May 2, 2024

Michael Larrain’s “The Life of a Private Eye”

Michael Larrain’s “The Life of a Private Eye”

“You’ve made it,” says the narrator of the Firesign Theater’s “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him.” “You’ve made it. Welcome to Side Six.” This is Part 6, the last noirvelette about Michael’s nameless private eye. Thanks to all of you who have commented, so enthusiastically, about this series. It makes Michael and your Baristas so happy to know you’ve enjoyed it. And this last one you are sure to enjoy as well, as it takes place in the Hollywood film business. Its resonant irony will have you grinning and you will appreciate the identity mashups. So without a commercial break or a single coming attraction, we pull the curtain back and roll ’em with “The Pontiff & the Wiener-Monger.”

The Life of A Private Eye

A Noirvelette in Verse


Michael Larrain

Part 6: The Pontiff & the Wiener-Monger

Original illustrations by Katherine Willmore

The resemblance between the two men wasn’t all that strong,

but it got the job done. They were both rather short,

somewhat swarthy, a little pot-bellied, with dark wavy hair,

one head of which you might have called “glossy,”

but with the other you’d settle for “oily.”

One had a nose that inclined toward the Roman,

the others would, years ago, have been referred to as a “schnozz.”

But if they hadn’t looked the least alike, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Really, it was all about the conveyances, the conveyances and the hats.

Once either of them donned his hat, or climbed into his ride,

he was known to all. Universally known, you might even say.

Did one have a gleam in his eye and the other a scheme?

My belief is that each had both. But what is unquestionably true

is that they met accidentally in a luxurious men’s room at the Pantages Theater

in Hollywood, California, during the annual Academy Awards ceremonies.

It was a rest room worthy of one of the last great movie palaces:

high-ceilinged, marble-countered, an attendant proffering warm towels

and an assortment of designer colognes. The attendant’s name was Jake.

Jake Buchanan. Those of you old enough to remember Jack Buchanan

might guess that Jake was an out of work actor. He changed his last

name every few months in the hope of also changing his luck.

The gig at the Pantages was an ideal part-time job for him.

He looked smashing in the uniform he had designed for himself,

borrowing elements from those of a bellhop,

an RAF pilot and a dashing Captain of a cavalry.

The place was usually crawling with agents and producers

and a bevy of model/actresses trying to get close to them.

And, best of all, he didn’t have to wait tables. It even paid pretty well.

Of course, he wasn’t averse to picking up the

odd dollar by slipping information to me on the side.

I’d been working more and more cases in Tinseltown,

and it came in handy having an inside man.


It had seemed like a natural, an idea born in box-office heaven.

From the standpoint of the Vatican, it offered an opportunity

to reverse the godawful press that priests all over the world

had been receiving in the wake of their misdeeds.

What better way to re-establish the goodness and greatness

of Holy Mother Church than to align her with Articles of Faith,

the motion picture that had set a new record for most nominations:

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, both

supporting categories, cinematography, editing, costumes, makeup,

you name it. Even the big power ballad, “Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?”

swelling over the closing credits, was expected to cop a statuette.

From the studio’s standpoint, the idea of having the Pontiff

present the Best Picture award lent the night a degree of prestige

hitherto undreamt of. The studio heads could give their flacks a week off,

and instead of practicing their wolfish power-grins

in their shaving mirrors of a morning, they could prepare

expressions of humility, sanctimony, maybe even piety,

though that might be asking too much. Sure, there were other

nominees, but all were agreed that these lesser efforts were

only there to fill out the card. Everyone knew that the story

of the handsome young Irish priest (“I could have played the hell

out of that priest!” Jake told me later) who spurns the chance to

become a prince of the church, instead choosing to travel

throughout Latin America, exposing along the way

the systematic corruption and perversion that seethed

throughout the parishes, the priest whose devotion

to his calling was his sword, and who used it to battle all the way to

the top of the Catholic hierarchy and pull down the wicked among them.

In the movie, Rome capitulated! To survive the storm,

the churchmen confessed! They repented! And for a really wow finish,

in a special session of the College of Cardinals, the charismatic

young clergyman from the slums of Belfast became Pope Seamus!

I tell you it was boffo. I almost went to see it myself.

The furor over the picture was so great, that after an initial

circling of the wagons, the Vatican’s wisemen decided that

the shrewdest course was to about-face and get on board.

It helped that the current Pope was the most liberal in centuries.

Some dark voices from deep within the Curia even dared to call him radical.

In any case, he was a man of genuine conviction who

placed compassion above ambition. In his own quiet way,

he was something of a reformer. But like anyone who has

ascended to the Papal throne, he was also a gifted enough politician

to realize that were he to appear before such a huge audience and

congratulate the filmmakers on their bravery, pledging to stand

shoulder to shoulder with all those who would seek to return the church

to the paths of righteousness, that very church, so maligned at the moment,

would surely reap the benefits. And that’s how he came to be walking

the red carpet on that night of nights, ready to honor the front-runner.

You’d best believe he was the hottest interview in town.


As to the other fella, the one with the schnozz, he too had

traveled many a mile to be there on that glittering occasion.

Not so far as His Holiness, who had jetted in from the Eternal City,

but he’d motored to the movie capital of the world

from the north side of Chicago, and his means of transportation

was hailed by all who beheld him. Horns honked as he drove by,  

parents knew him even if their children did not. The kids just

reacted to his outrageous ride, a rippling air of merriment

attending his passage. This was a man who was going places.

It was really just another publicity stunt, albeit one with

lesser international repercussions. One of the underdogs in the

Best Picture sweepstakes (one might even call it an underwiener)

was a sweet little movie about the tribulations of a ballpark hot-dog vendor.

 It was called Get Your Red Hots! and had

developed a considerable cult following.

I did go to see that one. As the picture opens,

the vendor is scrambling for some way to increase his income,

that he might survive an enormous rent increase on the house

where he’s lived most of his life. In the eleventh hour,

(actually, the bottom of the ninth),

as he is serving a hot dog to a female fan,

the ball hit over the ivy-covered wall

(which is the last home run in the career of a hometown hero,

and sets a new club record) lands—SPLAT!—in the mustard-covered dog,

spattering it all over her silk blouse. The vendor is mortified.

He tries, comically, to wipe the mustard off the woman’s chest.

He offers to have the blouse dry-cleaned. In forty years on the job,

this has never happened to him before. As we are watching him,

the woman is looking over his shoulder at the Jumbotron

showing the jubilant batter rounding the bases and his

whole team surrounding him at home plate, giving him a Gatorade bath.

In split-screen, we see and hear the announcer talking about the

potential value of the ball as the cameras zoom in on the vendor.

