Keeping Tabs On The Ends & The Means
Saturday, March 03, 2012
The story behind the taking of this picture is straightforward. Sometime in May 1989 writer John Lekich and I dropped in to see Charles Campbell (not relation to the subject of this blog) the editor of the Georgia Straight
Campbell was a man who trusted the ideas of the people he trusted. We said to him, "Your paper needs a bit of excitement. How about a gorgeous blond who also happens to be smart?” We were dispatched forthwith on the case.
Later that May, when I checked the envelope file containing Campbell, Karen negatives I found I had written:
First shoot new studio on Robson!
In the late 80s I was still obsessed with imitating George Hurrell’s Hollywood style of photography. I used a spotlight, overhead on a boom on Campbell and with another spotlight I projected a cloud gobo (a metal stamp) on the back wall.
Charles Campbell, a wise Charles Campbell had introduced to the Straight
a few years a page called Intro. This was to be Lekich and my favourite page for our mutual ideas. The Intro page was perfect for profiles that were not yet cover material and did not fit within the boundaries of the column oriented Georgia Straight. It meant that within a few restrictions, Lekich and I could do whatever we wanted.
With Charles Campbell gone from the editorial pages of local magazines, our business had become arid, boring, commercial and predictable. By the time someone makes it into our local magazines they have been written about elsewhere. Campbell, the editor, took chances and our life was better for it and much livelier.
Keeping Tabs on the Ends and the Means
By John Lekich
May 26 - June 2, 1989
Remember all those things your mother used to say in the hope that you’d ultimately avoid the fruitless pursuit of depressingly gorgeous women? Stuff like, “Trust me, son. Beauty is only skin deep.” After several stints in some of the more squalid corners of Heartbreak Hotel, you finally realized she was right. It’s just that watching Karen Campbell, as she sits for a portrait against one of those old MGM backdrops, has a way of making you forget every sensible thing your mother ever taught you.
At 20 Campbell just may have a shot at major-league stardom. Confirmed romantics can’t help rooting for her. Maybe because she has the kind of willowy looks that recall the glamour days of Grace Kelly or Kim Novak. Cast your mind back a few decades and you can almost imagine Hitchcock discovering the former model on the cover of Vogue
But, once Campbell begins to converse, the cool demeanor gives way to a sense of runaway animation. Listening to her talk is like watching a boulder gather speed from the top of as steep hill. She apologizes when you ask her to slow down. “I have always been impatient,” she grins. “I like things to happen fast.”
A classically trained dancer, Campbell did her first commercial at 10. By 11 she was hosting her own educational children’s series in Ontario. “The kids called me ‘bunhead’,” she recalls, “I was never the type to hang around after school.”
In fact, Campbell seems much more sophisticated than her age would indicate, perhaps because performing has been a personal goal since the age of seven. “I didn’t have a stage mother,” she says, “It was all my idea. There’s a part of me that always wanted to be a movie diva of the 40s.”
She gleefully admits to gravitating towards the grandiose. “I love glamour. And I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t appreciate being catered to. On the other hand, I really value my independence. I was one of those kids who was taking the train alone at the age of six. I’m used to making my own decisions. So those two elements are constantly at odds with each other.”
And yet, while Campbell may have missed the golden age of Hollywood, the modern equivalent is beckoning. A locally based performer, she has appeared in videos with Colin James and Paul Hyde, and once sang back-up for a band to “experience the raw vitality of the music”. Suddenly Campbell may be a lot closer to the centre of that vitality than she ever anticipated.
As this piece goes to press, Campbell is flying to New York to do several shows as a guest veejay for MTV. Viewers who caught her stint as a host of on CBC’s short lived Pilot One
won’t be surprised that the MTV brass has granted her this opportunity after screening Campbell’s audition tapes.
