THE HIGH LIFE AND STARNGE TIMES OF THE POPE OF POT
June 13th, 1991
By Mike Sager
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
THERE'S A KNOCK at the door and Mickey the Pope, the Pope of Pot stubs out a joint and stashes it in a drawer. “Gotta go now, toots,” he rasps, smoke leaking from his chipmunk grin, and then he laughs, “Ah-ha-ha-HA!” and then he coughs, a deep black hack that shudders his shoulders. He swallows hard, wipes a tear, shrugs, smiles. A trickle of blood reddens the groove between his two front teeth.
Mickey hangs up the phone, writes a number in his little book with a green pen. His entries aren't alphabetical - more experiential, like life, taken in the order that comes, always in alternating colors. He likes things around him to be beautiful, the way God intended. He doses the book, puts a finger to his lips, concentrates. Something to do...What was it? ... Hmmm ...
Mickey pans the room, in search of a clue: a refrigerator, a stack of chairs, a poster of the Italian rock & roller he has taken off the street, a hot plate with one coil glowing, his desk, a pile of bills, a birthday card. Birthday! Today is Mickey the Pope’s birthday. He is forty-nine years old. Today is also the day before the winter solstice, the last shortening day on the calendar of seasons. This is significant somehow to Mickey the Pope, who's facing fifteen years in the slammer.
Since the bust, sales are down by more than half. Expenses, however, remain the same. It looks like Mickey will have to get a loan. He'll have to ask his little brother to cosign. His brother, of course, will insist that Mickey write something besides pope on the section marked EMPLOYMENT. He thinks Mickey is meshugge. He may be right. But the fact is, Mickey can't stop being pope just because he has no money. When you start your own church, take the top spot, register it with the City of New York, you make a lifetime commitment. You have responsibilities, toots: You have to tend the flock, buy and dispense sacrament, hire couriers -people you can trust. And then there is operations: two apartments, two offices, the church, the handouts to unfortunates, the food and the dental plan for employees, the telephone lines, 800-WANT-POT. Give the pope a call if you live in Manhattan. Leave your address, your first name, a description of yourself. Your pot will arrive by bicycle in forty minutes or less.
Mickey spies his papal miter, a high, white, John Paul crown, with underwires shaped to a peak, a nine-inch marijuana leaf pasted on the front lace trailing from the sides. He dons it, tying the polka-dot ribbon beneath his chin. He wears the miter for all public appearances. The May Day Smoke-In at Washington Square, the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, ACT-UP demonstrations at City Hall, Wigstock, in Tompkins Square - any occasion that requires his highcamp popely presence, any opportunity to stroll the streets, preach the gospel of marijuana and out free joints, the sacrament of his Church of Realized Fantasies.
Mickey the Pope swivels around in his chair, grinning, mouth agape, glasses glinting in the fluorescent light “Ah-ha-ha-HA!"
The door again. Knock, knock.
Oh, yeah. The door. It is made of metal. It is very heavy. Mickey shambles over and yanks. His arm boings like a rubber band. The door doesn't budge.
Mickey giggles, shrugs. What, me worry? Used to be Mickey weighed 300 pounds. He’s down a bit lately. A lot. He's a little weak. This diabetes shit. The bleeding gums, the fading eyesight. And all the time drink-and-piss, drink-and-piss, the other day he wet his pants. It was an accident. People have accidents. It'll be all right. The winter solstice is upon us, and the days will be longer, the world will be brighter. This is nature. We know this for a fact. Just as we know that when his church hits 1 million members, he'll have the best medical care available. Just as we know that when his case comes up, the jury will acquit. Some juror, the pope is sure, will know what he knows: that to follow an insane law is to be insane yourself.
