Robert tossed the newspaper down on the antique oak desk and reflected on the Court's ruling for a moment before jotting down a few salient points he'd argue at his lecture the week next at Harvard.
Justice Roberts got it right.
The outcome rested on constitutional law - even still - the end scenario stank.
It irked Steele that a posse of hateful Christians got a nod from the highest court in the land.
And, the plaintiffs were left to skulk away and lick their wounds.
"Well, it proves that the system works," quipped a senior partner at a lunch earlier that eventful day.
"But, justice wasn't served," a snotty waiter flippantly snipped as he scurried off to take an order at the next table.
Yeah, picketing a funeral - on any grounds - was a pretty despicable act.
Even Roberts - a well-meaning turd - admitted as much as that if you read between the lines.
In the final analysis?
The Supreme Court was forced to recognize that the protesters (headed up by a born-again Christian with all the intelligence of a slug) had a Constitutional right to voice their opinion pursuant to the U.S. Constitution.
In the eyes of decent folks, the Church group’s anti-gay protests at funerals (where picket signs were crudely scrawled with slogans like "God Hates fags" and "Thank God for dead Soldiers”) were sick and in bad taste.
Although their message may have been lacking in any resemblance to the loving God portrayed in the scriptures – or the Lord's message of compassion and understanding and forgiveness – the Supreme Court noted that the bible thumpers observed the laws of the land because they maintained a thousand-foot buffer zone and protested without “physical” violence .
What about the mental and emotional anguish they wrought on innocent mourners, Steele wondered aloud to himself, in total disbelief.
But, there it was, in black and white.
"Even hurtful speech on public issues merits 1st Amendment protection" the Court found (8 in favor and 1 in dissent).
Robert was just putting the finishing touches on his prepared speech when the joyous bells at quaint old St. Mary's chimed!
He glanced at the diamond-encrusted face of his tank watch.
The hours had slipped away into the dead of night without Robert being any-the-wiser.
It was time to pack up his briefcase and head home for a nightcap before tucking in for the night.
Suddenly, it hit him like a ton of bricks.
Tomorrow was Palm Sunday.
It was a toss up.
Should he attend a service at Grace Cathedral - which was obviously going to "play" to a packed house - with a lot of high drama and pomp and circumstance?
Maybe, he should just slip into the oldest Cathedral in the San Francisco - St. Mary’s – instead.
Coincidentally, just a few days ago, Robert received an e-mail from the Church leaders at Grace announcing the launch of their spanking-new web site.
How long would it be before church-goers elected to sleep in Sunday in favor of attending a "virtual" service later in the day when the lingering cobwebs of the all-knowing subsconscious finally surrendered their subjects to the warmth of a lazy sunny day?
Just click on a link - and presto - divulge the innermost secrets of the soul.
“Do you suppose those wise old priests are scheming to utilize PayPal to rake in oodles of cash securely online," he joked to his neighbor over the fence as he dashed out to toss the trash in a ubiquitous recycle bin.
"A lot classier than passing around the hat," his neighbor shot back cynically.
Well, that would solve the problem of the snatch-and-grabs (theft) that were proliferating at collection boxes in the dank dark shadows of the grand old Cathedral.
"Until some scam artist from Nigeria hacks the site," Steele chuckled to himself.
Whew, he was tired, and needed a break.
At this juncture, he stretched his arms out high above his head – rolled his back a fraction to get the tension out - then hit the log-off button on his IBM ThinkPad.
Thank God, his Toshiba laptop was stolen.
After all, that unexpected turn-of-events ended up being a blessing in disguise.
But, the mugging was disturbing, nonetheless.
For years, Robert felt totally secure (and safe) residing on the West Coast in the tony climbs of sophisticated San Francisco.
Then, one night after a chat with friends over coffee at Serendipity - out-of-the-blue - three thugs dashed up from behind him on the dimly-lit street and snatched his laptop right out of his fine-boned hands.
"Heh," he cried out in shock, as they dashed down the street at breakneck speed.
At this point, Robert literally froze on the spot, as he watched the thieving trio disappear down a side street and into a dark alley.
For a moment, he was tempted to give them a merry chase.
But, he had second thoughts, after an inner voice cautioned against it.
Just maybe, the toughs were trying to lure him into an out-of-the-way spot, so they could steal his wallet and relieve him of his diamond ring and gold crucifix?
Oh well, good riddance!
Up until that point, Steele had been experiencing quite a few headaches, because of a handful of nasty glitches which were driving him over the edge.
In fact, the busy lawyer found himself spending more time editing his copy - than drafting his legal papers - that's how bad the word processing end got.
Shabby poorly-designed software was the culprit.
For example, the cursor on the Best Buy El Cheapo special, often hopped around the screen at whim.
In high school, he distinctly recalled that his teacher always hammered into him the importance of not looking at the copy or the keys when transcribing material from from one location to another.
"If you look back and forth, you'll develop a bad habit. And, you'll never learn to type properly, only hen and pick," Miss Fraser instructed daily from her podium at the front of the cramped school room at Humberside High.
Looking back, he recalled that he had a bit of a crush on the pretty young blond with the dazzling come-hither look.
Unfortunately, one day one of the bullies in class was inclined to embarrass the heck out of her, just to be mean.
He was a total asshole,
For example, during the second semester the rumor-mill started to spread a nasty piece of gossip.
Miss Fraser got knocked up!
To make matters worse, the joker hatched up an idea to put her on the hot seat, go figure!
"By the way,” he started off slowly at the end of class.
“Is it Miss or Missus,” he blurted out with a smirk on his acne-ridden face.
The silence in the aftermath was so loud, and awkward, it was deafening.
Without skipping a beat, Ms. Fraser reacted, just as her face turned beet red.
The insensitive bastard let out a guffaw, then recoiled in horror, as the rest of the class angrily stared him down.
After all, Ms. Fraser was one of the school’s favorite teachers, who was well-liked.
Shortly after that, in the last phase of her pregnancy, Ms. Fraser departed from the school without saying good-bye.
One rainy day, some grey-haired old spinster gruffly strode in the room, and ordered us to turn to page fifty-six for the next lesson without so much as a “how are you, kids?"
Typing class was never the same after that.
But, in retrospect, the snappy dresser was glad he took typing - instead of the other option (Latin).
"That was before the advent of computer laptops. Who knew how important it would be to type proficiently? To most of the guys, it was the pussy's way out, to rustle up a decent credit to get by in High School," Robert recalled jokingly to one of his work-out buddies.
I wonder what ever happened to Ms. Fraser, he wondered to himself years later.
The hike up the steep hill to Grace Cathedral was an arduous one.
But, it was that, or circling for a half-hour-or-so to find parking.
With gas at $4.59 a gallon, Robert didn't fancy springing a sawbuck on a trip to the Palm Sunday celebration in his sleek black SUV.
By the time he crested the top of Nob Hill, he was quite noticeably out-of-breath, though.
"Okay. Okay. Okay," he uttered up under his breath in his best Joe Pesci impression.
His work schedule had been hectic, and he had let the treadmill - and daily work-outs at the gym – fall by the wayside.
Steele was paying big-time for that act of laziness now, alright, as he struggled to regain his breath.
But, come Monday, he was going to hop to it, and get his cardio vascular pumping and in tip-top shape once again.
If it killed him!
The service at Grace Cathedral wasn't going to rev up for about ten minutes or so, so Robert took a detour through the well-manicured park across the street, where the locals walked their rambunctious dogs, elderly Asian men and women practiced Tai Chi at the crack of dawn, and singles on the prowl occasionally strolled with an eye towards a hook up.
He always marveled at the delightful fountain situated in the center of park - which glistened today - in the early-morning light.
If Huntington Park’s spiffy “waterworks” looked familiar, it was for obvious reasons.
The landmark is a replica of an Italian fountain – “Fontana delle Tartarughe" – gracing the Piazza Mattei in Rome.
The original was designed in 1581 by Giacomo della Porta and featured bronze figures sculpted by a craftsman by the name of Taddeo Landini.
The beautiful centerpiece was originally known as the "Fountain of Dolphins" because it exalted slender bronze youths riding dolphins.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini added a humorous - magical touch - when he incorporated tortoises when the fountain was overhauled in 1658-59.
The four Croker children - prominent long-time residents on tony Nob Hill - donated the dazzling sculpture to the City of San Francisco in 1954.
Today, there was an exhibition of sculpture on display, which complemented the scenic grounds in the heart of the city.
Steele was particularly drawn to the work of Scott Roach and its obvious tribal art influences.
Unfortunately, a couple of the artists lacked the know-how - or literary skills - to properly promote their art in the hand-outs that were distributed to art-lovers who stopped by to chat.
On occasion, the mission statements were bang on, though.
James Moore, another talented sculpture, underscored his keen efforts to employ powerful visual vocabularies based on the cube to represent the human form.
"When the rules of proportion and balance are applied, the resulting works capture what I see as the essence of graceful and playful movement and gesture."
His stick figures - one titled "Leap of Faith" – tossed the spotlight on his light touch, sense of humor, and unique crafting and construction skills.
None of the pieces would shake up the art world, unfortunately.
An old expression sprang to mind.
"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."
When some fool uttered up a comment like that - an artist friend of Robert's - would invariably laugh out loud.
"Yeah, just betcha, they're the kind of folks who love black velvet paintings."
"Leslie, stop. That's rude, they'll hear you," Robert would urge in a polite hushed voice.
It was embarrassing the way the robust happy-go-lucky painter scoffed at potential patrons.
"It's your role to educate and enlighten," Steele teased in a sly effort to smooth the waters.
Les was the kind of artist who would rather starve - than sell a painting to some moron with big bucks - who he felt didn't deserve a passionate creation drummed up from the very depths of his artful soul!
"Boy, you wouldn't have survived in the middle ages," Robert lightly scolded.
"To survive in that era, artists were required to flatter their wealthy patrons with appealing likenesses, or be forced to live in the poor house.”
Indeed, quite a few of those wealthy old dames were ugly as sin, but you'd never know it by their celebrated portraits hanging in world-class collections at top-notch museums and prestigious art galleries around the globe.
