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I’d always been holy of sorts. No, not a holy roller or holier than thou. I learned the same things most did, and just put my own perspective into it. Natural curiosity may have pushed me towards directions of knowledge some may not have bothered with or had the balls to learn. For the longest time I wanted to be a priest. My Church, as a kid, was huge. With imported Italian marble everywhere. What wasn’t marble was either gold or velvet. The place actually looked like a palace to me. Fitting, as it was, to be the house of God.
That notion didn’t square with me after some time and reading. The teachings didn’t I was in the children’s choir, soprano actually until my balls dropped; and I was an altar boy. I played youth football, and generally led an average childhood. My parents loved me very much. My Dad I didn’t get to see much, but I didn’t like him much anyways. He was always scary to me. As a man today, he’s much shorter than I am. I’d say he’s about chest high on me. Knowing the things I know I could crack his jaw in a heartbeat, even when he was at the top of his game. His voice was what it was. It could get loud and vicious sounding. Scary.
I remember one particular night where I hid in the linen closet with the towels and the mothballs. He was drunk, fresh from a night at the Tam, and yelling at everyone. I didn’t want to be one of those targets, so I sat underneath the shelves with my knees to my chest sweating and shaking. As soon as he was cooled enough to allow people to think, they’d noticed I wasn’t around. And so it began.
The louder he got the more frantic and bloodcurdling his voice became. He was getting scared himself! I could hear them as he’d yell questions to my brothers.
“Where is he!?”
“I don’t know Dad I thought…”
Interrupted by the very unique sound of a face being slapped.
They eventually found me because I’d sneezed out the mothballs’ useful but ultimately terrible stench. Besides I was tired of my brothers being hit for me. So I suppose it was my turn once I bid adieu to the towels and the mothballs.
I swore like a sailor to my peers, and beat a few kids up at times. Riding the bus across the city from school to home I would flick random people off, ring the bell for the bus driver to stop when no one was getting off. He was obliged to stop, and my little ignorant self would take great pleasure to see his face in an attempt to locate who was the culprit.
During the winter we’d play football on the snow at the grassy park. When the busses would drive by we would peg them with snowballs. Always trying to nail the slightly open window. Which I did a few times. It was a perfect situation for a punk like me. Even if I did cause damage I would never know, even if I pissed the driver off badly he couldn’t stop quick enough to catch us. So, fuck ‘em right?
In regards to friends in my youth, I had a guy named A.J. He was a victim. He had a big head, and was the fattest kid around. Unless they were picking the goalie first for hockey AJ was always the last kid to get picked. He had a laugh that sounded congested, but he was the best friend I could ask for. He liked Harleys, guns, knives, war, cars, sports, video games… all sorts of Americana ran through his veins. His mom, Kathy, taught me how to ride a bike. My Dad was always working, and my Mom never learned because “girls weren‘t supposed to know how to ride bicycles. My Grandmother was off the boat Irish from County Cavan, which is farmland and borders Northern Ireland.
AJ used to get picked on a lot, and I would defend him a lot. I seem to remember there was once where I didn’t. I joined in on it. I do remember beating five kids’ asses because they wouldn’t leave him alone. My brother and his friend watched and laughed during the whole beat down session from across the street. I remember walking up the drive to their little group that had gathered. They probably assumed the safety in numbers bit, but not when I was coming with vengeance on my mind. There’s no such thing. I got the leader of the pack first, and blasted him in the nose. He was out for the count. I moved to the biggest kid. We tussled, and he had me in a headlock. I blackened his eye, and kneed him in the nuts. Out. Two others tried to climb the fence to get away. I managed to grab one down, and pummeled him as he was the main offender of my friend.
So I got a reputation as a mean ass ‘lil kid. In football I was fearless going into a tackle or running with the ball. I was skinny as a rail, with a mouth ten times too big for my body.
During school we would have music class where we would practice hymns for Church. Some of the devotionals sitting in the pews were in Italian. I pretended like I understood what they read, and laughed occasionally reading the words. It was probably a devotional for someone that had died. Yet, I laughed not knowing what the content was. I laugh regardless of the situation I suppose.
One particular instance I remember was being invited to two different birthday parties by two friends on the same day! It occurred to me considering which to go to, that I should make like I was sick and not go to either so I wouldn’t disappoint either friend. The choice was between Chuck E. Cheese with $20 dollars worth of free tokens, and a Guatemalan immigrants’ at his family’s tiny apartment.
I chose Chuck E. Cheeses.
My youth was fairly nondescript with the exception of my fascination with the female body. I saw art everywhere, and since most of it was in the Renaissance style, there were tits everywhere, big ass females with bellies hanging out. And of course, Olivia Newton John. My sister took me to see Xanadu. I remember nothing about the film itself, except that she was in it, and I adored her. Eventually, real life females came about, and I had my crushes. In fact, I hit a kid over the head with my book bag because he was flipping the skirt of a girl I liked. A little redhead named Amy in the first grade. I got in a TON of trouble as he immediately developed a massive egg on his head. The nun went through my bag and found a pool ball sitting on the bottom of it. For ten minutes I denied that anything was in there because I didn’t know there actually was.
When her hand touched the ball in the bag her stolid grey eyes fixed on mine. As she pulled the ball out, brandished it, and let it fall to the ground making the solid cracking sound of a pool ball on a cement floor five times. Yes I counted it. Her eyes never left mine. Even as she grasped my ear to throw me towards the door to the Principal’s office, I could feel her eyes burning into my head.
