Wednesday, January 13, 2016


(pt. 131) - section five
'seminary days'
The day I left Avenel for the seminary, I can't really
remember : knowing whether I went alone, driven by
my father, or in a family trip down the NJ Turnpike,
no recollection. I know that other members of my family,
my Aunt Mary, for instance, she thought it was grand,
that I was a shoo-in to be Pope, and go right to Heaven. I
think, in her own way also, her, and the others, figured that
somehow having a 'priest' in the family would somehow
give them a leg up for their own heavenly goals. She it
was (a hospital seamstress too) who took it upon herself,
following diligently the guidance list we'd been sent about
what to bring, clothing, etc, and how to have it arranged,
managed to actually sew, into every piece of my clothing,
as instructed, my name tag  -  which she had embroidered
up or something. The point was we would be having a weekly
laundry service, and everything needed to be laundry-bagged,
separated, name-tagged and labeled so as to get all the right
stuff back. It wasn't a lot of clothes, don't get me wrong  -  and
I probably had about the cheesiest daily wardrobe there, but
they were all marked. Other kids had great blazers, nicely 
threaded slacks and Oxford shirts and all that. Lots of that.
I had a few measly pieces, enough to get by, but mostly
cheap stuff too. Crummy pants, TwoGuys clothing shirts.
Pretty cruddy. But, I passed that certain bit of needed muster.
No one ever really made note of my non-swank being. The
one thing that was really weird  -  to a kid of my station (can
you say 'Avenel?')  -  was that we had to have cloth napkins,
of our own, and napkin holders! What the dickens was that?
I questioned around. They ended up to be like little donut hole
things, rings, that held your rolled-up napkin. Upon being
'seated to dine', you were supposed to unroll the stupid 
napkin (which had your name on it, yes, and place it on 
your lap. Boys will be boys  -  'to hide your boner?' 'No,
not really, stupid, that would make a teepee, idiot'....
See how (good) comedy was always around). Now I'd
never, ever before been asked to eat with the equivalent 
of a fancy-assed dishrag on my lap, let alone occasionally
bring it up to my lips to pat them. What the heck was that?
This was high-priest bullshit, for sure. Dining like a prig.
Not only that, but they actually 'instructed' us on how to
walk! The idea was, like an imaginary straight line, or
tightrope, say, was out before you, and each foot, as it 
walked, was supposed to end up directly in front of you, 
same spot, as if you were walking on that tightrope line.
 I always figured, basically, they should just have said, 
'walk like a girl', and be done with it. It was so fruity, I 
needed the loops to go with it. It was one foot  coming 
to the very front of your body, to land right where the 
other one had just been  -  some weird sort of centered 
equilibrium. The only good thing :  it did propel you a 
little faster, because there was no wasted or sideways
effort expended. All your fruity energy went forward.
But the other point was that you always had to walk 
with reserve, a straight-backed dignity, so, please no 
rushing either. They also said we should be able to 
walk with a book flat on our head, undisturbed. 
Straight spine, perfect posture. So, you with me yet? 
You still wonder why priests chase boys?
We rolled down the Turnpike; it was like exit 3, and 
then due east, past a couple of towns, etc., fields,
farms and meadows, and then a little bump called
'Blackwood', NJ. (It's no bump anymore  -  the old
place and area is gigantically built up now, 10,000
people, rows of condos, strip malls, real malls, fast
food and gas stations everywhere. A real shame). The
actual place itself, which once long ago, 1900's through
40's at least, had (really) been a buffalo farm. Beats me
why there was a buffalo farm in the sands of the South
Jersey pines, but there was. There was even a round barn.
One of them anyway  -  small, more like a mini-barn and 
big tool shed combined. The joke was they made it round, 
those stern Germans, to keep people busy  -  so no one 
could find a corner to hide and take a shit in. (That was
a real 'farmer' joke back then; it wasn't made up by us, 
and it was about the Scandinavians and Germanics who
had taken root in Wisconsin and such places, and really
did have Russian-style round barns). Anyway, it was 
funny to us, then  - as funny as that teepee joke was.
