Jokes have been made about it. Children's cartoon books illustrate it. And apartment dwellers worry about it. But does it really happen in real life?
And, today's Bangkok Daily News has the hard-core photographic evidence:
MAN KILLED BY FALLING FLOWER POT1
Severus was a poor weaver who attended the election of a bishop. He was in his working-clothes, and tried not to attract attention; but a white dove happened to light on his head, and the imaginative congregation elected him. This is one of the humble legends which help us to understand others more troubling or consequential.
My good friend, Paul Fjelstad, gave me a book: THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS by Omer Englebert. It purports to be a listing of more than 2,300 men and women who have been canonized as saints by the Catholic Church. Organized according to the liturgical year of the Holy Mother Church in Rome, it is a useful (though less cynical) supplement to Wescott. As 2,300 divided by 366 is a big number, I'll try to ferret out only the most rewarding of those lives who gave their everything for Christ and his endless team of publicists. Shall we preface with "Englebert"? Yes, I think so.
Bishop of St. Malo. His surname came from an iron railing which had to be placed around his tomb to protect it from indiscreet pilgrims.
Who is this girl? Hints: (a) she used to work at The Oriental; (b) her husband owns a bazooka.
She is a Bangkokian but she no longer lives in Thailand. She lives in Utah, a state in America that is very remote from America. Utah does not have any good Thai restaurants. Utah is mostly Mormon ... which is a very long way from Buddhism. But, Thais who live in Utah are just as comfortable as Thais who live in Norway. Because Norwegians also do not have any good Thai restaurants and Lutheranism is also a major drive from Buddhism. So, Norwegians would be happy in Utah and vice versa.
1 From the photograph it appears that at least two ... and maybe three ... flowerpots were involved (suggesting foul play?). The largest of the flower pots ... a terra cotta one with a flowerless long stemmed plant (Bernie, Christy? Your help is needed here!) ... seems to be the one that did him in. It apparently landed on him at great speed ... for it flattened his head and upper torso, allowing only a limp wrist to dangle out from beneath its wrathful stop. Miraculously the pot itself remained intact, and upright. A smaller pot, with just a tiny trace of a blooming red flower crushed his ankle. But, dear reader, the mystery does not end here. Morton's handiwork (hatching) is all TOO evident. Normally the paper's censors only worry about pools of blood and exposed organs. But, peeking behind the hatches, we can only see skin, belt, shirt and pants.
2 John of the Gratings has a mercifully short entry. That's why I chose him. Englebert actually gives us seven entries for February 1st; the principal one being Saint Ignatius. As Ignatius' death is really colorful, I want to give you some bits of it: apparently he had a falling out with his master so he "... was dragged from his episcopal throne and taken to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts ... chained as I was to ten leopards ...". Realizing that the end is near, he writes: "I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be milled by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ? Caress then, these beasts, that they may be my tomb; and let nothing be left of my body; thus my funeral will be a burden to none." He got his wish. "Eighty thousand spectators crowded on to the steps of the Coliseum when Ignatius underwent martyrdom. It was brief. Two lions threw themselves upon him and devoured him in a moment, leaving on the sand only the largest of his bones."
The authorities are terribly torn over Catherine: they are furiously sticking to their guns over her birth year, but (happily) in complete agreement over the date of her death.1
Our Lord Himself gave her an engagement ring. For twenty-four hours every Thursday she lay in an ecstasy, and often communicated by telepathy with other saints, friends of hers.
Tuscan Dominican, friend of St. Philip Neri,2 favoured with visions and ecstasies.
This afternoon Ning and I (our Executive Committee) were forced to call an emergency meeting of the Patpong Corkscrew Club (Thailand). I have attached (following today's textual footnotes) a copy of the letter that I sent to all the members of the PCC. I've decided to burden the journal with this information in the hope that some of my readers might know some of the PCC members; if you do, please ring them up and ask them to check their mail boxes. As you can see from the letter, the emergency meeting is less than a day away ... any advance word that you can pass-on will help speed them to the ticket counters. Of course, Member Bull will have a charter at his disposal so we don't have to worry too much about him.
