Skip to content

Chernobyl on the Palouse; or, Любовь и Искупление в свете трагедии на Черно́быльской АЭС

by Gracjan A. Soren-Bjorn Kraszewski

It’s unsurprising Stéphanie Dupasquier never came here. KTO, télévision catholique francophone, rarely covers American angles. Beloved by the French faithful and fallen away alike, it is also unsurprising that Mme. Dupasquier became a household name to American Catholics. Even here, on the Palouse, a small patch of pristine soil and sky in an overlooked corner of the Pacific Northwest. Pat’s grandmother loved Stéphanie Dupasquier, even wrote her a letter inviting her to film an episode of the show Églises du Monde in Pullman. It didn’t work out. But Mme. Dupasquier sent her a very nice, personal response along with a signed picture of herself. Pat saw the framed photo so many times in his grandmother’s house as a boy that Stéphanie Dupasquier eventually became more family than real family, decidedly more recognizable than some distant aunt or third cousin removed from whoever. Those people lived hundreds of miles way. Stéphanie Dupasquier lived in his grandmother’s kitchen. 

You can reach said kitchen via the Moscow-Pullman Highway, comprised of ID-8 and WA-270. All the rolling slopes of wheat and lentils, even they can’t be contaminated by the occasional side of the road salvage shops airing all their dirty laundry in the form of broken down and well rusted carburetors, defenestrated car doors, thin and thick split windshields and so many tires everywhere being enveloped by broken glass and burnt glass begging to be further smashed down into nothing pressed and squished tightly against chain-link fencing the very links in the chain-link daring driverbys to guess, go ahead, guess which one is the weak link and could, at any moment, spill its contents onto this carefully paved, scenic, winding road.  

WA-270 goes right into the heart of downtown Pullman, which consists exclusively of one, one-way street. Main Street is a glorious street, especially in late fall when the city drapes lights over the trees that line its trace in between the high hills that ring the town, the road set low like the Colorado River carving out the Grand Canyon while here, in Pullman, one can take Main Street out to Grand Ave. and circle the town and its hills time and again in an experience comparable to joyriding the Viennese Ringstraße under a nachsommer twilight sky. Quite a few buildings on Main Street solely stand to demarcate the not coffee shops from the coffee shops.

One of these is a restaurant named Black Cypress. Food’s good, but who cares compared to legend of Lars Michaelson? Michaelson worked at Black Cypress many years ago. He was good at his job, bartending and half-helping manage the joint, and liked it enough to start adding skills both of the intrinsically artistic and financially beneficial sort. He became a master sommelier and, liking the golden froth no less than the pressed grapes, a master cicerone in short order afterwards. 

Michaelson’s rare beer-wine expertise drew the attention of a few big time restaurants across North America. A Michelin three star hole in the wall in Montréal apparently offered him a couple hundred thousand dollars annually to pair their foie gras poutine with alcoholic beverages of every imaginative genre there, that place, that restaurant, the place in Montréal, yeah, Montréal, Québec, yeah, Québec as in 1/13 provinces…what? Yes, of course, yes, Canada. What were you thinking? What? Oh, no, no. What the fu-, are you serious? No. Canada. Montréal, Canada. 

Lars turned down the job. This act of either professional insanity or impregnable loyalty to Pullman won him innumerable respect on the Palouse. Then, he started deadlifting; Bulgarian method. At the outset he struggled with more than two plates on each side of the bar. Soon he was easing past three and four on his way to five plus a little 2.5’er—as tastily scrumptious as the crème brûlée he was mastering in the back of the Black Cypress kitchen— to make a not half-bad five hundred pound deadlift. When food critics started flocking to Pullman to try the now exposed dual master sommelier-cicerone’s adroit crème brûlée confectionary talents Lars was getting fired up with a three-level motivational process beginning with smelling salts, ending with screaming as loud as he could right before making his attempt, transitionally connected by a friend insulting him in rapid-fire staccato patois, before successfully completing deadlifts in the 900-1000 pound register. 

Then, he became the manager at Black Cypress. Then, he started modeling. Turns out he was pretty good looking. Turns out more than a few magazines liked sending their photographers to photograph him wearing different styles of clothing and then publishing those photographs taken by their photographers in their magazines full of, brimming with, well, photographs. But this was all still pretty local, Lars had made a name solely on the limited Seattle-Portland notoriety corridor. Then the head of a Manhattan modeling agency posed a question. How about becoming the face of something ending in -wear, he asked Lars one night at Black Cypress, struggling to speak while scarf-shoveling down the indisputable crème de la crème of the Pacific Northwest food scene; under-, winter-, formal, swim; how about it, look, you’re a style soldier and I’m drafting you into the Great Fashion War. But by the way: can I get a second helping of crème brûlée, please? 