At first, we suppose that the sale of the ball back to the team

will allow him to escape from his financial crisis.

But when approached by reps for the team and asked

to go with them to the clubhouse,

he meekly follows and offers to simply give the ball to the player.

He won’t take money, but accepts a free beer.

“These things cost eight bucks in the stands!” he says.

Then he is led onto the field where he is interviewed

by the interviewer babe, his first taste of celebrity.

All this attention is making his head swim.

He’s about to trudge off with his hot dog carrier

when a security guy asks if he wouldn’t mind making one more stop.

He is led high into the stands behind home plate,

all the way to the owner’s box. He is seated and offered champagne.

He declines but says he wouldn’t mind another beer.

The owner walks in and, of course, it’s the woman from the bleachers,

who has changed her blouse.

She explains that she likes to go out into the stands

every now and then and watch a game like a regular fan.

She asks if he really turned down the money.

He says, “Yeah, baseball has been good to me. It’s given me a life.


I might look like some poor schnook shlepping franks around.

But, hey, I come to the park every day and the fans are happy to see me.

I sell a good product, I’m out in the sunshine.

So maybe I’m not rich, but I make out all right.

I owe this game. And that guy played for us for eighteen years!

He could have walked, gone for free agency,

had one of those whatayacallits, opt-outs, put in his contract.

But no fucking way. He said one time he would play here for pizza.

He suited up every single day and had a kind word for everybody,

the rookies, the fans, even the opposing players.

You think I’m gonna take his money,

you’re talking to the wrong hot-dog vendor.”

The owner shows the vendor a tiny photo she keeps

in a heart-shaped locket worn around her neck.

I never take it off, she says.

We can see that the baby in the picture looks just like the vendor!

He is confounded. “Why does this baby look so much like me?” he says.

“I don’t have any kids. I never married.

I haven’t even had a girlfriend since high school,

and I caught her making out under the grandstands with the quarterback,

which, come to think of it, is probably why I gave my heart to baseball.”

“Wouldja just look at the schnozz on that kid!” he says.

Peering more closely, he sees that the picture is old and cracked.

He turns it over and we see, in close-up,

a date written on the back in faded ink: 1956.

“Say,” he says. “If that don’t beat all. That’s the year I was born.”

A light seems to dawn in his eye.

“At least, that’s what they told me, the sisters at the orphanage where I was raised.”

“Can I get you another beer?” asks the owner.

“And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to join you.

I’d also like to share a story with you.”

A staff member in a blazer brings two beers in tall,

old-fashioned conical beer glasses, then withdraws,

giving them the room. The owner looks like someone

who doesn’t know where to start. She takes nervous sips of her beer.

“When I was quite young,” she says,

“Not quite eighteen, I made a terrible mistake.

My father, who owned the team at that time,

and his father, who had been the team’s original owner,

were both staunch Catholics, and so of course,

were horrified by the idea of abortion.

The baby’s father—” she pauses and gulps a big draught of her beer,

Your father, was also a juvenile, and also protected by wealth and privilege.

His people, as well as my own were adamant

that I dare not have and keep a baby out of wedlock.

It would mean scandal and disgrace to both families.

They pressured me to give the baby up as though

I had no rights and no voice in the matter.

Finally, I gave in. I’ve regretted it my whole life.

It’s no good saying that I was a scared kid.

I had a mind of my own. I just didn’t know the best thing to do.

So I gave my baby up to a good, well-to-do but childless family,

friends of my parents. I was forbidden to have even the slightest contact.

It wasn’t until twenty years later that I learned

the family who had been raising my baby

perished in an automobile accident.

The baby was at home with a nanny,

and was subsequently sent to an orphanage.

By the time I was told all this by my father’s solicitor after

my dad passed away, it was impossible for me to

learn what had become of the—of you.

I have suffered, privately, two great waves of shame in my life.

The first came when I gave you up. I didn’t even put up a fight.

The second was when I was told that you hadn’t grown to manhood,

as I had been led to believe, in a good home

and given the chance for a good education . . ..”

She begins to crack under the strain of these revelations,

buffeted by nearly unendurable sorrow.

The vendor sees what this confession is costing her and says,

“Hey, the sisters were swell. It was OK.

Hell, I felt lucky to have all these fine ladies looking after me.

There were plenty of other kids. It was easy to make friends.

You didn’t know . . ..” He runs out of things to say.

Then, rather formally, this long-parted mother and

child shyly introduce themselves to one another.

She sniffs and dabs her eyes.

“Would you like to take a walk around?” she asks.

He nods. She shows him the entire stadium, the clubhouse,

the trainer’s room, the bullpens, the scoreboards, the tunnels,

the broadcast booth. They walk out onto the outfield grass,

crunch over the warning track, walk around the bases,

ending up at home plate. Neither of them has said a word.

Finally, he says, “Ya know, I’ve worked here for forty years,

and this is the first time I’ve ever come down out of the stands.

It’s all so beautiful.” She says, “I have to tell you

that the daily grind of running this team has worn me down.

I’m almost eighty now, and I think it’s time for me to rest.

God knows I owe you a lot of birthday and Christmas presents,

a whole lifetime’s worth. How would you feel about all those small presents

being smooshed together into one big one?

I’d like to give you the team,

now, rather than when I’m gone. What do you say?”

The vendor smiles and says,

“Well, I guess that would be OK, as long as I could

go into the bleachers and sell a few hot dogs every once in a while.”

Tearful fade-out, closing credits.

The schmaltz was so thick you could cut it with, well, with a schmaltz-cutter.

No one was more surprised than the producers when it snagged

a Best Picture nomination. They were, to put it mildly, unprepared.

One late night at an emergency brain-storming session

at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria in Old Town,

one of the many executive producers,

a woman who whose day job was as a dog-walker,

mentioned that her dad, now retired,

had been an executive for the Oscar Meyer firm.

How about if he were to contact the firm and at the same time they reached out

to the producers of the awards show in Hollywood, offering their boy’s services?

The paparazzi would go crazy when he pulled up in front

of the Pantages in the Wienermobile! Oscar goes to the Oscars!

It wouldn’t cost them much more than gas money, after all,

and it would be a taste of left coast glamor for the poor putz

currently making the rounds as Oscar to supermarket

openings and county fairs. Even if the odds were long on

their little movie taking home the prize, he could still

be a special guest presenter, he could hobnob with

Hollywood royalty and it would give the picture a boost.


But if you think the odds on Get Your Red Hots!

coming up roses were long, imagine how much

longer they’d have been on our two luminaries

bumping into one another in the gents as the show was winding down.

The only other fella present was my sometime tipster, Jake Buchanan,

who had been answering an intestinal urge

and retreated to the comfort of a stall.

