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  • This is a prelude to the second part of my story, coming soon, about our bonfire gathering.

    I mentioned Annie Correal's story, about staking out crime scenes as a reporter, to my parents; it reminded my father that my grandfather, the writer J. Alvin Kugelmass ("J" for "Joseph"), had once been assigned to do a story on the parishioners at St. Mary's Cathedral, in San Francisco. It was famous for holding the only mass that police officers and firefighters could attend before their shifts began; if it ran too long, they'd silently point at their watches to remind the priest to hurry up. J. Alvin was supposed to visit and observe the proceedings on Christmas Eve.

    He did not visit, or observe any proceedings, whatsoever. He wrote a sensitive, moving account of the entire event at 4 p.m. that day, including a paragraph on one young girl -- who had seen more than her share of suffering -- making impromptu and heartfelt prayers. (She gave no thought for herself, you see.) Then he went to the regular bar, where every San Jose newspaperman could be found, and began celebrating in anticipation of Christmas.

    I'm not saying J. Alvin had a regular seat at this bar. I'm saying that below the bar, in front of his seat, was a dedicated phone, in case an editor needed to reach him. In this case, as it happens, an editor did.

    "Where's the story?! Do you have the story ready?" asked J. Alvin's editor.

    "Do I have it! Why, man, it was turned in hours ago!"

    "Well, do you have all the latest details, then? ABOUT THE FIRE THAT BURNED THE ENTIRE CATHEDRAL TO THE GROUND?"


    This story became something of a legend. That's what I'm told, anyway. I believe it, too -- because while all of the particulars in the story are true, this story, about a fictitious write-up completed the afternoon before Christmas, is not. J. Alvin actually could not help improving upon a story about being forced to be honest.

    I found this out only today. St. Mary's Cathedral burned to the ground early on the night of Friday, September 7th, 1962.
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