Lars got him that second helping all the while dancing in perfect rhythm to Margaux Avril’s Drifting-French 79 remix. A young woman in Black Cypress was so debilitating smitten by his perfect body control that she went right up to him and blurted out, “Drifting from you? No, I want to drift into you forever.” Now, this girl was absolutely, by every measure, objectively speaking,  certainly and without a doubt, it can said without hesitation, without a second thought, reflexively, drop dead, pop-up alive, sideways, on highways and by-ways, in every way, I’s gwine to Lou’siana, banjos banjos banjos violins and bluegrass fiddles, sun so hot I froze to def gorgeous. 

“Sorry,” Lars said, “already spoken for.” The girl, a “famous”  “local” “vlogger,” was devastated. “1,000 hearts broke simultaneously” when she informed her internet audience that the most eligible man in Pullman was not eligible at all. Cool side note though: she and Lars had a long, all night into the early morning hours, conversation on the topic of whether Drifting or L’air de rien is Margaux Avril’s best song. 

More Pullman loyalty; Lars said no to the NYC modeling gig and the people could hardly handle it. In gratitude, the Mayor of Pullman enacted an ordinance requiring every 10th boy born in the Pullman city limits to be named Lars and every 100th girl to be given the name Mikaela. Today, in Ben and Pat’s chronological present, there are more Lars’ and Mikaelas in Pullman, Moscow, and Colfax (WA) than anywhere else on earth. Then, Lars started painting. Then, he started speaking: Japanese, Swahili, Russian, and Persian. Then, he started dunking. Would play pick-up basketball just to dunk on people. He was really good at dunking on people and kind of like enforcing, in clear terms, like his, like, like his, like, uh, like his, like, well, the, well, like his, hmm, like his, like, you know, like, like, well, you know, uh, like, uh, like his, mm, physical superiority. Then, he started scuba diving; his brother, Ansonius, found a pearl that sold at auction for 44 million. Then, Lars got a PhD in comparative literature. Then, he wrote a novel. Then, unexpectedly, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (finishing third). Then, yes, finally, right before disappearing from public view for the next fifty years, he went into coffee, and, with predicable results, his coffeeshop gained the reputation of being the best in town. 

The only possible challenger to Lars Michaelson as the most recognizable “thing” to ever come out of Pullman is the etymologically abhorrent, lexicographically disastrous contribution to American speech via the slang terms goph, chauff and the consequential phrases gophin on chauffs and chauffin on gophs. All this originated from a few WSU frat boys on a football Saturday in the late 2030s when the Minnesota Golden Gophers paid a visit to Martin Stadium. 

The flexibility of goph is practically limitless. It can be used to say a woman is very good looking or quite unattractive (a.‘Dude, Susanna is so freaking goph it’s insane’/ b.‘I don’t know, man, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder and all, but, I’m not trying to be mean, she’s kinda goph); that something is very hot or very cold, tall or short, slim or fat, fast or slow. It’s used in between other words, as a prefix and suffix, even as a singular expressive that can mean multiple things depending upon context. Ungophable, for example, can mean unbelievable, unflappable, implacable, unbreakable, and unsolvable. Used to highlight grandiose and irreversible missteps, chauffin on gophs and gophin on chauffs usually bespeaks utter domination of an opponent. Your team beat their rival 56-0? They were chauffin on gophs all day. The most beautiful girl in the school turned everyone down to go to the prom with you? You just gophed every chauff.  The Moscow-Pullman highway is so pretty it tolerates neither chauffs nor gophs but to chauff gophs in the passing lane is a proposition decidedly gophed from the get-go thanks to legislative chauffs who implemented a 55 mph speed limit. 

Right off the Moscow-Pullman highway headed east towards Idaho is the U of I Vandals’ football stadium, the Kibbie Dome: a barrel arched roof, laminated wood placed onto a steel skeleton, sits above the playing field, a playing field book-ended by matching, unsupported concrete walls, “Vandals,” in cursive script, stenciled on in rather large font above the goalposts. Halfway up those back of the end zone walls the concrete gives way to massive, translucent window panels that continue the rest of the way up to the dome’s roof. On sunny days, when the light streams through in full blast, one would be forgiven for thinking this is the most beautiful place to watch anything on earth. 

