"The Nerd, The Jock, and The Catalyst"
There are not many positive aspects of my current health problems, but if I search hard enough I can usually find something. In my old life friends had to come see me at work during the day and we could possibly have lunch together, time permitting. In the evenings I was often too exhausted to dine with friends, especially new friends. Not that I wasn't interested, but I was rather unwilling to expend the energy it takes to engage with new people. It often felt like an extension of work with a shower and cleaner clothes.
Now, when old or new friends contact me and suggest we get together it is easier to agree and I look forward to catching up on the news of their world. Don’t get me wrong, after spending many years finding polite reasons to deny invitations, my first reaction is a smiling reluctance, however I quickly recover and usually accept. This brings on plenty of reminiscing and often dislodges memories that are crammed in the back of mind. I am sure you have guessed by now, this is one of those tales. Frankly, it makes me smile every time I think about it.
Dave is a tall, nerdy, gawky, pale guy with a great deal of intelligence. Even if you hadn't had the chance to talk to him and come to this conclusion, you would assume it based on the size of his head. Huge. When I met him he was in his late thirties and that was about 15 years ago. The dichotomy of David is that he reminds me of “Sheldon” from Big Bang Theory, but loves sports, baseball especially, and the focus of that love is the New York Yankees. This love stems from childhood as his father once told him a story of seeing Babe Ruth play a low level game in his home town of Olean, NY. When I researched the information, I found that he did play a barnstorming game there on October 20, 1923. It all adds up and I have no reason to doubt his story. I wasn't surprised when he got a large Yankee emblem tattooed on his arm but I was surprised the artist had enough two dimensional surface area to make it legible.
The other aspect of the “David Dichotomy” was his appearance in bars. I ran into him at a local place that was an old city joint with a varied customer base. He became a regular along with the construction workers, cops, and lawyers. It was small and had no particular appeal other than it was just outside the downtown district where professionals could drink without worrying about that stigma in today’s business world. David started a blog long before I ever thought about this type of activity, where he visited and reviewed every legal, and some illegal, bar within the city limits. This brought him to some of the seediest places that most people wouldn't consider even slowing down as they drove past, let alone walk in by themselves wearing a nerd costume.
The other half of this story is Steve. Oh, Steve. Steve worked for the federal court system as a court reporter. It’s not that he didn't like his job, it just bored him. He had much more ability hidden inside him and had to find ways to occupy his mind. He is odder than David, if you can believe that, and about the same age. Short, Italian and in fairly good shape, Steve has a blue collar demeanor with a white collar intelligence and it is apparent. He has lots of energy and although he attempts to keep it bottled up as best he can while in public, he always appears as though he is seconds away from exploding like one of those old “snake in the peanut can” gags. He speaks in short, choppy, accentuated segments with a loud punch. His shoulders twitch when he talks in between his head nods. It really is quite strange. When he wants to make a point his eyes open wide, he leans forward and he stares at you with an intense glare that make people concerned about his sanity. He has a hobby of verbally challenging people just to see the reaction. He is generally respectful of authority, albeit sarcastically, but unafraid nonetheless. He is that uncle that is almost too weird to describe, but has to be experienced.
Dave and Steve do not interact regularly but in the small world of the building where they both work, knowledge of each other in unavoidable. Steve is prone to harassing Dave mainly due to David’s existence and his self imposed bad decisions. For example, he is the player/manager for the softball team in a city league. He does this because no one would ever choose him to play for their team. In addition, when Dave arrives at the game he is wearing a full Yankee uniform. I mean everything. Baseball pants and socks, jersey, hat and shoes. This is enough to earn whatever crap Steve dishes out to him but to Dave’s credit, he seems aware of the ridiculousness of his actions, and he relishes in the attention. Further proven by his varied antics in the aforementioned bar that were often intended to annoy and confuse the bar tending staff. He once handcuffed himself to the bar and spent several hours drinking in that position. Even though he had a plan for the beer recycling it was a tipping point for the staff. There was time he came to the bar in his pajamas or the happy hour he drank without using his hands (I think there was some kind of dog bowl involved). The endless art he created from bar paraphernalia always annoyed his favorite target, Cecily, our bartender. Although many of his pieces hung around the bar for many months at a time, David’s actions made Cecily look at him as if he were Charles Bukowski when he walked into the bar.
