Friday, February 3, 2012


A friend recently noted that I do not reveal a LOT about my "personal life" in a self-conscious way on my blogs. Rather, she told me, "you interject your own experiences as a kind of evidence in support of a view-point or a political point or a debating tally."

I had to concur. I recently talked about a particularly painful period in my adolescence--I was 12-13--when I was systematically and continually beaten and bullied by students, and ignored or further abused by the fucking nuns when I complained of it, in a Catholic school in suburban Cleveland. But I mentioned it just to illustrate a point, because I was explaining my empathy for Jessica Ahlquist, the atheist, 16-year-old girl whose complaint forced a Rhode Island PUBLIC school to remove a banner bearing a CATHOLIC prayer, and who was enduring obloquy and threats from fellow students, faculty and the community at large--an old, RC/Portuguese enclave incongruously named Cranston.

But, in fact I was the victim (it's hard NOT to use the word) of relentless physical abuse and attacks from 5th grade through my FIRST go at 9th grade, inclusive; from the autumn of 1956 through the spring of 1960. I was skipped 3rd to 5th by my inept, obsessive, 'exceptionalist'--"They fuck you up, your mum and dad..."-- parents, even though I had been bed ridden most of th receding year with first polio and then rheumatic fever--or maybe it was the other way around. Whereas I had been accepted and befriended by my age-mates, I was the injured bird among the 5th grade boys. And the 6th grade boys, and the 7th grade boys...These fucking incestuous, violent, grim, repressed and repressive sectarian/cult schools, run by bi-polar nuns and preyed upon (one now learns) by pederastic priests. Good times!

(I was an aspirant altar-boy for a while, but I never learned The (in those days Latin ("Confiteor Dei omnipotens?") )Mass sufficiently well to have been permitted to serve any, better-attended, services. I did a fair number of 615 a.m., Cleveland-mid-Winter, grandmother masses, then dropped out. I never achieved the absolute apogee of altar-boy attainment, which was to be selected to serve at Weddings.

Altar-boys who served weddings ALWAYS got tipped, really good money. Twenty, 25 bucks, easy. Each. And EACH ceremony. On a good Saturday at St. Mark's, circa 1955, there might be two or three weddings: Noon, 3, and 6 pm, in spring and summer... It was better money than shoveling lake-effect snow. Easier, too.
So they said.
I never got to do a wedding. Or a funeral, either. They also tipped altar-boys at funerals; and at baptismal masses. But if you worked the Bishop's visit, for Consecrations, there were no tips. It all went straight back to the Diocesan treasury. I've always believed the seminary-educated Mussolini modeled his Fascismo on the structures, both ideological and hierarchical, of the Roman Church.)

I was "large" but clumsy kid, and an easy mark. I was--per force--a loner among those older kids. I think now the illnesses short-circuited some essential step in my physical development, especially where agility and coordination was concerned. Though I loved sports, I was never very accomplished at any of them. I missed lay-ups. I struck-out with the bases loaded. I dropped easy passes. I muffed easy grounders. I don't do "routines" well at ALL. (That just reminded me I need to gobble my meds.)

I made it through Air Force boot camp in one try, in '64. That may be my crowning physical achievement. Even surfing, which I dearly loved: It took me a couple of WEEKS to "get" the trick of standing up. I was not EVER what you'd called "skilled," or "adept." At the TOP of my game, mostly I could avoid hurting others.

Now, with words, on the other hand...

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