Even though I had three brothers attend high school seminary before me, I didn’t have a very clear idea of what the place was like. I think I expected a quiet, dignified, solemn place, with holiness the object of students and faculty alike, to love God with their entire mind and heart. What I found was a raucous, chaotic, bawdy place; the upper classmen’s goal was to torture and/or humiliate the incoming freshmen class, and the faculty’s goal to get through each day in one piece, square the child monsters away enough by 9:30 PM to retreat to their side of the building for a scotch or a brandy or some other intoxicant for a much needed break from the asylum of hellions on the other side.
Those first few weeks of high school were straight out of Lord of the Flies. Establish dominance, and leave no doubt that you will not be intimidated. If you couldn’t physically do that, you relied on a strong vocabulary, a crafty wit, and the ability to run faster than the angry sophomore or junior or senior who would chase you and pound you silly once he caught you. I learned the verbal boxing talents I needed in the new environment by fending off the taunts of four, five, even six siblings at once during those cage matches my parents lovingly called “suppertime.” I was not, however, as gifted in the running department; while I would manage to escape the occasional lumbering upper classman, the rest of them were much faster and much stronger. Once you were caught, you were pounded accordingly.
I soon accepted that little if anything going on there was holy. In my sophomore year, I saw teenage hormones revved in full gear. While growing up in Detroit, my grandparents had the only pet in our household, a female tabby named Fifi. I was probably ten years old when, one day, I noticed Fifi was sitting up high in a nook of the backyard pear tree, slightly flicking her tail but otherwise looking quite composed. A second glance at the yard revealed something I don’t think I had ever seen before – at least twenty other neighborhood strays were sitting around the bottom of the tree, eyes glued to Fifi.
Fast forward five years. With a new typing lab set to go, the school a hired a new typing class teacher – a woman. There were no other women teachers at the school at the time: just priests and laymen. The student body reaction was a mix of curiosity and libido in overdrive. I knew where I had seen this before: if there had been a pear tree and Ms. Smith had had a tail, I would have bet she would have found a nook beyond the reach of that teenage horde of hormones, flicking a bewildered tail.