The Sistine Shusher – The Advocate, 7/30/2005

Great news! I have identified my next career. I had always planned to become a librarian after I retired from being a comedian. After years of trying to make people laugh loudly, I thought it would be fun to go around, index finger to pursed lips, bug-eyeing people into silence. Ironically, librarians are some of the loudest, staunchest supporters of free speech, so my activist needs would also be met. But with Amazon and Google, people don’t go to libraries much any more and I don’t do house calls, so I despaired of ever finding a second career.

After a delightful Greek Cruise with Olivia’s offshore lesbians, we were in Italy when I found my next vocation. It was quite a culture shock to go from seven days of feeling free with my sea gals to plunging into the art and commerce of Italy. I tried to preserve that lovely presumption of lesbianism for as long as I could. We like to think the best of everyone. When the voice on my self-guided tour headset kept telling me to admire the quick, deft brush strokes of painting #47 without ever commenting on the grisly content of the rape of the Sabine women or the massacre of the innocents in lurid, but well-executed, detail in #49, I knew the illusion was over.

At first we were cheered by the faded rainbow “PACE” flags strung from Roman balconies, but they were more about peace than gay trendsetters. We oriented our gay positioning systems, found the gay bookstore and asked Claudio, the very patient manager, where all the gay people were. In English far better than my ciao-prego-ragu Italian, he explained that the closet there was huge, churchlike; that there was a gay village Tuesday nights, six Euros entrance fee, and that the Rome Gay Pride march was the next weekend. Given the new pope, Claudio said that the march was more important than ever.

We were unable to get an audience with said new pope and Harry Potter hater, the Widow Ratzinger, but I now know why those zip-off pants/shorts were invented. No sleeveless shirts, no shorts, no service with the pope. Since we had papal time to spare we toured the Vatican. More marble busts of men with no eyes. More steroidal statues of ancient circuit party men. More tapestries of striving, sandaled men, glowering Russell Crowe-like. Not him throwing the phone at the front desk. Finally, we reached the stifling Sistine Chapel, mobbed with touristas, hailing the very gay, frescoed ceiling with their upturned cell phone/cameras, their yacking towering to a muted roar.

Suddenly a hissing, sibilant, sharp SHHHH! stopped the din mid-Babel. The Sistine Shusher! It was as if the crowd had received a holy beotch slap. When the bedlam built again, the Shusher slapped it down again. That is the job for me. Of course I would secularize it. Instead of shush, I’d do a shushing sheesh. “We do not have a litmus test for Supreme Court vacancies.” Sheesh! “We do not know where that leak came from, do we Kardinal Karl?” Sheesh! “We remain steadfast and confident in the war on terror.” Sheesh! I’m just practicing and I feel better already. This job has health benefits!