Thursday, July 31, 2003

West By Northwest: Prelude

"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." -- Bob Dylan

My thirty-year high school reunion is coming up next month. So I was on the phone a few weeks ago with "Kate," a classmate from my alma mater. We reminisced a bit, of course. She told me about how her mother used to talk about my Dad, back in the days when he and Kate's uncle Tom were classmates in the seminary. ("It was always Alex this and Alex that...") Tough act to follow, huh?

But our conversation was mostly about the very idea of the reunion itself. We compared the ten-year with the twenty-year, by which time, to hear Kate tell it, "the walls were coming down." "Yeah, Kate, but us kids from little old Milford still sat at our own table." Ours was a small town, with students bused to a Catholic high school in a hopelessly-middle-class suburban area. They thought of us as a bunch of hicks. If you wanted to get on well with the "in crowd," you learned to disassociate yourself from your podunk pals in short order. Personally, I never made the transition, so along with "Alex," I was also known as "Milford."

Now, of course, some of the big city kids live down the street from where they grew up, sending their kids to the same high school, as has been done over the last half century now (no scientific data yet on the effects of inbreeding on SAT scores, but I digress...). Meanwhile, I've lived in places that make Watch Hill look like Price Hill. (It's a Cincinnati thing, but you get the idea.)

Still, during our conversation, both of us were excited at the prospect of seeing one another again. We talked about what music would be played. Now, the early 1970s were the post-hippie pre-disco era, not exactly prime time for dance music. I suppose I let it slip about my cutting the mean rug in recent years. She offered me a seat on the music committee. I haven't heard about the position since, but I'll see what I've got in my vast music library -- Benny Goodman, Boozoo Chavis, the Electric Slide, some Latin grooves, "everybody Wang Chung tonight." No chicken dance, no Tina Turner doing "Proud Mary," and most important, no @#$%ing macarena!!!

We also talked of Columbine, and seemed to agree on the root causes. The Washington Post did a piece a few years back, on the events leading up to the tragedy. It seems one of the star athletes was a state champion, which earned him his own parking space. He was also known to be among those who taunted a few misfits, including two who had a fascination for gothic role-playing games, and access to guns.

Of course, you can't even mention the word "gun" in an American high school today without some old biddie assuming you're packing one. But, Title Nine notwithstanding (the Federal rule that requires equal access to sports for both boys and girls, and results in co-ed gym classes, the propriety of which is completely beyond me), the big money still goes to the high-visibility programs, especially for the boys. The artificial status-quo provails, and all the high-priced visionaries in education still can't figure out why kids go down the wrong path.

Fortunately, by the middle of their fourth year, the kids get what is known as "senioritis." That's when they start looking at the world beyond the classroom doors, to a future without pep rallies and prom committees. That's also when some of them learn they've been sold a bill of goods -- by the popular culture, by their teachers, by their peers, by themselves.

That's when they being the part called "growing up."

It is said that our most enduring friends are often the ones from childhood. Small wonder that the "Milfordites" would sit at one table, and probably will again this year. They may live across town, or across the planet. But even if they only talk to one another once a year, or once a decade, they will pick up right where they left off. Then it's on to the present, and often separate, lives.

And so it will be for me this Saturday, when I return to the nest, taking my son with me to see his grandparents after a two-year absense. The following Monday both of us get on a plane and head to Seattle -- for me, a chance to reconnect with myself; for Paul, a chance to determine his destiny.

There will be more to say, from a distance.

Stay tuned...

Monday, July 28, 2003

"Thanks for the memories..."

"Golf is my real profession; show business pays my green fees." -- Bob Hope

At the Bascilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, there is a chapel funded by Bob and his devoted wife Delores -- Our Lady of Hope. A fond farewell to a man whom I could say that I once had the pleasure of meeting. Rest in peace, thou good and faithful servant.

"So, thanks for the memory
And strictly entre-nous, darling how are you?
And how are all the little dreams that never did come true?
Aw'flly glad I met you, cheerio, and toodle-oo
And thank you so much."

(Words and Music by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, introduced in the film "Big Broadcast Of 1938" by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

"Ramblin' round your city, ramblin' round your town..." -- Woody Guthrie

The Washington Post is depicting Mel Gibson's private screening of The Passion as a "power play." At least that's what the headline said. But here's what MPAA President Jack Valenti said after viewing the film: "I don't see what the controversy is all about. This is a compelling piece of art. I just called Kirk Douglas and told him that this is the movie to beat."

