Sunday, December 28, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

So Long, Dad

His family, my family, has been in this country since before it was a country. The Clements are older than the Declaration of Independence; older than the mass migration of the 18th century. We are as old as the soil that fills the land from the Appalachian Plateau to the Till Plains.

My father was born in the middle of central Ohio farmland, a life so simple and rural that in the summer he rarely wore shoes, where he worked a variety of jobs aiding his family as a dutiful eldest child of his generation would, even helping to raise his sister and brother. He was a spectacular student, the first Clements to go to college, as equally adept at mathematics, his favorite subject, as he was in grammar and usage. [He was the proofreader for my dissertation in theology.]

He served as a sergeant in the US Army during the Korean War, then as a high school and college teacher.  He showed me how to frame a house and replace a roof.  He took us with him those summers when he worked on his graduate degree and, in 1966 when he won a Jennings Scholarship, withdrew me from school so that I could accompany him to Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York.  When he consulted with NASA, he took me with him to see a computer that was large enough to fill a room.

My grandfather, a carpenter, once told me how proud he was that his son was addressed at work as "Mr. Clements".

He showed remarkable patience with his son, even during the obstreperous years. When the son told him he wanted to be a teacher, he smiled. When the son told him he wanted to be a priest, he smiled some more.

He prayed with more sincerity than anyone I have ever known. I think he read a book a day and, when he wasn't doing that, would work out complicated mathematical puzzles. I have served four schools, a college, and a university, and I can objectively state that he is the best math teacher that I've ever seen.

His favorite hymn was #412, I think mainly because of this verse:

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band, loud cheering people,
sing to the Lord a new song!

While I didn't inherit his facility with equations, I did receive his sense of humor. In times easy and hard, that's made all of the difference.

Not Three French Hens

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend, All. It Was Nice To See You In Church This Week.

B. Traven

"The creative person should have no other biography than his works."

There is a place of ephemeral legend in Mexico, known in Spanish as "El Camino", that doesn't exist on any map, save those written in the hearts of those who yearn.  It refers to the experience of outsiders who come to the southern states to find...well, either something or nothing, depending on their desire, and become lost within the quest.  It has claimed many people, men and women, through the years.  There have been explorers, of course, who have worked their way through the jungles and beaches of Mexico; there have been poets, artists, and any number of musicians.  J. Frank Dobie, Ambrose Bierce, William Cullen Bryant, William Burroughs, Jack London, Katherine Anne Porter, Edna Ferber, Jack Kerouac, Hart Crane, and Ken Kesey offhand come to mind as just a few of the gringos and gringas who have, one way or another, hiked the mythical El Camino.  Personally, I've known a number of surfers who have looked for oblivion in the Meso-American waves.

During the 1920's and 30's a series of riveting novels, set mostly in Mexico and mostly about the spiritual experience of El Camino, had been best-sellers in Europe.  Their author, known only as B. Traven, had remained aloof from any sort of publicity.  He lived somewhere in Mexico, no one really knew where, and wrote in German, with his publisher translating his works into the various languages of his continental audience.

In 1946, the filmmaker John Huston began his walk of El Camino.  Having spent several years as the ne'er do well son of a recognizable and bankable stage and movie actor, Huston had been a boxer, drinker, flunky, go-fer, writer, and general dogsbody in the film industry until, to quote from Steely Dan, "he crossed a diamond with a pearl" and wound up writing the screenplay for and directing "The Maltese Falcon", a critical and box office hit that earned serious money for his studio, made a leading man out of Humphrey Bogart, and created the entire genre of film noir.

The only problem with being a success in a world of transient fame was that one was only popular until the next big movie came along.  This is why Huston was sitting in a humid café in Mexico City waiting to meet a man who did not exist.

Having lived and traveled freely in Europe and familiar with the popularity of Traven's work, Huston was particularly interested in Traven's 1927 novel, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, especially as it was the first and only Traven book translated and marketed in the United States at that time. That the novel was an American best-seller and a terrific story convinced Huston that it should be translated to the screen.  Before he could begin to do so, however, the whole world was distracted with World War II.

When Huston returned to civilian life after directing documentaries for the War Department, he again returned to his Sierra Madre project.  His first item of business was receiving the author's permission to use his novel, something that was trickier than it ordinarily would have been since no one was really sure of Traven's whereabouts or true identity.  Still, Huston was not one to be daunted and he began a near Quixotic quest to contact the author and receive his permission.

So it was that Huston found himself waiting for Traven to join him for a drink or three.  However, instead of Traven, a man introducing himself as Hal Croves turned up, explaining that he was serving as Traven's representative and had the power of attorney necessary to complete their contractual negotiations.  While Huston initially suspected the Croves was Traven, he was willing to indulge him in order to complete the film.  The meeting went well and the two met again in Acupulco to finalize the deal and appoint Croves as a "technical adviser" to the film.  In 1947 the filming began on location in Mexico with Croves a familiar personality on the set.  Once filming was completed, Hal Croves disappeared.

Tim Holt, Humphrey Bogart, and Walter Huston; and maybe Traven in the tent, who knows?

Of course, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart and Huston's father, Walter, was a huge success; nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1948 and earning Oscars for Best Screenplay Adaptation and Best Director for John Huston.  With the popularity of the film and the reignited interest in the novels of Traven,  reporters became interested in the elusive author.

However, the only connection to Traven was Hal Croves, who had not been seen for over a year.  A particularly intrepid reporter for a Mexican newspaper began a search for Croves and, instead, found a fellow in Acapulco named Traven Torsvan, a recluse called "El Gringo" by his neighbors.  His interest piqued, the reporter discovered through immigration paperwork that Torsvan was born in Chicago and had come to Mexico in 1930, eventually establishing residency.  Using questionable techniques, mainly bribery and petty theft, the reporter established that El Gringo was receiving royalty checks in the name of "B. Traven" along with correspondence from other authors.  When confronted by reporters, Torsvan, like Croves, disappeared.

A decade later, after interest in Traven and his true identity had cooled, the mysterious Hal Croves, in absentia from the human race since 1947, reappeared to serve as Traven's official representative in negotiation with European filmmakers interested in emulating Huston's success with Treasure.  He would even attend film festivals in Europe, only to be peppered by reporters with questions about his true identity.

Croves would die in 1969.  His widow, who had also been his secretary, would then reveal the true story of B. Traven.  Senora Croves told the press that her late husband had, in fact, been a German anarchist named Ret Marut [aka Otto Feige].  In Germany, her husband published a successful novel, The Death Ship, and edited an anti-government magazine for which he was eventually arrested and sentenced to death.  He managed to escape to Mexico, altering his identity to that of an American émigré.

