"I now have the honor and distinct
pleasure of presenting the Gold Medal of Appreciation to Father
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
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
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
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
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
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
"What does the INRI on top of the
"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.
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
"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
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
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
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.