Oscar had entered first, and when the Pope advised his

handlers of his own need, the bodyguard who should

have cleared out the restroom was momentarily

distracted by an actress in a backless gown and

failed in his duties. When His Holiness entered

this somewhat less than holy of holies to take

a Papal whizz, his retinue of Vatican-trained toughs

stationed outside to direct other patrons to other facilities

prevented anyone else from entering, giving

our two principals the room to themselves,

plus my man Jake sitting innocently

on the commode reading Variety.


He called me in the middle of the night in a panic,

insisting on a crash meeting. It couldn’t wait until morning.

He had matters to discuss, matters so urgent he had

been ready to shinny up the palm tree outside the  

second-story window of my home-office above

“Paradisiacs,” the little tiki bar and night club

at the funkier end of the Venice boardwalk.

When I saw that he hadn’t even changed out of his uniform,

I knew it had to be big-time breaking news.


He had considered trying to video the two with his phone

but quickly realized that shooting under the door would

only gain him footage of ankles and shoes.

Standing on the toilet lid and filming over the door

would put him at risk of being seen and expelled.

So he turned himself into a listening device, one of

such accuracy that he was able to reproduce the entire

episode with extraordinary fidelity for me after he

caught his breath and I made him a mai tai. He acted

out the scene for me, playing both the Pontiff and the

wiener-monger, changing voices, going from smooth to

gravelly, altering his posture and even his facial muscles.

 (though he hadn’t seen them, it turned out that

both of his impersonations were on the money).

In the process, I learned what a gifted actor he truly was.

I had thought him a good-looking wanna-be,

but this demonstration proved to me that he

took his craft seriously. He built the characters using

details which were mostly invented, but based on the voices

he was hearing, a performance I was honored to watch.


First voice: (North side accent)

Jake pretending to hold his dick in his hand and trying

to peer discretely over a partition. “Yeah, it’s a footlong!”

Second Voice (Italian accent) “Scuza mi. I was not how

you say, ‘checking outyour, your parti private. I was admiring

your hat. It has elan. I like it very much.”

Jake: to me: “I figure they’re standing at adjoining urinals,

and the first guy has looked over at the second guy.

I don’t know who these guys are yet. But I’m getting interested.

First Voice: “Say, I know you. Aren’t you the whichamacallit,

the Pope? I heard you speaking up on stage. You were good.

You ever think of quitting the religion racket and going into show biz?”

Jake, to me: “So now I know who one guy is.”

Second voice: “I do not think a mid-life career change is

in order. But I am saddened that the ceremonies are no longer

held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I wanted to compare

my hands to those of Marcello Mastroianni.

I saw you on the stage as well. You are the Wiener Man, No?”

Jake, to me: “Now I’ve I.D.’d both guys.”

Oscar: “Ya got me. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Pope.

I like your hat, too. You’re the only guy who gets one like that, right? Does it fit OK?”

Here Jake, as the Pope, glances around surreptitiously.

The Pope: “Yes, it was custom made. What the English

call a “bespoke” hat. Would you like to try it on?”

Oscar: “Why not? Let’s trade! You try mine on!

They got plenty of mirrors in here. Let’s see how we look”

Jake: to me, “So now they’re done pissing and they’re

switching hats and checking themselves out in the

big mirrors over the sink.” He goes back into character.

Oscar: “Not bad. Not bad at all. I’m feeling more,

whatayacallit? spiritchool already. All jazzed up,

like da holy ghost was haunting me or something.

You getting any kind of buzz, Pope”

Jake, as the Pope, seems amused. He peers into an imaginary mirror.

The Pope: “I believe a man with a hat such as this could sell many hot dogs.

This is correct, yes? Hot dogs?”

Oscar: (still staring admiringly at his own image in the mirror):

“Maybe you should give it a try. I could hand out those wafers and

you could sell some dogs. The kids would love you. That’s the best

part of the job. They’re so happy with so little. A frankfurter, some

ketchup, a warm bun. Who could ask for more?

You let ’em sit in the Wiener-mobile and they’re ecstatic!

And the mothers! My oh my. They all wanna ride the wiener.

Of course, you wouldn’t be in the market for that kind of action.

I understand what it’s like for you fellas.

I’ve knelt on a pew or two in my time.

Pardon me, Pope, but I gotta say, you look a little worn down.

Have you ever had what they call a vacation?”

The Pope: “You mean, time away from my vocation?

No. There are so many world leaders, so many supplicants,

common people requesting an audience. So much to do.

Bulls to write, encyclicals to draft, affairs of state on which to mediate.

The very idea is foreign to me.” But I could tell by the

look on Jake as the Pope’s face that the Pontiff was intrigued.

“It is a grave responsibility, the care of so many souls,”

continues His Holiness. “I confess to you, Weiner Man,

it is wearying, so very wearying. I have sometimes

allowed myself to wonder what it would be like to

wander, freely and anonymously, among my fellow men.

I do not enjoy being fussed over, yet I am fussed over

constantly. What can I do? What is the expression

you use, ‘It comes with the territory.’ The procession

of supplicants seems to stretch around the earth,

the connivers in the Church sharpen knives behind my back.

Like us all, I am a frail vessel, but I must not break.

Yet I would so enjoy a brief reprieve in which

I might think and breathe and walk and pray in privacy.”

Now the gleams in each of their eyes meet the gleam

in the other’s and the schemes do likewise.

“Pope,” says Jake as Oscar, “I got me an idea. And it’s a doozy.”

Here, Jake as the Pope’s eyes begin to glimmer with something

very like intoxication, inspired by the possibility of a getaway.

“Yes, my son?” says His Holiness,

practically aquiver with anticipation.

“You’re in Hollywood now, where nothing is as it seems,”

says Jake as Oscar, “and, more importantly,

you’re wearing a different hat.”

“An excellent hat,” says His Holiness, “Go on.”

“Well, my firm gave me and the Wienermobile the week off.

They have a whole fleet of those things and I’m on paid leave.

You and me, we’re about the same height, same weight,

same build, same coloring. Suppose we were to trade

more than hats? We trade our entire outfits. You climb into

my rig and I put on your duds. I’ve noticed that people

mostly see the hat, not the man under it. And if we were

to walk out that door and trade rides, too, who would

be the wiser? Your driver is waiting for you, right?

Well, so is mine. They’re the first ones we have to fool.

Before that, on the way out, it will all be flash cubes

and spotlights and chattering nitwits with microphones.

And after that, we’ll be on velvet.

We can be each other for a day, call it two. Whattaya say?”

As Jake switched back and forth, I could almost see

the laser-like beams of intelligence connecting the two,

this preposterous idea taking hold of the Pontiff.