During his years south of the border, in addition to writing over a dozen novels and short story anthologies, Feige/Marut/Torsvan/Croves/Traven also managed to work as a photographer for some expeditions into the Mexican jungles [from which the above photo, maybe of Traven, comes], as a translator and guide, and as an inn-keeper.  It was a busy life for him, but since he may have been five or so people, perhaps not that unusual.

There is now an entire industry devoted to claiming to know Traven's real identity and disparaging other theories.  It's rather entertaining but largely meaningless.  As Traven noted, for a true artist it's about the work, not the biography.  His story is yet another tale of those, like his characters, who travel El Camino in search of something that they never entirely find and leave behind a life more full of questions than answers.

B. Traven's novels are now all available in English and most are still in print; some are even available in e-book format.

Traven.  Maybe.

Not Two Turtle Doves

Monday, December 22, 2014

A reminder, especially as Christmas is a marvelous time to display the range and capabilities of our church organ [and organist], a variety of preludes will be offered before the 10pm Christmas Eve liturgy beginning at 9:45pm. It's a great way prayerfully to prepare for the Incarnation.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Liturgies Of Christmas

Embedded image permalink

Christmas Eve:

5:00 pm  Celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the occasion of the Feast of the Incarnation with Carols and Hymns.

10:00 pm  Festal Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, also with Carols and Hymns.

Christmas Day:

10:00 am  A Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, especially for those who prefer a quieter, meditative experience on the Feast of the Incarnation.

Dear Politicians: Step Away From American Religion, Please

Springfield official at Hanukkah menorah lighting: 'Jesus is the reason for the season'

Friday, December 19, 2014

Everyone's An Energy Scold These Days

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

Jacques Piccard

Piccard on the right with a naval officer, having just done something no one had ever done.

".... And as we were settling this final fathom, I saw a wonderful thing. Lying on the bottom just beneath us was some type of flatfish, resembling a sole, about 1 foot long and 6 inches across. Even as I saw him, his two round eyes on top of his head spied us - a monster of steel - invading his silent realm. Eyes? Why should he have eyes? Merely to see phosphorescence? The floodlight that bathed him was the first real light ever to enter this hadal realm. Here, in an instant, was the answer that biologists had asked for the decades. Could life exist in the greatest depths of the ocean? It could! And not only that, here apparently, was a true, bony teleost fish, not a primitive ray or elasmobranch. Yes, a highly evolved vertebrate, in time’s arrow very close to man himself. Slowly, extremely slowly, this flatfish swam away. Moving along the bottom, partly in the ooze and partly in the water, he disappeared into his night. Slowly too - perhaps everything is slow at the bottom of the sea - Walsh and I shook hands."

When I was nine years old and with my family on vacation in south Jersey, we took a day trip up north to Atlantic City.  This was in the mid-1960's and pre-casino A.C. was filled with gloriously wondrous activities, especially on the famous Steel Pier.  For example, for a quarter [pricey, I know] one could race slot cars on an enormous track with a number of other competitors, see a live musical act [The Supremes minus Diana Ross; Davey Jones minus The Monkees, Pat Boone plus his wife and daughters], a horse plunge into the ocean from a diving board with a helmet-clad bathing beauty on his back, or, for a nickel, watch a chicken in a lighted box dance "The Twist" to a Chuck Berry 45 while electric current pulsed through a wire under its feet.  It really was nothing but non-stop amazement.

My favorite activity was also the most expensive, naturally.  At the side of the Steel Pier was a blue and white diving bell affixed to the superstructure.  For a dollar, we could stand in a long line, climb aboard, and sink like a rock 22 feet under the surface.  The view was ordinary, of course, unless you're excited by discarded cans, carrion crabs, and muddy sand.  But still, how many of us really got to travel in an actual submersible?  Fortunately, it would also return to the surface.  It was so amazing, none of my friends back in Ohio believed it existed.

One of the reasons that I was so determined to spend the equivalent of ten comic books worth of money on this ride is that I had written a report for my favorite elementary school teacher just a few months before on Jacques Piccard and his bathyscaphe Trieste, which had descended to unheard of depths in the Pacific Ocean.  The descriptions of the adventure were still fresh in my imagination when I took that two-story plunge into the Atlantic.

The Trieste was merely one of many devices created by a remarkable Swiss family reaching back into the previous century.  While it was used to plumb the depths of the sea, the bathyscaphe was actually based on the high altitude experiments of Auguste Piccard, Jacques' father and a physicist at the University of Brussels in the 1930's who decided to test his theories using a new type of pressurized balloon gondola of his own invention that would allow its occupants to reach high enough into the atmosphere that Piccard could study cosmic rays.  Auguste would make 27 balloon journeys, eventually reaching the record height of over 27,000 feet, or one-third of the way into space.

During Auguste's work improving the pressurized balloon gondola, now with Jacques as his assistant, they realized that with some minor re-engineering the balloon gondola could be made into a submersible cabin.  Using the same physics employed in gauging the buoyancy of a high-altitude balloon, the Piccards fashioned a pressurized sphere attached to a larger cylinder filled with heavy viscous liquids and weighted with simple iron shot.  The first version of the bathyscaphe [from the Greek for "deep vessel"] was ready for its shakedown cruise in 1939 when world events delayed its development.  After the war, the experiment fell to Jacques to complete, as his father now considered himself too old for such extracurricular adventures.

Jacques was born in 1922, had studied engineering, physics, and economics at the University of Geneva [where his father taught], served in the Free French Army during the war, and was working as a lecturer upon the war's conclusion.  As he became more involved with his father's projects, he would leave teaching and dedicate his days to perfecting what would become the third and most famous of the Piccard bathyscaphes, the Trieste.

As you can see, unlike a submarine, it was not self-propelled; able only to go either down or, thankfully, up.

In 1953, the Trieste managed to descend to a record depth of over 10,000 feet [nearly 2 miles] into the Mediterranean Sea near Capri, but that wasn't enough for Jacques, who was now being recognized in the European press as a "hydronaut".  He knew that the Trieste could go much, much deeper. However, such a bold venture required capital and, in the 1950's, the best place to find that revenue was in the United States.

Piccard went to the U.S. Navy with an offer to use the Trieste in their deep-submergence experiments. In those earlier, wilder days at the Defense Department, instead of simply renting the Trieste, the Navy bought it outright and appointed Piccard as its pilot/consultant.  Training a Navy lieutenant, Don Walsh, in its operation, Piccard convinced the powers-that-be into making a bold attempt to sink the Trieste into the deepest known portion of the undersea floor.

On January 23, 1960, Piccard and Walsh began a five hour descent into the Marianas Trench in the southern Pacific.  Their target, a valley labeled on undersea maps as the "Challenger Deep", was seven miles below, a depth that exerted 4348 pounds per square inch on the hull.

[As a helpful example to understand how much pressure this is, a stream of water leaking from a pinhole in the submersible's hull would, before the entire vehicle imploded, have the force necessary to cut through flesh and bone as efficiently as a high-intensity laser.]

