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Two Thousand Passions
From The Westlake Village Collection.
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.
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
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
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
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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