Things may look bleak, but Mickey the Pope will find his way clear. He always has. He speaks with the voice and the authority of God. He'll tell you that himself. He also has experience on his side. Twenty years in the pot business, a dozen arrests, seven gunshot wounds, three years in jails, one deportation and all those men, toots, so many wonderful, beautiful men. The counselors at camp. The kids in his bunk. Ten percent of the crew of the U.S. Navy carrier Intrepid in the spring and summer of 1959. Two at once on public-access television, a salt-and-pepper team, the black one so big he could do it to himself if he wanted.
And then there was the guy in Amsterdam. He was hired to kill Mickey. As it was, Mickey was just wounded. Mickey was really fat then. The shot passed through the fleshy part of his right arms down into his belly and out again. What Mickey remembers is that oil oozed from the wounds. It looked like chicken fat, nice and bright and yellow. “I felt like an oil sheik," he says. "Ah-ha-ha-HA!"
In the end, the guy who tried to kill him in Amsterdam became another of the many and varied lovers of Mickey the Pope. Amsterdam, that was the place, those were the days. During the Seventies, Mickey the Pope was known in Amsterdam as Da Paus Maus. He was the No. 1 pot dealer in a city of heads, unloading nickels, dimes, lids, to the tune of seven kilos a day, selling out of a room in his five-story houseboat on the Amstel River, the front hatch of which was painted to resemble a giant pair of red lips. You had to come through the lips to meet the pope.
The knock again. Mickey the Pope pulls hard on the door.
Late December in the meatpacking district in New York, the sunlight leaning into the West Side afternoon. In a few hours the crack boys will stir and the curbs will be deep in transvestites, and effeminate men wearing leathers and lots of keys will come jangling down the block holding hands, headed for a basement club called the Hellfire. Now, though, things are almost serene on this corner of Thirteenth and Hudson, just in sight of the river. Mothers push strollers, delivery trucks come and go, old Irish ladies promenade - constitutionals taken daily since the boom days on the waterfront, when corners like Mickey's were given over to pubs.
The pope's place, his Church of Realized Fantasies, is painted yellow in its present incarnation, a bright beacon against dark slick streets and dirty brick. It's an old comic-book store - Dick Tracy painted on one side - with eight big windows, so good for his plants. Mickey the Pope loves plants.
Two men stand flat-footed outside the church. One wears a pompadour and a trench coat. He looks like a mobster. The other carries a pad. He looks like a balding Irish guy in a leather jacket trying to look like something other than a cop. The door swings open. "Michael Cezar?" asks the guy in the leather jacket.
"Howdy, honey, howdy!" rasps Mickey the Pope, beak nosed, red faced, wearing his marijuana bonnet. He giggles, raises his hands palms out - and rubs tiny circles in the air before him, the papal greeting.
"Internal Affairs" says the guy in the pompadour.
BACK NOW to August, earlier in the year. Across the Americas, from Bogota to Harlem, the drug war is raging. Though the government has proclaimed drug use on the slide, curbside dealers are trading briskly in cocaine, prices are down, supply stable, the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic-weapons fire rings across the ghettos like cash-register bells. Sales are also strong in heroin, an old drug making a resurgence as an antidote to crack. At first the police notice a sudden infusion of highgrade, lowprice H into the cities. Later it is revealed, but not widely reported, that most of the stuff is China White from Asia's Golden Triangle, moved into America by Triads, many of whose members have recently emigrated from Hong Kong. What fools the police is ingenuity: Chemists are processing different batches with different recipes out of the international heroin cookbook, making some of it look like Mexican, some like Lebanese.
Meanwhile, potheads across the mainland are mourning. It is the time of the drought, the great marijuana drought of 1990, the summer of scrounging, of smoking roaches and cleaning seeds and finally just giving up. Film at eleven shows bonfires of prime buds and old tires sending thick black smoke into the ecosystem. County sheriffs in camouflage fatigues stand around smiling, pitchforks or shotguns in hand. In the cities, the police and legislators launch a massive assault on head shops. Mail-order companies are also targeted. The police seize records, mailing lists, stock. It becomes impossible to buy a bong.