Not exactly roomy, either.

While the goal of the mission was to prove the engineering superiority of the Trieste, a secondary, and rather staggering, result was also achieved.  Until that time, it was assumed by marine biologists that no sea life existed at those depths due to the extreme pressure.  But, as Piccard watched in fascination out his small, thick window, even the ocean deep held a rich variety of God's creatures.

After twenty minutes on the sea floor, Piccard noted that micro-fissures were beginning to develop in the Trieste's port window, so it was prudently decided to get the heck out of there.  [He had been warned by "experts" not to include a window in the design, but c'mon....]  It took three more hours to surface and, by the time they broke through the waves near their Navy escort ship, the entire study of ichthyology had been re-appraised.  The only problem, said the scientific community, was that the Trieste was not equipped to take samples.  Piccard decided to address this problem directly.

Piccard designed a replacement to the bathyscaphe, a mesoscaphe that was capable not only of collecting samples and traveling independently at a specified depth, but could also carry a larger crew. The first, the Auguste Piccard, was used to boost awareness of submersible technology and raise funds by ferrying paying passengers under the waters of Lake Geneva during the Swiss Exhibition of 1964.  A second mesoscaphe was created under contract with Grumman Aircraft and named the Ben Franklin.

This one had enough room for The Professor and Mary Ann, too.

In 1969, carrying a crew of six, the Franklin would drift with the Gulf Stream for over four weeks. During that time, Piccard and the crew would study the current and also the psychological effects on half a dozen men living in tight quarters and engaged in dangerous activity. This latter study was of particular importance to NASA's Apollo space program.  After being launched off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida, the Franklin would next surface 1500 miles away off of the coast of Nova Scotia.

[Interesting note: Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck of the RMS Titanic and director of the Mystic Aquarium, would make his first underwater voyage as a crew member on board the Franklin.]

Piccard would continue his research until his death in 2008, winning a number of accolades and honors along the way.  While originally disputed by the scientific community, the existence and deep-sea life was eventually proven and Piccard's observations ratified.  His early research into ocean pollution and the results of coastal development served as the foundation for the scientific, rather than political, understanding of planetary changes.  In so doing, he would found La Fondation pour l'étude des Mers et des Lacs, an organization that works with many of the surf and beach conservation organizations that this writer holds dear.  Continuing in the tradition of his family, Jacques' son, Bertrand Piccard, completed the first non-stop circumnavigation in a balloon in 1999.

Jacques Piccard's two books, Seven Miles Down and The Sun Beneath The Sea are no longer in print but can be located for very reasonable prices through used book dealers.  Libraries always seem to have copies of them about, too.

And what happened to the diving bell from the Steel Pier, you ask?  It is currently beached and on display at the Atlantic City Aquarium.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Well, Yes And No

Was Holy Communion really celebrated on the moon?

It was received, but it wasn't celebrated.

The Irony In The Midst Of All Of This Is Remarkable

Apparently we are supposed to regard the cancellation of a dumb movie as The Worst Thing Ever, since it involves surrender to an ugly regime and its evil ways. The great and the good are now exhorting President Obama to do something about this outrage and teach North Korea to behave. The hideousness of Pyongyang is no more “news” than learning that Hollywood is full of idiots. What exactly the moral outrage contingent wants Washington, DC. to do about Sony’s prostration before the prophets of juche is far from clear.

It’s hard not to notice that Sony was a big fan of exposing secrets before it was theirs that got outed. Only a few months ago, they paid millions for the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s hagiographic book about the Snowden Operation, the largest leak of classified information in intelligence history. One wonders if Sony execs have reconsidered their position now that they, too, have been hacked.

For years I've heard how courageous and transgressive the creative people in film are.  Certainly, there have been times when movies pushed the status quo and even confronted violence and evil [yes, I'm permitted to use that word] in ways both satirically humorous and pithily grim.  It's been a long time since films like that have been made.

So, here's your petard, Hollywood, and here's the hoist.

Sometimes There Is A Very Practical Reason For Studying The Past

Why the Colosseum hasn't collapsed: Roman concrete used 'secret' ingredient to stand the test of time - and now engineers want to copy it

After Seventeen Years, Still A Bestseller

Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack

An Alternative Take

Why people are NOT leaving church

Archaeological News

Ancient rock adds evidence of King David’s existence

This Is Just A Perfect Surfing Photo, Isn't It?

This Just Made The Headline Writer's Day

Driver arrested for marijuana possession after chase across Bong Bridge

[For those who don't know, headlines are not usually written by the reporter, unless it is a terribly small paper.  Editors are usually the ones to write the headlines; in some cases, as with the New York Post or New York Daily News, there is someone who's sole responsibility is headline composition. That's how classics such as "Headless Body in Topless Bar" get composed.]

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Chautauqua Institute Falls Victim To The Curse Of "Improvement"

The Amphitheater is the spiritual center of the Institution renowned as a contemplative haven for the exchange of ideas, pursuit of moral high ground and concern for common good. Chautauqua is a Disneyland for the high-minded, a theme park for introspection. Its leafy lakeside grounds draw summer residents from around the world. With serenity-inducing streets lined with Victorian cottages, the Institution is a picture-book retreat where Ozzie and Harriet might have summered, had they been blessed with intellectual curiosity.

So it’s startling that the latest frontal assault on a structural icon occurs not in some Sun Belt burg or suburban expanse. Locked in the demolition crosshairs is the circa-1893 Chautauqua Amphitheater. Plans have been made and needed funds nearly raised to demolish the quaintly iconic structure where President Franklin Roosevelt spoke and Marian Anderson sang. In its place would come an amenities-laden “replica.”

I spent a very pleasant week at the Institute back in the 1980's when I served as chaplain of their Episcopal House.

College Administrator Of The Week

After an administrator sent out an e-mail to employees telling them "religious-themed" decorations -- which he said included the peppermint confections -- could not be placed in common areas on campus, students went into an uproar. And they got their Christmas wish.

In this world of social media and increasingly muscular Christianity, college administrators are going to have to trim their irrational anti-Christian tendencies.

Oh, wait.  It was just a "misunderstanding".  Right.


“Yes, capitano?” Renzo said. I knew he was sick of sharing a closet with Father Dunasetta and had his eye on the Kvikne wardrobe. We both understood that the Kvikne was not fine and true, that it was mainly particleboard with a fiberboard back, but I said nothing of this. We would go to IKEA.

No. Next Question, Please.


Today Is The Anniversary Of Larry Doby's Birth

You may not know of Doby or care about baseball, but he was one of the first black players in the major leagues.  In 1948, the year after baseball's integration, Doby and his fellow Cleveland Indians won the World Series.