Of Pilot One
, a controversial, teen oriented program that was axed in a recent wave of CBC cutbacks, Campbell says there has never been a show in North America that took so many risks. “We were free to blatantly discuss topics that were relevant to kids. Things like sex, drugs and the environment. A lot of people found the bluntness a little difficult to take. But we weren’t scared to say: ‘Hey it’s out there. Let’s talk about it.’ Just because those kinds of issues weren’t dealt on The Brady Bunch
doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”
Devoted couch potatoes may have a little trouble reconciling Campbell’s bright, outspoken nature with her cult status in a series of slick, locally shot milk commercials – the ones that urge you to maintain your cool while serving up images that could boil a frosty glass of eggnog.
Campbell appears in a string of wholesome guises that range from a fresh-faced go-go dancer to an even fresher-faced punkette. Yes, mom, beauty is only skin deep. But as skin goes, the consensus seems to be that Campbell’s is, shall we say, above average.
Which is why Campbell found herself modeling in the pages of Elle
at an age when most of us were still busy soaking up Clearasil. It was a lifestyle she recounts with admirable self-restraint – filled with travel, celebrities, and an income that ranged from $500 to $3000 a day. After three years of jetting from Japan to Jamaica, the initial excitement gradually gave way to disillusionment.
With her eye on saving money to study acting n New York, Campbell recalls that modelling was originally supposed to be means to an end. “But the means can become so appealing that you forget there’s and end in sight. It’s like being in the middle of an endless rock video. The ones who survive just sort of let life wash over them.”It took Campbell three years to leave the business despite the encouragement and support of her mother. “She said, ‘If you’re not happy you should quit.’ But then there was the reality of all my friends putting themselves through acting classes by waiting on tables.”
Yet Campbell, who is currently taking a writing course by correspondence because, “all this showbiz stuff makes me worry about staying literate”, ultimately decided to give it up.
“I was put on this earth to be more than a coat hanger. I’ve always found the discipline of aesthetics very boring,” she confesses adding that a high fashion model’s professional life revolves around nothing more challenging than working out and getting the proper amount of sleep. “If you’re an actress, you can always improve on monologue. If you’re a dancer, you can refine an adagio. But how do you get better at posing?”
Observing that her best friend through the modelling years was a daily journal, she says, “I was worried about my neurons dying. When you’re a model, nobody really cares about what you say or how you feel. People tend to pay more attention to how you talk, instead of listening to what you’re saying. You know you’re in a weird business when your rent depends on whether or not you have a broken fingernail.
“Finally, I started feeling really stupid,” she adds. “I’d sit for eight hours thinking: ‘What am I doing lying on the beach in the middle of winter wearing nothing but a bathing suit? I’m freezing my ass off and people are telling me that I’m fat. Is this all I’m good for?”
Not that modelling didn’t; have its more memorable moments. Among them, jetting to Monte Carlo at age 17 to shoot a fashion layout with Helmut Newton, arguably the world’s most famous glamour photographer.
Campbell remembers Newton with affection. “He’s known for making his models stand in the middle of the snow with g-string on and then screaming at them. But he saw that I had a lot of rambunctious energy that modelling couldn’t get rid of. And we just had a gas.”
Asked if she was aware of the photographer’s prestigious reputation, Campbell says that while people told her when she got the job that it was the epitome of modelling she didn’t know who Newton was. “He kept saying he wanted to shoot me in my favourite lingerie. And I would go: ‘Well I have a sports bra…’”
As Karen Campbell’s features give way to an introspective smile, you recall another motherly cliché – something about not being able to judge a book by its cover. But even mothers can be wrong occasionally. Once in a while, a cover manages to live up to expectations, revealing pages the inevitably promise an interesting future with each turn.
Cesar's Palace & The Vancouver Art Gallery
Friday, March 02, 2012
|Jo-Ann on the Farmer Building roof|
Friday night, Rosemary told me the news that she had been at Sears downtown and that there were signs indicating that Sears was going to close the store.
