I spent the better part of this afternoon in Southwest Florida looking at potential acquisitions, driving between towns and counties in this humid, deserted vacation spot, touring beaten-down apartment properties awaiting rescue (or something like it).
The maintenance supervisor from my Naples property came along and led me, after our work was done, on a tour of Ave Maria, aka "Tom's Square," the holy apostolic, virgin-birthed university/town, brainchild of Tom Monaghan, he of Domino's Pizza and Detroit and "Theological Renewal," in no particular order.
The town itself is nearly deserted, especially at this time of year. Recent reports attest to the troubles the university has endured, and when you see how hard it is to get to, and to fathom, you understand why.
As we drove down Pope John Paul II Boulevard and circled the mitre-shaped cathedral, my trusted employee and guide said, "Kinda gives ya the creeps, don't it?"
"You have no idea," I said. "Quick, give me your hat, so I can hide my horns."
One can almost taste Monahan's grand vision: a renewal of traditional Catholicism, born out of splendid isolation, in a place where devotion could set down deep roots, where God State University and the University of God could develop a chivalrous yet fierce rivalry, and where everyone was just as devoted, as fervent, as dogged and rooted in dogma as everyone else.
"Of course," I said to my traveling companion, "we Jews are to blame for all this. After all, who do you think the first Catholics were?"
And in a way, Ave Maria is a 21st-century shtetl, devoted to its own path and yet dependent, in some small way, on its distant neighbors.
My maintenance supervisor and I have determined that I will get a costume of Chasidic garb, and that he will take a picture of me, smiling and waving, at the entrance to John Paul II Avenue.