The photo above evokes many things, doesn't it?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ladies And Gentlemen, Her Royal HIGHNESS

Magic Mushrooms Found in Queen Elizabeth's Garden at Buckingham Palace

Happy Friday, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

Patti Smith

To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It's freedom.

I despair of contemporary popular music.  I find it grossly artificial.  If I were of a harsher nature I would also note that it is prosaic, witless, phony, over-produced, derivative, and ugly. Fortunately, I'm not of a harsher nature.

Because I make guitars and basses, I find myself often in the company of young musicians.  These men and women are of no interest to music producers or recording companies as they often aren't all that telegenic or vapid looking.  They just happen to be spectacular musicians and composers with stellar stage presence.  In other words, ehh. 

Which is why I love live music in small clubs; the places that used be so smoky [before the hideous busy-body blue noses in government decided we were too dim to make decisions for ourselves] that, in my playing days, green stripes would be left along my fingertips from the accumulated cigarette residue clinging to the metal strings of my bass.  Those were the places where real music was viscerally rendered and immediate with the musicians and the crowd reaching a gestalt of emotion, encouraging one another to heights of lyricism...yeah, that's how it works.  In those quiet moments between sets or after a gig, by way of encouragement, I like to tell the younger musicians what it was like in the 1970's in Cleveland and New York, when the unlikeliest rock star ever was the toast of the New Wave scene.

I imagine anyone who has ever lived in New York City has felt that their era in the city was one of unmatched creativity in the music and arts communities. In my day, New Wave music was claiming the stages in the nightclubs, including groups such as The Ramones, Blondie, The B-52's, and The Smiths [not to mention the groups for which I played: The Zen Maniacs, The 98 Decibel Freaks, and Head Full of Zombie], who would influence music in the decades to follow.

In the verbal arts, "performance poetry" came to the fore.  A clear descendant of the Beat Poetry of the 1950's that was performed in nightclubs while backed by a jazz combo, the 1970's and 80's version found its home on the same stages as the New Wave groups, often opening for the musical acts.  It was inevitable that New Wave music and performance poetry would collide into one, glorious presentation. When that happened, it was spectacularly rendered in the person of Patti Smith.

Smith was an unlikely artist to be on any recording company's A & R roster, even in those days.  She was not conventionally attractive, her demeanor was sullen, her style extremely "artsy", her stage costume a man's white t-shirt or dress shirt matched with over-sized tuxedo pants, and her lyrics angry and obtuse.  She was, in a word, great.

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1947 and moved to Philadelphia and then north New Jersey.  Upon graduation from high school, she worked for a time in a factory, birthed an out-of-wedlock child whom she surrendered for adoption, and eventually moved to New York City to work in a bookstore.  It was there that she met and began a relationship with the provocative photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. As one would expect of two intense artists living in squalor at the Chelsea Hotel, their relationship was tumultuous; just as naturally, it produced tremendous creativity from the two of them.

Smith was, without question, the most interdisciplinary of the artists produced by this age.  She wrote articles for the venerable music magazine, Creem, acted in and co-wrote plays with the playwright/actor Sam Shepherd, performed with a guitar on the streets and in the subways, and was a member of the St. Mark's Poetry Project.  It was with that latter organization that she crystallized her reputation as the "Godmother of Punk".

While not its originator, Smith became the most evocative character in the movement, mainly as she had a stage presence that captured the post-Vietnam period's spiritual ennui and confusion [what then-President Jimmy Carter would call "malaise"].  As I have heard said of certain stage and movie stars, one could not take eyes off of her.  Even with a personality and appearance that repelled many of the recording execs [I'm trying to imagine how she would be regarded in the current, Taylor Swift-ed music world], Clive Davis of Arista Records gave her a contract.  The resulting album, Horses, with its cover photo by Mapplethorpe, would take the indie rock world by storm.

With it's blending of original verse with rock standards or free-style jamming [something hip-hop composers would copy in subsequent decades] Horses would rise to #47 on the Billboard charts and, eventually, be ranked #44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Subsequent albums would follow and from that point forward Smith would be a sought-after performer/composer as the New York sound was refined.  She would co-write "Because the Night" with Bruce Springsteen and be offered, and refuse, the position of lead singer with Blue Oyster Cult.

Other albums would follow; Smith would marry and have children.  She would suffer loss as close friends would die; she would be severely injured in a fall from a stage.  She would withdraw from public life and then, at the urging of her friend, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, make a triumphant return.  Even now, as Punk and New Wave are mostly subjects in musicology classes, at the age of 67 she is still in demand as a poet and performer.

In 2005, Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.  At the award ceremony she delivered an impromptu lecture on the influence of Rimbaud on her poetry that was so well-received that her award was upgraded on the spot.  The next year, she was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in Cleveland!] and, the year after that, was the final performer at the venerable East Village club CBGB on the occasion of its closing.  Her 3 and 1/2 hour concert covered most of her greatest hits interspersed with her poetry.  At 1 a.m., she sang her song "Elegie", read a list of the deceased among the Punk/New Wave world, and brought a portion of musical history to a literal close.

All of her music is still available in a variety of formats; her poetry still in print.  Most prominent among her written work is her memoir Just Kids, which won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2010.

At Christmas, she will be performing in Rome at the special request of her most prominent fan, Pope Francis.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Makes It Hard To Sympathize With Their Cause When They Do Dumb Things Like This

This Greenpeace Stunt May Have Irreparably Damaged Peru's Nazca Site

Of course, these days environmental groups seem to exist in their own bubble, grossly unaware of much of science, history, religion, culture, or...well, the environment.

Monday, December 8, 2014

An Editorial Note

I want to thank those who know of my situation for your supportive prayers.  Yesterday I read the Litany at the Time of Death for my mother and with Dad in Mom's very comfortable and private room in the same hospital in which I had my tonsils removed when I was a child.

As we live in a heavily bureaucratized society, no one is allowed to depart this life without the appropriate paperwork completed and fees paid to a remarkable collection of petty authoritarians, so I'm going to be busy with all of that for the remainder of the month.  Not to mention that this is a mere fortnight before Christmas season, so I've got much to organize.

This means the luxury of spending my early mornings posting to The Coracle will be replaced by much more mundane activities. However, there will continue to be a person-of-the-week on Friday mornings and, as a tip of the hat to some very ancient days when I worked at a radio station, some music video later that same day.

We'll return in the new year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Friday my mother was told that her cancer was beyond treatment and that she could expect, at best, another month to live. Her response was, "Good, no more physical therapy." 

I don't think the oncologist will ever recover from that.  I'm wondering if this is a new Kubler-Ross stage.

Friday, December 5, 2014

No Place Like...Well, You Know

Can I tell you how much I love Euclid, Ohio, my hometown?  The fact that this sign exists and is proudly placed on a main street says it all.  It makes me want to hit the batting cage and play some Frankie Yankovic.

The icing on this cake of absurdity?  Both halls of fame share space with city hall.

