Friday, February 20, 2009
As for subject matter, I thought that the nation’s attempt to solve its economic problems with a good stiff application of the Peter Principle would provide no end of grist for the psychic mills, but the former junior Senator from Illinois has done nothing so far except propose a national diet of treyf, which, as a Democrat, is hardly newsworthy. Democrats, as if the populace needed any reminding, have not had an original idea since 1937 and even that one was wrong. At that time, John Maynard Keynes was still alive and already famous for telling people that they could spend their way out of a depression and that most politicians were in the ideological thrall of some dead economist. Now that Keynes is the dead economist of his bon mot, he would be happy to know that his ideas are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the Democratic Party, who regard Keynes and his ideas as the perfect intellectual cover for their long-standing practice of bribing the electorate to vote for them with the electorate’s own money.
But I fear the current travails of the former junior Senator from Illinois or of the tax troubles of his minions or even the ongoing attempts of Minnesota’s Democratic establishment to foist a man only slightly more qualified than Incitatus upon the United States Senate is simply not opening the sluices here. So let us speak of something else. Specifically, let us speak of dreams. Not my dreams for this our Great Republic, which center largely on finding the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, a task the GOP ought to outsource to the Dalai Lama and his compatriots, given their expertise in such matters, but rather a dream I had the other night, the meaning of which is eluding me.
I don’t usually remember my dreams; they slip away almost as soon as I awaken, leaving not a wrack of wribs behinds; but this dream has stayed with me. For one thing, the dream occurred in a church, which even in my sleep I know is a bad sign; it means a nightmare is on the way. Like a good many Irish Catholic boys who have drifted away from the strict observance of the Faith with time, I know that deep in my psyche there is a level where I know that I will have to pay for my sinful ways and that the Lord sends me these nightmares as a way of returning me to the bosom of Holy Mother Church. These nightmares, which look like the cinematographer who did The Godfather movies was moonlighting, all take place in extremely Baroque churches complete with hooded Spanish Inquisitors who have never heard of the comfy chair chanting Gregorically as they prepare to pop my arms and legs out of their sockets with what looks like a very complicated clothesline. At least, I think it was a clothesline; that would explain all the laundry hanging from the thing. So even in sleep mode, I knew I was in for trouble, a lot of trouble.
And yet. Yes, even as I prepared for the worst, I knew that something was different this time. First of all, the deeply Baroque cathedrals where I suffer for my waking mind’s casual disregard for the dogmas of the Church wasn’t. Instead of the Baroque, I got the parish church in the Bronx where I received my baptism, my first Communion, and my Confirmation. Now, this church was big and gloomy—at least I thought so when I was a kid—but Baroque it was not. And then there was the pizza.
Non-Catholics may not believe this, but Catholics do not, as a rule, eat a lot of pizza in church. Strange but true. Pizza plays no part in the Mass, which is not as strange as it sounds—chocolate ice cream, salt-free potato salad, and orange Jello with chunks of pineapple in it play no part in the Mass either; and so the sight of me and several of my classmates eating pizza while we stood in line near the confessionals hinted at an outcome somewhat different than the usual, and by now somewhat hackneyed floor opening up beneath my feet and me, like Faustus, repentant too late, hurled downwards flaming in adamantine chains and penal fire into the darkness visible of hell. I think that may have been the oregano talking.
Then there was the wedding. This, strange as it may seem, was not at all out of the ordinary. I can remember any number of times when my classmates and me lined up at the confessionals along the church’s walls while a wedding went on in the middle of the church. Our presence always seemed to confuse the ushers, who usually wanted to know if we were with the bride or the groom’s family, and when we told them neither one, that we were here to go to Confession, would then try to shoo us out of the church. This never worked; there was always a nun nearby ready to disabuse any power-drunk usher of the notion that the life of the Church was going to come to a halt just because someone they knew was getting married that day.
And finally, there was the congregation. They were black. I realize that some people might regard my bringing up the racial composition of the congregation as something shocking these days; African Americans have as much right to pray in a Roman Catholic church in one of my dreams as anyone else. I bring up the matter up because at that time I attended this particular church that church was still a bastion of Irish Catholicism. There were many Italians and some Poles and even the occasional Puerto Rican or two, but the church did not accommodate itself to them. This church was of, for, and by the Irish, who turned out in droves every Sunday in their best clothes and often nursing (ethnic cheap shot alert!) their best hangovers to praise God and damn the English and all their nefarious deeds. It’s not like black people couldn’t pray at our church, but as most African Americans are Protestants, why would they want to? But in my dream, there they were. Even in my slumbering state, a phrase that sounds like it ought to be the state nickname of North Dakota, I could tell that this was a bit out of the ordinary.