When I heard t his immediately thought of my friend Abraham Rogatnick who was adamant that the Vancouver Art Gallery should stay. He said here
that it was feasible to dig down, under the gallery and find lots of space for storage. With that digging the horrible rock waterfall/fountain on Georgia would be removed and Arthur Erickson would smile down from heaven. He hated the fountain.
|Las Babas del Diablo |
From Max Wyman a couple of years ago I had found out that the city and the gallery had made a feasibility study in which they would have sub-leased from Sears the upper floor of the department building and build a bridge connecting it to the gallery. This was dropped as architect Michael Geller mentions in his blog for Friday March 2 here
because of the problem of dealing (then) with the 30 years lease with Sears.
Now with Sears leaving it's an unexpected gift that must have both Abraham Rogatnick and Arthur Erickson dancing on a cloud. “What a marvelous opportunity,” Rogatnick is probably saying. Rogatnick would point out that the Pompidou Centre in Paris is a big box, too.
|La Babas del Diablo|
I remember Rogatnick telling me, before he died, that if the VAG used the upper floor of the Sears building Doug Coupland could perhaps park a Boeing 747 sized conceptual art piece with room to spare.
For me the building has for many years been my favourite in town for very selfish reasons. For one the huge white wall on Robson would shine in the afternoon into my studio, on the third floor of the Farmer Building (being torn down as I write this). Once when Arthur Erickson was posing in the studio I pointed out the building across the street and asked, “Is this the most famous building in town built by a world renowned architect?” He looked at me perhaps thinking that I was making some joke on his own buildings in the city. But he knew what I was about and said, “Yes, Cesar Pelli.”
|Las Babas del Diablo |
There may be some confusion here as Argentine-born Pelli had previously been an associate architect for Eero Saarinen and shortly after when phase one of the Vancouver project that would include the Eaton’s (before Sears) building and the two black towers on Georgia, he was working as a designer for Gruen Associates in Los Angeles. The building might be a Pelli design (and I will not retract information here that I am indeed Argentine born, too) or perhaps to Victor Gruen himself.
I am certainly no architect nor am I an urbanist. I do not understand the finances involved here and how the city and the VAG could spring the money to buy the property from Cadillac Fairview. I have no idea who owns the land. I do know that the city has given the VAG a year to raise the money to perhaps build across from the main post office at Larwill Park. I do know that both Kathleen Bartels and Michael Audain have their hearts set on a new building designed by a Gehry-clone-with-wings like the museum in Bilbao.
But I do know that a box, a rectangular box can store more stuff and display it well. That the Sears building has escalators and elevators is a real bonus. I can see here a film theatre for art movies, an auditorium for lectures on art or for lunchtime concerts. And yes Doug Coupland could park a 747 here and maybe if a hole were dug through the ceilings of all the floors a real live Rodney Graham tree could be suspended downwards.
As Geller points out in his blog the re-use (or re-fit as architect Henry Hawthorn describes it) is surely less expensive than tearing it all down and adding to that the cost of building something new at Larwill Park.
|La Babas del Diablo|
Expanding the VAG to the Sears building would ensure for many years to come that our city core would remain where it belongs.
Now if we could only tell the folks of UBC to move back to their fantasy/endowment land, the space they would vacate, would again be what it used to be, a thriving centre for urban conferences and lectures (even some given by Erickson I recall fondly). Nobody has yet said what Abraham Rogatnick, so often told me, “UBC has killed Robson Square, and Kathleen Bartels wants to go to a better job somewhere else with a new gallery building as her Nexus passport.”
Thursday, March 01, 2012
|Alexandra Elizabeth Waterhouse-Hayward|
On Tuesday I showed my class at Focalpoint one of my portfolios. It was one that featured complex lighting. It is a tear sheet portfolio which means that the pictures where in pages from magazines that had given me the assignment to shoot them. My students looked at me oddly and one asked, “Did you take all those pictures?” My answer was part incredulous and part sad/cynical;” Do you think I would show you these unless I had not taken them?”
Such a situation is most humbling. Unless you rob a bank or you are politician caught in act of stealing you are quickly forgotten and anything you might have done in the past is forgotten, too. I do not think that I will attempt to avoid this fate, an inevitable one, by asking my wife to purchase a park bench with my name on it once I am gone.
