Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chapter 20

Thursday, Oct 15, 1964

In some ways, there were huge developments in the past week. In other ways, I was treading water. Bernie Fox was still in place, still being talked about behind the scenes, still with no evidence of wrongdoing that any of us could pinpoint. 

On the plus side, my wife and I were continuing to talk. I had been meeting her a couple  times a week at the library, downstairs in the vending area for a cup of coffee or outside by the reflecting pool. She still wasn't smoking, which I was glad to see. I wished I could say the same. We had another Sunday dinner, where the conversation was less strained and subject to occasional bits of family banter. If I had experienced this in the last ten years, I would have called it "normal." It wasn't normal for me; it was completely unfamiliar territory.

On the minus side, there was the business about getting nowhere with the Bernie Fox situation. I decided to check in with Eli. 

When I arrived at his office, Trudy was at her seated sentry position, and again I asked for "Mr. Bonpere."

Again she said, "Who?"

This time I nodded in the direction of his office. "The lawyer over there," I said. "I have an appointment."

Without a word, Trudy got up and led me to Eli's office. 

Before she could leave, the room, Eli said, "Trudy, would you mind bringing us two black coffees?"

Trudy turned on her heels and went off to do his bidding. I like a woman who speaks volumes while not saying anything. 

Eli turned his attention to me. "So, how goes it?".

I filled him in on my marriage developments.

"Are you getting back together?" he asked. He didn't look as happy as I might have expected. 

"Depends on what you mean," I said. Until now, I had only talked about my relationship with Sarah at a couple of AA meetings, but it had helped sort out my thoughts. "Sarah is seriously Catholic. She'd rather cut off her arm than get a divorce. And she does, oh I don't know, love me. Maybe. At the same time ..." I paused.

"She's afraid to have you in her house."

"That," I said.

"You being a wife beater and all."

He might have been laughing at me, but I wasn't sure. "There you go with your way of words again."

"You can be married and not set up house together," he said. It bugged me that he suddenly seemed happy about this turn of events.

"Maybe." I paused. I had never faced the prospect quite so starkly. "But it's too soon to say that's how it will go. Right now, we're trying to get to know each other. For years, I didn't pay much attention to her or the kids, but now it's different."

"You're sober. You're no longer the man she threw out of the house."

"Well, I am the same manor so my sponsor would insist. But I'm sober, at least for now, and that makes a difference."

"I should think." 

"It's funny," I said. "Right now, we're circling each other. I can't tell if we're preparing for battle or, or ..."

"Courting," he said. Again he had named something I hadn't thought of. "Have you had sex yet?" 


"Have you had sex yet?"

"Well, that's a little personal," I said.

"As if the rest of our conversation is about national news. Have you had sex yet?"

"Well, no."

"Okay, you're courting."

Just then, Trudy brought in our coffee. This broke the conversation, much to my relief. After she left, I changed the subject. "I seem to be getting nowhere with my main task at Holy Cross."

"That being?"

"Finding out if Bernie Fox is a good guy or a creep."

"You don't know yet?"

"I know he's different. He's difficult. He's diffident."

"Spoken like a true English teacher," Eli said.


"But you don't know if he's messing with the boys."

"No," I said. "There is still some gossip, but the evidence is that on his previous job he went to bat for a student who was being bullied. In doing so, he offended the parents of the bullies. The principal backed Bernie, and rumors started shortly after that."

"Suggesting ..."

"That the rumors are payback."

"Might there have been truth to the rumors?"

"Sure, but most of us don't think so."

"Most of us?"

"One of the brothers is not entirely on board."

"And his evidence is ..."

"Bias, as far as I can see."

"But you're convinced the priest is clean?"

"Let's just say I'm leaning that way."

"What are your reservations?"

"It's the suicide," I said.

"The hypothetical young man from the college seminary?"