Sounds to me like Mel's "power play" is working. Welcome to the big leagues, Braveheart.

In other news...

Father John McCloskey, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington DC, and de facto chaplain to the Beltway insiders, has received yet another public figure into the Church -- this time, Judge Robert Bork, once considered for a seat on the US Supreme Court. While everybody is patting McCloskey (an excellent priest and a good man) on the back for this one, they have ignored the one person who had to play the greatest role in his conversion.

His wife.

Mary Ellen Bork is a woman of considerable charm and grace, an eloquent speaker on pro-life issues, and a remarkable figure in her own right. (She's not too hard on the eyes, either.) If I know the good Padre, he would agree with me as to where the real credit belongs.

Then again, what the hell do I know?

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Overheard at St Blog's K of C Clubhouse Tavern

* Mark Sullivan of Irish Elk reports on the recent speech of British Prime Minister Tony Blair before a joint session of Congress. While he links to the entire transcript from The NY Times, Mark reprints the good stuff: "Members of Congress, if this seems a long way from the threat of terror and weapons of mass destruction, it is only to say again that the world's security cannot be protected without the world's heart being won. So America must listen as well as lead. But, members of Congress, don't ever apologize for your values (Applause.) ... That's what we're fighting for, and it's a battle worth fighting. And I know it's hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to but always wanted to go -- (laughter) -- I know out there, there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, "Why me, and why us, and why America?" And the only answer is because destiny put you in this place in history in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do. (Sustained applause.) The spirit of Winston Churchill is still with us. God bless America! God save the Queen!

* Dom Bettinelli of Bettnet is concerned that Carol McKinley of Faithful Voice may be appropriating his writing as her own, in the course of her organization's crusade against the uppity-suburban-white-bread-liberal-pseudo-reform group better known as Voice of the Faithful. A discussion between the two of them continues on his comments page. In my experience, based on both private correspondence and public declaration in the blogosphere, Ms McKinley is not above casting dispersions. It is true that I participated on the discussion board of VOTF. This did not make me one of their bedfellows, as Ms McKinley has asserted. On the contrary, I was singled out by name, in a public statement by VOTF, as a catalyst for the outcry against former SEICUS/Planned Parenthood official Debra Haffner speaking at the VOTF convention last year. The fallout from that outcry compelled VOTF -- up to now the alleged champions of "dialogue" in the Church -- to shut down the message board. I eventually won the respect and goodwill of many in the "second tier" of leadership (which was returned when we met for a delightful luncheon at the bishops conference last fall), while those of the top leadership were too busy posing for Time magazine to pay much attention. All this I accomplished without the imprimatur of Ms McKinley, Faithful Voice, or any other Voice. That's 'cuz I'm my own damn Voice! And when it was over, I passed up the opportunity for more noteriety, and like Cincinnatus, went back to the plow.

* Kathy Shaidle, Mother Goddess of the Catholic Blogosphere, reports on Catholic braveheart Mel Gibson making the jump over the abyss of borderline schism, and paying a short-notice visit to the headquarters of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops. Whatever the criticism by the USCCB of Gibson's production of The Passion, they've never been accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth. Ain't that right, Brother Knights?

* CNN reports on Americans who want to move to Canada, for reasons other than gay marriages: "George, 44, has spent little time in Canada, but said it seems to offer a more relaxed, less competitive way of life. He has no qualms about leaving his law practice and selling the family's upscale home in Minneapolis." From my years on the dance gypsy circuit, and my acquaintance with a certain folk-rock quartet from Toronto, Canadians are a lot like us Yanks, only more civil.

So far, anyway.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Mary, Mary, Once Contrary

Today the Church commemorates Saint Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalen. It is certain that she was the woman out of whom Christ cast out seven demons (Mark 16:9), was among those women who traveled with the disciples to minister to him, and was with him at the Cross. She is also recorded as being the first to witness the risen Savior. In the east, she is distinguished from the woman who sinned (Luke 7:36, 8:2), and Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11). In the west, the three were traditionally lumped together as one Mary. Then there's that gal who anointed Christ's feet, although John identifies her as Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26, Mark 14). But after seeing Jesus Christ Superstar, any Mary who isn't his Blessed Mother is up for grabs.

