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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person
The Making and Unmaking of Person

An Evening in St. Pats
by Jason Stella

It echoed.
     "I now have the honor and distinct pleasure of presenting the Gold Medal of Appreciation to Father Kenneth Reilly."
     Long applause. The presenter keeps talking instead of giving up the medal.
      ";And he even showed several young Xavier boys how to shave for the first time."
     Direct quote. No embellishment. The guy actually said that.
      Oh. Past tense. The guy is dead. It's a posthumous honoring.
     "And that's why we honor Father Reilly today."
     Long applause.
      The dead man appreciates the long applause and he is humbled by your generosity. Death is ok. It's ok. Don't worry about it. We'll all come here and have a large clap for you. Or we will get you a rock, a headstone we will call it, engrave a short poem if we can afford it, and we will have either a large clap or a somber moment for you, in your honor. If you're special, you'll get both the clap and the somber moment. So it's ok. We'll live on. Death is ok. We live on in spirit. Just keep clapping.
      The Valedictorian just took the podium. I know that I and many of the student body have just had the same thought. Vale-DICK-torian. The Valedictorian is, in his words, "honored and humbled." I missed what it is that he is honored and humbled by, the honor probably, I didn't hear. He continues,
      "To quote Shakespeare, we have been 'twice blessed.'"
      Why quote Shakespeare and not Jesus? This is a Catholic school right? What? Jesus' words are no good for you Mr. Vale-DICK-torian? What? Jesus had nothing poignant to say? That's what the guy who gave me the suspicious look just said to himself. What? You too good for Jesus you little son-of-a-bitch? I got your Shakespeare right here shitheel. Leaning right up against this pole. I'll give ya a velvet rope. I wanna hear a Jesus quote now, bitch.
      I wonder who gets quoted more often, Shakespeare or Jesus. I bet it's close. And I bet some stylish intellectual did his senior thesis on the very topic, aggrandizing it beyond its merits. All I'm interested in is the answer, not how it affects the Social Crisis of Our Time.
      Good man. He kept it short. I'll take the 'Dick' out of Valedictorian because he knew enough to keep it short. He knows no one wants to hear some high school punk, all honored and humbled, quoting Shakespeare and droning on with some life lesson speech.
     Just shut the fuck up kid. You got good grades; you give a good rim job, now take your medal and sit your cushy ass down.
      Just after I wrote, 'give a good rim job' the statue of St. Peter started to piss on my head. I wonder if I should call the press. Does this qualify as a miracle? Will I be brought before the Pope to whisper some secret from St. Peter that is infused into my body via his piss?
     "Pssst. Pope John. If you can still hear me; while St. Peter was pissing on my head, he wanted me to tell you that it's ok to let go. You're the Pope. You're in. First class all the way up.
     I bet the New York Post would come if I called. They'd dump some water on my head, snap a photo, and the headline would read,
      "St. Peter, Pissed!"
     Shit. All this time and I've been chewing this gum as a sow does her cud. I can't swallow the gum St. Peter; I'll just tuck it into my cheek. No, I'll gag; I'll physically gag. I can't swallow gum. It is physically impossible. It is physically impossible, St. Pete, and everybody knows that there is nothing more impossible than something that is physically impossible.
     Except the Resurrection, of course.
      Someone just announced the Commencement Speaker. What does he do? I think he's the guy who hands out the diplomas. Fuck. No. Commencement Speaker. The Commencement Address. He a speech-giver. He is the life-lesson speech guy. Fuck. Fucker. I hope he has a stroke. Unfortunately, he looks too young to have a stroke so I hope some disgruntled assassin takes him out. That happens in Catholic Churches every now and then. There is hope after all. Maybe some guy will rise up out of the pews and shout, "He took my vitamins!" then open up fire. Or maybe the cause of his rampage is the offense he took at this particular speaker's last Commencement Address. He had been tracking the invitations to all local Catholic high schools to catch this guy giving another speech and here he is. What better place? Headline news. Kevin Spacey will want to meet with him so that he may better understand his character. And Ted Koppel will, perhaps, find some irony in all of this.
