Offtheshelf's blog

Naples: City of Churches

First, a few words about Palm Sunday...

The symbolic significance of the palm, and its presence in the story of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, has been somewhat watered down in our modern times. Two thousand years ago, though, the use of palms sent a clear message. In those times, the palm was a symbol of triumph, of victory, and for his followers to lay a carpet of palms before Jesus as he made his way into the city it was seen as a thumbing-of-the-nose gesture toward the establishment, meaning the Romans. In that sense, Jesus was being publically hailed as a victor, a savior from the oppression of occupying forces. From the moment he made his entrance, riding atop an ass upon a pathway of palms, he was seen as an enemy of the state.

It is of interest to note that although Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem is mentioned in all four gospels, it is only the Gospel of St. John that specifically mentions palms: "When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." (John 12:12-13)

According to the other three gospels: Matthews' and Mark's accounts are almost word-for-word the same, stating that the crowds "spread their garments in the way" and that others "cut down branches off the trees and strawed them in the way," while Luke's gospel mentions only "they spread their clothes in the way." (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36)

*****

Our Holy Week tour of Italian churches begins in the city of Napoli, located along the coast just a few metro stops from Pozzuoli (see my early blog entry, Pozzuoli: Chimes at Midnight). Of the trains, I recorded in my travel journal:  "The subway trains are like rolling cylinders of graffiti. Funny how even the graffiti here resembles some form of modern art."

Emerging from the metro, the city spread before us with its maze of narrow cobblestone streets. Following one such street, Via Toledo, southward from stone to stone, we journeyed to the old section of Napoli. Left and eastward is the "Spaccanapoli," an ancient road that as its translation suggests splits the city of Naples. The road begins as Via Capitelli, and then becomes Via Croce, and further on, Via San Biagio Dei Librai. Along the way this street makes its way past some truly wonderful houses of the holy.  

Naples has hundreds of Catholic churches, and is thus considered one of the world's most saturated cities in terms of Catholicism. In my journal, I wrote: "Napoli is a city of churches, and every neighborhood seems to have one. In the old section of the city we toured a number of cathedrals, many of which were bombed during World War II and rebuilt using much of the original material. These cathedrals are magnificent, many built in an ornate and highly decorative way to praise the Almighty with towering structures that epitomize in every way what one might expect of an Italian church."

Some of those churches along our walk included the following:

Sant'Anna dei Lombardi -- Built during the 15th century, and renovated during the 17th century, this church features Renaissance sculptures in its side chapels, as well as frescoes and a 300-year-old organ. There are a number of tombs located in various chapels around the church. Originally known as S. Maria di Monteoliveto, the church was damaged by World War II bombings and was later restored.

Gesu Nuovo -- Nearby is the highly ornate Gesu Nuovo church, built during the 16th century and featuring magnificent frescoes that accent the walls and vaulted ceilings. Baroque in style, its marble interior design was the result of nearly half a century of work.  Earthquakes over the centuries have necessitated repair work throughout the years.

Santa Chiara -- This basilica was built in the 14th century, renovated during the Baroque period, and heavily damaged during World War II.  Side chapels hold a number of tombs, and located near the altar is the tomb of Robert of Anjou - the King of Naples - who died in 1343.

San Domenico Maggiore -- This Gothic-style church was built over a period that spanned the last decades of the 13th and early decades of the 14th centuries, under the rule of King Charles II of Anjou. Side chapels hold various tombs, the walls decorated with frescoes. On the site is the "miraculous crucifix" that is said to have actually spoken to Saint Thomas Aquinas, who lived here as both a young monk and later as a theologian.

Continuing with my travel journal, I make mention of a unique chapel-turned-museum (museo) located near San Domenico Maggiore:

Cappella Sansevero -- "We visited Museo Cappella Sansevero located along a narrow back street in the old part of the city, which is home to the magnificent sculpture in marble, The Veiled Christ, by 18th century sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino. Cristo Velato, as it is known in Italian, depicts a crucified Christ, lying on his back, covered with a veil. How the artist was able to capture in marble the subtle texture of a veil over the dead body and its detailed visage is one of those wonderful mysteries of art that we can only marvel over today in awe."

Peak hour arrived, stretching into the early afternoon. Our group located an outdoor café in the old part of the city where we ate a lunch of Neapolitan pizzas and drank Italian beer. In my journal I wrote: "It was that quintessential Italian scene of people seated around a table, out of doors, eating and drinking and talking and laughing, with the ancient buildings of Napoli as our four walls and the blue sky above for our ceiling."

Jack Sheedy

FYI: Next time we will visit Rome and the Vatican.

Pozzuoli: Chimes at Midnight

As Holy Week approaches, with its palms and psalms and Passion plays and Easter pies, I thought it might be of interest to my devoted readers to share a recent tour of Italian churches and basilicas.