He could feel it coming true, even as he began

to remove his clothing, so different than that

handed to him by the wiener-monger to put on.

“I can ride in the Wienermobile?” says the Pope, sounding about twelve.

“I can go wherever I want?”

“Sure,” said Jake, as Oscar, “You can go wherever you want,

do whatever you please. Here, you’ll need some money.

This ought to cover you for a few days.

And here are the keys to the Wienermobile.

The driver knows the way to the hotel.

It’s probably not as fancy as where you’re staying . . .

where are they putting you up, anyway?”

“A lodging house with a woman’s name, I think?”

says His Holiness. “I can’t remember.

They have nice towels, and wonderful bathrobes.”

“The Beverly Wilshire?” guesses Oscar.

“That’s it!” says the Pope. “You will like it.

And I think if you are the Pope, they will

give you a free bathrobe.”

“Where will you go, Pope?” asks Oscar.

“I think,” says His Holiness, “I will go to the beach. “


Jake stretched out in my hammock, exhausted.

It had been a demanding performance, one it

took me a long time to understand and fully appreciate.

From a pair of overheard voices, he had, in the course of a few minutes,

created a pair of characters I felt I had known personally,

complex, full-blooded people, two men who had won my sympathy.

He would sometime break character and address himself

directly to me, editorially or as a director. Then, with a

twist of his torso, he was once again either Oscar Mayer or the Pope.

For His Holiness, he became gentle, thoughtful, graceful of manner,

a good shepherd. He might smile, but it was not his way to burst out laughing.

When he listened, it was with the knuckle of his right index finger

pressing hard against his upper lip in concentration.

Oscar was borderline cocky, a strutter with broad gestures

and hard-won bravado who spoke out of the side of his mouth.

It was a performance worthy of many awards,

and I was the only person on earth who would ever see it.


“When I could tell they were gone,” said Jake, out of character now,

“I rushed out the door to catch up to the Pope. I mean, of course,

Oscar as the Pope. I figured that’s where the story was. I couldn’t tail

them both, so I had to make up my mind in a hurry.

Hardly any reporters trailed after Oscar—the Pope as Oscar, that is.

It’s a star’s town, and the Man from Rome was the bigger star,

meaning the man everyone took to be the Man from Rome.

The Pope (i.e., Oscar) wanted to go out on the town,

from one after-party to another, and, of course,

everyone was ready to admit and accommodate him.

The most beautiful and unattainable women in Hollywood

knelt to kiss his ring, holding the pose for photographers.

And I have to give Oscar credit, he didn’t break character.

Oh, he may have appreciated the acreage of cleavage spread before him,

but he didn’t, you know, drool or anything. The actual Pope

had told him he must limit his intake to sacramental wine,

which confused a number of wine waiters, who thought he

was saying ‘Sacramento wine,” and went hurrying off to

their cellars which are mainly stocked with French and Napa Valley vintages.”

“And speaking of the actual Pope, did he show up at any of the parties?”

“Only one. The last one. He sat in a quiet corner. He seemed content.

No one paid any attention to him, except for a few kids,

who must have been movie star’s children. They came up

to him and he made them balloon animals. I guess he found

the balloons in the Wienermobile. Who would have thought

that the head of the Church of Rome could make balloon animals?”

“Well, it’s a helluva story, and I loved your telling of it,” I said,

but why did you come here of all places to tell it?”

“I want to hire you,” he said. “Hire me? What the hell for?”

“To find the Pope. I went into the rest room—kind of ironical,

considering how the story began—and when I came out, he

was gone.” “Wait, do you mean Oscar, as the Pope, was gone,

or that the Pope, as Oscar, was gone?”

“Both. The Pontiff and the wiener-monger are both in the wind.”


“I charge three hundred dollars a day,” I said,

“Plus expenses. Can you afford to hire me?”

“For about half an hour.” He grinned.

“But I have a plan. Right now, apart from the principals,

you and I are the only people on earth who are aware of what’s going on.

We can follow the story as it’s writing itself.

I can start my book about it, right now, tonight, if I can flop in your hammock.

Then, in the morning, we can get on the case.

By the time the story has played out—in only two days—

I’ll be ready to wrap it up. Oscar will have returned to Chicago,

the Pontiff to Vatican City, and my manuscript will be sitting on

the desks of publishers in New York and producers here where

it all happened. It will be an exclusive! You’ll get your money

on the back end. More money than if you were paid

three hundred a day for the rest of your life. And you’ll get it all at once.

Think about it. The Pope is loose! He’s at large!

Who knows where he’ll go, what he’s doing out there.

Maybe he’s planning on quitting and becoming a beachcomber.

Maybe he’ll marry a super-model. It’s the story of a lifetime and it’s ours.”

Even though, like anyone who has ever lived in or on the fringes

of Hollywood, I reacted suspiciously to the phrase, “on the back end.”

How could I pass this up? Ever since my rookie year as a P.I.

I had longed to work a case that would allow me utter the phrase

“Jesuitical cunning.” This could be my only chance.

I hauled the Murphy bed down out of the wall.

“You’ll find paper and pens in my desk,” I said,

“And vodka in either of the mini-fridges holding it up. We leave at first light.”


If you live in a home office above a tiki bar,

it’s a good idea to have a dumbwaiter in the wall,

even better if you can send down for drinks and

nourishment. Best of all is if a dear friend is in

the kitchen on the morning shift, which is

really the end of the late shift. And so it came to pass

that our dawn strategy session took place

over bloody Marys and breakfast burritos.

“How hard can it be,” Jake asked,

“to tail a Wienermobile?” More or less

clear-headed, we were agreed that Oscar,

given the opportunity to move among

the anointed and exalted, would stick to

the official schedule as it had been laid out.

His pals back in Chi-town would never believe

a word of his tales of high living, of course,

but he could always swipe a few towels, maybe even a bathrobe.

His Holiness, on the other hand, might want to kick up

the Papal heels a little. Not that he would go diving into

the fleshpots and vice dens of Hollywood,

the better to learn of that it was his solemn duty to condemn.

That was not his way. He would just meander down paths,

gentle slopes that would, for him, be off the beaten track.

“He said he wanted to go to the beach?”

I asked Jake. “Is that right?” “Yes.”

“Well, we’re only a stoner’s throw from what

Gidget once called ‘that bitchin’ Pacific.’

Let’s grab a couple of Dodger towels

and see which way the waves are breaking.”


We hit every beach between Venice and Port Hueneme,

casually traipsing after His Holiness. His itinerary, which

must have been improvised, was nevertheless quite thorough.

The company had provided Oscar with a retro version of the original

Wienermobile, the one used by the dwarf, George Malchan, for many years.