* Palindromic, in a tight little way: 2/2/2. Though more conventionally seen as 2/2/02 or 02/02/02. Fully 'fleshed-out' we'd have 02/02/2002 which really isn't remarkable save for the fact that the number of 2s equals the number of 0s  and that the number of slashes is just half that number. However, later this month we will have 20/02/2002. A date with this power will not come around again for more than a thousand years. My friend, Paul Fjelstad, who is more of a purist, pretty much gives February a total 'sniff' and has moved directly to November 20th for the perfect palindrome. Written 'Europeanly' it comes out as 20/11/02. He, quite rightly, feels that the slashes contribute to the palindromic picture (for this reason he also favors 2/2/2 for today, if we really must have a palindrome right this minute).
1 Obviously no one save for the parents really care about when the child was born when it was born. It's only after it has made a name for itself that those whose job it is to worry about dates start to worry about the date. That's why the departure date of the famous is hardly ever in dispute.
2 Philip Neri is Englebert's leading saint for May 26th (when we will look at him in detail). For now, suffice that his most quoted words were: "For one who truly loves God, there is nothing more difficult and painful than to remain alive." Apparently God had given Neri a "foretaste of celestial happiness" which he found hard to handle: "Enough, Lord, enough! Hold back, I implore, the floods of Your grace. Withdraw Thyself, Lord, I am but a mortal; I cannot bear so much joy." In a totally 'unconnected' aside the guileless (na´ve) Englebert notes that Neri's father was devoted to alchemy. We can only wonder how this hobby might have contributed to Neri's "joy" and his friend's "ecstasies".
Dear PCC Member:
Just hours ago the Executive Committee1 of the PCC met on the hotel dock to schedule a special emergency meeting of the Patpong Corkscrew Club (Thailand).
We decided to postpone any discussion of recent developments in Swiss corkscrew design. Also deferred to a later meeting will be a development report on the state of construction of the Club's new hot air balloon.2 You see, it has become imperative that we immediately meet to discuss our 'ladyboy' members' participation3 in the upcoming Elephant Polo Championships at Hua Hin.4
As this emergency meeting will be held tomorrow night (February 3rd) I don't expect any of our non-Thai based members to show up for it. However our European members could catch any of this evening's non-or-one-stop flights to BKK from ... say London, Frankfurt, Oslo, Amsterdam or Paris. For the Americans it would be a stretch: east coasters could make tonight's evening Concorde out of JFK and connect with the BA non-stop to Bangkok; west coasters might get something out of LA with a stop at Narita or Hong Kong. I know that Member Bull will arrange for a charter for himself. Member Hunt, coming up from Australia should have no trouble getting here.
Of course, members Ohmy, Gift and Ammy must attend as we need some promises-in-cement from all three of them about this September elephant thing. That's important! Thanks be to God that I was able to speak with them in person less than an hour ago; fortunately, for all of us it was a work-night for all three 'ladies' and I was able to pull them off stage for a pre-meeting.
Tomorrow's emergency special meeting will be held at 8 PM at a private corner table at the King's on Patpong #1. If you are coming down Silom Road, away from the river, make a left under the green Patpong arch. Walking on the far left side of the street, our King's is about 100 meters from your last turn; it's just past Super Pussy and Lipstick. If you reach the stairs to the Kangaroo Club you have gone too far and you'll have to retrace your steps a bit.
In the future I'll try to give everyone5 at least a week's notice. I am sorry that fast breaking developments forced me to call this emergency meeting.
1 Just Ning and I.
2 Still being built at the Cameron factory in Bristol. You already know that this is a joint effort with the Screwy Tusker Elephant Polo Team and the Screwless Tuskers.
3 As the "Screwless Tuskers"; though that name is not fixed in stone. It is something that we'll discuss tomorrow night.
4 Still set for September 18th - 22nd, 2002.
5 Outside of Thailand we now have members in Australia, Holland, Norway, England and the USA.
PS. The Internet Laundry that I wondered about the other day; well, it has expanded its offerings to include foot massages, a beverage service and overseas call facilities. It is also a bus stop. Perhaps legal advice and marriages will be next. Another ENRON in the making?