Last fall, I was fortunate enough to visit the land of my ancestors -- the west coast region of Italy, spending four of those days in Naples and in the nearby port city of Pozzuoli from whence my maternal ancestors hailed. Actually, my great-great grandparents on my grandmother's side came from various parts of the Campania region -- San Giorgio del Sannio in Benevento province and Tufo in Avellino province -- but I remember many years ago my grandmother, Noni, telling me that one great-great came from Pozzuoli (in Napoli province). She explained to me that Pozzuoli translated as "stinky oil" (what kid would forget that reference?!), which derives its name from the sulfuric caldera of the Campi Flegrei, evidence of volcanic activity in the area. Indeed, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius are only about an hour's ride south of Pozzuoli ... but we'll leave that as the subject of a future blog.

The early Latin name for Pozzuoli was Puteoli (puteo meaning "to stink"; oli translating as "oil"). The city of Puteoli actually played a small role in the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles, as displayed in the following scripture written by St. Luke, of him and St. Paul traveling on their way to preach at Rome:

"After three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle (Melita), whose sign was Castor and Pollux. And landing at Syracuse (in Sicily), we tarried there three days. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium (in southern Italy, at the toe of the boot): and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli: Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days : and so we went toward Rome." (Acts 28: 11-14)

I only hope Luke and Paul had a chance to sample the local Neapolitan pizza -- I recommend the Margherita style, washed down with a bottle of Birra Moretti.

While staying in Pozzuoli, I had the chance to visit one church, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, which resided at the end of the via (street) where I was staying with family, and which, with its chiming bells, was a constant presence. The following is from my first journal entry:

"Today is Monday - Lunedi in Italian ... Jetlag and a largely sleepless night full of noise and commotion from the street below ... And the chiming of the bells from the end of the street all night, ringing every quarter hour, remind me that I have not been to Mass in a while. Perhaps their chiming all through the night is my penance."

The next day, I added the following entry to explain the "largely sleepless night" reference from the previous entry:

"It was difficult to sleep with the windows open, as a street party was in progress throughout the night, from about 10:00 pm until 3:00 am, three stories below ... It was like a carnival atmosphere, with the constant hum of conversation, then sudden chants and cheers - as if a soccer game were being played in the street below. The sounds of cutlery from the café across the street interspersed with laughter and then a sudden loud voice. The rev-rev of motorcycles and the whine of motor scooters. The clump-clump sound of cars on the cobblestone street, and the beep-beep of their horns. All this activity along such a narrow little street, which ends abruptly with a classic Italian church, replete with a clock and bell tower situated on its left (west) side, giving the building a somewhat unbalanced look. And inside the tower, those devilish bells that chime every quarter hour, keeping me awake throughout the night."

In my journal, I next attempted to illustrate the sequence of those "devilish" bells:

"Each quarter hour the bells sound the entire sequence. For instance, at 12:45 am the large bells chime 12 times for the hour (dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong ... dong) and then the smaller bells chime three times to represent the quarter hour (ding ... ding ... ding).That's 15 chimes in succession at 12:45 in the morning when sensible people should be fast asleep. Yet, sensible people and insensible people, alike, were wide awake - some down below in the street drinking wine and conversing loudly, and others up above in bed trying to slumber. Oh, those cursed bells!"

No worries. As my readers will see in my final blog entry of this Holy Week series, coming on Easter Sunday, I do eventually make peace with Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie and her bells, and wish her a "sincere Amen," hoping to return someday to hear her chimes at midnight once more.

Our tour of churches and basilicas will continue, in Napoli, in my next blog entry.

Jack Sheedy

A Darwinist Year

Before I present this blog entry... let me share with my devoted readers (all 2 ½ men and women of you) what the Cape Cod media has been saying about Cape Odd, my latest book with Jim Coogan.

  • "Two of Cape Cod's most entertaining historians are back with a collection that takes readers off the beaten path." (Cape Cod Times, 1/23/11)
  • "...a wonderful collection of odd, quirky, peculiar and downright weird people, places and stories from Cape Cod's past...Cape Odd is a keeper, and a must-read for anyone living on - or in love with - Cape Cod." (Cape Codder 2/11/11; Register 2/17/11)
  • "It's a delightful book, full of Cape Cod history -- the trivial and the significant -- all presented in a voice that is playful but not silly, informative but never pedantic...a terrific gift for both Cape Codders and our weekend warriors." (Barnstable Patriot 12/3/10)

 

And now, our Feature Presentation:

 

Civil War Speeding

A legend in our family is my great-great-great grandfather Patrick Maguire, who fought with the New Hampshire 7th Volunteers during the Civil War. His name is chiseled upon a monument located in a cemetery in a small New Hampshire town up near the border with Maine.

The day I first visited the monument I was so anxious to see it that I was pulled over for speeding right in front of the cemetery. I was mortified. There I was handing over my license and registration within view of the very Civil War monument that held my ancestor's name.