Mary Magdalen is also the hero of radical feminists, even though she was never presumed to have any apostolic powers vested in her. Even so, one tradition holds that in later years, she retired to Ephesus with Jesus' mother Mary, where she died. Another holds that Mary Madgalen, Lazarus, and others traveled across the Mediterranean, where they converted the inhabititants of what is now the French region of Provence (And guess what, grrrls? She wasn't even ordained. Go figure...), and that she died and was buried there. Thus a bascilica in the town of Vazeley, one known to be an outstanding example of Romanesque architecture, is named in her honor.
"Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing. But stealing his car, that's larceny."

Those were the words of John Garfield, playing Frank the drifter in the original 1946 production of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Garfield played opposite Hollywood bombshell Lana Turner, who played Cora, the sex-starved wife of Nick, a simple and naive middle-aged restaurant owner. Personally, I would have gone for Audrey Totter, who plays Madge, the other other woman in the film. Then again, maybe it's just me and redheads. I suppose it's merely a coincidence that people say I remind them of Jack Nicholson, who played opposite Jessica Lange in the 1981 remake.

I got my chance to see the film last night on the Mall, where they put up a big screen for Monday nights this summer, and afterwards closed the nearest Metrorail entrance early so hundreds of us could all pile like sardines into the next one two blocks away. (You see, keeping it open that late on the Mall would have been a security risk, so they sent us all to the one right next to the main USDA building. Duh...) Anyway, the film was pretty hot stuff for its day, which only proves that it wasn't my generation that brought sex and violence to Hollywood, but the last one. I can still remember my Dad's stories about being with the USAF for the occupation of Germany, and how the guys in his outfit were all acting like... well, you know.

But getting back to the movie...

At the end, before doing the "dead man walking" thing, Frank confesses to the priest. I wish the following were so easy:

"Father, you were right. It all works out. I guess God knows more about these things than we do. Somehow or other, Cora paid for Nick's life with hers. And now I'm going to. Father, would you send up a prayer for me and Cora, and if you could find it in your heart, make it that we're together, wherever it is? (The priest nods)"

So what's God gonna do with Nick? And who can guarantee this pair of twisted lovers will end up where Frank thinks they will, as opposed to... well, you know. Then again, it was through one deception upon another that Frank and Cora created their own hell on earth. Nick, in the meantime, illustrated how "love is blind" at one point, playing this little number on guitar:

"I'm not much to look at, nothing to see
Just glad I'm living, lucky to be
I've got a woman, crazy for me
She's funny that way."

(Note: Click on the movie title near the top of this entry for a blow-by-blow account, including some of the riveting dialogue. If you don't that much time, read this synopsis of the novel.)
Mel Gibson Watch

This transcript from The Drudge Report is about reaction to the pre-screening of Gibson's production of The Passion. If Jack Valenti was impressed... well, what can I tell ya? You da man, Mel, you da man!!!

Monday, July 21, 2003

Oh, uh, Canada!

A plan is discovered for Canada to achieve world domination. We could do worse. More on this story as it develops, eh?
Found in the MWBH Mailbag

"Just to let you know that I greatly enjoy reading your blog and especially enjoyed your 'annul this' posting. Keep it coming..." -- CV
"I should visit here more often."

-- Kathy Shaidle, Mother Goddess of Catholic Blogosphere, Toronto ON, Wed Jul 16 2003
"All the world's a stage..."

Last night, we went to see The Sound of Music at Wolf Trap, "the national park for the performing arts." It was the closing performance of a run of several days. It was the first musical I had seen in years, and I was quite taken with the performance.

I was a child in 1965 when the movie came out, starring Julie Andrews. The songs of that musical were a staple of Catholic school music classes, highlighting a true story of a Catholic family who escaped Fascism for the freedom of (where else?) America. They eventually established a ski lodge in Stowe VT, which the family still operates to this day.

I have found a number of accounts on the internet, including this historical archive, which gives "the story behind the story." Sometimes the truth is a lot more interesting, especially when reading this Biography Channel segment. As with families large and small, theirs was not always a fairy tale.