I will not hide the fact that my de-facto retirement from my profession has left me feeling a tad empty and much more guilty when know that I can stay in bed in the morning if I want to or that I can read any book, also in bed, I want until late.
And I will not hide the fact that writing a blog every day has become a strain as my ambition on what my blog should be becomes more complex. Consider that I am currently re reading two science fiction novels involving priests from the Society of Jesus who go to space. One tries to determine if the inhabitants of a distant planet in a distant star system have a soul. The other arrives at the conclusion that the world he is discovering was created by the devil. And why am I reading these novels? Because I met a brother of Holy Cross, in Austin recently who is Puerto Rican and he reminded me of the two Jesuit protagonists.
To escape it all I decided to sift through some of my not-yet-filed photographs which are in boxes full of white standard size office envelopes.
I saw one long lost negative of my eldest daughter, Alexandra Elizabeth Waterhouse-Hayward. The photograph has always haunted me. No matter how often Ale might laugh and sound cheery there is always that built-in sadness in her face. The picture reminded me of a more recent one, perhaps four years old, of Rebecca Anne Stewart my granddaughter which I took in Mérida, Yucatán. There is that sadness there, too.
When I look at pictures of myself as a young boy I remember that I had and still have a crooked smile. I was embarrassed by it so I rarely smiled. In my family my glum expression was called “the Alex face”.
I believe that both my daughter and granddaughter did not inherit my Alex face. What they have is a delicate sadness that comes from an awareness the life is not easy and that it sometimes hurts.
|Rebecca Anne Stewart|
I long for the days, days which I think will not come back, when a young Rebecca would rush into the house on Saturdays. She would loudly say, “Cómo estás papi?”And then she would open the kitchen door and run into the garden.
These days she is almost glum, not sad, and surly, too. We (but not Rosemary) clash so she avoids visiting us on Saturdays. I long for a phone call, “Cómo estás papi?” I want to hug her but the moment I see her I just freeze and I don’t.
Ale, much cheerier these days from her outpost in Lillooet, would probably say, “Va a pasar, ya verás.” It will pass you just wait and see.
I am hoping she is right.
Pina, Thinking & Dreaming Big In Dance
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Rosemary and I saw the Wim Wenders’s documentary Pina
about the dance and choreography career of Pina Bausch today at our favourite and almost local Park Theatre on Cambie. Rosemary enjoyed the film very much even though usually Rosemary will give me the standard response to any modern dance I might take her which is, “I don’t understand modern dance.”
While I did like the film lots, too, I felt frustrated because of an inability to speak with anybody about it and compare notes. My friend Max Wyman eventually got back to me after I left a message with him and we talked about Pina on the phone.
Wyman did say something that only compounded my frustration, “It is a bad time in Vancouver for anything to do with dance discussions.”
I asked him if he had thought about any local choreographer, as I had, during his viewing of the film. “Yes,” he answered, “I was thinking of Lola McLaughlin
who had a similar sensibility to Pina and actually studied under her.”
As I watched the film I thought of photo seminars I had attended in the late 80s sponsored by Derrik Murray at the Four Seasons Hotel. Murray brought elite American photographers who showed us studios with many assistants and full of equipment beyond the means of anybody in Vancouver. These photographers told us about their $4000 day rates. These seminars depressed me as I could not identify it all to my own meager reality.
Domenic Point & Karen Jamieson
As I watched Pina
I thought of local choreographers and how they might take watching a dance company with so many dancers and of works that could use lakes and buckets of waters on a stage which included a huge boulder. I thought of the production values of Pina Bausch’s choreography and I wondered if these local choreographers felt as frustrated as I had after attending a Murray seminar.
