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The Blog Brothers

Two Black-Irish-American brothers from the mythical city of Albany, New York ponder their 20th century adventures from either side of the Pacific Ocean; Bob in Kyoto, Japan and Mick in Santa Barbara, California.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Holier Than Thou

So much of the aforegoing makes us look so rough-and-tumble, Mick, but as you remember, we could be holy as hell when necessary. However, as to our transcendant piety in the early days (sort of the acquired obverse of our instinctive natures) I believe I was holier than thou (wow, I actually got a chance to say that!), being at that time not only an altar boy of the utmost apparent sanctity - apart from minor commissions like leaving the altar rail doors unlocked for communion supplicants to lean upon (for an unstoppable intramass chuckle with Owen, my altarcrewmate) or trying during retreat to hit the altar bell with my slingshot - but also a choirboy with the purest of altos, aimed straight at heaven. With eyes turned fully Godward I conjured a mean reverence, let me tell you. Somewhere in some Albany basement, attic or garage there must be a picture of me and my fellow altar/choir crewmembers looking our externally holiest.

This general illusion of preadolescent saintliness was amplified by the black cassock and white linen surplice I wore with the big floppy black bow tie over the tall celluloid collar I used to get cleaned across the street from St. James at the steamy Chinese laundry that as far as I knew specialized in altar boy collars. It was next to the bakery where early in the morning we got the best crumb buns in the world so far, to have with cocoa after communion. (Actually there was a shotgun pharmacy in between, where I got my lime lollipops and jujubes.) What an international fragrance filled that little Chinese laundry when you stepped into the steamy, laundry-jammed room and the smiling Chinese grandpa, who never said much, would take your numbered ticket and hand you your perfectly laundered, freshly starched, tall white altarboy collar (little did we know we were wearing the sacerdotal duds of the middle ages, when people walled themselves in even more than they do now...)

And then stepping next door into the bakery, back when they still used their own genuine yeast in their breads and pastries, then kneaded the precious goodies by hand and watched them bake like babies growing, they cared so much because they were selling directly to those who bought their goods and shared in the delight, the bakers lived in the neighborhood and had a direct stake in its happiness, as did all the other store owners around there, except maybe the A&P, which seemed a little ritzy to me then... How I'd love to walk around in it just as it was back then right now, though...

To get back to the cocoa: appropriate to the hellish metaphor involved, the cocoa was brewed down in the basement of St. James by a volunteer horde of big sadistic Catholic grandmothers dressed in white, inventors of a new and cryptic form of suffering, who stood cackling around giant steaming cauldrons whence they served to us slavering communicant kids - who therefore hadn't eaten anything since dinner the day before and now had to eat breakfast in about 5 minutes before class (is there anything hungrier than a kid after communion who's had fresh crumb buns in his school bag for over an hour?) - big heavy white mugs of cocoa that had been boiled until hot enough to scald God. There were many blessed blistered palates those mornings, borne in saintly silence throughout the day, and it wasn’t from taking communion with a sinful soul...

At any rate, like all who grow on multiple levels, I was soon confronted with a moral dilemma. Being as I was a permanent fixture on the Sacred Bleeding Heart of Christ Total Shitlist (offshoot of the Legion of Decency) for my various altarian escapades, it was one day announced before all in class that I and one other similarly grievous altarian would have to serve evening mass every night from now until Christmas or be drummed out of the corps. As God had of course planned it, however, the announcement was given only a week or so before the pagan event of Halloween, so it was basically a choice between God and bags of free candy with all my friends out in the autumn dark of truly ancient realities. God lost, big time, as she knew she would. In another post-Halloween announcement before the class, I was officially removed from the list of Kids God Loves and put on the list of Kids Needing Miracles.

Needless to say, I survived the experience, and still have hopes for some kind of heaven following the mortal one I've variously known. I did like that surplice, though; I can't stand buttoned collars anymore, let alone any kind of tie. Also, I've preferred my cocoa lukewarm ever since... and those crumb buns, man, they were all the proof of God I ever needed, really. They don't make them like that any more.


Blogger Mick Brady said...

Glad you made the right choice back then, Bob; you paved the way to freedom... God probably gets a much bigger kick out of Halloween, anyway.

I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank Him for the crumb cake. Dominus nabisco.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Robert Brady said...

Et cum spiritu tuo.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Steve Sherlock said...

Yes, this brings back memories of Sister Mary Holy Picture and others of the sisterhood who taught us all at St Joseph's back home square in Pawtucket, RI.

Now that the archives have been breached and scary stuff is about to issue forth, I need to go get some warm cocoa and collect myself before writing about it.

Thanks for the inspiration!

7:16 PM  
Blogger Robert Brady said...

Steve, let us know where you're gonna express these valuable memories so we can read them and add you to our list of rememberers...

7:52 PM  

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