I explained myself to the police officer, and expressed my sense of embarrassment -- at being pulled over within sight of my great-great-great grandfather's Civil War monument -- and left the scene with a keepsake reminder of my visit, suitable for framing.

 

Ambassador of Death

Some months ago, on the very day after Iran flicked the switch on its first nuclear power plant it also unveiled the country's newest long range missile called ... drum roll please ... "The Ambassador of Death."

Oh, my! The Ambassador of Death! Where do they come up with this stuff? Sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.

Here in the USA we name our missiles inspiring things like "Patriot" and "Minuteman," evoking images of farmers and blacksmiths armed with muskets, crouched behind the stonewalls of Lexington and Concord to fend off Redcoats.

"The Ambassador of Death" is so Old World. You just gotta love their 11th century way of thinking.

 

A Darwinist New Year

Come on, let's face it, life is a competition. It's a biological thing. That's how it works here on planet earth.

Darwinism. The survival of the fittest. The strongest triumph. In the end, the peacock with the most colorful plumage (and with the largest bank account and the nicest set of wheels) gets the mate.

I've tried to find the goodness in life. I've tried to keep in my heart the search for truth. I've tried to create art for art's sake.

But you know what? Art for art's sake doesn't pay the bills. It doesn't buy you the new car. Or the big house. Or put your kids into private college.

So, here is my Darwinist New Year's resolution:

Everything I do from now on is to produce the largest net gain from my efforts. No more art for art's sake. No more freebies. No more gratis. No more pro bono. No more handouts. Everything is going to cost something.

And I mean everything. Everything!

Everything except for Off-the-Shelf ... after all, you can't put a price on irreverence.

 

Who's Catching?

The other day I happened upon a discussion about breakfast cereal and was asked my favorite. I replied that Fruit Loops was my favorite growing up, but now that I'm closing in on my 50's my cereal of choice is Fruit & Fiber.

It's funny how things change as you go through life. For instance, I used to be an avid Red Sox fan. I kept up on all the BoSox batting averages and pitchers' ERAs. As a kid, each summer morning I'd grab my grandfather's Standard Times and check the box scores. I suffered through all their painful misfortunes over the decades...1975...1978...1986...1999...2003. And yet, I haven't followed the Red Sox over the past few years. Simply lost interest. I couldn't tell you who's on first or who's catching these days ... and this from a guy who remembers Jerry Moses and Sonny Siebert. Now I don't even know who's crouching behind the plate for the Sox!

I guess that's how it goes. One day it's Fruit Loops, and then before you know it, Fruit & Fiber is in your breakfast bowl.

Pass the skim milk, please.

Jack Sheedy

PS: For a copy of Cape Odd, visit your local CLAMS or OCLN library.

Or your local independent bookstore or gift shop or village store or museum.

Or visit www.harvesthomebooks.com

 

PPS: And listen to our interview on NPR radio by clicking on

www.wgbh.org/wcai/programDetail.cfm?programid=298 

and scrolling down under "Audio" to "The Point: Cape Odd."

 

PPPS: Jerry Moses (catcher) and Sonny Siebert (pitcher) played for the Red Sox during the late-1960's/early 1970's.

Hockey, Space, Tchaikovsky

Hear Jack Sheedy and Jim Coogan interviewed

on Cape NPR radio about their new book, Cape Odd.

See below for link.

 

Meanwhile...

Hockey - Period 1

To paraphrase the author Henry Beston, who wrote The Outermost House:

"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of the rain, the sound of the wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of a hockey puck ringing off the post."

I ask, is there any better sound in all of sports than the distinct, metallic, urgent, heart-stopping report of a frozen hockey puck ringing off an iron goal post? It's a sound that recalls the peal of church bells upon a frigid winter morning.

D-i-n-g!

(Amen)

 

Hockey - Period 2

For some, hockey is close to a religion. Those so blessed wear their sacred scars with pride. A stick in the face some three decades ago, with maturity, produces a scar more prominent, more robust, aging like a bottle of scotch.

Which causes me to wonder if I remembered to make ice cubes.

 

Hockey - Period 3

Hockey. What a sport. Part ballet, part gladiatorial contest. All played out within a Colosseum of ice.

Incidentally, Beston felt the third great elemental sound was "the sound of the outer ocean on a beach," but I'll still go with a clangor off the post.

 

Space - Parsec 1.0

Out in the dark distance of space, navigating the Saturn system of moons and rings, hurtles a machine made by human hands and by human minds. Named Cassini, it was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004 to study the ringed planet and its fascinating family of moons, primarily the moon Titan, a heavenly body which is thought to resemble the conditions on Earth at the time when life here began.