It's Friday. Enjoy The Weekend. We'll See You In Church.

Ernie Anderson

"I don't know if anyone realized at the time that they were about to hand Ernie a $4 million toy."

I realize that I can be fairly esoteric with some of my Friday choices, but this post may be found by readers to be the apex. It draws together so many disparate elements, from TV meteorology to Flash Gordon serials to really, really, bad monster movies to forbidden jazz music to exploding model cars to crime statistics to Peyton Place to Great Lakes pollution..., really I think I just shorted my brain.

So, where to begin?  For those younger than I there was a time, over fifty years ago, when local television was still wonderfully amateurish with the late evenings dominated by re-runs of rarely seen movies.  Sometimes these movies would have a host who would play some lottery-type game during the commercial breaks or offer a brief news or farm report.  At the end of the broadcast day, there would be a prayer offered by a local clergyman and then a patriotic short featuring a stirring rendition of the National Anthem with scenes of fighter jets and warships at full cry.

[Two or three times in the mid-'80's I offered the "sign-off" prayer on a TV station in Erie, Pennsylvania.  While it was recorded on Thursday afternoons, it would appear at 3 or 4 in the morning when the station had exhausted its supply of ancient films.  While no longer done, it is one of my fond memories from my early years of ordained ministry.]

One of the most charming ideas developed during these days was the notion of a late-night horror movie host.  Well, actually hostess, as in 1954 KABC-TV in Los Angeles experimented with having a rather attractive young actress, billed as "Vampira" and dolled up in appropriate make-up, host the Saturday evening viewing of a monster/horror/science-fiction movie of the week.  During commercial breaks, she would engage in light banter, jocular observations of the LA scene, and sardonic commentary on the films.  While novel and innovative, The Vampira Show only lasted one year.

[If this seems familiar, LA television would again try the concept in the early 1980's with a better actress, named "Elvira", who had a more prominently featured decolletage.  She would become the most famous "horror host" in TV history.]

Still, what didn't work in LA turned out to work rather well in Philadelphia ["Zacherley"], Indianapolis ["Selwin"], New Orleans ["Morgus the Magnificent"], and Chicago ["Marvin"].  The trend was admirably aided when Universal Films released for television their considerable vault of horror movies, from the sublime [Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man] to the...well, less-than-sublime [The Mad Ghoul, Weird Woman, The Frozen Ghost, and Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy].  Suddenly, there was a bounty of material and, in response, the "horror host" movement covered the nation from coast-to-coast.

Cleveland, the perpetual underdog in all things athletic, political, and corporate, was not to be outdone. In 1963, WJW-TV, the CBS outlet, hired a jack-of-all-trades to create a persona to host their Friday night Shock Theater.  Ernie Anderson was an announcer, disk jockey, commercial pitchman, weatherman, and failed talk show host.  He would also perform in nightclubs as part of a comedy duo with Tim Conway, who would later find fame as a member of Carol Burnett's television ensemble and in a variety of movie and TV roles.  Anderson and Conway were mostly famous in Cleveland for their wonderfully loopy, ad-libbed commercials for a local bakery.  The ratings for their ads were often higher than those of the shows the bakery helped to fund.

So, since he was under contract to them anyway as an announcer and weatherman, WJW invited Anderson to make a little more income in live Friday night TV.  Thus, Shock Theater was born and, with it, its new host, a sloppy, goofy, fright wig-wearing, beatnik by the name of...Ghoulardi.  We were never the same afterwards.

WJW probably should have done some due diligence with their hire, however,   If so, they would have learned that Anderson was a notorious free thinker, not something really prized in local TV in those days, and a fan of both the edgy TV innovator Ernie Kovacs and the organ driven jazz music of Cleveland's demi-monde.  As quoted above, Anderson's assistant, a young TV director named Chuck Shadowski, who would one day inherit the mantle of movie host, realized before the station management that they now all lived in the world according to Ghoulardi.

So, after the new Shock Theater theme song, the Rivington's "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" [come back at 5pm for that], from a blacked out set, under-lit and smoking a cigarette while using the exaggerated gestures of a genuinely disturbed individual, Ghoulardi made his debut on January 13, 1963.  By the end of his run just three short years later, Ghoulardi [no one called it Shock Theater after the first few episodes] would become the most popular show in the Cleveland market and, according to the police departments in the area, the reason that crime statistics dropped instead of rose every Friday night.  For his younger viewers, such as this writer, the show would be re-run on Saturday afternoons.

A few things one could always count on with Ghoulardi:

1.  The movie would be terrible, although I did have some favorites like The Giant Behemoth and Invasion of the Saucer Men.

2.  The terribleness would be aided vastly by Ghoulardi superimposing himself onto the screen to caper about with the monsters, monster-hunters, or victims.  This also included overdubbing the dialogue with absurd dialect from other sources or with verses from obscure pop or blues songs.

3.  A lovingly crafted model car would be submitted by a young viewer to be displayed on the air and then summarily blown to bits by Ghoulardi using a common firecracker.

4.  The weekly episode of Parma Place [a parody of Peyton Place, a prime-time soap opera of the era; Parma was the part of Cleveland with the highest population of Poles and Polish-Americans] would be offered during the middle portion of the movie, bringing viewers up to date with the life of a Lake Erie muckraker [literally, a guy who raked the muck off the top of the lake water].

5.  So called "black music" [really, just early soul music and Cleveland-style jazz] would be played, the stuff that was not heard on any radio station in the city in those days.  Otherwise, polka music, mostly by Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks, would fill the bumpers between movie and commercials.

6.  Before the movie, an episode from the lost serial Flash Gordon, starring Buster Crabbe, would be shown.  That was always my favorite part.

7.  Ghoulardi would riff on local news and topics, in doing so coining such terms as "Turn Blue", "Cool It with the Boom-Booms", and "You Purple Knif!" [Knif was "fink" spelled backwards, as the latter term was considered too vulgar to be said on TV in those days].  None of them really made sense, of course, which just added to their splendor when sharing them with elementary school classmates.

8.  He would say or do something that would get him in trouble with the censors, station management, or police.

Ghoulardi's popularity grew to the extent that he formed his own basketball team to raise money for charities by playing teachers from local schools [including my dad and his colleagues] and sported a line of milkshakes and sandwich sauces named for him at the local Big Boy restaurants.  It really was a remarkable three years.

All good things must come to an end, unfortunately.  Ernie Anderson came to the attention of the suits at ABC corporate headquarters in Los Angeles and he was lured away to the be the long-time narrator for the network's prime time shows ["Tonight on The Love Boat...."].  We really missed him, although his acolytes, guys named Big Chuck, Hoolihan, Little John, and The Ghoul would attempt to fill his role over the next twenty years with greater or lesser success.

