It’s Not Worth It

They sat across from each other in the booth – I brought the coffee over and sat next to her.  I was a little stunned – I did not expect him to be there.  She didn’t say that he’d be there; I expected it to be just us.  I don’t know how I looked to them – I didn’t have the strength to feign gladness, and used what little energy I had to keep my mouth shut.  She rubbed my shoulder, and it felt good – but it didn’t light me up like it usually did.  I had a “good angry” going on, and I wasn’t about to let it go.

For the next hour they talked as if I wasn’t there.  I managed to chat a bit about an introvert/extrovert question from work that day:  “You have a birthday coming up, and you have an unlimited amount of funds.  How would you like to celebrate it and how many people would you like to be there with you?”

I answered, “Out to dinner with one friend” – which may sound sad to all you extroverts out there, but is in fact one of the more pleasurable things in this introvert’s life.  He thought it was a sad answer – there was genuine pity in his heart.  I didn’t expect either one of them to get it – by this time I really only had two clear thoughts:  1) why the fuck is he here? and 2) why the fuck am I here?  I don’t know why I didn’t get up and walk away.

The arrangement was so uneven that it wasn’t worth being friends.  I listened to her way more than she listened to me.  And it wasn’t just the time – it was the content, too.  I don’t know if she’s a superficial person, but there were definite limits to what could and could not be discussed.  When I was hurting, I wasn’t in a position to talk to her about it.  That isn’t who she is.  And that made my hurt that much worse.

From her point of view, people should keep their feelings to themselves.  Public displays of affection are verboten.  It explains why I didn’t have any “deep” emotional conversations with her – she may have been feeling lots of things, but they were private matters.  You might argue that our friendship lacked the trust it needed to share those kinds of things – and you’d be right.

Marc Maron says something like “you don’t really know whether you’re in a relationship until someone gets hurt.”  Because it’s exactly those moments when you realize that the relationship you have with someone is not a casual thing.  We were friends – emphasis on the lowercase “f.”  Now I’m looking for someone who isn’t afraid, not just of my feelings, but even more importantly, of showing and sharing theirs with me.

Amish Show Tunes – Conclusion

CALEB:  Jacob, wait.  Our brothers have hit upon something delightful for the harvest social.  And the song mentions “the land” – which is always beautiful to the Amish …

JACOB:  Well, you’re the church elder, so okay; I’ll trust your judgment.

CALEB:  Wonderful!  Brothers Abner and Levi will sing this lovely song about the land at the social.

LEVI:  Um, Brother Caleb, we were hoping to please God and the community with two or three show tunes.

(the words “show tunes” make CALEB a little uneasy)

CALEB:  Oh?  Pray, tell us of another of these “show tunes.”

(long pause, then JACOB begins to sing softly)

“The sun’ll come out, tomorrow / So ya gotta hang on ’til tomorrow …”

(ABNER smiles at JACOB, and both sing):  “Come what may! / Tomorrow! Tomorrow! … ”

(LEVI joins in, all three sing):  “I love ya tomorrow! / You’re always a day a way!”

(CALEB raises his hand to stop them)

CALEB:  Wait – this song is Christian because … ??

LEVI:  … because it’s a song about hope …

ABNER:  … and about joy …

JACOB:  … and about love …

(LEVI, ABNER and JACOB sigh together)

CALEB:  All right, two songs then.  I just hope the community likes these “show tunes” as much as you all do. … Hmm …

JACOB:  Brother Caleb?  Does something still trouble thee?

ABNER:  Caleb, thou art good and kind.  Tell us, what is it?

CALEB:  Well, there is one song from my youth … I’m wondering if we might sing it at our social as well …

LEVI:  Brother Caleb, of course we can!  Sing out, brother; show us your soul’s joy …

(CALEB pauses, clears his throat, and sings)

“It’s just a jump to the left …”

(JACOB recognizes the tune, sings)

JACOB:  “And then a step to the ri-i-ight …”

(ABNER, hands on hips, sings)

ABNER:  “With your hands on your hips …”

(LEVI, knees in tight, sings)

LEVI:  “You bring your knees in ti-i-iight …”

(all four, “Rocky Horror” style)

CALEB, JACOB, ABNER and LEVI:  “But it’s the pelvic thru-ust / that really drives you insa-a-a-ane / Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

(As all four sing the refrain again, lights fade to black)

Amish Show Tunes – Part One

CAST:  CALEB (in his 50’s), JACOB (40’s), ABNER (30’s), and LEVI (20’s).

(Lights up.  A country general store.  JACOB sits at a pickle barrel down-stage right, CALEB stands at the store counter downstage left, while LEVI and ABNER are playing checkers up centerstage)

CALEB:  Brother, does thee have all thou needs for thy harvest?

LEVI:  Two new sickles, horse collar, sorghum, molasses, and hardtack – I reckon that’s enough for now.

ABNER:  Jacob, thou art truly a barn-raising wonder!

JACOB:  Shucks, Abner, ‘tweren’t nothing special for a good God-fearing Christian.