Some 1.5 billion miles from earth, it required a slingshot trajectory twice past Venus, once again past our own planet, and once past distant Jupiter, using each planet's gravitational pull to propel the spacecraft at an astonishing 45,000 miles per hour toward Saturn. Imagine.

And to think that with Cassini's Titan flybys, and the data collected, we may be afforded a celestial view of Creation. Perhaps a look at the very hand of God Himself.

Well, maybe at least His ring finger.

 

Space - Parsec 2.0

Casting back to Winter 2006 -- five years ago -- the spacecraft New Horizons was launched on a mission to Pluto.

At the time of the launch Pluto was still considered one of the nine planets of our solar system. Pluto has since been demoted to a "dwarf" planet, not a real planet because of its odd size, shape, and orbit which don't quite match the sizes, shapes, and orbits of what are considered the "classic" eight planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune).

Regardless, New Horizons is now halfway along its journey to Pluto, expecting to arrive there in 2015 after traveling some 3 billion miles. That's a long trip...almost like driving across the state of Ohio.

 

Space - Parsec 3.0

Long after our species joins the list of other extinct species, and long after our earth has been vaporized by the outer gaseous shells of our sun after it becomes a red giant star, spacecraft made by human beings will still be journeying through the dark reaches of space toward distant stars. In that sense, our species will live on in mechanical form, until gravity finally catches up with all matter and all energy, casting the whole lot toward universal center, toward the Big Crunch and the end of this universal sphere, to commence the next universe. Or as the Good Book saith, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away..." (Rev 21:1)

And then, all will begin anew. Which makes me less and less concerned that the "Check Engine" light in my car keeps going on.

  

Tchaikovsky - Adagio

Tchaikovsky was a complicated person. For instance, he had a recurring fear that while on stage conducting one of his pieces his head would fall off. In a similar fashion, I have a recurring fear that while at my desk typing "Off-the-Shelf" my hair will fall out.

 

Tchaikovsky - Allegro

I grew up with Tchaikovsky's music, mainly Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. I also grew up with Tom Lehrer's music, mainly Fight Fiercely Harvard and Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. Now there's a combination - Tchaikovsky and Lehrer -- more like Poisoning Pigeons in Swan Lake!

 

Jack Sheedy

FYI: Those interested in learning more about Cassini, or New Horizons, should visit www.nasa.gov/missions/current

While you're on the NASA website, check out the Hubble Telescope - it just located a galaxy some 13 billion years old, almost as old as the universe itself. Any further back and Hubble will see Creation...in which case, close your eyes because you might see Adam and Eve sans clothing!

******* 

On NPR Radio::::::Listen to Jim Coogan and Jack Sheedy interviewed on WCAI's "The Point" hosted by Mindy Todd  www.wgbh.org/wcai/programDetail.cfm?programid=298  Under "Audio" scroll down and click on "The Point: Cape Odd."

Also, look for Jim and Jack's recent interview in the Cape Codder (Feb 11) and Register (Feb 17).

Their books, Cape Odd (2010) and Cape Cod Harvest (2007) are available at your local CLAMS or OCLN library. Or visit www.harvesthomebooks.com

A New Quest

A new sun. A new year. A new quest
Musical accompaniment: Symphony #6 (Pathétique) by Tchaikovsky

T

chaikovsky often wrote in letters to his brother that he was "played out." That creatively he had nothing left in the tank. And then he would somehow manage to come up with another brilliant symphony or another thrilling ballet piece. His final symphony, the #6, finished months before his death, is regarded as his most brilliant.

Likewise, just when I think I'm "played out," I get another idea. I figured Off-the-Shelf was "played out" a few years ago, yet I keep typing away.

Similarly, I figured that with my fifth book, Cape Cod Harvest, written with Jim Coogan and published in 2007, I had little left to say on the subject of Cape Cod. Yet, along comes Cape Odd, our latest effort.

I remember reading years ago that author Ray Bradbury, now in his 90's, said even in his advanced years he still got a thrill each day when he got an idea and then transferred that idea to paper.  

My own literary journey began back in 1982 when I first got the urge to write while attending Stonehill College. And I've been writing ever since. In fact, there were some years along the way when I derived all of my income from writing. That is no longer the case. But the thrill and the sense of creativity still exist ... even in my "advanced years."

Fortunately, when I do enter my advanced years (many years from now) I believe the creative spark will still be there, and the urge to transfer thoughts to paper will push me onward, on a quest for my own brilliant symphony.

While I continue along that quest, here are some scribbles which my devoted readers may or may not have seen:

 

Infinity

All the laws of physics break down at the point of a singularity due to infinite mass and infinite gravity.

Infinity is a difficult concept for finite ape-like creatures to comprehend.

The history of the universe, and its future, can be understood from the very moment after its creation to the very moment before its destruction. It is at that creation/destruction point, which I believe is the very same point, when the laws of physics abandon us. It's as if God led us to the door of understanding but didn't provide us with a key to unlock the portal.