Seeing the musical performance also took me back to my days in high school, when I had parts in the annual spring musical. My hometown was some distance away from the school, and I was also active in scouting through much of adolescence, so I didn't exactly pile on the extracurricular activities. But the musical was different; here I could shine in front of over thousands in one weekend near the end of the school year. Our senior year performance was Brigadoon, and I played the part of Archie Beaton, the father of Harry, whose love for the heroine of the story was unrequited. It was a supporting role, but I was also an understudy for one of the leads, and the choreographer, Miss Ruf, later wrote me to say that "among all the students, your performance has been the most consistantly excellent." It meant a lot to an awkward teenager, struggling with depression and at a loss for what to expect after high school.

But time has marched on, I'm not nervous in front of a crowd anymore, and even though I never had Miss Ruf for a class, she was one of a select few who taught me the most. To this day, the world is a stage.

Friday, July 18, 2003

My Other Anniversary

We met in the spring of 1981, at a contra dance in a church basement just west of the White House. I was a 25-year-old "overgrown kid," who only a few months earlier, had piled all my possessions into a newly-purchased 1980 Honda Civic and left my home near Cincinnati, to come to Washington DC for a job with the Federal government. She was petite, demure, and I liked the way she looked at me when we danced. She was from Cleveland, and I was intrigued by the "three-bar cross" around her neck. She was "Greek Catholic," she said. I knew what that was, even though I had never met one personally. As the saying goes, "One thing led to another." By the end of that year, we were engaged. By the end of the following year, we were married. There was little in the way of "marriage preparation." Our pastor wasn't into that sort of thing, preferring to leave it to others. He wasn't much help later on either.

The wedding was on a mild, sunny day. My bride and I were crowned with flower wreathes around our heads, and were led around the icon stand in procession. The reception was at an old-style Virginia inn, with a few of our friends on fiddle and piano playing old time tunes. The bride annd I were the last to leave, still doing the "Salty Dog Rag" at nine in the evening.

We stayed together nearly eight years, much of it tumultuous. But I knew what "for better or worse" meant, and I walked the walk, believing that somehow God would provide. There were several miscarriages, in the midst of which we were blessed with one son, named Paul, for both his grandfathers. When he was born, I became twice the man I was, for I had been charged with the care of a precious gift from God. "Tadpole" was a bright and handsome little boy, who could identify eighteen makes of cars before he was two, and was climbing trees before he was three. His mother was an intense, controlling sort of woman, who couldn't leave a man alone for more than five minutes. But she was also extremely bright and persuasive, and most of the time she knew what she was talking about, or at least appeared to. For someone who went from living with his parents to living with her in such a short time, my going along seemed the easiest thing to do.

But after awhile, you resent being the "fall guy" in the house. And the one "in charge" comes to resent your weakness, even as she works so hard to exploit it. We went to counseling as things got worse. One therapist, who worked out of a Catholic parish, ended up doing more harm than good, as he admitted in the end to being a mere tool for her, in what he called "triangulation."

Thirteen years ago today, I came home from work. Instead of finding her and my son, I found a note.

What I have referred to as "my former life" ended that day, and my new life began. In time, I learned from friends and family (including members of her own) of how things looked from a distance. For many of those years, I was an angry man, beaten up for every mistake I never made -- if not by my wife, then by myself. When the bottom fell out, so did most of my rage. To this day, if I never have a life with a woman again, I am better off.

They can say what they will about the sanctity of marriage. But when ours was falling apart, there was little recourse for us. The years since have seen the onset of Promise Keepers, and attorneys who work to save marriages, not facilitate divorces. Too little, too late.

Or is it? I have grown old gracefully in those years. There have been a few bouts with depression, the fallout from years of physical and mental abuse. The challenge is to look forward. Even those who do not deserve forgiveness must sometimes be forgiven, lest their presence comes to rule over us, and the anger eats away at our very being.

I took to the dance gypsy circuit for the next few years, wandering from one gathering to the next, reveling in the whirling dervish. I still do that today when the need arises, and the highway calls.

I have learned to help others. The "separated and divorced ministry" in the Diocese of Arlington was a joke, bordering on malpractice (a story for another day). So I invented my own. I have given away over a dozen copies of Abigail Trafford's Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life. It has helped many to help themselves. In every copy I sign the same thing:

"To X... because I'm on a mission from God. David."

