A (not so) good Catholic boy...

I attended Roman Catholic grade (grammar) and high schools.  55 kids to a class, two classes each grade, 9 grades – our parents were pumping out a lot of good Catholics!  For all the negative stereotypical prejudices, the one thing I gotta credit them with is an excellent, indeed vastly superior education.  We ran rings around the public schools despite giant class sizes and meager, nearly entirely private funding. 


And maybe, just maybe this little ditty had something to do with it:


St. Augustine’s grammar school on Chili Ave., the early 1950s.  Every classroom had a piano and every num knew how to play quite well.  So they already had us reading music and singing from day one.  Eventually we got pretty good with both the Gregorian and modern notations.  The Gregorian chants were interesting.  The shape of the note head indicated the duration and the staff was one line shorter.  And nearly every ditty was in a somber, minor key.


One that sticks in my head is this minor key modern rendition:


Jesus Hanging on the Cross


Jesus hanging on the cross,

Tell me was it I?

There are great big teardrops, Lord,

Did I make you cry?

I have been a naughty boy/girl;

Naughty as can be.

Now I am so sorry Lord;

Won’t you pardon me?


Now understand, for a catholic child, these songs are fun - spooky and Halloweenish.  I expect that one and countless others were associated with Lent – that time of reflection when we lamented Christ’s suffering and our responsibility for its need.  We knew it would ultimately culminate with Easter, His resurrection and our salvation – and a long weekend with Easter baskets.  So Lent was tolerable and necessary.


Regarding the naughtiness, I must have been in the top few percent.  I know I was commonly held after school for one offense or another.  To this day I really can’t remember what I did wrong...something to do with noise, throwing, teasing, delinquency – the list of mortally naughty offenses was interminable.  Any one would rate a few hundred years torture in purgatory; the repeat offenses most likely the everlasting fires of hell.  So I’d go to confession every few weeks and enjoy that very brief interlude of guaranteed heaven, almost hoping to get run over by a drunk driver on the way to my next sin.  So he’d go to hell and I’d piously have the last laugh with just a bit of schadenfreude at the irony of his fate – my looking down my nose at him from the (also everlasting) bliss of heaven.


The suck-ups would stay after school and “clap the erasers” for the nuns.  It was one of many chores these sycophants would volunteer for.  They’d take those big felt pads outside and clap them together, letting the accumulated chalk dust blow down-wind to avoid their primped clothes.  Most of them went on to become politicians and executives.  Haven’t you often asked yourself, “How can that guy have such a big job when he can’t construct one structured sentence and has no visible talent?  Now we both understand how and why.


One offense I do remember.  I must have been throwing (yeah) erasers in class.  The beauty was if you hit someone (preferably a sycophant) it would leave a big white rectangle on them – so much for standing up-wind a$$hole.  The eagle-eyed nun caught me white-handed and told me (AKA “You bold piece!”) to stay after school yet again.  OK – I’m used to this.


After classes she yanks me to the side by the right ear.  Like all nuns she was right handed and I was trying to slither out – hence the right ear.  “So, master Dey – You like to throw erasers.  Take this one and start throwing!”  So I’m thinking this will actually be fun and dutifully start tossing it up in the air and catching it.  I play baseball a lot so this is easy and I make it a catch a hundred in a row without a miss.


About ten shots and I’m getting bored.  So with at the very least 90 to go I start to look for variety and challenge.  I notice the lights hanging from the high ceilings.  All schools had very high ceilings in those days.  So now I’m seeing just how close I can get to the lights without hitting them.  And then above the lights.  Finally one eraser makes a neat parabolic arch up and right down into the big glass bowl comprising the light.  Just like a cat jumping onto a counter I muse – and I can see the rectangular shadow on the bottom of the globe.  Cool – very cool!


So I grab another eraser and continue the game, neatly landing one eraser in each lamp.  Until there is only one left!  This one I evade the lights with least I get caught and accused of doing it on purpose.


“That’s enough – now go home and don’t do it again.”  “Yes sister.”


The next morning I arrive and get grabbed by the left ear.  Ohhhh yeah – the erasers... I look up and can still see the dark rectangles there subtle in the daylight.  The janitor is going to have a hell of a time getting up there with a tall stepladder and all the desks in the way.  This time it will probably be the principal’s office and maybe even a call to my parents.


Fast forward today.  I’m a Technical Fellow with a zillion patents and a wall full of awards and paid reasonably well.  The sycophants went on to become politicians and executives and are rich.  I still throw erasers; they don’t.  But my lips are clean and theirs are ... white.  I win.



© 2009 Thomas Dey - 6/8/09

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