CALEB (pauses a moment, then says):  Brothers, may I ask thee a difficult question?

LEVI:  Speak freely, Brother Caleb, we are all friends here.

CALEB:  Well, I’m troubled – I’m afraid one of us has strayed from our baptismal vows …

ABNER:  Who among us has done this?  Speak, so that we may shun him and begin the healing process …

CALEB:  … Abner, it’s you.  (the other three gasp)

JACOB:  Commence the shunning!

(CALEB, LEVI and JACOB turn away from ABNER)

ABNER:  See here, Caleb!  How have I strayed from the path?

CALEB:  I heard you listening to a radio.

ABNER:  Untrue!  Just what do you think you heard?

CALEB:  A strong male tenor.  A beautiful singing voice.  Clearly evil – it must have been a radio program.

LEVI:  Tenor?  Singing?  Yea verily Brother Caleb, you don’t understand …

JACOB:  Young Levi, what do you know of this?

LEVI:  Brother Abner came up with the most wonderful idea for the fall social.  Abner, tell them!

ABNER:  We wanted to surprise you, but … you know the English have these plays … they call them “musicals” …

JACOB:  If it’s English, it can only be trouble.

LEVI:  No, no, not at all!  Listen …

(LEVI clears his throat and sings):

“We know we belong to the land / And the land we belong to is grand!”

(ABNER joins in)

LEVI and ABNER:  “And when we saaay / Yeeow! Ayipioeeaaay! /
We’re only sayin’ / You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma! / Oklahoma OK!”

JACOB:  Blasphemy!  Shun them!

(JACOB turns away, but CALEB doesn’t)

To be continued …

Fall ’71 – Conclusion

That fall, Father, oh, let’s call him W, and Father Bob were the high school sub-directors.  They oversaw the daily operations of the place, organized and assigned the students’ work schedules, and generally managed to keep chaos in check.  Father W was originally from Holy Redeemer.  Most of the students admired and respected him.  He tended to favor jocks; I don’t think he was all that fond of me.

Both he and Father Bob coached the school’s soccer teams:  Father W was the varsity coach; Father Bob, the JV.  I’ve always kind of thought that Bob was the antithesis of W.  W was, not guarded, but chose his words carefully, nuanced so that you couldn’t really be sure what it was he had in mind.  By contrast, Bob was very direct, very forthright, and never shy about letting you know exactly where you stood.  He ruffled feathers (definitely not W’s style) and didn’t care – especially if he thought things needed to change.  At least one of his sayings (“Rompin’ Robert” comes back to mind – Bob was a combination of Gene Autry, Gary Cooper and John Wayne) was:  “Don’t want it.  Don’t need it.  Get rid of it.”

Father Bob is one of the finest people I’ve ever known.  He’s shown me great kindness over many years, from the time I cried in front of him and a couple of my classmates when the rector’s brother scolded me over the phone in Bob’s office that I was telling Edgerton prospects not to go to the seminary – a misunderstanding ultimately, but still hurt like hell – and other high school traumas, to his time stationed in Chicago at St. Michael’s (circa 2007) as part of the Redemptorist Mission Team, where we’d talk about philosophy, theology, social justice, and just life at large.  Good times …

Fall ’71 – Part One

We spent the summer getting ready to pack up and ship me off to the high school seminary in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  It’s not really fair to say “ship off” – I already had three brothers before me attend the place.  The parish organized a bus to take a whole bunch of interested eighth graders out to Wisconsin (maybe a seven hour drive) in the spring for a weekend to get an idea of what the place was like.

From what I can remember, I was looking forward to going there.  Of course, once you were there, it was a slightly different story.  There was the expected homesickness, but nothing intolerable.  I don’t think the fathers made us write home every so often, but I do remember writing home fairly regularly that first year.  Some years later, I remember Mom telling me those letters were some of the nicest things she ever got from us – just a few short pages every so often from her boys telling her about the latest goings on, how they missed her and loved her and was looking forward to coming home for Christmas or summer break.

It was a small high school.  There were around seventy, eighty students that fall, maybe sixteen seniors, and a lot of freshmen, forty of ‘em.  As far as priests and brothers go, these are the folks I remember:

Father Leo was rector.  His brother Robert was also a priest, stationed in my home parish in Detroit; he recruited many Holy Redeemer eighth graders for seminary.  I didn’t know Father Leo very well; I think we thought of the rector as CEO, president and king of the joint all wrapped into one.  He might have been approachable, but how would you ever know?

Father Walt was second in command, the school principal.  He was fun to know; very friendly, a full melodious FM radio kind of voice, pleasant to hear.  Occasionally he would dress students down every so often for unacceptable behavior – part of his job.  I’ll tell you more about Father Walt in the senior year Parents’ Weekend story.

Father Martin was the school bursar; he handled the money for both the school and the religious community.  He wasn’t unfriendly, but he didn’t have much interaction with the students, so it was difficult to get to know him.  Father Marty was a tall guy, very sturdy too – not heavy, not thin, sturdy.