In particular I thought of three local dancer/choreographers who in the past and quite recently not only pushed the envelope of the avant-garde but had also staged ambitious works that were either grueling (Karen Jamieson’s Sisyphus
) complex and dangerous in movement (Jennifer Mascall’s White Spider
) or Crystal Pite's cross platform experimentation with the Electric Theatre Company (the fully choreographed stage play, Studies in Motion – the Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge
That made me think further into the career of John Alleyne who since his beginnings at Ballet BC in 1992 brought not too slow but certainly sure change to a company that seemed to be mired in 19th century ballet chestnuts. If it were not for Alleyne I would have never been exposed to the choreography of William Forsythe nor would I have ever enjoyed the likes of Crystal Pite and Emily Molnar
who were both lured by him back to Vancouver and Ballet BC from Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet.
It was Alleyne who first brought artists Tiko Kerr and Alan Storey to collaborate with him. It was Alleyne who with Boy Wonder
hired local composer Owen Underhill
to compose new music for his ballet. In large works like The Goldberg Suite
he employed dancer Wen Wei Wang
in a novel use of a huge metal dipper and made his dancers speak to the shock of local dance critics! Perhaps his even larger works like Carmina Burana
with an equally large orchestra and choir may have broken the bank and precipitated his company’s undoing in 2009. But John Alleyne
dreamt and thought big in a town that rarely goes beyond provincial thinking.
I have learned that during a recent memorial program for one of the founders of Ballet BC David Y. H. Lui
, Alleyne’s name was not uttered once. This seems astounding. It reminds me of Soviet airbrush artists removing fallen Russian heroes from photographs. If they weren’t there they never existed.
It seems to me that our city needs some really good dance preview and criticism and more effort by us all to bring the dance community into a sort of protective umbrella where we can give praise where praise is due and perhaps find a way of funding choreographers so that more of them like Jamieson
, Pite and Mascall
can, like Alleyne think and dream big.
Addendum: Tomorrow Thursday The Lola McLaughlin Dance Society and Tony Glacinti will award Crystal Pite The Lola Award which is worth $10,000. I am sure that the mony will help realize some of Pite's ambitious dreams.
The Newsroom Empties & Style Disappears
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Before Vancouver Sun
Editor-in-Chief John Cruickshank was promoted to a publishing position with the Chicago Sun Times
in the early 2000s I ran into him in the Sun newsroom. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me he wanted a word with me. He took me through the cavernous expanse of the room which was full of columnists and staffers. It was a real newsroom, at least from my now ancient point of view. It was the kind of newsroom that I saw in a recent viewing at home of Kevin Macdonald’s 2009 film State of Play
with Helen Mirren, Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. Of that newsroom NY Times A. O. Scott wrote:
I will admit that I choked up a little at the end of “State of Play.” Not because the story was especially moving — or even, ultimately, all that interesting — but because the iconography of the closing credits tugged at my ink-stained heartstrings. The images are stirring and familiar, though in a few years’ time they may look as quaint as engravings of stagecoaches and steam engines. A breaking, earthshaking story makes its way from computer screen to newsprint. The plates are set, the presses whir, sheaves of freshly printed broadsheet are collated, stacked on pallets and sent out to meet the eyes of the hungry public. Truth has been told, corruption revealed and new oxygen pumped into the civic bloodstream. All that’s missing is a paperboy yelling “extra!” to crowds of commuters in raincoats and fedoras.
Those of us who work in the newspaper business are highly susceptible to the kind of sentimental view of our trade this movie offers, especially when the sentiment masquerades as tough-minded cynicism, which makes us go all dewy and reach for the bottle of rye we keep stashed in the bottom drawer of our battered metal desk.
When I emerged from Cruickshank’s office (who had promised me lots more work and that I was going to work more with the then Saturday Review/Mix editor David Beers) I walked back to the exit. That evening I received quite a few phone calls from Sun staffers wanting to have lunch with me.
I don’t have to go to the Vancouver Sun newsroom now to know that the cavernous space has been empty and the paper is moving a floor up for more compact quarters. I don’t have to point out here, but I will, that if the five minutes max that I spend every morning reading the Sun would be my time in the Vancouver Sun Run I would be very happy to keep paying for my daily subscription. And I must also reveal here that if I were to buy a canary, budgie or a Guinea pig the Vancouver Courier would suffice.
