Wednesday, September 23, 1964
Wednesday dawned, hinting of mugginess to follow. Or maybe it wasn’t so much the weather as the way Hank and I felt. At breakfast, I could see he was having trouble getting off the dime. On the way out, I told him about the collage, which helped his mood not at all. He hadn’t talked to Bernie Fox about Jimmy, mumbled something about confronting him later that morning. By mid-afternoon, he still hadn’t talked to him.
I decided to do what I could do. My schedule called for the usual classes and a meeting with The CSC editor in mid-afternoon. The CSC was the school’s “newspaper,” one of those hybrid things printed on slick newsletter paper but designed in three-columns to mimic a newspaper. With my background in publishing, I had inherited the job of moderator for all three of the school publications: The CSC, The Windhover (yearbook), and The Anchor (literary magazine). The CSC was a publicity vehicle for the school, sent by the order’s development department to donors and potential students. As such, it had always been harmless, but this year’s editor had a genuine interest in journalism and wanted to do “real stories.” Because he was a senior, I didn't expect him to know much about the collage on Father Fox's door. It smelled like an underclassman prank, and seniors had their own rooms well away from the sleeping dorms provided for the other three classes. Still, if he really wanted to be a journalist, he'd have his ear to the ground.
Not bad thinking on my part. Sean O'Hara, the editor, was the first to arrive at The CSC office, a converted storage room in the school building. Knowing the others would show up shortly, I buttonholed him.
“Sean, I got in late last night and found a rather creative collage on Father Fox’s door.”
He didn’t say anything, just grinned a little.
“Okay, fess up," I said. "What’s going on?”
“Why would you think I know anything?”
“Because you look like the cat that ate the canary. Because you're a journalist—or want to be. Because you're an upperclassman. The sophomores and freshman probably don't have the chutzpah to do anything like this. So I'm thinking juniors or seniors. I doubt if it's senior—you've got your own rooms—but I bet you know about it."
He paused, thought. “Okay, you're right. I wasn’t involved."
When he paused some more, I said “Sean, what do you know? Out with it.”
“Okay, here’s what I can say. My sources tell me some of the guys wanted to send the Fox a message.”
“About … “
“I didn't see the collage,” Sean said. “I heard it's obvious.”
“You think Father Fox is a homosexual?”
“Some of the guys do. They’re nervous about it.”
“Why? What’s the evidence?”
“He hangs out with Lois and Clark,” Sean said.
“You know. Louis Dzinski and Tom Clark.”
My ear to the ground was not as sensitive as I thought. Louis Dzinski was a whisp of a kid, under five feet tall, and a little effeminate. Tom Clark was a big boy with horned-rim glasses, also on the effeminate side if you were looking for such things. Both were freshmen, and they hung out together. Apparently there was talk. Lois and Clark. The seminarians had a passion for nicknames. This one was unfortunate.
“What do you mean? Hangs out?” I asked, realizing too late that I had fallen into Sean’s double-entendre. He registered a gotcha grin, but I glared at him, and he thought better of pursuing it.
“They play cards together. And Lois and Clark both chose the Fox as their spiritual director.”
“And … “
“That’s it?” I said, sensing with relief that he didn’t know about Bernie's connection to Jimmy Parker.
“Well, he keeps talking in class about what the Nazis did to Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals.”
“He’s a history teacher,” I said, a little impatiently. “The Nazis did things. I saw one of the camps.”
“You did?” Sean said.
“Another time,” I said. “It doesn’t sound like you have much reason for doing what you did.”
“Hey, I didn’t do it. I’m just a reporter,” Sean said. “I’m not the one who put those pictures on his door.”
“Well, maybe,” I said, “If you fancy yourself a reporter, you’ll deal with facts. Nothing he's doing—playing bridge with two freshman, teaching sophomores about the persecution of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals—constitutes misbehavior. Does it?"
He looked at me and hesitated. "No, I guess not."
"All you've got, as I understand it, is a suspicion that he's a homosexual, which you don't know for sure. Correct?"
He seemed to be looking at his shoes.
"Even if you did know for sure, which you don't, you shouldn't be spreading that information unless there's a really good reason or he gave you permission to do so."
"Why not? If it's true?"
"Look, your grade-school catechism taught you about gossip, including something called detraction. That's the sin of harming someone by spreading true stories. Now if you know that he's harming students—that I want to know about. All you've got is that his freshman bridge partners really like him. Gosh, stop the presses."
“So you want me to do a story on this?”
