Fun with the Vatican
By Rose Simpson
When I first started in journalism, I worked nights for three years; my regular shift started at seven p.m. and ended at three a.m. On Friday nights, I toiled on the graveyard, from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.
These were horrible hours for a 22-year-old who almost decided to go to Western instead of Carleton because the parties were better. Quite often, I would meet some of my newsie friends for a few beers before going into work, because nothing much happened on this shift save the odd fire or cop incident. Often, I found myself sitting in the police station with a favorite staff sergeant who would show me the rap sheets he had on prominent Ottawans, and their families.
While not always eventful, the night shift was fun because there was always someone mixing it up, or offing some relative or enemy. Mostly, people just did stupid stuff.
There were two incidents that I recall vividly from life on the graveyeard shift. The first involved a police raid at the Chaudiere night club. A photog and I arrived on the scene to find smashed windows, and half-dressed under agers, bleeding from various orifices. One lucky fellow had a huge gash on his head inflicted by the nice officers of the SAQ who had smashed his head through a plate glass window. Female cops were strip searching girls in the bathroom, expertly performing body cavity searches — if you can believe it — using the same glove for everbody.
There was no love on this glove. And what rainbow DNA they must have uncovered!
The funniest thing about the whole raid was that the cops showed up in a bus marked “Mystery Tour“, which I suppose was a term coined by a mirthful SWAT cop with an affinity for the Beatles. Better, I suppose than Love, Love Me Do.
The second great story – I have saved this one for last because it’s a gem — happened at the end of my 3 a.m., just as I was packing up to leave. I was pretty tired, and the night had been a complete bore, a mixture of school board meetings and cop rounds. Anyway, I was walking out the door when the bells went off in the copy room. As any newspaper vet can tell you, that was never a good sign.
As I was about to let the door hit me on the backside, I heared a familiar growl come up from the city desk.
“Simpson, get back here,” came the gravelly call from Jake Maclean, a crusty old dude and alcoholic who had lost his liver at the Toronto Telegram and was now drinking Moussy.
Shit, I thought. I had almost escaped.
When I got back to the newsroom, the guys were laughing and shaking their heads.
“What’s up?” I groaned.
“The Pope is dead.”
“Yes, I know that, he died like last month.”
“No, no. Not Pope Paul. Pope John Paul.”
For those too young to know this story, it went something like this. Pope Paul had died, and the Vatican did its usual thing, with the robes and the smoke and came up with a new Pope Dude who called himself Pope John Paul. This night, only a month later, JP collapsed and died, perhaps from the pressure of having to explain away all those kiddie diddling complaints.
My job? To contact the Archbishop of Ottawa to tell him the news.
I got the number for the Archbishop’s crib — remember that it’s now 4 a.m. — and it rang and rang. Finally, a groggy priest answered.
“Good morning, sir. Sorry to disturb. I have sad news. The Pope has died.”
“Of course, I know,” said the priest. “He died a month ago.”
“No, sir, sorry. The new Pope, John Paul has died.”
I could vaguely hear an muffled sigh, then chortle on the other end, a puzzle given the circumstance. Was a late night call to the Archbishop a regular occurrance? Were some kids getting revenge on old priests by toilet papering churches?
“Sir, I’m calling from the Ottawa Journal. We would like to get a reaction from the Archbishop.”
“I’m sorry,” said the priest. “I can’t help you. I can only wake up the Archbishop in an emergency.”
“With due respect, if the death of the Pope isn’t an emergency in the Catholic Church, I’m not sure what is”
With that, the priest hung up.
I took away two observations from my time on nights. One, nothing good every happens between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The Catholic Church has always had a strange concept of priorities.