But I will not malign any further a paper that is put together in Hamilton Ontario. It has, at least, a few columnists of note like David Baines, Vaughn Palmer and Ian Mulgrew. It is my city newspaper, after all.
Ever since I can remember I have been in love with newspapers and magazines and I can never read enough about them or read the ones that are my faves.
When I first came to Canada in 1975 I used to lovingly look at the photographs of Saturday Night
. At the time a designer Robert Priest had pioneered the idea of two-page spreads in magazines. The photographs weren’t always a full bleed but squarish so that type could either be placed on the left of the first page or on the right of the second. This meant that magazines had big pictures. These big Saturday Night photographs had style and I could readily identify most of the photographers without reading the photo credit.
The reason for this is that photographers with style were the ones who were hired. It took a while but eventually I, too worked for the many incarnations of Saturday Night until it finally died and alas, I must say that perhaps it was then when style in magazine photography became white Bimbo Bread.
By 1980 when I was the de-facto staff photographer for Vancouver Magazine
I took pride in pulling all the stops when I was given assignments.
I remember vividly sometime in the late 80s that editor Malcolm Parry threw a wide-angle lens (my own) at me in fury and said, “Alex you are now only making the motion of taking pictures.” I needed that. Mac had pride in the writing and the style of his magazine. When in doubt he always put people on the cover. Those table top food shots or graphic chart covers of the present and seen in so many of our local publications would have made Mac buy the whole wide-angle inventory of Lens & Shutter to use as ammunition. And of course Vancouver Magazine had lots of content that explored areas outside kitchens and restaurant rooms. There was investigative stuff that people talked about.
It was photographer Bert Stern (a photographer with oodles and oodles of style) who pioneered the use of the perfect white background for photographic covers and layouts. This permitted in the end, when cost-cutting became an issue to assign several photographers to use the white background and with a crisp b+w photograph the pictures could look like they were taken by the same photographer who had traveled (not) to London, Paris and New York to take the pictures.
The perfect white covers have now made local magazine covers predictable and boring (from my point of view). There is little drama and of course little style.
Perhaps with no competition it is not necessary to pull the eye of the consumer to buy or even pick up, if the publication is free. Are these publications simply making the motion of publishing?
Since I am not a writer by profession I cannot surmise here with any accuracy that writing style has also gone in the direction that I perceive photography has.
While it is no proof that style was more obvious “then” than now I am putting here my October 1997 cover for Vancouver Magazine. Also here are the alternates and the interesting instructions by art director Anna Belluz to whoever was going to scan my 6x7 cm Ektachrome. There is my scanned version in which I did nothing to it.
The b+w photograph of body builder Carla Temple is one that I remember fondly because of the effort, a collective one, to take it. As soon as I was able to find the Roman ruin columns at the CBC warehouse in Burnaby I rented a truck and editor, Mac Parry, art director Chris Dahl and writer Les Wiseman all chipped in to lift them onto the truck and transport them to my studio.
When Chris Dahl moved to the business magazine Equity he liked to use vertical page bleeds as seen here with my portrait of Vancouver Sun columnist David Baines. The colour spread is one of mine for Saturday Night.
Would anybody in Vancouver bother? I think not. A crisp white cover with an innocuous portrait or table setting will do just fine.
The Male Member Plant
Monday, February 27, 2012
For more pictures of plants like this one and how I made them, look here
. This one is called Rhodochiton atrosanguineum
and it is a little vine that is not hardy in BC. You either plant it from seed every year or find it in a good nursery. Its other name is purple bell vine.
When people come to look at the garden my wife always warns me. She warns me, particularly when our visitors might be little old ladies. I steer them in the direction of Rhodochiton atrosanguineum
and I tell them, “Ladies here you have the Male Member Plant.” They invariably smile, giggle and snicker.