The driver sat in front and Little Oscar, as George was known,

rode high in the back seated in a kind of turret,

from which vantage he could wave to crowds.

From high above his troubles, the Pope breathed

deeply of the good sea air, and consorted with the gulls.


At Venice Beach, he pulled skateboarders,

pick-up basketball game players, and volleyball enthusiasts.

In Santa Monica, he played a game of chess with a fisherman on the pier,

and delighted in riding a high-stepping pony on the carousel.

At Topanga Beach, the frolickers were free and easy canyon girls.

At Malibu, the young mothers were the spectacularly lovely,

bronzed and bikini-clad wives of A-list actors or movie execs.

A few of them were A-list actresses or their agents.

Most were walking advertisements for plastic surgeons.

Each and every one proved Oscar to be prophetic,

“Frankophiles” all, they insisted on taking selfies showing them

straddling the great pink stallion of sausages atop the Wienermobile.

What might be called a “redundancy of buns” was the inevitable result.

What might be called a “redundancy of buns” was the inevitable result.

At a karaoke bar up the road, His Holiness performed

a sing-along of the Oscar Mayer theme song:

“Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,

That is what I’d truly like to be.

Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener

Everyone would be in love with me.”*

and then segued into a crooning version of “That’s Amore.”

At Port Hueneme, serious surfers were plying their trade,

so I pulled my Ric Noe longboard out of the back of my woody,

and stuck it in the sand, striking a contemplative pose and staring out to sea.

I can stand on a board, though not if it’s actually in the water.

At every stop, kids flocked to see the man in the tall puffy hat

with the long funny car. His Holiness made sure that each received

an all-beef benediction, with condiments, and chips. He looked very happy.


Only once did the Pope wander away from the Wienermobile,

straying down to a series of tide pools,

where he rolled up the trousers of his Oscar Mayer outfit

and waded in, blessing starfish, crabs, clams, mussels,

sea anemone, plankton, whatever form of aquatic life caught his eye.

Jake and I trailed behind, he scribbling in his notebook and

snapping pictures of obliging women

with me holding my board and assessing the surf.

A girl of about seven dashed up to us and fell down, breathless.

“Oh, my god!” said Jake, “That’s Janey!”

“And who might Janey be when she’s at home?” I asked.

“She’s Laura’s daughter,” he whispered, failing to elaborate.

“You can’t have met Janey in the men’s room of the Pantages,”

I said. “How you happen to know her?”

He grinned, looking caught out and devil-may-care at the same time.

“You remember when I told you that I had lost the Pope when I

went to the restroom at the afterparty? Well, that wasn’t what you

would call ‘the whole truth.’ I went into the women’s room,

with the woman who had just won the Best Actress award

for her performance in Articles of Faith. She felt like celebrating.”

“Where was her date?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. She had taken her daughter

as her date to the Academy Awards. It was her publicist’s idea.

Everyone thought it was adorable. But the kid got bored and wandered off.”

“So Laura, she whom you accompanied to the ladies room,

is Laura Quilligan? And this is her daughter?”

“Yes,” he said, helping the girl to her feet. She wasn’t dressed for the beach.

On her feet were the kind of fancy, dress-up, black patent leather shoes

that used to be called “Mary Janes.” Maybe they still are.

Her dress had a black velvet bodice closed at the back with a gold chiffon

bow and a gold chiffon skirt that flared to her knees.

Just the thing for her first stroll down the red carpet.

Her golden hair, which had been wound down her back in a French braid,

had begun to come loose. The dress, though obviously new,

was dirty and torn, and her shiny shoes bore scuff marks.

She sat in the sand, crying, trembling, scared half out of her wits.

“Janey,” said Jake, kneeling down to her.

“Janey, it’s me, Jake, from last night.

Do you remember me? I helped your mom find the bathroom?”

She studied him for a moment through her tears, muttering

incomprehensibly. “What did she say?” I asked.

“She’s looking for the nice man who made a giraffe for her.”

“What’s she talking about? No man can make a giraffe.”

“She’s talking about the Pope. He made her a balloon giraffe

at the after-party. She’s lost it somewhere. She’s also lost her

mother and seems to have lost her way. Janey, where’s your mom?”

“The waiters took her.”

“Waiters? Wait. What? What waiters?”

“The ones at the party, with the trays.”

“How did you get here?”

“The actors took me.”

“What actors?”

The ones at the party!” she screamed. Jake was taken aback.

He stood to speak softly to me, turning away from Janey.

“This is fiendish, fiendish, I tell you. Downright diabolical.”

Jake has a habit of improvising in period dialogue when he’s excited.

“Unless I miss my guess, we’re up against a gang of out of work

actors posing as waiters, and out of work waiters posing as actors,

making them doubly difficult to look up in a law enforcement database.

They’ve managed to stage a double-kidnapping.”

This was my opening. “It’s a plan,” I said, “of Jesuitical cunning!”

“There he is!” cried Janey. “His hat blew off!”

She was pointing at His Holiness, whose Oscar Mayer hat

had been taken by the wind off the ocean. He was pursuing it in

the deliberate manner of one stepping through a tide pool.

Janey and Jake dashed around the pool and onto the wet sand

where she was able to snatch up the hat just before it could blow

out over the Pacific. His Holiness’s head was now covered by

a small white skullcap known formally as a “zucchetto,”

which he had been wearing under the toque.

When Janey returned the hat, he greeted her warmly,

taking both her hands in his. “Janey, my child,” said the Pontiff,

“Why are you not wearing a bathing costume?

You will get your lovely dress all wet, and your

mother will be unhappy with you? Is she here?”

“No,” said Janey, sobbing and choking. “And I can’t text her.

The actors took the SIM card out of my phone! They told me

that she was on location, shooting a movie in the Maldives.

But I’m on vacation. Why wouldn’t she take me with her?

And what’s a Maldive?” “Where are these actors?” asked Jake.

“They told me that I was in the same movie as my mom,

and that it would be coming to theaters near me soon.

They said my part of the movie was shooting here at the beach.

But I don’t even have a SAG card!” Janey shrieked.

“They tied me up and told me the director

was almost ready for my big scene.”

“So they’re here?”

“They were. I heard one of them tell the other

that they needed to get to the Beverly Wilshire.”

Jake turned to me and whispered,

“I think they mean to put the snatch on the Pope.”

“A triple-kidnapping?”

“That’s how I see it,” he said. “They probably put

the screws to Laura to give up the inside dope

on the Pope’s whereabouts in exchange for freeing Janey.

They could try holding Laura for ransom,

but the studio bosses would just milk it for publicity

and tell the kidnappers they’d get their money on the back end.

They didn’t dare grab His Holiness at the afterparty,

the security was too heavy.