So, I've come up with this simple diagram to help me understand the universe...so I can sleep at night without twisting my mind up into knots:

God

|

Creation

|

Universe Expands

|

Gravity Causes Universe to Cease Expansion

|

Universe Contracts

|

Destruction

|

God

|

Creation

(Cycle begins anew)

 

God is at the beginning and the ending, which then becomes a new beginning. From destruction comes creation. Or, as the Good Book saith, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end." (Rev 21:6)

Hey, all I do know for certain is that we go 'round and ‘round the sun.

 

Space...

In reference to the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, STS-1, in April 1981, and the impending last space shuttle flight, STS-134, scheduled for April 2011.

We can reach for the stars again.

We need vision and drive and the courage to look ahead toward future sunrises instead of wallowing in the growing darkness of twilight.

Remember, the Empire State Building, the world's tallest building at one time, was built during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

We need to aim high toward the heavens and relight the candle.

 

Misunderstood

It might have been Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "To be misunderstood is a sign of genius."

And it might have been the lunatic poet Thomas John McSheey who said, "To be misunderstood is a sign of being misunderstood."

 

Morning After New Year's Poem

Morning, next,

things...are a bit...fuzzy,

coffee, black,

mind...is a bit...buzzy,

morning, sun,

seems...a little bit...hazy,

new year's, day,

feeling...a bit...lazy,

2010, 2011,

just...another...number

December, January,

let...me rest...a slumber,

coffee, black,

pour me...another...mug-full,

morning, next,

quiet...I'll be...grateful.

 

Jack Sheedy

FYI: My books can be found at your local CLAMS or OCLN library network: Cape Odd (2010), Cape Cod Harvest (2007), Cape Cod Voyage (2001), Cape Cod Companion (1999), Dennis Journal (1995). Or visit www.harvesthomebooks.com

 

Christmas Frequent Flyers

"And she brought forth her firstborn son,

and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,

and laid him in a manger;

because there was no room for them in the inn

 ... as Joseph forgot to call ahead to make reservations."

(Luke 2:7)

 

The Christmas story we have all come to know, and which forms the basis for the Christmas holiday we celebrate today, comes from parts of four brief chapters found in two of the Gospels, those attributed to saints Matthew and Luke. St. Matthew's account speaks mostly of King Herod and of the wise men, while St. Luke's Gospel talks of Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus, and the visitation of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds in the field.

It seems angels were building up their frequent flyer miles in the months prior to and after the birth of our Saviour with their numerous trips down from heaven to Galilee and Judea, as we see from the following:

The first angelic visit, in Luke 1:11-20, was made by the angel Gabriel to meet with Zacharias, the husband of Elisabeth, announcing that she who "was barren" and "now well stricken in years" would conceive a child. This news left Zacharias "dumb, and not able to speak," and not only "because thou believest not my words" according to Gabriel, but also because Zacharias realized he had no health insurance to cover the hospital costs. Indeed, Elisabeth did conceive, and eventually gave birth to John the Baptist.

Meanwhile, six months into Elisabeth's pregnancy, "the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city in Galilee, named Nazareth," to announce to a virgin there by the name of Mary that she, too, "shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." (Luke 1:31)

According to Matthew 1:18, "Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit," when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, telling him "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife." (Matt 1:20)

That same angel of the Lord visited him again in Matthew 2:13 and again in Matthew 2:19, after Jesus' birth, first telling Joseph to take the mother and child to Egypt, and then to take them back into Israel, and then to relocate them into Galilee, until Joseph finally threw up his hands and shouted toward the heavens, "Will you make up your mind already! Oy vey!"

The angel of the Lord also paid a visit to "shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night," alerting them to the holy birth "this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:8-11) The angel was then joined by "a multitude of the heavenly host," the whole lot singing praises to God in the highest, and then signing a medley of show tunes, before passing a hat and eventually departing back to heaven, leaving the shepherds to ask one to the other, "What the heck was that all about?"

Merry Christmas ... and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Jack Sheedy

PS: Interestingly, in Luke 2:24, two turtledoves make their appearance, sacrificed "according to that which is said in the law of the Lord" as part of the ceremonies following Jesus' circumcision. I guess, better two turtledoves sacrificed than eight maids a-milking!

The Benefactress & the Poet

Musical accompaniment: Gnossienes by Erik Satie

 

I continue here with further research on the New England poet Thomas J. McSheey (1899-1935), concluding with his artistic death...with mustard...

 

The Benefactress

The struggling post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh had his brother, Theo, to support him financially.

Russian composer, Petr Ilich Tchaikovsky, had a benefactress in the form of the widow Nadezhda von Meck, who over the course of a dozen or more years supported him with the stipulation that the two never met.