“In your dreams," I said. "But keep your ear to the ground and let me know if you find out who put those pictures on Bernie's—hmm, Father Fox's door—or who's spreading rumors about him, or ..." I stopped.
"Or what?" Sean said.
"Or ... if you find out something else that I need to know about."
Smart kid. I wanted to smack him. Fortunately, another member of the staff arrived and we turned our attention to a story about the school’s presidential straw poll. Lyndon Johnson had beaten Barry Goldwater in a landslide.
After the meeting, I gave Eli a call. He was busy but invited me to his house the following evening for a barbecue.
Then I went on a hunt for Hank and found him in the faculty lounge, having a scotch. He had confronted Bernie Fox finally and, as expected, hadn’t gotten much satisfaction. Bernie did admit admit knowing Jimmy Parker, giving him The Charioteer, signing it as Father Perry had reported to us, and little else. He denied doing anything inappropriate with the boy and clammed up.
Hank was at a loss. I had nothing to add and changed the subject. “Have you heard from Joe Perry?”
“About an hour ago. He’s planning a memorial service for tomorrow morning, mainly for the folks at St. Joe Hall. But I’ll send the seniors over. They had at least a nodding acquaintance with Jimmy.”
“No wake or anything?”
“Not here,” Hank said. “Jimmy was from Chicago, and his body will be released by the coroner to the family, maybe tomorrow, presumably after formally ruling that his death was a suicide. Good thing our guys won't have to do the all-night wake. It’s spooky enough when they have to sit up with one of our old farts, but imagine them staring for a half-hour at the body of a classmate."
“I assume he’s getting a regular funeral, with a mass and everything,” I said.
"Depends on the bishop, but I haven't heard of anyone refusing a Catholic funeral and burial to a suicide in years. Vatican II finished off the practice, may it rest in peace. However, I will tell you, that just to be sure, Joe called the provincial, who called the chancery in Chicago. So, yes, they’ll be having a funeral mass for Jimmy in his home parish and he'll get a Catholic burial. If Jimmy had been a professed member of the community, we’d bury him out back in the cemetery you pass every night on the way to your Fatima shrine.”
“You know I don’t do that.”
“Maybe you should,” he said, taking another pull on his scotch.
“And maybe you should drink Kool-Aid instead of scotch,” I said.
“How do you know this isn’t Kool-Aid?” he said, not missing a beat. “And I’m just trying to keep a clear head without sacrificing my image as Papa Hemingway.”
“Something’s clear, and it’s not your head,” I said. “Too clear for Kool-Aid.”
“Wanna check?” he said, holding up his glass and rattling the ice.
“Your father was a demon,” I said.
“At least he wasn’t a Protestant,” Hank said.
“You don't even believe that, but thank you for reminding me I need a meeting.”
“Suit yourself,” Hank said. “I think I’ll have another glass of Kool-Aid.”
I liked Hank. He was the closest man I could call a best friend, but he wasn't always good for my sobriety. The AA meeting was at 7 p.m. in nearby Little Flower Church. I looked at my watch. It was pushing five p.m. Dinner was at 6, which wouldn’t leave me enough time to make the meeting unless I left early. I needed a meeting and would make other arrangements for dinner.
I went upstairs to grab another pack of smokes, in self-defense if nothing else. It was an unwritten rule that AA members substitute nicotine and caffeine for the alcohol they had forsworn. Meetings that allowed smoking were conducted in conditions that nowadays would set off smoke alarms. Meetings that didn’t permit smoking were small. Very small.
After getting my valuables, I set off along St. Mary’s Lake toward the Huddle. I was addicted, among other things, to their hamburgers. Flat little things on soft buns with the requisite mustard, ketchup, onions and dill pickle. If I had the money, I’d order two, along with an order of fries covered with salt and a dollop of ketchup on the side. It wasn’t especially healthy, but no one worried about such things.
The Huddle was the main campus hangout, with comfy nondescript surroundings and waitresses who had worked there for twenty years. On-campus students dropped in sometimes, mainly for Cokes, but the bulk of the business came from off-campus students who didn’t have cafeteria passes. The waitresses knew most of them by name. I didn’t frequent the place enough to merit that treatment, so they just called me, “Hon.”