      The speaker is quoting from some Jimmy Breslin article from 1992. Jimmy Breslin? He had a good, stiff journalistic right jab, sure, but quoting him here? I see. It's an article about how much Breslin hates Commencement Addresses and he adds the presumption that everyone else shares his hate. Breslin always assumed that you agreed with him. If you didn't that was fine, he'd offer you a scotch nonetheless, but if you refused the scotch, he'd tell you to go fuck yourself.
     So here's the Commencement Speaker quoting an article about how no one likes Commencement Speakers. How very post-modern of him. Speed it up, jerk-off. He belabors the point. No one likes Commencement speakers who belabor the point. Breslin should have included that in his article. Our speaker mentions that no one likes Commencement Speakers unless they are the President, Vice-President or former President or Vice-President. Yet he continues.
      He is calling our memories, surprise, to the time when the subway cost a nickel, New York had three baseball teams, and none of them were the Mets. It's an All That Lay Ahead of Us Was Unforeseen and Unimaginable Speech. All the glorious technologies. Iceboxes replaced by refrigerators, copy machines replacing carbon paper. Carbon paper? How can you bring yourself to lament carbon paper? That is just desperate.
      And so, of course, think, Class of 2003, what lay before you.
     "What the future holds for you," he says.
      You are not in control. The future holds your future in its hands. But fear not. According to our speaker, "Your good Jesuit Education has prepared you well."
      A Good Jesuit Education. The slogan.
     Xavier, a Good Jesuit Education.
     Ahem. Take two.
     Xavier. One Good Jesuit Education, Since 1861. The Year the Civil War began. Send your kid here, and he'll know what year it ended.
     St. Francis Xavier. A Fine and Good and Just Jesuit Education. Just eight thousand dollars per year. A good, eight thousand dollar per year, Jesuit Education. Send your kid here and God will like you and your child more than he does your next-door neighbor and her child. What more can we offer?"
      TV sets on every pillar here in St. Pats. You control the action. Zoom in on your kid picking his nose. Picking his nose and flicking it onto the bare neck of the kid in front of him. Flicking it with the dexterity that only a good Jesuit Education can provide.
     Diplomas. Oh, thank God, they're calling for the diplomas. Here, a prayer that I did not even utter is being answered. The diplomas. They are calling all last names beginning with A, having us hold our applause until all of the 'A' names have been herded across altar center rather than demanding we applaud for each kid individually. Now we'll only have to applaud 26 times, probably less, unless some freak has a last name beginning with the letters Q, Y, or X. I knew a Zito, so I did not include Z. Father Paul Zito. Loud, slobbery, always had gergitated food in his mouth even hours before or after any given meal. This made his pious disregard for my personal space dreadfully sloppy.
     I was anticipating individual applause. Anticipating standing here for seventeen hours while we clapped for each of these fuckers individually. The torture, the menace of the Catholic Church. I went to their schools, grades three through twelve, lucky to have made it that far, so I know what they're capable of. They would think nothing of torturing us with hours of handing out diplomas and forcing us to clap for each individual. But my guess is that St. Patrick's Cathedral is charging by the hour, like some sleazy hotel, so they have to hustle these kids up and out as fast as they can, as an industrious prostitute might turn her tricks. If not for the high overhead, they would make us applaud until our hairy palms go bald. Just because they can.
     They only flourish because they torture you. That's what the Catholics worship. Being tortured. Christ was tortured torturously before dying a torturous death. So if Christ can endure that for you, fucker, the least you can do is get your condemned ass to church on Sunday to participate in the symbolic cannibalization of your Savior.
     Take this all of you, and eat it. This is my body. It has been given for you and for men all so that your sins may be forgiven. Do this, in memory of me. (Bells ring for no reason.)
     Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is my blood. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It has been shed for you and for all men so that your sins may be forgiven. Do this, in memory of me. (Again with the bells.)
     I haven't been to Mass in fifteen years. It is all still in there.
     Some crucifixes depict a drained and tortured and dead Christ while others depict him as being untouched and clean, body draped in flowing cloth, eyes toward lay upon the saved, waiting for his cue to ascend.
     He's not any less tortured just because he looks good. He's still on the cross but now he's attached with glue or something by his back. He's still hanging from a cross. He wants to go home.
     The running joke in school was, and probably remains,
     "What does the INRI on top of the crucifix mean?"
     "I'm Nailed Right In."
     Brother Edward swore that his new 18" ruler, cut from the mightiest of California Oaks, the old growth forest, would never break, would never yield energy as it rang a sinner's ass. We will feel the full might of our penance.
     Something about the earnestness of his presentation made me laugh out loud.
     He called me Stelly when he called me to the front of the room.
     "Stelly, say your prayers."
     This was the cue to turn, face the crucifix that hung at the front of every classroom, the one with the tortured and bloodied and nearly naked Christ--the one fifth-graders really needed to see--cup one's hands together as if in prayer, and lean forward so that one's ass juts out just so.
     Crack. Shatter.
     Uproar of laughter.
     The supposed unbreakable Solid California Oak Ruler shattered like an eggshell.
     It hurt like hell, but the irony was too rich. Although I was only in the fifth grade, I was able to comprehend deep levels of irony, so I laughed harder than anyone else in the room did, even though the welt on my ass would take two weeks to fully clear.
     No man has ever come as close to spontaneous combustion as did Brother Edward.
     "Stelly, sit," he growled, waving the twig that was, for one hour, the source of his greatest power. Naturally, several of my mates tried to slap my ass as I walked by, just for torture's sake.
     He dared not try to quell the laughter, knowing that this was the kind of laughter that would only increase the more he shows his humiliation, his frustration, and, God forbid, his embarrassment. He stood at his podium, shuffled through some papers, bit down, pursed his lips and swallowed hard.
     One ROTC kid has some military regalia attached to his tux. What a dick. I just laughed to myself for having called him a dick. The suspicious guy caught me, he caught flies by their wings with his teeth back in Nam, and so he could snuff out some punk guy taking notes in a monstrous cathedral. He leveled his Smith & Wesson eyes at me, just to register his displeasure. The ROTC kid has a yellow epaulet on his left shoulder from which hangs a rope that runs from front to back or back to front depending on how you look at things. There appear to be a few medals as well.
     They take their diplomas. It is all official now. They have officially graduated. They can no longer be threatened with having their graduation withheld should they entertain thoughts of replacing the bloodied Jesus with the clean and reverent Christ as their senior prank. It's a done deal now. They have the papers. They shake hands with the Senior Administrative Staff.
     "Later, jerk-off."
     "I'd shove this diploma up your ass if we had the time, Father Spooge."
     "Bite me, bitch."
     And so on down the line.
     A Black family erupts from the audience, as do a group of people standing just in front of me. The name of their graduate has just been called and fuck waiting for the rest of the names. Receiving a diploma from a well-respected, eight thousand dollar per year high school is still this much of an event for a Black kid today. 2003. My brother had to go to history class to learn about segregation and to watch the films of Black people being hosed and beaten by the police. This kid heard about it first-hand from his grandfather. To Grandpa, this is not history, these are memories.
     Five O'Brien's. Christopher, Michael, and I forget the others.
     Another ROTC guy, but this one must outrank the other because he has epaulets on both shoulders. Yellow on the left, red on the right. The colors of several Communist flags. He appears to have many more medals than the first guy.
     I watched my brother get his diploma with the other M's. He takes his diploma with the same 'I could not care less' attitude with which he addresses everything else. The clammy trout he would extend for a handshake, for example. I could move over and watch him receive the diploma on the monitor, but I refuse to do this on one or another principles. I'm not sure which.
     I wonder if the mothers of some of the students applied a bit of make-up on their son for the video. A bit of foundation to cover up the zits. A touch of color in the cheeks. I'm sure some of the faculty has. For the promotional videos.
     I think we're leaving. Yes. "The Final Prayer," as it is called, has been called for to be followed by the School Song.
     They are repositioning the velvet ropes creating an exit path for the celebrity graduates. Suddenly, I have the best seat in the house.
     "Saint-AH Xay-vee-AH." BUM-bum.
