Wednesday, January 13, 2016

7673. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 130)

(pt. 130),  section 4
'seminary days'
Joe Vouglas was another fellow, a year or two
two older than me, above me in class-year, one
who kept pretty steady with lead roles and good
drama stuff. He also had, as I recall, a brother
who entered, Dennis, younger than me. They
were a Greek family, from Plainfield, NJ, which
was quite near to where I lived in Avenel. Though
we weren't close, and obviously had never met
before, we shared certain sympathies. In fact, the
Greek propensities were very similar to the Italian
propensities I'd always had to deal with : a sort of
'magical piety' about everything. I always liked Joe,
and he seemed a real fine and intellectual kind of
guy. It was always very funny how the enforced
close-quarters of this sort of living brought out
so many different traits and quirks about people.
We ended up knowing each other well, but really
not at all  -  as paradoxical as that sounds. In the very
beginning, what was called 'Freshman' year, it was
the strangest, as if we'd all landed from Mars, blind,
and were just feeling our 12-year old ways about. We
had one guy, in the very beginning  -  but he was gone
in about 6 months (not everyone lasted, numerous
people just, one morning, were gone; not much said)  -
an Italian guy, I mean really Italian  -  Luigi or Antonio,
or something  -  he caught shit immediately for having a
number of gigantic salami loaves, logs, like giant sausages,
in his top drawer  - stinking up the place. Garlic and all
the rest. He'd get an urge whenever, middle of the night,
morning, and he'd take a knife he kept and just slice off
a chunk and start gobbling. It was really weird. We, I mean
everyone, razzed his ass off, poor sucker. He also had a
tough time just with our version of regular English. There
were others too. Hugh Hamill, from Dover, or maybe
Wilmington, Delaware  - I forget  -  he for some reason
was a really passive and quiet guy. Of course, like vultures,
we immediately sensed that, sought it out, and pounced.
He took a lot of abuse. Another guy from Delaware, David
Kane, we ripped him to shreds, that's a capital 'S'. I don't
know how long he lasted, maybe the first year. He was a
really quirky kid, talked funny, did odd things. Played, in
fact, a piccolo, or whatever it was called  -  like those fife
and drum colonial soldier guys in the history books. He'd
pull that thing out and start tooting. We'd tie rags to his
arms, or around his head, and he'd prance around like those
pictures you'd see of the old, wounded guys marching home
from war to the tune of a piccolo and drum, limping and
ragged. He went along with it. Good-spirited, but David Kane
was dead-meat from day one. Other kids, I only remember
certain things. We bonded, so to speak, over all the
differences and weirdnesses. Everyone had their niche.
Joe Vouglas had something to do too with that Huck Finn
play. He may have even been Jim, for all I remember.
Whoever it was, that person and Kirk Hallet became a
team. There was an undercurrent of real vitality around the
Drama Department  -  it was like the only place that made
any sense. Daring. Greasepaint. Costumes. Props, Scripts.
Rehearsals; all that dark, empty stage stuff, the plotting and
managing of the presentation. It was magic. You could
walk around with a poetry book, for instance, and get
away with it, just by saying you were reading something
for play-use. I remember, about then Leroy Jones wrote
'Dutchman' or something, and another thing called 'Urinal' -
stuff normally they wouldn't let us touch, but which we could,
under the false, sort-of, auspices of being 'Queen's Players',
or whatever the drama group was called (I think that was it),
manage. That Father Alexander guy, the new Drama Coach
I mentioned, he took a lead role in fomenting this stuff -   
had a neat, cavalier attitude about things. Like an
'in-your-face' screw them outlook. He was wise to the 
ways of hip. The rest of the place was as square as a
big car, but his outlook and approach took all precedence 
for me. It was like living already on some beatnik stage,
dark-sweaters, berets, and girls with pointy tits. If you can
follow my 'existential' thread here. 1950's French. The
darkness of a post-war world. I was way between two worlds.
Avenel was a dreary, negative space from which I'd thrown
myself  -  and somehow landed here, which in many respects 
