few occasions where he does not publicly loathe Castro and all his minions, German saves his ire for people who call him German, as in an inhabitant of the nation that has inflicted oompah music on an unsuspecting world for the past century or so, instead of German, pronounced Hair Mon; he is not and never has been German—German is a rabid Cuban nationalist to the very depths of his being. His other pet peeve is with people calling him Jerry. These are usually young people, but young or not, he finds Jerry intensely insulting for any number of reasons. You’d think that some people would think twice about annoying a man with enough firepower in his store to start his own medium intensity conflict anywhere in the Third World, but apparently it’s been done, and by braver men than I am.
So when I sat down in the chair and saw German scowling, I thought I knew what was coming. “So what’s he done now,” I asked in a somewhat jocular tone; I don’t have to specify who he is; everyone in the barbershop knows who he is.
German muttered something that sounded vaguely like idiot gringos, but could have been the preamble to the United States Constitution—I just couldn’t be sure. I asked, “que pasa, Don German,” it being one of his more flattering beliefs that all of his customers speak perfect Spanish, even those of us whose entire Spanish language vocabulary comes from John Wayne movies. It’s one of the reasons I go to German’s in the first place, along with the jarring juxtaposition of ammunition boxes mixed in with the bottles of shampoo and hair conditioner; I like being a smooth bilingual sophisticate, even if it is just for the time it takes to get a haircut. Sometimes it’s hard to leave the sophisticated charm of Havana in the 1950’s for the somewhat pedestrian life available here in our happy little burg.
“The idiot gringos,” he repeated, “ they will not renew his passport!”
“That’s terrible,” I replied, and then, realizing that I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about, I asked, “Whose visa?”
“Father Jose y Maria, the idiots will not renew his visa,” German announced in an aggrieved tone of voice I am sure he was saving to denounce some fresh outrage by the leader of Cuba, and then he quickly filled me in on the situation.
Father Jose y Maria is a Mexican priest who has been here at Our Lady of Perpetual Suckers, a name given our parish by some mean-spirited wag commenting on the vast amount of money the more elderly parishioners drop at the bingo table every week, for the past four years or so. He is a very popular priest and so the twelve o’clock Spanish Mass is full of people who want to see him say Mass and listen to his homilies, which, I am told, are very funny while at the same time making the moral point all homilies should make. The problem we have here, though, is that Father Jose y Maria came to us to minister to Mexicans, and while there are some Mexican families here in our happy little burg, most of the area’s Mexican population lives up in the county seat or in the fetid slough of urban despond directly across the river from our happy little burg. We do have a large Spanish speaking population here, but they tend to be Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Colombians; I am not sure how German wound up here, so far from the rest of the Cuban diaspora, but I assume that any man with a good trade and a truly prodigious amount of firepower at his disposal can live wherever he feels like living.
In any case, the archdiocese, in its institutional wisdom, decided that since they brought Father Jose y Maria to this country to minister to Mexicans, that’s what he ought to be doing, and so transferred him to a church across the river in the aforementioned fetid slough of urban despond. Before he took up his duties there, though, the archdiocese allowed him to go visit his family in Morelia, a large city somewhere in central Mexico. Father Jose y Maria went back to the warm bosom of his family for a two-week visit; that was about a month ago. For reasons no one quite understands now, the United States government pulled the good padre’s visa, so now our parish has no Spanish speaking priest, the Mexicans on the other side of the river have no priest at all, and Father Jose y Maria, whom the archdiocese brought here to help fill a shortage of Spanish speaking priests, is still in Mexico, where, I presume, there is a plentitude of priests who are both Mexican and Spanish speaking. All of this was news to me; as you can probably tell, I don’t get to Mass as often as God, the Catholic Church, and my mother would like me to. German was more than happy to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of parish comings and goings.
“And then,” German chortled as he sprayed mousse into my hair, despite my asking him not to—I really hate that stuff; my brother is allergic to it and whenever German puts mousse on my hair, I can feel the flesh on my scalp start to crawl like a husband caught in flagrante delicto with his secretary; I usually wash the mousse out at work with some dishwashing fluid, which gets rid of the stuff entirely and gives my hair a nice lemony smell. “And then, Mr. Moran, he calls the father in Mexico and tells him to just go to the border—Mr. Moran, he will come and get the padre and bring him back to his new church and who will be the wiser? A good joke, verdad?”
“Very good,” I agreed. Mike Moran is a former mayor of our happy little burg; he is actually a former everything here. I don’t think there is any civil office available from dogcatcher to tax assessor he hasn’t held at one time or another. Right now he is the president of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, where he is the main sponsor and chief fan for the chapter’s baseball team. You can usually find him down in the park during the baseball season, cheering his boys on and loudly telling the umpires to perform anatomically impossible acts not at all consistent with Father McGivney’s original vision of the Knights of Columbus.
This, of course, is what America is all about these days—getting Mexicans to do work that Americans should do for themselves. I know that there are powerful arguments for this sort of thing. Americans, we read in the newspapers, no longer want to do the dirty job of the clergy. Where once every Irish immigrant family would be proud to have a son a priest, today almost no Catholic family wants to see their sons enter the priesthood. American Catholic men have no interest in joining holy orders in today’s society, and so the parishes must import priests from Mexico and Africa. This is the plain truth of the matter and wishing it were some other way will not help us face up to the problem. The problem here is that where once the government regulated the number of Mexican priests coming into the country, today the demands of Big Religion means that the political establishment in this country now turns a blind eye to the never-ending stream of Mexican clerics flooding across the southern border.
This has led to scenes once unimaginable in this country. At street corners across the nation, huddled groups of Mexican priests stand and drink their coffee, waiting for the gringos to come and hire them for a Mass here, a Confirmation there, and occasionally, if they get very lucky, a wedding. There are few sights more shocking to the Catholic conscience than watching these good men gathering around a pickup truck trying to get some gringo patron who probably hasn’t been to Mass in years to hire them to do a baptism for fifty dollars for the afternoon and lunch.
I don’t know if it will come to that for Father Jose y Maria; my guess is that the same government that wants to protect the citizenry from Irish nuns, tall blondes from Connecticut, and Medal of Honor winners is trying to protect us from the menace of Mexican Catholicism, and is trying to keep as many of these priests as they can out of the country as a result. After all, la virgen de Guadalupe looks innocent enough, and for all we know she may well be innocent, but who really knows for sure? Better safe than sorry, that’s the government’s motto, or would be, if they could pull their heads out of their rumps for more than ten minutes at a time.