Likewise, poet Thomas J. McSheey drew financial support from a woman known to him only as Miss Pelling, a mysterious person he never actually met, although he admitted to having vivid dreams of her.

In those dreams, Miss Pelling took the form of a left-handed pitcher for the minor league baseball team, the Springfield Sturgeons. In each dream she would make it to the bottom of the ninth inning without giving up a hit, only to walk the bases full with twelve consecutive balls. The manager would then come to the mound to pull her from the game in favor of a reliever. Miss Pelling would refuse to leave the mound and soon both pitchers would be throwing to the batter at the same time. Finally, the umpire would step out from behind the plate, throw his mask to the dirt, and call the game on account of extreme silliness.

The crowd would then rush onto the field, and the players would turn into chickens, which the fans would chase all around the baseball diamond.

The dream always ended with a gigantic barbecue.

McSheey's therapist, a Freudian, presented his interpretation of the dream at a well-attended psychology conference held in Boston, thus causing all those who had earlier chosen chicken instead of fish at the evening dinner to change their order.  

Meanwhile, the benefactress Miss Pelling eventually abandoned McSheey to support who she thought was an "aspiring" novelist (it turns out he was a "perspiring" novelist). Without her financial support, McSheey was forced to cut down to basic cable television service and to drinking only bottom shelf whisky.

 

The Poet

And then, upon one December day, the poet Thomas J. McSheey "died of a broken heart" according to his obituary, which was based on testimony provided by his landlady, a middle-aged woman named Tessie who hailed from County Monaghan, Ireland.

It turns out this was incorrect information fueled by the woman's Irish brogue, as McSheey actually "died of a broken art." Apparently, while visiting an exhibit of modern art, a suspended three-dimensional sculpture fell from its woefully inadequate hanger and struck McSheey on the head.

In his remaining moments, dazed upon the gallery floor, McSheey talked nonsense, gibberish, claiming that the sculpture was influenced by the works of Picasso when it was clearly reminiscent of the mobiles of Calder.

Finally, fighting for breath, or perhaps for a breath mint, and clutching the curator by the sleeve of his jacket, the penniless poet offered $5,000 for the sculpture, "and not a penny more" according to those standing nearby. Then, with a smile upon his face, as well as a little bit of mustard from a bratwurst he had for lunch, Thomas John McSheey departed this life for the heavenly realm ... where the rent may be higher, but at least the neighbors are quiet and rake their leaves.

Jack Sheedy

 

Timing Out

Blog Title: Timing Out (aka Flock of Comments - Part 11)

Musical accompaniment: Time Out (1959 jazz album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet)

Graphic accompaniment: Clock tower of Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie in Pozzuoli, Italy (sketched by yours truly during a recent tour of Italian churches and cathedrals)

Spirituous accompaniment: Hot apple cider (with brandy)

 

Two economists, walking...

Economist #1: "Hey, this weekend we're supposed to turn our clocks back one hour."

Economist #2: "Great, just what this recession needs - another hour."

 

Two theologians, driving...

Theologian #1 (in passenger seat): "Hey, you didn't turn your dashboard clock back."

Theologian #2 (driving): "I don't believe in the modern concept of time, per se. You see, I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that time is merely a manmade mechanism designed to measure the distance elapsed since God's Creation of heaven and earth. You see, in biblical times they measured time in terms of generations, you know so-and-so begot so-and-so, who begot so-and-so, and so on and so forth ... but now time is measured in terms of minutes and hours, and months and years, and decades and centuries."

Theologian #1: "So, does that mean you're not turning your clock back?"

Theologian #2: "Well, to be completely honest, I lost the car owner's manual and don't know which buttons to push."

Theologian #1: "Amen, brother. Amen"

 

One blog writer, writing...

I have a problem. I admit it. You see, I spend my time in quiet contemplation, thinking about the origins of the universe and God's place in that universe. Years ago, people would have considered me "touched" or "sleepy." They would have called me "Sleepy Jack ... you know, the odd guy with the wild hair and the flannel shirts who spends his days with his head in the Magellanic Clouds."

I admit it, half the time I'm pondering how something came from nothing. At those times I become completely detached from what's going on around me. It's become a real problem ... well, that and my strange interest in squirrels.

Anyway, in an attempt to get help with this problem I've joined a support group - Singularity Anonymous. After all, as our chapter president states at the beginning of every meeting, "Singularity is at the root of all creation." (Geez, everybody knows that!)

So, I have another meeting tonight.

Yours Truly: "Hello, my name is Jack and I have a problem with the uncertainty principle."

All other members (in unison): "Hello, Jack!"

 

Until next time, some recent comments.

***

In response to: God Grief

Once in a while I'm just ahead of the curve. For example, my blog entry about understanding the mind of God in His role as creator of the universe, which I posted about a month ago.

Since then, I just recently learned that Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, is coming out with a new book entitled The Grand Design. Although in his earlier book he leaves room for God as creator, in his latest book, according to news reports, he states that God was not necessary due to a theory called "spontaneous creation," which results due to the laws of gravity.

Now, those who know me know I'm not much for organized religion. I see religion as something created by mankind thousands of years ago to explain the world around them. Yet, I do believe in a Creator (aka God).

After all, although "spontaneous creation" brought about by the laws of gravity sounds like a credible scientific theory, I have to ask the obvious question: Who created the laws of gravity?

 

In response to: Hurricane Earl Rips Cape

Just before Earl made landfall I finally located my hurricane survival guidebook which helped me get through Hurricane Bob back in 1991. Of course, by hurricane survival guidebook I'm referring to Old Mr. Boston - Deluxe Official Bartender's Guide (1972 edition).

Under the guide's "Equipment" section is a handy listing of necessary survival gear to have on hand when any big storm approaches the coast. It reads: "Here is a sensible list of basic, serviceable items...A jigger measure, a sturdy mixing glass or shaker, a glass stirring rod, a bar strainer, a teaspoon or set of measuring spoons, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, a pairing knife, a vacuum-type ice bucket with tongs, a wooden muddler, a lemon-lime squeezer...". Thank God for the lemon-lime squeezer - I don't know what I would have done without it.

Of course, in any hurricane it is important to have plenty of ice on hand. As "Mr. Boston" states: "Use plenty of ice. Whether cubed, cracked, crushed or shaved, all ice should be fresh, crystal-clear and free of any taste."

 

In response to: The Great Recession Papers

In recent months I've befriended a family of slugs living beneath my front steps. They make their appearance in the early morning as I'm heading out for my walk. I have to be careful not to step on them along the front walk. They're very quiet, not like those pesky squirrels!

I admit, squirrels are my favorite. They're like outdoor pets that I don't have to feed, or walk, or clip their toenails, or bathe, or take to the vet, or worry about when I go away on vacation. One of my neighbors caught me exchanging chirping noises with a squirrel the other day -- kind of embarrassing ... for the squirrel, that is.

 

In response to: God in Pastel

Back at Stoneycliff College, a former religious studies classmate of mine caused quite a ruckus one night at the college pub when he argued that God was actually a giant squirrel. Other religious studies students who were in attendance that night claimed that the "giant squirrel" theory was simply preposterous. Days later, a debate was held in the lecture hall where my classmate presented his argument that God took the form of a giant squirrel. The head of the theological studies department then argued that God was a being of indeterminate height and weight with a long white flowing beard. In his rebuttal, my classmate cited the uncertainty principle, stating that like the uncertainty that exists between both the position and the momentum of a quantum particle, we cannot know both the nature and the mind of God. Stumped, and hungry since the debate lasted well past lunchtime, the theologians threw up their hands and agreed that God could take the shape of a "giant squirrel."

 

In response to: God in Pastel

Question: Does God exist?

Answer: Yes.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a number of Italian basilicas and cathedrals and churches in Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and Pozzuoli -- from St. Peter's Basilica to St. Pietro in Vincoli to Santa Maria Maggiore to the cathedral at Catacomba di Domitilla -- and I have come to the conclusion that God does exist. He's just very, very shy.

 

In response to: The Grapes of Gatsby

 

  • The last two mornings, while out on my early walk, I've noticed the western sky brightening before the eastern sky. This is an odd phenomenon, which I have taken as a sign from God. If only I could figure out what it means. Perhaps it means for me to do something different with my life. Perhaps it means for me to give up my worldly possessions and dedicate myself to helping my fellow man. Or perhaps it means I need a new compass.
  • I've been watching Jupiter these nights. She greets me as I leave work and make the short walk along Main Street to the carpark. I've also been watching Cassiopeia overhead. And I've been watching the Big Dipper. And Antares. And the Pleiades. Unfortunately, I wasn't watching where I was going and walked into a rose bush.

 

Jack Sheedy

 

The Grapes of Gatsby

Some "near-final" thoughts on the poet, writer, essayist, blueberry picker Thomas J. McSheey. Yes, I know that months ago I had promised a quick end to my research on McSheey, and a quick death to him as well, but I'm having trouble letting go.

Also, besides researching McSheey's biography, I have been busy at work these past months / year editing and proofreading my latest book (with co-author Jim Coogan) entitled Cape Odd. As its subtitle suggests, the new book, due out in November, contains "Strange & unusual stories about Cape Cod." This weekend I'm having a final look at the printer's proof before we send it off to print. Again, I'm having trouble letting go.

It certainly is an "odd" book. For instance, all the chapters begin on odd pages. There are 17 chapters in the book, with the last chapter beginning on page 117 - both odd numbers (and 17 is prime to boot). The title, Cape Odd, has seven letters - odd and prime. The subtitle, "Strange & unusual stories about Cape Cod" has seven words (if you count the ampersand). And it is being released in the 11th month of the year - again, odd and prime.

So, this Christmas -  Hanukkah -  Holiday season look for Cape Odd in a bookstore, gift shop, library, or dentist waiting room near you. 

 

*****

To continue with my McSheey research...

 

In order to make ends meet, the poet Thomas J. McSheey took paying jobs from time to time. One such job found him working for an eccentric book publisher who had the strange notion to combine certain classic literary works so the reader could enjoy two famous novels at the same time.

In that vein, McSheey edited the texts for a number of novels, dovetailing the plots and characters in ways to present both stories in one abbreviated format, yet while keeping intact some of the main themes.

For instance, in his edited version of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, under the new title The Grapes of Gatsby, 1920's socialite Daisy Buchanan from Gatsby runs off with Depression-era share cropper Tom Joad from Grapes, the two eventually settling in Phippsburg, Maine where they open a gift shop.

Other edited works by McSheey included Of Mice and Moby Dick (featuring the novels of Steinbeck and Herman Melville), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Jane Eyre (by Robert Louis Stevenson and Charlotte Bronte), War and Prejudice (by Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austen), and Wuthering Women (by Emily Bronte and Louisa May Alcott).

Unfortunately, the concept never caught on, although McSheey's version of Huckleberry Frankenstein (by Mark Twain and Mary Shelley) received rave reviews for its "tender depiction of the undead rafting along the mighty Mississippi."

 

Jack Sheedy

PS: Coming in November (besides my new book, Cape Odd, Harvest Home Books, 128 pgs, $11.95, what a shameless plug) -- the final, absolute, artistically inspired death of the poet pagan-twig-collector Thomas J. McSheey ... I swear!

PPS: In the spirit of the "occasional-pagan/occasional-Christian" McSheey, I wish all my devoted readers (all 3 of you ... again, an odd, prime number) a Happy Halloween - Hallowmas - All Hallow's Eve - Samhain - All Saint's Day - All Soul's Day.

God in Pastel

Late night musings ...

i) The other day I did a life-size drawing of God in pastel. It was on a really, really big piece of paper.

ii) Got back from Italy a couple of weeks ago. Went to the Vatican. Saw St. Peter's Basilica. Saw Michelangelo's Pieta. Saw the Vatican museums. Saw the Sistine Chapel. Saw Michelangelo's "Last Judgment." Didn't see the Pope. He was out of town. How rude!

iii) Saw the ruins of Pompeii. Saw ancient cobblestone roads. Saw ancient dwellings and buildings. Saw ancient temples to honor the gods Jupiter and Apollo. Saw ancient erotic frescos painted on the walls of an ancient brothel. Boy, ancient history is cool!  

iv) Tried to have a spiritual conversation with a squirrel this morning. He seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying. He stared at me for the better part of a minute. Then he scrambled away and climbed a tree, out of sight. I waited for him to return, but he never did. I think I need to seek professional help.

v) Viewed the waxing gibbous moon and the planet Jupiter tonight. As I gazed at the two heavenly bodies above I contemplated the meaning of life. Why are we here? What's it all about? Is there a God? Is there a Heaven? Do we go there when we die? And if so, do they serve Guinness?

vi) Visited the Colosseum. Saw where the early Christians were eaten by lions. Visited the Catacombs. Saw where the early Christians were buried.  Visited various basilicas. Saw where the bones of early martyrs and saints were entombed. Boy, I'm glad I wasn't an early Christian!

vii)  Thought long and hard about the uncertainty principle today. Gave it some deep, serious thought. Quantum physics. Hmmm. The more one knows a particle's position, the less one understands its momentum, and vice versa. Hmmm. Tried like mad to give the concept my complete and undivided attention. Hmmm. But, you see, there was a squirrel eating a pinecone atop a fencepost outside my window ... and I must confess to being easily amused.

viii) God. He must be really old. Really, really old. Really, really, really old. Something like 13 billion years old, at least. Since that's how old the universe is according to the experts. Wow, that's old! But if you think that's old, image how old God's mother is!

ix) Currently working on a series of drawings of all 12 apostles. So far I've done Peter, John, Thomas, Matthew, James the Greater, James the Lesser, Simon, Andrew, Thaddeus, Phillip, and Bartholomew. I'm having trouble with Judas, though, because no photographs of him exist.

x) The apostles died horrible deaths. Either they were crucified or beheaded or flayed alive or stoned to death or speared to death or any combination of the above. Terrible, horrible, terrible deaths. Terrible. All except for the apostle John. The author of one of the Gospels, as well as the Book of Revelations, John died in his 90's from natural causes, or so scholars believe.  In fact, scholars have discovered that shortly before his death he was asked if he had any regrets. "Yes, I have one regret," John replied, "I wish I had learned to play the piano."

Jack Sheedy, the Lesser

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