Before buying my meal, I went to the counter at the north end of the room and bought a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times and a package of Hav-a-Tampa Jewels. I wanted to get off of cigarettes, but I had no intention of doing it cold turkey. I had tried a pipe, but the Cherry Blend tobacco I bought at first burnt the hell out of my mouth and the bitterness of the taste was directly proportional to the sweetness of the smell. Joe Perry’s premium tobacco, on the other hand, was a different world entirely, but I had run out and hadn’t had a chance to go to Chicago to buy more.
My meal was predictable but welcome. I finished off my Coke, went to the counter for a cup of coffee, came back and lit up a Jewel. Like any confirmed cigarette smoker, I inhaled. Still, it wasn’t bad, and it had a wooden tip that I could chew on without getting tobacco in my teeth. If it weren’t for the expense—they were cheap cigars but they were more expensive than cigarettes—I would switch today. That and the ridicule I’d get from the kids for lighting up bad cigars in class.
The meal and the smoke did wonders for my mood, even if it did nothing to help me resolve my Fox quandary. I headed back down the hill, toward the lake, the sem, and my Edsel.
The speaker was a rough-looking character wearing a leather motorcycle jacket in spite of the heat in the room, sunglasses in spite of the dim light, and a ducktail hairdo in spite of a strange bald spot on the crown of his head. He had five years in the program and, theatrical get-up aside, sounded like it. Had I been wearing my standard school uniform—Harris Tweed jacket and rep tie—I would have made a stunning contrast to him. In deference to the muggy Indian summer, I had left the coat and tie at home and rolled up the sleeves of my pinpoint Oxford shirt. I still didn’t look like I knew much about motorcycles, but I understood the man’s story. His drinking—and related fisticuffs—had cost him a half-dozen jobs and two of his “old ladies.” I was in the right place.
After the speaker finished, he opened the podium to others in the room. I opted to keep my mouth shut, which was my custom in any case. And tonight, my mind was preoccupied with the situation at the sem, and that wasn’t something I wanted to get into from the podium.
For that matter, I realized I didn’t want to get into the particulars, even with my sponsor, Rick Doogan, who happened to be at the meeting. Afterwards, he bummed a cigarette from me and asked how it was going.
“Life is good,” I said. “I have my own bathroom.”
“With a toilet?”
“And a shower.”
“Thought you smelled better,” he said, excusing himself to talk to another of his pigeons. Good old Rick, always building up a man’s self-esteem.
His departure left me in my usual socially awkward position, trying to work up the courage to talk to someone or to just leave. I was opting for leaving when a thirty-ish woman came up to me and asked if I would like a hug.
“Umm, yea, sure,” I said, trying to give her a pro-forma embrace while she hugged me like a long-lost friend.
“My name is Laura,” she said.
“Bert,” I said, giving her a lookover. Laura was middling height, with a wholesome housewifey look that one of my friends liked to describe as “juicy.” She wasn’t rode hard enough to be AA. “I didn’t see you at the meeting.”
“Across the hall. Al Anon,” she said. “I don’t usually come to this meeting, but I was the chair tonight.”
“You must have some time in the program, then.”
“Just a year,” she said, laughing the way women do even when nothing is funny. “But I’m not shy about sharing my story, so I get asked to chair a lot of meetings.”
“Well, I am. Shy about sharing my story, that is, and I have to work myself into a froth to speak up.”
“You get into a froth much?” she said, laughing again.
“Not if I can help it,” I said. “Froth pretty much got me here.”
“Well, you do have a problem then,” she said, laughing some more. I tried looking at her sundress to take my mind off her laughter. It was starting to work, so I stared some more.
“Maybe you need Al Anon.”
“Um, yeah, maybe,” I said after a while. “I’m not sure I qualify.”
“Do you have family or friends whose drinking bothers you?” she asked, not laughing this time. That was a relief.
“I expect I could rustle up somebody,” I said, thinking of Hank and his ubiquitous glass of scotch.
“Well, there you go,” she said. “Why don’t you try my regular meeting—Wednesdays, seven o’clock, at the First Methodist on Eddy Street.
“Okay, maybe,” I said. “At least it’s close.”
“Do,” she said. “Meantime, I’ve been invited to coffee with the group here, over at Walgreens on 20. Would you like to join us?”
“Can’t. I have some papers to grade,” I said, staring at her dress some more, wondering if I should go.
“Oh, you’re a teacher,” she said.
“At Holy Cross Seminary,” I said.
“A priest?” she asked, the light going out of her face just a tad.
“Not hardly,” I said. “I’m their first ever lay teacher. What’s worse, I live there.”
“Sounds like an experiment,” she said, laughing.
“You have no idea,” I said.