In retrospect, you had to wonder, how Picasso ever got away with depicting Gertrude Stein as the old shrew that she was, without being banished from her elite powerful inner circle.
Personally, Robert preferred landscapes - the Hudson School, for instance - and Canada's group of seven.
Steele pined for the day when his walls would be graced with a Lauren Harris or Emily Carr.
“I’ll have to start chasing ambulances and representing clients in the insurance-industry-racket to afford it,” he ruefully complained to his friends.
When Robert dashed into Grace Cathedral, a line was forming at one end, where the faithful waited patiently to follow the Choir down the aisle with reeds in hand during the Palm Sunday celebration.
One of the priests informed him that there were a few seats available in the pews, so he snatched up the program, and slipped into seat a-dozen-or-so rows from the front of the Cathedral.
There was always a good turn-out on Christmas (for midnight Mass, in particular) and Easter, the two holiest occasions on the church calendar, each year.
Did Christians feel guilty if they failed to observe the birth and death of Jesus?
Were those faithful moments expected to book-end their dreary little lives, and curry favor with the Lord?
Or, were they the meek simply bowing to peer pressure?
If Steele neglected to attend service regularly, it was because of a growing trend at the Church, he was not in accord with.
At Grace, there were quite a few females preaching, which made him a tad uncomfortable.
A phrase from the Bible loomed large in his mind in that regard.
"The Whore of Babylon."
If Robert recalled correctly from his Sunday school classes, the "Whore" was associated with the "Antichrist and the Beast" referred to in the Book of Revelations ( and the allegorical kingdom).
According to the prophecies in the final chapter of the Holy Scriptures, the apocalyptic downfall of the "Whore" unfolds in the hands of the beast with seven heads and ten horns.
Robert reached for a copy of the St. James bible on the bookshelf and perused the passages to refresh his failing memory.
The Holy Scriptures / Revelations
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.
And upon her forehead was a name written:
Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of the Harlots
(Abominations of Earth)
And, I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
And, when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
And, here is the mind which hath wisdom.
The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth.
And there are seven kings:
Five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come
And, when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
And, the beast that was, and is not,
Even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition
And, the ten horns which thou saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet;
But, receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
And, they saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest
Where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes
And nations, and tongues
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city
Which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
Biblical scholars commonly used the phrase "Whore of Babylon" to refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
Reformation writers who taught these associations included respected Martin Luther (1483–1546), John Calvin (1509–1564), and John Knox (1510–1572)
Supporters often quoted the following verses from Revelations 17:5 to describe her:
"And on her forehead a name was written"
"Mystery, Babylon of the Great, Mother of Harlots"
(Abominations of the Earth)
A harlot is representative of a church that has been unfaithful,
"The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication."
Understandably, Steele felt more comfortable with a male presiding over the services, as a matter of personal preference.
Female doctors gave Steele the willies, too.
However, some dudes warm up to the idea of a physical - or prostate check - with a pretty young intern at the – um – helm.
Was Steele a male chauvinist pig?
No, it all went back to his childhood - the way he was raised, his faith, and that sort-of-thing.
Curiously, a few weeks prior, Steele attended a service at Grace - the “Contemplative Eucharis” - which was held early in the evening at 6 p.m. on a Sunday evening.
It was an intimate affair, where two dozen or so parishioners formed a circle on the labyrinth, near the entrance of the Cathedral.
Shortly after the breaking of the bread, and the drinking the blood of Christ, a still small voice inside of him spoke out.
"God is not here."
He looked around.
Did anyone else hear that?
Nope, guess not, because they solemnly continued worshipping.
Weeks later, the memory of it, still caused him to shudder.
After the service, Steele dashed downstairs for a coffee and cookie on the house, and to unwind.
In spite of the fact it was Palm Sunday, and heartfelt sermons were uttered up upstairs just minutes prior, the volunteers serving up the refreshments remained aloof and distant from the parishioners streaming in to chat each other up.
When Steele approached one table with flyers on it, a prissy middle-aged lady stared down her nose at him, and blurted out rudely:
"This is for women."
Gosh - did it never occur to the ice Queen - that a handful of men in attendance might be interested in rustling up information for the women (mothers, sisters, girlfriends) in their lives?
"I'm not wearing my glasses, so I couldn’t peruse the information on the hand-out," he responded, with a broad smile, nonetheless.
Suddenly, he recalled that Grace had a new web site, so he pulled out his laptop to see if the webmaster had set-up any Internet connection yet.
When the splash screen burst across the computer screen, the usual list of Internet servers, were blocked out.
The walls at Grace must be pretty thick, Robert chuckled to himself, as he perused the screen for more options.
When he clicked on the icon for the lone service that popped up in a dialogue box, he noticed the ID right off-off-the-bat.
It read "Black Hawk".
A shiver ran up his spine, but it wasn't a pleasant one, in fact.
He pondered the situation for a moment.
What would happen if Steele inputted "Whore of Babylon" and tried to use the three digit password 666?
(to be continued)
Fountain in Huntington Park on Nob Hill!