The internal dichotomy of David was nothing compared to that of Dave and Steve. The next part of this tale started in the parking lot one fall afternoon. Steve ran into Dave and told him in his most sincere and apologetic voice that he was sorry to hear about (Derek) Jeter. David looked at him suspiciously and inquired. Steve told him he just heard on the radio that Jeter was injured and out for the playoffs. Dave wasn’t prone to belief, but a matter this serious overrode his reasoning. He queried him further and warned that he better not be pulling his leg. Steve knew by his reaction that he had him on the ropes. He continued his farce and had David running back to his computer to check for verification. This was many years ago, and the information superhighway still wasn't a complete thoroughfare to everywhere just yet (including Narnia, Neverland, Wonderland, etc.). David could not find any verification of the horrific news and for a day or so was worried about the fate of his Yankees (I am not exaggerating his love one bit).
I knew none of this when Steve came into my store directly from the airport one Saturday, a few weeks later. He was visiting a family member in Chicago and was especially anxious as his flight had been overbooked and delayed in order to accommodate the issues. The issues were that no one was willing to take whatever deal they were offering to balance the seats with flyers. This problem delayed Steve in his self important social schedule of the day. Combining this uncontrollable interruption with his uncontrollable personality forced him to find fault somewhere and go on the offensive.
Steve decided that in the posturing that was going on in the gate that day, one person stood out with an undue trump card. There was a nun at the gate with him and the way he saw it, wearing her habit to fly was her way of getting preferential treatment for any inconveniences that her vow of poverty and service to the church, priests, and God may have placed on others.
Steve starts telling me his tale of woe and about publicly calling out the nun and verbally attacking her at the gate. I can feel and see the pressure building in him as he tells me about his experience. I honestly think he believed the thoughts going through his head about the nun and her flying “habit”. I couldn’t resist egging him on with questions and disbelief that he had the balls to do something of this nature but he reassured me it was true and went on and on about it.
I didn't give much thought to this crazy man’s actions after he left, after all the amount of crazy on any given Saturday far surpassed the weekdays, and I had become accustomed to this type of behavior. I figured I was just a crazy magnet and could not avoid the attraction. A few days later I saw Dave at the usual watering hole. After decompressing for an hour I retold the story of Steve’s “Flying Nun” and we both laughed about it, even though Dave was harboring a resentment that needed an outlet. The next week Dave visited me in the store and asked me if I thought that Steve’s story had any validity to it. I told him I believed it based on all his twitches and tells, and that he was still embroiled in the emotions when he came to see me.
The next thing that came out of my mouth had no thought attached to it other than making a joke. “We should have him excommunicated from the church.” David and I looked at each other and in an instance we both had the same idea. I just didn’t know how good a researcher he was and how deep a scar he had from the Jeter episode. We outlined the plan in a minute and Dave went to work.
Most of our work occurred at the bar as we didn’t want anyone from his building to catch on. O.K., the work was all David, and the only credit I can take is acting as a catalyst bringing information from one party to other. That and the needed encouragement Dave needed to continue.
Step one was to learn the process of excommunication from the Catholic Church and the titles and addresses of the parties involved. Once that was done, David downloaded the letterhead of the Diocese in Chicago that would have been presented with the atrocity. The Internet was young at the time, and although the information was all out there, it was not common knowledge that you could easily access this data and use it for your own ill will. This made it much more plausible that this vengeance would work.
