I have just read this and that comment anent the awfulness of the Catholic Church and gay rights...in re the awfulness in general of the Catholic church. But...what one, holy, catholic and apostolic Catholic church?. The church I left way back when -- the Irish American Catholic Church of 1958 or so is gone -- along with, I understand, Purgatory and, perhaps, the good old Baltimore Catechism, and warnings against joining the YMCA and horror at seeing one's father (a converted Protestant) suited up as a Knight of Columbus (looking, in that helmet, rather like Odysseus would if he had, at that instant, been smoking a Lucky Strike). I miss it in a way perhaps difficult to understand if one hadn't gone to Catholic school in those strange days.
So I reflect on why, at age 12, I finally said Goodbye to All That. Was it the "Living Voltaire" -- a paperback my mother brought for me at Woolworth's not knowing about the French wasp's anti-clerical views? Was it the fact that I finally admitted that self abuse was a mortal sin and decided an eternity on Hell was a fair trade off? Was it reading "The Inferno, and delighting at the Popes who were upsidedown in flaming baptismal fonts?
Damned if I know. At some point I just asked "Who signed me up for this?"
Then decided to move on. Damned forever. But the incident below-- narrated in verse -- certainly helped me see it was possible to escape. And so I offer a true story-- the Ballad of Steve.
Below the...what's that called? The chasuble!
The Ballad of Steve
After all of these years it's hard to believe
That I never wrote a ballad for my old friend Steve
Who jumped off a bridge in Boston one day
And called a bit later, said "I just have to say
I jumped off a bridge and found out I'm gay!
And I'm calling you now just to report
I'll be on a jet plane from Logan Airport.
I'm leaving now. I just gotta go.
On a jet plane to San Francisco.
Remember me now like you remember me then
For I won't go back to the straight life again!"
We were in the first grade and Sister Edwin Marie
Said I want you two hoodlums to come out here with me.
We went out to the hallway and she turned and hissed
You better know, you bold articles, that you’re on my list.
Then she pulled out a copybook that we had left on the bus.
With art on its pages that was signed by us.
I don’t care that you mock me but, boys, at the least
You shouldn’t be mocking Gods holy priest.
Steve had drawn Father Keegan. I had drawn Donald Duck.
Sticking a pitchfork in his fat ass. Good luck!
Good luck to you boys. You’re headed to Hell.
Well, that was implied and we both thought Oh, well.
Now, poor Steve’s father was happy and smart
A nice guy, a great Dad but he had a bad heart.
But in spite of it all Steve had some hope:
His Dad was doing better and had a great telescope.
And he took Steve out on a clear Saturday night
To a far field near Honey Brook away from the lights
Of the steel mill, etcetera that made up Coatesville
And put his hand on his shoulder as they stood on a hill
To point out the planets. And there he dropped dead.
"I loved my Dad," was all that Steve said
Many years later as we sat in some bar
After Steve had said No to the Vietnam war.
Should I continue? Steve might say Why bother?
But by the Fifth grade Steve had an asshole stepfather
Who would beat him and tell him. You make me sick.
You think you’re so smart you little Sputnik.
Lets see how good you are you dumb little joker.
Sit down right now and play me in poker.
At least that’s what Steve told me....but what he told me still sings!
"He had four Jacks. But I had four Kings!"
I never believed him but let the story abide.
And in the Fifth grade Steve tried suicide.
Ran into the woods with twenty feet of old rope.
Now, I hope you believe me. It’s good to hope.
Steve ran through the woods then fell down on his back
And tied his sad ass to a railroad track.
He had dug through gravel right under a tie.
Steve said, "I was serious. I wanted to die."
And he stayed there all night. "The thing was in the main --
I waited and waited for that goddamn train.
I think. I don’t know. I might have fallen asleep..."
But here’s a last fact that would make the bad angels weep.
His mom the next morning found a note on his bed.
"I’d told them just where I would be," poor Steve said.
His stepfather found him. Tied up in the rope.
"Trains don’t run down this track anymore you damn dope."
There was no-one else there. The man lifted Steve’s head.
Trains don’t come down this track anymore, the man said.
Then Steve became bad -- a blot and a blister!
God said "That little punk!" and sent Sister Eucharista!