“I didn’t know SISTER!!!” by the time I hit the door my insistence on innocence paid off with a retort.
“Not knowing Alexander, is the same or worse than not caring.” Her eyes still burning at mine as she pointed to the crucifix.
“You see that!? Do you see that every lie you speak, every time you hurt your fellow man, every time you SIN, you drive the nails into HIS hands and into HIS feet HARDER!”
I did that? I drive nails into Jesus’ hands every time I lie? The thought had occurred to me to ask how, since I was at school to learn and had gotten a bit of new info there. I thought the better of asking at that moment. I had more pressing issues to deal with.
I left that school at the end of that year. Out of the frying pan and into the fire so to speak. I went to a Franciscan school after that. I just counted my blessings that it wasn’t a Jesuit one.
Nothing very traumatic happened in my childhood. There were no “bad touching” etc etc. That always cracked me up about people. The words they use to describe things. Such as toilet paper. Yes it is paper, and yes it goes in the toilet, but it’s not FOR the toilet. A hand towel dries one’s hands right? A hairbrush goes on the head, not the teeth.
I always tried to dispense with such things. Making my own names for things like bug spray became DIE BUG DIE, deodorant became pit white, toilet paper (again) became shit-tickets. There’s a whole slew of them.
I continued my education and my spiritual education during those years. I always begged my parents to send me to the public school so I could be with my friends and learn real life important things not just theory-crafting. They refused.
“One more year Alex”
I suppose they were content with doing their part in trying to create either a Doctor or a Priest.
This teasing became a mantra of sorts. Later on in life I had a Sergeant in the Marines that would always say,
“Five-hundred more yards Devil Dogs, five hundred.”
When those five hundred were past us, he’d say it again. He wasn’t lying, just making it easier on our minds to do what people shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
In those days I found solace in two places. My Church and the library. One offered hope, and the other offered answers. When the constant swoosh of cars going by toting people to their appointed places got old, or the stench of diesel trucks was too much, I would go to the library or the Church.
I used to volunteer a lot in my Church, just so I could be there. I have no clue why I was so relaxed in there.
Playing with my friends I was usually one of the first picked. I was the neighborhood tough guy. Not the bully. I didn’t take people’s lunch money, but I never backed down from a fight either.
But in the ultimate of ironies, we used to play war in the cemetery across the street from my home. We used to use the cannons on the soldier’s field as makeshift weaponry. Since my father never allowed us to have even a squirt gun I had to make due with borrowed guns, or hockey sticks. I’d tell my parents where I was going and with whom.
“Ma, Dad I’m going to the cem to play war with the guys.”
He would look up, and say,
“Why don’t you guys try to play peace?”
How could I tell a man such as he was that there was a natural anger in me? Not so much hatred, but a desire to dominate. And who the hell was he to speak of such things? I don’t think he understood completely how scary and intimidating he could be.
It occurred to me early on that the body I’d been given was built to kill. I’ve long eyelashes to protect my eyes from dust. I’m about as flexible as they come. The perfect example of this was when I was in the Marines and my company was doing an obstacle course. Usually every step is explained so that the warrior can move through at their own pace. This one wasn’t. You were given a diagram like the Olympic body models, and nothing else. I was always one of the fastest ones through anything so I went near to last in line. There was a build up of people at one particular obstacle.
It was a series of spinning horizontal poles twenty feet off the ground that went on for about thirty yards. No one could figure it out! From what I understood you had to get your body over then under, like a weave. I did it, quickly, and moved on. Amazing my superiors in the process, who were also trying to figure it out and be “Joe Marine” instead of an officer. I wasn’t really the strongest, but I was always a great combination of strength, speed, and agility.
I’d always had a tactical mind. Playing myself in chess or my older brothers. My grandfather used to bring over World War Two magazines, along with his dozen doughnuts from Dunks. I’d eat and pour over the magazines. Reading about Overlord or Gold Beach’s team one leader and his decisions under fire. Selflessness, sacrifice, and bravery. To compound my warped understanding of life and death, I fell in love with Morte D’Arthur. To me it was a world away that never actually happened. Hell, I get tired in a fistfight never mind having to wear actual plate armor and swing a thirty pound weapon repeatedly! But it did.
My empathy was developed, over developed according to some, from a very early time in my life. I could always put myself in others’ shoes and actually get to the point where I’d literally feel their pain.
A made for TV movie called “Shaka Zulu” came out when I was a kid. I’d watched the entire thing. The one scene I remember was when the British soldiers sent out scouts to mark their firing lines. There were two, one to hold the stake down, and one to hammer it in. As the two rounded the top of a hillock, the stake man knelt down and held the stake expecting the hammer to fall, but it didn’t. When he looked up he saw the other guys’ face was pallid, like he’d seen a ghost. He stood up, and looked over the hill to find an ocean of Zulu warriors. The “OH SHIT” feeling that guy no doubt felt is what I felt. Knowing damn full well they didn’t have enough bullets and artillery to hold that wave off, and surrendering wasn’t an option either. They knew right there that last night’s sunset would be the last they’d see. And so did I. Honor and brotherhood under fire were lessons learned early on in my life. Unwittingly the foundations of the life of a pauper paladin were laid in the tender years of my youth.