I had talked to Eli by phone shortly after Jimmy Parker's death, mainly to consult with him about how to handle Joe Perry's discovery of the book, The Charioteer, signed by Bernie Fox, where Jimmy had hung himself. "The legal situation I spoke to you about resolved itself when the rector of St. Joe Hall turned the book over to the campus police, who returned it last week without comment to the parents. We haven't heard what the parents thought of it. However, the presence of the book suggests a) that the unfortunately not-hypothetical victim was struggling with homosexuality and b) that he was close to Bernie. That's discomfiting."

"Big word," Eli observed. "But the presence of the book still fits your explanation that Bernie might have been taking the boy's side. As if he was a counselor of sorts."

"Yes, and if the relationship was basically confessional, it explains why Bernie won't talk to anyone about it."

"Either that or he was messing with the boy."

"Or that."

After a pause, Eli asked, "How is the gossip situation?"

I told him about the second collage, the sudden appearance of Bernie's unfortunate nickname, Hank's plan to talk to the junior monitors, and the seniors. "Our strategy is working," I said. "Things have toned down some. I talked to one of the freshmanone half of the team they call "Lois and Clark"and he confirmed that he was being teasedhis wordbut he seemed to like the attention. Apparently, the teasing is this side of mean. He seemed fine with Bernie Fox."

"Part of his fan club?"

"Yeah, maybe," I said. "At any rate, he seem to like him well enough. I also talked to the newspaper editor, one of my spies. He thought most of the talk was high-school stuff."

"Most of it?"

"He said he heard that one of the sophomoreskid named Dan Johnsonreally dislikes Father Fox, that they had a confrontation in class. Apparently, it got pretty tense. The seminarian took issue with his emphasis on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals."

"The student likes Nazis?"

"No, that doesn't seem to be it. I buttonholed him a few days ago and told him I heard he had a set-to with Father Fox. He admitted doing so and made no bones about arguing with Father Fox about the persecution of homosexuals."

"The young man doesn't think Hitler persecuted homosexuals?"

"It sounded more like a matter of emphasis," I said. "He thought the teacher should have been emphasizing Hitler's attempt to exterminate Jews instead of running on about homosexuals."

"The teacher didn't mention Jews?"

"I think he did
not enough for the kid's taste."

"Well, I have to say I'm sympathetic to that," Eli said. "So is the kid a judaeophile or a homophobe?"

"Big words," I said. "Don't know. Maybe both." I told him about what I heard on the playground, his mockery of an effeminate boy.

"Unfortunate," Eli said. "But I"m guessing not altogether unusual."

"Actually, it is." I filled him in on the theory of the seminary, whose very name refers to a greenhouse. Seminarians were fragile seedlings that needed protection. The little seminary, which it was often called, was no British boarding school, which was notoriously dangerous for boys and generated the British propensity for profanity that focused on sodomy. When I went to Holy Cross seminary in the early forties, it was seriously sheltered. Even under Hank's more open system, the old practices survived. There was more freedom and some interaction with girls, but seminarians still took showers in curtained cubbies, still change clothes using a bathrobe in a choreography designed to show no private parts, still avoided using a urinal next to another boy (and the urinals already had dividers), and slept in open dorms that invited public disgrace for the young man heard masturbating. Priests still wore cassocks, were called Father (mostly), and were understood to be mentors and teachers—not friends—to the young men. The system tended to do what it was supposed to do—delay puberty. Guys could go four years without confronting their liking for girls—or boys. I remember teasing—even bullying—but none of it was related to homosexuality. This was a different year, but the difference seemed entirely related to the stories about Father Fox. 

"Here's my question," Eli said, after hearing me out. "Given the talk about Father Fox, why didn't the congregation's head guy ..."

"The provincial?"

"The provincial ... give Bernie an assignment where he wasn't going to be around teenagers?"

"Good question," I said. "One that's been bugging me. Hank
the seminary superior who hired metold me this week that the provincial believes in Bernie, that he believes the talk is being orchestrated by parents of the bullies in the high school where Bernie taught last year. He thinks the parents are bullies and doesn't want to give into them."

"There's something to be said for that," Eli said. "But it's a tough call."

"That's why Hank hired me," I said. "But I don't think I'm getting anywhere. I'm inclined to agree with the provincial, but ..."

