The remains of a seagull have been found in the chimney of my friend Awful O’Meara, according to a source close to the Vatican.

I have not heard from the third Seagull of the Apocalypse for some time, and this might be why. We await the results of the autopsy, however. Meanwhile, we have to admit the presence of the ex-gull may be why the wrong color smoke has been seen.

Speaking of smoke, I am told we now have a pope called Frank. Who the “we” is I am not quite sure. I don’t have a pope, for example. But others do.

For those who do have a new pope it will be clear that he is well placed to understand the subtle linguistic different between a pope and a potato, which I referred to a few weeks ago. After all, he is the new potato.

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I mean to say that he is the new pope.

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Years ago I quite seriously dated a Catholic woman, so seriously in fact that we got engaged. (It was a narrow escape for her, and we managed to avoid getting married or anything like that.)

Among our several conversations, I once asked her what modern Catholic women think of the popish ban on birth control. She spoke about the day that a priest came to talk to the girls about all that stuff at parochial school. After he had delivered his pronouncement on the subject, many of the girls decided pretty much that they knew more about it than a priest, and decided that the ban was a bad idea they had no intention of observing.

I thought that sounded reasonable.

Stories do get better over time and we did have this conversation about 30 years ago, but I do believe I have preserved the essence of it. If not, I am sure she will tell me so.

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It would seem plain that if the official Catholic church is ever going to improve itself, then the motivation to do so will not come from a pope or any other such thing. It will almost certainly have to come from out in the field. It’s already true. One knows far better Catholics on the street, as it were.

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Staying with the other topical subject, the hideous road conditions in the Lime City, my neighbor L says our sad streets remind her of the roads she saw in Eastern Germany shortly after reunification.

A community that cannot provide decent roads for itself is like a depressed human being who has given up the effort of trying to dress well, and has begun to dress in rags because he no longer cares or has the ability to care.

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S was visiting the YMCA in a town called Rockport the other day, and had an encounter she had there with the forces of magic.

(I believe Rockport is a community slightly east of here, and once through a bank of swirling snow and gathering gloom I think I caught a glimpse of it far across the harbor. But I will never be certain it was not some illusion caused by exhaustion.)

Anyway, as S proceeded through the YMCA a small boy aged about 7 or 8 accosted her and asked if she would like to see some magic. She said yes, and he told her it would cost 25 cents.

Whoever he is, he was born to make his fortune, don’t you think?

S replied that she did not have a quarter on her, but he showed the trick anyway. It involved a wallet made of duct tape, and the disappearance of a pencil. She thanked him and said she will try to remember to bring a quarter with her next time, in the hope of meeting the pint-sized magician again and paying for her entertainment.

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Speaking of popes, B had an unusual experience that she related the other day. It involves John Paul I, who, according to a certain fount of all knowledge, was “born Albino Luciani, reigned as pope of the Catholic Church and as Sovereign of Vatican City from 26 August 1978 until his death 33 days later.”

He was certainly a short-lived pope. When he died, B was in a certain foreign country which did not have a lot of decent media. She read the news of this particular papal passing in the local paper, which for reasons unknown to modern scholarship had apparently decided to tell its readers that John Paul I had been poisoned.

She remained convinced that he had been poisoned until 2008. For some reason she looked up his story, Casting about earnestly for information about the poisoned pope. No such thing was found, of course, and it slowly dawned on her that she had been living under a strange delusion for 30 years.

The stranger truth is that if you Google “poisoned pope” you will find there are indeed people who think this pope was poisoned.

A group called Christian Assemblies International has a copy of a poisoned Pope John Paul I story on its website, for example. Someone has written a book suggesting he was poisoned by cardinals who were also Masons, because he was about to overturn the ban on birth control and investigate Vatican finances. At this point it starts to seem like some thriller by Dan Brown, of course.

For those who insist on having a case of the poisoned pope, here is the requisite smoking chimney (I mean smoking gun) from some online thing called The Pope Encyclopedia, written by some human hitherto unknown to me called Matthew Bunsen: “The first to receive this dubious honor was Pope John VIII, who in 882 was first poisoned and then clubbed to death by scheming court members.”

Who knows if a word of this is true? Not me.

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From about age 15, I lived for years under the strong impression that Bob Dylan was dead.

Don’t even ask.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at, or by watching for smoke.