Monday, February 25, 2013


The other morning at Mass the priest gave a homily about fasting. He pointed out that the idea behind fasting isn't "I'm going to eat less during Lent so I can look good in my bikini this summer." Fasting is not "I'm going to spend less now so I can save more for my retirement." Fasting is eating less and with the money you save taking someone out to dinner (preferably someone who doesn't get to go out much or  you find difficult).

The goal is not to get something to happen for us, in other words, but so that, through us, something good or hopeful can happen for other people.

Afterwards, I thought how that is the goal of work, relationships, and all of life. When you're married, you may not feel like being faithful, but you're faithful out of love--not love as a melting emotion, but love as a choice, love as a policy.

There is something in it for us, too. There will be enough money, enough time, enough love for us. But we get to make the goal other people.


Saturday, February 23, 2013


In spring, a young girl's thought turn to romance. Several times a week I walk past the lusty fellow pictured above. And the more I think about it, the more I feel he should get together with the orchid in my bedroom.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I spent last week, including Ash Wednesday in Palm Springs.

A resort for rich retired folks who live in air-conditioned isolation, a downtown featuring a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe, blocks of dead-quiet houses, casinos: Palm Springs is not,  at first glance my kind of town.

But this time I realized I was starting to feel a real affection for the place, and I finally figured out why: if you look closely, Palm Springs is littered with the near-dead and dying. Everyone’s staggering around with a walkalator, a wheelchair, a set of crutches, or a cane. Every Mass is punctuated by the steady pffft, pfft, of  breathing machines. Ahead of you line at the P.O. is a Gloria Swanson look-alike in a mangy cheetah car coat, her cadaverous wrists weighed down by gold bracelets. A guy in a toupee pulls his cream-colored Bentley up to Staples and totters in to buy printer toner.

Unlike in most places, people are nice to old folks here because they have dough and old people need a lot of things done: their pools cleaned, their nails painted, their faces lifted, their mid-century furniture appraised, their poor aching bodies massaged; to be carted off to the ER, the rest home, and eventually, the crematorium. Octogenarian spouses hold one another up as they laboriously cross Palm Canyon. Nonagenarians, odometers strapped to their arms, shuffle on tanned varicose-veined legs toward the spa. So it’s very poignant, this valiant effort to stave off death, the decreptitude beneath the glittering palm trees, the corrupted bodies making their way around the manicured golf courses…

I like the contrast—death and resurrection. Death to which the sun at first seems a balm. Then, in the harsh high-noon light, I catch my face in the mirror and the sun creully, unrelentingly exposes.

You can mask it all you want.

But Palm Springs, like life, is a desert…

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


My friend Brian grew up in the tiny town of Roseau, Minnesota (current pop. 2800), six miles from the Canadian border. His parents, Charleen and Ardmore, farmed 1200 acres of wheat, soybeans, canola, barley and flax..

Now he lives in West Hollywood, goes on auditions, and does makeup and hair (Mariah Carey was one of his clients).

He's showed me photos of his homeland but it's hard to picture Brian on a farm. "So you do help out when you go back?" I ask eagerly. "Can you drive a tractor?"

"Hell, yeah! I grew up on a tractor"...

The other night he invited me and some other friends to dinner. I arrived a bit early to find him dashing about the kitchen in that oh-my-God-people-are-going-to-be-here-soon-and-I-haven't-even-started-the-sauce-gribiche state that, having given dinner parties myself, I know all too well.

He was wearing a T-Shirt that read "Bring Back the Beet" and what looked like a scary black oilcloth butcher apron but what turned out to be part of the garb he dons in his capacity as developer, CEO, President, and head beautician/magician of Makeover Workshop.

 "Check out this celery," he said, handing me a bunch topped by the deep greeniest leaves ever, the stalks as slender as a ballet dancer's waist.

"Wow, beautiful--did you go to the Farmer's Market today?"

"No, I grew it."

"Grew it!" I'd seen the strawberry patch, the basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and  heirloom tomatoes by his front door, but I had no idea he had a back garden. "What, you have a plot by the garage?" I asked.