She came from a Dago school in South Philly
From whence God had sent her with a view to a kill.
He said, "Sister, you’re done with those wops at Don Bosco
Smite that little smart-ass. Smite Steven Wasko!"
She arrived at our school one drear day in December.
How the Earth groaned! Cried "Remember, remember
All that is mortal may be destroyed in an instant.
All living must die!" When you think about it isn’t it
Fucked? There you go. Dammit. God is the boss of us.
Is it any damn wonder he would send a colossus
To destroy a small boy who will grow up to be gay?
Yes, that’s just what the Earth was saying that day.
She entered our room. I sat like a Quaker.
Then I heard a rough voice, "I think I can take her."
A voice blent with doom. Ill never forget he
Will e’er be remembered -- brave Tom Trionfetti!
The toughest kid there and of an obsolete race
And the only Fifth grader with his own parking space.
Flunked how many times? He was almost sixteen
And looked like a cobra but was six times as mean.
His Dad owned a bar and brave Tom would go
After school to the bar to hang out with Negroes!
Guys named Spiderhead, Bantu, Bullet and Baby.
And some times after school Tom would say "Maybe
Today is the day that I kick your dumb ass."
But if you cringed and you whimpered, he’d give you a pass.
He had places to go! He had no time to stop.
And all fell before him -- a brave Negro-Wop.
A scandal to all. To the American nation.
But I cried Hurrah! for miscegenation
As I heard his fine words (though spoken quite lowly)
Then the evil nun turned and said distinctly and slowly:
"Why did God make you? Mr. Trionfetti?"
Who replied "I don’t know." Now, I’m willing to bet he
Just in that instant felt the meaning of fear
As the nun said, quite weirdly... "Just come here, my dear.
Let’s look at God’s world. Just open the window."
Which he did ah he did... we all felt an ill wind blow
From heaven into our Fifth grade classroom
As brave Tom smiled nervously awaiting his doom
As the nun smiled like a camp guard at Camp Bergen-Belsen
And seized brave Tom in a quite effective Half-Nelson
Hoisted him up and in an instant the fated
Brave Negro Wop was defenestrated!
And all the class screamed and Steve cried "Oh, no!"
It looked like the evil nun was letting him go!
But Sister Eucharista held on to brave Tom
Who screamed, the poor boy. Sister Eucharista stayed calm.
Thirty feet down! Well, twenty at least.
But Sister just smiled like an unholy beast.
Then Steve Wasko stood up and cried "Stop it, you bitch!"
Which had an effect on the mad nun -- one which
Was ordained, one suspects, in celestial realms
Where contempt for the heathen quite overwhelms
All of the talking points about charity, caritas,
And the fact of defiance leaves one quite at a loss
Except to, of course, smite the goddamned young heathen
Which is what, God knew, was waiting for Steven.
The nun jerked brave Tom in. He collapsed on the floor.
"God won’t have to put up with you anymore!"
She seized Steve by the wrist. Dragged Steve to the casement
Which appalled even the damned down in Hell’s basement
Who raised a confused, a half-human cheer
For Steve, who smiled calmly, showing no fear
As the nun heaved him outside and he, hanging, suspended
Inspired all the damned in red burial blended
As he cried "Fuck you, bitch. There’s one thing I know.
You’re a big dumb chickenshit! C’mon, let me go!"
The mad nun hauled him in! She started to cry.
Then fled from the room to the sweet bye and bye.
Never heard from again. Deemed quite insane!
And the next month Steve’s stepfather was killed by a crane.
Which quite cheered Steve up. Made him blithe and so bonny.
As he moved through the grades singing Hey, nonney nonney!
And always alone. He had become as a God.
Which, of course, drives one crazy and makes one quite odd.
You marry your cousin. Deny Ecce Homo!
You are Andy Warhol but prefer Perry Como.
Throw yourself off a bridge. Then change your mind.
And decide that you’ll leave the straight life behind!
Head out to Frisco to see what fate brings
Which, for Steve, meant that he would move to Palm Springs
With his only beloved. The guy Kismet sent.
A software engineer with a Limey accent.
And there they live now. But it’s hard to believe.
That this is the end of the ballad of Steve.