The actual 'Mother of the Savior Seminary' the whole
kit and kaboodle, is now Camden County College, sort
of the same but not  -  so much has been torn down,
replaced, and new roads and gymnasiums added that
you'd really need to know what was there before to 
dig it at all. My wife and I went back about 5 years ago
to check it out, and we nearly got arrested by some
cheap security guy thug. Took down my license, plate
numbers, made me describe my wife to him (?) hair,
eyes, and all that, while she was elsewhere. And then 
we were led out and told that if we came back (license 
plate ID) we'd be arrested. Then they got her, and made
her describe me. I just should have shot the bastard. His
point was, it was a weekend, the 'college' was closed,
(surprised they haven't tried calling it a 'University' yet),
and by being in that building (I entered the old theater
building through a work-door, and we were wandering 
around. I wanted to see the backstage area, the lights 
and curtains and all that), we were trespassing. What 
started the whole mess was my wife losing a dollar in 
a vending machine, for pretzels, and banging on it to try
to regain the dollar or at least get the damn pretzels. 
Some idiot called security about some crazy lady 
beating on a vending machine, and the sleazy cruds 
came with their piece of shit Ford Escorts and the little
yellow Mall Security bullshit light on top, and rounded us
up like freaking terrorists. I did my best Avenel on them.
True, this. 'Look, jerk I used to live here when it was a
seminary. We wanted to see it before they begin tearing
the buildings down that I'd been told about. The door was
open, those guys were running their power saws, and what
difference could any of this make? I know my way around,
and you're a real asshole.' They told my wife to send a letter
about her lost dollar. Anyway, they made sure we left.
Great last visit to the penal colony. I felt like Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn back in the Gulag to visit. (If you don't know 
who that is, look him up. Yeah, it's pre-video phone stuff.
Just don't try to text him; he's dead).
The whole world's a mess when stuff like that starts 
happening. There's just no longer any basis to reality when
smug little creeps like that can take and twist your day around. 
They're always ugly, have fat butts and bellies, and look like 
they're sleepwalking through some amusement park fantasy
of being a cop or a fireman, with their overly lethal 'capguns
and slingshots.' Trouble is, you can't just say that stuff to
them because they're somehow empowered to do their best
to womp you with their rubber baton. Oh yeah, also, there's
usually a stain or two of like their last helping of relish,
or hot dog juice or something, on their shirt-front. 
When I finally did arrive to Blackwood, and the seminary,
that first day, all my stuff was unloaded, brought to my assigned
group dormitory  -  bunk beds, maybe 20 guys, dressers, closets
and stuff. Group bathrooms were down the hallway. And then
I was left, alone, but not really -  these other kids in the same
situation were with me. Outside the rear windows, though, was
a strange scene -  one I wasn't prepared for. The 'upper' classmen
had been allowed in, dribbling into place, over the previous two
weeks. We were the new, little kids, coming in, allowed in, at the
'last' moment. This was farmland all around the fringes. The
upper class guys, maybe 15 of them anyway  -  first look at them,
awesome, scary stuff  -  they were out there digging trenches, with
shovels. It was really hot out. Manual labor. Some guys had their
shirts off. Struggling and shoveling like mad. As it turned out, 
they'd volunteered (I bet) for shovel detail. To dig a new sewage
line hole into which pipes were to be laid, etc. Normally this sort of
stuff is done, sweetly and efficiently, with a backhoe. Not so here.
It was done manually, shovelful by shovelful. I was aghast  -  no
one had ever told me I'd be enlisted into a slave-labor camp, a
work colony, some backward, bizarre Georgia chain-gang detail.
These guys were having the time of their life. Laughing, singing,
joking, cavorting, they used it all as a means of bonding. I caught
on in about ten minutes. Camaraderie was essential  -  like being
in the Army and getting sent to the pounding front lines in some
old WWII adventure, the only thing on your side, other than guns
and death for others, was your pals and buddies  -  even if they
died off one by one, slowly. That's what this was like, to my 
12-year Avenel eyes. The prison-farm in my back yard! All 
over again! My God, My God, almost as Jesus said on the cross,
what have I done! Why have you forsaken me?'