"Kind of," he said, washing a head of butter lettuce. "I plant stuff all along the driveway. Hey, can you peel these beets"...

I peeled beets and snooped through the cupboards (one kitchen shelf was stacked high with cardboard packs of hair color). The other guests arrived. We exchanged news, we made fun of each other, we pushed aside the display cases of makeup, sat down, said grace, and ate.

We had oven-braised baby carrots in rich hues of orange, gold, and deep red.

We had avocado and roasted beet salad with citrus dressing.

We had chicken with warm bread salad and watercress from the Zuni Cafe cookbook (Brian used to wait tables there).

We had four or five different vegetables and Brian had grown every one of them.

We had coffee and Tom's delicious chocolate mousse with cardamom, we gossiped and gabbed, we did the dishes and when it was almost 11, Brian strapped on a headlamp and said, "Come on, I'll show you the garden."

So out we trooped, and here, hard by congested Santa Monica Boulevard, in notoriously cramped, impossible-to-find-parking West Hollywood, Brian, it turns out, has managed to create a 14-inch wide plot, backed by a cinder block wall, that runs the whole length of the lot-long driveway.

"L.A. has sun. The problem," he explained, gesturing to the adjacent three-story apartment complex, "is that the buildings block it out. Right here actually gets the best sun anywhere on the property, especially up by the garages where the house isn't in the way. At first I thought such a narrow strip would be constraining but the asphalt gives me a place to stand so I don't have to wade through the mud. The driveway makes a natural border. And I can plan small sections that turn out to be convenient to tend and pick from."

He grows curly kale, Russian kale, and Tuscan kale; red beets, golden beets and chioggia beets. He grows butter lettuce, speckled lettuce, watercress, brussel sprouts, romaine, arugula, and carrots.

"How do you water it?" Tom asked.

"Out of consideration for my neighbors--and because the water pressure out here is almost nil--by hand. In the middle of the summer I've hauled out twenty-five buckets of water a day,  one by one"...

I thought of the love that had gone into the food we just ate. How often in L.A., or anywhere, do you get a meal in which every dish has not only been cooked by scratch, but where the cook has personally planted, hand-watered, and picked the vegetables?

"Want some arugula?" Brian asked, tearing off a good-sized bunch, then straightened up, gazed thoughtfully at the sky, and said, "There's a cold trough coming in from Alaska. I can feel it"...

He hopes to visit Roseau later in the spring.




Monday, February 18, 2013


Several years ago at a writer's residency I met Paul, a banjo-playing composer who at the time was contemplating writing an opera about a 30-year-old guy from Kansas who lived with his parents and claimed to be the Pope.

I, too, was fascinated by David Bawden, aka Pope Michael I. I  filed the xerox Paul gave me in a folder called "Weird Happenings," and have kept it ever since.

Now seems an opportune moment to dust off the story, so here you go, from the July 29, 1990 issue of The Wichita Eagle.

Christine Crumbo, The Wichita Eagle


In the shadow of the bulbous water tower in this town of 200 sits a man who would be pope to 950 million Catholics.

He reigns from his dad's thrift shop, astride a high-backed, secondhand relic of a throne in a chapel carpeted in gaudy remnants of shag. A makeshift altar stands behind him. Before him sit pews padded with leopard-print cushions that may once have graced a '50s-style sofa. On July 16, six people deeply concerned that the Roman Catholic Church has departed too far from the teachings of Jesus met in the thrift shop cum chapel. By secret ballot, they chose 30-year-old David Bawden of neighboring St. Marys as pope. In what they say was the first valid papal election since the death of Pius XII in 1958, he won on the first count. They cite canon law in refusing to reveal whether the vote was unanimous.

Bawden chose to be called Michael I, after St. Michael the Archangel, defender of the faith. He donned religious garb not quite suitable for the regal nature of a pope but as close as the six could come to it in Belvue a white skullcap over his slicked black hair, a lacy smock atop a floor-length cassock and spit-shined black shoes.

Then the gathering tossed the ballots into a fire out back of the shop. The blazing scraps failed to raise the traditional plume of white smoke that signals a successful papal election.