And so, the mission continues.
Still Running Scared

Whenever a bishop is in procession, the crucifer (that is, the acolyte assigned to carry the processional cross) turns the cross so that the image of Christ faces the bishop. This is to remind the prelate of how his first predecessors -- the twelve apostles -- all deserted Our Lord as He was led to Calvary.

They've been running scared ever since, as this story in Newsday illustrates:

"Bishop Thomas Daily presides over the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, a job with perks — a staff, first-class travel and the use of a mansion. Yet lawyers for Daily claim he is not paid as an officer or director of the diocese and, therefore, can't be sued....the latest tack in a lawsuit by the former principal of St. Elizabeth School in Ozone Park. Principal Barbara Samide last year accused the parish's then-pastor, the Rev. John Thompson, of sexually abusing her. Her $5-million lawsuit also names the diocese, Daily and several of his deputies....In claiming Daily can't be sued, the diocese is relying on a state law designed to protect unpaid officers of non-profit organizations from legal action....Hart appeared to agree. 'I think it is disingenuous for the Diocese of Brooklyn to play what I view as a shell game,' he said in last month's hearing. 'Corporate hats. No paperwork. We are not responsible for this, even though we run the show. We are not responsible for that, even though we as the hierarchy of the church run that. When they get sued, well, we are not getting paid for this. We are not getting paid for that.'"

Bishop Daily is also Supreme Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus. The plot thickens, don't it now?

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Annul THIS!!!

"Don Jim" Tucker of Dappled Things comments on the subject under discussion on Santificarnos, the weblog for divorced Catholics, about the debate concerning "too many annulments in the US." Don Jim does a good job of placing the issue in proper perspective, echoing what my friend Father Peter Stravinskas has often said: given the state of marriage preparation and the overall culture today, it's a wonder there aren't more annulments.

Of course, he's right. In my experience, most couples I know, be they Catholic or not, are of middle age, have been married at least once, maybe twice, and have resigned themselves to taking what they can get. Some will even approve of pre-nuptual agreements, obstensibly to protect the interests of children from a prior marriage -- which I don't have a problem with -- but which also seek to protect their assets from the person they intend to marry.

Now, I do have a problem with the latter. If you anticipate that your future spouse is out for your money, and you do not intend to share your worldly goods with him, doesn't this constitute a prior reservation with respect to the permanence of the marriage bond? That being the case, are one or both parties walking into the marriage with purity of intent?

I sometimes move in Catholic "traditionalist" circles -- not because they know how to party (as often as not, they don't), but when you have a stated preference for Latin and incense and Gregorian chant, these things can happen. It is in such circles where the divorced Catholic who simply wants to move on with their lives, can often become the whipping boy for the sorry state of married life. The cause of this grief are the overeducated twits who make their living on the Catholic lecture circuit, crying out loud about how "the family is under attack."

Certainly not their family, but mine sure as hell was. So now I've got a boy nearing eighteen who is a recovering alcoholic, with his mother (dare I call her my "wife") complaining to me time and again how I am spared the trials and tribulations of raising him. Maybe I should be the one out on the lecture circuit talking about the family under attack. Then again, who wants to listen to someone who has anything original, even unsettling, to say? People will more likely fork over the money for hearing what they want to hear. What a bunch of weenies!

Anyway, back to yours truly. I remind the mother of my son of how I wanted to have my son under my roof before he started high school. After all, I told her at the time, I was a boy once, and my boy would one day be a man, like I am now, as opposed to a woman, which his mother is now (such as she is). But with self-proclaimed candidates for martyrdom, a straight line of reasoning has little effect.

I even read that annulments are described by some self-proclaimed defenders of orthodoxy as "automatic." Oh, really? Something that takes twelve to eighteen months is "automatic"? Try telling that to a recent correspondent from out west:

"I have been dealing with the annulment process for about 3 1/2 years now. What I found about 2 months ago was that my paper work was misplaced and, could not be found at the diocese. Since then I have been getting more paperwork sent off ( good thing I kept copies) the priest that is helping me. This is a very painful process and I am not sure how much longer this will be. I truly want to do the right thing but, at this point I am hoping to find someway in the canon laws that I can re-marry in the Catholic church. My ex-wife has married this past month and it is hard to see because I am trying to do the right thing and while I have sent my paper work in someone's life is on hold waiting on the church. I am not bitter but, do wish to know if I can do something else..."

