Tuesday, February 23, 2016

7842. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 172)

(pt. 172)
There used to be a phone booth out in the
front of the St. Andrew's Church Rectory,
right on Avenel Street. Nothing special,
just an ordinary telephone booth  -  of the
sort that used to be everywhere. They were
metal and glass, a little shelf, the telephone
in the corner. The doors would close and the
place would light up. Enough light to jot a
note, or read a number. Too much light if
you were trying to be furtive. But why would
one need to be furtive in a phone booth in
Avenel? I don't think Superman ever worked
here, not even out of Hiram's. I used to think
that the phone booth in front of the Rectory
- church property - could have been a cool
spot to introduce some new form of dial-in
telephone confession. Instead of going inside
the church and talking in that dark booth to
the mysterious priest behind the screen. Just
jump in the phone booth, dial the Rectory,
one of the priests would pick it up, and you
could confess to your heart's content, right there,
on Avenel Street, anonymously yet public. How
great would that have felt? It's not, by the way,
that the priest was mysterious  -  everyone always
knew who he was, who you'd gotten for your
confession. It was more that the 'process' was
mysterious. I never knew how much of Avenel
was 'Catholic'. maybe it was fifty percent but it
seemed like a hundred. No one ever talked about
all that anyway. You just knew who was what.
All pretty stupid, when you come right down
to it. But you never (I never) wanted to get in
a position where I had to explain, or try to
explain, it all to someone else who didn't
know. 'Well, you go into this booth, it's dark,
and you enter after waiting in line. While
you're waiting you can sort of hear things
you're not supposed to hear  -  some people
are always louder than others, often on purpose.
Some people take pride in letting others know
that they're there. You hear things, then it's your
turn. You enter, kneel on this little thing, the
priest gets to your side (he covered two sides,
back and forth, sliding the little window
partition shut or open). You could see his
hunched figure, and probably know anyway,
immediately, who it was. Then he says some
stuff to you, pretending probably just as much
that he didn't know who you were, and you
have this little spiel memorized to say back,
'Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been
'X' weeks since my last confession. I am guilty
of:...' And then, like you know, what's a kid
supposed to say, really. I stole three cookies
from the lunch cart, I lied ten times, I smoked
a secret cigarette that I'd taken from my friend's
mother, I had dirty thoughts (this was true, the
way it was said), I thought bad things about my
friend's sister...etc.' It was stupid all around.
You know you didn't kill anyone, and if you
did you probably wouldn't be there anyway to
squeal on yourself. If you had really touched
Bob's sister Debbie's nipple, you wouldn't
know how to phrase it to a stupid priest. So
you'd just make up a string of dumb and
innocuous things, the kind of stuff you figured
they were used to and wanted to hear anyway.
'I cheated at dominoes. I moved my friend's
checker piece when he wasn't watching.' Oh
it could have just gone on. And then you start
to figure: Jeez, if I did that crap, what are all
these adults here for and what in the world
could THEY have done!? Big trouble in
Little China on that one. As a thirteen year
old kid in there, the only things you were
certain of for these adults was that they were
guilty, for sure, of numerous cases of fornication
for pleasure, instead of making babies (that was
against the Catholic rules), cheating on taxes,
and maybe speeding. Certainly, if they too had
murdered, they'd not be here blabbing about it.
So, anyway, I always thought that phone booth
confession would have been great. Say your piece,
jump back in your car, and high-tail to the next
motel stop, or whatever. You're forgiven enough,
they say, to start afresh. 'And then', (to continue) 
the priest absolves you, but only if you first admit 
to being sorry and promising to sin no more, not
do it again. (I never knew if that actually meant
not doing 'again' only those things you'd just told 
him, but remaining options-open on doing new 
violations. Some kids, including me, sometimes, 
just said the same crap over again, from the last 
time. It worked then, why not now). Lastly, before 
you get to leave the booth he gives you a 'Penance'.
That was like something you had to do so as to
be absolved by God, or Jesus, or one of those
