One of the popular “reality shows” on U.S. network TV in recent years has been one called Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. In this program, a needy (and supposedly deserving) family (usually one that has suffered some unforeseen misfortune) gets their house “re-habbed” by a professional crew – all, of course, gratis -- at no expense. And during the program, the family’s “story” is told: the particulars on what type of misfortune happened to them, how they are dealing with it, and other “human interest stuff” to both entertain and inform those watching the show.
Also, you might recall, “PBS” (the U.S. Public Broadcasting System) has been airing a BBC series (called Downton Abbey) for the past three years (with another season or two in the works) – about life in an upper-class estate in Edwardian England. Well, folks, it turns out that traddieland has its own version of both: the saga about life in a no-class rectory in “Dolanesque” America. This “version” is, in fact, a hybrid, having elements of both Downton Abbey and Extreme Make-over. We call it Extreme Makeover, Brain-Dead Edition – or, Down ‘n Out Abbey for short. It is the story of how “SGG” (St. Gertrude the Great Church), through the magic of “R&R” (Relocation & Reconstruction), became the resounding travesty that it is today. In the case of SGG, the old facility was not “re-habbed” but sold, and a new facility (in a new location) built in its place.
Heretofore, SGG’s parish was languishing in the northern Cincinnati suburb of Sharonville, Ohio, in a church “way too small” for its congregation – whose school children were “crammed” into that church’s basement. The dream was to replace all of this with both a new church structure and a new school, plus, build a new rectory and convent. The fact that the old church had a building next door -- an “Odd-fellows” Hall -- which could be used for a school, was a moot point: what the pastor and his assistant wanted was a self-contained, brand-spanking new “campus,” complete with everything: church, school, rectory, convent – “the full Monty.”
So, an ambitious “building campaign” was started, with the church’s main benefactor (who lived in Kentucky) tapped for a million or so to get things moving. (However, not everyone was expected to donate such a sum; an elderly widow living on a fixed Social Security income, for instance, would only be expected to cough up a measly six grand or so.) With much exhortation (and fund-raising “techniques” that Jimmy Hoffa would’ve been proud of), the money was raised; and a parcel of land (valued at $500,000) adjoining an industrial lot was picked for the new “complex.”
The “main benefactor” had offered them land in Kentucky “for free”; but they chose the “premium” site (which they could have sold for a profit) instead. The reason was that the land in Kentucky, although close to most of SGG’s parishioners (the “main benefactor’s” extended family – most of whom lived in Kentucky -- comprised about half the congregation), was not near the desired “epicenter,” i.e., where most of the restaurants (frequented by the pastor and his assistant) were located. But, no matter -- with spirits high (and wallets drained), the intrepid SGG parishioners plodded forward, ready for excitement -- and exploitation!
The original plan called for an impressive, gothic-style “sermon in stone,” connected to its school by a “cloister” colonnade; and the school was to have a large gymnasium for its expected burgeoning enrollment. Also included were a rectory, a convent, a “carriage house” -- and even a grotto. But SGG’s sheep didn’t “sacrifice” as expected, and the “sermon” idea had to be shelved – and, instead, the gymnasium became the “church.” Also, the “stone” used for the “church” turned out to be stone veneer (from China) – about one inch thick – which was literally hung on the building’s frame via “pins” -- to make it look “solid.” To finish it off, a kind of epoxy caulking was applied (from a caulking gun) to serve as “mortar.”
The result was a structure where the stone not only did not support anything, but structurally detracted from the edifice – making the place not so much a “sermon in stone,” but more like an “epistle in epoxy” – but with no moxy! But, no matter – it looked good (and, after all, in traddieland, “appearances” are what count – right?). If there was ever a prize given for architectural blunder of the year, this baby would win it hands down (just as WHH would win its literary equivalent). This new facility is a case study in how to transform a Taj Mahal plan into “section 8” housing.
Now, the original plan for the “cloister” and adjoining area called for a sloped roof; but Tony Cekada, SGG’s literary paper-lion and resident Expert on Everything, wanted a flat roof, to make things look more “churchy.” Therefore, SGG’s resident yes-man, G. Whiz Kwikenderty, dutifully obliged, and a flat roof it was! (An architectural expert from SGG’s Columbus affiliate was sent down to evaluate the roof, as well as the new facility’s general quality of construction; and he found it to be not so much appealing as it as appalling. His remedial recommendations, of course, were ignored; and the roof was finished according to “the Blunderer’s” mandate.) However, that design didn’t quite stand well with the laws of physics, that is, the roof leaked. Several patch jobs were done, but to no avail; and the upshot of the whole thing is that the roof now needs to be replaced. But – no matter – the “sheep” are “good” for it – right?
Other nifty design features included several utility systems that didn’t meet code (but somehow got “fudged” through later on), plus an innovative HVAC cost-cutting measure enabling the church’s vestibule to be used as a sauna in the summer, and a meat-locker in the winter – great for young mothers with week-old infants! Another “nice touch” in the vestibule was a hard wooden bench for “crying room mothers” to sit on, but with no “back” to it. Instead, there was a large picture mounted on the wall behind it, such that when someone sits on the bench, the picture’s “frame” cuts right through the sitter’s back – a design feature worthy of the Marquis de Sade. If this arrangement still exists, it is a testament to both the pastor’s ingenuity (and depravity), and parishioners’ forbearance (and masochism).
The “church” building also includes a “social hall” (a space originally earmarked for staff offices), and private offices for the pastor and his assistant, with the dozen or so “staff” being shoe-horned into an area about the size of the pastor’s office. The pastor’s office, of course, has an over-sized wooden desk and chair, and its own fireplace; and it and the assistant pastor’s (also large) office share a wet-bar/kitchenette and private, Roman marble full-bath (with shower), while the staff shares the social hall restrooms with the rest of the parishioners. The pastor’s office, by the way, adjoins a windowless “sleeping” room that can be used for other activities that lend themselves to windowless rooms.
Besides the gym-turned-church, the perforated cloister, and the school, the complex also includes a 2000+ sq. ft. rectory and a similar-sized “convent.” The rectory, an edifice whose area could ordinarily accommodate a family of six or seven, houses two occupants: the pastor and his assistant – each with his own living-room sized bedroom (and each with private bath and walk-in closet). For some reason, the rectory has three air-conditioning systems (perhaps to give each occupant his own “climate zone,” plus a “spare”). Because they ran out of the Chinese stone veneer, the rectory exterior was clad in stucco, to give it a half-timbered, “English” look.
The same holds true for the “convent” (The reason for the quotation marks is that it really isn’t a convent, although it was “sold” to the parishioners as such). As it turned out, what nuns they did have were billeted in a small house (left over from their “Sharonville days”), which was inconveniently located several miles away – necessitating the nuns’ commuting to and from the “campus” to get their work done. When they moved into the property, there were two nuns (both of whom are now gone). What the “convent” then became, instead, was a boarding facility for visiting priests (usually from Sanborn’s swampland complex). To round out the “campus,” there is a “carriage house” (now used for storage) and a “grotto” – but not just a grotto: in front of the grotto, there is a (roughly 10 ft. diameter) fish-pond (complete with re-circulating pump, and a dozen or so goldfish (the pastor originally wanted sixty-bucks-a-copy koi for the pond; but, fortunately, a cost-conscious worker sent to buy them substituted the cheaper fish for them.
There seems to be an ongoing problem with keeping the fish alive, however. It is not known whether they die of “natural causes,” or if perhaps they are being decimated by the resident cats (Vivaldi, Puccini, and Caravaggio). Another possibility, too, could be that the fish are “raffled off” to the parishioners some time during Lent. For those who have not frequented the property in recent years, it is not known if the fish-pond is even functioning (or if it is still stocked with fish) – and, for that matter, if Vivaldi, Puccini, and Caravaggio are “still with us” (there has been no mention of their demise in The Bishop’s Corner, so we must assume that they have not yet “gone to that big cat-house in the sky”).
Anyway, getting back to the roof: rumor now has it that there is going to be a plea for money to bankroll the roof repairs now pending (even though the roof ought to be still “under warranty”). One thing, of course, that “complicates” this is the fact that SGG still has the fifty-to-eighty-grand-a-year “school” millstone around its neck (depending on how many Lotarski kids are on the payroll), plus whatever is paid -- if any -- to the rest of their faculty. Then there’s the “beat the clock” factor: it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the place falls apart anyway, what with the “hung on” stone veneer, the ever-leaking roof, and the overall shoddy construction techniques (and materials) employed by G. Whiz.
