Monday, May 31, 2010

The Priest on the Balcony

Every neighborhood has its mysteries. There's always the house with all the late-night traffic that might be a drug den or a bordello. The bungalow with the tattered curtains and a warning sign to solicitors. The apartment where the poodle never stops barking. Even in the small New England town where I grew up, we had strange village characters, like the woman we called the Duck Lady, who would stop every five steps on her nightly walk to check the bottom of her feet for dog poo.

My own neighborhood, high above San Francisco, is a mix of expensive single-family homes and jumbles of apartment buildings crowding the steep hillsides. There are families, singles, young people and old, straight and gay. It's relatively quiet, except when the fog sweeps over Twin Peaks and the win rattles in the metal chimneys, the way it's doing right now, at noon on Memorial Day. 

Balconies and terraces are an integral part of this vertical living; people hang their bicycles outside because their apartments are so small, or work out on them for the fresh air. There are barbecues and elaborate plantings, and children playing games in what passes for their "yard." So I was a little taken aback yesterday morning when I happened to glance out my bedroom window to a building across the street and saw what appeared to be a priest, dressed in a black cassock, saying Mass.

At first I thought it was some sort of residual Catholic vision. The street is very wide, with two lanes on my side and a steep central median thick with evergreen trees and jade, and a narrow parking lot on the other side. It took the zoom feature of my camera to get a closer inspection, which indicated a balding man in his 30s or 40s, with an actual pulpit mounted with a cross, going through the motions of the service. There was no one else in evidence, but I did notice there was what appeared to be a church pew on his balcony as well.

I have no explanation for this. Could he be a priest in training practicing for his audition with the Monsignor? Or an excommunicated one who can't let go of the Sunday morning ritual? Or is there some subset of sexual fetishes that involves priest drag? I may never know. But I'll be watching next Sunday to see if he's there again...and hopefully he won't be incorporating any altar boys into his act.

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