Volume 80, Number 12 | August 19 - 25, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

K-Rod as ‘spoiled priest’; Mixed thoughts on mosque


The late James A. Wechsler, editor, columnist, liberal diehard and baseball enthusiast, once said to me that a skinny new young Mets pitcher named Gary Gentry looked to him like nothing so much as “a Yeshiva grad student.”

A certain Louise, also now gone, once, when I got her to glance televisionwise at a new young Mets outfielder named Darryl Strawberry, stood transfixed in admiration before she said: “I didn’t know he’d be as beautiful as a ballet dancer.”

Yeshiva grad student, ballet dancer — why not a priest? A spoiled priest.

It was, I think, the adhesive-tape strips that started me on this wild-goose chase. Graham Greene would surely have noticed those adhesive-tape strips.

Graham Greene noticed everything — false teeth, for instance — no, the obscured absence of teeth — in a very minor character in “The Power and the Glory.”

Maybe they aren’t adhesive tape. But whatever they are, they’re manifestly there to plaster the temples of his eyeglasses to — well, K-Rod’s own temples — as he peers with white-hot religious intensity through those lenses to detect how many fingers the catcher is flashing at him.

Baseball on television is remarkable these days in taking you, the viewer, straight and astonishingly close up into the face of the pitcher — any pitcher, every pitcher — as he’s mulling what pitch to throw next. The thing is, whenever Francisco Rodriguez of Caracas, Venezuela, and Queens, New York, was doing his mulling, I kept seeing him as one of those spoiled priests out of Graham Greene and Bernard Shaw and the novels and plays of various other great writers.

You remember the one in Shaw’s “Saint Joan” — that bloodthirsty little bastard toward the end of the play who couldn’t wait for the torch to be put to the branches surrounding Joan at the stake; but then, when she was actually burning to death, was too horrified by her agony to be able to keep looking.

That was a spoiled priest.

And so was the priest-on-the-run from anti-clerical Mexican revolutionaries, an all too human “whiskey priest,” father of an illegitimate child, in that haunting Graham Greene work first published in England in 1940 as “The Labyrinthine Way” (title borrowed from Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven.”)

I don’t say Francisco Rodriguez ever wanted to see anybody burned at the stake or pursued through the byways and family lounges of Citi Field, unless it was someone who might someday hit a home run off him. Or, mayhap, the chastising grandfather of Francisco’s 11-month-old, common-law twins. I’m just saying that for some time before the present brouhaha I have regarded this Francisco, while he stares blazingly through his beardlet toward home plate, as some latter-day variety of spoiled priest.

Why do they call him K-Rod? That, too, is ridiculous. There’s this other ballplayer, see? A fellow right here from Washington Heights, once a shortstop, now a third baseman, a homerun slugger as introspective as any priest (more boringly introspective, one might add), and his name is Alex Rodriguez, headline-shortened long ago to A-Rod.

The more particular Rodriguez, the domestically entangled one, is a Mets relief pitcher who strikes out a lot of hitters when he’s on his game. Strikeouts are charted as K’s in baseball shorthand. Ergo: Striker-out Rodriguez. K-Rod. Get it?

Father K-Rod, as it were.

 * * *

The Villager’s Lincoln Anderson said: “What can I do for you?”

I said I thought I could write a piece about Francisco Rodriguez.

“Do you have any thoughts about The Mosque?” said Lincoln.

Thoughts? About The Mosque? That Mosque? I have lots of thoughts, dozens of thoughts, all contradictory.

Let’s see.

There’s this thing called the Fourteenth Amendment. There’s this other thing called the First Amendment. There’s this overarching thing called the Constitution of the United States of America.

If one believes in any of that, and I happen to believe in all of that, then there’s no way you can legally oppose anybody’s right to worship whatever he or she wishes to worship anywhere in this country, be it two blocks from Ground Zero or 52 blocks.

So I’m with the president on this, slow as he’s been to get to where he’s at.

And I am — surprisingly, because I don’t much like the man or a lot of his ideas — with Michael Bloomberg on this. And I’m really quite shocked — well, not shocked, but sort of revolted — by the Anti-Defamation League’s out-of-the-blue, anti-Mosque switcheroo from the traditional, basic A.D.L. principles of freedom of religion. (Can’t you just imagine the ugly big-money pressure that led to that about-face?)

Hey, A.D.L., how do you like being on the same side, ideologically, as all the know-nothings out there who want to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, not to mention all the other Amendments?

That said, there is, however, also the small matter of forms of worship that are dedicated to the destruction of the United States of America and all its people.

The promoters who want to put that mosque and community center down there should have been — should be — sensitive enough to not stoke the fires of bigotry, ignorance and ethnic hatred by cocking that ostensibly peacemaking gesture right on the sorest snook — unhealable wound — in this nation’s history.

It’s as if — someone said to me yesterday — the Mosque-ites are thumbing their noses at the very Constitution that protects them.

In short, I wish to God they had planted their mosque just a few blocks farther away from Ground Zero. But, as the old malarkey goes, I will defend to the death their right not to do that.

Father, you may now say Mass.


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