Holiday tidings to the eleven or so people who regularly read this blog. 'Tis the season for sharing one of my fondest memories from my days as a catholic schoolboy.
Let me just get this out of the way: If there's a god and it's insecure, I'm definitely going to hell. Full disclosure: I was kicked out of catholic school after 1.5 tumultuous years of grade school shenanigans. Technically, I wasn't exactly booted, but at the end of fifth grade it was made clear that I wasn't exactly welcome back. Imagine, for a moment, just how terrible you have to be for a private school to no longer want your money. Then again, by the start of fifth grade, ten-year-old Noah had begun equating the church to a business that provides no services; I was a danger had to be eliminated.
In my defense, the Catholic school mentality isn't exactly known for produsing a lot of thought leaders. Like many religion-inspired organizations, there was a strong culture of, "because I say so" at play.
At first, I was a shy kid who silently absorbed the indoctrinations. However, as I grew bolder (or more asshole-ish, depending on perspective) I began openly mocking the more ridiculous ecumenical decrees made by our teachers. For example, our science teacher brought in - I shit you not - a picture of the sky that her uncle had taken and claimed she could see god's face in the clouds. Three minutes later, she was writing me up for detention for grabbing a ruler and proclaiming, "look - a hamburger!"
In fifth grade, several of my classmates and I found a cache of abandoned pornography in an illegal landfill located in the woods behind a friend's house. Lacking both good judgment and restraint (and having hit puberty only minutes earlier), I showed up at school with porn the following Monday. Kids being what they are, I quickly found myself in the principal's office, being berated by my Nancy Callahan, one of my esteemed teachers.
"What were you THINKING, Noah?" Nancy yelled, brandishing one of the pictures I'd been caught with. In it, a woman was jamming a red rose stem-first into her cooter as seductively as possible. "The human body is SACRED!" she reminded me, before pausing to take a drag from her cigarette. That's right - I was being lectured on the sanctity of the human temple by an unmarried catholic schoolteacher who'd averaged two packs a day through her entire pregnancy. Even as an adolescent, the irony wasn't lost on me. North Carolina circa 1990, everybody.
My parents were called. They never punished me. Later, they didn't put up much of a fight when I told them it was time for me to return to public schools.
There were other incidents - a priest kicked me for trying to retrieve a wad of cash he'd deliberately dropped after telling us that money meant nothing to him. The school once erroneously told my parents I was suicidal after an arts and crafts project went awry.
But i digress; these are not the stories I wish to share from my time at St. Francis of Assissi, because I am not the star of this post. Amazingly, I was only the second-worst kid in the organization. The winner was a dude we'll call Roger. Rog was a pretty cool dude, but he had no chill whatsoever. He was the guy with obvious problems at home who dealt with things by regularly blowing past the line that the regular kids flirt with but never cross. Yeah, that was Roger. I assume his parents thought that catholic school would break him and teach him discipline. Instead of that happening, Roger reminded us that some broncos can never be tamed.
Roger on a bad day was the stuff of grade school legend. I once saw Roger knock a fist-sized hole in the door of a bathroom stall, then proceeded to take a piss directly into said aperture. This was a cheap, hollow-core door made of faux-wood; with nowhere to run, the urine was slowly absorbed into the door material. When the school refused to replace it - ostensibly to punish us but in reality because it was a slowly dying institution - the bathroom was forever perfumed with eau de Roger.
Roger's greatest accomplishment came in god's actual headquarters, oddly enough. One Friday a month, we were marched over to the church that the school was affiliated with for mass. It was a soporific exercise; we sat listlessly while the priest did the weird singy-talk thing that catholics are so fond of. Occasionally, they'd call for a hymn and we'd invariably be caught flat-footed. Unable to find the lyrics in the hymnal, I'd improvise words to the tune, usually the theme song from G.I. Joes or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but occasionally something a little more curse-filled if I was feeling particularly slighted.
On the occasion in question, it was the holidays, probably the last churching of the year before christmas break. To commemorate the birth of Jesus, the powers that be decided that the students would be compelled to participate in a canned food drive. Each of us was ordered to bring at least two canned goods in to donate. The plan was for us, as dutiful wards of the church, to make a great show of placing the food in a donation box during the mass, so everyone who had time to go to church at eleven AM on a Friday morning knew just how much the students really cared about our community.
In any event, I either forgot or didn't care enough to bother bringing anything. No matter; one of the more experienced teachers had accounted for my apathy; I was issued a can of creamed corn, one of two brought by a more responsible classmate who was miffed at having her largesse disseminated.
Roger had also forgotten to bring anything. He was issued a very large can of sweet potatoes. Jokingly, I offered to switch with him on the basis of liking yams more than corn. Roger declined. During this exchange, I noted he had the crazy look in his eye.
At some point in the service, we were called upon to make our offering. A line of kids formed and, under the escort of our teachers, we traipsed up and mindlessly deposited our foodstuffs into a cardboard box. Three people back of me, Roger had other ideas. As he approached the bin, he took one look at the yams and decided that a donation wasn't in the cards. Can still in hand, Roger executed a U-turn and headed for his pew.
Our teacher, Wanda Cribbs, was most definitely not OK with Roger calling an audible. She closed on him like an NFL linebacker, hissing at him to get back up there and deposit his can. Roger ignored her and Cribbs, despite the imminent resumption of a fairly packed church service in bible country, made the decision to escalate things.
Roger was scrappy, but he was also a fourth grader weighing maybe 80 pounds. Cribbs was a stout southern belle who went two hundred, easy. It was a physical mismatch, to say the least. So was David vs. Goliath.
The first obvious inclination that a scene was in the making occurred when Roger yelled out. "Stop it! What are you doing? Let go of me!"
Cribbs had seized him by the arm and was trying to drag him back towards the alter. "Get back up there right. now!" Cribbs threatened, her eyes blazing. Roger went limp, sagging to the floor like a nonviolent protestor. Lacking the strength to move him, Wanda did the next best thing - she went for the can.
Words gave way to primal grunts of effort as the contest became physical. Wanda had seized the upper half of the can, but Roger still had a kung fu grip on the bottom.
I think the most inconsequential (and funniest) human conflicts are created by the collision of two individuals who are both willing to go to the mat over an issue of absolutely zero importance. This was one of those times.
Turned out Wanda did have the strength to move Roger. The entire student population of the school, as well as anyone with nothing better to do than go to a midday service at a podunk church in eastern North Carolina, was treated to the sight of our teacher dragging Roger down the aisle by a can of yams. Roger was screaming "NONONONO!!!" like a machine while Cribbs nearly drowned out his protestations with a combination of screamed threats and unintelligibly gutteral utterances mixed with the heavy breathing common in the morbidly obese. You could see this meant a lot to both of them.
It ended as violently as it began - with a final jerk that rippled through her meaty triceps, Cribbs wrested the can from Roger and tossed it unceremoniously into the box. Roger then surprised us all by leaping to his feet and retrieving the same contested can from the donation box, resulting in a rapid recommencement of the tussle. The second act of the savage ballet played out similarly to the first, with the larger adult subduing Roger and wrestling him back to his seat in what was essentially a headlock. Roger was full-on nuts at this point and, in the moment, came up with a decent defense of verbal jiu-jitsu. He opened up his mouth and screamed, "STOP TOUCHING MY DINGLE! DON'T TOUCH ME THERE!" at the top of his lungs.
Heads snapped around and the service ground to a halt as everyone peered into the church's gloom to spot the boy ostensibly being molested. Unfortunately, these events occurred pre-internet, in the days before the molestation tendencies of catholic officials were fully realized. Had they been, Roger might have used the ensuing hesitation to wrest free and have a third go at the canned goods box. As it was, Cribbs merely tightened her hammer lock until a second teacher - perhaps the smokey Ms. Callahan? - joined her. Together, the pair wrestled Roger out of the nave and we were left to a service that now seemed even more boring.
It has been many, many years since I've thought about those desperate, harried minutes in church and I still laugh thinking about it. From what I can tell, St. Francis is no more. Roger, on the other hand, lives what appears on Facebook to be a fun life. I hope he reads this and knows that, during one of his darkest days, he provided a ray of sunshine that stayed with me long after the religious shit washed off.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.