I couldn't shake that first impression for a few hours. I was scared
and already alone. No one made any sense. I placed my stupid-ass
shoes down, under my (lower) bunk, suddenly had to know how to
make a bed, place my towels and soap and stuff in order. Other guys
even had shaving stuff. Huh? The only thing I'd ever shaved was
the truth, most all my Avenel life. What's going on here? Have you
ever tried to make friends in an enforced situation, with people
you probably already knew you wouldn't much like? It's no fun at
all, and it certainly doesn't put you in the mood for talking. Language
just fails and, besides, I have nothing to say. This was serious stuff now.
I felt as dark and black as a savage, lost in some oddball jungle. 
There was a priest in charge of all this. A very stern, strange guy
named Colin Kahl. Another one of those German fellows  -  not
much laughter, just rather a disdainful look down, from some
imagined height. He, by the way, as I recollect, is actually the guy
who whipped me with the beads in the chapter or two back. One
funny thing about these guys, Colin Kahl included, is that, after the
60's explosions of everything, they each left the priesthood. Just bailed,
bailed on all their self-righteousness, bailed on me. He has lived
in upstate western New York, with a wife and stuff, for years now.
He even ran for some local office up there, I remember the
photo I was sent of his campaign lawn-signs. I hope he's well,
and alive and happy up there, but that's the story anyway. He's not
the only one, it's happened a lot. Things change, I guess.
So, he's the guy who eventually rounded us all up, us new arrivals,
and gave us the rundown  -  where to go, how, and when. He seemed
nice, and he seemed in charge. This was only a first-year student's
dormitory  - a barracks-like, long, low, wooden building, maybe ten
rooms, and it was connected, at the center, with the 'chapel', which
I've mentioned before. That's really all it was, a low, nicely sunlit,
windowed country-style small church, the kind of old thing you'd
expect in New England or something. I really always liked
it in there, a true refuge  -  you could look out, on the right a
central-campus lawn, out the left   -  farm and sports fields, and 
then the  distance of pines and sand-road, actually the 'underwear
hanging from the trees' area I'd mentioned. It just went on. We'd have
to be in the chapel each morning at 6:30am, which really wasn't a 
drag except on the darkest, coldest, or snowiest mornings. On nice
days it was perfect : made you feel like a Spring bird to sing and chant
and the rest. Mass. Sermon. Readings. Then it was all connected
directly to the 'refectory', where we'd have breakfast, about an hour later,
and then we'd roll right into the one-after-the-other rigors of real
school classes. Latin, English, Composition, maybe French, some meager
Math, later a biology course, Chemistry. Rhetoric. Funniest thing,
I can't remember there being 'Religion' as a course, but I guess there was.
It was never very good  -  Catholics just don't touch the Old Testament,
for anything except the most referential stuff that can proof all their
Messiah foreshadowings of Jesus and all that. Nothing else was ever 
talked about, asked or answered. Which I always thought to be pretty
strange  -  like learning about airplanes but never learning first
about the preliminaries of flight. Sort of like that. I always just 
thought - 'what are they so afraid of?'
I'm getting ahead of myself. I came to Blackwood right from Avenel.
Nothing in between, not even a day to decompress. I never
really said 'goodbye' to any friends or people; I just dumbly and
with some mystery dropped off the face of the Earth. Was no
more. Established my own void. That was a dangerous thing to
so, for it troubled me for a long time and ruined a lot of
what could have been comfortable moments. I was running
scared and unsure. I was filled with a certain sort of remorse, mixed
with a sad regret. I missed my people and my place. And yet I didn't.
By following another distant star, I was out in some anterior
universe on my own trek, learning my own new language. It had
little to do with other people, could not be well communicated, so  -
I figured  -  why bother them about any of it? Let it go.
Barbara Fehring and Jane Moyers, hell, they'd just have to
find love without me. Damn it all.

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