Tag Archives: catholics

How I Knew I Was a Klutz, Part 2

catholic school skirtsPerhaps Danny McGuinness had x-ray eyes, I’m not sure. But in one or two snaps of my right bra strap, he discovered the weakest link in the connection. Which, now that I think of it, was kind of the entire brassiere, because it was a fairly flimsy wad of cloth. In an instant the device was in ruins, and it collapsed underneath my dress, while I detected a note of relief from it. After being produced at the training bra factory, it probably expected to grace the shoulders of someone like Carolyn Westermann, not Maroon the Goon, and here I couldn’t even handle it for one week.  Read More…

How I Knew I Was a Klutz, Part 1

training braEighth grade, 1984. Enough of spring had popped through the soil that the scent of daffodils trickled up to the third floor of the Princeton primary school, which was set right up against busy Nassau Street. As the building was nearly 200 years old, we relied on cross-breezes for air conditioning, which, given that each classroom had windows on only one side of the room and given that New Jersey air does not come pre-conditioned, meant that we were all overheating on a regular basis at some point after April 6. Our core temperatures, however, to a great degree reflected our disparate uniform code: boys could wear thin polo shirts once winter was over, but the girls’ dresses were heavy and scratchy, not much of an improvement over their woolen vests and kilts.

It meant that the female students of St. Paul’s were subjected to more unworldy temperatures than their male counterparts. I would put dollars to whatever that this was an additional measure against girls wearing makeup, which they weren’t allowed to do anyway, but which they kept trying. It’s hard to sneak contraband onto one’s face, especially when it quickly melts off from one’s over extended, personal heat index. Read More…


I grew up in a place blandly referred to as “Central New Jersey,” an area of only a few counties, caught between aging farmland and boomer-driven suburbia, outposts that crept away from the two behemoth cities, matching the invisible demarcation of property values affected by those urban centers. Lower prices here, put up a development. Lower prices further away, put up a development there. So in the late 1960s, that line was Mercer County, home to the state capitol and a rather well known Ivy League university. I went to elementary school in that town, the once was national headquarters for politicians, before they moved it to its final resting place of Washington, DC.

The nuns taught me to love the sinner and hate the sin, to separate bad behavior from the innate goodness in people, and even though these messages were fraught with many contradictions and a near-constant failure of memory on the part of their congregants, I tried to buy the principles. I asked many questions, and got a lot of non-answers, such as:

“What do you mean there’s always been God? How could there be no beginning?” This was met with a “It is a divine mystery, my child. You must take it on faith.”

“How can there be three beings but only one being?”

“It is a divine mystery, my child. You must take it on faith.”

And on, and on. There was that point my senior year in high school during which I finally figured out the grand logic, much to the chagrin of my erudite instructor, but for many years, I attempted to content myself in the not knowing.

But I did get older, and I expected better answers than I’d received from lazy-minded or otherwise resistant grownups. I could tell that there were competing schools of thought on all kinds of philosophies, although I didn’t really know how to boil them down.

As I approached 18, I asked my Mom how she voted, generally speaking. She looked at me with a curious expression, somewhere between disheartened and cautious, as if she were talking about a close friend who had The Consumption.

“We vote Republican in this house,” she told me, a little above a whisper. Maybe it was a stage whisper, though that would have been silly as we were the only two home at the time.

“Why is that,” I asked, not really surprised at her answer.

It was, she explained, because my father was a small business owner, and he steadfastly believed that the GOP was more small business friendly. And this may have been true at the time. But what interests me is that I didn’t, in all my years of grooming to be a conservative, feel a burning hatred in my heart for the Democratic Party, even if I may have laughed at a liberals joke here and there. But hey, there were a lot of inappropriate jokes in the 1980s, many revolving around who blew up where and how in the Challenger accident.

I made it to college, spending the first few weeks either not believing my good fortune, or decrying my random roommate assignment, a privileged kid who actually told my mother, to her face, on Moving In Day that Syracuse had been their choice because of its reputation as a party school. I sought the refuge of new friends, minimizing the time in my own dorm room.

One of those friends was in a new club called the Campus Crusade for Christ. She had convinced me that they were a better way of understanding God and spirituality, that there was a fantastic benefit of not having to find meaning through the priest-God conduit. I figured I would check it out.

It was not for me. It was really, really not for me. Now I’d gone from getting no answers to having answers all over the place—explanations for everything under the sun. If some question didn’t have a ready made answer, it was only for the fact that nobody had thought of the question yet. All of these answers were supposed to arm us when we went out as missionaries to convert other people to the Walk with Christ. I was beyond uncomfortable. I pulled away from the group.

One of the things that troubled me the most was that even though I was reading the Bible more than ever before, we as a group were listening to it less and less, and giving more credence to the CCC leader. And it wasn’t long before he started delving into politics. Which politicians we should vote for, which party stances for righteous, and which were the devil’s own design.

There was no more split between behavior and personhood. People themselves were good or evil, saved or under the control of satan. For me, this had gone off the rails.

But here we are, a score of years later, and many, many people buy these messages part and parcel. I am left scratching my head. Is the anti-regulation push good for small business? Not if it means the banks collapse under their own greed and the credit market tightens past the extreme most business owners can handle. But we don’t put those things together, we limit any cause and effect conversation to what bad people are doing to us. The illegals. The gay agenda. The terrorist Muslims. We stick awful names on communities to make them seem even more hell-bent on the destruction of society, even though the vast majority of undocumented workers have been here for decades and in jobs that other people won’t take, even though people under the GLBT umbrella can’t agree on what movies to list in their film festivals, much less have an actual agenda, and even though the people committing terrorist acts aren’t actually Muslims, but opportunists who are ripping off a few passages from the Quran. Let’s paint the world in hate-colored glasses, and we can see whatever we want.

There’s a Tea Party group in Walla Walla now, and they have an earnest, if not grammatically challenged Web page, filled with lots of anger-inspiring invective, as invective is designed to do. The contradictions are many, but this one is the best:

The government is distant and does not care about you.

The government is too big and too into your business.

They also spend a lot of screen space on rhetorically assuming that because the US Constitution says we have inalienable rights, that this means we have the right to “own the fruits of our individual labors.” This vague, intentionally archaic language could mean, really, any of the following:

We get to keep the Ford trucks we produce as car assembly line workers. No wonder the Big 3 are in trouble.

We own the children we have birthed ourselves, into time eternal. This almost seems pro-choice to me.

If we are landscapers, we now own the lawns we’ve groomed and the plants on them. It’s like 40 acres and a mule, all over again.

I could go on, but I’d rather see more examples in the comments.

Here’s the thing: if none of my income went to taxes, I would have no government, right? Unless they’re thinking about taxing businesses more. But I don’t suppose that’s the case. I’d just have to hope that if I have a medical emergency, I won’t need an ambulance, that if my house catches fire, I can put it out with my own hand-held extinguisher. Or that when my kid wants to go to college, some bank will give her a loan, after all those years of home schooling, since there’s no more public education. Maybe when my mother loses all of her marbles we’ll just drive her to downtown Omaha and tell her to hope for the best.

I think the political landscape has gone off the rails, or if it hasn’t, that it sure looks like it has, and I wish my Dad’s brand of conservatism were back. At least he didn’t drive around with bumperstickers on his car saying “Up Yours, Obama.”

The Walla Walla Macy’s Festival of Light, or, It’s a Small Town, It Doesn’t Need But One Light

Walla Walla trolleyLast year Susanne and I went to observe the local Holiday parade—oh heck, it’s Walla Walla, we don’t need to pretend to be PC. Or rather, calling it a “holiday parade” is really a misnomer, because in fact it’s a Christmas parade. Yes, Christmas. As in, not Kwanzaa, not solstice, not any of the Jewish High Holidays, and certainly, most definitely, how could you even suggest it, anything Arabic. Last year, at least, the floats were about two thirds Christian church groups and denominations, one third the Elks Club and dog rescues. So for those of you doing the math, yes, there were six floats. Okay, there were a few more, but the whole event was over in 10 minutes. And each float was really intense, with lots of waving, small children—the one who got my “Best Waver” award was tween girl who gesticulated somewhere between Queen Elizabeth II and Maddona’s “strike a pose” vogue choreography. Seriously, the girl had it down. This year there were more floats, no MiniCooper brigade, although there were a slew of 60s and 70s-era muscle cars, lots more church groups, and a few fire trucks decked out in white lights, with Santa atop the ladder, which was pretty freaking cool, if you ask me. I was on a ladder truck once. I was 4, with my preschool class, and it was so exciting I nearly peed all over the vehicle. Something about a red, plastic firefighter’s helmet was just too much for me. Maybe that’s why I went into computers.

Anyway, there’s nothing really wrong with church groups per se, just that one gets  a little tired, whilst standing on the sidewalk in the 6pm pitch darkness, fending off folks who are walking with the floats and handing out scripture, lest one’s soul take a detour to that fire and brimstone place at the end of one’s life. That’s presumptive. To my mind, if I am interested in your church, I’ll check it out all on my own. My grandmother moved a lot with her farmer/carpenter husband, and she practically interviewed the pastors of competing churches in each new town to see which one would best reflect her family’s viewpoint. Obviously not a shrinking violet, my grandmother, and I want to applaud her initiative to basically make churches compete against each other. I’d like to see a sack race, actually, with a Ryrie Study Bible at the goal line, maybe.

