Hometown Author Swings and Misses, Pt. 3
THE CONCLUSION: Plodding through JESUS II, negating a great Springsteen song, recalling Buckley, and confronting coincidences of Biblical proportions
Having reached the end of Jesus II, a 288-page book that earned my attention many decades ago because it mentioned my hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, I confess that I feel no better grasp on the plot than I did when I was tip-toeing through Chapter One as this journey began two weeks ago, a project designed to occupy me while positive for COVID (very, very mild, by the way - fully boosted is the way to go).
There were interesting surprises in the book, though.
Our main character, Father Anton Dymek — who is ostensibly from my hometown of Wausau, and attended the same Catholic Church and school as I did — experiences some perfunctory adventures as he is shuttled to meet with a person who purports to be Jesus, and is constantly referred to, casually, as “Jesus II.”
As it turns out, Jesus II is a bit chubby and, overall, a fairly schlumpy individual. In fact, Jesus II makes the overt comment, “I know I should lose some weight.” The weight thing — along with descriptions of his eye-magnifying glasses and “pudgy hands” — comes up again and again.
He smokes a pipe (“It’s my own blend”), and a bit of small talk with him reveals some oddities. When speaking of Joseph, his “Earthly father,” he chortles: “How he would have roared at the idea that he needed semen from a god to impregnate his bride!”
He also goes on to note that Mary eventually had four sons and three daughters — something I don’t remember being told at St. Mike’s, though it is indeed in the Bible (a part that was never read aloud in my school or church). Mark 6:3 records people becoming angry with Jesus when he taught in his hometown. They rejected him as a prophet and declared:
“‘Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”
It’s an authentic passage — again, not one I remember being read or discussed in grade school religion classes — that indicates Mary indeed had at least seven children, including Jesus. There were about thirty years between the occasion of Jesus’ birth and the above encounter, which allows plenty of time for Joseph to have created Jesus’ siblings with his own, er, semen.
This, unfortunately, lays waste to a very good Bruce Springsteen song.
Remember…. William F. Buckley?
We further learn that Father Anton does not know what “mazel tov” means, which I found more than a bit odd, frankly. But, hey - the dude was raised in my hometown, and I can vouch for a distinct lack of Jewish culture in late-60/early-70s Wausau.
There is also, for some reason, a side-trip to Crete while on their way to Italy. They visit the grave of Nikos Kazantakis, the author of The Last Temptation of Christ, while in the company of a giant named Captain Mamouskas, who is “in charge.”
And then they leave.
The book enters a fairly bizarre William F. Buckley-worshipping phase on page 171—just a little over halfway through the book—when Father Anton and Jesus II are actually guests at the Buckley home. It’s a sleepover sort of thing.
We learn that Buckley indulges in a “weekly workout,” and he invites Father Anton to join him. This leads to the following declaration:
Boxing with William F. Buckley, Jr., to the dissonant guitars and drums of the Rolling Stones, was not an experience Anton would have gone out of his way to encounter.
“Dissonant” means, of course, “lacking harmony; unsuitable or unusual in combination; clashing.” In this context, it also means “an older conservative wrote this.”
And, yes, given this appraisal of the Stones as well as an endless parade of effusive language describing the brilliance and biting wit of Buckley, it appears that “Frank Riley” is a proud 70s-era conservative.
This wouldn’t be Buckley’s only run-in with Jesus. Buckley published a book in 2007 called Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription wherein he reprints a letter he claims to have received in 1969:
Dear Mr. Buckley:
In this writing — that I bring to your attention--I introduce myself to my readers saying: I am the Second Coming of Jesus of Nazareth. When I addressed a group at Times Square on August 6, proposing a new way to end war, I introduced myself to them also in the same way.
Now a person of your intelligence, your erudition, and refusal to accept surface appearance — your refusal to be mentally flim-flammed or deceived — your desire to search for the truth — should obtain great satisfaction in proving that an individual making such a claim is in fact an impostor — if that be the case.
Or — if despite the odds against it of billions to one — if I am, in truth, who I say I am — and I repeat again: I am the second coming of Jesus of Nazareth — what more fantastic guest could you have on your program?
You stand to win — either way.
New York, N.Y.
Buckley’s reply — contrary to his embrace of “Jesus II” in the book of the same name — was as follows:
Dear Mr. Bloom: Beware. I am the second coming of Pontius Pilate. - WFB
Sex at the Buckley’s
By page 196, a young nun named Sister Elizabeth — have we mentioned Sister Elizabeth? — shows up, somehow, at the Buckley’s.
And Father Anton has sex with her.
At the Buckley’s.
A nun and a priest.
Then, on page 225, “vomited” is misspelled, which seemed appropriate.
Jesus II appears on Buckley’s Firing Line television interview show, of course. Buckley proclaims the following during his conversation with the supposed savior — in 1972, mind you:
“My credentials for revolution are impeccable,” Buckley agreed. “I accept a Richard Nixon because I cannot have a Ronald Reagan or a Spiro Agnew.”
Then he tosses the word “propaedeutics” out there, and, mercifully, we’re done with Buckley for a while …
… Because Henry Kissinger has a meeting with Jesus II scheduled to happen in Wausau, Wisconsin.
It’s a Small World After All, or; WHAT ARE THE FREAKING ODDS!?!?!?
I wish I could say there was enough interesting plot ahead in Jesus II to make it worth paraphrasing, but there is not. Yes, there’s a rally at the Los Angeles Sports Arena emceed by Burt Lancaster — with Jane Fonda scheduled to introduce Mary — but it’s pretty dull, frankly.
Consider yourself spared.
Recall in part one of this Jesus II journey, I mentioned having gone to a Packers game with two grade school/high school chums from Wausau, Jim K. (he of the ever-present Packer helmet) and Todd G.
I can now reveal that Jim’s last name is Krasowski — the same as Father Krasowski, the actual pastor at St. Michael’s Church as mentioned in Jesus II, and Jim’s uncle.
Our other companion at the game and friend from grade school and high school was Todd Garski.
Now, imagine how big my eyes got when I reached this passage in Jesus II on page 268, near the end of the opus:
Now that the City Hall had followed the old Court House into oblivion, to be replaced by a singularly unattractive Post Office, Anton was unable to relate to downtown Wausau. He found it easier to remember while walking up Scott Street to Grandma Dymek's home, past the cool shade of Stewart Park, where he’d read the adventures of boys whose grandmothers hadn’t marked them for priesthood at birth. He went on past what had once been the Garski home, and wondered about Mildred Garski, who had introduced him so disturbingly to her body and to his own, when he was eleven and she was thirteen.
I have, of course, notified Todd of his family’s possible complicity in the tainting of a Catholic priest, albeit fictional. He’s doing some family tree research.
In the meantime, Jesus II goes back on the shelf; my job here is done — I have overcome COVID and a flimsy narrative. I’ll call that a good couple weeks.