When I finished writing the feature at City of Angels 8 about the Baselice family tragedy at the hands of Franciscans and the Philadelphia Archdiocese, it was classic Dashiell Hammett. I have this bottle of Jack Daniels in my desk, not because I nip at it all the time, but to keep it out of the reach of my daughter, so it doesn't disappear.
Writing the story of Arthur Baselice II and III, it wasn’t that it was difficult to put the words together, or even the visceral human emotion anyone feels, even a Catholic bishop, at the thought of a boy dying in his twenties without ever really having a chance at a life in the first place, because he was drugged and sodomized starting at age nine for years as part of his altar boy duties.
It wasn’t even the sob-gulp-shock that ran over me when I first saw the picture of Arthur III in court with his mother, so alive and young and vibrant and handsome.
Just somewhere in the middle of all that, the totality of what just this one priest did, one out of at least six thousand, it got to me, not just as words in a paragraph but the graphic image. This beautiful boy and the flagrante behavior of this priest going on for years.
The way Arthur II worded it, that the priest gave his son opioids so the sodomy would not be difficult to perpetrate, then the boy as an adult ends up with one whale of an opioid addiction. And dies young, the day the Pennsylvania legislature decides to create a law that favors the Church over its crime victims.
Right in the middle of that, I sort of became undone as a human and slipped into the computer screen, found myself in the middle of the paragraph living it. The horror, the defeat Arthur III must have felt that night, leaving for the NA meeting and going instead to get stoned and overdose and die. That decision you make when you decide to pick up a drug after being clean for a while, that helpless giving in to the craving and need.
This is what I always wanted to do, right? Be a writer, isolated, doing the quasi-mad thing you do to get totally inside the moments of the incidents you are writing, even if they are sick and horrible moments, you have to get inside them to be able to write them.
To someone looking at it from outside, I probably shuddered. When I finished and posted it, I know I said out loud, “Okay this is one where you do reach for the bottle of Jack at the end.” I pulled out Mr. Daniels from where he gathers dust between files and manila envelopes. Poured out a shot, sipped it, sipped it over a half hour and then threw out the rest, but still-
That story was a Jack Daniels story.
This is the image of myself I think I had when I was a kid, or maybe a teenager, whenever it was that I knew someday I was going to be in a room somewhere alone writing something, going a little bit crazy, but writing something I had to write.
I think as a teenager, the image of the writer included a bottle of whisky in the desk drawer. The image I have of myself inside is always that undercover reporter from central casting, sports coat and a pair of jeans, hat pulled over one eye, stepping into the shadows to strike a match and have a smoke. Bottle of Jack Daniels ever handy in a drawer.
After writing the Baselice story last week I lied down and cried a long time. I didn't have a hard time writing it because of the words, it was just finding the right way to put it all together.
Then it just came together. I wrote it, posted it, promoted it, then laid down and cried for a while.
Another day in the life of City of Angels, whatever this is.