Ben thinks the Kibbie Dome looks like the contamination dome placed over Reactor 4 in Chernobyl following the famous nuclear disaster of 1986. Ever since Bright Light, Chernobyl’s fame, or infamy, has only increased. Mikhail Gorbachev did say, after all, that he viewed it as the prime reason for the USSR’s dissolution and collapse. That is became impossible to keep all the lies going, onward carefully stitched together, the sticky webs of falsehood, when radioactive clouds were detected over Scandinavia. 

Some of the French Catholic kids at Moscow High have an after-school club called Chapelets pour Tchernobyl. Being neither Catholic nor French, Ben doesn’t really understand what it’s about. He does remember a friend and member of this club, Alexandre, going on for quite a long time to him, a Mormon, and Pat, a catch-all, low heat cream sauce reduction Protestant, about very specific Catholic concepts like “redemptive suffering” and then about an assorted smattering of supposed miracles in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. He talked about a KTO special report Stéphanie Dupasquier had done many years ago, reporting from St. Elijah’s Orthodox Church, a medieval mini-cathedral in the Byzantine style, with fluorescent accents of sea-green on the main door and the arches at the front of the church, arches led downwards by purple columns affixed to a blue-colored portico, she commenting on the icon within the church, “The Savior of Chernobyl,” Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Michael the Archangel above a nighttime scene, white robed saints on the left and the power plant workers on the right, while, in the immediate foreground, a reputed miraculous misshapen pine tree, in its bent form looking like both a cross and the first letter of the Ukrainian name for that fateful place that a plant worker claimed diverted radiation from residential areas and, in doing so, in splitting and redirecting an approaching deadly monster, made many ironclad non-believers, his power plant colleagues, consider the idea of God for the first time in their lives. In the background of the Savior of Chernobyl icon, behind the pine tree, is the Nuclear Power plant itself, small and lonely, looking harmless there, off in the distance. 

By “anyone else affected” Alexandre meant those workers and first responders, the conscripted miners, graphite roof shovelers, cleanup crew, anyone who then, or soon after, or later on, contracted the worst type of radiation poisoning suffering veritable martyrdoms in their dying agonies, their veins splitting apart inside, not fit for even the administration of pain killing morphine and so left with nothing but to drink of a chalice that would not pass from them; but not those three brave men who volunteered to swim under the melting reactor to drain tanks so as to prevent a secondary explosion that could have permanently contaminated the region for centuries to come, the common sense balance of their actions—being here=certain death—calling to mind Father Hubert Schiffer and the German Jesuits in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. 

All this is precisely why, Alexandre said, jokes about Lincoln’s assassination, for example, were not just tasteless but morally wrong, because there’s no such thing as “enough time passed,” because time means nothing against the backdrop of eternity, for whether a building collapsed and crushed 45 people to death last week in Delhi, or two and half thousand years ago in Pericles’ Athens, people died in the same way, and their family and friends mourned with equal sorrow; so, fine, find Chernobyl interesting, it is interesting, just don’t forget about the people who lived and suffered there, you, after the fact disaster tourist, you, brushing aside the unimaginable physical pains and unremitting trials these poor people endured without a second thought, perhaps even on the wings of a joke, when you, who tremble at the first pangs of food poisoning and imagine a night vomiting into a toilet as “painful” wouldn’t last a second in the face of the real suffering you so easily dismiss and devalue; the suffering born from the modern version of Icarus’ folly, flying too close to a sub-atomic sun more complex than even the brightest could comprehend so as to control. 

But that’s not it, Ben has learned. Chernobyl didn’t happen because of over-extended ambition or a lack of scientific knowledge. To speak of control one must add ‘rods;’ one must speak of design flaws on those rods, of graphite tips accelerating  radioactivity upon re-entry, the very opposite of the one thing they’re there for, deceleration, and the great tragedy of a Soviet system that knew of this potential flaw in their RBMK reactors as early as ten years prior to April 1986 and, yet, better to chance everything, risk it all, even that which did come to pass, rather than admit error and have to work through the painstaking retrofitting process under the eyes of a judgmental, self-righteous West.  