But they’ll keep Laura until they

get their hands on him. Or maybe they only

took Laura so she would agree to read their screenplay,

but they still mean to grab the Pope and trade him to the Vatican for—”

He looked puzzled and then stunned as an incredible idea took hold of him.

“I think I know what they’re up to,’ he said.

Do you remember that fancy crown he wore at the

ceremonies when he presented the Best Picture Award?”

“Yes. It’s called a ‘triregnum,’ or a ‘tiara,’ or sometimes a

‘triple crown.’ It was last worn in 1963 by Pope Paul VI.

I guess His Holiness’s handlers figured if their man was

going Hollywood, he might as well look the part.

I only saw it on TV, but I was so impressed, I looked

it up. It’s solid gold, with silver embellishments

and encrusted with rubies and emeralds and sapphires.

It’s probably too heavy to wear any longer than a few minutes

on ceremonial occasions. I saw him hand it off to one of his

lackeys and put on the more familiar ‘miter,’ that triangular

headgear that he handed over to Oscar in the john.

“You think that’s their intention? To make off with the triple crown?

How could you fence such a thing?”

“You wouldn’t need to. The prospective buyers would find you.

Kidnapping the Pope himself would be too complicated and

too risky. But this triregnabob thing would be ideal: unique,

portable and invaluable.” Hard to believe that Jake was

a men’s room attendant. “We need to get Janey to safety,” I said,

“and to protect His Holiness. I’d like you to make a few calls.”

Within moments, I was in the face of Oscar’s regular driver.

“Orders from headquarters!” I snarled.

“You’re needed back in Chi-town.

A rumble over contaminated ingredients.

Your tickets will be waiting at LAX.

There’s no time to lose! Good god, man, lives are at stake!”

I seemed to have picked up Jake’s habit of

speaking in cheesy film noir dialogue.


There are few cooler jobs in the world

than that of a shamus, but I reckon

being the wheel man of a Wienermobile

packing the Pope is surely one of them,

as long as I didn’t have to parallel park.

If the actors had no further use for Janey,

we reasoned that they had gotten what they

wanted from her mother, i.e. the supposed

Pope’s location, which would be the

Beverly Wilshire Hotel. But they wouldn’t

let go of Laura until they had their man.

They could be at the hotel already.

Had they tumbled to the fact that the guy who’d

been fingered as the Pontiff was actually

Oscar Mayer, who was actually a guy

named Vinnie Moskowitz? If so, there

was no telling how rough things might get.

We couldn’t hand over His Holiness,

and the Vatican wasn’t about to fork over the

triple-crown in exchange for some itinerant hot-dog peddler.

Oscar would be safe, as long as they thought he was the Pope.

There would be no escaping if they were to harm

so much as a hair on the Pontifical head.

Had they let Laura go, now that her role had wrapped?

No, they had to wait until they were out of the country,

otherwise she’d tip off the authorities and the

Beverly Wilshire would become the scene of a bloodbath.


Our best idea was to try to arrange a parlay

between the fake actors and waiters

and the one man who could produce the triple-crown.

But then Jake had a better one.

Now it was the Pope’s turn to work the phone.

I aimed the big dog at the corner

of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.


The “Acting Waiters Gang” as they were destined to become known,

had taken a suite on the top floor. Janey and Wolfgang Puck,

who maintained a restaurant in the hotel, were old friends.

She went streaking there for one of his celebrated PB&Js.

We left His Holiness and the Wienermobile in valet parking,

and Jake’s big scene called for a slightly delayed entrance.

So I was on my own, edging into the suite, to be met by

about a dozen black-suited and white-shirted waiters and actors.

Laura Quilligan, who had met the real Pope briefly on the red carpet—

and therefore knew that the gentleman with the prominent schnozz

was a counterfeit—looked ravishing in a forest green Versace gown,

as well as completely undaunted, despite being tied to a chair.

I was patted down and allowed to remove her gag.

Her first words were for her daughter.

“Is Janey all right?”

“Sure. Her phone is working again.”

She gave me the benefit of a radiant smile and said,

“His Holiness is resting comfortably and is in good spirits,”

signaling me that she hadn’t given away the switch.

“Well, he should be!” guffawed one of the waiters,

until one of the actors elbowed him in the ribs.

For a few tense minutes, we all stood there, on point and unspeaking.

All those waiters and no one even offered me coffee.

A gentle rapping on the door was followed by a familiar voice.

“Room service.” The head waiter looked at me and lifted his chin.

I opened the door and in rolled Jake in a uniform that looked brand new,

pushing a trolley loaded down with food and drink.

“Where shall I put this?” he asked, as though angling for a big tip.

“Right there is fine,” said the head waiter.

Then, to me: “Where’s the dingus?”

His Holiness had put together a downright Machiavellian conference call,

which included Vatican security and the heads of the Warner Brothers

props and special effects departments. He also called a number

Janey had been told to pass on. It belonged to a burner phone

which would be used once only and then tossed into a dumpster.

He had doubled the guard around the real triple crown,

and requested that a scrupulously accurate replica be crafted immediately.

“The poached salmon, perhaps?” said Jake, lifting the silvery dome

over a serving dish with a professional flourish and raising his other

hand to indicate the delicacy thus revealed, “Or, a ransom fit for . . .”

(pause for dramatic effect) “the apostolic successor to Saint Peter!”

Several breaths catching all at once was the ovation he’d been waiting for.

“We also have a delicious lavender crème brûlée,”

he added, wandering off-script just for the pure hell of it.

He needed to fool a roomful of fake waiters (some of them

probably actors who had played waiters) and fake actors

(some of whom were waiters who had waited on actors).

It might have been his most challenging role ever.

But he had underplayed masterfully, and now withdrew.


Had it been too easy? we asked ourselves later.

Had it gone a little too smoothly? They had stationed

a waiter—unless it was an actor—outside the door,

cut off the room phone, collected our cell phones

and instructed us to wait for an hour. Then we would

be free to go. I blamed myself. It should have occurred

to me that if they’d been serious, they would have taken

Laura out of the country to some land where no

extradition treaty had ever been signed with the US,

and not released her until a second ransom had been paid.

I’d been in this game a long time and should have known better.

What I couldn’t have known was that, shortly before

we had called on the burner phone, one of their number

had glimpsed Oscar, as the Pope, locked in a carnal

embrace with a chambermaid, proof enough of the

fraud that was being perpetrated. This was not the

bishop of Rome, this man who cried out

More cowbell!” upon reaching his sexual crisis.

One of them remembered Janey’s story

of the nice gentleman and the balloon giraffe.

Another recalled the quiet fellow in the corner at the afterparty.

Hadn’t he been making balloon animals for all the poor bored children?

