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 Bend—it was game day and you faced crowds or traffic wherever you went—whatever 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 why—wink, wink—they 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.
"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."
"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 properly—and 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 leader—except, 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.