David wrote a wonderful letter informing Steve that the church had become aware of his verbal assault and was reviewing the altercation for “excommunication.” It was formal and direct and utilized all the buzz words from the download we had of the “process.” Steve’s address was easily found as we still had not learned the lesson of protecting this information on the Internet. The fortunate part of our plan was that Dave had a friend in Chicago and we mailed him the letter and asked him to drop in a mailbox near the Diocese office so the postmark and zip code would match the research.
All of this would have been enough for our enjoyment if Steve hadn’t decided to come back to the store after a few weeks and tell me about the letter. He was not his usual self when he transitioned into the conversation. His confident attitude diminished and he spoke with a mixture of accusation and concern, like someone looking over their shoulder as not to be overheard. This is when I learned the extent of his religious affiliation. He was no Sunday only Catholic, he was an active participant in his parish. He had many talks with his priest and I am sure he addressed the quality of the sermons on a regular basis. I acted surprised and interested and told him I wanted to see the letter. He did not have it with him but promised to bring in it next Saturday. He was testing me and I think I passed. When I saw David again and informed him of our success we both knew this was going to be a longer process than anticipated and we got back to work.
I read through the letter as if I had never seen it. Steve was feeling more confident that it was some kind of prank, and we discussed both possibilities. He was still battling with doubt but as time passed he said he felt he was having his leg pulled. That was until the second letter arrived from New York City. This time Steve did not delay in coming to see me and he brought the letter with him. He also told me that he had brought both letters to his priest looking for some answers. This told me that regardless of the confidence he presented externally, doubt and David were sharing a room in his head.
The third letter came from San Francisco and was a little more difficult to procure the postmark but eventually we found our courier. None of whom were let in on the details of our actions as to protect the end game, which we hadn't even defined. By now Steve is making a great effort to hide any concern he has over the situation by overacting his belief that this is a prank. But the fact that he is still testing me and bringing in the communiques tells me of his uncertainty. I know he has told a few other people and no one has been able to help him find any answers.
When he brought in that next letter I firmly believe that I had become an ally, not a suspect. He had gone further with his investigation and called Chicago and San Fran, and had not been able to get any verification. But he had not been able to completely put it to rest either. Steve is nervous. He also has gone back to his priest, and I think he is getting concerned for Steve as well. I don’t know, but I can’t imagine there is a list of individuals being considered for excommunication, and that if there was a list, that anyone could just call up and verify that they are on it. In addition, Steve couldn’t find a priest that had ever seen the process put in action, let alone completed. This was working out better that we had hoped. Next stop, the Vatican.
Dave prepares the letter and we start working out how we can get the letter to the Vatican for mailing. In case you are not aware, the Vatican is its own everything. It is a country, a city, had its own police, mail system, and it’s own postmark. We were able to find a few people travelling to Vatican City and the time frame was going to work. I think guilt started to get to Dave. He balked a little at misrepresenting the Vatican. Even for a non-catholic the influence of the church can be haunting. In his shoes, I might have felt the same.
We never did mail that final letter and I asked Dave to dig up copies so I could scan them here. As of this posting he has been unable to locate them but has promised to keep looking. Several years later I asked Steve whatever happened with his excommunication and he was much more confident that it had all been a prank and smiled at me as if he knew what I knew, but he didn't. It might be time to let him in on our little adventure and by making this public maybe I am doing just that.
I want there to be a moral hidden somewhere between the lines of this reporting and the letters Dave wrote, but frankly I just can’t find it. Might be that I am blinded by the entertainment this long running prank has provided me. David is close to retirement and has traded his bar blog for a pizza blog about town. He is married with a daughter, and life just doesn't allow for the antics of our earlier days. Steve works in another county and I am certain is still very busy with all his self imposed responsibilities. I spend my time recreating food and memories about the life that was happening while we all working on a living. Other than our intentional meal that brought this about, our paths haven’t crossed in all the years since. I can’t help but think that might be a good thing for the sake of our three souls.