If the man they had taken captive,

and who had in turn been captivated by the maid,

was not the Pope, then the balloon man,

who had been dressed as Oscar Mayer, almost certainly was.

Oscar had confessed to his peccadillo after we had all trooped victoriously

down to valet parking only to find the Wienermobile uninhabited.

We had lost the Servant of the servants of God.


The second burner phone hadn’t been hard to find.

Nestled into a warm bun, it rested on the steering

wheel of the Wienermobile. I replaced it with a dog

from the steamer and sat down to eat and wait.

They must have had eyes on the Beverly Wilshire,

because it didn’t take more than a minute or two

for the voice of a waiter to slither into my ear.

He hadn’t called to recite the specials.

“I think you jokers know who we’ve got and what we want for him,”

he said without preamble. “And no more funny stuff,

or they’ll have to elect a new Pope.”

I didn’t think they would dare to make good on their threat.

But I couldn’t permit myself to put Janey’s friend in jeopardy.

“Where do you suggest we meet?” I asked.

“A member of our crew is currently holding a gun

to the head of the prop department at Warner Brothers,” he said.

“This time we mean to authenticate the dingus.”


Cutting over Coldwater Canyon to the Warner Brothers lot

on Hollywood Way in Burbank, with Oscar following in the Popemobile,

I lost him at a light. I didn’t know whether the Papal jalopy had GPS,

but he was a savvy guy and bound to find his way.

I managed to locate the studio, and blundered around

looking for the screening room where we’d planned to meet.

Suddenly, as though I were tootling around the streets of Rome,

the Popemobile rocketed around a corner and came hurtling at me.

Perhaps it was a prop Popemobile? If I’d been a stunt driver,

the collision might have been avoided. If there had

been cameras turning, the footage would have made for a great trailer.

But on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, there wasn’t even

anyone to witness it. In Oscar’s own words, here’s what happened:

“My driver, a union guy, was on his lunch break.

So I decided to slide behind the wheel myself.

That Popemobile, kind of a cross between a Fiat

and a Jeep? is a dream to drive, got all kinds of extras,

sort of a James Bond golf cart.

I’m tooling around the lot looking for the screening room

and I think I see it, so I slow down, right? Just then, this dame

dressed like a whatayacallit? saloon girl, a hooker with antique undies,

she waves me down and asks for a lift. I figure her for a bit player

working on a western, and she figures me for some character

actor playing the Pope. But I let her hop on and ask her where

she’s headed. Turns out she was raised Catholic and has always

had a fantasy about . . . you know, getting it on, with the Pope.

I’ve still got the fancy staff, the ‘crosier’ he calls it, and she

closes her fingers around it and starts moving her hand up and

down to give me the idea. So, one thing leads to another and

I guess I took my eye off the road for a minute. Next thing I

know, I’m in a wreck that definitely belongs in a movie.”

The Wienermobile had escaped with only minor damage—

a few dings, a few dents, a dragging tailpipe.

But the Popemobile was seriously crunched.


An older woman with an aristocratic profile, a glorious head of pinned-up blonde hair and an air of

great authority, came out of the credit union office, made sure no one was hurt, told us she would call

the tow trucks and directed us to the screening room.

Jake seemed to be on good terms with every secretary in town.

Knowing that the kidnappers, who had to wait for the item to arrive,

would keep us waiting while they made sure there were no

FBI snipers positioned around the perimeter of Warner Brothers,

he had borrowed the burner phone and and placed a few calls before the accident.

Within a quarter of an hour, he had arranged a private showing

of a special double-feature to be held in a small screening room.

A phalanx of Acting Waiters, some hired muscle to accompany the triple crown,

Jake, Oscar, myself, the head of the prop department

and, assumedly, the Pope, were the only invitees.

One obvious problem remained. Once the identity of the P.I.

who had let the triple crown get away became known,

I would never work again. Lesser laughingstocks would come

from all over the world to sit at my feet and learn how to make

even greater fools of themselves. As I sat stewing in what

used to be called a slough of despond,

Oscar sat beside me to offer an apology.

It had all been so much fun, he said, a dream vacation.

And now, thanks to his horndog ways, we’d lost His Holiness, he’d

totaled the Popemobile and his insurance rates were sure to go up!

He looked more miserable than I felt. At least he’d kept his regalia

neat and clean. The miter and white cassock were spotless, his

ermine-trimmed cape unstained, and his fancy staff—what was it called?—

a crosier, that was it, hadn’t been bent, broken, or even chipped.

I found myself staring at it. Fashioned of copper overlaid with enamel,

and shaped like an ordinary shepherd’s crook,

it too had been out of use for decades until this Hollywood junket.

Perhaps it was the association of the word crook that gave me the idea.

“It may not be too late to redeem yourself,” I said to Oscar, confiding my plan.

One more phone call was all it would take.

He was only too happy to oblige.


It was my first viewing of Articles of Faith. Oscar hadn’t seen it either.

There was no snack bar, but he had grabbed the hot dog carrier

before Triple-A arrived, so we were set.

The story was of an Irish priest facing down

his duplicitous Bishop, who was trying to cover his tracks.

When Seamus gets too close, the Bishop sends him packing to an

ecumenical conference in Central America. But Seamus

slips his leash and escapes from his handlers so he can

investigate the favelas of Rio, the squalid conditions

of overcrowded families in Nicaragua and Guatemala,

and those living in the garbage dumps of Mexico City.

All over Latin America he roams, documenting crimes

committed by the clergy among the poorest of the poor,

gathering an army of followers along the way.

He becomes the Zorro of ecclesiastical reform,

a champion of the down-trodden, finally a folk hero.

It was engrossing enough, I guess, but it had “prestige picture”

written all over it, and was a little too tony for my taste.

Though I must admit that Laura Quilligan, in the role

of an activist Argentinian nun who renounces

her vows to become Prime Minister,

was impressive and almost convincing.

Jake had already seen the picture several times

(as well as being on intimate terms with the female lead),

but studied it closely, always ready to hone his craft.

Oscar fell asleep. He ducked out for a smoke just

before the opening credits of the second feature commenced.

Get Your Red Hots! had him riveted. By the time the closing

credits rolled, he was weeping openly and convulsed with sobs.

His Holiness chose that moment to sit between us, placing

one comforting hand on Oscar’s shoulder and the other on mine.

I, too, had apparently been moved to tears. He handed Oscar

the toque to wipe down his face, and gave us a benevolent smile.

As always, his concentration seemed to lay elsewhere, in the

next world perhaps. I never saw him alarmed, or even aware

that he was in danger. One of the muscle guys patted Jake and myself down roughly,

and even did a cursory job on Oscar, who was slumped in his seat,

still under the spell of the vendor’s story.