The Leper Attends Mass
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Today Rosemary and I saw the wonderful film, Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
. Ewan McGregor (an expert on fly fishing and things fish) is unable to believe that farm salmon might swim upstream in a desert. He is told by Amr Waked (who plays a wealthy but visionary Yemenite Sheik) that he must have faith.
This struck home and it hurt. You see I have no faith. If anything my all-doubt is simply (worse?) a belief in oblivion after my body, a refrigerator of sorts, is finally unplugged. The body will stink but I will not be around to smell myself.
It was sometime in 1959 when my classmate John Straney at the Roman Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School in Austin began to publicly state that he was an atheist. The Brothers and Priests of Holy Cross took to an intelligent solution to the vexing problem. They ignored Straney. I remember arguing with Straney and using every method I had learned from Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. our religion teacher to argue for the existence of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, to no avail.
I was never able to contact Straney after we graduated so I will never know how he stood with his “unmaker” before he died prematurely at a young age.
On Sunday February 12, 2012 I was attending Homecoming Mass at St. Edward's Ragdale Center. I sat on the second row, most of the other Brothers of Holy Cross were on the first row. I was sitting next to my new friend Brother Edward Zdrowski, and two other brothers, Brother Richard Daly and Brother Richard Critz.
I was dressed in a black turtleneck, black jeans and a black blazer. I looked no different from the other brothers and I am sure that many in attendance thought I was a brother.
The mass, to celebrate a university and high school homecoming (and especially the classes of 1962, and Brother Edward had graduated from St. Edward’s University then), was officiated by the Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, DD., STL Bishop of the Diocese of Austin. Concelebrants were my friends Fathers Rick Wilkinson, C.S.C. Father Michael Sarker, C.S.C. and a third priest (who looked like an Irish bruiser, in spite of his name) Father Lou Brusatti,C.S.C.
Communion time came and just about every person in the room went up to partake. I remained standing by my seat and when Brother Edward tried to walk around me I felt ashamed when he looked at me in the eye. I had read in the program (see here) that I could go with the others and be blessed without having the sacrament. But I was unsure of this and I did not want to make a faux pas like the one made by our Canadian Prime Minister Harper. I stayed put and reflected on what was happening to my emotions and feelings of sheer angst. For those who have gotten this far, in order to receive the sacrament of Communion, one must be in a state of grace. That state of grace is what happens to the person who goes to confession (a sacrament in itself) an receives absolution (from God) via the priest.
I particularly reflected on the Bishop’s sermon explaining the Gospel of the day (read below). He told us that lepers were complete outcasts and they could not participate in any religious events or any other social gatherings. Lepers were shunned and had to ring a bell to warn of their immediate presence so that people could scurry away.
I was that leper that day at that Mass. I thought of correcting (if such a word is the right one) my ways and going to confession. After all there were two priests that were my friends and a third one Father William Crumley, C.S.C. who had given me a book, authored by him, on economics.
The problem is that like the protagonist of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen I have no faith. I am not even sure I ever had it. Brother Edwin taught me of the importance of the forgotten sacrament of Confirmation that makes us all soldiers of Christ (in the sense of explaining our faith and religious beliefs, the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church). I was confirmed as a young boy but I can state here that I can explain fully on matters of church doctrine with a surprising expertise, care of Brother Edwin.
Unfortunately, explaining is not believing. What am I to do?
But not all may be lost quite yet. I had told Brother Edward that the choir and band playing, the Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel Choir, headed by the piano playing and fabulous baritone, Gabe Perez was my favourite. Listening to it was always a high point in my Austin visits when I went to Mass with Brother Edwin. We were intrigued by a trumpet underneath Perez’s feet.
Perez did play his trumpet, the last song as the congregation was filing out. Brother Edward and I lingered in our mutual joy of enjoying every minute that we were enjoying. Brother Edward has invited me to visit him in Flushing, New York. I see us at a Mets baseball game. I can only hope that I can pull a Paul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus and that a light might just give me that faith I do not have. And if not I can only hope that if I go somewhere I will run into my friend John Straney.
Gospel Mk 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,” If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him,” I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere