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Al Martinez

'It's beyond average intellectuality. You wouldn't understand it.' : Poet in a Pizza Parlor

February 18, 1988|AL MARTINEZ

Good news. The tellosophical bishop of Pasadena, also known as Basil Tellou, has brought his presidential write-in campaign to the San Fernando Valley and has asked me to herald the glad tidings.

It's an honor I naturally accepted. You can't say no to a man who once played Jesus Christ on television.

Basil is quite obviously not your ordinary presidential candidate, which instantly speaks in his behalf. We are awash with the ordinary in 1988.

He is an actor, a poet, a mystic, a dancer, a psychologist, a vegetarian, an Oriental chanter and the creator of a new form of writing called cosmic composition.

He is not, thank God, a lawyer. Being an actor would be bad enough, but Basil insists he has renounced his theatrical career for spiritual reasons.

I believe that.

Basil, you see, is in favor of purity and opposed to impurity. That immediately places him above most of the other candidates, who have not even bothered to address the problem. A possible exception is Gary Hart, who has addressed it in his own way.

Once Basil becomes president, he will call for a plebiscite to make him king, at which time he will eliminate smog, crime and rock 'n' roll.

He will also neutralize the feminist movement because it is unholy and because women need men to guide them and to help them evolve.

So far, so good.

In addition, he promises free food, free housing, free clothing, free medical care and possibly free gasoline, but he will not discuss details of his plans until his Speech of Salvation, to be delivered sometime before the November election.

In fact, there were a good many things Basil wouldn't discuss, including his age, his height, his weight, his birthplace, his home address, his means of subsistence and his marital status.

"You don't need to know all that," he said grandly as we sat across from each other in a Burbank pizza parlor.

He was wearing a black, pin-striped suit, a clerical collar, dark glasses and a black raincoat thrown over his shoulders.

His hair and beard were also black, possibly dyed, and a cloud of Yardley's lavender cologne made him smell faintly of a summer garden.

"How can I interview you," I said, "if you won't answer any questions?"

"Interview me as though you were interviewing the Pope," Basil replied in a voice that rolled through the pizza parlor.

It was his Macbethian voice. Our waitress, who watched from a safe distance, fidgeted nervously.

"All right," I said, "you describe yourself as a mystic. What does that mean?"

"I don't want to get into that," Basil said. "You see this pendant?"

He pointed to a disc-like object that hung from a gold chain around his neck.

"I see it," I said. "What is it?"

"It deals with my mysticism. It's secret and I won't discuss it. Ask me about crime."

"Don't tell me what to ask you," I said testily. "Why do your call yourself bishop?"

"I was legally ordained by an international Christian church."

"What church?"

"That's not important. Just say I've transferred the title to my own Church of Tellosophy. Now ask about crime."

"All right, what about crime?"

Basil nodded somberly and referred to his notes which were spread out on the table between the bread rolls and a platter of cheese ravioli.

"I will eliminate crime by not allowing anyone on a subhuman level to have children," he said.

Silence.

"That's it?"

"That's all you need. If subhuman people can't have children, no crime. That's where you get your crime, from the subhuman kids of the subhuman parents."

"Who are the subhuman people?"

"That," Basil said, "will be determined by spiritual men with special powers to know." He waved me off with a sweeping gesture. "It's beyond average intellectuality, you wouldn't understand it."

Midway through the cheese ravioli, he announced that Rose Bird would probably be his running mate.

"The former chief justice of California?"

"I'm not certain yet," Basil said. "I wrote her a letter and she sent me a nice picture."

"She sent you a nice picture because she's a media star now," I said.

Basil shrugged. "I've asked Raymond Burr to be my campaign manager. He played St. Peter to my Jesus."

He showed me a photograph of himself as Christ. It was from a 1950ish television production called "The Triumphant Hour."

"Don't make fun of it," he warned. "I take Jesus very seriously."

He reached into a worn briefcase, brought out pages of poetry he had written and began reading:

"Become a cosmic swimmer," he intoned loudly.

The waitress, about to bring us more coffee, turned away. Basil read for several minutes. I recall the line, "Don't panic at the satanic!"

"That's really nice," I said when he had finished.

Basil leaned closer. "Be sure you mention," he said, "that I've been celibate for 25 years." He leaned back, smiling. "That makes sense, doesn't it?"

Indeed.

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