"But it's still nagging at you."

"You're the lawyer," I said. "You know it's impossible to prove a negative."

"So what's your plan?"

"Well, I've got the juniors working on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, in which gossip plays a key role. We're getting into some good stuff."

"That's your plan?"

"Maybe we'll study the play backwards."

Chapter 19

Saturday, October 3, 1964

I had a chance to talk with Hank after breakfast. We decided to meet in his office. It wasn't ideal, but the faculty lounge was occupied. The seminarians were busy doing their Saturday chores, which included cleaning faculty rooms. Because few wanted to wander around Notre Dame campus or go into South Bendit was game day and you faced crowds or traffic wherever you wentwhatever faculty remained here spilled into the lounge. Even though it was a gorgeous fall morning, Hank was averse to walking around the lake, which had its own traffic problem, and we wound up in his office.

He sat quietly while I filled him about the second collage on Bernie's door.

"That's bad," he said shortly after I finished. "Especially the BJ thing."

"I don't get it," I said. "His middle name begins with J, but do our kids even know that? Even if they do, BJ is a common enough nickname. This shouldn't be a big deal."

"Shouldn't be, but it is. And yes, Bernie's middle name is John, something we haven't publicized
precisely because he picked up the nickname last year at Niles, soon after the noise about him being a molester began. Our kids are relatively innocent, but the Niles crowd knew exactly whywink, winkthey were using it."

"I know that," I said. "But it's just so lame. You'd think it would blow over."

"Pardon the expression," said Hank.

"Geez, I can't believe I missed that."

"The problem is that it's part of his story now, however untrue," said Hank. "We'll have to tamp it down somehow." 

"The kids have nicknames for everybody. You're Father Grease. I'm Bigfoot. Bernie already has a nickname in circulation
the Fox. How can we stop them from using another?"

"This is different. The other names are affectionate."

" 'Father Grease' " is affectionate?"

"It's obvious shorthand
and it wasn't invented here. I've lived with it all of my life. At least these guys are calling me Father Grease."

"So we could insist that nicknames for the faculty have "Father"?

"Or Mister," Hank reminded me. 

"Mister Bigfoot. It does have a ring to it."

"As does 'Father BJ,' which is where it might go. Let's try another tack. Nicknames are a two-edged sword. As you said, nicknames can be a sign of affection. They can also be a sign of hostility, especially if the victim doesn't like the name and people keep using it. They can be mean, a kind of bullying, which surely is what is going on here. Our job is to train these boys to be good men, and this is really out of bounds."

"Understood," I said. "Do we know that Bernie hates the nickname."

"You're thinking he might like it?"

"Maybe he's indifferent," I said. "He's a tough guy. Sticks and stones and all that."

"Well, let's act like he hates it
or like it hurts him, which it surely does. How can we put the kibosh on its use?"

"I don't know about putting the kibosh on it, but the junior and senior monitors have a lot of influence, at least on the underclassmen."

"Great idea," Hank said. "To be honest, I think this will work with the freshman and sophomores. I'll talk with them. But what about the juniors and seniors?"

"Talk with them yourself, as a group, maybe in one of their classes. The seniors responded well to the Jimmy Parker when you treated them like grownups. Try that again."

"I like it," he said. "Do you have any influence with any of the juniors?"

"Uh. maybe." The junior that came to mind was Dingo Dave.


I wasn't supposed to have Butch and Sissy this weekend, but it was Notre Dame's first home game and the seminarians were graced to sit five or six in a batch on folding chairs at the top of the stadium. Hank saw no reason why Butch and Sissy shouldn't be allowed to join them "as honorary seminarians." The fact that Sissy was included amused him. The radical. 

Sarah okayed the kids attendance at the football game, but insisted they skip the soiree in the evening. She had other plans, which she probably was making up while we were gone. 

Sissy was impressed with the opening ceremonies. Purdue's marching band usually was impressive, even when it's football team was not. The band was twice the size of the Notre Dame band and it's bass drum was the biggest in the world, or so the university boasted. During the opening ceremonies, the tuba players had to make a deep bow and one of them fell over. To cover the mistake, the other tuba players followed suit. And so did their football team, which lost to the Fighting Irish 34-15. Notre Dame, which had won only two games the previous year, looked pretty good. Excitement was in the air.