His hold on Clevelanders of my generation is strong; even comedian Drew Carey would often be seen sporting a vintage Ghoulardi t-shirt on his eponymous sitcom.  [This writer owns two such shirts, by the way.]  Also, Ernie's son, Wes Anderson, would extend his father's unusual vision and become the director/writer of such films as The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Looking back, I miss how much fun unscripted television was and how entertaining a nimble, lively, and eclectic mind could be when matched with "the cool medium".  Also, it was because of Anderson that I first heard and learned to love the Cleveland jazz sound, not to mention the mad, square funkiness of...yes, polka music.

Anderson had a long career with ABC corporate and became a fixture among the B-listers of Hollywood.  He would die of lung cancer at the age of 73 in 1997.  A book about his three years dominating Cleveland television, Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV's Wildest Ride, is still in print and popular; and each year Ohio's Ghoulardifest claims new fans during its weekend devoted to bad horror movies and just plain, American silliness.

Below are, in order, "Who Stole the Keeshka?*" by the Yanks, which was the theme song of Parma Place, and a selection of some smooth, Hammond B3 jazz in the Cleveland style.  The opening cadences of "Keeshka" still cause me to involuntarily smile.



*Keeshka is a type of Polish sausage.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I will be traveling on Thursday and dislike airports, teeny plane seats, and the handsy weirdos of the TSA so much that I carry a simple bag and no electronic devices with me save for my ancient flip phone.  This means no updates to The Coracle save for the regular Friday person-of-the-week [a prescient choice since I'm traveling to Cleveland; you'll see what I mean when you read it] and the evening "drive-time" music selection.

We'll start up again next week after my return.  If I haven't said so in awhile, thanks to those 300+ readers [including 5 or 6 from my parish] who regularly check out this weblog and send along interesting commentary.

Archaeological News

LONDON — Scientists say there is “overwhelming evidence” that a skeleton found under a parking lot is that of England’s King Richard III, but their DNA testing also has raised questions about the nobility of some of his royal successors.

Please, It Is Neither A Pie Nor A Casserole; It's A Savory Pudding

In what is the most quintessentially British display of anger we’ve seen in a long while, a petition has emerged urging the Government to criminalise the act of ‘describing a casserole with a pastry lid as a pie’.

I Can't Keep Track Of All These New Wedding Traditions

Bride hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, groom and best man charged for brawl after wild wedding

Now Here's A Man Who Respects The Season Of Advent

Pa. Man Fires Rifle At Neighbor Hanging Christmas Lights

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Before Being Killed, Children Told ISIS: ‘No, We Love Jesus’

Or You Could Just Let Them Play "Tag"

Mindfulness helps students cope with stress, anxiety

"Mindfulness" is the current rage in schools and corporations. It nicely combines the American need for watered-down spirituality and the long con that is the lucrative "self-help" movement. Given the substantial budget that is being granted what is, in effect, sitting doing nothing in a darkened room while some grifter mouths a pastiche of Buddha-esque slogans, I have to admire it from afar.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Finding Wooden Implements Almost Never Happens

Stone Age axe discovered complete with its WOODEN handle: 5,500-year-old tool may have been left as a ritual offering

Drive Thru Is The Future Of The Church

12-year-old girl crashes SUV into Idaho church, police say

This Is Actually A Pretty Easy Problem To Solve. It Also Addresses Some Hunger Issues, Too.

NYT: Growing Herds of Deer Aren’t Welcome at New York Parks

Here is a collection of really good deer steak recipes.  They can be delicious.

Yes, I've Noticed

If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation.

Is Atheism a Specifically Western Phenomenon?

Adam Garfinkle, the editor of The American Interest, asked me this question. He told me that he had met a Saudi who claimed to be an atheist: What does this mean? We know atheism in its Jewish or Christian context, as a rejection of the Biblical God. What would atheism mean in a Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist context?

More Information About The Antikythera Mechanism

Now a new analysis of the dial used to predict eclipses, which is set on the back of the mechanism, provides yet another clue to one of history’s most intriguing puzzles. Christián C. Carman, a science historian at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina, and James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, suggest that the calendar of the mysterious device began in 205 B.C., just seven years after Archimedes died.

Also, this is fun:

Given How Moribund The Liturgy And Witness Used To Be Here, This Is A Much Better Use Of The Facility

PROVIDENCE, R.I. –  A plan to open what would be the nation's only museum centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade would focus on the Episcopal Church's role in its history and the sometimes-buried legacy of slavery in northern states like Rhode Island.  The museum at the shuttered Cathedral of St. John, a church where slaves once worshipped, would explore how the church benefited from the trade and helped bring it to an end, said Bishop Nicholas Knisely of the Diocese of Rhode Island.

This Is Becoming A Major Problem

Female teachers: The sex offenders no one suspects

During my years as a boarding school chaplain/administrator, I had to deal with teacher misconduct four times; three of the four offenders were female teachers.

Dear Gov. Malloy: The Time Has Come For Banana Control

Man arrested after pointing banana

I Would Be Prepared To Call "Shenanigans" On This Story, But It Actually Happened To Me Once

DOGGY DRIVER! Man who blamed his pet for speeding at 100mph jailed

Well, not exactly.  I mean, it didn't involve the police and I never made it to 100mph, but I did get launched down Lake Shore Boulevard when a dog jumped on my lap then to the floor, wedging between the underdash and my foot on the accelerator.  It was a memorable ride.

Overheard This Week

"How come looters never steal work boots?"

In reading my e-mail this week, it's ratified my belief that the common view of my colleagues is that our society is divided into three groups.

1.  Victims
2.  Victimizers
3.  Saviors of the World [aka Episcopal clergy who agree with the authors of the e-mails]

Neither Will Bishops

University Bureaucrat Won’t Let Ferguson Crisis Go to Waste in Trying to Look Busy

It’s Thanksgiving, a national holiday since 1863. And that’s a problem now that giving thanks to God no longer plays a prominent role in American civic life.

I’m pretty sure the O’Rourkes are undocumented aliens. We immigrated during the Potato Famine when there weren’t a lot of documents and we didn’t fill out any because we couldn’t read or write. So now, at last, after 170 years, the O’Rourkes can “come out of the shadows.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend.

Carol Kaye

“When you hear somebody with [audacity], that’s me.”

I'm often asked why I became a priest.  When I was younger, and testing the vocation, it was a question that was part of the process as the "powers that be" were always very, very concerned that someone would be ordained "for the wrong reason".  [Given how those men and women who were the guardians of faith in my early career have all but destroyed the church, I'd like to re-visit their standards.  Oh, well, they let me in.  Eventually.]  Later in my career, the question would be asked with a different emphasis, as in "Why did you become a priest?"  I confess that I've never had a particularly compelling response, especially as it's a question I intend in asking the Almighty should I one day be granted an audience, mainly because I don't know the answer.