Both Wescott and Englebert are in total agreement about Saint Blaise's magic with throats: "He is the patron of those who have throat diseases" [Wescott]; "... the habit of invoking St. Blaise for maladies of the throat" [Englebert].2 They are also pretty much in agreement about his fixation with wild beasts and vice versa: "Lions, leopards, bears, and wolves, came to visit him every morning; they never interrupted his prayer, but would not go away until he had given them some attention." [Wescott]; "... the sick came in crowds to consult him, and not only men but animals as well. He cured them and sent them away with his blessing. A strange thing was that the animals never disturbed him at prayer, however great their need." [Englebert].
But about his death they are poles apart: Englebert has him walking on water after being thrown into a lake by his tormentors ... but returning to dry land on the advice of an angel, whereupon he was promptly beheaded. Wescott sees Blaise tossed into a dungeon to starve and "... finally the flesh was pulled off his body with an iron comb as if it had been wool."3
The emergency gathering of the Patpong Corkscrew Club did in fact gather at 8PM at Kings. Ning and I were prompt. But by 8:30M it was quite obvious that all who would be there were there. Ohmy was stark naked as she was just coming off her shift; Amma and Gift were in street clothes as it was only my clarion call to duty that even brought them over to this side of Bangkok. The 'Mama San' was unhappy as we were cornering a table and she knew that her place was going to thin out long before midnight.4 So we picked up our pieces and walked down to the Japanese restaurant in the Dusit Thani Hotel. With a private room we could worry freely about the events of September.
Gift, Ohmy and Amma ate sparingly. Ning ate and talked on the phone. What will happen in September is still a worry. We did not discuss corkscrews.
Don Bull's charter flight? Something dreadful must have happened.
The others? Well, it was a long shot at best.
1 He invented the Maxim Silencer: a device that when attached to the front of the barrel of a pistol allowed the firearm to be fired without making a terrible bang. Its ability to muffle the sound of gunshots made it popular among professional killers.
2 In a curious aside, Englebert adds: "There also came to him those who, as though choked in the confessional, did not dare confess their sins." [Underlining, mine]
3 For this he is the patron of woolcombers, according to Wescott. It is uncertain if the Worshipful Company of Woolcombers (London) has honored him with a stained glass window in one of the Wren churches of the East End, but according to Englebert he "... is shown in the window at Notre Dame in Chartres ..." along with his animals.
4 Somewhere in New England, at 6AM Bangkok time, the Super Bowl of American Football will be played. As much money is always on the table for these world-class events, everyone wants to see if they won or lost; and they want to see it 'live'.
Dear reader, this cable has just arrived from Don "the Mirth" Bull! He is alive! Thank God! The poor man has been swimming in a stream of sour luck lately1 ... but we are so relieved now that we know that Bonnie is not a widow with a warehouse of corkscrews to worry about. Visions of an ill-maintained charter flight ... metal fatigue ... explosive decompression ... a ruptured fuselage ... twisted spinning falling slashing aluminum shards ... all tumbling to earth or sea in an ever expanding shower of flaming gasoline. Yes, these horrid visions danced in our heads right up until we got this good news.
Subj: I missed the PCC meeting
Date: 2/4/2002 10:45:56 AM SE Asia Standard Time
My apologies for missing the meeting. I had a charter flight leaving Wirtz on the 2nd. As we were preparing to take off, several cows wandered onto the runway. We deplaned and shooed them away successfully but the pilot slipped on a cowpie and had to be rushed off to the medical center where he ended up with casts on both broken arms and on a leg. By the time we got another pilot and cleaned the cowpies off the then slippery runway, a storm had come in and we couldn't take off. The next morning would have been too late so I just had to cancel the charter.
Alf, I know it sounds like a pretty preposterous excuse but, hey, what can I say. I've tried so hard to get to a meeting twice now and things just haven't gone right. I hope Gift, Ohmy and Amma are understanding and will forgive me.
Both Englebert and Wescott give him short treatment. But the reader walks away from each with entirely different feels for the man:
Wescott: "The most immoral youth in Florence. His mother dreamed that she had given birth to a wolf, which went into church and came out a lamb; and so it happened."
Englebert: "Florentine Carmelite, Bishop of Fiesole."
Though not leaving the reader feeling that he is reading about two different Veronicas, Wescott's version is more playful:
Englebert: "Wiped the Saviour's face on the road to Calvary with the veil with which she covered her head."
Wescott: "She is said to have been the daughter of Salome, the dancer, and to have lived on the road to Calvary; and she lent Our Lord her handkerchief, or perhaps wiped away His sweat with it herself. The image of the sacred face remains imprinted on the cloth; it may be seen in St. Peter's. It was believed that she could give relief to the loathsome diseases from which Tiberius suffered toward the end of his life; but he died before she reached Rome."
A year ago today I did not know that Microsoft's Windows would someday build an atomic clock right into my computer. On February 4, 2001 I was in Florida. I remember it so clearly. It was late in the morning ... it was almost 'elevenses': I was keen to check my almost new Seiko watch against the great atomic clock (2) that America has buried beneath miles of granite somewhere in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone. Actually, I used a proxy clock: a Sharper Image product that accurately mimics the authoritative 'tick-tocks' generated by that massive god of time buried deep in rock. You can relive those moments with me if you click back to this day last year.
The short of that morning was that I discovered that my Seiko was fast by just one part in 3,715,200. In 86 days of wear it had jumped ahead of THE clock by just two seconds.
"What are you getting at, Alf?"
Watch! Another entire year has gone by ... my Seiko is here in Bangkok ... while my atomic proxy, the Sharper Image thing, is in Fort Lauderdale.3
Windows XP has changed the way we set our clocks. Every other way is out the window! One click and Microsoft takes your clock to Microsoft's great Window's Clock ... the one in Redmond, WA. Actually, you have a choice: Windows XP's time.windows.com or time.nist.gov run by the Feds in Boulder, Colorado.
"Do you have any pictures?"
I'm glad you asked. Here is the screen showing the correct time to hundreds of hidden decimal places.
And, here is my Seiko ... next to the screen. They clearly show that my watch is running less than half a minute off Redmond or Boulder time. When you do the calculations over the last year, plus the 86 days since November 10, 2000 ... well, it shows an error of just one part in 927,529.
"You live in Bangkok! Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"
1 Christian 'wags' might say that bad luck had nothing to do with it; rather, that Bull's own irreverent commingling of corkscrews with the Lord's crucifix had everything to do with the man's repeated near misses with death. You need proof? Somewhere around here, dear reader, we have a picture of our Lord's only son (Christ) tacked to a wooden Roman cross ... with a corkscrew cleverly hidden just behind the area where Pontius Pilot's soldiers were ordered to hammer in the big foot-nail; the one that went right through both of Christ's feet and into that little wedge of wood. Yes, you guessed it. This Cruci-Screw belongs to Don Bull. Oh yes, here it is. Bad enough you say? Hah. Well, just yesterday the man sent me a photo of the previously unknown "Buffy" crucifix: the crossed timbers upon which a 4th victim of Pontius Pilot's wrath was going to be screwed. But, this is Bull's story and you should read for yourself what he said about Buffy's younger sister and how this toothsome little wench managed to get Buffy off the cross. And why Buffy lived and Christ died. So, I think it's best if you let him carry on with this bewildering tale while under his own roof ... and in his own words. He's over at: www.bullworks.net/virtual/newstuff/buffy.htm.
2 At the time, I mentioned, "... this huge clock has just a few tiny lukinium (I made this part up) atoms that vibrate or shake at a predictable (and, thus measurable) rate that things as short as 0.000000000000000000000000001 can be timed."
3 Though sitting on a shelf in total darkness, it is being silently refreshed with every satellite pass ... and two times a year (spring and fall) it gets moved up or down an hour.
