unpublished snippets from an interview with pope benedict XVI

My boy John Paul was a dear friend – we used to kid about getting tattoos, but we never got around to it. He had a nasty sense of humor for a playwright….”


by brian doyle


Have you now, or have you in the past, tipped over a cow?
I…don’t recall.

What is your prime concern when dressing for the funeral of a leader in another religious tradition, i.e. Jewish?
White socks or red. But then you really want to start thinking about car keys, pocket cash for the bar at the reception, and business cards.

Have you ever just totally cruised through a day, pretending to look busy but really spending your time, say, wondering how the White Sox could possibly just steal a title like that?
Well…you have off days, like anyone else. You have days when you just are not bringing your A game. I find, personally, that I perform best when I am feeling a little under the weather. I think it has to do with lowered expectations. I’m not revealing any secrets when I say that there’s a lot of pressure in the job. Celebrating Mass for a million people in a field is no walk in the park. Footwork is crucial, and the considered pause. And maybe most important of all is enunciation. Also wear bright colors.

Hobbies, forms of relaxation?
Kick-boxing. An ale here and there, but only in summer usually. I also have a thorough collection of Silver Surfer comics. I like Puccini records.

If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?
Oh, eggplant. That’s an easy one.

Best friend?
My boy John Paul was a dear friend – we used to kid about getting tattoos, but we never got around to it. He had a nasty sense of humor for a playwright. You know playwrights, all self-important and mysterious and all, but he didn’t have hardly any of the brooding artist thing going. Plus he was very hip to the fact that playwrights are like poets, no one actually reads their stuff and they don’t get paid. John Paul – Jack, I should say – used to say he went into the pope business just to get by. I miss the dude.

What’s on your reading table, Your Holiness?
Not Dan Brown, heh heh. But, seriously, there are some things you might expect – I like the thorny language of the King James Bible, even without Wisdom, as it were, and I try to stay up on world politics and religious currents. The most fun for me, reading-wise, are the personal projects I set myself – the complete works of Tiki Barber, for example. Also sometimes when I am feeling cocky and too sure of myself I inflict penance in the form of forced readings – the poetry of James Joyce, anything by Jerzy Kozinski, Saint Augustine. I mean, really, everyone bows and salaams when you say Augustine, but who really reads the guy? He’s impenetrable. I think maybe only his mom ever read everything he wrote. That’s how she got to be a saint, heh heh.

Ever robbed a liquor store?
Not recently, heh heh.

Do you do your own laundry, Holy Father?
No no – that’s why they invented the Curia.

What’s the deal with you and small-bore firearms?
Target pistols are why God invented cats.

Favorite saint?
Oh, Catherine of Siena, that’s easy. You remember she said when she spoke with God He didn’t like to be interrupted and she could hardly get a word in. Who knew the Creator was a monologue guy? That cracks me up.

The whole division-among-Christian-sects thing, you want to speculate a little about that?
Lovely weather these past weeks – hot during the day but crisp enough after sunset for a jacket, you know? Starting to be football weather.

Ever play football, Your Holiness?
Played linebacker for two years in school but then the other guys kept growing and I stopped right about here, which is decent size for a pope but not for a guy anchoring a defense. You need a guy in the middle with some serious attitude and a chest like a refrigerator.

Were you dating anyone at that time?
Not seriously, no.

Your meeting with Hans Kung was widely reported in the Catholic press – would you care to share some of the conversation?
Well, Hans played some football also, mostly tight end – he had the height, you know, and those big hands. We talked some ball, had a couple of beers. Hans is alright – for a theologian, heh heh.

Last thoughts you want to share with the readers?
Be not afraid. My boy Jack nailed that one good.

Originally published:
Issue Forty-One
February 2006


(illustration: john richen)

Brian Doyle is the author of books about otters, sea-wrack, tiny rhinoceroses, and the later and more incomprehensible work of William Blake, the part where he invented a vast and mysterious mythology of his own, and even he didn’t understand it, but by God he wasn’t going to admit that to a soul, was he, the poor moist British sot, probably driven insane by the incessant weeping of the sky, not to mention the poor personal hygiene and awful teeth of his fellow islanders, huddled in the mist and terrified of a corporal the size of a fecking fire hydrant across the way, was that guy a first draft of Hitler or what, I mean, who wants to conquer Egypt? What’s the point? Did his pecker not work or what? Isn’t that the only reason you would issue such a nonsensical statement, let’s conquer Egypt! Jesus, two shoeless frogs with asthma could conquer Egypt in an afternoon, if it was a weekday. And why would anyone in his right mind want to conquer Russia? I mean, really? Do you need more snow and ice and mud and iconography in your life? Isn’t there just about enough of that in any normal day? Am I right? It’s not like we get up in the morning and think I need to read some elephantine murk that may or may not be about murder and czarinas and etc., isn’t that so? Because if you do wake up and think that, I have a country for you to conquer. Doyle is also an essayist, which no one is exactly sure what that means, we think it may have something to do with hermeneutics, and he is the author of two collections of something that even he is loathe to call poetry. Now there’s a great word, loathe, which you can, as you know, also spell loath, one of those rare words you can spell either way whenever you want, in bed, or on the road, or in your hotel room with a pencil and a nickel and a girl with few if any inhibitions. I am loathe to go further. Let’s conquer Egypt! Also he has committed a novel. As for the part of the biographical note where the author preens and boasts of his previous blue-collar jobs, from some weird itch to prove that he is not merely an effete intellectual artiste, Doyle had some of those jobs, but he never liked them much, and over the long years since he has very often, like right now for example, considered that he is one lucky toy boy not to be digging ditches, driving a bus, logging, fishing, plumbing, carpentering, and etc. along those lines, but instead he sits around telling roaring lies for fun, and slightly true stories for a living, which the phrase living is something of a joke, isn’t it, because by god these kids are going to eat me out of house and home, and you never saw such a snarling ravenous pack of surly sneering supercilious spawn in your born days, what in god’s name we were thinking when we airily said let’s have children I do not now know, could I not have listened to my gramp’s advice and been leery of the whole process from proposal on, wary of tossing tea? But no. Also Doyle has a dog. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2006)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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