Then they covered the exits.

It was time for the deal to go down.

The lights came up and the head of the prop department

stepped forward to meet the waiter holding the triple crown.

It was the real thing, you could tell by its emanations.

Like Laura Quilligan, the crown had presence to burn.

The actual authentication took only a minute.

Satisfied that they now had their hands on the goods,

the Waiters and their gun thugs made ready to leave.

We weren’t even important enough to count as loose ends:

Why bother with a men’s room attendant,

a wiener purveyor and a low-rent gumshoe?

Besides, what could we tell the police? They all looked like waiters?

The Pope, as previously mentioned, was untouchable.

They had what they came for, and were already making

for the street when Oscar began to come out of his slouch.

Standing to his full height, he faced the black and white clothed brigands.

At only five-seven, he was nevertheless a towering figure.

“Hey fellas,” he said, “Goin’ somewhere?”

One waiter laughed and his laughter ran through the whole crew.

They stopped laughing when Oscar raised his crosier to his lips,

even as Gabriel his trumpet. In quick succession, one goon fell,

then in a fraction of an instant, so did the other.

All six of the Acting Waiters threw down on Oscar,

but none was fast enough to outdraw the wiener-monger.

As though an airborne virus targeting only serving persons

had been sprayed into the theater, all half dozen crumpled to the floor.

The Warner Brothers prop department, outraged by the abduction

of their chief (now cowering under the seats),

had been glad of the chance to help with his rescue.

Before the villains in the piece had arrived,

Oscar had gone out for more than a smoke.

They had not only created a splendid fake crosier,

but outfitted it with a mouthpiece hidden among the curlicues of its crook,

bored out the staff and rigged it to fire a veritable fusillade of sleep-inducing darts.

Only now were Oscar and His Holiness free to excuse themselves

and return to the same sort of room where our adventure had begun—

could it really have been only two days before?—

to exchange clothing for the second time.

We called the LAPD and Jake arranged for a studio limo to take us

to Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood for a few rounds of drinks.



I was relieved to have His Holiness back in safe hands.

He seemed genuinely glad of his time on the loose,

brief though it might have been.

A Venice street performer won temporary acclaim when he

transformed himself from a fire-eating sword-swallower

to a Pope who made copulating balloon animals for depraved tourists,

probably saving a fortune on throat lozenges.

Oscar was fired when a video of him, dressed as the Pontiff,

being pleasured by a woman of low morals

while careening around in the Popemobile was posted on YouTube.

And, of course, the maid from the Beverly Wilshire

had told her story to The Enquirer.

I thought he was the friggin’ Pope!” read the headline.

Fortunately, however, his sudden celebrity helped

him fill the vacancy at the Pantages Theater,

where he was now installed in Jake’s old job.

giving him plenty of free time to work on his screenplay called

“When the Beanie Met the Weenie. Hot Dogma!”

But of all the competing tell-alls and scenarios,

Jake’s book, bearing the more understated title of

The Pontiff and the Wiener-Monger”

was the first to make it to the screen.

He missed out on playing either of the male leads.

The producers told him that he was far too good-looking to

render a believable portrayal of Oscar Mayer or the Pope.

But he brightened considerably upon learning he’d been selected to play the P.I.

I told him privately that he wasn’t nearly good-looking enough,

but I was glad he had finally caught a break.

Curiously enough, while he was playing me,

Jake was being played by one of Laura’s ex-husbands,

who happened to be Janey’s father. It’s a rather incestuous town.

And though disconsolate at missing out on the Burbank end of things,

(I’ve never even been to the Valley!” she wailed),

the dear girl herself came roaring back when told that she and her mother would

play themselves in the movie. (“I got my SAG card! Yay! Best day ever!“)

The movie was no Get Your Red Hots!

but it was a lot of fun, and I was given a screenwriting

credit for tossing in a bunch of half-assed wisecracks.

What really made the picture, though, was the brilliant stroke

of casting Bill Murray as both Oscar Mayer and the Pope,

plus playing himself as a presenter, which, indeed, he had been,

on the night that the big switcheroo went down in the washroom.

My favorite part of the caper, though, was being allowed to accompany

His Holiness in the repaired Popemobile on the journey over Laurel Canyon

to the Burbank Airport. I sat beside him as we took the gentle curves,

and he waved his easygoing wave at whomsoever we saw.

The canyon folks waved back in their own quite mellow canyon way,

as they might have waved at anyone passing through.

I asked him where he had learned the words to the Oscar Mayer song:

“From American television,” he said,

“I used to watch it as a boy. That is also where I learned to make

balloon animals, from a man with the unlikely name of Soupy Sales.”

We spoke of women, the ones he had met and seen on his California sabbatical,

the ones I had known and would never get over.

He positively glowed from the sight of so many

resplendent ladies in my native land. It made me wonder:

Would a vow of celibacy lead a man to appreciate the beauty of women

more or less? For that matter, does a vow of celibacy differ all that much

from a chronic inability to get laid? These are questions best left

to theologians and other traffickers in idle speculation. Right now,

I had more cases being offered to me than I could possibly handle.

His Holiness was driving. It was not only his first time piloting the

Papal chariot, but the first time in his life he had been behind the wheel.

But it was too fine a day to worry about that or anything else,

unless a Wienermobile should come careening around the bend.

Such is the life of a private eye.


* “Oscar Mayer” (The Wiener Song) was written by Richard D. Trentlage in 1962 when J. Walter Thompson, the country’s largest advertising company, ran a contest to create a jingle that the Oscar Mayer Co. could use to advertise hot dogs. Trentlage, a Chicago ad man, won the contest. This credit line serves to acknowledge the presumed copyright owner, JWT Productions, Inc., which may or may not currently exist. Source:

Author’s Note

When I began The Life of a Private Eye, I had no idea it would grow into a series, or anything more than a single poem. As the material for part 2 was arriving, it took me a while to tumble to it being a sequel to part 1. As the series grew, eccentrically, each entry taking me completely by surprise, the pieces relaxed from poetic lines into what were clearly sentences which I allowed to lie on page in the manner of poems because I liked the way they looked. Various well-meaning associates recommended that I reconstruct them as prose pieces to avoid confusion, but I resisted. These were not short stories, they were highly compressed detective novels that felt unearthed from a vault of 1940’s gumshoe movies. A new form had developed, and I thought, apart from needing a name, I should leave it as it was. I toyed with different names, finally settling on the term “noirvelettes,” which struck me as an agreeable commingling of mystery stories and novellas. Anyone who wishes to borrow it is welcome to do so. ~ ML.

#michael larrain#Noirvelette#part 6#poetry#private eye
About theJack B. Rochester

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *