Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Son of Remembrance of Zaniness Past, part B, Episcopal version

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Bishop of California C. Kilmer Myers had to go to New York on business.  He instructed his staff that nothing in his office was to be changed while he was gone, which they agreed to...but with tongue in cheek.  They knew that the phone system was due to be replaced while he was away, and that all the locks in Cathedral House where the bishop's office was located were going to be changed.  They smiled to themselves and did not tell their boss about these things.

They had a plan to pull a really good joke on the bishop, and it was my good fortune to get to be in on it.

My best friend, Alice Sea, an elegant, gracious woman then about 80 years old, had a special relationship with Bishop Myers.  He had given her the Bishop's Cross, an award for outstanding service. They genuinely enjoyed each other's company.  Both Alice and the bishop were fond of the Franciscans, who had opened a friary in San Francisco at his request.  In fact, the bishop's chaplain was Br. John George, who was up to his neck in the plot.

The plan was to have Alice take over the bishop's office in his absence and "depose" him.  On the night he was due to return from New York, we arrived at the Cathedral and saw that the staff had taped a sign that read "Bishop Sea" over the bishop's parking place.  The entire office had been turned backwards -- all the furniture moved to the place opposite where he had left it.  On the door of his office was a letter of instruction saying his office had been moved to the cathedral basement and would now be located in the men's room.

Having the new keys, we went into the office, and Alice, wearing a long purple flowered dress,  proceeded to remove his family photos and replace them with hers.  She then sprayed the room with her cologne, sat down and put her feet up on his desk.  I was at her side, dressed in an alb and holding a crozier, acting as her chaplain.  Our parish priest, not at all sure this was really OK, was hiding behind the drapes.  The priest's housemate, a church musician, was seated out at the secretary's desk, waiting.

John George picked the bishop up at the airport, and when they arrived at Cathedral House, he took the luggage upstairs and suggested the bishop go into his office to check the mail.  When the bishop tried his key on the office door, it didn't work, since the locks had been changed.  He then saw the note about his office being moved and began to feel seriously confused.  About that time, John George came down and opened the door with his new key.  There sat not his own secretary Binnie, but a smiling young man who said, "Oh, hello, Mr. Myers.  Would you like to see the bishop?"

About that time, he really thought he had lost it.  What we didn't know was that he was having problems with the diocese and seriously thought he might have been removed while he was away!  When John George opened the door to his office and he saw Alice at the desk, he laughed so hard, our priest knew it was OK to come out from behind the drapes.  Bishop Myers walked over to "Bishop Sea" and kissed her ring.

The following summer, at the annual Adult Conference at the Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, Alice was holding sway one evening in her long purple dress, wearing a paper miter and announcing herself as the first lady bishop, when in marched Kilmer Meyers in full Episcopal regalia, complete with real Chaplain in real vestments, and deposed her on the spot.  We hadn't even known he was there, and it was a total hoot.  At the end of the evening, he presented Alice with a real white silk miter. 

What fun to have been able to take part in that silly plot.  We adored Bishop Myers or we would never have had the chutzpah to do such a thing.  "Bishop Sea" outlived Bishop Myers by many years.  He passed away in 1981 at only 65.  She died at age 99.  I will never forget either of them.  They were both very dear to me and remain among my heroes.

Photo: Google images

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembrance of Zaniness Past

 Some silly thing I saw on TV the other day awakened a long-buried memory of a moment of truly inspired silliness.

Back in the day, we were amazingly poor.  A jazz musician in those days did not make much money.  They were exploited by club owners, underpaid, not aware of what they were worth and often scorned by the Union when they went there seeking work.  We couldn't afford to go anywhere, so we took walks.  Living in San Francisco, any place we walked was probably written up in a tourist guide.  At the time, we were living in a Victorian four-plex on Octavia Street in Hayes Valley, a stone's throw from City Hall, the Modern Art Museum and the Opera House.  Behind City Hall was a park with a long reflecting pool, some well-manicured trees and long stretches of lawn.  At the end of this and across the street was the main branch of the Public Library.  It was a nice walk at any time, but this particular evening was especially tasty. 

It was one of those amazing warm San Francisco Indian Sumner evenings.  It was the magical hour just before dusk.  Bob and I took our usual route up the street toward City Hall.  It was not until we approached the Opera House that we realized it was opening night!  The limos were lined up and the opera-goers were arriving in all their glittering finery, each trying to out-do the other.  While some actually were there for the opera, many were there because it was an annual ritual --a de rigeur fashion throw-down of epic proportions, one of the High Holy Days of San Francisco Society.  The absurd contrast to our own circumstances struck us as hysterically funny, and by some  divinely naughty inspiration, we both spontaneously began dancing and burst into song. 

"Who wants to be a millionaire?"
"I don't!"

We sang at the top of our voices, a duet from the Frank Sinatra-Grace Kelley film, High Society.  We continued singing, dancing and laughing the entire length of the opera house, onward across Van Ness Avenue and down the side of City Hall, then the length of the park and pool, dancing sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes up on the rim of the pool as we went.

As we approached the end of the park, a deep male voice announced firmly, "Stop!  Don't come any closer!"

We stopped dead in our tracks, wide-eyed and startled, then fell onto the grass laughing so hard we could barely breathe.  We had both simultaneously recognized the source of that stern command: a man, parked at the end of the park, had set a small TV set on the hood of his car and was watching it through the windshield.  It was a voice from the TV that had told us to stop.

That is one of the  mental video clips of my life I will always cherish.  I am really delighted to have experienced it.  I can't remember ever spontaneously bursting into song and dance again, but I highly recommend it. 

*** Here is the original duet with Celeste Holm and Frank Sinatra instead of Bob and MaryAnn  Marchesi...

Photo:  Google images.