But no one asks me why I play the bass, which is a pity since I actually know the answer so well that I can trace it to a specific date and occasion.  It was February 27, 1966 and I was on the floor of my parents' living room watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my grandmother when some famous singer's daughter came on and sang a brief, rather ordinary song that featured a terrific bass line in its chorus.

"What's that instrument, Grandma?"
"Ah, Robbie, I think that's the bass fiddle.  Pity we can't see the musicians for this silly girl."
[I should note that my grandmother, who was seventy at the time, was quite a fan of The Beatles.]

Well, she was right about the instrument, although it was an electric solid body bass rather than a bass fiddle, and she was right about not being able to see the musicians, as those who provided the backing for the famous singer's daughter was a group of legendary, albeit invisible, studio musicians known informally as The Wrecking Crew.

"The Crew" were much in demand during the 1960's and backed performers as diverse as The Monkees, Bing Crosby, The Mamas & the Papas, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Nat King Cole, and many, many more.  As they only worked in the studio, they remained virtually unknown outside of the close community of musicians.  Only three of the forty-some who worked in this amorphous group ever developed successful solo careers: Leon Russell, Dr. John, and Glen Campbell.  To my knowledge, there was only one woman in The Wrecking Crew and that was Carol Kaye, the bassist who laid down that walking line that was the best thing about that mediocre song.

It wasn't just "Boots" that Kaye improved, though, as even a casual listener to the radio, or viewer of movies and television in the 1960's will have been exposed to her talent again and again.  In fact, even if the reader's knowledge of '60's pop music is nil, it is still likely that he or she has heard Kaye provide the bass line for the themes to the TV show Mission Impossible and other long-running shows like Mannix, MASH, Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart, Kojak, and, naturally, Hawaii Five-O.

TV work brought Kaye a steady income, but a bass can easily become lost in a brassy, busy TV score, or reduced, as in the Hogan's Heroes themeto walking lines so routine and repetitive that they would numb the bassist's mind.  It was in the pop singles of the 1950's and 60's that Kaye's musicality provided the drive that defined what we think of when we recall the music of that era.  Remarkably, because of the role of studio musicians in those days, not only was her influence unnoticed, but her name and those of her colleagues tended to be left off of the songs' credits.

Kaye was the daughter of musician parents so, naturally, she grew up in poverty in Washington state.  To help her family, she took up the guitar and started working as a busker and giving lessons.  This lead to work as a guitarist for a variety of bebop bands in the Los Angeles area at the time when the guitar was the least important instrument in the ensemble.  This brought her to the attention of Sam Cooke, who invited Kaye to be the guitarist in what would become her first popular recording.

When Leo Fender took pity on bassists, who often had to lug a massive instrument up and down narrow nightclub stairs and fit them into buses, cabs, and subway cars, and invented what was originally known as the highly portable, guitar-oriented Fender Electric Bass, many guitarists switched to the new instrument and decided to earn their living in those bottom notes.  Kaye was one of the first and it was on that instrument that she played in over 10,000 recording sessions.

While a complete list of Kaye's bass recordings may be found on the Internet, her favorite ten are "Boots" and "Summertime" linked to above, "Sloop John B" by the Beach Boys, Ray Charles' versions of "America the Beautiful" and "In the Heat of the Night", Glenn Campbell's "Wichita Lineman", Lou Rawls' "A Natural Man", Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" [yeah, I know], the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet of "Something Stupid", and her fave, Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright".

So, a surf harmony classic, The Chairman of the Board, Barbra herself, the '60's favorite country twanger, and a gutter rocker.  That's quite a repertoire, isn't it?  It's also the mark of a true musician that whatever the croon, cocktail duet, soul ballad, or deconstructed 4/4 signature barn-burner, the person they had to have on bass was Carol Kaye and no one else.

I have to admit that my favorite of her's is the bass line on this one-hit wonder, and one that I still play along with in idle moments:

I'm also partial to her work on The Monkees' "I'm A Believer", but that's also because it was the first song I ever sang in public.  We'll play that one at 5pm.

Carol Kaye still records from time to time, but mostly she manages to teach up-and-comers and give entertaining interviews about pop music's early days.  As she has written over a dozen instructional manuals with related CD's, her influence is still powerful and there is no bassist with whom I've played, spoken, or for whom I've made an instrument who has not given her due credit for encouraging their interest in the instrument and what it can do for music played in ensemble.  This is why she is now considered the #1 session player of her era.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Things To Come

Spring church sees new light through stained glass

The church, St. Timothy's in Spring, Texas, is not an Episcopal church but an Anglican one.  In the last few years, the Anglican Church in North America has planted over 400 new congregations, many of them with their own worship sites rather than using borrowed space.

In the same period of time, the Episcopal Church in the United States has planted...four new parishes.

This Fall On ABC-TV: Albert Camus On "Dancing With The Philosophers"

Something From G.K. Chesterton

"Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them limits and their plain and defiant shape. . . . We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We will be defending not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for the visible prodigies of the invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be those who have seen and yet have believed."

Please Read This Story As These Fellows Are Real Heroes Of An Uncommon Sort

NPR: 'If We Left, They Wouldn't Have Nobody'

Crown Him With Many Crowns - Westminster Abbey

Friday, November 21, 2014

Well, There Goes Half Of My Diet

Health Dept: Don’t eat gas station’s fish

It's Friday. Have A Nice Weekend, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

This is a sublimely silly video, but typical of the much simpler, far-less-corporate style of the 1980's.


Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis

On Fridays I write of people whom I admire, either from afar or, when lucky, due to some direct association.  While maybe not generally known by members of the ingrown culture in which I live and work, many of these admired people have their own Wikipedia pages or numerous listings on search engines.  Some have their own pages on the websites of online book retailers.

Others are much more obscure, and if they are no longer with us on the mortal plain, they tend to be remembered only by their families and a few stray friends.  Such is the case with Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis.  You will not have heard of them, but they brought to their lives and endeavors some small portion of joy and, through luck and hard work, enabled that joy to be passed to others.

Ted was one year behind me in college but, as we were both English majors, we had a number of classes in common.  Our college was primarily attended by men and women from towns in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, usually from families of means, who found the small size of the student body [1200 enrolled] comfortable.  I was an uneasy fit in this world, as I was from a city, had attended a high school three times the size of the college, looked about six years older than my age, and was found physically imposing by most of my classmates.  I also worked in the neighboring town as truck driver.

Ted was of a gentle nature and had the luxury of having grown up in comfort in suburban New Jersey.  His manners were impeccable and his wit quick.  He could quip faster than anyone.  Even though he was sub-majoring in speech and theater and I in criticism, we found ourselves matched by one of our more demented professors in preparing a paper and related presentation about the use of "toy theater" in performance and literary development.

