Still Smells Like Teen Spirit – Part 2
continued from “Still Smells Like Teen Spirit – Part 1” …
Morning announcements at St Lukes usually consisted of the national anthem, God Save the Queen, a bible reading, and a list of kids summoned to the Vice-principal’s office for discipline. The VP was appointed from among the non-Jesuit teaching ranks for stints of two years and was the designated hangman. Some mornings the reading of these lists took up half of first period. It would have been easier just to list off the kids who didn’t have to go to his office for some trouble they’d caused.
It was Standish’s second year as VP and he had earned a reputation as a harsh disciplinarian. This was a private boys’ Catholic school and corporal punishment was gleefully applied. Touchy-feely rules that banned child abuse in the public education system didn’t apply here. Standish had a habit of plucking certain bad apples out of class and giving them the strap in the hallway just outside the door so the rest of us could hear the strikes and the sobs. He was a gargantuan Belgian man who, if he weren’t a school administrator would have been breaking in camels for his fellow French legionnaires to ride throughout the maghreb.
Standish was an obvious ham, and would affect a creepy, tremulous voice for those summoned to his office for more serious crimes against the faith. Smith became “Smi-hi-hi-hith,” Johnson became “Joooooohn-soooooo-nnn,” each uttered with cheesy effects added in his baritone voice. Smith and Johnson had better hope they left home with clean undies, because they were gonna get it real good. Standish was a master propagandist who would have made Goebbels proud.
The morning after the ‘Jones Tie Caper’ had gone viral, my name was among the infamous Standish productions: “The following students come and see me. Da Costa, Machiavelli, Ssssssaaauuuunnnnnn-derszzzz”. I detected a warm sensation on the seat of my chair. ‘Buck up, Saunders,’ I thought. This was boys’ school and I would never outlive the literal stain of shitting my pants the first time I was summoned to the VPs office for ‘special treatment.’ I pursed my lips as I stood up, gave my Metallica pin to my best friend, said good bye to my classmates and asked them to tell my mother I loved her.
I’d been ratted out by one of the dozen kids who had some notion they were going to be a priest later on. If my recollection served, I’d seen most of these types in on the prank. This was the first of many other valuable lessons in religious hypocrisy I’d learn: no mercy is granted to the original purveyors of sin. They are drawn, quartered, and burned at the stake for their transgression. The shame and guilt at such flimsy virtue and the seeking of absolution through confession was punishment enough for followers. All those scenes in movies like The Godfather where murdering, racketeering gangsters hung out with Catholic priests were making a lot more sense to me now. Those Catholics were really onto something. It was pure genius.
The slow walk through the corridors of St. Luke’s to Standish’s office was filled with trepidation and fond reminiscences of my short-lived stint there. ‘Good bye high-volume waterfountain that Jake Van Williamson always pees in’ I mused. I became misty-eyed, as I walked past the back door where we smoked with Father Santos, who didn’t rat us out as long as we kept him supplied with cigarettes.
‘I hardly knew ye, fallen courtyard tree’. A beautiful tree had been planted by the school founders many years prior, and was the centrepiece in a courtyard surrounded on all sides by the school’s corridors. It was cut down by pranking seniors looking to smite St Luke’s during a night of binge-drinking. In their debilitated state, they must have rationalized that their rich fathers could just buy the school a new twenty five year old, thirty foot tree.
Before stepping into Standish’s reception area I took a deep breath; the smell of unwashed teenage ass everywhere. ‘Ahhh, poignant memories to take to the grave,’ I thought. I was Steve Martin in The Jerk, mentally clinging to every inanimate object or insignificant memory I could invest with sentimental value.
I’d been doing these reprimand salsa dances with school administrators since I became a revolutionary in the Prague Spring of grade four. But Standish had a reputation for ruthlessness and a signed waiver from my family green-lighting his use of the strap to impose discipline. He also had a legion of aspiring young priests sucking up to Jesus. No amount of peer pressure or beatings could discourage these knobs from singing like canaries against their classmates. They were looking to become ostracized martyrs. I would plant a shitload of porn magazines and Mormon bibles in their lockers to get even.
All this added up to one thing: if I continued being a misbehaved asshole at St Luke’s, as I had been the previous five years I was going to pay dearly with my black ass. But a rebel was who I was, I couldn’t stop now. I didn’t know how to be good. I realized then I’d been led to Moriah by my double-crossing family, looking to atone for their debauched existence by sacrificing the generation’s first born. Football program, my ass. They handed me over to the Syrian-trained disciplinarians at St Lukes because they didn’t have the stomach for the job of reformation themselves. For that bit of duplicity I resolved to make my family believe I had a plan to drop out after grade eleven, squandering – in their mind – my A plus average and their thousands of dollars in private school tuition so I could fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming a carnie.
“Saunders, I hear you’re a funny guy who wears funny ties.”
Dramatist. Executioner. And, apparently, lyric poet. Standish was a renaissance man. So, we were sparring in verse were we? Well, here I go:
A pack of nefarious lies,
spun by your misinformed spies!
I simply refuse
To be falsely accused!
Penance, for my prankster’s conceit?
Ha! There is some shit I will not eat.
“Honestly Sir, it was just a foolish prank. I didn’t know the whole school would start doing it, Sir. It’s not what I intended.”
A Shakespearean retreat. The better part of valour is discretion. I’d live to squeeze out of a jam another day, when I had fewer cards in the deck stacked against me and more of these priest wannabes under my thumb. Or, when I had a better sense that lying would pay off. For now, life was too short for chivalry. A sufficiently remorseful telling of the truth was probably going to get me the lightest punishment. Falstaff, that cowardly sloth, would be most proud.
