Berthcut & Sons: Source Material

I am often confused with the author of Berthcut & Sons that I figured I might as well write my own blog. People will think it’s him but what’s the difference?

My name, Dexter Clatterbaugh, came from two sources. ‘Dexter’ is a nod to Lee Dexter, creator of Bertie the Bunyip, a Philadelphia children’s show running from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. According to the”Pioneers of Broadcasting” site, a bunyip is “really an Aborigine good spirit.” They “look strange because they were at the end of the line when God created animals. They got all the leftovers – the bill of a platypus, upright ears of a kangaroo, a bubble nose and the scraggly fur of a puppy.” I have a scraggly look but that’s the end of the resemblance. As a character, I was not privileged with this memory nor the apparently blissful experience of watching Bertie, Fussie and Gussie, Winnie the Witch, Poochie the Pup, and, the show’s villain, a fox named Sir Guy de Guy.

Clatterbaugh was the name of the author’s friend in grade school. First name, Guy. Most remembered is a moment during the author’s trip to Florida in 1958. His family arrived in Miami by car, around eight p.m. The author looks out the car window and who is running atop a knoll in front of a hotel: Guy Clatterbaugh. The connection to the Sir Guy de Guy is serendipitous. I suspect both childhood references give me, in the author’s mind, an immature feel. The novel falls under the general literary category, bildungsroman, a coming of age novel.

The more I know about the author’s life, especially his experiences at the religious goods store, Cutherbertson’s, located, like Berthcut & Sons, at 20th and Sansom Street in Philadelphia, the better I understand his family’s reactions after reading the novel. One relative, in particular, did not separate mine from the author’s experiences at the store and got angry that the author took so much abuse from Gerard, the senior salesman. Except, there really wasn’t a Gerard, although another salesman did train the author and had come to a similar conclusion: the author was the worst salesman he’d ever encountered. Both he and Gerard wondered how the hell we got the job.

If we had known what we were in for, maybe it would have been better not to have tried so hard in the interview to give the impression that we wanted the salesman job. Five other candidates were also interviewed. Do we call it a miracle or cosmic joke?

Yet, what the author’s relative failed to notice was how I stayed on at the job and, implausibly, moved up the ranks until I was named manager. The author, whereas, quit after six months, even before he was accepted to graduate school. Never was he tempted to take a sales job ever again. In fact, he didn’t get a regular full-time job for another fifteen years.

Much of the time during those years, he worked on Berthcut & Sons. It started as a short story in a fiction writing class at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. In a few years, he tried to turn the story into a novel. In 1980-81, and later in 1983-84, he went to Italy and worked on the book. Several times he started over after getting stalled around page 100. It wasn’t until 1990 that the first full version at 380 pages was typed.

In 1982, an excerpt entitled “The Sale is Not the Most Important Thing” was published in the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal. At least eight other excepts were published in the next twenty years. In 2007, a small press publisher was interested in publishing the novel. A contract was signed but the author disagreed with the publisher over several requested changes. A year later the contract was negated.

A curious thing about the novel is that up to the time a publisher showed interest, the title was Head Nor Tail. I tend to still think of the book by that name. Live with something for so long. . . . The idea was that we in the novel could not “make head nor tail” what was happening. Even the reader would follow the events of the novel quite clearly but still have doubts about what the novel was about. He also had a ‘head’ and ‘tail’ motif throughout. The shop’s tailor, for example, is Arduino Testa, ‘testa’ being Italian for ‘head’. An author thing, I guess.

The present title is more concrete and has a sort of Dickensian flavor. Supposedly, Dickens’ style in works like The Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son was emulated. The illustration on the front, a pencil being broken in half, is meant to encapsulate Gerard’s frustration with my unwillingness to take the job seriously.

Another influence on the novel is the writings of Raymond Queneau, author of The Bark Tree and Exercises in Style. The author characterized the novel in cover letters to editors as “Ameri-queneau” and even has a Queneau-like pun in the book. Enoch, the shipping clerk, questions whether Raymond the U.P.S. man should hang around and hear shop gossip. The manager responds: “I think Raymond can know what’s happening here.”