Plus there’s the significance of doing the test in the wee hours of the morning (Reactor 4 exploded at 1:23.40 AM) after the reactor had been running at half-power for a long time which apparently is so bad an idea the test should have been cancelled altogether and why were those wee hours staffed by the Plant’s B-team, kids in their 20s manning posts that should have been under the command of seasoned engineers with more on the job experience than the youngsters had years on Earth? Power rationing from Kiev had delayed the test and here, tragically, it was not haste but institutional procrastination by way of ideological shackles and economic inertia that made all the difference and produced all the fatal waste that followed. Ben now knows more than he could have ever wanted to about the Chernobyl disaster. But Chapelets pour Tchernobyl is far from the first time the subject was breeched with him. His father used Chernobyl as the analogous material for his ‘birds and the bees’ talks with Ben and his brother, Steve. 

“Listen, uh,” Ben remembers his dad telling him on some do-nothing summer day, he either thirteen or fourteen years old. “Ben. Uh, why don’t you have a seat? You want something to drink, an OJ? Some milk?” Ben remembers shaking his head. 

“Look, Ben. Men and women. Boys and girls, you know?”

“…”

“Okay, son. A nuke, ah, a nuclear reactor is… you understand fission, Ben?”

“…”

“Atoms split and release energy. This produces a lot of heat. That heat makes steam which then powers a turbine creating electricity. It’s a beautiful thing, son. Just like the love between a man and a woman. Ben, are you following what I’m saying?”

Ben remembers his dad looking haggard, and he was haggard, properly worn out and down by this particular fatherly duty. 

“What I’m saying is don’t go splitting atoms with just anyone, okay! You must only make steam and spin turbines with one woman, your wife. And I know that’s a long way down the road but if I don’t tell you this now you’d be risking a personal Chernobyl. People just go on doing who knows what with control rods and pretty soon there won’t even be an AZ-5 option for you; you go and create all these positive void coefficients and it’s too late. At that point the die’s been cast, all the gophs have been chauffed! Ben, do not poison the core with an un-exitable, un-quittable Xenon pit. You’re a good boy. I know you’ll always do the right thing.” Here, finally, Ben could nod. Be a ‘good boy’ and ‘do the right thing’ made sense. These were tangible goals to aim at.

 Tangible, just like the Kibbie Dome’s east side wall, its color pattern of alternating grey and orange-creamsicle squares looking identical to the arrangement of the steel blocks that sit on top of an RBMK nuclear reactor core. Each time Ben and Pat ride bikes past the Kibbie Dome Ben hears, with perfect clarity, the Russian language evacuation order given at nearby Pripyat—no small city with a population of nearly 50,000 people, which became a ghost town at that evacuation announcement, everything left in place for years to come, frozen in time, with only the natural cycles of changing seasons and the retaking by nature of space previously lost to steel, concrete and glass causing disturbances; with surprising rapidity and just plain surprise, for who would’ve thought that such a seemingly irredeemably irradiated place could once again support nature and wildlife? Tourism developed soon enough after it was confirmed that the radiation levels were fairly normal, save for absolute no-go spots like the corium mass underneath the remains of Reactor 4, “the Elephant’s foot,” which, circa 1987, was a perpetually firing 8K+ roentgens specimen capable of delivering a 50/50 lethal dose of radiation within a few hundred seconds of close proximity. Tourism boomed because deserted Pripyat is an objectively beautiful place, a wild color palate of seafoam blues, auroral purples and pinks abounding everywhere amidst rusted hospital cots, they of a handsome golden-brown rust, caramelized sugar colored glass and the Azure swimming pool, with its own rusted beams and fine-stained tile, its turquoise diving board and large windows, wall-to-wall wrap around fenestrae which lead your eyes out to the orange sunset on the horizon. Even the abandoned gray socialist realism high rise apartments look good, begging the question, is this what it takes to make socialist architecture visually appealing?—the evacuation order, which, tragically, was not broadcast until more than thirty hours after Reactor 4 blew, a time by which the radiation was so powerful and prevalent the grainy footage from the evacuation has all these white sparks and crackles and pops all over the tape; they couldn’t see it with the naked eye, nor yet feel its devastating effects, but the amount in the city already then, a city less than ten miles from ground zero, was overwhelming. 

