Dave and the Fish Church

Election 2016 is proving to be weirder than any in living memory. I am not impartial, fair or balanced about the outcome. I’m for Hillary, not Trump. Some think Hillary has it in the bag but I offer this cautionary tale about an election long ago that reverberates to this day. This is a true story. The subject is still alive and well, living somewhere on the West Coast. The moral of the story is simple: Unless you actually get out and vote (dammit), any bitching and moaning you do is pointless.

St. Anthony

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

It was 1972, and Senator George McGovern was running against Richard Nixon, the incumbent president. I had just turned 21 and this was the first year that I was eligible to vote. This election was also the first in which eighteen-year-olds could vote, having been given the right under the (proper) rationale that if one was old enough to go to war, i.e., Viet Nam, one should be old enough to vote. (The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, established that right.) In any case, it was a moot point for me.

Like millions of others, I went to the polls that day. For the record, I voted for McGovern. Two weeks before the election, Nixon’s henchman Henry Kissinger announced, “peace is at hand.” Nixon won by 520 electoral votes to McGovern’s 17. Peace was nowhere in sight.

A few weeks after the election I heard about “Dave,” a friend I had known for a couple of years. He had a BS in psychology from Jesuit-run Rockhurst College (now Rockhurst University).

Just before Election Day, Dave had managed to get hold of a good many hits of psilocybin. He also got an idea into his head to influence the election. His plan was to go around town passing out psilocybin, urging people to drop a hit and meditate that McGovern would win. Heck, if Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies could levitate the Pentagon, psilocybin-aided meditation might just work to turn the back the Silent Majority.

Evidently, he didn’t have many takers and, at the end of the day Dave had a lot of psilocybin left over. He decided to take most of the psilocybin, or as much as he could, and meditate on his own. Somehow Dave ended up at St. Francis Xavier Church at 52nd and Troost. It’s often called the Fish Church because, when seen from the air, you can see that it’s shaped like a fish. It’s an intimate, quiet Catholic church, with blue windows that produce a calming light during the day. Dave knew the place well and I’m guessing he felt safe there.

Dave spent the night tripping in the Fish Church. I don’t know what transpired there. I’ve always pictured Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptation of St. Anthony” accompanied by Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain.” Whatever happened, I understand Dave had a pretty heavy time of it.

In the cold light of morning, still in the church, Dave was convinced that McGovern had won. When he left St. Francis and found out the true story, that Nixon had won, and won big, the bad news hit him like a ton of bricks.

Something snapped, and Dave went a long way around the bend to parts unknown.

I got this story from JB, a friend who had seen Dave earlier on Election Day (he was one of those who had opted to vote instead of drop and meditate) and also a few days after the Fish Church incident. JB was probably able to get enough of the story out of Dave, in the waning of his lucidity, to glean what happened. JB lived at what many called, simply, “the White House,” our old commune, over on 54th and Virginia, a few blocks from St. Francis. Dave had lived there, too. It was the logical place for him to go after his ordeal.

I finally saw Dave a few months after the election. He looked like St. John the Baptist. He was dirty, his hair was long and matted, his beard was long and untrimmed and, for all I know, Dave was living on a diet of locusts and beer. Certainly beer.

He had holed up in a small apartment at 48th and Campbell, above the apartment of another guy I know, Dennis (who is a really good drummer). Dennis said Dave would come down to his place a lot to drink beer and always made the toast, “Here’s to brain cell death!”

At some point, maybe months later, Dave moved to Seaside, Oregon, with his two great dogs, Dot and Champ. There he gradually began to make his way back from wherever it was he’d been. He began to write and mail out The Friendly Wave newsletter. He regularly sent them to JB, who shared them with me.

Dave’s main topic was Noah’s Ark. Dave believed that it could be found atop Mt. Ararat and had somehow gotten in contact with the former astronaut and Apollo 15 moonwalker, James Irwin, who was also looking for the Ark.

Coming back

Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s Dave, along with Dot and Champ, moved back to Kansas City. He was still on the mend, but had it together enough to work odd construction jobs. He met “Suzy,” his future wife, who is beautiful and always happy. She was a waitress at McGillicutty’s on the Plaza (easily the worst restaurant ever in KC).

I saw Dave again in the late 1990s. Molly, my wife, and I ran into him in the parking lot of Sun Fresh one night and we talked a good while. Suzy was with him and she was doing fine, too. Sadly, Dot and Champ had passed on.

Dave looked better than he had in years. He was still on the Noah’s Ark jag, but we discussed other things, too. I kind of lost track of Dave but ran into him again, quite by accident, in 2005 while I was working at Spivey’s Old Maps and Books in Westport. He had stopped in to find some book about Noah’s Ark (oddly enough). Both of us were surprised and happy to see each other. Turned out he and Suzy were in the midst of packing to move back to Oregon. They lived in a ramshackle house on 43rd Terrace, near Pennsylvania, more or less just south of Spivey’s. After work I stopped by to see them before they took off. As ever, Suzy was in good spirits. Dave was nervous about the move but ready to go. The house was ready for the crusher.

I never asked Dave about what happened that election night in the Fish Church. It was an unspoken thing, not to ask. I still get emails from Dave about his “weather experiments,” which I can’t fully explain. Actually, I can’t explain them at all.

Talking to him in the house that night, as a hellacious July thunderstorm blew in, I could still catch a glimpse of that post-election, electric flash behind his bright, blue eyes. Dave, my friend, here’s to you and Suzy, wherever you are.

As for the rest of you, vote. Vote! Then you can drop and meditate.

– Frank C. Siraguso

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