The novel is the first of a trilogy. The second is called At-Any-Moment-Something-Else, dealing with Berthcut & Sons, Dalmy Brothers which owns Berthcut, and the comglomerate Zeitgeist International, which owns Dalmy Brothers; the third, primarily about Gerard and myself, is The Coincidence Men. The novels have been outlined but serious attention really hasn’t been paid to them. It makes sense more people should read Berthcut & Sons before Castle embarks on the arduous task of writing two more novels, especially since the first one took so long. But I am excited to see what happens to me and my finally getting out of the religious goods business.

The Smell of the Sardine Can

The Sardine sympathizes with Mr. Pope Sixtus regarding the inscrutability of Social media like Facebook. The whole enterprise is predicated on getting followers by exciting attention through controversial topics. All of this smacks of the mass mind. Not necessarily the proliferation of ‘true believers’. Rather, we have a desire to gain acceptance of large numbers. The Sardine has found the wish to gain approval to be beneath contempt.

Echo in the Sardine mind: O Sardine! How can you be so elitist? Why do you demean the masses?

Wait, the Sardine demeans a mentality that has no sense of shame. Popular acceptance of abysmal behaviors is not new but not until recently have those behaviors advanced to the foreground of our culture. The world has become like television whence all images, events, and entertainment exist undifferentiated on the same plane.

So, Mr. Pope Sixtus, your followers can both ‘like’ you and ‘not buy’ your books. I bet when you confronted them about it, no one rushed to Amazon to buy Pope Sixtus the Fourth. Then, again, as was noted by the sage of the coffee shop, no one reads your blog

The Sardine describes how the world is and cannot possibly change. He accepts it as he might a street of architecturally deficient building. That is, he won’t destroy them – blow them up – nor will he kill those living in them. But he will do all in his power to disassociate from them. But even that’s not good enough.

The smell of the sardine can sticks to the Sardine. He might not smell it himself, just as he would not think it so awful when he resided inside the unopened sardine can. But the world always seems to sniff him out and call him a traitor to his kind. An ex-Catholic is often treated similarly by Catholics.

Perhaps the Sardine believes that his permanent vacation from the sardine can will ultimately redeem him.

Echo: You know it won’t, Sardine. Why do you even try? Why be something that you cannot be?

Is he trying to something he’s not? He associates with people, generally, who don’t mind the can. It’s also true that it is difficult to meet other sardines on vacation. It is as if – knowing this from his own experience – that he finds it annoying to be around his own ilk. Sardines on vacation seem to be programmed to avoid meeting people, even those who might be less aggravating and may share many intellectual interests and tastes.

This Sardine’s situation being thus explains, too, why he accepts the world given to him and doesn’t complain that he has to deal with mass-minded folk. He feels that he can manage the intake of such company by gently sliding into reading a book or sneaking off alone to a movie.

Echo: Sardine, the social media seems perfect for the person who wants as little intimate contact with people as possible.

One might think so. Fortunately, the Sardine wishes to share nothing personal to anyone online and would prove quite unsuitable in that forum. To keep from learning anything personal, he must absolutely stay away from the byways of Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The Likability of Pope Sixtus the Fourth

Pope Sixtus is new to the Internet and Facebook. In particular, he doesn’t understand the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on a Facebook page.

First, he’s unsure when his blog is posted how many actually receive it. Of those who get it, how many actually read it let alone “get it”? He understands few people actually heard of him. So why should they read what he has to say? Or don’t they read it for other reasons?

Second, more baffling than anything else is the discrepancy between the number of ‘likes’ on the Pope Sixtus novel Facebook page and the actual number of those who ‘liked’ have read the book. Shouldn’t ‘likes’ translate into ‘buys’?

And if they’re liking the Facebook page, do they feel differently about the book? Or is liking the Facebook page equivalent to liking the “idea” of the novel? In other words, liking the page means that they’ve read the novel even if they haven’t?

Sixtus sought counsel among the denizens of a local coffee shop. The Pope was informed (told firmly) not to read too deeply into ‘likes’. Most likely, Facebook’s inimitable sign of approval is just a superficial (very superficial) nod of appreciation. Like, say, someone telling you to “have a nice day” kind of superficial. Another person called the ‘like’ click a mechanical response, well beneath the conscious level of thought. Like, say, pre-civilization consciousness.

Sixtus still did not understand. Why aren’t the supporters of the novel’s Facebook page buying the frickin’ novel?

One of the coffee house sages silenced the room – that is, he dismissed the previous comments as half-assed assessments of Facebook reality – and proclaimed a Truth (capital T) that the Pope nor his novelist buddy would want to hear. This sage even feared that the Pope might fall into a deep depression when he heard the Truth.

Sixtus insisted that he could handle it.

It was like this. Nobody really reads anymore. By “nobody”, the sage was specific: the billion or more on Facebook. The social media, including Twitter, Instagram, etc., have taken a massive chunk of the reading public, the literate people, and turned them into semi-literates. This means that they can only read spurts of words for shorter and shorter periods of time. Their only alternative is to read the easiest books available. Lots of sex. Short sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Illustrations are especially welcome.

“Can they get through my blogs?” asked the Pope.

“How long are they?”

“Around six hundred words.”

“Unlikely. Especially if you try to sustain a thought or idea through the entire blog.”

“What’s going to happen to the book?”

“The best you can hope for. People will buy it with the ‘intention’ of reading it. A few might get through a few chapters and maybe like them (in a non-Facebook way) and read a few more. Most will stash it in a book shelf in case you or the author happen to be in their houses.”

Pope Sixtus went away severely depressed. Was the blog worth writing?

As it happened, he ran into the author, told him what he was thinking and what the sage of the coffee shop had said, then asked the author could he write this blog while the Pope collected his wits and decided if it’s worth continuing his second life here. I accommodated the old fellow and told him that I knew how he felt but the feeling of meaninglessness and the uselessness of it all would soon wear off.

A Vacation from A Sardine on Vacation

 

[Note: The Sardine’s propensity to talk about himself in the third person stems from an undiagnosed literary malady. One symptom or tic of this is his occasion to refer to himself in the first person for no reason.]

The Sardine doesn’t know how he’ll operate in this new venue without the Logged-in Public (LIP), as well Joe Tragedy, Frank Weathers, McNulty and Honey, Wal-terr, and Benny McSelf. I’m glad to have this distance from them but not happily glad.

The one thing the Sardine will not do, however, is comment on current events. A Sardine on Vacation meticulously avoided the flotsam and jetsam of what everyone thinks is so damn important. This fish lives by the tenet: what is presented in newspapers, television, the Internet, and radio is irrelevant. When the Sardine is held up to be important someday, then I have become officially irrelevant and not worth anyone’s, including his own, time.

The majority is always wrong!

Only when the majority believes this will that statement be nullified. Until then, you have the Sardine against the World.

Some might find this attitude abrasive if not anti-social. The Sardine understands that a judgmental world would label him misanthropic. Why fight it? He’d just be giving credence to the accusation by acknowledging it. Maybe you don’t understand how well this attitude protects one from the most irritating percentage of humans.

People like Frank Weathers and Wal-terr often complain to the Sardine that are often stuck going places and doing things with people they can’t stand. Why? They are not forceful enough – that is, shield themselves – by projecting a loathing and tolerance for the types of people that are around them. The Sardine doesn’t get invited to weddings and parties because he’s believed to be a “bring down” and a not-so-fun guy. This may be true, but it is more true that the Sardine prefers not to go to weddings and parties.

When you tell people that you A) don’t celebrate birthdays; B) Christmas is an intolerable season; C) their taste in movies is pitiful; D) take a political position is the exact opposite of those around you at that moment; and E) you hope that an asteroid will hit the Earth sooner rather than later; you aren’t going to be included as part of “the gang”.

The Sardine has both always been this way and has sharpened his distaste for many socially acceptable things in the past decade (since he left the sardine can of regular existence many years ago).

One might ask: hey Sard, you’re never going to be a success if you continue with this attitude.

This attitude, I must add, is routinely called “negative”.

My response to this allegedly constructive criticism is as off-putting as most of my statements. First, I don’t want to be measured by the value of “success”. Like happiness, success is ephemeral and not a solid long-term goal. Second, the Sardine rejects the positive-negative, success-failure (and other black-and-white) dichotomies. Third, I don’t go around telling people how to live their lives – the Sardine is not asking anyone to be a Sardine.

Often the Sardine is beseeched to declare whether something is a good or bad thing, like stamping out cholera or polio.

I don’t know. Does it have to a good or bad thing? Those who got polio injections and got polio might have had a strong opinion on this. Even then, it helped but why reduce the effects of some medical or technological breakthrough to two possibilities?

The Sardine is a neither-nor creature who, to make things slightly more tense socially, will not offer happy birthday wishes or even say “God bless you” when you sneeze.

A column absent those who often bother me is not necessarily a good thing for the Sardine or bad. It’s different. I must adjust. There seems a bit more freedom in this blog. But is freedom everything?

Pope Sixtus Meets the Sardine

They had to meet since their two books, Pope Sixtus the Fourth and A Sardine on Vacation share the same author and website. Ergo: the blog is not the monopoly of the Pontiff Maximus.

SIXTUS: Curbing a pope’s power isn’t the easiest thing to accept.

SARDINE: Remember when Italy took away the Papal States. Pius IX was a pissed off pope.

SIXTUS: Victor Emmanuel was not one of his favorites. But Pius was a great pope, longest reigning, the most encyclicals, and, my favorite, creating the doctrine of infallibility.

SARDINE: Does this doctrine extend to your blog?

SIXTUS: Do I detect sarcasm or cynicism in the question?

SARDINE: My interlocutors in the Sardine column would interpose themselves at this point and claim that I’m both.

SIXTUS: Besides, the pope is infallible in matters of dogma.

SARDINE: Like that of the Immaculate Conception.

SIXTUS: The two are inextricable.

SARDINE: Compensation, you think, for losing the Papal States?

SIXTUS: Whatever.

SARDINE: What do you think of the present pope?

SIXTUS: He hasn’t been pope long enough.

SARDINE: Taking the fifth, Six-tus?

SIXTUS: If you must know. He seems more like a celebrity, something you couldn’t say about Pius IX. That Papa was a Player.

SARDINE: Like yourself.

SIXTUS: From what I gather from the few pages I read in A Sardine on Vacation, your crew treats you like a celebrity. And your columns are for them tantamount to appearances on television. Just look at the way Frank Weathers counts the number of times he’s mentioned.

SARDINE: Success can be a great magnet.

SIXTUS: What success? They “think” your column appears in thousands of newspapers. They think they’ll become as famous as you.

SARDINE: My features are read by hundreds in Unlikely Stories, a web magazine. Those hundreds of readers could become thousands.

SIXTUS: A Sardine on Vacation only sold a hundred copies. Nobody reads you.

SARDINE: The curse of being published by a small press.

SIXTUS: You’re lucky a small press published you.

SARDINE: No need to get personal. How’d you like the book?

SIXTUS: I read a few of the columns. Didn’t know what you were getting at. And since you mentioned it. You call the book a “non-book”. What the hell is that about?

SARDINE: I explain it in one of the columns titled “Non-Books”. Books that aren’t books. A gathering of articles or stories between two covers. Or the autobiography as told to someone. Or the thing that compiles lists. And on and on.

SIXTUS: A rose is not a rose.

SARDINE: Not the plastic ones. And I’m not so sure about yellow and white ones.

SIXTUS: Can you tell me if the book is supposed to be fiction or nonfiction?

SARDINE: Yes.

SIXTUS: God damn you. Now I know why the Newspaper-Reading Public can’t stand you.

SARDINE: Part of my charm.

SIXTUS: It can’t be fiction. There’s no plot. Just a bunch 800 to 1000 word columns on the weirdest crap. Hairpieces. Aphorisms. Tropisms. Your stuffed dog, Fluff-Fluff.

SARDINE: The columns build up characters and circumstances. Finally, one character becomes obsessed and wants to find out who the Sardine really is.

SIXTUS: Isn’t the Sardine “you”?

SARDINE: I’m a persona. A mask for the writer.

SIXTUS: You’re the writer of the Sardine columns. You say so in the book.

SARDINE: Technically, no. It’s difficult to explain.

SIXTUS: Does the character ever discover who you are?

SARDINE: I can’t give away the ending.

Sixtus Reviews the Netflix Borgia Series

The miracle of television. The other day I’m channel surfing and come across The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) on TCM. My nephew, Julius II, a thug with a bit of polish, strongarms Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of my – I mean, the Sistine Chapel.

 

I liked Julius (Rex Harrison) being portrayed as a warrior. He played a marvelous political game against the French and the Spanish kingdoms to preserve the integrity of the Italian states, especially the Papal States. Oh yes, Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) painted the ceiling but the conflict between he and Julius is the gist of the movie. I mention my nephew because he played a major role while a Cardinal to hinder the perfidious ambitions of the Borgias, especially Roderigo (Pope Alexander VI) and his son Cesare.

 

Whence we arrive at another miracle.

 

There are two series about the Borgias, both starting in 2011. Showtime’s made a bigger splash by making Jeremy Irons Pope Alexander VI. Netflix took over the other series with the character actor John Doman in the lead. He often plays a thug – in the Gotham and Rizzoli & Isles television series, e.g. – and seems a good fit here. Both series did well matching the historical figures to their respective portraits. Mark Ryder as Cesare, in Borgia, has a close resemblance. Isolda Dyschauk in Borgia and Holliday Grainger in The Borgias are near perfect matches. Only one minor quibble. This is a European production. Why not have Spanish actors playing the Spanish Borgias?

 

I prefer Borgia over The Borgias, however, for a simple reason. I didn’t get Showtime and once I started Borgia on Netflix discs I couldn’t watch much of the other. A strange thing, getting used to and preferring a set of actors over another equally competent set. Quite inexplicable.

 

I saw enough of The Borgias to know that it reveled in sex and violence, if not soap opera, as much as Borgia. I had to turn away when men were tortured and murdered. If one hundredth of what I saw happening in the Vatican during these shows did happen, I’m amazed the Catholic Church survived. Which got me to thinking how accurate were the depictions of Alexander VI, Cesare, and Lucrezia.

 

It’s television. One should expect exaggeration. And there’s no way that any of the intimate conversationsactually took place as shown. Nor can I believe that many of the motives, from the Borgias, the della Roveres (my crew), or the Forneses, were depicted with much truth. Cardinal della Rovere (my nephew) was the main rival to the Borgias, and I could believe he was the complete liar and prick that I saw in many episodes. Borgia showed, for example, when Julius became Pope he had made many promises to Cesare Borgia and didn’t keep one of them. Indeed, he got the damn Catalan (Spaniard to you folk) exiled to Spain where, eventually, Cesare met a most ignoble end.

 

Curiously, so expectant of historical distortions in Borgia, I became discombobulated over the accuracy of many of its depictions. Foremost, the portrayal of Lucrezia as a pawn for the expansion of Borgia power is nearly tragic. The first husband commits suicide and the second is murdered (perhaps with a nudge from a jealous Cesare) – somehow she got the reputation of being the murderer of her husbands. Little do we know how she prospered after marrying Alphonse d’Este, future ruler of Ferrara, despite having two infants die at birth, still produced a son and start several centuries of Borgia-based rule there.

 

The real problem with the recording of actual events in the drama was their place in the chronology. It was askew enough to have this Pope scratch his head with my  crozier. For instance, both Leonardo da Vinci and Machiavelli spent time with Cesare. The time is stretched well beyond the reality. One nearly gets the impression that Cesare and Machiavelli were bff’s. Cesare details every last Machiavellian move, political and military, to the future author of The Prince that you’d believe the book was written in 1503 and not 1516. Then after Alexander dies, Julius puts Cesare on trial (?) and makes Machiavelli the prosecutor (!?!?!). And I nearly flipped in my grave when my nephew ripped off the clothes off Alexander’s mistress (Cesare’s mom), Vannozza Catanei, and sent her into the streets naked.

 

Another element seemed inevitable but also unbelievable; namely, Borgia showed every the perversity of the Pope and his brood. There was brother-sister incest. The Pope himself had the grossest sexual desire (unrequited) for Lucrezia. Cesare is made responsible for horrible slaughters. I would love to believe it from a partisan perspective. However, one has to suspect any tales told about the Borgias, especially emanating from Julius, that made them appear worse than they were. The reality was bad in itself, so why pile on?

Pope Sixtus: Being Good Most of the Time

I feel for Bill Cosby. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. And his public thought he could do nothing wrong. These two things must be related.
You might think me jealous of a rival mouthpiece for the attention of believers. But the Coz’s believers are saturated with the hype of his celebrity, emanating from I Spy and The Cosby Show, entertainments for the masses. Also, Jello commercials!!!
The Pope’s commandment: thou shalt not shill.
Did I disappoint the people? Yes, but for different reasons. The pope was a king in my day and operated by reasons of state. I had a kingdom to maintain and, more so, had to deal with a band of cutthroat families in Italy and dynasties in Europe. Prestige, or what you might call ‘hype’, was not enough. Maintaining the strength of the Papacy meant keeping Christendom strong.
Did I believe I was a good man? We all do, to some extent. As Pope, I did what needed to be done. I disappointed posterity and wouldn’t have it any other way. If you had to deal with the likes of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, if you wanted Spain to stay under the Roman Catholic banner, approving the Inquisition was a no-brainer. Isn’t being a good man most of the time enough?
Cosby lacks institutional strength. Being a rotten guy can be mitigated by a strong tradition. Bad U.S. presidents – Pierce, Buchanan, Grant, Harding – operated under presidential aura. Their human and political failings have not made them hated, only disrespected.
The entertainment world is built on quicksand. A new edifice lasts only so long. To proselytize from such a foundation can be precarious. Especially when people believe what they see and hear completely. There’s no going back. Don’t some people still believe O.J. didn’t knife his wife and her lover to death? And he was only a football player and a Hertz shill.
What if a man has really done nothing wrong? In a world of hype, good turns bad and love turns to hate. There’s nothing real about the apparent goodness to start with.
The mistake every generation makes is believing too much in someone or something. You can’t help yourselves. Humans want to believe. Lance Armstrong, Mark Maguire, John Edwards. The last one could’ve been vice-president of the U.S.A. Lance Armstrong, like Cosby, doesn’t believe he did anything wrong and denied wrongdoing to the bitter end. That goes together as well.
Maybe you can’t help yourselves. It’s a mechanism in the head that can’t be controlled. Why do you think worshiping idols became commandment numero uno? When you step in the shit every time, even a commandment can barely stem the tide. You are bound to be disappointed. Life’s purpose devolves into avoiding disappointment, an exhausting way of being.
So, don’t expect too much from a Renaissance Papacy if you’re looking for good deeds to make you feel better about the history of the Catholic Church. Expect much much less from your celebrity culture – in fact, don’t depend on it for anything of value.

Sixtus the Administrator

I don’t think I could hack it as a teacher, having to put up with students, parents, and administrators. If you’re in Education and teaching is not an option, I guess you should move into administration. Sure, you have to deal with the other three, but you are in a position of power and can make the rules bend in your direction.
In high school, the idea is to show that you care. It doesn’t appear anyone of the four groups really care. So it’s a contest to show who cares the most.
Parents go through the motions, act interested in what their kids are doing. Yet, they only care about their children staying out of trouble and becoming successful. The latter is especially important during the teenage years to keep their kids’ attention from having too good a time. Success, when it comes, will be its own reward: ribaldry, gluttony, drunkenness, and shopping sprees.
For teenagers, school is prison. If they can’t get drugs and alcohol to get through the tedium, they must excite themselves artificially in sports and clubs and getting good grades. Like drugs, school activities and goals cloud the reality of their not wanting to be near teachers and administrators, as well as a large portion of the fellow students whom they find repulsive. The feeling of violence beneath the surface of the school in Pope Sixtus the Fourth illustrates this well. Students feel rage that is aimed wildly in all directions. Students in one class accidentally (on purpose) kill a teacher; the Sixtus High teachers start going after the class responsible and try to poison them and run them over with their cars; and, most successfully, teachers systematically lower the class’s grades, in some cases changing the students’ right answers on tests to wrong ones.
This was the kind of chaos and brutality that one saw every day in quattrocentro Rome.
Teachers. Hell, they can be as bad as students when it comes to following rules. How can you get students to be quiet during a fire drill when the teachers are nonchalantly talking about the latest Game of Thrones’ episode. And you don’t have to read the Sixtus novel to know that teachers are nonstop complainers. If Administrators are smart, they should go to extremes to keep the teachers from talking to one another, especially at lunch. When the students fail courses, the teacher can be blamed while parents and administrators can take all the credit for students’ successes.
Administering the Catholic Church has parallel difficulties. We want the faithful to succeed and get to heaven, and would like to see them do it without our interference, but let’s face it, the masses are prone to laziness, stupidity, and sin. We are under pressure to provide ways to get them through their inclination to break all the commandments and seven deadly sins. School administrators have to get the students into college. Parents expect results if they’ve paid a fortune to send their kids to school. I understand this. High tuition means the student should get good grades. The family has paid for those grades. Likewise, persons who bought indulgences rightly deserved to go to heaven directly. It sounds elitist. The poor cannot afford to go on. This is the way of the world. No different in the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, or in the 21st century.

My Name Nearly Taken In Vain

Inevitably, I must comment on the novel that bears my illustrious name.

It appears as if it’s an honor.

Yet, I was appalled by my Gothic-like visage on the front cover. I wouldn’t mind hitting Lou Pecsi, the illustrator, over the head with my crozier. Then I actually started to read it. I nearly read half the novel before I made my entrance – that’s one hundred and eighty more pages than I planned to read.

The title refers, really, to the high school and not the great Renaissance Pope. I detected the author’s sardonic take on my Papacy since, I’m certain, there are no schools in the United States and Europe which bear my name. The Catholics want my legacy buried deeply.

I admit I enjoyed the touch of having Sixtus IV High’s rival school named Alexander VI. That’s verisimilitude. Placing two mad dogs in a cage. An epic battle and lots of blood and bad feelings.

Less exciting was the presence of Pope John Paul II, who gets a major role in the plot. He’s coming to Sixtus High to celebrate the 500th anniversary of my death and, on the occasion, makes a major announcement. I’m not tickled by the substance of his declaration – but no spoilers!

Very mixed feelings filled me when I read the chapter dealing directly with my Papacy. What does the author choose: the conspiracy to kill the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano. I’m depicted like a Mafia don, who is being asked by a pair of Cardinals (nephews), to sanction the hit. I don’t dispute the historical accuracy, down to the point that I was very reluctant to give my blessing.

And wasn’t I right about that?

The job gets farmed out to the Urbino mercenary, Federico da Montefeltro, who farms it out to a rival Florentine family, Pazzi, who balled up the plan by killing only Giuliano. I confess that a part of me was pleased when the Medici killed every last Pazzi over the next few years.

The lessons from this disaster. Don’t listen to your friggin’ nephews’ bright ideas. You want somebody killed, plan and execute it yourself. And don’t mess with the Medici.

I suppose some readers are going to think that I must have been a pretty awful pope. See the first blog, ‘Indulge Me’, to digest my response to such lame criticism.

I read the rest of the book for no better reason than I don’t have much else to do. I’ll write some reviews on the Amazon website under various aliases, just to get a little payback.

Indulge Me Again

A short term good: the selling of indulgences to pay the expenses for constructing the Sistine Chapel.

Long term bad: selling indulgences cause the Protestant Reformation.

But was the reformation such a bad thing? Yes, Martin Luther seized upon indulgences – particularly after Johann Tetzel’s intense sales pitch – and wrote the 95 Theses in 1517.

Look at it more closely. Luther disliked indulgences on principle whether you got them through good actions or paid for them. People wanted a way to get partial remission for their temporal wrongs. He couldn’t stand the idea.

One was saved, in Luther’s view, by Faith, not Works. He rejected nearly the entire structure of the Catholic Church. Get rid of works, streamline the communication with God, and you arrive at his grand conclusion: what do we need a Pope for?

The facts were that malcontents against the Papacy went back to the 1200s, starting with the Albigensian Crusade in France. Then John Wycliff’s followers, the Lollards made noise in the 1300s. Finally, the Hussites in Bohemia were bitching about the same things Luther attacked (Luther admitted this, by the way).

Top it off with the Germans. They hated the Papacy because it was Italian, not German.

A revolution – or reformation – was inevitable. Indulgences were the least of the Church’s worries.

It got worse when Calvin wrote about predestination. Then Henry the Eighth wanted a male heir so badly he opted out of the Roman Church. His actions indicate how much the so-called Reformation was carried forward by princes and kings, not religious men.

And look what Calvin sawed: evangelicalism and apocalyptic craziness. The Catholic Church has meant to prepare the people for the Judgment Day but is not trying to hasten Armageddon. Leave that to the neurotic fundamentalists.

I digress.

I really wanted to mention my nephew, Giuliano, Pope Julius II. How comical is it that he gets the historical glory for hiring Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Giuliano is portrayed as some king of art patron with aesthetic sensibilities.

Not quite. He was, as Cardinal, and later Pope, a brutal powermonger. His aesthetic chops rivaled the likes of John C. Calhoun and Sean Hannity. And then to have him portrayed by Rex Harrison (Dr. Doolittle himself) in The Agony and the Ecstasy (agony for the Sixtus pope) – I just can’t deal with it.

Ciao, my followers, and bless you.