The truth is, I thought at best a couple of my classmates would follow suit. I did’t expect half the fucking school to play along. There is no doubt I was being a jerk, but I wasn’t The Amazing Kreskin. The rest of the school followed along on their own volition without me having to bend a spoon with my will to convince them to do it. I underestimated what lemmings young Catholics could be. Once a few started plunging off the cliff it was a conformity-crazed massacre. It had never been that easy to win over the kids in public school. I made a mental note to send a memo before my next prank so EVERYBODY would understand that I was NOT trying to lead a rebellion, that I was simply executing a one-off prank. I was no rube; I saw Footloose. I wasn’t going to take the fall as the instigator of a subversive movement against the town’s existing order.
“I gotta admit, it was pretty funny Saunders. But you show respect for your teachers in my house. How’s a ‘six-pack’ of JUGs sound?”
“ ‘Bout right?” Was he genuinely asking? If so, in my defence I would have pleaded innocent to the alleged recruitment of others to the prank. That was just dumb luck.
The Jesuits had a great sense of humour. Jugs were a big pre-occupation for most teenage boys. We spent our weekends priming the girls from our sister school St Magdalene’s with beer and weed hoping to dull their senses enough to get our hands on their jugs. Most of us, having failed to get more than a dry hump and a throbbing set of blue balls, spent much of our time jerking off to pictures of Jugs in Playboy and Hustler. For the clever Jesuits at St Luke’s, barred from either touching or jerking off to jugs, a JUG was Justice Under God (JUG), and it earned you a one-hour detention. Losers.
“Let’s not meet again. Whaddaya say Saunders?”
“Um, sounds good Stand – er, Sir.”
He put his hand on my back firmly, showing me out of his office. If there were a cliff nearby the force of his hand on my shoulder could easily have pushed me off it. In his eyes, I imagined him waving goodbye as he watched me plunge to the abyss of the Grand Canyon.
“Don’t forget these wise-guy.” He grabbed my six pack of JUGs from his desk and handed them to me. His eye was on the ball.
“The rule is you carry JUGs around with you until you’ve worked these off, son. If you get tired of JUG-room and you want to man-up, you come see me.”
I turned back to face him as he stood in his doorway, tugging on his pants by the waistband, tapping on his belt as he said this. Standish’s Faustian bargain was one strap for six JUGs. I got a lot of ‘six-packs’ that year. I became a legend for getting JUGged by the quirky math teacher who had never, ever given out a JUG since St Luke’s began keeping records. I managed to get a six pack out of him. They were just enjoying this shit too much on my account.
Near the end of the year I did need to cash in on that bargain. The rumours were true – it hurt. Standish usually started these rituals with a surprisingly honest twist on a specious phrase uttered by adults moments before they‘d abuse their children, “this is going to hurt you more than it is me.”
If I hadn’t taken the deal I’d still be showing up to JUG-room every Tuesday and Thursday, more than twenty years later. I raked a lot of leaves and shoveled seven tons of snow that year, common tasks assigned for students repenting at JUG hour. The justice meted out suggested to me that the God of Catholics was neither wrathful nor vengeful, but pitifully lazy. Like the school’s janitor, God had low-ranking minions delegated for mundane tasks like confession and absolution, leaving him plenty of time to meddle in the Middle East and plant dinosaur bones all over the earth. The divine prankster still spins his Almighty yarn!
My revenge on Jones would be the first major act of defiance to earn me a date with Standish. It was far from my last. We became grudging adversaries as my short tenure at St Lukes was dotted with repeated tete-a-tetes in his office. Standish was no despot. He was firm but fair, and I grew to respect him for his forbearance and his sense of humour. It could not have been easy dealing with sociopathic, entitled runts like me and the rich brats at St Luke’s.
A few years later when I was in college, I met a stunning, intelligent woman and we began dating. By sheer fluke she also happened to be Standish’s eldest daughter. Finally, a set of jugs that I could, without hint of irony or equivocation, genuinely thank Standish for. I wondered if he would still have that robust sense of humour.
“Saunders, what are you doing in my house, with my daughter!?”
Game, set, and match, Standish. I win. In mere months, she’d end up dumping me for her studies abroad, breaking my heart. We’ll call it a tie.
I was a first-rate jerk in my teen years and did my best to resist the straight path that St Luke’s and others wished I’d get on. I am slightly ashamed to admit that my motives for insubordination were as shallow as that of a champagne socialist’s: I was more interested in resuming the quest for eternal copulation than I was in principled rebellion. I was fixing to get turfed back to Sodom and Gomorrah – otherwise known as public school – plain and simple.
In looking back at that stint, I came away with the sense that the Jesuits were the real deal. I haven’t bought in to what the theistic religions are selling, but my early experiences with the Jesuits and others at St Luke’s helped me to see beyond the legions of politically-charged religious buffoons who dominate the bully pulpit in North America today.
Had the heathens in my family not been moved to send me to St Luke’s I think I’d view the whole spiritual enterprise as the handiwork of total charlatans. The witnessing of genuine, substantial faith opened the door to spirituality just enough for some to creep in over the years since. I’m no Deepak Chopra, but I like to think that I am able to see the big picture, to see the world a little more through the eyes of others than I used to. And the reason I can say that is because I walked through that spiritual door as an adult and my eyes were opened by the process, not by adherence to a particular faith.
My humble apologies to Standish and Jones.