This is not an isolated case. When you deal with pin-headed bureaucrats who can't be fired, you deal with a certain number of incompetent people. It's just the laws of probability in action. I've advised this fellow to talk to his tribunal vicar about determining whether his case is being competently handled in the first place.

Under the circumstances, it is very difficult not to resort to the "internal forum" solution, finding a renegade priest who will listen to your story, make a determination on the spot, and wink at the details. If you pull it off right, no mere mortal is the wiser.

The hard part comes where you try to fool God, which you can't. So you end up fooling yourself.

Or do you?
Okay, Mark, you got me...

...but can we still call it the "Rock the Rockies" tour? (By the way, I'm in Seattle Aug 4-14. We gotta talk. Send me your number where you are, eh?)

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Today in the Catholic world is a special feast day, especially among Carmelites...

"...because on that date in 1251, according to Carmelite traditions, the scapular was given by the Blessed Virgin to St. Simon Stock..."

You can see his picture with her giving him the scapular, on every brown scapular ever made that's big enough to put it on there. I have this great big one, about four by five inches, with a beautiful image of the Madonna with Child, that was given to me by Scapular John. (More on him later.) I'm wondering if I should wear it to the zydeco double-header tonight. After all, Louisiana is a Catholic land, right? Eh toi!!!
"All the little kids growing up on the skids go..."

"Greenspan Rocks!!! Greenspan Rocks!!!"

"I've got some records from World War II
I play 'em just like me grandad do
He was a rocker and I am too..."
Overheard at St Blog's Coffee Hour

* The trailer for Mel Gibson's "The Passion" has been released. Word on the street is that he may add subtitles to the spoken original languages. But anyone who knows the story can figure out what Pilate means when he says "Ecce homo!" or Our Lord on the cross when he cries out "Eloi, Eloi..."

* Kathy Shaidle discovers a loss of civility in (gasp!) Canada, starting with panhandlers. Maybe Toronto is actually worse than DC, but I doubt it. I've seen the same jokers for nearly twenty years, begging for money. I've even seen a guy berate those who pass him, even those who give him money. What a twit. I usually only give money to street musicians. But I once adopted a homeless gal, named Pam. She wasn't like the others, and she would give me counsel sometimes on matters of the heart. She was like an angel. But one day she was gone. I still think about her, and hope she's alright.

* Mark Shea starts on his "Rock the Rockies" speaking tour in Denver. Descriptions of purple mountains majesties forthcoming. I recommend he find a little coal town called Idaho Springs, northwest of the city, where there's a restaurant named "Tommyknockers". They've got a microbrewery there, with a maple nut brown ale that's to die for. (Bring some back for me, will ya?)

* Mark Sullivan (aka Irish Elk) is gay-bashing Cardinal Newman -- apparently. Talk about a cry for help, Mark. All these people who think that two guys who are bosom buddies just have to be gay, from David and Jonathon up to the present, are full of horse-puckey, never mind those who believe that the Church actually blessed same-sex unions. During the Byzantine era, it was not uncommon to bless spiritual friendship between men, at a time when sodomy was punished by -- well, let's just say the punishment fit the crime. Anyway, it was the practice of the time for two men who forged a brotherly bond in the field of battle, to be known as each other's "paraclete," or protector. Remnants of the custom are found today, in the form of "blood brother" oaths undertaken by everyday schoolboys.

Anybody got a problem with that?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Because there are some things worth dying for...
The Ides of July

I didn't do as much dancing as I thought I would. Not as much zydeco anyway. Friday night we went to a country/western place.

Ever see a bunch of suburban cowboys dance? Even if you don't see much of the real thing (and this is NOT), it's still a bit cliché. Almost like a uniform; the stiff ten-gallon hats, startched western shirts, tight blue jeans, and well-polished boots. Then you watch a room full of people who all look like they learned from the same video. No, I didn't know the "El Paso," and I suspect this "good old boy" dance is copyrighted by somebody. But I know enough of ballroom type stuff to get buy, and I don't dress like the typical cowboy type. Close, but not quite. My hat is what's called the "outback" style -- a wider brim than a fedora, but not as prominent as the western look. I'm also partial to southwestern or South American shirts, bought directly from the natives themselves. It's cheaper that way, and they get all the money, for products which weren't produced at sweatshops.

