Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Pope Knows Cuba (e Cani) Libre

    Pope Francis, bless his soul, has recently been reported to have instructed Saint Peter to begin allowing dogs through the Pearly Gates. Although this dogmatic shift may actually be attributed to Paul VI, and there's no sign yet as to whether the decree is retroactive, it's nice to think, assuming they predecease us – which, actually, may be something of an assumption indeed – that our current flock of Goldens will not only have a shot at finding their bliss but will be eagerly awaiting our arrival. Presumably this was not as thorny an issue as, say, women in the priesthood and the new rule doesn't seem too much of a reach given that God's Rottweiler, Pope Benedict, has yet to drop the bone and is waiting in the wings.

Having been raised a Presbyterian, I was unaware that dogs had thus far been barred and grew up with the notion that all God's creatures might gain entry based entirely on a bronze plaque commemorating the scene wherein Heinz, my parents' beloved first mutt, is negotiating with Peter just outside the heavenly portals. This plaque was made by my Godfather, the sculptor Berthold “Tex” Schiwetz, a pious enough man devoted to years of religiously sculptural epiphany in Rome, who went off to his own reward in 1971. Whether or not Heinz, or Tex, for that matter, is still waiting at the gates is something I suppose that only God knows. In perhaps a divinely inspired gesture from the family, the same plaque now adorns my mother's headstone and there's no question as to whether or not she got in.

   The fact that none of our pets have been going to Heaven for all these years does make one wonder how bad, in fact, the alternative can be. Apart from all the priests that have found their way to Hell in recent decades and are now busy making everyone down there miserable, if the place is primarily populated by non-Catholics and their pets - together, presumably, with all creatures great and small – maybe it's not much worse than Southern California in September. If Heaven is reserved for pious, petless fussbudgets and proselytizers, then I want no part of it and I'll go straight to Hell.

      As I write this Pope Francis is suddenly all over the news and I'd be the last one to have predicted the two of us would ever be so simpatico, even for a day. Apart from being the Holy Birthday, it turns out this progressive Pontiff has been up to his zucchetto in the sort of Geo-politics and international intrigue not seen since the House of Borgia installed one of their own. There's something deliciously ironic about Pope Francis helping to broker the end of our pointless policy towards Cuba, a policy that began at about the same time that our only Roman Catholic President was elected despite the clamor and conviction of the Right that Kennedy's first and last allegiance would be to Rome!

 Buon compleanno, Papa, e grazie mille!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mail and Females


My nephew, Chris will be spending a part of the winter out here on the end of the Point in an uninsulated cabin with no running water and a wood-stove for heat. The cabin sits on pilings above the cove and in winter the seepage and run-off from the ledges above create a foot thick, yellow, rust colored ice floe just a few feet below the floor. For the most part, Chris will spend his days as I did years ago, splitting wood, hauling water from the bucket-well, stoking that stove and preparing for sun down. He's in it for the raw experience, of course, for the long days given over to self-reflection and solitude that can still be had out here in February, save for the occasional well intentioned “Yoohoo!” bellowed by some passing hiker. I'd like to think Chris may benefit from the catharsis of breaking through that unremitting loneliness to a place where it ceases to obsess and becomes something softer and more manageable, something you know you can always endure and find a certain comfort in. But Chris will have something I never could have dreamed of when I huddled in to the fireplace, wrapped with my dog in a nylon sleeping bag; he'll have a lap-top and the internet, his world will be just a click away. At least as long as the power stays on....

   In 1978, when autumn suddenly gave way to winter and I found myself hunkering down out there for the duration, I had a telephone, a television and a typewriter. The telephone was an original issue black rotary which rarely rang. The TV, a black and white Zenith, offered only two channels and on a good night you might have to make the difficult choice between Marcus Welby, MD and The Little Red Schoolhouse. Well swaddled and huddled within the maw of the fireplace, it was far too cold to get up and change the channel and the remote wand, like teleportation and jet-packs, had yet to be invented. The typewriter, my father's college Corona, sat proudly on the desk by the phone and, when the ribbon and white-out had thawed sufficiently, I would sit for hours writing long letters about silence and cold and nothing in particular to young women who's days were full of more exciting stuff than whether or not my wood was wet or who might have made fresh tracks in the snow. Of course, it would take days for my letters to reach their destination and, presuming erroneously that my intended would sit down to respond immediately, days more for their responses to reach me. The pull, then, the sheer, planetary gravity of that tiny Post Office with the pot-bellied stove ten miles down the road at the Center was as strong a force as nicotine, nutrition or heat and I had to stifle the urge to go check every day lest I embarrass myself before the kindly postmistress.

   Letters from young ladies responding to my relentless screeds were few and far between, often embarrassing in their brevity and non-committal style, but certainly better than the empty mailbox I'd find after four days of fighting the urge to check. On rare occasions – maybe one, anyway – I'd be chagrined by a pastel envelope steeped in reeking patchouli and bearing the initials SWAK on the back. Upon slipping this tender missive from the box, the clerk might be heard to mutter from within something along the lines of, “Thank God! It'll be good to get that thing out of here!” My mother would write to urge me to thank an aunt or ask perhaps what I'd like her to do with that letter from the Army; no doubt hoping for return mail as well, with the same paltry results I reaped from my own voluminous drivel. Or she'd send her famous CARE package, notorious in post offices across the East for being so ineptly boxed and wrapped that the contents – often Toll House Cookies – would have sifted out of that hole in the corner long before the package even cleared the State of New York, leaving a telltale wisp of wax paper protruding from a package now lighter than air.

   One day, just before the last of our little rural outposts closed and the internet changed the world of letters for ever, I drove down to check my mail with no particular expectations. There was a postcard depicting a happy, lounging otter from a girl I'd met at a wedding a few weeks earlier. She mentioned how nice it had been to meet me and wondered if we could do so again. This was exactly what the mail was for: a wonderful and surprising little letter, out of the blue, requiring an immediate response. After a few days of panic and research via mutual friends, I wrote back and we've been married now for twenty-two years.

   Last week I got a letter from my old friend, Fenno. I haven't gotten a real letter from anyone in years and Fen's was written by hand in blue ink, the final paragraphs curled up from the bottom of the page along the right hand margin from a lack of adequate space in which to complete his thought. While cleaning out his desk, Fen had found an old announcement from a show I'd had . The fact that he'd held on to this card for twenty-eight years prompted him to write, asking if I'd like it back and musing quite tenderly on our lives through those years. The sheer, unexpected pleasure of getting that letter nearly brought me to tears and I could barely read it aloud to Suzanne without choking up.

   I can't remember the last time an e-mail made me feel that way.....