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Two Thousand Passions


Harry Buschman

From The Westlake Village Collection.

Christ, as portrayed by Hughie Webster, wears a plastic crown of thorns on his head and is wrapped in a white percale sheet taken from the communion table  in the vestry. He walks with Divine detachment all the way from the church lobby, through the rosewood doors of Our Lady of Perpetual Devotion to Railroad Avenue. Thence up the gentle slope of Westwood Avenue to the bus stop at the top of the hill.

It's a short walk but a solemn one, and he makes it last. Hughie's not a fast walker to begin with, and encumbered with his enormous fiberglass cross he makes every moment count. After all, there are fourteen stations to be done .... the Stations of the Cross, the people of Westlake Village will have their Passion on this Good Friday.

Father Stanley is beside himself. He must be there at the church to bless Hughie before he leaves and then out hustle him to the bus station at the top of the hill -- the hill we have named "Golgotha" for the occasion. So many things can go wrong! There is a traffic light at the corner of Westwood and Railroad Avenues. Should Jesus wait for the 'green', or will the centurions, Todd and Mark Buffalini, stand in the middle of the road with folded arms and declare the route sacrosanct? It can go either way. There are drivers on the road this time of day who will not let Jesus and his motley crew stand in their way. Todd and Mark are quick to anger and we must not have unpleasantness on this holy evening.

The annual Stations of the Cross festival, (all fourteen of them) occur at dusk on Good Friday. There is normally an absence of passion of any kind in Westlake Village, but what little we possess erupts with religious fervor during that Good Friday procession. My friend Seymour Slotnick has often remarked, "What is it with you people .... if he was the Messiah, would He put up with this meshugas? One day a year you pay Him attention, the rest of the time He begs at your back door." There isn't much point in arguing with Seymour; in chess and religion he has formidable credentials.

Notwithstanding, the Stations of the Cross, (all fourteen of them) are played out on Good Friday evening with great passion by our devout Catholics. Our more moderate Protestants are taciturn and inclined to watch such things on television.

As featured editorialist for the Westlake Village "Guardian," it is my journalistic duty to observe and comment objectively on the conduct of this most solemn occasion. I would not stoop to poke fun at our bargain basement reenactment of the Savior's agony, although the temptation to do so is overwhelming; it recalls some of the best moments of Saturday Night Live.

Witness the Buffalini brothers dressed as centurions and Florida Oregon as Mary Magdalene. But these anomalies, ludicrous as they may seem to a doubting Thomas, (I didn't recognize him in the crowd, by the way) would probably bring an understanding smile to the lips of the Holy Father. ("Forgive them, O Lord; they do as much as they can with the little they have.")

Yes, He did have to wait for the 'green.' Railroad Avenue, after all, is not the Via Dolorosa. There was one moment when Hughie Webster confronted Florida .... just after the first fall, when I thought we struck a spark. It was just about dusk and it seemed the sun lingered a moment longer, as though time had hiccuped, and paused just enough to make the moment memorable. But on the negative side, the Veronica station was not successful. Veronica's veil revealed the face of the Savior before she reached Him. This was followed by the second fall -- with one more to go. Some of us, unfamiliar with the fall count, wondered if Hughie was weakening and might not make it to the end, but the encounter with the women of Jerusalem seemed to spur him on.

Our Golgotha is the bus stop at the top of the hill on Westwood Avenue. From there the multitude can look out over the pitiful vista of Westlake Village. It is no Oberammergau, and similar to the town of Jerusalem only in that the hill is low, the town is run down, and the citizens are poor. There are probably other towns worthier to play the Passion.

Two other crosses are already up on the hill. They are symbolic, not large enough upon which to crucify a man. On the other hand, the fiberglass Cross that Hughie has dragged all the way from Our Lady of Perpetual Devotion seems unnecessarily large. If it were it made of wood, three or four men would have been required to carry it there. Hughie is tied to the cross, not nailed, and there is a small platform at its base for him to stand on.

After the descent, the cross will stand there on the crest of the hill until Sunday morning. Strangers driving through Westlake Village will pause and wonder what it's doing there. After the solemn ceremony of the Friday night Passion, the Cross is all that's left. The Buffalini centurion brothers (now out of uniform) are back in the Hollow Leg Saloon, and Christ himself, in the person of Hughie Webster, is on twenty four hour emergency call for the Long Island Lighting Company. The Cross will stand alone as it must have stood on that hill called Golgotha two thousand years ago after they took Him down. After church on Sunday it will be dismantled and put away until next year.

The procession has left many of us in a meditative state of mind. We have done all we can do, but we are honest enough to admit that our efforts to recreate the Passion has diminished it somewhat. There's no one to blame -- it's just that a great Passion is not so easy to reproduce. Our meager efforts only serve to remind us how miraculous a night it must have been.

It's not Hughie's fault either. Most of us know him well. He is a likable man, rarely intemperate, and faithful to his wife and children. But he's not a Christ-like figure. He is black haired and balding -- he has a rose tattoo on his left biceps. He wore black Nikes during the procession and only took them off when he arrived at the foot of the cross. But to be fair, none of us knew Christ at all. What sort of man was He? There are three plaster statues of Him at Our Lady; two with blond hair and one with brown. Two with black eyes and one with blue. There will always be racial and ethnic preferences in man's concept of the Almighty. We can't fault Todd and Mark for shouting at the traffic either .... they got our Savior safely across Railroad Avenue at the height of the evening rush hour.

The miracle of the Resurrection remains a mystery to the good people of Westlake Village, and now that it's over the mystery is deeper than it was before. It was a place far, far away and a time long, long ago.

Forgive us, O Lord; we do as much as we can with the little we have.

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