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December, 2013:

Odd Lots

Excerpted From Old Catholics

Cathedral Demonstration Turns to Riot

(AP) Violence erupted at a noon-hour protest in front of Holy Name Cathedral, as demonstrators from the liberal Catholic organization Christ With Us traded taunts with counter-demonstrators from the reactionary conservative group Voluntas Dei. The march, targeting the recent moratorium on marriage annulments announced by Pope Pius XIII on November 27, began peacefully, but descended into fistfights that spilled into the street near Wabash and Superior about 11:45 AM.

Chicago’s Cardinal Peter Luchetti quelled the riot by addressing the crowd through a police megaphone. Police arrested twelve of the demonstrators, who were charged with disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment. Two were later charged with criminal destruction of property. Numerous demonstrators were injured, seven requiring hospitalization.

Cardinal Luchetti later met with representatives from the two protesting organizations in his office at the Diocesan complex. No details of the meeting were released.

Tensions between liberal and conservative factions in the Roman Catholic Church have been running high since the Pope’s unexpected announcement and promise of an encyclical on the indissolubility of Catholic marriage…

Rob again scanned the headline piece from Friday’s Chicago Tribune and tossed the paper back on one of Suzy’s end tables. There would certainly be more in Sunday’s edition, much more, especially now that reporters were doggedly searching for anyone who might have been there and could provide a provocative quote.

Rob had turned his cellphone off and yanked the cord from his answering machine in annoyance after the twentieth call. Merciful God in heaven, what were the chances? To one side of the news item was a photo of Cardinal Peter Paul Luchetti with his hand on the forehead of the young injured woman from Voluntas Dei. To the other side was a photo of Peter speaking into a police megaphone, at his elbow a befuddled-looking middle-aged man in a gray overcoat. The caption was peculiar, not only for what it stated but for what it left out: “Cardinal Peter Luchetti spoke to the crowd through a police megaphone shortly after violence broke out, accompanied by his seminary friend, former priest Robert Prendergast of Chicago.”

He had given his name to no one. And where was Suzy? The photo had been cropped to exclude her completely, even though she had been standing perhaps a foot behind him.

“Rob, stop staring at that paper!” Suzy had an ancient blown-glass ornament in each hand, and the pile of boxes labeled “Shiny Brite” was growing on the carpet by her bare feet. There were cookies in the oven and a new log on the fire, and it smelled very much like Christmas. Rob put down his brandy snifter of eggnog (spiced up and fortified with some very good Scotch whisky) and took the ornament that Suzy held out to him.

“They cut you out of the picture,” Rob said in protest, edging around Suzy’s half-decorated balsam tree to confront a bare spot with the ornament.

“Like I need that kind of attention.”

“But why me and not you?” Rob tucked the ornament onto a vacant branch, touching it with one finger to make sure it could swing freely.

“Resigned priests are hot right now!” Maria said, and laughed. From her place on the stepladder she stretched to reach the 8-foot tree’s tip with the little plastic angel she held. “Get an interview on The Talk and you could land a national book deal. You could be famous. Give me a year or two to get in with a big New York house, and I’ll even publish your book.”

Maria Farella was finishing up her master’s work in journalism at the University of Chicago, intending to build a career in publishing. Like her mother, she was intense, but did not have Suzy’s sense of irony. Rob had never met her before his return from Indianapolis, and still wasn’t sure when to take her seriously.

“I don’t want to be famous. I want to marry your mother, and…” Rob paused, thinking about those still-unmentioned incardination papers.

“…and still be a priest.” Suzy bent down to pick up another ornament. “All we have to do is crack the vows thing.”

Maria backed down off the stepladder. Rob had never met Joe Farella but knew that he must have been tall: His formidable daughter was at least 5’11” in her Christmas toe socks, and towered over Rob and Suzy both. “Poor angel,” she said, hands on hips, sizing up her work on the decorations so far. “We’ve stuck a tree up her butt every year now for how long, Mama?”

Suzy looked up toward the top of the tree. “Christmas 1979. Find me a treetop ornament in the shape of Pope Pius XIII and I think we’ll let her retire.”