After I returned Sissy and Butch to their mother, I thought about going to a meeting. However, the seminary schedule called for a soiree and a showing of The Caine Mutiny. The staff made a point of selecting first-class fare, and I thought I might as well take in the movie. 

A couple of the other teachers besides me were there, but Father Fox was not among them. I didn't expect that he would be. I decided the pre-movie festivities would be a good time to socialize with Dingo Dave. As luck would have it, he hadn't arrived yet, probably to avoid the pre-movie socialization. His brother Dan was there, not doing anything except sipping on a Pepsi.

"I heard you had a little dust-up with Father Fox," I said as I walked up to him. I was still a little weak on small talk.

He grinned.

"Tell me about it," I said.

"Aww, he brought up the holocaust again," Dan said.

"He is a history teacher."

"Backwards history," he said, "which is weird enough. Plus, he's stuck on the World War Two thing, especially the Nazis."

"And you think that's weird?"

"No, not that so much. But he keeps bringing up homosexuals, how the Nazis tried to exterminate them."

"He didn't bring up the six million Jews?"

"He did, but it seemed more like an after-thought to me," Dan said. "He seemed more interested in the non-Jewish victims."

"Like Christians, gypsies, and ..."


"You're really bugged by the homosexual thing," I said.

"Well, yeah, because he doesn't have it right and I told him so."

"In class?"


"And how did he react?"

"He told me to go to the library and look it up."

"And did you?"

"I didn't need to," he said. "I wasn't challenging his facts. I was challenging his emphasis."

"Point taken," I said. "But you could still go the library and find out the facts, part of which would be data about numbers killed, methods, the story behind the story."

"But I already know that."

"You think you know that, but you don't have your facts and sources lined up. Father Fox is just trying to be a good teacher. If you had challenged me like that, I might have tried to take your head off instead of sending you to the library."

"You wouldn't have."

"There were days when I would have ..."

"Oh," he looked at me and I wondered how much he knew. Then, his voice dropped. "You think I was wrong."

"You might have a point, but you might have made it another way. Like in an essay."

"BJ never ..."

"Don't call him that."

"Why, it's ..."

My voice rose. "You know why. Don't call him that."

"Okay, okay, the Fox ...." He paused and looked at me for permission. "The Fox never gave us any assignments like that. He just lectures us."

"Except when he sends you to the library."

Dan said nothing. 
"Some guys asked me why I couldn't be more like Father Fox, who never assigns any written work."

"That's dumb, and they're lazy," Dan said. 

"Still, you shouldn't have tried to embarrass your teacher in class," I said. "That's not too smart on your part. Everybody thinks you hate Father Fox."

"Yeah, maybe," Dan said. "Anyway, I don't hate him. I just think he's a lousy teacher, and they should get rid of him."

"Get rid of him?" I repeated. 

"Yeah, you know. Can him. Send him to a parish or something."

"Have you told anyone else that?"

"A couple of people. Why?"

"I'll tell you what. Since you like assignments, go look up discreet in the dictionary."

"Funny," he said and walked away.

His brother arrived just in time for the movie to begin. I was able to catch him before he disappeared, which he was likely to do. 

"Dave, we have a problem, and you may be able to help." 


I explained that a problem nickname for Father Fox was circulating around the school. 

Of course, he wanted to know why calling him "BJ" was a problem.

Of course, I didn't explain why it was a problem, beyond saying it was disrespectful. 

Of course, he looked at me like I was from the moon. 

"We need you to refer to him properlyand to use your influence, especially among your classmates."

He stared at me, seeing the moon. "Like they are going to follow my lead?"

He had a point. He was an unlikely leaderexcept, it occurred to me, if he was responsible for the latest collage, his classmates may already have been following his lead. 

"Yes," I said, looking him in the eye.

"No worries, then," he said staring back at me.