The Cheapshot Chronicle

Just happened to be reading John Cheever’s Dickensian, 20th Century bildungsroman The Wapshot Chronicle recently and came across this passage written by Leander, the protagonist:

“Advice to my sons: never put whisky into hot water bottle crossing borders of dry states or countries. Rubber will spoil taste. Never make love with pants on. Beer on whisky, very risky. Whisky on beer, never fear. Never eat apples, peaches, pears, etc. while drinking whisky except during long French-style dinners, terminating with fruit. Other viands have mollifying effect. Never sleep in moonlight. Known by scientists to induce madness.

Should bed stand beside window on a clear night, draw shades before retiring. Never hold cigar at right-angles to finger. Hayseed. Hold cigar diagonal. Remove band or not as you prefer. Never wear red necktie. Provide light snorts for ladies if entertaining. Effects of harder stuff on frail sex sometimes disastrous. Bathe in cold water every morning. Painful but exhilarating. Also reduces horniness. Have haircut once a week. Wear dark clothes after 6 p.m.

Eat fresh fish for breakfast when available. Avoid kneeling in unheated stone churches. Ecclesiastical dampness causes prematurely gray hair. Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do no let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood. Stand up straight. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.”

I was, once again, avoiding kneeling in another unheated stone church this past Sunday, Emmanuel, on Dearborn Street in Newport, with the Reverend Anita Louise Schell presiding. From their website:

Many residents of the old “Fifth Ward” (southern Newport) could not afford to attend church due to the tradition of churches selling pew seats. In 1841, three women from Trinity Church began to hold cottage meetings in their homes, inviting their neighbors to join them. By 1849, they had grown to 88 members and bought an empty Baptist Church on South Baptist Street. Welcoming everyone, regardless of financial status, Emmanuel Free Church was incorporated and admitted to the RI Episcopal Diocese on June 2, 1852. Edward King bought land on the corner of Spring and Dearborn Streets for $700 and donated it for a new church. In 1855, a wooden Tudor building was designed by Richard Upjohn and built by local carpenter, Michael Spencer.

When that building became in disrepair, Natalie Bayard Brown replaced it with the current stone building in memory of her husband, John Nicholas Brown, who died of Typhoid Fever in May of 1900.   Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, our present building was styled after fifteenth century English Gothic Revival churches, with the interior designed by Bertrand Grovesnor Goodhue. The cornerstone was laid June 29, 1901 and the first service held June 3, 1902. Many of the furnishings and memorials from the Upjohn church were moved to this stone church and are still in use today. Emmanuel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Another cookie-cutter catholic mass with the efficient din of a magnificent organ and choir punctuating the proceedings with heavenly exclamation points. The sermon was about either Mount Hermon or Mount Nebo – I always get them mixed up – the meeting place of the eternal and the temporal, and Christ’s improbable transfiguration, dazzling white robes and the voice of God.

I wanted to stay for Caswell Cooke Jr’s talk on The Death and Resurrection of the Episcopal Church – his prescriptive book on the ills that plague religion today, and “the clear path to hope for the future,” but I had a pickleball game scheduled right after the service with my buddy Leonora, so I had to be on my way. As I stepped out of the church and into the salty, early-spring sunshine, one of the women I see almost every morning at the gym just happened to be jogging by. She gave me a huge smile and a sly, "Did it do you any good?"

Damn! How am I going to explain to my spin class hate fan club on Monday morning that I’m not an Episcopalian, or anything remotely religious, good-hearted or well-meaning at all; that creepy me is actually the aggrieved, ignorant, envious, incurious, self-loathing putz that they know and love?

An e.e. cummings line came to mind as I strolled undiminishable home:

                             “i thank you god for this most amazing                                  day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”  
February 25, 2020 — Johnny Mustard