Barely a week into the papacy of Michael I, a local priest called the election sacrilegious; the fledgling pope's brother, Brian, professed consternation; and the followers of Michael I rejoiced.

''What we're doing is total common sense," proclaimed his mother, Clara "Tickie" Bawden, 62.

''Everything (in the Catholic Church) is way out of order now," said his father, Kenneth, 64. Or, "It was until the 16th of July. And now we've got our pope back."

Brian Bawden, 23, of St. Marys, said of his brother's election:

''I'm not for him; I'm not against him, and I don't understand what he's doing."

When he heard of the election, Brian Bawden said, his reaction was, "Oh, my God, no. (Now) I don't know what to think. . . . I don't follow the church in Rome. I don't go around electing popes either."

The soft-spoken new Michael I echoes neither his parents' ebullience nor his brother's doubt.

Instead, the man who since 1987 had crusaded by book and letter for what he called a valid papal election seemed intensely conscious of his position.

He sat in the jury-rigged chapel, folding his soft hands in the traditional Catholic-school signal of quietude, then draping his wrists over his stomach. He spoke of himself as if he were in another room:

''One has to have faith in what one is doing," he said.

''I don't know if one can sway people, and charisma is not what it's about. . . . God will help us. He's got to."

He is prepared, he said, to engage in a struggle that may well last beyond his lifetime. And he spoke of the possibility that he would have to make a "heroic sacrifice."

It took the apostles 300 years to spread the word of Jesus throughout what was to become the Christian world, he said

''In some respects," he said, "we have a worse situation. They were dealing with pagans; we're dealing with apostates" people who have renounced their faith.

For now, he said, he spends his days in the back of his parents' bargain shop, The Question Mark, puzzling how to spread his gospel to receptive ears.

His worldly resources add up to "basically nothing."

That leaves him with spiritual works of mercy to perform. Corporal works cost too much.

After a day spent puzzling, he leaves the shop at the corner of Broadway and Highway 24 the one with the white-and-yellow papal flag hanging in the window to return to the St. Marys home he shares with his parents. There, he fills the family role he always has filled. If his mother asks, he takes out the garbage.

On Sundays, he may preach a little and pray the rosary with his small flock, which includes his parents and a visiting friend, Teresa Stanfill Benns of Denver, whom he met through friends of his mother in 1985. He claims a core of about 20 followers, including a couple from Michigan who came to Kansas to act as papal electors.

His followers are disaffected Catholics, upset with a Church of Rome that has imbued Catholics with the ecumenical spirit, instituted the saying of Mass in the language of its celebrants and rechristened the Holy Ghost the Holy Spirit. They also are disaffected Traditional or Old Catholics who once followed the maverick Swiss Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The archbishop refuses to say anything but the old Latin Mass and has been excommunicated for performing ordinations without the sanction of Rome.

The followers of Michael I do not celebrate any Mass, believing themselves to live in a time foretold in the Old Testament Book of Daniel a time when the Eucharist, the supreme sacrifice at the heart of Catholic celebration, will be taken away; a time near the Apocalypse.

And there is a practical reason Michael I cannot say Mass: He has not been ordained, though he has devoutly wished to be since age 10.

When he was a child in Oklahoma City, David Bawden followed the stereotypical Catholic boy's path to the priesthood. He became an altar boy and attended Mass regularly.

But during the late 1960s and early '70s, his mother and several other mothers in the parish became disenchanted with current religious teachings. They withdrew their children from church-sponsored classes and began teaching them on their own.

In 1972, the Bawdens widened their split with the Roman Church. They stopped attending Mass each Sunday, participating instead in a Latin Mass every two to six months, whenever a Traditional circuit-riding priest passed through town.

In 1977, Bawden eventually pursued his theological studies at the Swiss seminary of the renegade Lefebvre. He stayed there four months, he said, leaving because he could not master French. He was transferred to a Lefebvre seminary in Armada, Mich. The seminary since has moved to Winona, Minn.

From Armada, Bawden said, he was dismissed "without cause" in 1978. He said he protested to Lefebvre about the dismissal, "irregularities" in school teachings and the school's refusal to list charges he could answer. He found no satisfaction.