The groom arrived in full male marriage rig, including the top hat and morning dress, I think it’s called. He went down the aisle slowly, shaking hands and saying hello to everyone like he was running for office. He took his time getting to the front of the church, and when he did, his pockets looked like the congregation had stuffed them with ballots and campaign contributions. I don’t remember much about him; he looked like the plastic groom on the top of a wedding cake, to plagiarize Alice Roosevelt Longworth, which is something I haven’t done in a while and neither have you, I’ll wager, and because I don’t think he had a face, but that may be my memory playing tricks on me.
Everyone stood up then, and the bride and her father came arm in arm down the center aisle as the organist played Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer’s Night Dream; not a piece I would have chosen, of course, but then there’s no accounting for tastes. The bride looked as happy as any bride can look in a wedding dress made from white heavy duty plastic garbage bags, but the dress did fit her very nicely, even to my admittedly inexpert eye. They reached the altar, where the bride kissed her father and then stood next to the groom. The minister came out of the sacristy, something you don’t see every day in a Catholic church, and then began the service with those well-known words, ‘dearly beloved,’ as mandated in the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of the Church of England, something no good Catholic schoolboy expects to hear in his parish church.
I was deeply confused at this turn of events and I looked all around, trying to reassure myself that I was in the right place. I was: along the walls were the Stations of the Cross exactly where they’d always been, the stained glass windows were the same as I remembered them, and, above the altar, suspended by chains, was a cross bearing the crucified body of Our Lord and Savior. As I stood there, trying my utmost to trudge through the soggy dreamtime swamplands of cognitive dissonance while stuffing my face with my fifth slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza, something happened at the altar. There was a collective intake of breath from the shocked congregation. I stopped chewing—I knew something out of the ordinary had just happened—and started to pay attention to the proceedings. The bride had, in what can only be called an unexpected turn of events, just said no. I could see that the minister seemed a bit flustered by this somewhat unorthodox response, so he repeated the vows about having and holding and so on and so forth, and the bride said she’d heard him the first time and the answer was still no, not now, not ever with this chump.
That was the last I heard from the bride; the church exploded in a sudden roar of shouts, insults, threats, recriminations, crying, and a couple of ushers beating each other senseless with the collection plates. The parents of the unhappy couple sat immobile in the front seat as the chaos swirled around them and the organist played “This is the end,’ by the Doors. The cacophony grew louder and louder and the church shook with the roar until I feared that the stained glass windows would come tumbling down on the shrieking crowd below and the walls would crack with the vibration. The roar reached a hurricane-like crescendo and only ceased when Jesus shouted down from the Cross, “would you people shut up down there, dammit? I’m trying to get some sleep here!”
At that moment, I woke up, the dream having reached a completely unsustainable level of bizarrerie, even for an unconscious mind. This was annoying to the nth degree, I think; I really wanted to know what was going to happen next and the pizza was good, even if the sausages could have used a little more fennel. I was hoping to get another slice.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Still, the success with the Seeger picture has led to other things, as things are wont to do. After seeing the photograph, a local organic hamburger shop (no, I am not kidding) wanted some of my pictures of our happy little burg to hang on their walls. I emailed them some sample black and white pictures and they were enthusiastic about getting some 11 x 14’s of them up on their walls. I must admit that I was mildly surprised at this; urban blight looks good in black and white, to be sure, but I am still failing to see the connection between economically distressed Rust Belt areas and selling organic hamburgers. Perhaps seeing urban decay sets off an atavistic demand for meat that tastes the way it used to before refrigeration—perhaps some psychologist can explain this phenomenon—me, I just don’t know.
And what I found especially interesting was this: their hamburgers are 100% organic, they are 100% local, they are 100% grass fed, and they are 100% humane. I was not sure what a humane hamburger might be; is humanity a special topping, along with the onion and pickle, and will it cost you extra to have your burger with some humanity on it or will the cops, spoilsports that they are, let you get away with something like that? When I enquired, the young man behind the counter told me that humane in this case meant that the butcher killed the cattle with as little pain as possibly and by the most humane methods available.
If our young beef pusher meant to ease my mind, he failed. One may quibble over words like humane or painless in regard to the cow, but to the cow, the difference is largely semantic—they still wind up ground up and cooked between a bun with a side order of French fries and a frosty cold Coke. And what do they mean by humane? Did the butcher or his assistant, in an attempt to ease the cow’s mind about its imminent demise, dress up like a pair of milkmaids and creep up on the cow from behind and then shoot it a couple of times in the head when it wasn’t looking? And once they shot the cow, did they leave the gun and take the cannolis? Our young beefslinger had no answer for any of these important questions and neither did I; I didn’t even stay for a burger. Once they get my pictures up on the wall, I must go back there and see how they taste. They’re organic, after all; they must be good, right?