The Common Ground festival on Saturday had perfect weather. We laid on the grass and watched the music. (Well, my friend watched. I found an excuse to try and fall asleep.) We left before the rain stopped.

Then she invited me to this movie night at her church. It's one of those unaffiliated megachurch-type places. You know the type. Like Willow Creek in Chicago, or The Vineyard in Cincinnati. The movie they showed was Pay It Forward, a 2000 drama starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, and directed by Mimi Leder.

I noticed they edited out all the naughty parts. You know, the bedroom scene and all that. Not that I missed it much, nor did its omission take away much from the story (duh!). But I asked the technician later how he pulled it off.

That's when I learned about a company in Utah called Clean Films. They purchase a DVD, clean it up, and rent out the edited version.

"We take out profanity and other offensive language. We also remove nudity, sexual situations, and extreme or gory violence. Our intent is to edit movies so that they become comparable to a PG rating, which often means that we will edit out content that the networks might leave in when they show the same movie on TV."

This gets better. For every edited version rented out, there is an un-edited original in the inventory. Thus they are compliant with copyright laws, the protests of Hollywood notwithstanding. What a plan!!! (My son Paul wants to see what they do with Goodfellas.)

Sunday I went to a party for the volunteers for this year's Buffalo Jam. No complaints about the light show, so I guess I'm on for next year. But after listening to a room full of college-educated Yankees determine the proper ethnicity of potential upcoming acts ("No, he's not Cajun enough... No, they're not real zydeco..."), I ducked out. Oh, to be a Southerner posing as a fly on the wall for this one. Fortunately, Dana and Fox brought their three-year-old son Sam, who is always the life of the party. We went back and forth over the bridge, stole cookies out of the dish, and he chased me down the street. Now that's a guy who knows how to party!

Monday I drove northwest of Baltimore to see a therapist. After failing to find the location, and unable to reach her by phone, I had to bag the whole thing. What a morning! Finally did reach her though. She was so nice about the whole thing, and we talked about my objectives for awhile, and agreed to reschedule at some point in the future. Fortunately, I was at the library in Westminster, where they were selling a complete set of Will and Ariel Durant's eleven-volume The Story of Civilization, in good condition, for only fifty bucks! Wow, this should hold me over until the CD-ROM comes out.

In all the excitement, I missed Bastille Day. Fortunately, Irish Elk did not.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Top Ten Lists For The Road

For those making vacation plans, and if you're partial to the small-town experience (as am I), here are ten good choices for the summer, in a list compiled by Irv Gordon for USA Today:

Lancaster PA
McLean TX
Montauk NY
Belle Fourche SD
Florence OR
Stein's Ghost Town NM
Opportunity MT
Gothenburg NE
Tupelo MS
Cave City KY

Meanwhile, I'm in the market for a new bicycle. That urge to take to the open road by car is getting more expensive these days, and sometimes I just wanna get off the beaten path and camp overnight by a stream.

Here to give us a hand (again, in today's USA Today) is Bicycling magazine editor Steve Madden, with his own top ten list of bike-friendly towns. DC isn't one of them (even though they finally started putting bike racks on public buses), but Seattle (which has been doing it for years) is, of course:

Chicago IL
Portland OR
Denver CO
Philadelphia PA
Tucson AZ
Seattle WA
Madison WI
San Francisco CA
Austin TX
San Diego CA

I'm heading to the Common Ground festival this weekend, northwest of Baltimore, in a college town in the heart of God's country. Me and my black hat will be back in the blogosphere on Monday.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

TNN: The White Trash Channel Evolves

The Nashville Network (TNN) started out life as a cable channel devoted to country music. As such, it had country music variety shows and music videos. In time, it began adding "lifestyle" programming, which amounted to cooking shows with Florence Henderson, and tractor pulls and bass fishing on Sunday. Meanwhile, those of us who are simply into the damn music discovered Country Music Television (CMT). Eventually CMT began doing a few "lifestyle" shows of its own, including shopping sprees in Manhattan with the little tarts that pass themselves off as female country singers. Enter Great American Country (GAC), yet another cable channel which tries to be what CMT once was -- mostly about the music, dammit.

Eventually, TNN threw off its "country music" mantle, becoming "The National Network," and going full tilt into syndicated reruns during the week, big-time wrestling on weeknights (an early television staple), and keeping the tractor pulls and bass fishing on Sundays.

The latest wrinkle is to rename TNN as "Spike TV: The First Network for Men." When the big day came for the old switcheroo, they were still known as "The New TNN." It seems movie producer Spike Lee was threatening TNN owner Viacom in court, claiming people were confusing his name with a channel devoted to "demeaning, vapid and quasi-pornographic content." Finally, today's New York Times reports that the way is clear for Viacom to proceed with its plans to rename TNN as "Spike TV."

This entire saga begs the larger issue. I am having serious doubts now, regarding my well-laid plans to change my legal name to "Spike." Even Mr Lee's original name was "Sheldon." (You can bet he got the crap beat out of him at school over that one.) Nor will I ever be able to name my dog, my cat, or my fish "Spike."

Who owns the name? Isn't it in the public domain, like Tom, Dick, or Harry? Who the hell does Sheldon think he is? After all, women have a channel devoted solely to them. Men need one too, I suppose. But why is the need for a "men's channel" translated as another forum for "demeaning, vapid and quasi-pornographic content"? Isn't there enough of that elsewhere, and is this essential to our manhood? Personally, I'd settle for a program that told me how to tie a windsor knot, or how to dress for a formal or semi-formal dinner, or which fork to use.

But help is on the way. I hear there's a show coming this fall, where a team of five gay men will give us all those answers. At the risk of a really bad pun, stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

There but for the grace of God...
Matriarchy in the Church

Yep. You read it right.

We assume the Roman Church is a "boys club" just because all the people "in charge" are men. But look again, at the day-to-day comings and goings of parish life. Most of those hanging around the rectory are women, and most of the priests are cowed at the sight of them. You call that being in charge?

But wait. There's more.

Watch what happens at Communion. Some middle-aged biddies are up there disseminating the Sacred Species into multiple vessels, a task obstensibly for the priest or deacon, who stands there stupified. The pastor of my hometown parish is just like that. What a pansy! (And yes, you can tell him I said that.) I could elaborate, but my parents would have a cow. They still have to get along with the big ninny.

Anastasius of Summa Contra Mundum elaborates on this phenomenon, and Dom Bettinelli proposes a solution.

(Note to Dom: It needs a website. Frassati dot com. Nice ring to it, eh?)

Monday, July 07, 2003

After the Fireworks: Checking In (Again)

I've been working on a couple of stories the last week or so. They should find a place here before the month's end. They include some highlights of the past weekend. On the whole, I had a pretty good Fourth, really. The best ever. But I must be getting older. (Huh???) The weekend took its toll on me. I'm tired, and find myself wanting to crawl into bed with Chopin's Nocturnes playing in the background.

In the meantime, here's a story dear to my heart: the rites of passage of young Italian-American men in New Jersey. It seems I can get away with calling them "guidos" after all. For the right reason. (Father Peter, if you're reading this, this one is dedicated to you.)

For the rest, stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Checking In

I was home for two weekdays, being a bit under the weather. I keep forgetting I'm getting old. That ever happen to you? All of a sudden you have to watch how much time you spend in the sun.

I never did tan very well. Except for that summer in 1975 when I worked with a road crew in Texas. Did I say "road crew"? Actually, I worked for Procter and Gamble, back before business mail got real cheap, when they had crews traveling the country putting samples of new soap products on people's door knobs. Got to see a lot of eastern Texas that way. (You know, there really is such a thing as "the other side of the tracks.") I lost a lot of weight. I got a great tan. I also got to be a blond.

But... I digress.

With the Fourth of July coming up, lots of DC people try to get the hell outa Dodge. Not like the riff-raff that populate the Mall that you see on public TV every year, listening to Kenny Rogers singing God Bless America or James Earl Jones reading the Declaration of Independence while the Boston Pops plays in the background (yawn!). You think maybe the Dixie Chicks have a shot at it this year?

Naaaaah. Maybe next year.

Anyhow, I'll probably head up to Baltimore for three or four days of dance party action. Come Saturday morning, I may take my kayak out toward the Blue Ridge and find a secluded place to baptize the craft. Meanwhile I bought an American flag at a thrift store for five bucks. My favorite, of course, has always been The Bennington Flag, which I have to replace this month.