Bishop Richard Williams of the Winona seminary said last week that he vaguely remembered Bawden but knew nothing of the circumstances of the dismissal.

In 1980, the Bawdens moved to St. Marys, a bastion of Traditional Catholic teaching and the home of St. Mary's Academy and College. There, while his brother attended classes, David performed clerical work and studied for the religious brotherhood, he said. David Bawden left after about a year because the school defied moral law in meting out excessive discipline, he said. He since has performed several jobs, including cabinetmaking.

Brian Bawden said Wednesday that his own career at St. Mary's also "went kablooey." The break with St. Mary's school was only the latest in a string of family political and religious upheavals, he said.

''Our life has been one battle after another," he said, "and I don't want it to be that way."

St. Mary's rector, the Rev. Ramon Angles, vehemently denied that his school had any connection with the Bawden family and said it offered no program to prepare young men for the religious brotherhood.

''We have nothing to do with these people. We have not had anything to do with these people," he said. The election of Michael I, he said, was "grotesque and clownish, not to mention sacrilegious."

Monsignor William Curtin, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, Kan., said through a spokeswoman that he had no comment on the election and that anyone who wished to break with the church was free to do so.

Michael I said he greets the barbs of detractors with patience and forbearance that comes from God.

He declares with certainty that someday, he will don the regal raiment of Michael I as an ordained priest.
From somewhere ''either in Russia or in China" will emerge a bishop to ordain him, he said.

''We've heard of stories of bishops in Russia or China who've never heard of Vatican II," he said. Such men, presumably, would subscribe out of blessed ignorance to the rites and practices that preceded Vatican II, the 1962-65 church council that instituted the doctrinal changes he finds odious.

David Bawden may have found his calling in a thrift shop, but he has lost almost everyone he ever called a friend in the St. Marys area.

''What few friends I had, they left," he said. "They're afraid of the truth."

He draws strength from the Old Testament declaration that a prophet is never heard in his own land.

And the election has only deepened an ostracism that began months before, he said. Smiling, he told of a town street sale last June at which he and his father tried to sell Benns' and David Bawden's self-published book of teachings, "Will the Catholic Church Survive the Twentieth Century?"

The Bawdens set up their small table in downtown St. Marys, piling it high with the shrink-wrapped volumes, anticipating a crowd. But as they began to greet passers-by, "The people, when they realized who we were, they would scurry on down the street." Even a former classmate of Bawden's whom Bawden said he intended to present a free book, in a gesture of friendship backed away quickly before the gift could be given.

Since the election, the Bawden family has received anonymous crank letters and phone calls, said Tickie Bawden.

But, she said, "Look what happened to Christ" in terms of rejection. "I know what's right, and I'm going to do it." She cited Bible passages that say that "if you are trying to do what's right, people kind of snigger at you."

Brian Bawden said he knew that the election was "a big joke around town. . . . It's gone too far. But I'm not going to hate them for it."

At Bernie's Cottage Inn restaurant, a waitress named Debbie she would not give her last name snorted with laughter when she thought of the election down the street.

''The pope?" she said. "I'm the Virgin Mary."

A gaggle of lunchtime customers laughed.

Restaurant manager James Vanderbilt said David Bawden used to drop in for lunch.

Now, he said, he "really isn't hurting anything . . . but I think he may have crossed over that fine line."

Then Vanderbilt mused:

''It's like I told my wife. How many people believed Christ?

''How do you know this dude isn't doing what he thinks is right?"

Sunday, February 17, 2013


We now have ultra-marathons, cave diving, freeflying, and extreme surfing.

Here's a sport more up my alley: Extreme Ironing. I'm not even kidding! Check it out....


Thursday, February 14, 2013


Last week, I heard short story writer George Saunders "in conversation" with L. A. writer Bernard Cooper (with whom I once took a class and whom I revere) at the downtown Central Library.

I've long been a Saunders fan--I recently posted on the title story of his new collection, Tenth of December.

He and Bernard were stupendous: articulate, witty, smart, generous with and accommodating of each other. Never take the easy way out, said Saunders. Surprise, entertain, take a risk, be human, be true.

He mentioned the DeZurik Sisters, a small-town Minnesota yodeling duo from the 1930's who attributed their success to the fact that they "listened to the birds and tried to sing with the birds."

Saunders said he played this song for his students as an example of breaking all the rules. The lyrics are lame, the song doesn't make much sense, musically you're kind of going, What?

And by the end, everyone who hears it is captivated.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


In Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, Carmelite Ruth Burrows quotes a friend named Petra who, after decades of struggle and darkness, abides in a state of mystical union. Petra, outwardly unremarkable, writes:

“No, no I never expected that there is a short-cut that bypasses the drudgery of human experience. I don’t want one, I want to drink to the chalice of my Lord. In my case (and isn’t this the common, ordinary state?) how non-glamorous, how ignoble this chalice! What does it amount to me with me? A sense of inner fragility and faintness which taps, knocks at the wall of my body too. I seem unable to face up to any pressure. I feel faced with an immense ‘trial’ utterly beyond myself, and yet when I look, where is the trial? What have I to suffer compared to so many people? I have good health, am surrounded with love, have everything I need, and yet life itself seems more than I can bear—the unutterable loneliness and emptiness, the mystery and obscurity. Yesterday, I heard of a poor woman enduring humiliating helplessness for ten years, and now, faced with new symptoms, her splendid spirit is breaking and she can take no more. Just one of millions similarly suffering from seemingly unbearable afflictions. And what relation has my life to hers? By comparison I have nothing to suffer. It is my hope that this 'suffering' of mine which is nameless, which really has no right to be called suffering, this inner 'dissolution' should be a way through which Jesus comes to others in grief and pain. I feel overwhelmed with everything: with the beauty of the world, with its terrible pain, with its evil and ugliness, the devilish brutality of man to man--with the word of God so mighty and so obscure. I could weep my eyes out with--I don't know what! Oh, how fragile I am, without achievement; no human victory, no human beauty, only that which is he, who experienced in all its raw bitterness the human condition.”

Monday, February 11, 2013


A couple of Saturdays ago I was at morning Mass when I became fixated upon, perhaps more accurately obsessed with, the guy a few pews up. He was sitting with what looked to be his wife and five-or-so-year-old daughter and emblazoned across the back of his hoodie was the slogan: SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM THE WEAK.

Immediately I launched into a state of high dudgeon. From the weak! St. Paul said, "I BOAST of my weakness, for it is when I am weak that I am strong" [2 Cor. 12:9-10]. From the weak! From the weak!...I looked above the alter to Christ, nailed to his cross. We ARE the weak. We ARE the poor, depending solely on God's love. We're not milquetoasts or doormats; rather, we're in contact with reality, and reality is a harsh and dreadful and awe-inspiring thing that very few have the courage to face...

The Pharisees were strong, I fumed. Christ knew better than anybody that nothing is worse than the "religious" person who claims strength, wields strength, imposes his or her unworked-through rage by intimidation, domination, "intellect"  that is devoid of heart and thus no intellect at all.

I thought of that passage in the Gospels where Christ says, "For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother," etc. [Mt. 10:35-36]. Does the passage not refer, I mused, to the fact that in the end, it comes down to this fundamental question: Do we stand with the weak, which is to say with ourselves, each other, and the Church, or do we separate ourselves from them? Is it every man for himself or are we all in this together?

Such were my thoughts, all during Mass. They built on themselves, they erected an impregnable fortress, they crowded out all possibility of actually participating, in any meaningful way, in the Sacrament. How sad for the little daughter to have a bully for a father! I thought.

And at the Sign of Peace, this guy who I'd pegged as a fascist turned around and gave me the most beatific, loving smile.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


My friend Christine recently took a trip to India and returned with these fascinating pix of the Turban Museum in Jaipur.

My personal two favorites:

I mean why not start an arbor up there!?

Christine is currently doing a two-month silent retreat at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California. I'm gonna creep out to her pad in Palm Springs tomorrow and spend Ash Wednesday in the desert. Thank you, C! Or as she'd say, Cha cha cha.