The Holy Potato Chip

My research on the poet McSheey has produced the following:

Taken from a pamphlet handed out at a recent Nutty New England Poets of the 20th Century lecture held at Stoneycliff University

Thomas J. McSheey (1899-1935) was the author of several volumes of poetry, many published articles regarding his ideas on God and the nature of the universe, a handful of short stories, and a To-Do list that never seemed to get completed.

McSheey was constantly at work on a number of writing projects that never reached fruition, thus prompting him to spend most of his time puttering around in his garage smoking a pipe and trying to look busy. In terms of religion, he believed in God, per se, but felt He was quite a bit shorter than depicted in renaissance paintings.

As for the nature of the universe in general, McSheey believed it would all end someday, probably on a Tuesday, right before noontime, so he advised that we all eat a big breakfast that morning.

In the end, McSheey choked to death on a piece of dark chocolate, although some scholars believe it was milk chocolate, while others believe caramel was present.

The Holy Potato Chip of South Braintree, Mass.

In McSheey's personal journal there is mention of a particular autumn afternoon spent at a small luncheon spot along Washington Street in South Braintree Square, at a period in his life of spiritual disillusionment, during which time he was believed by scholars to be dabbling in paganism and the occult. Either that, or he just liked doodling pentagrams in the margins of his notebook.

Arriving well after the noon hour, he was alone as he entered the establishment and approached the counter to order a BLT, a bag of potato chips, and a bottle of Moxie. After a bit of a wait while the young woman behind the counter prepared his sandwich, during which time the two made the usual small talk -- mostly centered around possible theories concerning the origins of the universe and whether or not there is enough matter contained within to cause the cosmos to gravitationally collapse back in on itself some billions of years into the future ... you know, the usual playful banter between two members of the opposite sex -- McSheey eventually took a seat at a small round table in the back. There he unwrapped his sandwich and poured out his potato chips upon the awaiting wax paper. (Editor's note: As if wax paper were incarnate! Humph!)

After a couple of bites of his sandwich, and a swig of his tonic, he noticed an odd-looking potato chip staring up at him from the center of the wax paper. (As if a potato chip possessed a soul! Humph!!)

Picking up the chip, he held it to the light to reveal that at its center was an image clearly resembling a crucifix.

"Holy cow!" he exclaimed, causing the young woman to come out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on her apron as she approached the table. Upon seeing the potato chip she immediately blessed herself with the sign of the cross.

McSheey, seizing on the woman's apparent piety, presented the holy potato chip to her ... and then asked for her phone number. She at first balked at the potato chip, saying that he had found it and should be the one to keep it, but then she finally accepted the chip, displaying it upon a shelf over the cash register. And eventually, with a little prodding, she forfeited her phone number.

A few afternoons later the two met along Washington Street and went for a short autumn stroll down to Sunset Lake. There they sat upon a bench before the still, reflective waters and talked further about the origins of the universe and their respective religious beliefs. It turned out they were both raised Catholic, although McSheey admitted he had recently left the church after an argument with a local priest over the Nicene Creed, citing in his side of the argument the Creed's numerous text changes over the centuries dating back to the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. and culminating in the 17th century Book of Common Prayer version, thus rendering it inconsistent with earlier doctrine. The priest countered by dousing McSheey with holy water and running away!

Meanwhile, word had spread throughout downtown South Braintree of the miraculous find, and neighboring shop owners and people from off the street flocked into the small eatery to see the holy potato chip. The owner of the eatery -- the young woman's father, it turns out -- placed the chip inside a miniature glass case, and then placed the case back on the shelf next to a small statue of Our Saviour, yet hidden behind a small red curtain. He then charged people 25 cents to view the chip, which enraged the local parish ... not so much because he was profiting in the name of the Lord, but because his enterprise was cutting into the weekly church collection.   

Yet, the miracle of the holy potato chip of South Braintree was short-lived. One afternoon, as the young woman stepped into the back storage room to retrieve a jar of mayonnaise, someone snuck behind the counter and stole the chip. The culprit's identity was never revealed, but it was rumored that the blessed chip was consumed one Sunday morning during Holy Communion at the 10:00 mass.

As for the young woman, she lost interest in the lakeside spiritual discussions. It all ended one Tuesday afternoon after an argument over the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which Jesus tells the tale of a shepherd with 100 sheep, "and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray." (Matthew 18:12)

She felt the parable symbolized the redemption of the soul, and the everlasting love of God - the Good Shepherd - who abandons all to find that which is lost. McSheey disagreed, feeling the shepherd was just being greedy and should have felt fortunate to still have 99 sheep in his flock.

McSheey concluded his side of the argument by "agreeing to disagree." The young woman, on the other hand, concluded her side of the argument by agreeing never to see McSheey again as she stormed off.

The young poet sat there upon the bench, doodling with the stick of a tree branch in his left hand, etching a cross into the dirt, which he transformed into a pentagram inside a circle, eventually erasing the image with the sole of his shoe.

Arising, he considered St. Matthew's next verse: "...he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray." (Matthew 18:13)

"I still think the shepherd was just being greedy," he said aloud in a sort of concluding rebuttal as he reached down to pick up an acorn, one of perhaps a hundred acorns resting there upon the ground, and tossed it lazily into the lake where it bobbed  lost and lonely and searching amongst the ripples of the cosmos. (As if the acorn were self-aware and representative of the plight of humanity!! Humph!!!)

A-men.

Jack Sheedy

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