We give Down ‘n Out Abbey about a generation to once again attain that “English” look (i.e., like London after the blitz). By that time, though, the dynamic duo should have enough salted away to abscond to the Caribbean (the Bishop’s Lodge is just too pricey) -- or perhaps to some bargain resort in Thailand. It all depends on how much parishioners’ money can be laundered with the fiscal shell game that’s been going on all these years (with SGG’s tangle of “front” corporations and shelters). Then the onus will be on “Lurch” or “Wannabe” (or whoever turns out to be their heir apparent) to pick up the pieces (both figuratively and literally). Perhaps by that time they’ll find someone with real construction expertise (and a priest who doesn’t try to “play architect”).
One of the many ironies of all of this is that the old Sharonville facility would now handily suffice – and last much longer than what they have now. It is a sturdy, well-built brick facility, which would more-than-adequately meet the needs of SGG’s now greatly-diminished congregation; and the property next door (the aforementioned “Odd-fellows hall”) would have made a more-than-adequate school (which now houses only a handful of students). Plus, the hall could have been purchased by selling the half-million-dollar lot they ended up using for the new facility – with money left over. Another irony is that the school, in fact, turned out to be, in effect, a church-subsidized private tutoring service for the Lotarski children (most of SGG’s graduates were Lotarskis, more of whom graduated from the school than all the rest of its students combined)
Another irony is that most of SGG’s current monetary shortfall stems from the fact that most of the original SGG congregation, including its “main benefactor,” left there in disgust – taking their money with them (the “main benefactor” heavily subsidized the school’s operation, as well as the church). With them gone, it’s becoming a daunting task to keep the Lotarski juggernaut chugging along, and still meet the parish payroll. The school, a sub-standard facility that has outlived its usefulness, is (as said before) a financial millstone around the pastor’s neck – who undoubtedly pines for “the good old days” at the Bishop’s Lodge, for his travel junkets to Europe and Latin America, and for the epicurean feasts at the Grand Finalé et al. For “eats,” he must now settle for Bravos – and (as he lamented in the church bulletin one Sunday) with coupons, no less!
And now, as stated earlier, rumor has it that the sheep are expected to chip in to a “roof repair fund” to pay for “Tony the Blunder’s” bone-headed mistake: his “flat roof” fiasco that must now be replaced -- a roof that is not yet ten years old. Plus, there’s sure to be “under roof” damage to pay for as well. Hopefully, the repair budget will be meticulously “scrutinized” so that no money erroneously finds its way into the “Bishop’s Lodge fund” or some other such pot. And, after whatever repairs are done, we suggest that the name of the church be changed to something more appropriate (that more accurately reflects what the building represents). Hence, we submit for the parishioners’ perusal the name “St. Dilapidatius” – the patron saint of dilapidation.
Those who “gave ‘til it hurts” during SGG’s original “building campaign” (and who fall for it again) can take solace in the fact that, by being fleeced once again, they are revalidating their “brain dead” credentials. And for those brain-dead who had once left SGG in disgust but who have now returned – Wow! -- their “revalidation” will be doubled!: they have the satisfaction of knowing that they are 1) once again subsidizing the cult-masters’ worldly lifestyle, and 2) experiencing the masochistic thrill of knowing that they are subsidizing a mistake. Wow, there ought to be a special party thrown for them – on April Fool’s Day!! Perhaps, if they’re lucky, they can live to see the day when SGG’s buildings fall apart (and/or their cult-masters decamp).
To rational people, it is inconceivable how anyone with half a brain could be expected to once again bankroll what can only be described as a mistake, a blunder – especially one coming from “Tony Baloney,” whose “Schiavo” and “WHH” fiascos already establish him as the “clown prince” of blunderers. It is even more inconceivable that people who left SGG (because they knew who and what the SGG clerics are) could be hoodwinked into not only returning there but be expected to subsidize these lepers again. They probably returned because they can’t do without “the show” (and will overlook sodomy and sadism to get it); but we hope that they at least keep their money in their wallets this time.
This will send a message to SGG’s clerics (and to all cult-masters) that their parishioners are not groveling boot-lickers who mindlessly reward their absurdity. The ultimate “fix,” however, is to completely “starve the beast”: to put cult-masters like them completely out of business, for everyone’s spiritual good – including their own. Then, stripped of worldly temptation and proclivities, they’ll perhaps renounce la dolce vita, get back to their Cistercian roots, undergo an “extreme makeover” of their own – and then, at long last, start practicing what they preach. But, I’ll bet you -- my food stamps for your Bravo’s coupon -- that that’s not going to happen!