Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dressing as the Pope

Dame Zelda, the Englishwoman to whom I am presently married, is an implacable entrepreneur whose latest brainstorm is to exploit her ordination by the Universal Life Church by conducting wedding and funeral services for dogs. I’m pretty sure that, for the right price, she would be happy to conduct them for cats, amphibians, the odd reptile, and even fish. The British are standoffish with each other, but are effusively affectionate with their goldfish. It can be unnerving to observe. 


In any event, Dame Zelda has designed a lavish Website for which she now wants me to take a photograph of her looking ecclesiastical. She has bought herself what might, in a dim light, be mistaken for a prayer shawl, and a clergy collar. But I am urging her to go farther, and to dress as The Pope, with a pallium, a chasuble, and of course a triregnum, the coolest hat in the history of headwear. I am pretty sure she’ll be cute as a button with a papal ferula, the staff topped by a crucifix, though she’s sure to worry that her clients perceive her as taking the piss (that is, mocking Catholicism). I won’t even suggest a Sedia gestatoria, the portable throne carried by a dozen footmen (palafrenieri) in red uniforms, accompanied by two attendants bearing large ceremonial fans made of white ostrich feathers. She’s far too avid an animal rights person for that. 

Few know that when I resided in Santa Rosa, California, in the mid-1980s, I owned what at one point was northern California's No. 1 papal supplies store. I originally called it Johnny’s Fashion, but my first wife, who believed herself to have a natural flair for branding, thought that too generic, and suggested Moda Vaticana, which she believed sufficiently upscale to attract the deep-pocketed fashionisto that every boutique owner wants as a customer. She was wrong about many things in our marriage, but right about this one. 

Most people are oblivious to how popular heterosexual crossdressing has become in the past 50 years. The singer Marvin Gaye’s father was an avid crossdresser, as too are former vice president Dick Cheney, RuPaul, and present Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis, whose legs are said to leave Christina Aguilera’s in the shade. But if heterosexual crossdressing was popular up in Sonoma County, it couldn’t have been half as popular as dressing as The Pope. There was one summer in which I had to hire members of the Sonoma State University varsity wrestling team as bouncers to keep my shop becoming too crowded for fellows to get their credit cards out. They up from as far south as San José to buy Rings of the Fisherman, and from as far east as Nevada. I couldn’t keep mozzetta capes that cover the shoulders and are worn over rochets or cottas as part of choir dress in stock.

Fashion is fickle, of course, and by the end of the second millennium, most of my customers had tired of the papal look, and were wearing the preposterously ill-fitting canvas and denim fashions prevalent in the hip hop of the era. Having far more than they could hope to sell, the charity shops of Sonoma County took to declining contributions of triregnums, though some of the area’s teenaged smart alecs began turning up at school with papal ferulas. 

First Wife got my shop as part of our divorce settlement, but not even her natural flair for branding could save it. According to Google Maps, there is now a Subway sandwich shop where Moda Vaticana once stood.