Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Earners, and Others

I think my all-time favorite Mafia movie scene is the bit in Donnie Briscoe where the underboss (sic?*)  is trying to sweat some collections out of the caporegimi while they rebuff him with a wall of excuses, evasions and promises.    You can sense the fear on both sides--not least from the underboss (is that Michael Madsen?), whose performance is a cosmic soup of wheedling, seduction, threats and fear.  That would be the fear he tries to instill in the capi, of course, but also the fear he fears for himself if the doesn't produce for his betters.  Little fish, as the poet says, have bigger fish to bite 'em

Meanwhile on the other side of the room we have Lefty Ruggiero --Al Pacino to you--who repeatedly slugs a parking meter with (if memory serves) a sledgehammer.  More than once, somebody from the negotiating table shouts something on the order of will you shut the f--- up?  To which Lefty respond with threats, excuses and evasions of his own.

And that, it occurred to me, is the Mafia. A bunch of not-very-effectual hoodlums in a not-very-remunerative business.  A brilliant insight, this?   I suppose not; I suppose in the post-Sopranos (and post Donnie Brisco) world, it's old stuff to recognize that the Mafia is old stuff.

Yet there still may be room to meditate on how easily one can generalize this model.  If you sell auto repair tools (I name no names), you spend half your life haggling with your customers to pay down some of their marker, and the other half haggling with your supervisor over how much of your commission you get to keep.  If you sell cosmetics (again, I name no names), part of your job is hustling customers and the other half, trying to line up subcontractors in an ever-expanding period.  If you broker anything, you find that everybody who ever lost a game of golf to the guy thinks he deserves a piece of your deal.  A taste, Tony Soprano would say.  I want a taste.

Or the  Catholic church.  It's also old stuff to mutter "Mafia" and "Catholic church" in the same breath when discussing, say, the machinations of the Vatican Bank.  But how often do we consider  the comparison at the level where parking meters are smashed open?

One person who does is the novelist J. F. Powers, in The Wheat that Springeth Green, the wry, bittersweet ("comic" is too strong) account of Father Joe Hackett, and his daily life as a suburban pastor--spirituality, politics,  and very far from least, the neverending task of raking in the bucks.  "A good earner," we can hear some distant subdeacon muttering.  Or, more sinister: "not a good earner."

I thought about Father Joe this morning when reflecting on the ongoing dustup between the Pope and the nuns.  How much of this, I wondered, is just a fight over money--recapturing some prize property, for example, or (perhaps more on point) getting the girls off the pension rolls?

I put the question to my friend Ignota--Ignota, Catholic born, who took to the hills a few years back as the world began to learn the awful truth about priestly child abuse.  Ignota takes a somewhat different view:

You mentioned it's probably all about money.  My feeling as well as others'  (the Pope and Cardinals and the other men in Black Dresses--how they love to float around in those dresses and their little red skull caps!!!! ) --we feel they just want to get off the topic of sexual abuse and dishonor the good work of the good nuns who in most cases just worked for their board and room in the rectories--cooking, laundry, house cleaning.  All for the love of God.  God bless these devoted and unappreciated women.
So, more about realpolitik than about more lucre.  But having spoken her piece about realpolitik then moves on to the question of money:

If they received any pay--so for certain it would have been little--I believe they were considered as Independent Contractors--as are the Priests.  At least that was the way the Priest compensation was treated when George was doing taxes after his retirement and had a couple of Priests whose taxes he did.  They had to pay both sides of FICA

I worked as a secretary for the regional catholic system when my three kids were in college all at the same time.  I worked for 2 1/2 years and learned so much.  We had several young school teacher nuns who wanted to earn money as their pay was so small.  Of course they had their housing provided for them by the parishes,  and all I had to do was send the convent a check for their food.
It's so long ago I don't even recall how much I sent for each nun living in that convent, but I do know that several got part time jobs, in order to provide clothing etc for them selves.  One who was very young and as one would call a "live wire"--was a bartender in one of our better local restaurants.  Of course patrons didn't know she was a nun.  Just Mary.  Another wonderful nun, who was a good friend of mine, got a job delivering records in a cart around at a local medical facility.  Others took care of children on weekends.  So sad they were treated so very badly, when the local priests drove around in good size expensive cars.  OH gosh I'll get off my SOAP BOX as I get so frustrated thinking about the unfairness within the church.
 Ignota signed off so she could go find out what the NCAA did to Penn State.  Hope she was satisfied.  Meanwhile I wonder whether the girls got to keep all their earnings, or whether the pastor got his taste. 

*Okay, I may have ranks wrong.  I make no claim to proficiency in the rankings of the Mafia.  Or the Catholic Church,.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

Donnie Brasco, fwiw.

That model is the Paterno/Pope-players/nuns form that allowed the boss to pull mid-six figures a year for letting boys get buggered in his showers while a departing player got booted off the team for accepting about $300 in clothing (a suit) from his agent after the season had ended.

I doubt she'll be satisfied; the penalties mean some more nuns will be punished, but nothing will happen to the football program that alumni won't pony up for.