three. That was Catholic new Math  -  one always
equaled three. I guess They or He was listening in
on all those too. You have to say maybe 5 Our
Fathers and 5 Hail Marys. Those are prayers; I
guess everyone knows that. If your truant friend
Mike O'Dominicki came out next, and if Mike
had to say, instead of your 5 and 5, like 2000
Our Fathers and 4700 Hail Marys, you knew
immediately that something really nasty had
gone on in his personal sphere and that he'd
been dumb enough to relate the tale to that
dark figure in the booth. Uh-oh. You already
knew by that time you'd be late for home and
dinner because you have to be out with Mike
trying to find where he'd dumped that dead
body. Also funny was the idea of the booth
itself  - a few years later when I got to New
York City and found out that for a few quarters
you could go into a booth around 42nd street
and a girl would take her clothes off for you in
a booth as you watched, this whole confession
thing just got to seem even weirder. What the
heck were they thinking? On 42nd street it got
even worse  -  forget the quarters, for a few
dollars instead, you could actually get a booth
that had holes in the sides. Bless me Father,
for I have sinned!
If all the rest of life was a straight line,
Avenel was a certain diagonal off the
grid. Not so much a right angle (that
would be jail or prison or something) but
just an angle that got you off the straight line.
Like diagramming sentences, the unique
factoral-quotient of 'Avenel' represented
a certain value that somewhat detracted or
voided the certitude of continuing that
straight-planar line. It was an eccentric's
geometry, to be sure. A campfire down in
the swamp. A night-call in the marshes. Had
there ever been a literal genius in Avenel,
someone present and active, to explicate
and divulge all this information to us, we'd
could have all been much better off by it,
living better and wiser lives. But as it was
there was none. Everything was mute and
quiet. There wasn't much. When I lived, later
on, in Elmira, New York, there was a minor
league baseball team, the Elmira Pioneers.
They had a regular schedule, they were an
affiliate of a major-league team, they'd play
other teams of the same level, the Binghamton
Pups or the Scranton Hoo-Haws, or whatever
all that worked out as. I forget. But that little
minor-league field and team, it acted as a
noisy blow-off valve for all the pent-up
crazy shit that could never otherwise get
released. You'd go to a Tuesday night game,
or whatever, and see all sorts of goons and
morons from town (measly, rundown, dying,
small 'city', they called it). They'd be half-drunk
in five minutes flat, hootin' and hollerin' with
their girlfriends  -  who always somehow looked
like for-hire brats and nothing more  - and they'd
be drunk too. A few local Bikers would show
up, drinking and burping, the place got fierce
and crazy, real quickly. No one ever stopped
anything. It was a free-for-all. Fights. Screaming
matches. Girl boy drunken arguments. Fully-soused
girls would begin, soon enough, by the 6th inning,
peeling off tee-shirts, music would be blasting,
Allman Brothers, Skynard, whatever. The 
regular-team field-clowns, they'd just keep 
on playing baseball. It was their job. A regular
hoe-down, and then it would all be over. Pressure
released; everyone got humble again, jumped
back in their cars or on their motorcycles, put
their shirts back on, and ended up at Link's 
Tavern, or Schooner's Bar and Grill, whatever, 
after the game. Not a cop to be seen, no one 
gave a crank-ass piece of care about anything. 
The pressure-valve had gone off, and everyone 
was happy again for another half-week or so. 
It was kind of country-time perfect.
Avenel itself never had anything like that. 
Maybe it should have; would'a been a lot 
of fun, in a bigger-time, more cosmopolitan 
way. And, to top it all off, had my great idea 
ever been implemented, there'd be a few local 
phone booths around, even by the field, and the
church too, for any of those of-the-moment,
phoned-in-as-needed, confessions. Oh yeah;
and you know there'd have been plenty of that.
The Penances, too, could have been, by this
more-instant process, a lot more useful. Instead
of all that prayer and mumbled stuff, you have 
to actually DO something, like community-service, 
but through the church. Hang up the phone, get your
stuff back in order, and go, as directed, rake leaves
in the park, spruce up the underpass, paint the
benches and tables around town or in Avenel Park,
go to the First-Aid Squad or Firehouse, and help
wash and polish the vehicles.

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