For a couple of years you've seen pictures of the Taksin Bridge; the modern arched bridge that crosses the Chao Phya River from a point just south of the Shangri-La Hotel. Yes you have. It goes over to the Thonburi side ... you know, to where that condo with the weird 'dueling' rooftop trees live.
Anyway, I walked across it this afternoon ... from the Peninsula side of the river to the Oriental side (west to east). Here are a few photographs of what I saw. Most of my readers will be able to figure out what is what. But, I have added a brief note to each picture. All but the panorama shots were taken with my Sony Mavica. For the panoramas I used my Canon with its very clever 'stitch' technology. Can you find the stitches? I think only one is obvious.
Today's saint apparently had a gentle childhood ... but, when she developed into a woman all 'hell' broke lose.
Wescott and Englebert are in total agreement on one essential; partial agreement on another: (a) her torturer cut her breasts off with something sharp; (b) she reprimanded him for doing so by reminding him that his own mother, too, had breasts. It's in the details where we find the fuzz.
Agatha was beautiful, and the Governor of Catinia wanted her; but she said that her body as well as her soul belonged to the Heavenly Bridegroom. His love turned to hate, and he cut off her breasts with a pair of scissors. She put him to shame, saying that he must not have been fed at his mother's breasts like other men. St. Peter and an angel visited her in her cell. Thinking them ordinary doctors, she would not let them come near her; but they told her who had sent them, and then dressed and healed her two pitiful wounds. The next morning she was led to the stake, but an earthquake and the insistence of the terrified populace saved her. She died in prison.
In the amphitheatre in Catania where she was tortured, her footprints may still be seen in the lava. A year after her death, the city was menaced by an eruption of Mount Etna; her silk was taken from her tomb, and with it, tied on a lance, the molten streams were stopped in time.
Englebert [he puts Agatha's death at 251]2:
We do not possess any entirely reliable information3 about this martyr, who has been honored since the most ancient times and whose name has been included in the canon of the Mass.
Two cities in Sicily, Catania and Palermo, dispute the honor of her birth. Young, beautiful and rich, Agatha lived from childhood a life entirely consecrated to God.
In betrayal of the duties of his office, a greedy and shameless magistrate named Quinctianus profited by Decius' edicts of persecution to attempt to abuse the virgin and to steal her fortune. He first delivered her to a matron charged with perverting her, who, however, failed. Then he made her appear before him on three occasions. The first time she was slapped in the face for having repelled the judge's solicitations and affirmed her faith. The second, Quinctianus had her stretched on a wooden horse; the executioner ripped her flesh with iron hooks and was ordered to cut off her breasts. Agatha then said to the brutal magistrate: "Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me in such a way?"
The third interrogation had no more success in changing her constancy. Fresh tortures were inflicted on her by rolling her, naked, on burning coals. Then a violent earthquake shook the town of Catania; a piece of wall broke off, crushing the judge's assessor who was his friend; the judge himself fled, terrified. As for Agatha, having thanked God for his help, she gave a great cry and expired.
1 Just two days ago NEWNES 'reported' that Hudson Maxim, inventor, was born in 1853. I went on to say in a footnote that Hudson was the fellow who invented the Maxim silencer for pistols. Well, today our Mr. NEWNES says that Sir Hiram Maxim (an American inventor) was born in 1840 and that this particular Maxim invented the Maxim Machine Gun in 1883. This is too much of a coincidence. Were they brothers; like Orville and Wilbur Wright ... tinkering away in a garage, but with firearms instead of wind-up motors and cloth wings?
2 Wescott may have missed the final rounds of torture and just assumed that Agatha passed away immediately after the primary quake in late 250. Apparently, Agatha waited out the aftershocks of early 251 before passing herself up to God.
3 So, the stuff he sets out here is just some titillating rumor? Some fantasy about a 'bull' matron working herself into a frustrating lather over this beautiful but balking virgin? That there may or may not have been some hooded bare bellied and sweaty fiend with a hook in one hand and a razor in the other? That the picture of the naked lady rolling around in hot coals might have been just made up?
Next: Part III