was just as dreary, or worse  -  because here you were getting
caught up in something that was going to gobble up the rest
of your life : 'I am a priest, running Bingo games and CYO
basketball tournaments.' How more dreary than that can you
get? So, I already knew and was always on the look for, ways
out. Mental constructs of escape. Most of it was filled by Drama.
My entire reason for being here anyway, and initially, was
because the Salvatorians used to have missions in Africa, places
like Tanganyika. That's what my original impetus had been :
I wanted the escape of the African bush, just living among
natives in the wild, administering to them, preaching. It
was pretty colonialist thinking, but I didn't realize it. Then
the Communists took over, or something, merged with
Zanzibar, and putting Tanganyika and Zanzibar together,
made Tanzania. And threw all the missionaries out. It went
something like that  -  so I'd just be stuck then in the
Diocese of Trenton somewhere, in some dumb-ass suburban 
church doing nothing vital at all. Sorry. Like my friend, in
these seminary days, who stayed with it all and later became
a Monsignor  -  Monsignor Michael Alliegro. I knew him
all through the 80's, when I did the Diocese's printing. He was
miserable, and said had he 'known then' what he 'knew now,'
he'd never have done it. His complaint was that all he was
doing, at the Diocese level, was the business aspects of
church and diocese affairs  -  nothing vital, nothing strongly
religious or transformational in fact. He withered. We used
to talk, in his office in the old St. Cecilia's in Iselin. He
was dreary and tired and sad. A businessman with a Roman
Collar administering to blue-haired ladies at St. Buonaventure
Parish (East Brunswick). He died about 2007 or close,
of leukemia. It was pretty sad; I don't know what he ever 
thought of me, but, like everyone else, he probably figured I
was a madman riding the third rail. I'd known him since, in
these seminary days, he too was 12. From Fords, NJ. Everybody
had a hometown  and a story -  some were quite nearby, others
farther away. My friend Kirk, he was from Camp Hill, PA,
by Harrisburg. He'd often ridicule New Jersey for being flat,
and sandy. The Pine Barrens were that, for sure. It was all
new territory for me  - shacks in the woods, odd people. They'd
tell us, fleetingly and half in jest, to beware of 'Pineys'  - 
meaning the local natives  -  who disliked everything, 
badgered and stole, and worse. Of course, it was local lore.
We never saw anything  - ever, even on those track-runs,
far-out. There were, as I said, some shacks and things, but
I never saw a person at all. Often wished I did. I would have
loved to find some devilish sweetheart out in the local woods,
living with her crazed parents, all hopped up in a wooded shack.
That could have been a real adventure. As I said, I was caught
between things and places, all I'd ever known was the dark, deep
spots of my wandering brain, and Avenel. Every stick and lick
of Avenel. People's breeding shows : by the way they talk, 
their references, the stuff they say, they way they carry themselves.
I have no clue what I came across as, but I hadn't a stitch within
me of anything haughty or high-falutin'. Mainly because of my
origins. One thing about Avenel, it was an authentic shinola of
a no place. 'You was what you was', no fakery there. As a kid,
just feeling that idea but not being able to articulate it, it came
across as ideas of 'place.' The old street running right down the
middle of Nowheresville. Now, it's different  -  there are actually
restaurants that people GO to to eat : Dominic's and the like.
Cluttered and fancy, places to eat with specialty cuisines.
fast-food, national-brand names all over the place. Fakery
has clearly entered. Back in 1960, there wasn't any of that.
None of us kids would have known what to do. Mike's Subs 
was then the only revelation we ever had to another world 
somewhere :  food and taste and variations. In the seminary, 
I ate enough scrapple with syrup on it to make me squeezable 
and peppery. The southern cuisine was very often slathered in 
sweet sauces or maple syrup; piles of flapjacks or pancakes, 
whatever; cornbreads and stuff I don't recall. Nothing like 
hometown food. I never really knew where I was, eating 
what. Avenel never had any of that.

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