Table of Contents here.
June 16, 2022 – Hopper watched as Haines approached the Fifth Avenue entrance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He caught Hopper’s eye, stopped for a moment, and waved unenthusiastically. They had already seen each other that day in a rather desultory exchange. When they were teenagers and Haines was unsuccessfully trying to woo Hopper’s sister Olympia, he told Hopper that he made time each day to either attend Mass or pray in a Catholic church somewhere in Manhattan.
Seeing Haines stroll into the cathedral reminded Hopper of the pranks that Olympia and his other sister Silver used to play inside the sanctuary when they were teenagers. The non-exhaustive list included:
- Writing lurid poetry about the Apostles on index cards and placing them in the missals.
- Bringing friends to Mass and singing the words to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” during the hymns.
- Releasing dozens of salamanders during Communion.
- Painting whoopee cushions with a mahogany stain so they would blend in with the color of the pews…
For Olympia and Silver, raised by two atheists, their pranks were not intended as attacks on religion; rather, their pranks were artistic statements about how the power of institutions corrupted their missions. St. Patrick’s was not the only recipient of their “creative anarchy,” as Silver called it. They had been banned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a year after Olympia and Silver had attached several drawings of stick figures representing the museum’s Board of Trustees engaging in a variety of sexual acts to walls in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing using cellophane tape. Only the intervention of their father, the noted painter, had saved them from a lifetime ban.
Hopper had been present at a distance for the pranks after being coerced by his sisters to record everything. “You may be an asshole, Hopper,” Silver had told him. “But at least you are a reliable asshole.” He was never caught nor implicated, but the images he recorded were widely circulated among the youthful cognoscenti.
Such innocent days, he mused.
With all the controversies swirling around the Roman Catholic church worldwide, St. Patrick’s Cathedral represented a soft target for anyone with a grievance against priests, bishops, and the Pope. Disturbances within the sanctuary during the pandemic had gone beyond the occasional prank of teenaged anarchists. In the last year, increasing numbers of groups and individuals had become more disruptive and violent. The Archdiocese had stopped responding to reporters who asked about criminal acts, including muggings, desecration, and vandalism, purportedly taking place during Mass.
When the New York Times published a story that included interviews with an anonymous priest who disclosed that services had been shortened to “close the window of opportunity for troublemakers,” and two elderly women who admitted concealing illegal handguns in their pursues while attending Mass for “protection against the thugs who sometimes show up,” the Archdiocese decided to act. Nowadays, Hopper had read, the cathedral stationed armed guards at the public entrances, complete with the full TSA treatment for tourists, out-of-town faithful, and parishioners alike.
Cardinal Dolan had announced the heightened security measures as “the only alternative to keeping the doors locked and not allowing anyone in without a badge. This is God’s house, not the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Hopper returned Silver’s phone call.
“I am going to participate in a Date Lab experiment,” she said, “and I just wanted you to know.”
Date Lab is a popular feature of the Washington Post, where Silver was a features reporter who also ran the Date Lab. She played matchmaker for two people who filled out applications and who agreed to share details of their blind date for readers. Before the pandemic, Silver had been the first and only employee of the Post to apply for and go on a Date Lab date – something of a conflict of interest that somehow escaped public criticism. She met a law student named Louis Guidry, who had dreams of becoming a judge in his hometown of New Orleans. During the worst of the shutdown in Washington DC, Louis moved into Silver’s apartment in Logan Square. After they were engaged to be married, Louis and Silver were judged by readers to be the most successful pairing in Date Lab history. However, the wedding was called off when Silver slowly came to the realization that the demands of being married to someone with Louis’ ambitions would require her to take on too many the attributes of The Good Wife. She valued her independence too much.
“I’m not going to be drawn into this drama, am I?” Hopper said.
“No, nothing like that,” Silver answered. “We’re going to have one woman matched with three men for a single date,” she continued. “And I am going to be that woman.”
“This sounds like one of those game shows from the seventies,” Hopper laughed. “I kind of like the nostalgia angle.”
“And please don’t blow your stack,” she said, “one of the men is going to be Lenny.”
“Lenny the musician?” Hopper asked. He was referring to a rising singer/songwriter out of Portland, Oregon. One reviewer of his debut album wrote, “Lenny reminds the listener to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but with more of a loser vibe.”
“Yes, that Lenny.”
“Your old college boyfriend Lenny who knocked you up?”
“Yes, that Lenny.”
Hopper now understood why Silver was telling him about the Date Lab experiment involving Lenny. She was warning him off trying to intervene. She had met Lenny while she was a student at Reed College. After she had the abortion, she and Lenny broke up. A few weeks later Lenny showed up at her apartment. He raped and beat Silver. She refused to press charges. When informed by his mother about Lenny’s attack, Hopper had flown across country to confront Lenny, the result being Lenny landing in the emergency room.
“He’s changed, Hopper,” Silver said. “You were something of a misfit when you were younger, too. And now you have grown up and your superpower is being responsible and dutiful.”
“Silver, I may have been awkward back then, but I was responsible and dutiful when I was still in the crib,” he said. “Any act of my younger self that would come back to haunt me occurred only when you and Olympia dragged me into your Daria dramas and cosplay.”
Silver was silent. Hopper thought he had hit a nerve. He didn’t hate his sister, not really, and he did not want to hurt her, either.
“If you want my advice about this Date Lab adventure, where you are going to put yourself out there again in such a public way,” he continued, measuring his words carefully, “I think you should find out if Olympia has any plans for the secret journals she has been keeping about you and your secrets.”
For years, Olympia had kept three journals. The famous journal focused on fictional accounts of the adventures of a young woman she named Astrid. Olympia’s mother, the noted novelist and screenwriter, read the journals and shared them with Reese Witherspoon.
“The story about Astrid may be a lie,” Reese told reporter from Variety, “but it is a brilliant, well-told lie by a representative of the new feminist literary wave.”
Reese produced the movie, adapted for the screen by Olympia’s mother: “The Astrid Journals” was set to premiere in Los Angeles that evening.
The second journal was based on secrets Olympia and Silver shared with each other once a year to which no one else was privy: the co-called Tilley-Blandin Sisters Secret File.
Olympia kept a third journal, focused only on Silver. To the best of Hopper’s knowledge, no one had read the journal about Silver. He feared that its contents could irreparably harm one or both of his sisters.
“You and I may not agree on many things, Silver,” Hopper said, “but I think we can agree that Olympia has ambitions. Very real and ruthless ambitions that she kept on lid on for years while she played schoolteacher after Chasen Whitney broke her heart.”
“He’s called Blazes now,” Silver interrupted.
“Yes, of course,” Hopper responded. “Getting back to Olympia. To our sister’s way of thinking, the Astrid project is just an appetizer for bigger and better things to come. Do you know if she and our mother are going to turn one or both of those other journals into a movie, too?”
“Every time I call Olympia, I get connected to that Chlöe girl,” Silver responded. “Olympia has stopped returning my phone calls.
Continue to Chapter 13 here.