We left this space last week with the lingering thought that there might be more to say about Father Evasio De Marcellis, the pastor of St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street, the priest who happened to be the one guy in town who could help a Princeton undergraduate learn the Coptic language that dates back to ancient Egypt.
That connection turned out to be one of the sparks that led author Ian Caldwell to the plot for his new bestselling novel, “The Fifth Gospel.”
Sure enough, shortly after that column hit the streets I got a call from a Nassau Street business owner who recalled De Marcellis as a gruff but charismatic leader who brought a new vitality to the parish. I also uncovered a letter to the editor in U.S. 1 in November, 2009, from a St. Paul’s parishioner who thanked us for a “wonderful” article on Walter Nolan, pastor of St. Paul’s at the time. The letter writer, Lucille Chase Tattoli, had only one criticism of the story:
“Rev. Evasio De Marcellis was the priest Monsignor Nolan replaced. Out of respect for Father De Marcellis, I feel his name should have been mentioned. Father De Marcellis was the pastor of St. Paul’s for at least 20 years. He was a wonderful priest and would do anything for anyone who needed help.”
I also heard from Ian Caldwell, the 1998 Princeton alumnus who was on campus to discuss his new novel — the encounter that sparked my column. I had tried to fact check a few items with him, but we never connected. I later sent him a link to the finished article, inviting corrections for the online version (which would live on for some portion of posterity). His response:
“A great article — and especially considering the quick turnaround and the impromptu note-taking. If I could muster the same combination of speed and attention to detail, it certainly wouldn’t take me a decade to write a novel!”
Caldwell is being too generous, and I would be way too egotistical if I confused my quick summary of his appearance with his construction of a 427-page novel, based on lots of painstakingly rendered historic events. The truth is that in the earliest days of my freelance writing days I actually tried to write a novel. It was set in modern times, suburban shopping malls were popping up across the country, and my murder mystery was going to be played out in the labyrinthine confines of a single mall.
I envisioned chase scenes, sex scenes, dramatic confrontations in the grand promenades, on the edge of railings looking down to lower levels, and in the service corridors behind and above the retail stores everyone knew. I never got beyond the first page. Untethered from the facts that constrained every journalistic piece I had ever written, I found myself staring at an infinite number of directions. Free to go anywhere, I went nowhere.
Maybe I should have had some tunnels, as Ian Caldwell did in his first bestseller, “The Rule of Four.”
Or maybe I should have turned to some right-wing conspiracy theories and used them as a starting point. By now you may have heard of Jade Helm 15, the training exercise the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) will run from July 15 through September 15 in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. “The diverse terrain in these states,” says the Army, “replicates areas Special Operations soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.”
Now if you take that description of the exercise at face value, then you are not a red, white, and blue-veined patriot, ready to take back your country from the Muslims and their treasonous military allies. The right wing politicians in Texas seem to be leading the charge against those who are presumably planning to take control of Texas. They already have some of the Republican presidential candidates cautiously commenting on the possible threats. One of them, I cannot remember which one, noted that he generally trusted men and women in uniform but that he was aware that our military is led by civilians, and they cannot always be trusted.
Not to be called soft on communism, or Muslims, or any other potential threats to Texas’ sovereignty, Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement: “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights, and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
The best of this particular conspiracy theory: Tunnels! The right wing nuts, including the actor and Mike Huckabee confidant Chuck Norris, have alleged that the Army has created a network of underground tunnels below five closed Walmart stores. These Walmarts will become food distribution centers and also the headquarters of Chinese troops, who presumably will be working in concert with the American troops. Adios, Texas.
As I know from my one attempt at fiction writing, I never could have made something like that up.
Two other loose ends to address in this column:
Deflate-gate. The National Football League has released its voluminous report summarizing its investigation of the accusation that the New England Patriots used under-inflated (and therefore easier to grip on an ice-cold day) balls in their January AFL championship game against Indianapolis.
In what has to be some kind of award-winning parsing of language, the NFL threaded a needle between New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, and two low level equipment guys responsible for controlling the air pressure in the Patriots’ footballs.
The Brady apologists will continue to insist that Tom Terrific couldn’t have done it, and that the NFL’s wheedling language reveals how flimsy the case really is.
Don’t be ridiculous. As I know from my high school soccer days (U.S. 1, January 28), records are made to be broken, winning streaks are meant to end, and balls are intended to be doctored (at least in a win-at-any-cost culture). As the New York Times said in its coverage of the incident: The “scandal threatens Brady’s legacy and further tarnishes the reputation of the Patriots, a team that has taken suspicious paths to success.” And the NFL even backed up its language with some action: Suspension of Brady for four games, a $1 million fine for the team, and the loss of a first-round draft pick.
Enough Patriots, How About those Eagles? With television news now focused on presidential politics, with baseball games not yet having the gravity they will in September and October, and with seemingly interminable hockey and basketball playoffs commanding sports network coverage, what’s a television addict to do?
I turned back to the eagles — the wild ones nesting in the big tree at Duke Farms environmental center in Hillsborough, and monitored by a 24-7 web cam mounted on an adjacent tree and live streamed at www.dukefarms.org (U.S. 1, April 1). The next big event was going to be the banding of the eagles — a scheduled event when the state climber would ascend to the nest, shush the angry mother and father out of the way, and then bring them back to earth for some weighing, sampling, and banding.
But alas, the banding has been canceled, apparently because the birds’ nest is so well positioned that not even the state climber is comfortable trying to access it. So the next big thing is the fledglings’ first flight. That could come around June 10 to June 17 — 11 to 13 weeks after they hatched. But it will be according to the eagles’ schedule, not ours.
What to do in the meantime? Another reader of last week’s column on Ian Caldwell and the St. Paul’s Church connection may have some guidance. The reader took note of Father De Marcellis’s message on Christmas Eve, and his admonition to return on Easter if we wanted some real reason to celebrate.
As this reader noted, succinctly: “Be still . . . wait.”