"NEWSDAY" February 3, 1999)
By Ed Lowe
Barely on time to deliver a singing telegram (which for business
identification purposes, he calls "Preppygrams"), Kerry
Prep was driving south on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway four
years ago, when what appeared to be a rolled-up carpet rolled
violently off the roof of the car traveling in front of him. That
car decelerated immediately and began easing toward the right
shoulder. Prep braked and followed, his mind only having begun
to sift through the information his senses had experienced and
to absorb, detail-by-detail, that the rolled-up carpet actually
might have been a man, and that the car in front of him had struck
the man, catapulting him over the roof of the car and onto the
pavement, probably killing him.
Prep slowed and then stopped his car behind the first car. He
absorbed the horror of the moment and dialed 911 on his cell phone.
As he was reporting the accident, he could see through the two
windshields that the driver of the car in front of him was holding
both hands to his head and rocking back and forth in what Prep
knew could only be profound anguish. Prep decided to get out and
inform the man that he had called the police, and maybe offer
whatever meager emotional support he could conjure.
As he drew nearer the car, Prep saw his own reflection in its
driver's side window and realized that he was dressed as a priest.
He had forgotten that. The birthday party at a fruit and vegetable
stand not five minutes away was for a young woman whose friends
had planned to make sport of her jubilant lifestyle by presenting
her with a singing telegram delivered by someone dressed as a
cleric, who would first discuss with her the need for moderation
in her pleasures and suggest that she pay some balancing attention
to the liturgies of her more innocent, younger days. The idea
was very amusing, until now.
Prep felt trapped. He could not turn back or hide, but he felt
he could not approach the man and launch into an explanation of
his own appearance as merely a party gag. He would have
to play the role for which his costume was designed. He glanced
again at the body of the man on the road and winced.
He could do this, he thought. He was, after all, a trained actor.
He had been acting in plays since ninth grade, when, as a Walt
Whitman High School student, he auditioned for and won a role
in a play at Holy Family Diocesan High School (now St. Anthony's)
across the street from where he was raised in South Huntington.
He had majored in theater at Adelphi University, played parts
in local and New York theater and in daytime television soap operas.
The son of an Irish Catholic and a Russian Jew, Prep had married
in the Episcopalian church, become a Buddhist for a while, and
finally joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in Huntington.
Now, he would play a priest in a real-life drama.
He knocked on the window of the car. When the driver rolled it
down, Prep gently placed a hand on the man's shoulder. He told
the driver to take it easy and said that he had already called
the police emergency number. "There's nothing more
that you can do," he said.
"He's dead, isn't he?" asked the disconsolate driver.
"Yes," said Prep, guessing correctly.
"Don't you think you should give him last rites?"
Prep swallowed. He nodded, patted the man's shoulder and walked
over to the body. He heard sirens from rapidly approaching
police and emergency vehicles. He fingered a religious medal that
he wore whenever he donned the priest costume. It actually had
been blessed by Pope Paul VI, which gave a vague legitimacy to
what fakery Prep was about to perpetuate. Prep had gotten the
medal in 1973 or '74, when, during an Easter recess, he had traveled
to Rome with his theater teacher and mentor, Charlie Clute and
a group of students from Holy Family High School.
He knelt over the lifeless man, who turned out to have been homeless,
and wished aloud that somebody as powerful and as merciful as
possible would take good care of his spirit. Worrying all the
while that the arriving police might arrest him for his impersonation,
he touched the medal to the man's forehead, and he made the sign
of the cross.
A police officer approached and asked Prep what had happened.
Prep said, "You'll want to talk to this man in the car in
front of mine. But, listen. Can I speak to you for a minute?"
The officer nodded.
"I have a confession to make", Prep said. The officer's
eyes widened, perhaps realizing the absurdity of this sudden role
reversal. "I'm not a priest." He could see the cop swallow
and stare at him with incredulity and confusion.
Prep quickly explained who he was. "The guy needed comforting,
" Prep said. "I don't know what you do in terms of last
rites for somebody, but whatever arrangements you usually
make, make them, because I'm not the real thing."
"Yeah?" the officer said. "Well, I think you did