But really, it’s just a little too exclusionary for me. People should feel excitement to see a town’s parade, not feel alienated by it. I’m sure it’s not their intention; it’s just a reflection of the fact that for 36,000 residents, Walla Walla has a lot of churches. DC certainly had its houses of prayer as well—drive down 16th Street NW into Maryland (which is also the President’s ground escape route, by the way) and you will count more than 25 churches and synagogues, as well as other buildings for less mainstream-in-America faiths, like Baha’i, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In Walla Walla, a small group of Quakers meets in the faculty lounge of a Whitman College building because there aren’t enough of them to warrant building a Friend’s House. There is a synagogue on Alder Street, at which I’ve never seen a person coming or going. Maybe the congregants take secret tunnels in and out of it.

My intention isn’t to gripe about Christians. I was raised Catholic (I can hear the booing and hissing), and it imparted a lot of valuable lessons and beliefs I hold dear to this day. Don’t break your chalk in anger. Always put the period inside the quote marks, always, always, ALWAYS. No talking during announcements. You will never know everything, so don’t even try. Turn the other cheek, always, always, always. The good in life that you do counts, so do some good, you rug rat. Forgive the sinner, hate the sin.

This last life lesson was highlighted my senior year of parochial high school, in religion class. Religion class for seniors was all about how to have “The Catholic Marriage,” which, now that I think of it, was also a bit presumptive, if not at least unintentionally pressuring us to get married right away. We were mostly 17, after all. At any rate, our teacher, Sister Doretta, who I gather had never actually participated in Catholic Marriage, was leading discussion that spring, which must have been tough. I mean, I felt no need to continue the last month of class—I’d already selected my college and was marking big red Xs on my calendar as a personal countdown to getting to leave New Jersey. So it was only with one ear that I heard her talk about one tiny little paragraph at the end of the workbook (don’t even ask what our workbook practices were about) on homosexuality. And then she had my attention, because the official stance didn’t make sense to me.

17-year-old Me: Wait a minute, Sr. Doretta. It’s not being gay, it’s the behavior the Church opposes?

Sr. Doretta: Yes, exactly.

17YOM: Okay, okay. So you can be gay, you just can’t do anything?

Sr. Doretta: Well, right. It’s the sin, not the person.

17YOM: Wait, wait, wait. They could be gay, as long as they’re celibate?

Sr. Doretta: (sounding exasperated) Yes, child.

17YOM: Well, then they might as well be clergy!

Out of the mouths of babes. I wonder what she told the other sisters in the nunnery at supper that night.

Sr. Doretta: So this smart ass in class today figured out that gay people can be clergy.

Sr. Barbara: (finishing a sip of water from a crystalline challis) Oh, dear.

Sr. Cornelius: Let me guess. (chews slowly) The Maroon kid.

Sr. Doretta: You are a wise woman, Sister Cornelius.

Sr. Cornelius: (cutting into her roast lamb) Please. I’ve got that character for homeroom. Always talking during announcements.

If there were a float of nuns at the Walla Walla parade, I’d have to burst into laughter. Maybe I just like my religious figures to come with a jaundiced eye, instead of a 4-color, glossy cardstock notice that I too could be a fervent follower of Christ. Maybe I prefer being a fatass follower instead. Maybe, just maybe, I think my work for the Lord is by making sure I witness to everyone that they should always always always put the period inside the quote marks.

As it is, I’m glad people can be spiritual however they want, as long as they respect my ability to do that as well. As for the Walla Walla Christmas parade, I greatly enjoyed the guy riding his snowmobile on skateboards, and the grandfather who pulled his granddaughter behind his tractor that had so recently been used for field work that it left little bits of wheat behind in the street.

I was a bit concerned for the people who kept dashing across the street, looking for a better view, but I quickly realized they were more than capable of clearing the road before the vehicles traveling 8 miles an hour got anywhere near them. Every so often someone driving a pickup truck would get to the end of a side street, totally befuddled that there was some kind of event going on, and then you could see a light appear over their head as they realized that they had in fact, driven around a detour sign. So that’s what that orange thing was, they’d appear to think, scratching their heads.

The parade this year was much longer, and we were chilled to the bone by the end of it, having only moved enough to keep up with the bystanders who insisted on creeping into the road. These people needed the New York City police barricades, lest they begin attacking the parade floats like joyous zombies. If the parade had gone on much longer the trucks would have only had about 4 feet of street left, the rate we were all crouching in on them.

We walked back home, our legs frozen but still willing to ambulate so that we could reach warmth. Susanne poured a few chocolate martinis and I drew a fire, and I realized I am a fervent follower of Holidays. What a nice distraction from awful weather.

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