One fine summer day in the midst of all this, a New York radio personality named Howard Stern -the drive-time attitude idol of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd - is sitting at his desk at the station. He's paging through a New Jersey newspaper, looking for material for his talk show, when he spies an ad. He blinks in disbelief.
"Call 1-800-WANT POT."
The next morning. Live before 2 million listeners in three Eastern cities, Howard calls Mickey the Pope.
"Hey, dude!" Howard says. “You’re on the air!"
"Howdy, honey, howdy!" rasps Mickey. "I'm the pope. The church of Realized Fantasies."
"So what do you do, sell pot?"
'Oh... see...”says Mickey.
"We give out sacrament for those who need it."
“You don't think it causes any-"
"No," interrupts the pope. “It cures everything. Even AIDS."
"It gives you breasts,” blurts Howard. "How's your breasts?"
"My breath may stink a little. I didn't brush my teeth."
"No! Your breasts!"
"They're fine,” says the pope. "They get erect, I suppose."
"So," says Howard, changing the subject. “You make a lot of money doing this?"
"I'm living on the Upper East Side. I'm comfy. And I have a palace in New Jersey."
"Really? All from just dealing pot?"
"Well, from being the pope. A lot of people admire the pope."
They talk a while longer, then Howard says goodbye.
"You know," Howard says to his sidekick, Robin Quivers, "I had seen the number in the newspaper, and I thought, 'This is kinda cool.’ I mean, I don't think it's cool that he's a drug dealer, but it's kinda cool that he's getting away with it."
"It seems it would be pretty easy to catch him, wouldn't it?" says Robin. "You just call him up, make an order, he shows up, you book him."
"He ought to change his number to 1-800-ARREST-ME,” says Howard.
MICKEY THE POPE was born Michael Ellis Cezar, in New York City's Greenwich Village, the eldest child of a Jewish engineer and his wife, the daughter of a former postmaster general of Jamaica who was the scion of an English colonial family that had made a fortune mining bauxite. Mickey's father owned an electronics factory in Paterson, New Jersey, which built transformers for radar, the space program, nuclear-power plants. Mickey's little brother runs the factory today. One sister is a real-estate agent, the other, a ceramics teacher who lives in the family “palace," a large house in Morris Plains, New Jersey, which has been stripped of all its furnishings to pay the family bills.
Mickey dropped out of high school after his father went bankrupt. Starting over in a new plant, Mickey built tables for machines, hooked up the electric and the plumbing, did everything from filing and drilling to sweeping the floor. Later, after a stint in the navy, he feuded with his father, who in turn disinherited his son and committed him to a mental institution. Upon his release, Mickey fled to Europe.
One day in the early Seventies, Mickey took the fabled Magic Bus Tour of Amsterdam. When it stopped at the Lowlands Weed Company, says Mickey, I knew I’d found a home."
Lowlands Weed, it turned out, was owned by a bunch of Dutch Provos, anarchists who renounced the concept of work. They were known for their be-ins, demonstrations during which they sat around and did nothing but be themselves. The Provos also advocated the legalization of marijuana. They were the original potheads of Europe, the Continent's largest dealers. They would eventually place several of their number on Amsterdam's city council. Oddly, after achieving their political foothold, the Provos disbanded. It was probably the shock. Having won, these devout anarchists found themselves in charge of legislating societal order.
“They were a bunch of crazy people," says Mickey the Pope. "This one guy threw smoke bombs at the marriage of some Dutch aristocrat. He used to have sex with women and their kids. I'm telling the truth. I had people take shits on my floor. I had other people come in and eat it.
"In the beginning, they sold pot by the plant and seeds," the pope continues. “I convinced them to sell the smokable product. Buses would pull up and three-quarters of the passengers would flow into the shop to buy pot."
Soon, Da Paus Maus moved out of Lowlands and founded his own retail operation, selling out of a series of ever-larger houseboats. A port city, Amsterdam had an almost inexhaustible supply of drugs. Da Paus would get the list of ships from the harbor master, then go down to the docks at three in the morning. He'd fall into step with some sailors, say, "Howdy, toots!" and offer to share a joint.
"And then you'd go on board and there were tons of smoke pouring out of the ship," Mickey says. Everybody had the stuff. So I'd give them a good price and they'd throw it down on the dock, and then I'd drive out, waving to the customs guy. He knew everything. The whole government was in on it. I was once visited on my houseboat by some secretary of state. He said “Keep up the good work It's great for the tourists!'"
Amsterdam had always been known for its coffee bars and hashish, but the pope saw an opening and set about creating a market for marijuana. He kept long hours, stayed open seven days a week and sold at a tiny profit - even advertised in the yellow pages as "Hennep Producten." Pretty soon, says the pope, the Cosmos, the Milkyway, Paradiso, all the big clubs were selling Mickey's finest. “I was making, like, $20,000 a day,” remembers Mickey.
Mickey lived the good life for a while, spending the guilders as fast as they came in. A new boat, an old school to house his forty workers, medical and dental plans and always the handouts. Then Da Paus Maus was busted. After seven years in business, Mickey was kicked out of Holland.
Penniless, still estranged from his family, Mickey landed on New York's Lower East Side in 1979. He met up with some anarchists, moved into a little apartment at First Street and First Avenue and began selling loose joints. Soon he started his first telephone delivery service, 777-CASH.
And thus began the pope's delivery empire. He serviced UN diplomats, rock stars, whorehouses, nightclubs, night watchmen, magazine editors, hippies, yuppies and punks. For a time the pope had a diner. For a time he operated a storefront on First Street, selling bags brazenly to all corners. When that store was busted in 1981, the pope did eight months in Rikers Island Prison, whereupon he returned to the Lower East Side and started all over again, this time at Eleventh Street and Avenue B.
“People lined up outside to buy pot all day long,” says a longtime associate. "They were taking the money out in garbage bags, but the cops were so busy with all the heroin in the neighborhood they didn't really have time to fool with Mickey."
The mid-Eighties saw the pope battling the underworld. First came a Puerto Rican gang called the Hitmen Club. When Mickey refused to pay protection money, the gang members forced their way into his telephone center, holding the workers at bay with a .357 and a straight razor, taking $500. The next day they came back demanding $1000 a week from the pope. When Mickey refused, they ambushed him later on the street, shooting him six times with a .22. “He was so fat they didn't hit any vital organs," says the associate. “The ambulance guy didn't even believe Mickey had been shot until he opened up his coat and showed him the bullet holes."
Later the young sons of some Italian mobsters would try to muscle in on Mickey's operations. They cut the phone lines, waited outside to break Mickey's legs. Meanwhile, inside, Mickey the Pope was alone, in pain from a bowel obstruction, a complication from the Puerto Rican ambush. Weak, sick, determined, he held the fort for five days. In the end he was rescued by his father. ‘Well, I guess if you're dying, I can take you to the hospital' the old man said.
Over the years, Mickey estimates, he has presided over phone operations in more than forty different locations, always with modest success. Then came the summer of 1990, the drought. Nobody could find any pot except for Mickey. Business boomed.
Each morning, the bicycle couriers would meet at a secret location and check out stock for the day, four-gram bags of brown-green commercial Mexican, packaged in sealable glassine inside white paper envelopes. The couriers would hit the streets by 10:00 a.m. As calls came in, telephone operators would take down locations in logbooks and then beep the couriers, who would deliver the goods within forty minutes. Each bag cost the consumer $50. Delivery was $10 extra. At twenty-eight grams to the ounce, the pope's medium-grade pot was expensive, selling at about $350 a lid. But it was the only pot available. One hundred or 200 calls a day were not unusual.
By eight each evening, the couriers would check back in and pay up. No business was done after dark. That's when the real criminals were out, and couriers were often taken down by street thugs or fake cops with Chinatown shields. Mickey worried for his people. Usually, at night, the pope would gather around him a number of his flock and somebody would cook a big dinner. It was a happy family, mostly. And why not? The pope provided food, a dental plan, money to fix a broken bike. He gave out free pot, sometimes paid the medical bills of people he knew with AIDS. He'd even let you live in the telephone center or his extra apartment if you needed a place to squat. The police say Mickey was doing $40,000 a day. Mickey says he was probably making about half that much.
In any case, as quick as it came, it went. As Mickey says, "Money is like manure, toots, it's meant to be spread around."
Then, just as the church was hitting its stride, the New York police did exactly what Robin and Howard had suggested on their radio show. On September 22nd, 1990, the cops called the pope's 800 number. As guaranteed, a courier delivered. The police did the same again on October 12th and 26th. A few days later, during the massive Halloween parade held each year in the West Village, the pope gave a joint to an undercover cop. Handing it over - as he had to so many others that evening - Mickey giggled and declared: “I'm the Pope of Pot! If you want pot, call my number!"
That was it. The NYPD labeled Mickey the Pope a high priority. “There comes a time when you have to let people know that you are serious,” said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Sterling Johnson. “He defied the authorities. He threw down the gauntlet"
On November 14th, with the press in tow, the cops raided the Pope of Pot. It was, said the Village Voice, “a police operation worthy of America's Most Wanted." The bust made all the news shows the next day and all the papers, even the New York Times. The New York Post played it on the front page with the headline COPS NAB PHONE ‘POPE OF DOPE’. Police officials were quoted as saying that Mickey was taking 360 calls an hour on six telephones.
Mickey was brought out of his yellow church to a fusillade of flashbulbs and questions. Handcuffed, red faced, blood pressure roaring, the pope had time to rasp only a quick, “Howdy, honey, howdy,” before he was piled into a police car. Over in the shadows across the street, crack dealers and transvestites watched in amazement. They knew Mickey. On cold nights, he sometimes let them into the church to get warm. He gave out hot chocolate.
Then a cop in a suit, Assistant Chief John J. Hill, stepped forward into the klieg lights. His public statement: We seized here a total of five messengers, two people operating the phones and the pope himself. Also seized were seven pounds of marijuana.”
NIGHTTIME NOW at the Church of Realized Fantasies. In an hour or two the doors will open at a club called Mars, and a benefit will commence, a bailout throw-down for Mickey the Pope. Meantime, some of the inner circle have gathered to wait. They smoke joints, watch a video of the pope, eat spongecake, drink hot chocolate.
Soon after his arrest and release, Mickey was arrested again, this time for participating in an ACT-UP protest. Radical gays, demonstrating for a city-sponsored needle exchange for addicts, collected dirty syringes in a bucket. The pope was snatched when he attempted to turn the needles over to the police. Later he was arrested again for selling a half an ounce of pot to an undercover cop who came calling at the "palace" in New Jersey.
So it has gone. At the moment, the Pope of Pot is, to put it simply, destitute. All the change from the Mason jar in his apartment has been spent. He doesn't even have a subway token in his pocket. He has plenty of church currency - poker chips in various colors stamped in gold with his sickle and marijuana leaf insignia - but nobody wants it. MCI has cut off the 800 number; New York Tel is threatening his other accounts. Landlords are clamoring too. And, of course, there are the lawyers.
Hence the benefit, this gathering at Mickey's church. They are an odd bunch sitting on stackable plastic chairs, about two dozen of the 5000 that Mickey claims as followers, having crawled this night from the belly of an F train from the Lower East Side, descendants of Burroughs and Ginsberg and Huncke the Junkie, of Madonna, Andy Warhol and Kenny Scharf, the ever-changing members of the cult of near-fatal hipness that has thrived for so long in the East Village.
Quite a collection tonight. A guy in a Burberry raincoat, a silk tie, one eye stitched shut. A Russian Jew. A singer who is famous for looking like John Lennon. A man who looks like Charles Manson. A man named Mighty Man. One guy wears a black turban and little, square red plastic sunglasses. Another wears striped pants, a plaid coat; a Siberian fur hat. No one says a thing. Not a word. They sit, dumb, passing a joint.
Over in a corner, near the hot plate that heats the storefront, Mickey the Pope is being videoed as he watches the video of himself. An artist named Clayton has the minicam. He takes the thing everywhere, its red eye glowing, recording for a documentary what's been known for years in its many and varied forms as “the scene." Clayton made headlines in 1988 when he refused to surrender some footage to city authorities. His film showed cops, badges removed, beating homeless men and local residents with nightsticks during a riot in Tompkins Square Park. Clayton also has a storefront on the Lower East Side, on Essex below Houston, next to a kosher Chinese restaurant, in a Puerto Rican neighborhood known to Caucasian druggies from New Jersey as a good copping spot for Percodan. Clayton's mustache looks like two caterpillars inching along his lip line toward his nose. His goatee is long and thin like a Three Musketeers'. The hair along his two frontal lobes has been shaved. The rest hangs long in the back
To Clayton's left is Mickey the Pope, who is being pumped by a woman for information about a friend of hers named Danny Rakowitz. Rakowitz is a Lower East Side artist and short-order cook who was arrested for cutting up his girlfriend, cooking her into soup, serving the soup to the homeless, leaving her skull and bones in a five-gallon bucket filled with Kitty Litter in the baggage claim at the bus station.
Rakowitz's friend is a tiny black woman with ashen skin and a shock of nappy hair. Her leather jacket is decorated with skull buttons. She looks like a skull, all cheekbones and sunken eyes and this thick top lip that flies up and to the left with every third word, a dancing sneer, a sort of visual “Fuck you." She is sure her friend didn't kill Monica. She's been interviewing people for months, gathering evidence. There's a plot. She knows this. Everyone is involved.
“But Danny had no reason to kill Monica,” declares the skull lady.
“What's the difference?" asks the pope. “The girl saw the body in the bathtub."
“Doesn't that seem strange to you?"
"Of course it does."
“Why wasn't there any blood?" asks skull lady. “Where was the blood?"
"An awful lot of cleaning, dear” says the pope, lecturing. “Put her in the tub. Cut her up. Run the water, toots. Ah-ha-ha-HA!" He raises his palms, rubs tiny circles in the air before him. "The guy is crazy. He even had a sign on the door: SOUP KITCHEN. Everybody knew it."
“Well, why didn't anybody call the cops?"
“Why didn't anyone call the cops?" repeats the pope, begging the question. He snorts, giggles. "What do you expect? It's the Lower East Side."
ONLY IN NEW YORK, only on the Lower East Side, could somebody like the pope be the pope.
Three centuries ago, the Lower East Side was farmland and aboriginal hardwood forest and the Bowery - now the western edge of the district, changing to Third Avenue just north of Houston Street - was a trail, used by Native Americans in their sorties against the occupying Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Today, this jumble of factories, tenements and storefronts strewn from Astor Place to Alphabet City and from Fourteenth Street to Chinatown remains the wilds of Manhattan - a campground from which the natives, with their alternative lifestyles, still launch assaults on the tastes of the mainstream uptown.
The late 1800s on the Lower East Side saw the first flowering of the immigrants. Millions of Turks, Greeks, Italians, Poles, Germans, Ukrainians and Jews came through Ellis Island to the world's newest urban frontier. It was a dense ethnic
soup, the original American pepper pot - a world, according to a WPA guidebook, "of politicians, artists, gangsters, composers, prizefighters and labor leaders."
World War II, the Fifties, the early Sixties, saw new waves of immigration. Jews gave way to Puerto Ricans, winos to junkies. The Beat era was upon the East Village, a dark time of morphine, heroin and speed, of caffeine and marijuana, of bongos, berets, turtlenecks and homosexuality. Starting with writers William Burroughs and Herbert Huncke, poet Allen Ginsberg - continuing with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, the Merry Pranksters, hallucinogens, communal living, free love - a new kind of culture, expressed in the widest range of perverse and irreverent and starcrossed possibilities, grew in the shabby far reaches of the Lower East Side.
The Seventies saw the rise of the club and art scene. There were punk rockers, hip-hoppers, new wavers, performance artists, fashion designers and drag queens. The club of the moment was CBGB; the musicians were Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, the Ramones. Andy Warhol and his Factory were the spiritual center of the art world. Around him would revolve the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
"Although they sprang from varied backgrounds, the artists [who came to the area] shared a collective media-drenched consciousness, the heritage of the suburban teenager:” writes Steven Hager in his book about the East Village. “In the Sixties, this pampered upbringing was frequently a source of guilt, but in the Seventies, it was dissected and rearranged, and eventually regurgitated into new forms.”
In the last few years, with the fall of the economy and the rise of a new era of American Prohibition, the Lower East Side has hit hard and seamy times. “Every year it's been a different thing’” says Clayton, the video artist. “Some years it's been drag queens. Other years it's been skinheads, the police, squatters, homeless. This year seems to be, you know, there's a depression happening in the country, a lot of uncertainty. They're trying to close our fire department, that's big for us. There's Mickey's bust, the Rakowitz murder, AIDS, crack. It changes down here, but it never changes. A lot of these fuckin' people are geniuses. A lot of them are nuts."
"SO WHAT'S UP WITH THE TELEPHONE center,” asks the hippie. “Is it cool or not?"
“I don't know,” says Mickey the Pope.
“Well, we're only doing twenty deliveries a day, and that ain't shit!"
"Put me on PR!" chimes in Bartman. “Give me a minimum budget! Give me no budget!"
The pope eyes Bartman, shakes his head in sorrow. Bartman, Freddie Redpants, Larry the Libertarian ... Why can't he find some help? Why must he do everything himself? Here in the church, a few days before his birthday, Mickey the Pope is in ruins. The other night at the fundraiser at Mars, 700 people crowded all four floors. It was a raging success. There was so much support for the pope that you couldn't move across the room. Unfortunately, nobody at the benefit thought about collecting any money.
Mickey the Pope lost forty dollars.
So now he has gotten himself a new partner. Call him the hippie. He is bald on top with a fringe of shoulder-length hair, a gray beard cascading down his chest. He is hyper, creepy. He keeps looking all around him. Toward the windows. The back room. Under the papers on Mickey's desk. "So what about the phone center?" he asks again, picking up the trash can, checking the bottom, putting it back down. Is it cool?"
“Well, there wasn't a big investigation," interrupts Bartman. “They didn't freeze his bank accounts. It was just-"
“Baaaaaaart!" chides the pope.
"Listen, you little turd," says the hippie, eyes suddenly wild, finger in Bartman's nose. “What you gotta do is one thing. Meet Red each morning, pick up, work. No talking. Got it?"
“I've cut it back about twenty percent," says Bartman. “I’m definitely talking less. I’m gonna-"
"You're gonna do what you got to do!" hollers the hippie, puffing up, ballistic, a vein popping in his right temple. He zeros in on the hapless Bartman: “Look I got a lot going for me right now. I can't have some little pussy to fuck it up. If I'm gonna go to jail for conspiracy, I'll kill a fucker and go to jail for the same amount of time!"
"I'm with that!" says Bartman.
“You know what I'm sayin'?" asks the hippie.
“Fuck! I swear!"
“Now, now, boys, boys,” says the pope, batting his eyelashes, an aging coquette with a curly gray beard. “This is the sacrament we're talking about. Please... Respect. Ah-ha-ha-HA!"
THE POPE IS AT HOME NOW, HIS UPPER East Side studio, a second-floor walk-up. He's not feeling too well, lying shirtless on his unmade bed amid a clutter of plants and clothes and videos with titles like Hot Rocks II, his scars and his bullet wounds pink and ropy amid a forest of fine graying hairs.
Over in the kitchen, a friend of the pope's is scouring the oven. The sink is filled with dishes. A flesh-colored marital aid pokes up out of the soapsuds. The friend has just been released after twenty years in prison. He doesn't want his name mentioned, but he intimates that he had something to do with an art heist and a murder at a big museum in New York City. He met the pope in prison. All the Jewish guys in there knew each other. He looked out for the pope. They also took ceramics together. The pope is letting him crash in a basement apartment while he looks for a job in his old field, public relations.
It is time now for a papal audience. Why? the pope is asked. Why is he setting up business anew? Why is he letting a reporter see all this? Does he have to have an 800 number? Couldn't he just chill like the other eleven delivery services in Manhattan, do a thriving underground business? Perhaps Howard Stern is right. Is he begging to go to jail?
"I'm the bringer of wisdom and truth," explains Mickey the Pope. I'm doing what's right. I'm the kind of person, you're not gonna intimidate me. Marijuana is the saving plant. It should be legal. People want it that way. The voice of the people is the voice of God in a democracy. If you get enough people into it, the politicians have to listen. I think what we should do is, sort of set up our own society and do our own thing. Let all the others go do what they will. We're doing what's right and proper and screw 'em, our little group should live better than they do. We should win by example."
With that the tape recorder clicks off. The pope takes a long slow drink from a gallon jug of water, then grins, bats his lashes. “So how'd I do, toots?" he asks. “This is serious. I don't want to go to jail. I really don't want to go to jail."
NOW IT IS MICKEY THE POPE'S BIRTHDAY, the day before the winter solstice, the last shortening day on the calendar of the seasons. There's a knock at the church door, and Mickey opens up and finds two undercover cops. One wears a pompadour and a trench coat. The other carries a pad.
“Oh! Internal Affairs!" giggles Mickey the Pope, remembering the appointment he'd scheduled. “I called you, didn't I?"
“Yes, sir," says the cop with the pad. He regards Mickey for a moment, beak nosed, red faced, wearing his marijuana bonnet. Then the cop rolls his eyes to the heavens. Mind if we come in?"
"Of course, toots,” rasps the pope, bowing, gesturing, showing the guests to some chairs.
“So what happened?" asks the cop with the pad.
“Well, when I was busted, there was this big media thing, you know, and John J. Hill said there were seven pounds confiscated in the raid."
"John "John J. Hill?" asks the pad.
"Yeah, he's an assistant chief."
“Oh! Chief Hill!" exclaims the pompadour, leaning forward.
“He said there were seven pounds?" asks the pad.
“Right there on the news," says Mickey.
"Oh," says the pompadour.
“So how many pounds were there?" asks the pad.
"Close to five.”
“So, close to five pounds were taken into evidence by the police?"
"Right,” says the pope.
"So, what's the problem?" asks the pompadour.
“Well, I was only indicted for two and one half pounds.”
”So what's the problem?" asks the pad.
“See,” says the pope, grinning. "Two and one half pounds are missing! Cops shouldn't be stealing the evidence. I mean, I don't steal. I don't jump turnstiles, none of that shit. I really don't. I live the pure life. I don't take from nobody, and that's the truth."
“I see,” says the pompadour.
“The thing is, if the cops want pot, they should have to buy it like everyone else," says the pope. “If you're not gonna charge me for it, I want it back. After all, it's the sacrament. This is the church. The marijuana church. The Church of Realized Fantasies."