Внимание, Уважаемые товарищи! Внимание, Внимание! Городской совет народных депутатов сообщает, что, в связи с аварией на Чернобыльской атомной электростанции,…

Внимание, Внимание…

Speaking of Внимание, Ben remembers his grandfather telling him a story about a weightlifting competition that was held years ago at the Kibbie Dome in honor of Lars Michaelson. People were warned beforehand that Michaelson was going to make an appearance. No one took it seriously, promotional propaganda, event hype, nothing more. The three dominant theories as to Michaelson’s whereabouts all these years were that a) he had given his life to numbers in the style of hyper-savant, conjecture proving mathematician Grigori Perelman, b) he had retired to Alessandria, Italy, to a hilltop, castle crowned commune named Cremolino to write the authoritative history of twenty-first century Italian politics focused on the persons of Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni—or c) in nothing less than a modern day imitation of the 5th century Syrian saint Simeon Stylites, Lars, having found God, had mounted a pillar somewhere in the desert and had been spending his time praying, fasting, making reparation for his and all the world’s countless sins. 

Whatever it was, there was no way he was showing up now, after all these years. But, he did. He did show up. And he participated in the deadlifting portion of the contest. And he pulled six-hundred seventy-five pounds at a bodyweight of 146, age, confirmed, seventy-nine years old. And then, he catered the event, making crème brûlée right on the fifty-yard line. And then, then he left. He took a big bite of the last crème brûlée he ever created, really chomped into and through it, leaving perhaps 23% unfinished dessert next to a cup 16% full of undrunk coffee, his coffee, from his coffeshop in Pullman. Lars just unceremoniously put the crème brûlée and the coffee cup down, wiped his face with a napkin, threw the napkin into the trash, did not acknowledge the crowd nor the people on the field with him, didn’t say anything, not a single word, turned and left. 

To turn and leave, Pat’s go-to response; but it’s all B.S., high school kid, anti-localism bravado. Moscow is beautiful. Just see the Fort Russell Neighborhood where he lives, the homes turn of the century bungalows, Prairie style, Georgian Greek Revival, even “English Revival Bungalow;” some accented blue, lime green, pink, many brown roofs paired with white doors, porticos and porches galore, lots of space to sit and sip something while watching the street, the sun, the stars. And here’s the thing: maybe what everyone appreciates most about Moscow is the downtown Farmer’s market; Main Street stuffed full with vendors of the food, drink, clothing and farm to table fruit and vegetable variety. It’s nice walking up and down through the crowds, the auburn foliage and 71 degrees Fahrenheit about you and, this being the last weekend in September, you’re going to be watching the Vandals play football in Chernobyl this afternoon. You smile and realize, I am happy. When in Moscow, one is never far from happiness. Such was the contention of Lars Michaelson himself, who, when he had just started working at Black Cypress lived on the top floor of the Moscow Hotel Apartments allowing him to survey all the Palouse has to offer. He wrote about this very experience in his autobiography. 

Staring at the twilight summer sky before my eyes, I wish it was already snowing; pulsating panorama, I surrender. Went to the Co-op yesterday. Sampled Durian, wore a replica 1917 Great War gas mask to stand the smell. The Co-Op people gave me a hard time about that, the mask. Tried washing down the taste of the first with Paradise Creek’s Kugar Kolsch; alas, in vain…relegate thing arrows once more into the cobwebbed attics of dreamlands far across the fog, hidden behind untraversable crevasses of inaccessible passage, broken dreams, shattered self-delusions and free floating dread. 

To attempt traversing the inaccessible passages of human limitations, Michaelson believed you had to go to the end of Main Street so as to turn right onto 6th street. What catches one’s eye first are these massive grain elevators; white with ‘LATAH COUNTY GRAIN GROWERS, INC.’ written at the top in black. If they look like the perfect place to get a work out in, the very elevated character of the roof buoying a lifter’s sprits, moving away from a flat-roofed, twelve foot ceiling in a whitewashed church sapping all transcendence towards the darkness and vivid iconography and stunning verticality of the 13th century Gothic Church on Krakow’s Main Square, St. Mary’s Basilica, which can redeem even the most vapid homily, you’re right. It was here that Michaelson and friends went hyper-bonk piston-pump weights up down up down up clanking off the floor while a once in six decades blizzard battered the outer walls to the two tune harmony of ten below and gusts up to forty while dumping more than the forecasted 8” of snow, accumulations quickly accelerating past one feet, two feet, three feet four. 

Continuing past the silos on sixth you’ll soon run into Deakin Street. To turn left on Deakin is to head to the famed ‘Vandal Catholic’ Center where a legendary priest long ago turned it, St. Augustine’s, into Paris, circa AD 1255, the very cutting edge, spear’s tip of Catholic intellectual life then approximately a half-century post-Vatican II. 

The immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council witnessed significant attrition in religious vocations, depressing statistics rinse and repeated countless times all over the map with many already consecrated nuns and priests abandoning their vocations mid-stream; why? Because (maybe) the times they were a changin’; because (ibid-‘maybe’) they no longer believed all of that; because (ibid.) the Church was too boring and irrelevant; because (ibid.) the world was too groovy and hip; because (ibid.) you can’t rather shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and the gone baby made all the priests and nuns gone, baby, gone. 

And then the myriad ‘spirit of Vatican II’ interpretations that plagued the 60/70s Church in America like frogs-lice-hail-locusts-and the pestilence, things like moving the Tabernacle to the side and the communion rails out, homilies and sermons seeing no need of Gospel wisdom, undergirded by amorphous concepts of ‘love’ and ‘hope’ and ‘goodness’ in the supermarket checkout line with golf, football, and crickets-quality, pin-drop silence jokes sprinkled in throughout. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, the Master Himself said, yet little did they know that the fulfillment of the daily bread necessity, the double bread: the Holy Word of God and his Eucharistic body, blood, soul and divinity, was just as straightforward as it seemed: salvation sacramentally initiated and strengthened via Baptism and Confirmation, reconciled eponymously, not thrown into the trash bins of disregard at old age, rather anointed, supernatural legitimacy in bonds sacerdotal and sexually unitive-procreative matrimony, and, back to the beginning, a return to the source and the summit, the Eucharist, all thanksgiving, the Eucharist. It really was that simple and yet what these people got was obfuscation and religiously themed critical theory, self-hating anti-apologetics, gross misunderstanding of virtues like diversity and tolerance and, in endless doses, the very fifteenth scrape of the barrel’s bottom quality in church music. 

This was the situation this holy priest at St. Augustine’s inherited when first taking over. But he went to work, boy did he ever, oh boy, yeah buddy, dude, he got after it, a little bit, started shaking things up, a little bit; look, you don’t even know, nuh uh, girl, no way, nah, girl, really?, hole’up, you mean you saying he did? Girl, he did what? You saying he moved the Tabernacle back to its throne-centered middle, put communion rails in and told people to kneel and receive the Corpus Christi on the tongue because lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, and, you know, you just know it, girl, he made Latin mandatory for all the studetns and faculty and staff associated with ST.Aug-UI-Moscow, started celebrating the Mass ad orientem and in Latin, and this was decades before the Third Vatican Council re-established the TLM as the ordinary form once more. Forget the Kibbie Dome, this man, this priest, was fast proving to be the real Chernobyl on the Palouse; Chernobyl without the disaster, a wellspring of nuclear spiritual energy incapable of ever melting down.

He went to Eucharistic adoration one day for his daily hour, following the example set by St. F. Sheen the Tele-Eloquent, and asked God for “the thirty million dollars we need for the necessary renovations, Lord,” and, lo and behold, in the vein of the famous story of St. Angelica of Irondale who needed money, asked God, got a call from some super wealthy, yacht owning Catholic oligarch that very day the guy saying “don’t know why but I just got this feeling I needed to send you some money,” and she, St. Angelica, laconically responding “wire it,” so too did this priest shortly after his hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament get called into the main office with “Father, there’s someone on the line for you and he says it urgent, says it’s a very important matter;” and the priest was already dancing and skipping and whistling his thanks to God en route from church to office. It was a total church restoration, one based on the cathedrals of pre-Renaissance Europe, modernists pwned, a huge vertical space where the music and the incense and all the prayers could skyscrape-drift’float to heaven, 1970ists owned, a massive organ and strict interdiction on guitars and emotive moan-singing, postmodern praise and worshippers pwned, Idaho interpretations on the Rose window at Notre Dame de Paris, Vatican II architects pwned, and so on, and so forth, and so on and so forth so much that no one, no one in what had become the most vibrant and theologically orthodox and properly progressively cutting edge Catholic college in the Untied States was the least bit surprised when this priest was called to become Archbishop of New York City then created a cardinal and then assumed the Chair of Peter itself. People were surprised, but tickled to death, when, years later, another American priest made cardinal became pope because not only had these two been friends, close friends almost brothers, but their names were practically identical, literally identical in the first chase case, and almost the same in the latter, the nom de famille, beautifully congruent in taking off from the H-base through all those German letters as thick and as warm and as comforting as a foam-frothy hefeweizen during Oktoberfest.

%d bloggers like this: