When I’m in New York City, I like to walk around Central Park every once in a while wearing my clerical collar. As a card-carrying member of SAG, I can do this.
I started out the other day at Fifth and E. 72nd. I hadn’t gone two steps before a cur padded out from behind a bush and approached me, tail between legs, head down, tongue lolling. Perhaps it recognized the collar and expected a treat. When it got close enough, I looked around to make sure that nobody was watching and gave it a good swift kick. It yelped, but instead of running away, it skulked back out of range, sat down, stuck a leg in the air, and began to lick itself.
I moved on with the thing following at a distance. I ignored it. A priest can’t be seen chasing a mutt around. I came to two elderly women sitting on a bench with rosary beads in their hands. They stood up as I approached. They spoke to me, but they were dark-skinned Mexicans or PRs or something and I answered with the only Spanish words I know: Adios, muchachos.
If you’re a man of the cloth out in public, you expect deference and respect, yes. Otherwise, why bother? But in English, please. This is America. When JFK ran for president, voters were worried that the Pope was going to be running the country. That’s respect. When Al Smith ran against Hoover, he never had a chance, for the same reason. Except in Massachusetts with its Irish, and in the Deep South, where you can be any religion you want as long as you’re white and still believe in slavery. Bing Crosby saved his studio with Going My Way. Respect.
Along the path, a homosexual smiled at me and nodded. I waggled a finger at him.
“I’ve never touched a boy under 18,” he said as he passed. “Can you say the same?”
“Certainly!” (Since he specified boys that is, haha.)
A woman and her daughter were arguing by a park bench. I slowed down and got that wise, humble, priest look on my face, ready to dispense wisdom to them. The mother noticed me looking.
“What?” she said. “You never saw two Jews arguing before?”
Further along, a pretty woman with an adam’s apple raised an eyebrow at me. Are there no normal people in this city? It’s worse than Venice Beach. Well, maybe not.
I was almost to the Great Lawn when my heart leapt. A class of girls in their little Catholic-school uniforms scampered into view. I quickened my step, hand involuntarily going to the hotel key card in my pocket. Then I spotted, coming up behind them, their teacher or chaparone or whatever, wearing a collar like mine. He saw me immediately and waved, smiling, ready to pepper me with questions about dioceses or today’s Saint’s Day or Christ knows what else. He had a rape whistle hanging around his neck. I checked to ensure that my fly was buttoned.
As Swiper would say, “Oh, man!”
Finally, then, that damned dog went for me.