Maria laughed again and bent down to the floor near Rob to pick up another box of ornaments. She put her left hand on his shoulder and shoved down far enough so that she could kiss the top of his head. “Please crack the vows thing, Fr. Rob. Andrew’s finally coming around, and I might find a ring in my stocking this year. I want you to marry us so bad.”

Rob felt himself blushing. As soon as Bishop Hughes received his incardination agreement, he would gain episcopal faculties and lose his last excuse to dodge the question of what he could and could not do as a priest.

Suzy turned back to the tree, glass ornaments in each hand. “Dumpling, he can marry you and Andrew any time you want. What he can’t do is marry me.”

Rob did not want to re-ignite the vows argument in front of a young woman who, in Dr. Pangloss’ best of all possible worlds, might have been his own daughter. “Maria, your mother and I both need annulments, each of a different sort. By our dumb luck, both kinds are hard to come by these days.”

Maria sat down on the stepladder, stretching her very long legs out in front of her. “It all sounds like a paperwork problem to me. Would God really get upset if you two just went off and did it?”

Rob blushed again, unsure what answer he could make to that. “Doing it” had more than one meaning, and both were an issue. He pursed his lips but said nothing.

Maria’s smile faded. “It’s really all about sex, isn’t it?”

Suzy turned back from the tree, and nodded toward Maria. “It is about sex. It’s always about sex. Sex is the only thing the Church cares about anymore. If I could make a case that I’d never had sex with Joe it would be open-and-shut, but there’s this little problem I have, and she’s sitting right over there.”

Rob expected Maria to laugh, or at least work up a little of her mother’s impish grin. Instead, the young woman who was so good at eye contact looked down at her feet and smoothed her plaid wool skirt across her knees. Suzy and Maria had gone this way before, Rob realized, and it clearly hadn’t turned out well. What did Maria think of her father? One might argue about the process-and the paperwork-but under certain circumstances marriage could be reversed. Fatherhood, now…

Rob knelt on one knee by Maria’s feet and placed his hands over one of hers. “It’s not only about sex. Love needs to respect the promises that it makes.”

Maria looked up. Rob expected tears. What he saw was the sort of confusion that was the precursor to anger. “Maybe. But why shouldn’t promises respect the love that created them?”

(c) 2013 by Jeff Duntemann. All Rights Reserved. Do not repost.

Daywander (Again)

I guess for symmetry’s sake I have to hand you two Daywanders in a row. Blame symmetry if you want; here you go:

It’s (almost) all good news. Carol is improving daily, though still using crutches for long hauls. Her foot hurts when she uses it too much. She’s about to begin physical therapy, which should help. And in three weeks she goes in to get the other one done. We knew this winter was going to be spent mostly at home, though neither of us fully appreciated just how at home we were going to be. Then again, dancing with that girl is as close to heaven as I’ll get on this old Earth. It’s not even three years until our 40th wedding anniversity celebration. Dancing you want? Dancing we’ll give you!

Our Lionel trains are up! It’s been several years, but with a little unexpected help from Jim Strickland, the Camel and the GG-1 are tearing around a longish loop that now surrounds both of our livingroom couches, powered by my formidable Lionel ZW. We put some liver treats in Carol’s 1959 hopper car, and of all the Pack, only Dash was willing to chase the train around and scoop the treats up out of the hopper. He was also the only one willing to grab Louie the Giggling Squirrel from the same hopper.

I find myself renewing an old friendship while writing a chapter on programming. (The book itself is largely about hardware.) Back in the early 1990s I spent a certain amount of time with Tcl/Tk and much enjoyed it. Visual Basic was brand new, and creating GUI apps was still mortal drudgery facilitated by the king of mortally drudgerous languages, C. In 1993, all you got with Tk was Motif. Funny to think of Motif as a bottom-feeder GUI now, when back then it was nothing short of breathtaking. Today Tk gives you native look-and-feel, and there are bindings for just about any language you’d ever want, and there are more computer languages these days than mosquitoes in Minnesota. I’m using a binding for Python called TKinter that basically gives you Tcl/Tk without Tcl. That’s good, since Tcl is a bit of a dud as languages go and the main reason I dropped Tcl/Tk like a hot rock when the Delphi beta wandered in the door at PC Techniques. Python isn’t Pascal but it’s way better than all the toothless C wannabees that represent the sum total of recent language research, especially JavaScript, the Woodrow Wilson of programming languages. If you just can’t bring yourself to use The Kiddie Language without falling into fits on the floor and drowning in the dog’s water bowl, well, Python and TKinter represent the easiest way to lash up a GUI that I’ve ever seen.

Then again, Delphi and Lazarus are just better.

Carol and I got the Christmas cards out today. It didn’t get done last year because Carol’s mom was failing and we knew we had only one more Christmas with her. Between Carol’s foot and my book project it almost didn’t get done this year either, but we’re trying to get back real life as life should be lived. Christmas cards are part of that. No complaints.

Bad news? Not much. I was pulling a pizza out of the oven a couple of nights ago, and fumbled the pan with my gloved right hand. Fearing that dinner was about to go jelly-side-down on the kitchen floor, my reflexes put my un-gloved left hand in the line of fire, and whereas I saved the pizza, it came at the cost of second-degree burns on two fingers and the thumb of my left hand. It’s not bothering me as much today as yesterday, and my typing speed is slowly getting back to my accustomed Thunderin’ Duntemann (Thanks, Fiona!) 100 WPM. But I promise you, the next pizza that gets wonky on me is gonna go jelly-side down, while I stand there and laugh. I may be 61, but I learn.

New featured pairing: Stilton cheese and Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. Very good news.

As most people have already discovered just sticking their noses out the back door, 2013 looks to become one of the ten coldest years in US history. It may not be global, but damn, it’s cooling.

And that, my friends, makes me look to my now-empty snifter of brandy and egg nog beside the monitor. Time for a refill. Long past time, in fact.


As the temperature slides back down below zero (F) here, the supper dishes are done, and I lean back to savor the memory of home-made stuffed peppers, and for dessert a good sharp Stilton cheese chased with Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. It was very close to a carb-free meal, consisting of some 85% ground beef with a little rice to thin it out, mixed with salsa and scooped generously into some very Christmas-y red and green pepper halves. Oh, I’ll maybe have a little egg nog later on, the season being what it is.

What the season actually is, is early. I’m not used to below-zero temps two weeks before winter begins. It certainly hasn’t happened in the ten years we’ve lived here. I get screamed at every time I suggest that we may be entering a cooling spell on the Third Rock, but from all I’ve seen in the stats it sure looks that way. At some point my strongly suspected Neanderthal genetics may come in handy.

Carol’s still scooting around the house on her knee walker. She’s improving day by day but there’s still some pain that her surgeon will have to consider when we go back next week. I hung a little canvas pack on the knee walker so she can carry things around. My father brought the pack home from WWII, and it sat in a box in my mother’s attic until we sold her house in 1996. It then sat in a box in my sister’s garage for another ten years, until we unpacked it and I took it home. I have no idea what sort of pack it is, and if you recognize it (see above) give a shout. Now, the other mystery: How could something that old and neglected not smell? It doesn’t. It’s clean and looks almost unused. Whatever my father did with it back in the day, it’s become useful again. He would be pleased if he knew. Someday I hope to tell him.

I turned in a ginormous chaper today for The Book I Still Can’t Tell You About. I’m well over half finished with the gig, and certainly hope the next chapter won’t cast off to 55 book pages all by its lonesome. It’s certainly something to do while waiting for a quick trip outdoors to cease being a near-death experience.

Michael Covington mentioned to me that Lowes is now selling Meccano parts in those marvelous little bins of odd bits in the hardware aisle. I got up there a few days ago to take a look, and it’s true: A company called The Hillman Group provides little bags of zinc-plated steel girders, plates, and brackets, all with the Meccano standard 1/2″ hole spacing, the holes sized to clear an 8-32 bolt. They’re expensive compared to haunting eBay for beat-to-hell and incomplete modern Erector sets, but the parts can be damned handy. Here’s an Arduino-powered cat teaser built from some servos and Hillman parts.

Tomorrow I dive into Chapter 5. Should be easier, as it’s about programming, not hardware. Now, can we ditch this absurd obsession with curly brackets? What part of BEGIN and END don’t you all understand?

Odd Lots