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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Beach on Pope

Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit stirs memories of 1979 road trip
All of this hubbub over the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to America takes me back to a memorable Monday in October 1979 when I was blessed by another pope.
It now seems odd that I would choose to take the train to Boston on a day off to see Pope John Paul II. I am not a Catholic; I am an agnostic.
Nor was I assigned by the New Haven Register or any other publication to report on the event.
I think it came down to this: It was a happening, and I love Boston so much that I would use any excuse to go there. I also like riding in trains.
I wish I could dredge more details about that day. I do vividly remember the rain; everybody on Boston Common was drenched. The souvenir button I bought of the pope’s smiling face still has its original water stains.
According to the Boston Globe, more than 400,000 people jammed the Common for the city’s first and only papal visit. All of us standing there in the pouring rain were part of a gigantic communal Mass.
The area was chock-full of vendors. In addition to the papal button, I purchased a T-shirt that said: “I was blessed by the pope in Boston.”
I capped off the day by taking in a show by the punk band the Plasmatics. They were notorious for the ranting antics of their lead singer, Wendy O. Williams, and for stunts such as chain-sawing guitars, sledgehammering TV sets and blowing up cars, all on stage.
I can’t say I remember much about that show either, which was at the Oxford Ale House on Whitney Avenue. I think its space is now occupied by Gourmet Heaven.
Regardless of my memory lapses, I think I’m on solid ground stating I am the only person to see the pope and the Plasmatics on the same day.
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My column last week about another field trip or pilgrimage, to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, elicited several phone calls from conspiracy buffs. They insisted I am dead wrong in changing my long-held view and thinking Lee Harvey Oswald might have been the lone gunman in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In addition, Frank DePino of Hamden e-mailed me to say he believes it’s more than coincidence that dozens of witnesses to the event were “bought off and killed.” (Gerald Posner in his book “Case Closed” did address these “mysterious” deaths and laid them to rest, less mysteriously.)
Jeff Gordon of Orange, a site planner, said the fact that the motorcade was re-routed to go closer to the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald had his perch, makes him think there might have been a conspiracy.
I told Gordon I need far more than that to believe in a conspiracy.
John Seiffer of Milford wrote to recall his time living in Dallas and a group tour he took with a professor who had been a reporter on the scene Nov. 22, 1963.
As he led the group to sites such as the jail ramp where Jack Ruby shot Oswald, the professor said that through the years, many conspiracy buffs had shown him their “evidence.” But he continued to believe Oswald acted alone.
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Our besieged planet received a wonderful pre-Earth Day present last week from the New York Department of State when it rejected the proposed Broadwater floating liquefied natural gas plant on Long Island Sound.
Let’s hope the Broadwater executives give up the idea and don’t file an appeal. The people of Connecticut and New York don’t want this thing.
According to a Yahoo! survey, more than half of Americans have no idea that April 22 is Earth Day. Also, 44 percent don’t plan to do anything to acknowledge the day.
But Ikea, which has an outlet in New Haven, noted in a press release that 92 percent of its customers have stopped using plastic bags — because Ikea now charges 5 cents per bag. (Ikea will eliminate all plastic bags starting in October.) Clearly, this is the way to get Americans to curb their plastics addiction: Make ’em pay for it. Other stores should do the same.

Another follow-up: New Haven’s Daniel Smith, who has made many trips to Iraq to photograph the war’s impact on its people, reports he has been offered a media job in Baghdad and will move there soon.
More details to follow.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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