     Deep tenor. He waits for this moment all year. To sing the school song in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He does not practice in the shower because it seems that it is somehow a sin to sing in the shower. Being naked feels sinful enough let alone being naked and wet and singing all at the same time. All this with soap applied to his genitals just made the thought of singing in the shower a mortal dilemma. So, he rehearses in the school chapel late at night where and when no one can hear him fuck up the words or hit a sour note. He knows that the acoustics will be much different in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and he is sinfully wanton of some rehearsal time there. One day, as the tourists proceeded reverently past St. Patrick's altar, some not even Christian but reverent nonetheless, all staying well within the limits imposed upon them by the velvet ropes, our Tenor, hell-bent on testing the acoustics, broke down one of the side doors and belted out a high C, scaring the shit out of some tourists from St. Louis. The tourists had the presence of mind to snap photos as he rushed for the side exit. They were being good citizens. The photo might be used for evidence should this be the beginnings of some murderous criminal rampage. No. They would think better of this. They would not turn the photos over to the police. They would be good entrepreneurs. If this man was in the process of becoming a renowned and notorious criminal, they would keep the photos to prove that they were just feet away from him when he belted out what they later learned was a high C. Who among their friends could top that vacation photo? The Police are still trying to discern the significance of his choosing that particular note. Pundits, experts from Julliard, take to the airwaves to explain the significance of Bach's Invention in C Major, and offer the relevance and history of the high C in an effort to help the public "gain an understanding" of the man. FBI profilers are digging deep into his past. They are seeing the textbook profile of a madman unfurl before them. They dub him The High-C Killer. The makers of Hi-C the drink sue for copyright infringement and receive a settlement large enough to cover the cost of repairing the damage done to the Hi-C brand fruit-like drink.
     He insists that he was just trying to get a feel for the acoustics.
     He was released on his own recognizance, and the incident was effectively covered up by the church.
     Long applause as the song ends.
      The Queen of England theme begins with a loud trumpeting as the graduates file out of their pews. Why the Queen of England theme? Gotta be my mistake. But it sounds like a song that the Queen of England would process to.
      A pair of ushers slams their shoulders into the large fake gold doors, rushing to have them opened before the first graduates arrive. Neither of them wants to be responsible for the bottleneck of graduates that an unopened door would create.
     Fuck this church; I'm almost out of here. I could leave now if I wanted to without it being considered rude, but I obviously have more to write. I happened to look up just as my brother was passing by. The kid next to him had made a joke and my brother was laughing. Smiling broadly.
      From the bottom of my heels welled an extraordinary urge to cry. I was completely blindsided by it. Heat rushed to my chest and face. The kind of heat that paints a flush on one's face. My throat felt like it was choking itself. I could safely wipe away the small amount of water that had gathered.
     I'm just rubbing my eye is all. It was itchy.
     I could spread what little water there was across the side of my face and allow it to dissipate before anyone could notice that tears were evaporating from my cheekbone. That lasted roughly three seconds. More tightness in the throat and more of the flush brought more tears, too many to deny, and I turned toward St. Peter, noting the irony in another part of my brain. The part that never stops observing myself.
      He was so damn big, and his smile was so damn broad. I didn't even have time to register any other detail other than that was my brother walking by. I didn't notice the fit of his tux, his height in relation to the other graduates, how his acne was clearing up. It was like being blindsided by a snowball as I turn my head to check for people throwing snowballs.
      It was not about his graduation. They were not I'm Proud of Him tears.
      They were I had held him in my arms, awkwardly so, when I was fifteen and now I'm thirty and holy ship look at the little kid I held tears.
     They were Time in a Bottle Tears.
     Where the fuck did my time go? Who was taking notes at my high school graduation? Could they tell I was stoned? Eighteen years have gone by and I'm standing here scribbling notes and entertaining myself.
He had friends who have been laughing at each other's dirty jokes for years. He is two road tests away from his driver's license. Christ, he has probably had sex with some developing Catholic schoolgirl. It was his maturity. For as much of a teenage as he was, he still had a stature, a maturity that I have yet to attain. I have to work very hard to maintain that, mind you. He went from my baby brother, to my little brother, to my kid brother, and somewhere in there, he became my brother. And I missed where.
      The hell do I care? Good for him. He's on his way to college. Four years of controlled and mediated debauchery that will teach him the true lessons of life.
     You can have as much as you want, but only as much as you can take.




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