During lunch later that day, after Ted received the news of our pairing, I happened to be seated at a table behind him in the cafeteria.  As he did not know I was there, he was openly sharing his concerns with some other drama students about the "terrifying man" with whom he was to work.  "I don't know if he can even put together a sentence."  Obviously, Ted needed some education, so during our shared work I was careful not only to show him my ability to match subject and predicate, but also that I wasn't terrifying.  In fact, between my literary flair and Ted's natural stage presence, our collaboration was successful enough that we earned some meaningless trophy or certificate.

Ted and I were pals from that point forward.  So much so that, when he was to direct Romeo and Juliet, he begged me to play Mercutio.  I did, even wearing those dang tights that so amused the members of the wrestling team.  While I had memorized my lines, I still had issue with my rhythm.  After a particularly miserable rehearsal, I heard his voice from the darkness of the theater intone, "Well, no tip for you, Mercutio."  That expression became so associated with Ted that I remember hearing it murmured from the back of a classroom when we were presented with a particularly knotty linguistics exam.  I earned a stern look from the professor when I laughed out loud. There is no laughter in linguistics.

After college Ted would earn a Master's in theater and become a director of small theater productions in the greater metro New York area, including serving as an adjunct professor for a number of colleges. He was becoming recognized as an up-and-coming voice in contemporary theater when he died at the age of 34.

Ricardo was the first person to greet me on my first official day at The General Theological Seminary. He was a third-year student, what was called a "senior" at General, and had been put in charge of a small group of new students as our personal orientation guide.  While that group of six now includes one bishop, one cathedral dean, a seminary professor, and a handful of cardinal rectors, on that first day we were little more than a collection of disquieted first-year students.  Ricardo, with cadences drawn from his youth in Cuba [from which he and his parents had escaped to the U.S. upon the advent of Castro's rule], dispensed with the canned crib sheets and information about seminary life and did something that, judging from recent news from my alma mater, is still not in practice by either the board of trustees or the faculty.  Namely, Ricardo told us the unvarnished truth.  It was liberating.

During that first year, whenever I had a question about seminary life or the academic process, I would seek out Ricardo who would offer truth and wisdom.  He was especially good about knowing the best political path to take when navigating rival faculty, especially since he had already earned a PhD in history from Georgetown University and had piloted even trickier waters.  Without question, my seminary days were easier than they would have been if not for Ricardo.

On the evening before Ash Wednesday it was a hallowed seminary practice to gather for a mad blowout of a party that was never considered a success until someone in the neighborhood finally called the NYPD.  Our first year, after working my way to an uneasy status within the ever-shifting politics of an Episcopal seminary, all of us were encouraged by Ricardo to celebrate with the best of our energies.  To focus his point, he then began madly to dance to "It's Raining Men." [If you don't know the song, come back to this page after 5 p.m.]

He would graduate at the end of that year, be ordained a priest and become the vicar of a small parish in Baltimore that also had a active presence in the Spanish-speaking community, where Ricardo's bilingualism was welcomed.  He became a strong voice for the poor neighborhoods in the Charm City and was often spoken of as a future bishop.  He would die at the age of 45, just four years after his graduation.  On the night I heard of his death, I was attending my first diocesan convention as a priest. During the impromptu party after the first day's deliberations, while sitting with a gossipy collection of parish secretaries in the lounge of a Holiday Inn in DuBois, Pennsylvania, someone punched up "It's Raining Men" on the juke box and there was a moment when I was convinced that Ricardo's spirit had passed by just to say "so long".

Curtis and I were classmates at General and members of the same advisory group.  These groups were headed by a faculty member who would often hand-pick the members.  Our group was generally regarded as the most promising of our class, although I take no credit for that.  Indeed, many of its members did move up to significant roles in what used to be The Episcopal Church and all of us, at that fledgling stage, were ambitious enough to engage in the fine art of perpetual disagreement.

In truth, I didn't much care for Curtis during our first year or two, as he could be condescendingly expert about liturgy, having made it his hobby since childhood, and had no interest in any other aspect of spiritual life.  I, on the other hand, found that spiritual life could combine art, music, and literature, even from a decidedly secular realm, and present it in a manner that was less dependent on liturgical form and more so on teleological function.  Since I could also be condescending, we argued a lot in classrooms, in the refectory, and at the bar at the Peter McManus' Cafe on 7th Avenue.

However, we came to respect one another's abilities as the three years unfolded.  I recall all of us being subjected to some Pentecostal crackpot at one point, some guest speaker who decided the best thing to do when invited to speak at the flagship seminary of the original Episcopal Church was to trash our tradition, Anglican theology, and the quality of our calling.  While the rest of our classmates sat placidly waiting for the speaker to end his harangue, Curtis and I shared a look, raised our hands and, in a tag team match worthy of television wrestling, so tangled the poor fellow up in his statements that he stormed from the room in a stuttering rage.  I believe the two of us were spoken to about this by some authority figure.

Curtis would be ordained and serve in a parish in New Orleans but his chief contribution was in editing the most popular auxiliary hymnal in the church.  Through it, his labor of love, he combined his abilities as a chorister and organist to bring into common use many of the great hymns and spiritual songs of the African-American tradition in Anglicanism.  It would serve as a lasting legacy, as he would die at the age of 34, just seven years after our graduation.

These three came offhandedly to mind the other day when one of my students was researching the effect of AIDS on society.  We hardly talk about it anymore, but I recall the devastation that the disease wrought upon members of the arts, academic, and ecclesiastical communities.  I remember the fear, anger, and sometimes just plain hatred on display in parishes and student bodies.  I remember what it was like to face a vestry who no longer wanted to receive communion on Sundays because they didn't want to "catch AIDS".  I remember those in New York City who would refuse the common chalice at the altar rail.  I remember how even those groups, such as the theater community, who were traditional oases of support for the gay community would turn their backs on someone so afflicted.

But mainly I remember the toll the disease took on mostly young men who had much to offer to their friends, families, and professions.  I especially regret that I never had the chance to speak with them one last time and thank Ted for his friendship, Ricardo for his mentor-ship, and Curtis for being such an able competitor.

When the Burial Office was read for Ricardo at the cathedral in Baltimore, the preacher, who would himself later die of complications from AIDS, would offer the following:
"I know that many in this cathedral live in fear of the plague that afflicted Ricardo, the fear of getting sick, the fear of being rejected because of your sickness, the fear of being alone when you most need the love of friends. But let this service be witness to the fact you need not be afraid -- we have heard the Gospel message -- and as you are not excluded from the love of God, so you are not excluded from the love of those who love and serve the Lord.  For we know that every human being, no matter how you live or what your pain, is someone God thought worth the death of his son. ... And more than this -- more than being loved by God, more than being cared for by his church -- the promise of eternal life is yours."
Amen, brother.  And thanks Ted, Ricardo, and Curtis.  My life was richer because of you guys.